Danielle Uppleger


She said she was going on a manhunt, sir. Charla Alexander, hometown bombshell and resident hog callin’ champion, was plannin’ on settlin’ down and raisin’ a family with the next good fella without enough good sense to keep passin’ through this town and not get hung up on her. But she said that before she did that, she was goin’ on a manhunt. You don’t know this, because you’re the new kid, but she had always had a way with the menfolk of this town, and she sure wasn’t shy about it, so it was more of a shock about the settlin’ down part than the whole manhunt thing. What kind of manhunt, you ask? Well, ain’t it obvious? She was goin’ on a manhunt for, well, men. 

I was in the town bar when she announced it. There’s only one bar in Warwick, Tennessee, and it’s called Sleazer Sal’s. Not because Sal is a sleaze, but because if Sal caught ya creepin’ on one of his lady customers, there was a glass with your name on it comin’ for yer head, and if the first shot didn’t take you out, there was a beer stein to finish the job. Sal must have killed a dozen guys, or at the very least left a bunch of ‘em with mental problems, but this ain’t no snitchin’ town, so I didn’t say any of that. It ain’t that Sal’s a vicious guy, he jus’ hates menfolk creepin’ on innocent ladyfolk, no matter how pretty they are. He don’ creep on the customers and ‘spects us all to do the same. Anyways, I was sittin’ at the bar, nursin’ a whiskey like I do after work nearly every day, while Sal polished a glass for the next pedo’s head when the door banged open in its usual fashion. The early afternoon light flashed in through the dust that had been startled off the usual drunks. The shafts separated when she swaggered in donning an outfit that left nothing to the imagination, her MO. I watched as that big-blonde-haired, Big-Red-gum-chewin’, denim-scantily-clad woman practically pranced her way up to the bar.

Now, I know you’re new here and you don’t really know who Charla is, so I gotta tell you a few things. First you gotta understand, Charla ain’t no salad eatin’ chick. She was a big-boned girl, like she had always been. She had so many love-handles her boyfriends called her “The Dresser Drawer.” She didn’t just have a muffin top; she had the whole bakery. But that’s why we all loved her. We all wanted the good big parts, if you catch my drift, and we were all grown enough to handle her. Now, I tell ya this because it’s important for this next part. You see, she didn’t just wanna make no silly-ass announcement. No, she wanted everybody in the bar to know what it was she was gonna do, and she was gonna make sure we all heard it. So she gets up on the bar.

Sal don’t normally take kindly to folks who wanna get intimate with the only barrier between him and the rest of the world, but like the rest of us, he had a sweet spot for Ms. Alexander. He treats her like the li’l’ sister he never got, dotin’ on her an’ coverin’ her tabs an’  whatnot. So she gets up on the bar, with help from Mike and Jess, the two oldest drunks to survive their nights at Sleazer Sal’s just enough to come back the next noontime for their gins. So they help her up like they knew she was about to do this, even though at two o’clock in the afternoon, they were too drunk to give a damn about anything goin’ on. Anyways, she gets a foot on a barstool and I keep sippin’, not givin’ one shit about this woman’s shenanigans. Then, she gets a pudgy knee on the bar and I glance over. Finally, when I heard a cowboy boot heel clack against the polished wood, I looked all the way over as she pushed off Mike’s gnarled hand and stood all on her own, the top of her beehive dustin’ parts of the ceiling that ain’t seen daylight since the place opened. I set my drink down and sighed, wonderin’ why in the hell she had to interrupt my Thursday afternoon whiskey.

“Attention, y’all, attention!” Charla chimed in a high toned and overly pronunciated sort of way. She scanned the bar, taking in the dark-green vinyled booths that held mostly graying men, but a few graying women, as well as the sticky orange wood high tops, covered with truckers on break. They all stared back at Charla, wonderin’ how in the hell she had gotten this drunk already. She settled her hands on her hips that were strugglin’ to stay in her Daisy Dukes while she waited for the last of the chatter to settle. She cleared her throat and began again.

“It’s time I found me a good man who wants me, God, and a family, just like I always wan’ed. But before I do all that, I’m gonna go out with a bang, or sev’ral,” The crowd chuckled a bit and Charla smiled, revealing that little gap between her front teeth that always drove me a bit crazy, in a good way. 

“That’s right, y’all,” she continued. “I’m goin’ out on a manhunt. And not jus’ any manhunt. Oh naw, folks, this’ll be the manhunt to end all manhunts. There will be bucks,” she said, winking at the truckers, “and maybe even some does.”

One of the old crones in the booths cried out and the men all started riotin’. Johnny, one of my best truckin’ friends, started chokin’ on the piece of fish he had, unfortunately for him, been tryin’ to eat when Charla let that lil’ bit of information drop. I laughed to myself and I thought, No wonder she wanted to announce this in Sal’s. Warwick’s is one religious town, but there ain’t no God in Sal’s to judge her for anything that comes outta her mouth.

“Settle down,” Charla whined in a way that suggested she was thoroughly enjoyin’ every bit of this. “Settle down now, y’all!” The crowd’s volume went low, except for Johnny, who was still recoverin’ from Truckin’ Taylor doin’ that whole Heimlich procedure on ‘im. Charla clasped her hands together and continued, saying, “I am goin’ on this final manhunt with two goals in mind: firstly, that I shoot as many targets as they come across my path, and secondly,” she paused, and I swear she gazed straight at me when she finished with, “that I find the husband God always meant for me to have.

