After Hours

By Evan Cozad

Ethan and Sam make their way home from underneath the football bleachers. A faint smell of marijuana drifts off them. As the sun sets underneath the sea of corn, as the cemetery caretaker puts away the last of his heavy machinery, as the last of the high school athletes show up to the ice cream stand on the corner of Main Street, as the last of the lights in the library go off and old Miss Elaine goes home, as the mesh and rubber soles feel a little off beneath Sam and Ethan’s toes, Ethan’s grip tightens around Sam’s hand as they disappear into the hazy orange of the town’s summer.

 

Evan Cozad is a writer from South Whitley, Indiana who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English from Ball State University. He doesn’t like to constrain himself with biographical statements, but he does own a jubilant pug named Yogi.

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Play Nice

By Rich Elliott

Minutes before the race Shannon the Bitch prances by me. We nod at each other, smiling falsely, and I look away before her sweetness, her girl-next-door act messes with my contempt. Not to worry. I’ve already seen her blazing sponsor-logos and her high-tech racing flats. Her cameraman filming her as she does her perfect jumping jacks. This restores my hatred. Good.

I have my own pre-race show, my signature thing. Get out of my fucking way, I shout, people clear space for me, and that’s when me and my crew, my Daffies, do our little ritual. Pretending we’re samurai warriors, we stage a poignant battle, with four Daffies encircling me, preparing to attack. We bow to each other, then we grip our imaginary swords in the ready-pose. Now we have the crowd’s attention. In the middle of the circle, I turn slowly, evil-eyeing my “opponents,” who are slightly crouching, glowering, threatening with their swords. In one lightning motion, I leap forward, flashing my weapon, then spin in a beautiful arc, my sword finding and slicing all four rivals, who, brilliantly, remain upright for one beat before toppling over.

The pantomime is sick, and the crowd cheers like crazy. To cap it off, I run over and leap into the waiting arms of my Daffies. The screaming girls are all punked out, wearing ripped tutus and garish tights, their heads shaved like mine. They toss me in the air, and they go into their chant—“Daphne, Daphne, Daphne!” We laugh hysterically.

I thank my fan club—they’re a small group, but mighty— and then I bounce away to the starting line only to be intercepted by that lying, hound dog reporter who pushes a mic in my face and wants to know, Do you really think you can beat her today? What will you do different this time? I scowl at him and bare my crooked teeth. Out of my way, asshole.

I take my position in the front row with all the nice-smelling fillies and their boney midriffs, the crowd gets louder in anticipation, the cameras are whirring, and me and the girls are doing that fake smile thing again, like, Oh gee, hi, good luck, I will disembowel you in the second half.

I take three deep breaths like Sensei taught, and then all is peaceful, I am at peace, alone with my thoughts. Alone, the way I like it.

 

Alone. Shall we take an inventory?

Coaches: Zero. I’ve had four, not counting my high school coaches Dumb and Dumber. My first college coach was Old Yeller. Yelling coaches get you angry, get you fired up, the hysteria works for a while, and then it gets old, you start to ignore it, and finally you get pissed, which is full circle, except now you run bad just to spite him.

At my next college, there was Coach Walgreens. Every week a new pill. Red ones, blue ones, pink ones, purple ones. Then came the shots. In the morning when I looked in the mirror, I never knew who I’d see, whether it’d be red-eyed me, anorexic me, or mustache me. When I finally Googled the shit I was taking, I smashed everything in my dorm room.

I spent my last year of college in Japan at a small Catholic school. I know, me in with the Catholics, right? Sensei Phil had me choose a one-word mantra. “Kill” had a nice sound to it. Sensei told me to sit and stare at a hill on our cross-country course. I would meditate: Breathe in, breathe out, think of nothing, breathe. Have you ever tried this? It is very boring. After three months of contemplation and no running, I was slow and fat, so I dumped Sensei Phil.

But I did complete my degree in Women’s Studies. I know, I don’t strike you as bookish. That’s your problem.

My last coach was famous. He was from a famous sports company. Coach Handsy knew everything there was to know about running. He wrote books, he had a blog. Skinny thoroughbreds flocked to him. I immediately got a lot faster. Coach Handsy was a big hugger, and he always held you too long.

I got this lingering injury at the top of my quad. I mean, way up high, near my you-know-what. Coach spent a lot of time massaging my leg, saying the tightness was really deep, and afterwards, he’d walk funny. We kept having these massage sessions long after my leg felt fine. I finally said, Enough is enough, and so, yeah, I was out of there.

I know. You’re thinking, Surely Daphne has someone. Family? Boyfriend?

My family is odd. I don’t like to talk about it. Mom ran off with a terrorist group and died in a bombing. Dad, I haven’t seen in years. We’re way too much alike. My kid brother has been standoffish ever since I set fire to all his toys in our front yard—long story. But he rang me up last year when I won that prize money at Peachtree.

Boyfriends? They don’t stay long. I’m a handful, I admit it. Moody. Messy. Mean. I can go without sex for long stretches, like a camel goes without water. One boyfriend said I was bipolar. He may be right. In the end, boyfriends resent my running. It’s true, I’m always either training or sleeping.

 

I float through the early miles, waking up briefly at the water stations. I grab my water bottle, suck, toss it. From the first stop, you gotta take your fluids whether you’re thirsty or not, whether it’s hot or not. Your body will thank you later.

A marathon is like what they say about warfare: Long stretches of boredom broken by a few minutes of sheer terror. No one can race an entire marathon, it is way too long, so the racing starts in the second half. In the first half you gotta go into hibernation—it’s all about patience and conserving energy. You draft along and let the nervous Nellies pull you.

I check out my opponents dispassionately, like an anthropologist. You got your snowflakes, your nice hometown girls, their ponytails bobbing and their cheekbones sharpened. You got your African girls, tiny, steely assassins that will pop you if you let them. You got your Russians, their blue eyes like frozen lakes. You got some outlanders, the Asian girls, darting around like wind-up toys.

And, of course, there’s the Bitch. I run close behind her and to her right. I know she’s slightly deaf on that side. The Bitch’s stride is so beautiful it almost takes your breath away. Her rhythm is majestic, her expression angelic.

She is loathe to acknowledge me, like I’m her evil twin. We have a history. You already guessed that.

 

I’m pretty sure the Bitch caused me to lose the big sponsors. For a couple years I was nicely set up, then I got dropped. A rumor spread that I was doping. Which, of course, I was, like I said. Just for a while. I’m clean now, mostly.

The Bitch has all the greatest sponsors. The shoe company alone brings in tons of money. So she has the best stuff. She races all over the world.

I finally was able to get a sponsor again, if you can call it that. Outside Woman Inc. wants to expand their brand and make it “edgier.” They kind of suck, but our relationship is mutually beneficial.

I wear their red cap with the OW on it. I explain that OW refers to the pain I inflict. The hats sell like hotcakes. I also wear their T-shirt—it has the logo of a punky woman climber wearing a ripped tutu. Pretty funny actually.

Outside Woman has a tiny marketing budget, so I don’t get paid much, but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right? They made me some custom racing flats, adapted from their Razor Climbing Shoe. These flats are not very good, but I have to wear them.

 

Now the damn Razor flats have become a problem. The rubber soles are coming off. I try to shove this distraction to the back of my brain, but soon my Razors are ripping and tearing and falling apart. I finally kick them off and run barefooted. I’ll worry about broken metatarsals tomorrow.

We pass Mile 13. It’s time to begin my destruction of the Bitch.

The first card up my sleeve is a familiar strategy—a series of surges. These function like body blows. The pain inflicted softens your opponent, instills doubt, makes her vulnerable in the later miles. But my surge scheme is novel, my Psycho Surges are insane. In intensity and duration, they are random in the extreme—a half-mile explosion at withering pace, followed by sixty yards of jogging, then a dead sprint for a reckless moment, then a slew of peppery 100-yard jolts, then a serpentine, curb-to-curb maneuver.

The girls have no idea what I’m doing. They think they better stay close, but panic flashes through the group. They’re thinking, Daphne has gone crazy, completely nuts, and she will take us down with her.

But me, I’m feeling pretty good, I’ve trained exactly for this. I’m just cruising along, chopping wood.

One by one, the girls slip off the back of the pack. Ultimately, their fear and their fitness betray them. The broken girls, their faces are always so fatalistic, like a dog right before getting put down. They float away.

All except one, the immaculate pro, the bulletproof heroine. The Bitch.

 

A year ago I went to the woods because I wanted to live single-mindedly. I wanted to get faster, my way. I needed to shed all distractions and live like Thoreau and strip things down to the essential.

Which is to say, the training. To focus on training 24/7. It’s the athlete’s fondest fantasy. Her true passion is not for the contest. It is for the training.

On a tip from one of Mom’s former associates, I found the storage container at the end of a logging road in the Colorado Rockies. The metal box measures eight by twenty. I could make it work.

At the base of the mountain road, there’s a town consisting of a gas station/convenience store, hardware store, and post office/library. I bought tools, duct tape, caulk, goggles, gloves, a wood-burning stove with pipe venting, a window frame, and pane of glass. I also bought a welder and angle grinder. Total cost, $811.

I scavenged for an old table, chair, and bed. I got seeds for a small garden. Cost, $89.

At the library, I checked out stacks of classics.

On the ridge near my container, I tapped into a power line (thanks, YouTube). Using the welder and angle grinder, I installed my stove and window.

From a running magazine (cost, $12) I ripped out a photo of the Bitch and taped it to one wall.

My Little House in the Woods was almost complete.

I made one concession to modern training: On Craigslist, I bought a used Edmond Hillary XZ for $700. This marvelous gadget transformed my home into a low-oxygen chamber.

I loved it! You could really crank it up. I pushed the dial way past the red line. My breaths came in long, raspy pulls. My dreams were amazing. On the third day of low oxygen, I awoke gasping for air, like one having an asthma attack. I was a frightening shade of blue. After that, I dialed back the Hillary.

My training was something of a religious experience. In the morning, a long, meandering thirty-mile run on Glory Trail crossing five creeks and the Divide. Hours of running through the strobing flicker of forest light put me in a near-hallucinatory state.

My afternoon workout was even better. I found a wide trail with a 10% grade, a pine-needle surface that went for a thousand yards. My sprints up and down my Gutcheck Trail were heaven! Afterwards, I’d drag myself home all swollen with endorphins.

My third workout of the day kept me alive. To survive winter on my mountain, you need ten cords of wood, so I spent a lot of time chopping wood. Have you ever chopped wood? Oh man, the rhythm, the exactness, the sweat! Just wonderful!

While my rivals were seeing their witch doctors, their podiatrists, masseurs, acupuncturists, chiros, and shrinks, I’d sit in a mountain creek with the freezing water shocking my muscle cells back to life. When the creek froze, I’d sit in the snow. Or I’d sneak off to my secret hot spring and lounge in the bubbles, my eyes barely above the water, like one of those snow-headed monkeys you see in National Geographic.

 

The Bitch and I pass Mile 18, and the real racing has begun. We are flying, our pace dropping each of the last three miles.

Have my surges had any effect? Doubtful. Her face is composed, her breathing is even. The Bitch looks beautiful still.

Time for the second card up my sleeve. Hateful Harassment.

If you can unsettle your rival, get into her head, get her off her game, then half your battle is won. I have no compunction about this. It’s no different than what happens on a basketball court. Well, OK, it’s worse.