“Now,” she swiveled her gaze back to the rest of the dull bar, “which one of y’all fine lookin’ men wanna be my first prize of huntin’ season?” The truckers started wolf whistlin’ and howlin’, causing Sal to jerk forward with a pint glass in each hand. I just shook my head. Since yer new, you don’t know that it was just like Charla to do somethin’ like this. Even when we were datin’, she always was doin’ the most to be the center of everyone’s attention. She belted karaoke out of key, chugged every keg, and flirted with every man at every party she ever went to. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard her say she was gonna settle, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last. This wasn’t her changin’ her ways, but more of an excuse to keep on keepin’ on. I shot down the last of my brown and got up to leave when Charla hopped down from her self-made podium and shook the whole joint when she landed.

“Evan, sweetie, don’t you want one bite of this apple pie?” she asked as she stuck out her spray-tanned chest.

“Maybe another time, doll,” I answered, intent on gettin’ past her and out the door. She stepped in front of me, her head tiltin’ to her left either from confusion or from the weight of the hairspray monstrosity on her head.

“What? You ain’t hardly said a word to me since we split, and now yer tryin’ to get away from me? What is your problem with me, Evan Singer?”

I sniffed and sneered, lookin’ away from her baby blue gaze. She knew just how to get my goat, and always did. It was one of our many problems. She crossed her arms, pushin’ up what was strugglin’ to get out of that busted biscuit can of a top, waitin’ for a proper response from me. Finally, I surrendered, showin’ my calloused hands in confession.

“I didn’t wanna say nothin’, but you leave me no choice,” I answered. “Charla, I got me a new girl.”

She stared for a minute, and then tossed her fake blonde, fake tanned head back and laughed. And not just one lil’ chuckle, but a deep, long belly laugh. She was thoroughly entertained by the idea that sweet lil’ Evan Singer could have moved on before her. My face flushed redder than the alcohol had already made it, and spit out, “I mean it, Charla; I’ve moved on.”

“Oh, honey, I know you mean it,” she replied once her laughter had died down to a wheeze. “I just think it’s cute that yer tryin’ to make me jealous.”

Now I was taken aback. Charla had said some outrageous things in her time. Good lord, she had just announced she was goin’ on a manhunt, for Chrissakes. But this took the goddamn cake. Me? Tryin’ to make her jealous? No way.

“I ain’t doin’ nothin’ of the kind, woman,” I shot back.

“Okay,” she called back, inspectin’ her American flag nails. “So yer not tryin’ to make me jealous. Either way, I don’t care.”

“You. . .you don’t care?” Was I hearing things? Did Sal slip me somethin’ stronger? Charla didn’t care about somethin’? I thought for sure God was sending his son down right then to take us all up to heaven because Charla admittin’ to not carin’ ‘bout somethin’ surely meant it was the end of the world. She cared ‘bout everythin’ from baby birds in the road to John McCain dyin’ of cancer, and she let everyone know it. You couldn’t get too far with her without her startin’ to gab just about everythin’ and anythin’. Most folks’ social media feeds were jus’ Charla, ranting and raving about one thing after the next.  Her sayin’ she don’t care ‘bout something was like the sky not bein’ blue.

“Lord, no, I don’t care,” she smirked, settlin’ onto one hip. “I’m about to be gettin’ tons of men, one taken one won’t hurt the numbers too much.”

“I’m sorry, but you don’t care?”

“No, hun, I don’t,” she said, sweetly shakin’ her head with a sympathetic smile on her plump, red lips.

“Well, why in the hell not?”

I should say right about now that Charla and I didn’t have her usual run ‘round her merry-go-round. In fact, there was a time I was the town envy, because just about everyone thought I was gonna be the one to finally get her into a church with a white dress on. Charla was one of my first sweethearts, and I was just about the only guy she considered herself gettin’ serious with. It all started a couple years back, and of course, we were at Sal’s. Now, I’m rather a quiet guy, prefer to keep to myself, and well, girls like Charla intimidated the hell out of me when they didn’t straight up scare me. So I figger I was about the only man beside Sal that would never have his night with Charla.

But then, one night, just as Sal was closing up shop, we was the only ones left. She had been settin’ at the other end of the bar, and I was finishin’ up my last whiskey. She was tryin’ and beggin’ and pleadin’ for Sal to give her the keys to her truck, but her head kept lollin’ with each word that came outta her mouth, so she wasn’t havin’ much luck. Finally, I shot down my last sip, stood up, and strode over to the damsel in distress. I didn’t say nothin’; I jus’ grabbed her hand and lead her to my car. Lookin’ back, she may have thought I was kidnappin’ her, but all I did was drive to her trailer, walk her up the rickety steps, and lead her to her bed. The next mornin’, she came ‘round to my place with a pot of coffee and a plate of pancakes that surely came from Margie’s Diner, because no other place in town woulda let Charla take their kitchenware ‘cept Margie’s. After that, Charla was sweet on me and I on her, so we started goin’ steady.

We were one of those sickly sweet couples, hangin’ on each other at the county fair, lovin’ on each other in the back booth at Margie’s Diner, spendin’ every spare second together. There was even a second when I thought she might actually love me. But then, one night, everythin’ felt different. I couldn’t tell if it had been another man, or if we just plain gave up on each other. All I know is I went to bed with her one night, and then she woke up the next morning, walked out my door, and never looked back. I never asked her ‘bout it, probably because I’m not much for talkin’. I jus’ excepted it. I always knew it was too good to be true. But that was months ago, and about three weeks before this, the receptionist at the Belle Tire one town over was lookin’ mighty fine, so I asked her out. I was all moved on, and so was Charla, so don’t you go thinkin’ I was one of them sickos whose goes around stalking their ex girl months and months later.

I watched as she picked a flake of red nail polish off her pinky nail. She huffed, and looked back at me, lettin’ her head flop a lil’ as she did. “’Fore I answer ya, let me ask you somethin’.”

I waved a hand with a shake of my head, rolling my eyes at her. She stepped closer to me, and I was sure she could smell the Pine-sol I had spilled on this flannel yesterday. She was a few inches shorter than me, so she had to look up to lock my gaze as she asked, “Why do you care?”