We’re coming up to a right turn. I slice across, cutting her off badly. She stutter-steps. “Hey!” she cries, “Watch out!” I see a crease forming on the Bitch’s forehead.

I run up close to the Bitch, so close our arms are brushing. Which, of course, is cuckoo because we have the wide avenue all to ourselves. She gives me a curious look. Then, as her elbow comes back, I tick it with my fingers, causing her arm to flay out. I do this several times, then she moves ahead by a stride. I got her thinking now.

Game on!

I go again to her right side, I’m a half-stride back. I watch her right foot coming back, her back-kick, and I time it where my left foot nicks her right, pushing her foot inward so that it tangles with her left foot, causing her to trip. I’m good at this! It always looks like an accident. The Bitch staggers forward and regains her balance, flashes an angry look at me. Oh, gee, I tell her, so sorry!

We approach the next water station. The bottles for us elites are waiting. They have distinctive markings. My bottle has big red, white, and blue stripes, you can’t miss it if you tried, but I ignore it and grab the one with a bright pink bow. The Bitch yells, but I’ve already taken a big gulp (strawberry flavor—not bad!), and tossed her bottle to the curb.

“Hey!” she shouts between breaths, “that was mine!”

“Oh, sorry,” I shout back. “My bad.”

The Bitch purses her lips, sets her chin in a pout. I love that look!

A minute later a crazy person leaps over a barricade and flies right at us screaming something barbaric. Bald head, yellow tutu, red tights—she’s one of my lovely Daffies! She even has the snake tattoo like mine! I just about shit because I’ve forgotten I asked her (in exchange for a selfie) to “create a little havoc.”

My Daffie is jumping and waving her arms and screaming like a banshee. “Kill her!” she yells, “kill her!”

The Bitch stumbles as she swerves sharply to get away from the nutcase.

A policeman grabs my Daffie and drags her off, but the damage is already done. The Bitch spends the next half mile rubbing her hamstring.

Hilarious! Score Mile 19 for moi.

 

The thousand injuries of the Bitch I bore as I best could; but when she ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. Ha! Don’t you just love Poe?

The Bitch and I were recruited to MU at the same time, she getting a full ride and me a partial. We actually roomed together that first semester, a big mistake by Coach because we were oil and water from day one when the Bitch arrived with her Kate Spade luggage and me with my stuff in laundry baskets. I remember how she arched her perfect eyebrows.

To the Bitch, everything I did was somewhat crude.

“Daphne, what is that? Is that beef jerky you’re eating? Can you take it outside the room? It smells terrible.”

“Daphne, are you going out like that? Do you want to wear something of mine?”

“Daphne, say that again with your funny accent!”

“Daphne, the girls on the team are saying mean things about you. But I told them you couldn’t help it.”

The girls on the team loved the Bitch. How could you not? Everything about her was cute. Her pink Nikes. Her blond ponytail. Her T-shirts with the koalas. Even her voice was cute.

“Daphne, you’d get faster right away if you wouldn’t eat so much.”

“Daphne, you always run farther than Coach asks. Don’t be such a brown-noser.”

“Daphne, why are you only into creepy guys?”

“Daphne, the girls on the team find you threatening.”

Weeks of this, and I found myself kind of shriveling and getting harder, like a raisin. I swear I was an inch shorter.

I finally swallowed my pride and went to talk to Coach.

“I think Shannon is turning the team against me,” I told him.

“That’s interesting,” said Coach. “Because Shannon says you’re causing dissension on the team. And she says you don’t do the full workouts.”

Coach poured himself more coffee. “Try to play nice, Daphne.”

The Bitch was relentless, I’ll give her that.

“Daphne, who taught you about makeup?”

“Daphne, I hope you didn’t mind me putting that picture of you on Facebook. You just looked so funny.”

“Daphne, I told the girls to be nice to you. Because of your family and all.”

Maybe it was me. Maybe I was being too sensitive. Maybe I wasn’t adjusting to college. I never had sisters. I never had a bunch of girlfriends. Maybe this was the norm.

Second semester I moved out of the dorm. I bought an old milk truck for a hundred dollars, and I lived in the back of it at the KOA. It was cozy and tight in there, and I didn’t have a roommate whispering in my ear. At semester’s end I decided to leave MU and get a new start somewhere else. On my last day, I went to the stadium to collect my stuff, and I found the note taped to my locker. “Good riddance, trailer trash.” So I knew I made the right decision.

 

Mile 20. “The Wall.” Is it real? It is bullshit.

Not to say you don’t feel awful. The buildup of fatigue is horrendous, your glycogen stores are gone. Yes! But, duh, that is what you’ve trained for. Everything in your training has prepared you for the last six miles. If you’ve trained rabidly, methodically, then 20 is just another mile marker.

Of course, the last six miles is always a test of will. It is the most terrible part of the race and also the most interesting because you always learn something. For example, I will learn things about the Bitch. I will learn what effect my earlier tactics have had, if any, and I will learn if my final gambit works.

I begin my Rope-a-dope. From 21 to 22, I flail at her side, I let my feet slap, I breathe hard, I grunt. She looks at me with a glimmer of a smile. In tiny increments I start to slow, I’m one stride back, then three. The Bitch’s head swivels. I can almost feel her thrill. She runs a little straighter, her confidence in full flower. I will deflower her shortly.

Soon I’m fifty yards behind her. I’ve lost contact. By all conventions of distance running, she will win because once you lose contact this late in the race, you never catch up, the psychological gap is too big, the pace too hard to regain, your opponent too inspired to let you back in it.

Unless your slowing up is intentional and has been trained for.

At 23 miles, I start to reel her in. It’s like I’ve unveiled a secret race car. I cut big chunks from her lead. The Bitch’s head swivels again. I can hear the commentators on the press truck shouting into their mics. I race past a swarm of Daffies, they’re leaping in the air, howling freakishly.

I throttle forward. I’m burning fuel like a maniac. The gap foreshortens rapidly, like a Hitchcock sequence. I’m twenty yards back, ten, and now I’m right with the Bitch.

We look at each other, and now I’m the one smiling. I can read her thoughts: “Not you again! Trailer Trash! Don’t you ever give up?”

I surge hard, twisting the knife. I am all in, fully committed. And now she’s the one flailing. Her beautiful princess castle is collapsing. I have twenty yards on her, then thirty. Then she is broken.

God, I swear, it’s like an orgasm!

A thousand years from now people will still play sports because of this feeling—the culmination of your effort, the domination of your opponent, the realization of your passion.

I have nothing in my tank now except momentum and joy, and I need nothing more because the Bitch is back there staggering. I can enjoy the final mile. My heart is full. I wave to the crowd. They are screaming louder and louder, such is their adoration.

I see my Daffies again. What have they cooked up now? They are all pointing, hitting their foreheads, full-on screeching and writhing in pain.

That’s when I glance over my right shoulder and see the bobbing ponytail. The Bitch has materialized, like some unkillable monster in a horror film.

I should have known. The Bitch also knows the Rope-a-dope. And she has deployed it to perfection.

I have nothing left. She owns me now.

A quarter mile ahead the giant finish banner looms before us. All my dreams are annihilated. I can’t even hear her at first.

“What?” I yell.

“We don’t,” she’s breathing hard, “we don’t have to lose.”

“What?”

“We can tie. We can hold hands coming in. Neither one of us has to lose.”

As her proposition sinks in, I feel this unwelcome thing. My heart feels funny, like it’s molting a hard shell.

She is reaching out her skinny arm like an olive branch, extending her fingertips to mine. Tenderly, I move to touch her hand.

That’s when she jerks her hand away. Her mouth is a cold sneer, her eyes are gleaming ahead. She is bolting away, and then she is leaping across the finish line.

The Bitch raises her arms exultantly. Her head is back, she is roaring. Me, I’m down on my hands and knees, blinking at the pavement, gulping at air.

The Bitch is carried off to the victory stand, and I can hear the commentators saying, “Well, we’ve never seen anything like that before.”

I pick myself up, I move absentmindedly through the crowd, my weeping Daffies are giving me space.

But it’s OK, really it is. I already have my sweats on, I’m jogging, I’m warming down. My heart is already at work, growing something new and tougher. I’m OK. I have learned essential things. I am already forming a plan.

Rich Elliott has been a gravedigger, English teacher, dishwasher, textbook writer, construction gofer, video producer, and track coach.  He is the author of The Competitive Edge: Mental Preparation for Distance Running; the anthology Runners on Running: The Best Nonfiction of Distance Running; and the fiction collection Duck and Cover: Eleven Short Stories. He and his wife live in Valparaiso, Indiana.

L.I.F.E

By BriAnna Reshae

 

L.I.F.E

Why did you have to choose me?

I had so many things that I wanted to be

 

God I’m tired of crying

I know you tired of me whining

I just don’t want my baby to end up dying

 

I don’t like it here

I always feel him near

Why do I always wake up filled with so much fear?

 

You were supposed to protect me and care

But you rather drag me by my hair

This situation you forced us in just isn’t fair

 

It’s our relationship that she trusted

I prayed and hoped you would get busted

Instead of loving me, you looked at my body and lusted

 

You started off touching my thigh

Then I begin to cry

I tried telling her but all you want to do is deny

 

My pregnant belly holds what’s true

The life in me is innocent and new

My baby’s grandpa and father sadly had to be you

 

I know my baby will ask someday

And what am I supposed to say?

Because there is nothing about this situation that is okay

 

L.I.F.E

Why did you have to choose me?

I had so many things that I wanted to be

 

BriAnna Reshae is an author and poet. She has served in the United States Marine Corps and is currently obtaining her degree in the field of psychology. She has written a variety of works targeting issues of domestic violence, poverty, racism, and bullying. She strives to make a difference and wants to be the voice for victims through her writing.

if/in #37-#39

By Darren C. Demaree 

if/in #37

 

every rome every rome

 

ends with an uprising

 

the thousand eyes

 

become a million eyes

 

& we must we must

 

humiliate the dreams

 

of the politicians

 

with actual mirrors

 

they cannot understand

 

if/in #38

 

there are stories

 

of subtle breaks

 

in subtle places

 

but not in america

 

our rivers roar

 

with lost bodies

 

placed knowingly

 

& those bodies tumble

 

to crack us open

 

if/in #39

 

we had wild horses

 

& we raced them

 

to death

 

& then we raised

 

domesticated horses

 

& raced them

 

to death

 

we’re owed three

 

centuries of dragging

 

 

 

Darren C. Demaree is the author of ten poetry collections, most recently “Lady, You Shot Me” (December 2018), which was published by 8th House Publishing. He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry. Demaree is currently living and writing in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children. 

Down to the Judges

By Rey Armenteros

I tell people I was there, watching the fight. The massive screen was blaring through the windows, past the cheers inside. It was a triple event. I was at a birthday party that happened to be on Mexican Independence Day, and that night was the high-profile bout on pay-per-view. My neighbor had just installed the pool, and he was living it up this birthday, granting this pool party for all his close associates and loved ones. I was meeting more of his family members than I had met at the last party, and we danced to mariachis celebrating his birthday and the birth of Mexico as a modern nation. It was really overwhelming, and I was there.

Then it was time for the rematch! I stayed in the pool area with a couple of others while everybody else went inside for the main event. I could see them through the sliding glass door screaming at the set. My neighbor’s son and I were having a deep conversation about life and his time in Mexico. He was talking about his long journey, when his father was filling out the paperwork to bring him to the US. We were talking about life and the rules you had to follow in life and how oftentimes the very laws that are crucial to our lives come down to paid professionals that either know your case or don’t. Holy shit! this was sobering me up even with all the hollering in the background.