“Why do I care ‘bout what?” I crossed my arms again.

“Why do you care so much ‘bout me not carin’ ‘bout you havin’ a new girlfriend?”

I scoffed. “I don’t.”

She cocked her head back in fake confusion and raised her overly done eyebrows. “Really? ‘Cause the way you told me ‘bout it sounded like you were tryin’ to make me jealous.”

I spit out a laugh at that. “Why on earth would I want you to be jealous, Char?”

“Ain’t it obvious? Yer still in love with me.”

“Am not!”

“Are so!”

“AM—look, Charla, I’m not playin’ no games, okay? I’ve moved on.”

She plopped her round behind in the nearest barstool and went back to inspectin’ her nails. She rapped her knuckles on the bar for Sal’s attention and said, “Sure you have.”

“I have.”


“She’s prettier than you.”

“Doubt it.”            “She has much more in common with me than you ever did.”

She rolled her baby blues and looked up at me in disdain. “Now it just sounds like y’all are tryin’ to convince yerself.”

“I don’t need to convince myself of nothin’!” I said, my hands grippin’ my cropped hair in frustration. “I like her, okay? Not you.”

Charla ignored me and told Sal to pour her whatever beer was on tap. He nodded and walked away, leaving the two of us be again. Her tongue fussed with the inside of her cheek while I huffed from a few feet away. Our fights had always been like this: childish banter that ended in silence because we both thought we were right. That’s what happens when you stick two thick-skulled stubborn jackasses together. I shook my head and grabbed my wallet. I pulled a few bills from the leather folds and slapped them down on the bar when Sal returned with Charla’s beer.

“I’m leavin’, see ya Sal,” I nodded toward him, and he replied in the same way. I started to walk out, cursin’ that woman this way and back from Sunday, but I only made it to the end of the oak bar before she called out in her best seductress siren voice, “Don’t you want me to answer your question?”

I stopped, sighed, and let my head roll back slightly. I knew I shouldn’t respond, but it wasn’t up to me. That woman could do things to me that I could never understand, and I gave up tryin’ to understand them years ago. With regret yellin’ in my head, I slowly spun ‘round.

“What’d you say?”

“You heard me,” she said, eyes wide with pretend innocence. “You asked a question, don’t ya want an answer?”            “You know, Charla,” I said as I walked back toward her, getting right up in her face, “I don’t give a rat’s ass what your answer is.”

“Oh, but you do,” she replied, letting her gapped teeth snag on her cherry red lower lip.

“Oh yeah? And why’s that?” I retorted, boiling to the brim with all sorts of emotions that made me see red.

She took my chin, forcin’ me to look her in the eyes as she spoke, and, I swear to God, this is exactly what she said. She said, “I don’t care that you’ve got a girlfriend, because I know in the end it’s gonna be you an’ me.”

She pushed into me as she slid off the stool. I felt her ass as she turned and grabbed her beer. While I stood, astonished, she pushed past me and looked at me. She concluded the encounter with this line: “Yer my sixteen-point buck, honey, and ain’t nobody shoot one of those dead on Openin’ Day. I’ll see you at the end of huntin’ season.”

Charla winked and walked away, making her buttcheeks and thighs wiggle in the charmin’ way that only she could do. She greeted the remaining table of truckers with a cheer and I stood shocked. Sal had to throw a shot glass at me to knock some sense back into my head. I shook the look off my face, nodded to Sal who nodded back, and grabbed my hat off the coatrack as I walked out the door and into my car. I sat down, fumblin’ with my keys, noticin’ that the door of Sal’s hadn’t shut all the way yet, and I could see Charla, leanin’ on a trucker table, her full silhouette pronounced greatly. I kept watching her until the door finally cut her from view, and then I shook my head, jammed the keys into the ignition, and drove away.

To be fair, I probably already knew I was still in love with her at that moment, but I didn’t want that to be true. It’s scary thinking either you might spend your whole life with someone or get burnt again, especially when it’s a fierce gal like Charla on yer mind. Course, I was a bit irritated in the moment, but I would never thought of harming a hair on her head fer sayin’ that. She was jus’ being honest.

I will always remember that day when Charla announced her last manhunt. Although, I don’t think anyone in town could forget it, because it was the last time anyone seen Charla ‘fore she went missing. Of course, we all know it wasn’t someone from the bar that night that took her, but Sal still blames himself. Can you write that down, that Sal couldn’t be a suspect? I thank you kindly for that, sir. Me? I went home, had a beer, called up the girl from Belle Tire and ended things. Y’all can check my phone records. If that’s all y’all will be needin’, Officer, I have to be goin’. There’s a manhunt for Charla goin’ on tonight, and I can’t miss it.

Danielle Upplegeris a senior at Columbia College Chicago, where she is an English and Creative Writing student. This is her first published work.


Jay C. Mims

Priest of the Winter Wind


It’s too quiet out on this tundra, no sound but the screaming Wind and the now-constant clack of my chattering teeth. I’m surprised my jaw can still move in such rapid succession in this cold. Yet, every few minutes my teeth bang together, that clack-clack-clackreverberating off the rough stone of the mountains to join the Wind’s funeral dirge. I pull my knees closer to my chest, wrap the blue cape even tighter around my huddled body, trying to retain some amount of warmth as the frigid Wind rushes towards the mountains, carrying flecks of ice in its crescendo.

I was a fool to come out here in the dead of night, onto this frozen plain with a battle hymn on my lips and slaughter in my heart. A bloated sense of my own ego caused me to leave camp, accept Brachyurus’ challenge early this morning. He may lay slain at my feet, but I’m freezing to death, huddled and bleeding and shaking as the snow whips around me.

The only warm part of my body is my head, covered as it is in mane-like, black hair. Thick, knot-like braids protect my scalp and neck from the ice and Wind. My war-braids, sixty-two in total, are probably keeping me alive. Brachyurus was going to be my sixty-third, but my fingers can barely grip a weapon let alone twist hair together. I’ll die without my sixty-third honorable kill being recorded.

Sixty-two vanquished enemies, run through by my blade after being defeated in one-on-one combat, are recorded in my ebony hair. My battle history is chronicled in those braids, on display for any and all to see. I only needed three more—two counting Brachyurus—to challenge our sitting Warchief. I was so close to taking my rightful place at the head of our clan. Now the cold and the dead bastard’s spear have stopped me.

“Nothing was ever going to stop me,” I exhale, my words a puff of smoke in the frigid air. “Not a single enemy was going to get in my way.”

Brachyurus chooses not to answer me, allowing his biting Wind to respond for him. That Wind, and the ice and snow and cold it carries with it, has begun to encroach into my head, to seep deep into my scalp. My hard-earned war-braids mean nothing out here in the frozen waste. Even in death, he was still victorious, no doubt laughing from the other side that his trap had worked.

His challenge had come late last night or early this morning. My men were all asleep, not that being awake would have allowed them to intercept Brachyurus’ message. He had prompted the wolf to infiltrate, to skulk right up to my tent, where he knew I would be busy preparing for the coming battle. The low growl of the beast outside my tent had roused me from my planning, and I had strode out into the cold night with sword in hand. Waiting for me was the messenger-wolf, white fur gleaming under the light of the full moon. There had been no clouds—or snow—when I stepped out of my tent.

“Warmaiden Zhana,” the wolf spoke when it saw me, its voice that of my enemy, “face me and me alone in battle. Spare the men and women we both lead from senseless death.”

“Brachyurus, Priest of the Winter Wind, do you challenge me to honorable combat?”

“Yes,” the wolf spoke, the single word sounding dejected.

“I accept,” I replied before plunging my straight sword into the neck of the wolf. It made no sound as it hit the ground, jerking only once as its blood spilled out onto the frost-tipped grass. That blood snaked around, slithering out of the beast to pool and congeal into rudimentary shapes, before settling into the form the Priest had bestowed upon it: a map. The indicated path led several miles north of my camp, up through a mountain pass and onto a wide swath of flat land. That was the battlefield Brachyurus had chosen, the same tundra that will no doubt be my grave.

It took mere minutes to don my rough, leather armor and depart from my camp. In my arrogance I hadn’t alerted my second-in-command to my exodus. My mind was only on my enemy, and the sixty-third war-braid he would represent once my blade was slick with his blood. A warrior’s smile was the only other thing I chose to take with me. Brachyurus would be dead by the time I made it back to camp, and this bitter campaign would be over.

“Your soldiers ambushed mine, didn’t they?” I ask again of the Priest’s body. His trap surely couldn’t have been only intended for me.

I arrived at Brachyurus’ chosen field of battle some two hours after leaving camp to find the Priest of the Winter Wind waiting for me, bracing himself against the shaft of his great spear. His armor was the same interlocking plates that his soldiers wore, though his had a collar of white wolf fur attached to a deep blue cape. His white beard seemed to merge with that collar, making the two almost indistinguishable. The Wind ripped his cape about in a frenzied dance.

“To the death and the end of your Warchief’s aggression?” he called, his voice a clap of thunder at the onset of a storm.

“My Chief’s aggression did not start this war, Priest,” I replied as I stalked closer to him, my sword brandished in my left hand. “But your death will mark the end of it!”

I charged forward, not giving the old man time to respond with his words or his weapon or his magics, swinging my blade in a wide arc that he parried without so much as moving. I was close enough to see his blue eyes with that first exchange, eyes full of sadness and what can only be described as resignation. If only I had given that stare heed.

The fight was on in full then, each of us thrusting or slashing or dodging or parrying. Nothing else existed: no mountains behind me or tundra behind him; no Wind or clouds; no full moon in the sky. The only entities in all of creation were Brachyurus and me, our weapons’ sharp retorts the only bridge between the mortal world and the realm of battle we found ourselves in. Combat was a transcendental experience.

The Priest was holding back, I knew. I had watched him in battle before, wielding that awesome spear with the precision of the most advanced surgeons and the artistry of the finest painters. While still a capable warrior, it did not feel like I was facing off against a true master of warfare. It had irked me, until that frustration became a distraction.

Brachyurus drew first blood, stabbing the spear deep into my right shoulder while I philosophized about his prowess in battle.

This was not my first injury, was far from it, but he only landed the blow because of my own preoccupations. Surprisingly, he let me stagger backward without advancing. He should have surged forward, killing me then and there. Instead, he allowed me to regroup, assess the damage, and counterattack.

The Priest of the Winter Wind allowed me to cut him down after wounding me, not even bothering to defend himself. I ran my sword through his abdomen, gripping the hilt in one hand and his shoulder with the other as I pulled him to me and pushed the blade into him. He made no sound as I yanked the sword free, just smiled as he grasped the mortal wound, blood oozing down his chin.

“You lose, Warmaiden Zhana,” he gasped before falling backward, his back hitting the tundra ground with a boom. The storm erupted from his torn stomach then, ice and snow and Wind exploding from the wound. “You lose!”

That look of resignation, the calm contempt of his voice as he spoke through the wolf, made sickening sense in that moment. I had turned to run back through the mountain pass, but it was too late. The pass was already frozen shut.

“Do you feel the Wind, Warmaiden?” he wheezed, flecks of blood flying past his teeth on his words, winter itself pouring from his ruined gut.