So, I was technically in the patio, and I did not see a single jab or bodyblow. I could see the video colors of the screen flashing through the silhouettes of the spectators, and about everybody there swore I watched the rematch, as they were coming out once the fight was over, hooting and lauding the unexpected results. It went the full twelve rounds. It had gone down to the judges and their scores. Everybody swore they were going to give it to Triple G, like they did it last time when again they went through twelve rounds and no knockout, but it didn’t happen that way. Canelo, the Mexican boxer, had covered Triple G with bodyblows, and the judges reacted. A welcome result for Mexican Independence!

They were explaining it to me as they were filtering back into the pool area. Canelo was a counterblow fighter. He waited for you to come to him and then reacted to you. Triple G was an attacker. That is how he won over the judges when they went to twelve rounds last time. This time, Canelo stunned the audience with a reverse in his strategy, and this is the part I found fascinating! He was on the attack. Triple G, as it was described to me, looked confused. Canelo got more punches in, including a battery of body blows. The judges had no other recourse but to recognize who was on top in the fight.

Why find such things fascinating when I don’t even like boxing? It wasn’t just about psyching the other guy out. It was about coming up with a winning strategy and being one step in front of the other guy. Imagine if Triple G resorted to a different strategy. Canelo’s plan would have gone out the window. But what if he was sure Triple G would do the same thing again because it was something that worked last time, and why fix a good thing? That might have been what cemented the change of strategy for Canelo. He would have had to not only think about doing it differently, but I imagine his training would have to reflect this too, and the real psych out would be the one of him trying to psych himself out, trying to become a different fighter, going through different routines.

Maybe Triple G wasn’t thinking at all; he just went with whatever was natural to him, uncompromising attacks. What if that was all he knew? I do believe the real winning move would be in deciding what kind of fighter Triple G was going to be in this second match. Canelo would have had to recognize on what level Triple G was playing and if Triple G was also switching his strategy according to what Canelo might be thinking of doing.

I am thinking of a little kid’s game of having the other kid guess which hand has the marble. After going through one round, if the one holding the marble were trying to be clever by keeping it in the same hand, the savvy kid would know it. If the kid chose a different hand thinking that the other kid expected him to be clever and keep the marble in the same hand, the kid that would know that about his opponent would guess correctly. The point was that you had to guess at what level the kid was playing.

Then again, it could have been nothing more than something as simple as Canelo using Triple G’s strategy because that was what worked in the first bout. It could also be that there aren’t that many strategies to choose from in boxing. There is the type of fighter that plays defensive, the type that favors coming in low or high, and the one that likes to keep his distance or clench to deliver the little kidney jabs. How many other possibilities are there? When you put accomplished fighters in the ring, they are going to bring their ultimate strategy, and maybe there is no choice in the matter because you have to pick the thing you’re best at, and everyone will know it, even the people like me that don’t know boxing, who are informed by the propaganda machine for such an event that educates the audience so that they have something in which to sink their teeth. I am sure it is something like that.

As we were getting back in the swimming pool, I was picking up the talk and able to describe what I saw of the fight. I didn’t even know what the two boxers looked like, and I was absorbing the excitement and letting the alcohol do much of the talking for me. I was so excited, who would have questioned me?

On Monday, they were asking me if I saw the fight when I was picking up my cup of coffee to start the day, and I was not lying when I said it was amazing, spouting off the mechanics behind the results as if I had known both men’s careers since before the first match. I was keeping my conversation rather long, giving a full summary, almost overcompensating for missing every little thing about it.

But I was there. I have no doubt about it. I was there, and I saw nothing. It is like calling a witness to the stand who was present during an incident but who was actually at an angle that would have given the witness no information whatsoever, and yet they call him anyway, and he states his observations, and they take them seriously. Or it is like the witness that was not there at all. They have a name for such people that know not a thing about the incident but deliver what they have learned over time is the more probable causes to an event. They are called expert witnesses.

Rey Armenteros is a Los Angeles-based painter and writer who writes the blog, Through Concentrated Breath. He has pieces forthcoming in Magnolia Review, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and Still Point Arts Quarterly.

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Roman Buildings

By Chase D. Cartwright

A man was stabbed in front of me.  It happened before breakfast, in the showers.  He was in the stall next to me. I heard him whistling before it happened.  Probably had no idea what was happening until it was over, maybe not even then.  Maybe his last thought was enjoying the warm shower and singing a song in his head.  It wouldn’t be a bad way to go. You could envy him in a way. But, the last I saw of him was his blood circling the slow drain and his eyes stuck in time, completely still, unnaturally still.  And all I could think was, “I hope they use real eggs at breakfast.”

My request for furlough was granted on account of my mother.  She died last week, and the funeral was today. Funerals were just about the only thing the warden ever approved furlough for.  A lot of the other guys were jealous of me. Imagine that. I’ve been in this place for 42 years. Sitting in the same gray boxes most of my life, and then my mom dies, and I was the lucky one.  There was a joke there somewhere.

My old pastor was picking me up.  Before lunch, I’d be on the road for the first time since I was a teenager.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. Part of me wanted to stay in my gray cell and pretend none of this was happening.  If I could say anything about prison, it was this, it was less complicated. In a weird way, even the bleeding corpse in the shower felt more natural than getting into a car with my old pastor.  

Some of the other guys inside wanted to know what I would do while I was out.  You only got a day. It was an odd question. Sort of like dreaming of what you’d do if you won the lottery.  What would anyone do if they had only one day of freedom? I guess I was going to a funeral.