His trap had been perfect, the Wind upholding its end of whatever dark pact it had made with the Priest. The deal had required Brachyurus’ life, that much was clear, but it probably also needed my blood. That’s the only explanation my near-frozen mind has come up with in the last four hours.

As the Wind rips about me, as the frost bites into my fingers and toes, I know that I am going to die. Not in battle, the way I always envisioned my death, but frozen, victim to the foul Wind the Priest had worshipped. Brachyurus didn’t just trap me on this tundra, didn’t just tear my hopes of glory from my soon-to-be dead hands, but kept me from the death I so rightly deserve.

There is nothing more to do than pull the Priest’s damned cape as tight as I can around me and wait for the end.


Jay C. Mims is a writer from Denton, Texas currently displaced in Chicago while he pursues an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago.  He writes book reviews for Into the Void Magazine,and his first novel, Skin Eater, is available on Amazon.


David Trinidad

Freewrite after Breathing, Last Class, 12/11/18


Breathe in the smell of cookies.  (I got my pink star.)  Breathe through the two women talking in the hall.  I heard one say “suffered a lot” and later “stay home with the dog.”  I wonder what’s going to happen on Ray Donovan tonight.  Last night, right before going to bed, he shot a Russian in the head.  What an image to fall asleep to.  Dreamt Ted Hughes told me that my writing about Plath was “sensitive and engaging.”  “Yours, too,” I said.  We were in a talk show-like setting.  Someone just coughed.  I’ve taken a few bites of the pink star.  It’s now half a star.  Now it’s a fourth.  It has peppermint sprinkles on it.



My paternal grandmother was a difficult woman: vain, selfish, opinionated, a spendthrift.  At least that’s how my mother characterized her; her mother-in-law worked her nerves.  Luckily there was some distance between them: We lived in Southern California; my grandparents, in the Bay Area.  Certain facts about my grandmother I learned much later, and many years after her death.  She was born on the island of Maui in 1906, to Portuguese parents, Francisco and Julia Gonsalves.  One of thirteen children, Anna Mary would eventually change her name to Anita.  Ludvinia, the sister she was closest to, also changed hers, to Lavyne.  I like to think they decided to change their names together, after the family had moved stateside, to Oakland, when they were old enough to wear baubles and bob their hair.  Where and how she met my grandfather, Rupert Manuel Trinidad, is a mystery.  In the sixties, after their three sons were grown, my grandfather’s job as an engineer took them to London, where he was involved in the design of the Akosombo Dam in Ghana, and then to Brasília.  Though they lived well enough for Anita to afford a housekeeper, she always wanted more than they had.  She liked to entertain, look big.  After they returned to the States, they bought a house in a city with a pretty name, Orinda, just east of Berkeley.  We visited them there one Christmas.  I have a photograph of our family sitting on the mauve silk couch in my grandparents’ living room, under a painting of Venice.  The couch is long enough to accommodate the six of us: my parents in the middle, flanked on either side by two of their children.  My father sports a flattop; my mother, a shocking pink dress.  All of us, even my father, are smiling.  I was fascinated by the little cloth cocktail napkins my grandmother had brought back from Brazil.  Cross-stitched around the edges (with red and green thread), each napkin featured a small embroidered figure: men wearing ponchos and bolero hats, women carrying baskets of fruit over their heads.  Stitched underneath each figure, the name of a different South American country: Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil.  (The napkins are now in my possession: My sisters, who between them had a set of twelve, sent them to me when I said I wanted to write about them.)  When I was in high school, we visited my grandparents in Lake Tahoe, where they and Lavyne and her husband owned side-by-side cabins.  I remember Anita sitting at a card table, playing solitaire.  Her hair dyed red.  On a finger, as she turned over the cards: the big oval amethyst she’d bought in Brazil.  Cigarettes and highball (bourbon) nearby.  Also: Look magazine with Greta Garbo on the cover.  Garbo is 65.  (My age now.)  I never heard my grandmother speak Portuguese.  The only part of her heritage she shared with us was food: linguiça (a spicy sausage) and a braided Christmas bread with bits of colorful dried fruit in it.  She outlived my grandfather by sixteen years.  When she was dying, at age eighty-six, I went to see her at a nursing home in Hayward, California.  “I’ve had a good life,” she said.  The nurses didn’t like her, my mother told me, because she treated them like the help.



Another Friday night at Beyond Baroque, circa 1982.  Anne Waldman is at the worn black podium, reciting a poem.  Her reading style is incantatory, but forced.  An unseen heckler begins to goad her, from the back of the room.  Lewis MacAdams jumps to Anne’s defense, threatening violence.  An intense moment, then the poem continues.  Afterwards there’s a party, as there usually is, at Sheree’s house on Thurston Avenue in Brentwood—hers after her divorce—where she lives with her two teenaged children and her poet-performer boyfriend, Bob Flanagan.  Bob has drawn Sheree into the world of S & M.  From well-to-do Jewish housewife to dominatrix.  From cystic fibrosis to supermasochist.  That story.  I smoke in the yellow kitchen, wait for provisions (beer and potato chips) to arrive.  Bob puts Wall of Voodoo on the stereo in the living room: “I fell into a burning ring of fire.”  Kate Braverman (all in black) makes a rare appearance, to chat up Anne Waldman, and is flabbergasted that Waldman has never heard of her.  “Why, I’m the grande dame of the Los Angeles poetry scene!”  The best kind of fodder for the gossip mill: poets blind to the size of their own ego.  Because we often run out of alcohol by the time the liquor stores are closed (2:00 a.m.), I hide, while there’s still plenty, a six-pack under the sink in the back bathroom; that way I always have a beer in hand, which I pretend to nurse, lest someone become suspicious of my stash.  (Years later I’ll learn that Ed Smith had his own hiding place for same.)  Those parties sometimes lasted all weekend.  I’d stay on, till Saturday, till Sunday afternoon, afraid to drive drunk (post-accident).  Afraid of sitting alone in my Hollywood hovel, too depressed to write the new poems I desperately wanted to write.  Distressed about returning, Monday morning, to the Housing Authority, a job I was ill-suited for.  It felt safe at Sheree’s.  Bob would walk around naked, on acid, weights hanging from his balls.  Sheree would brag about the size of her son’s cock.  I’d lay in their bed, head aching, watching the colorized version of It’s a Wonderful Life on TV.  Wondering if the world would be any different without me.