The pastor met me in the processing office of the prison.  “Earonne,” he exclaimed like we were old friends. He embraced me and told me, “Long time no see.”  I grunted in agreement. I almost couldn’t recognize him. His hair was so thin and white. He walked in a crouched stumble assisted by an aluminum cane.  He was a shell of the man I grew up with.

“Thanks for doing this,” I told him.  

“It’s an honor to do it.  I just wish it were under happier circumstances.”  He placed his hand on my shoulder in the same way a parent would to comfort a child.  

I was grateful for him.  I hadn’t seen him since I was arrested and even then I wasn’t a devout member of the church or anything.  I only went because my mom dragged me. Maybe that was why he came, maybe it was some kind of gift for her.  Whatever the reason, part of me knew he wouldn’t say no, and I couldn’t say that about anyone else.

I filled out my paperwork agreeing to return at a designated time.  The pastor signed beneath my name claiming responsibility for me. He walked me to the door of the prison and I paused before talking my first step off the prison grounds.  

“Are you okay?” the pastor asked.

“I’m not sure.”  

I took a step forward and moved in front of the pastor without saying anything more.  He followed a few steps behind me and directed me towards his car.

“I brought you a suit.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I did.  I can’t say how good it’ll fit, but…” he trailed off.  “You’ve grown a lot since I last saw you.”

“I was just a boy then.”  

The locks of the car popped open.  The pastor walked ahead of me and opened the door.  I caught a glimpse of the suit hanging in the back. It was black and had a Goodwill tag hanging off it.  

“I appreciate the suit,” I told him again.

“Yeah, well your mom would have wanted you looking your best.”  

I nodded.

“Why don’t we get in and leave this horrid place?”

I gave a scared laugh and took a seat.  The car was small. I was nearly 6’5 and 300lbs and it felt like every bit of me was pushing into the old pastor’s space.  I put my knees against the dash and felt the engine roar to life. I started sweating and my breath got heavy. The pastor pulled forward and I saw the brick walls of the prison shrink and shrink until the only world I had known for forty years disappeared and left me alone.  

It was December.  I remembered the snow falling and the windshield wipers pushing the powder back and forth.  

“How are you doing, Earonne?” the pastor asked.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s what everyone says.”

“What?”

“They say, ‘I don’t know’.  No one knows. It’s a hard thing to lose someone we love.”  

I grunt unable to articulate anything more. The pastor continued, “I’d love to tell you something that might make you feel better, but I’m still not sure what that might be.”  

He coughed and choked on his phlegm.

“There’s a million clichés I could give, but you don’t strike me as a man that has time for clichés.”

He waits for me to say something.  It was an impossibly long pause. But, we were both silent, listening to the low hum of the heater and the infinite space of empty fields around us.

“The only thing I can tell you is that I’m here for you. I don’t care what you did or who you are. I’m here for you. If you don’t want to say anything now, that’s fine.  If we don’t speak for another forty years that’s fine too. But, as long as I’m alive, I’ll be here for you.”

“I saw a man die today,” I responded.  “He was stabbed in the showers. He was probably in his 20s.  Just a young kid.”

“Were you okay?”

“I was fine.  But, I didn’t feel anything when it happened.  I’ve seen so much shit in that place, that it seemed so…”

“Normal.”

“Yes.  Honestly, I was just thinking about breakfast.  What I’d get to eat you know? When they use real eggs, it’s something else.  They have this Mexican cook running the kitchen and he puts milk and Cheyanne pepper into the eggs, and it’s just indescribable.  

But when they use the fake eggs –you know the stuff that comes out of a carton– you just can’t get the texture right and the seasonings are out of balance and…  Anyway, I’m passing this body and I’m not thinking of his family coming to his funeral or what kind of life he lead or would lead. Nothing like that, I’m only thinking of what’s for breakfast.”

“So what was it?”

“What?”

“Did they have the real eggs or the fake ones?”

I smiled through my eyes.  

“Real.”

“Good.”

We didn’t say much more than that.  There wasn’t much more that needed to be said. I enjoyed sitting with him.  In prison, you could never relax. There was an atmosphere of tension. Everywhere you went you something terrible could happen.  Every step involved a complicated system of rules and a misstep could mean getting stabbed in the showers before breakfast. I almost forgot how to relax.  But sitting in that warm Buick next to this old man, felt… It felt comfortable.

At the church, I changed into my suit.  It was too small, but I pretended to like it for the pastor.  The funeral started, and I sat in the first row as people marched inside.  Most people didn’t know who I was. They stared at me and made whispers to themselves.  No one sat next to me. I could only imagine the thoughts that everyone must have had. Part of me felt guilty for being here.  It became more like a zoo for people to watch me and, in turn, they all seemed to forget my mother.

My mom laid still in her casket.  She almost looked like the man from the showers with that unnatural stillness.  Pictures of my family surrounded her with flowers and cards. All I could think of was how badly I wanted her to move, how I never wanted to see something so still again.  I returned to my seat and waited.

“And now I’d like to invite anyone up who would like to say a few words,” the pastor invited.   

I got up from my seat towering above everyone else. I walked up to the podium and began.

“For those that don’t know me, my name is Earonne, and I am Norma’s son.”  I paused feeling something in my throat. “You know it’s hard to know what to say at a time like this.  Some of you may know that I’ve been in prison for a while now. In prison, you’d think I’d have time to pick my words carefully and say the right thing, but…  I guess life doesn’t work that way.

“I’d love to talk about some memory of my mom, something nice about when she consoled me after I scraped my knee or gave me advice on how to talk to girls, but…  I just can’t. I don’t know this woman here. I was hoping when I got here, she’d look just like she used to, but she just doesn’t. I haven’t seen my mom in forty years.  We’d write on holidays and everything, but how well can you know someone like that?