One Sunday morning (January 16, 1983, to be exact), I sat with Celia Pearce in the breakfast nook and typed the collaboration we’d just written, “Ed Smith Slept Here.”  Which we dedicated to our host; Sheree was a den mother of sorts.  Then Celia and I read it out loud, alternating lines: “How can we even think of breakfast / When we haven’t even begun to live.”  If Gail Kaszynski hadn’t filmed us reading and talking (and uploaded it, thirty-three years later, on YouTube), I’d never have remembered that when I visited Alice Notley on St. Mark’s Place the previous October (my first trip to New York), I brought her a bouquet of pink and white carnations.  And a six-pack.  One sunny, hungover morning, I sat on Sheree’s front lawn and talked with Lynne Tillman (the reader at Beyond Baroque that week; I loved her short story about Marilyn Monroe).  We both wore sunglasses.  I asked her about New York—where I desperately wanted to live, to live the writer’s life.  (I would one day, but not until after I got sober.  Lynne would be a friend, in the years I lived there.)  Another morning, I sat on the lawn with Jane DeLynn.  Her cutting wit intimidated me.  But Tim Dlugos (whom I adored) adored her.  And we had the same sign (Cancer).  When I asked her to inscribe In Thrall, her second novel, she wrote, “To David and his beautiful hair.”


Ray Donovan

On a frigid night in late November, 2018, my coach house in Chicago surrounded by icy snow, I watch the first episode of Ray Donovan and am delighted to see, during the credits, that the series was created by Ann Biderman.  Her name a Proustian madeleine: Thirty years evaporate like so much wintry mist.  In 1988, on the verge of moving from Los Angeles to New York, I dog-sat for her in the house she shared with her partner, director Roger Vadim, in Santa Monica.  We’d met through Raymond Foye, who published me in his Hanuman series: colorful, pocket-sized books, inspired by Indian prayer books, that were printed in Madras.  An aspiring screenwriter, Ann was petite and pretty, with long black hair and an air of authority that comes, I imagined, from hobnobbing with celebrities.  She gave me a recipe that Jane Fonda had given her: a blended drink made from boiled greens that she subsisted on while filming movies, to keep her weight down.  Ann’s dog was named Genius, a sweet, long-legged mutt with grayish fur and a goofy face.  At night when I got into bed, Genius would set his head on the edge of the mattress and stare at me with soulful eyes.  I wrote a little poem about him that said just that.  Stacks of books everywhere; it felt like I was being embraced by my future life.  I sat at the dining table and typed letters to the poets I would hang out with in New York: Tim, Jimmy, Joe, Elaine, Eileen.  The cottage-like house was nestled in the hills overlooking the Pacific.  Steep concrete steps led up to it from the street.  Small yard.  Low chain-link fence.  I was instructed to keep the gate closed at all times, so Genius wouldn’t get out.  Donald Britton visited me while I was staying there.  I served him tea and cookies.  He had just moved from New York to Los Angeles.  We joked that we were poets passing in the night, so to speak; trading places; that by each of us moving across the country at the same time, in opposite directions, we were keeping the scales balanced.  But only for a moment.  Donald died of AIDS before finishing a second book.  While I’ve had time to write many.  I hadn’t been in New York long when Raymond told me that a subsequent dog-sitter left the gate open: Genius had made his way down to the street and was killed by a car.

After the reverie wears off, I send Ann a friend request on Facebook.  And learn, on Wikipedia, that the pages of Raymond’s Hanuman books were stitched by local fishermen in Madras.


Winona Ryder

I never understood everyone’s indignation when she was arrested for shoplifting.  The poor woman was obviously in crisis.  And besides, she’s a movie star, why shouldn’t she be allowed to shoplift?  She’d already given her soul to celluloid, so to speak.  The satisfaction of seeing a mighty one fall, I guess.  I’ve always thought her 480 hours of community service would have made a great reality TV show.  What a missed opportunity.  Winona helping blind children, caring for babies with AIDS.  Oscar worthy!  Or at least Emmy.  She was ordered to complete her hours of service at the City of Hope medical center.  City of Hope!

David Trinidad’s most recent book of poems is Swinging on a Star (Turtle Point Press, 2017). He edited Punk Rock Is Cool for the End of the World: Poems and Notebooks of Ed Smith and an Emily Dickinson divination deck, Divining Poets: Dickinson, both out from Turtle Point in 2019.  He is currently completing a manuscript of prose poems.


Alexis Berry

As Daughters, We Learn


The first color that I remember is gray. Not the sky, not the walls, not the ceiling or the floor, but a perpetual grayness that manifested from nothing at all. It was as stable as air, and just as abundant. I don’t know where it came from, exactly; one day I just looked over my shoulder and there it waslooming over me like a beam of crackling static. I looked closer when I first laid eyes on it; it was new then, and strangely comforting in a sleepy sort of wayas if I were about to drift into a comfortable coma that would leave me feeling refreshed and eager to live again. I remember . . . I was sitting in the kitchen cutting onions: a ten-year-old, already a little woman, with a butcher’s knife in my hand. There was a dark bruise on my cheeka gift from a girl at school whose name I couldn’t remember. 