“I remember when I was a kid, my dad drove trucks.  He’d be gone for weeks at a time and when he’d come back, he’d be somehow different.  He’d be a little older. Just a little though, but enough that you could tell something was different.  Maybe his beard would be a little thicker or there’d be a new stain on his shirt, or whatever. He’d be different than he used to be.  After forty years though, a person changes so much I don’t know if you can even say they’re the same person you used to know.

“My mom was the last person I loved.  I’m sure you’re all wonderful people, but I don’t know you.  I went to prison when I was 19. I never had kids, never got married, my dad left a long time ago.  My brothers have all died in dumb fights. Every friend I had has gone on with their lives. My mom was the last person who loved me, and she was the last person I loved.  Now that she’s gone, I’m all alone. I’m going to go back to prison tomorrow and that’s where I’ll stay until I’m in a box just like that.

It’s hard to know what to do with that knowledge.  If someone knows, please tell me. Because…”

I noticed a tear forming in my eye.  I wiped it away.

“Because I don’t want to die alone. Time freezes in prison. You want everything to just be like it was when you went in; pick up where you left off when it’s over.  The world doesn’t have that mercy for us though. Everything just keeps moving without you.

“One memory I do have of my mom was her reading to me as a boy.  She would read these coming of age stories about young boys like me learning how to grow up and be men.  I liked those stories. But standing here over my mom, I just wish I could go back to when I was a boy. There aren’t enough stories like that, stories where you go back.  We’re always in such a hurry to grow up, and then you get what you want, and you realize you’ve given up everything that mattered.

“I can’t even remember how I ended up in prison to tell you the truth.  Someone called me a name so I pushed him. He punched me, so I pulled a knife, and then I’m staring at cement walls for the rest of my life…  I was just so dumb. It was all so senseless. It’s senseless that my mom is sitting in that box. It’s senseless that I’m in prison. The whole damn thing is senseless.  

“I don’t know what else to say, other than, I’m sorry mom.  I’m sorry for the things I did, and that we didn’t have any more time together. I hope you didn’t feel alone when you died.”

I wiped another tear from my cheek.

“Thank you all for coming.”  

I took my seat again. At the cemetery, they closed the casket and lowered her body into the dirt.  And that would be the last time I’d see my mom.

The pastor told me I could leave as long as I was back in time to return to the prison tomorrow morning.  I agreed. He gave me his phone and told me to call his wife if I needed anything. I told him thanks, and that I wouldn’t be out long.  

I walked along the city streets, and the snow fell and blanketed the sidewalks.  Cars rushed by splashing brown slush into the ditches. Neon lights glowed in the soft white haze of winter.  The air was heavy and quiet. My nose hurt and my cheeks felt stiff, but I just kept walking. I hadn’t walked that much since I could remember.  Cold or not, it felt nice and I wasn’t sure the next time I would feel something like this.

I found my way to a place called Phil’s Toys and Candies.  A small package of candy cigarettes caught my eye.  I pushed the old wood door open and stepped inside.

The room was warm.  There were walls of colors; clear buckets of candy advertised at low prices.  There were toys and comics in the back and an old man behind the register next to a well of “100% real ice cream”.

“Howdy!” the cashier shouted.  

“Hello,” I replied.  There was a family looking through a pile of Tootsie Rolls and bubblegum.  The mom gripped her purse tight at the sight of me. I filled the door with wild hair and glowing eyes like a monster coming from a closet.  The mom pushed the boys ahead and walked passed me without making eye contact. “Sorry, about that,” I told the cashier. The wood floor creaked as I stepped forward grabbing the box of cigarettes.  

“No Sweatsville, Idaho, my friend.  What can I getcha?”

I took a seat on a green vinyl stool that spun around.  

“Just these.”

I put a pack of the candy cigarettes on the table.  

“Good choice,” the cashier said.  “You know, when I was a kid, in weather like this, I’d get a pack of these candy cigarettes and breathe the cold air just like smoke.  I’d really sell it too. They could have given me an Oscar.”

I laughed.  

“I used to do the same thing.”

I ripped into the package and pulled one of chalky sticks out.  I put it into my mouth and breathed in.

“That’s pretty good.  We could have teamed up started a biker gang.”

I laughed tasting the sweetness of the candy.  

“What kind of bike did you have?”

“Schwinn, you?”

“Hurley.”

“Hooee, that’s a sweet ride.  We could have stirred up some real trouble.”

“Maybe in another life.”

“Where’d you come from?  I haven’t seen you around before.”

“You want to know the truth?”

“And nothing but it.”

“Prison.  Been there for 42 years.”

“Get out.  Upstanding gentleman like you.  I don’t believe it.”

“Believe it.”  

“So what happened, you do your time or breakout?”

“Little of both.  I’m on furlough. I get out for a day and go back tomorrow morning.”

“Well ain’t that a gosh darn thing.  How does one get the motivation to go back to prison after all this?”

“I’ll let you know tomorrow.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“What?”

“At least I know ya’ won’t kill me then.”

I laughed.  

“I in no hurry to get more time, pal.”

“The name’s Phil.”  

He put out his hand to shake.  

“I’m Earonne.”  

I did the same. His skin was coarser than I expected, and the grip tighter.

“So what blessing from the Lord lets you get out for this humble day?”

“My mom died.  I just got back from her funeral.”

The cashier’s face went sober.  “I’m so sorry. I…”

“Don’t worry about it.  To be honest I came here looking for something a little lighter.”

“Well, I hope I got I’ve got what ails ya’.  No one leaves my store without a smile on their face.”

“Does anyone ever come in here after getting out of prison and going to their mom’s funeral?”

“Hard to say, I don’t get to talk with everyone so much.”  

He smiled.

“Well, the truth is I came here because my mom always used to hate these candy cigarettes.  She’d see me and yank my shirt collar. ‘Earonne Michael Houston, spit that out right now’ she say.”  