“Henrietta,” my mother said to me, and my focus withdrew from the corner where the grayness lurked. No one called me Henrietta except her; it was always Henri—as the French would say it. It was a nickname that my father had given me; he had always wanted a son. 

 She stopped sautéing the mushrooms for our traditional Monday stroganoff and walked over to where I was perched on the wobbly red barstool. She brushed her thumb lightly over the purple blister; I tried not to wince. “What happened here?” she asked. It was the first time she had noticed.

 I scooted a little closer to the counter. I wasn’t really crying; it was only the onions. “She didn’t like my dress.”

 My mother crossed her arms. “Who didn’t?” she demanded. “Your grandmother bought you that dress. It’s lovely enough.”

 “I don’t know her name.” I didn’t bother commenting that the dress was, in fact, one of the most hideous things that I had ever seen. But my Grandma Cain had given me that dress, and because I loved my Grandma Cain, I wore it proudly. 

 My mother’s face stiffenedstill beautiful, even in her disgust. Her lips were the color of summer wine, and her eyes were the color of the sapphires that my science teacher wore around her neck. Her blouse was puffed at the sleeves, and her skirt, like all the skirts she owned, was nearly too short and too tight for comfort. She never wore the dresses that Grandma Cain bought her. “Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” she said, finally. “Did you say something to her? Were you talking too loud?”

 “No.” It was the routine response.

 She grimaced—a look of disbelief. “No more bruises, Henrietta. It’s unbecoming,” she said sternly, and I nodded. But there were other bruises there—I remember—ones that she didn’t see. She just went back to sautéing the mushrooms in her dainty leather skirt and I to the onions that stained my fingertips. 

 The gray haze didn’t leave after that. Maybe it was that girl’s fist when I told her that I loved my ugly purple dress with the disproportionate patterns of ‘70s funk; maybe her knuckles embedded something deep inside me that could never be shaken. A new possibility came over me that maybe, after all, my mother was right, and I was being too loud. Maybe all the teachers who lamented my shyness were wrong. Maybe I wasn’t quiet at all. Maybe I died screaming, and it was the monster who took my place who was silent. Nonetheless, the gray stayed, and as I swore to keep that silence, the gray grew. 

 When I was fourteen, the haze deepened from smokey embers to graphite shadows. I started looking in mirrors a lot—little fleeting glances that left me numb. I didn’t look like other people; maybe that’s obvious. But I didn’t look quite like myself either. At one point, I couldn’t even recognize my eyes—the deepest, darkest green that was my father’s. My blonde curls didn’t bounce like they used to; they laid limp and flat against the curve of my face, which I swore was only getting plumper with each passing day. My gaze kept resting on the little mole—scarcely bigger than a freckle—that sat just above the left side of my lip. 

 “I look like Marilyn Monroe,” I had joked a couple of days before, and my mother glared at me over the top of her Cosmopolitan magazine. “Why would you want to look like that trashy woman? Haven’t I raised you to keep your legs closed?” she scolded, while my little sister, Lucy, played with naked Barbies on the floor in front of her. 

 The memory haunted me for a long time after; I even thought about getting the mole removed. I came close to asking when my mother took me to the dermatologist for my acne. “Well, it’s getting worse,” she told them, as two latex-gloved hands gripped the bottom of my chin. “See it there—the red ones? Can’t you give her anything to take care of that?”

 I avoided mirrors after that. When I brushed my teeth, when I combed my hair, when I scrubbed my face raw with those foaming chemicals gifted to me by anonymous blue hands, I kept my eyes low, trained on the cracked white tile of the bathroom floor. I simply did not want to see. It was easier that way. I didn’t notice when my flat chest rose and my face narrowed and my towheaded locks straightened into distant waves. Nor did I notice the curve of my hips or the way my eyes looked under the fluorescent light—older, more solemn, and missing something that other girls at my school breathed like air. In my own mind, I remained small—a child with knobby knees and scraped elbows and dirt between my toes. I was a seedling in the permafrost, never destined to bloom, stunted while the world around me flourished.

 When I was sixteen, the gray became endless—the color of winter gates that never opened. It seeped beyond my vision into the halls of my high school. “Be gentle with yourselves,” my history teacher told us on the first day of finals. “You’re going to see parts of each other that you’ve never seen before.” But I had already seen it all, in desks and textbooks painted black; there was no war to be won.  

 “Mom?” I asked, peeking over my math book to where she sat across the room on the love seat. She still leaned to one side out of habit, leaving space for my father, though we both knew that he was never coming back. She was on the phone with a friend from work. “When you’re done, I really need help.”

 “Hold on, Karen,” she said with a sigh, covering the receiver with one hand, and shot me a look that was all too familiar. It made my blood run cold, and I immediately wished that I had never spoken at all. “I’m busy, Henrietta.”

 But I was desperate. And I knew for sure that I was, because I tried again. “Mom, please, the test is in two days,” I insisted. I remember hating how my voice sounded for hours, days after. “Just whenever you’re done—”

 “I have more important things to do than look at your math questions,” she shot back, and the room turned to stone. “You’re a big girl, Henrietta. You can figure it out . . . Now, what were you saying, Karen? I’m sorry. My daughter. . . .” 

 A couple of weeks later, long after the comfort of the holidays, I found myself grounded in my room. I had failed my geometry final.

 “You need to learn to ask for help if you need it,” my mother had scolded me as I made my way up the stairs. But asking her was like screaming into a void, into the empty walls of a home that taught me that I will hear nothing back. 

 Still, I heeded her words. As school dragged on and the tests came back, I began to realize that I had one chance of escape. My grades became everything as I poured over the computers in the library, searching for colleges—some far away, and some even farther. It was my ticket out, I knew, from the gray walls with the gray stairs and the graying loveseat. I would never again fail a final—or anything for that matter—and it would take me so far away that the gray would never touch me again. 