“Middle name and everything?” Phil asked.  “She must have been sore.”

 “She said if I ever started a habit as disgusting as smoking she’d whoop me till I didn’t know what a cigarette was.  The funny part was that on Christmas she’d always put a pack in my stocking. I always looked forward to those candy cigarettes more than anything else I got.

Man, I loved these things growing up.  You know what else I loved? What were they called?  Rock candy, crystal… Christ, what were they called? You couldn’t eat them with soda.”

“Pop rocks!”

“Yes!  I loved that stuff so much.” Phil cut me off.

“Hold on right there.”  

He walked off to one of the displays and pulled out a handle of bags.  They looked just like they used to.

“What’s your favorite flavor?” I grabbed a green one.  “Sour apple, a man after my own heart.”

The candy crackled in my mouth.  It was almost too sweet, but I could remember getting this when I used to go to the circus.  Phil got a playful look and asked, “You want to do something crazy?”

He poured a glass of orange soda and slid it over.  

“What have you got to lose?”

I took a gulp.  The candy popped somewhat louder, but otherwise had no effect.    

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Phil announced. “We’ve just witnessed a miracle.  Mr. Earonne Houston has survived the unsurviable.”

He started clapping to himself.  

“Care to test your luck?”  I asked.

“I’m no madman.  I won’t take fate into my hands like that.”

I laughed.  

“You mind if I look around?”

“Be my guest.”  

I moved from the vinyl seat and looked at the walls of childhood joy.  There was fresh fudge, taffy, bubblegum, gummy bears, and lollipops. Every sweet thing you could think of was here.  

“When was the last time you tasted candy?”

“I couldn’t say.”

“Well, you’ve got some catching up to do then.  Try whatever you like.”

“I don’t have much money.”

“I wouldn’t accept it anyway.  You’ve got a lifetime of suffering that only candy can cover up.  Go on. Have a seat. I’ll make you a root beer float.”

I grabbed a red stick of rock candy took a seat at a child’s sized table. There was a pile of tops and small wind-up robots in the center.   My enormous body hunched over the table as I spun a top and watched the colors blur. My fingers were almost too fat to grip the plastic and I could only imagine what I looked like sitting there in a playful ball.  I wound up one of the robots and with a loud hissing it wobbled across the table. I smiled in awe amazed how something simple could be as spectacular as this toy walking on its own.

Phil took a seat next to me and grabbed another robot.  We both wound up the aluminum toys again and raced them.  Again and again, we raced them until we found another marvel to play with.  We jumped up and ran to a bucket of bouncy balls that we tried bouncing off the ceiling.  

The pastor’s phone rang and he asked me where I was.  

“I’ll be back soon,” I said almost annoyed. I told the pastor where I was, and he told me to have fun.  He seemed to understand.

“Come with me,” Phil said.  

He walked me over to the Slinkys.  I immediately grabbed the metallic spring and bounced it back and forth.  The metal pulsed back in a mesmerizing wave.

“You ever get these things to go down stairs?”  

I said it with a giddiness I hadn’t felt in ages.  

“Hasn’t everyone?”  

We walked to the top of a set of stairs that presumably lead to Phil’s home.  We lined up the Slinky and pushed. It stopped after a few steps and we just went to reset it.  After a few tries it went further. A few more tries went by and it went further. A few more tries and it made it to the bottom step.  

We laughed at those toys until it was dark and Phil closed the store.  He still let me stay though. Every few hours I called the pastor to let him know I was okay and would be home in time.   We ate candy until my stomach hurt. We made Lego towers and read comic books. We colored cartoons and played with Playdough.  Phil and I taught each other cards games that we’d learned long ago.

I didn’t really notice the time until an antique clown clock whistled that it was midnight and I knew I had to leave.  I thanked Phil for this and tried to give him what little money I had. He refused to accept it so I just thanked him again we both went our separate ways down the snow-covered sidewalk.

The next day I returned to prison.  I told the pastor that I would keep in touch.  He told me he’d like that. I didn’t tell anyone in prison about the candy store.  I could only imagine what they would think. I simply told them that I had a few drinks and spent the night with a friend.  

Things went back to the way they had been.  Once again I was surrounded by gray, listening to the cold clinging metal of iron bars, feeling the tense air of fear and regret.  And again, I felt that sense of loneliness that followed me my whole life.

A few days later, I received a package from Phillip.  Inside was a note that read, “There’s nothing wrong with being a child.  No matter who you are.”

And along with the letter was a small box of candy cigarettes.  

They were always my favorite.

   

Chase D. Cartwright lives in Milwaukee with his wife Sarah and their angel, Georgia (a cat).  He works at a psychiatric hospital fighting with insurance every day.  In his spare time, he likes cooking, listening to punk rock, and catching every episode of Jeopardy he can.  Occasionally, he will find time to pursue his dreams and will write stories.  He has been published a handful of times in The Far West Popular Culture Review, The Ashford Review, Stillpoint Literary Review, and Foliate Oak.

With Death in the Blood

By Fabrice B. Poussin

 

Ice flows through the veins of the lost knight

dressed in a steel armor melting under the heat

of wars never-ending.

 

He sees the damsel upon the inside visor

crushed within the metal as a prison

fearing it is too late.

 

Never will he abandon the quest

ignorant of the perils laid upon the road

until a final gasp from the tired breast.

 

Upon the form of eternal hillsides

to the deep valleys lush with endless hope

he senses the warmth of another life.

 

Guided by messages carved on wall of galaxies

he needs no other sign to lead his weary steps

to the prize in Avalon.

 

There is no need for ever-after to this warrior

for he will be content to die on the threshold of her domain

when she simply fells the rampart solely for him.

 

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review, and other publications.