 I remember creeping down the stairs one night—a fool’s attempt to sneak into the kitchen and nab one of the peanut butter buckeyes that Grandma Cain had brought over for New Year’s Eve. Halfway down the stairs, I came to a dead halt with one foot still poised mid-step; I could hear my mother from her usual place on the loveseat, talking with someone. Her voice was thick and heavy; I heard it break at least twice in the rush of words that followed. It took me a moment to realize that she was crying. 

 “Mom, I just . . . I don’t know how. . . .”

 There was a Grandma Cain’s muffled voice on the other end, though I could scarcely hear it over the gut-wrenching sobs that built a wall in the pit of my stomach. My mother had seen me cry so many times I had lost count. But, my mom—my mom never cried.

 “Of course she doesn’t understand!” was the sudden outburst; I nearly jumped out of my own skin when the television remote went flying across the room. It clattered to the floor in another rush of bumbling words: “She’s a little girl—well, maybe not so little anymore, but it’s not like she would understand. She still thinks her father and I might get back together . . . No, she doesn’t know about the divorce. No . . . she has not talked to him since.”

 My heart was pounding in my chest. I had never felt more dead yet so alive¾I could feel my flesh crawling with every word that fell from her cherry lips. I took one step back up the stairs, where the safety of my bedroom beckoned me forth. 

 “Mom, no, that’s not what I’m trying to say here.” Her voice cracked again. “I’m just worried that I’m not doing it right, and it’s getting to that point . . . already looking at colleges and . . . Lucy is going to be in middle school next year, and I don’t even know where it went! It’s like I wasn’t even there!” Another sob; I could practically see the tears rolling down her cheeks. “There were so many things I wanted to do—I wanted to love someone, and travel, and have a career. Is that wrong? Am I not supposed to want those things, or regret not . . . Of course, I know I’m lucky! That’s not what . . . I . . . I just don’t think I was ready to be a mother.”

 The words hit me like a truck. I nearly tripped and tumbled back down the linoleum steps. My mother, who scoured romance novels and flipped through the Travel Channel, my mother whose eyes would light up at the possibilities of a night out or a chance for relaxation, my mother—a single mother—who got pregnant with me at the age of nineteen and worked behind a makeup counter at a local department store. My mother whose ex-husband had the luxury of freedom while she made dinner for two children and relied on Grandma Cain for rent. My mother who never finished college so she could take care of me, who sat on the phone each night, pretending to be far happier than she really was. 

 I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what any of it meant. So I ran. 

 Back in my room, the gray darkened to a shade that was almost black—burnt charcoal and volcanic smoke. Laying there on the hardwood floor with my arms crossed over my belly, I found that I really did know what it meant. I found that I had known for a long time. My mother had been young when she had me—too young to know what having me really meant—and she missed out on a lot because of it. What those things were, I really didn’t know, but she talked about them often, with that same wistful look in her eyes that my father had worn before he left. I had always known it, I think, in the way that she said my name—so hard and so coarse, with no touch and no feeling. It was the same feeling, too, when my sister “Lucy” was never “Lucille”, and I was always “Henrietta” and never “Henri.” I had always been able to recognize it, in the way she tucked my sister into bed each night while forgetting to visit my room, where I sat upright in my bed, waiting. I could sense her distrust like a dog smells fear. Every time she looked at me, she remembered what I had taken from her, what she could have had if I had never been born. 

 “If I had never been born,” I echoed. I didn’t sleep that night. 

 I was seventeen, and my dad was truly gone; shadows took his place. The house grew quiet, empty but for a couple of fleshy shells that called themselves human. Lucy was still in ballet at the time; she danced around the kitchen in the dark, but all I can remember from when I was seventeen is lying flat on my back, staring up at the bathroom ceiling. I can still feel the way my fingernails dug into my palms as I curled my fists back and forth, back and forth. I wanted to feel alive. I wanted to feel something

 After a while, I thought maybe she had changed. When she had cried on the phone with Grandma Cain, I thought a part of her softened, and she would try to see me as her daughter. Maybe she would be more accepting. Maybe she would love me like the mother she was trying so hard to be. Maybe she would be okay with seeing me cry. Maybe she would be okay with me.

 I didn’t know what I was getting into when I told her that I was gay. She stared at me with those beautiful cerulean eyes—straight into my soul—and said, “Tell me what it’s like to burn.”

 But it felt no different—not the confession, not the nonexistent feel of her arms. There was no breath of air, no quench of thirst, no sense of awakening. It was just me on the bathroom floor, like a mangy dog whose teeth had just been pulled out. The gray shadows loomed over me, whispering amongst themselves. My father was one of them, ever reluctant, always putting on his shoes and packing his bags. I remembered how he had frowned when my mother told us she was pregnant with Lucy; he always frowned that way in my dreams when the memory of him would project itself off the bathroom tile. Lucy was one of them, too, a perfect happy girl with rosy cheeks and a knack for performance, and so was Grandma Cain, who would cradle me like a child yet never raise a word against her own daughter. My mother’s shadow was the biggest of them all, squirming with taunts, empty words, a looped hiss of despair and biting snarls. 

            Stop that!
   Be quiet, Henrietta. 
            Go upstairs, Henrietta.
            You’re a sinner, Henrietta. 

From her, other shadows sprung, and with her, they grew. Louder and louder, they grew, until they towered over me, until I couldn’t see. 

 “Get out,” I told them, but they never listened. I wanted to make them suffer for all that they had done; I wanted to be cruel and mean and spiteful and cold. I wanted to march down the stairs with the Scripture in my hand and demand compensation for all the years that I had spent alone. I wanted to scream at her for all the times that she had screamed at me, and tell her that I was my own mother, forever without the need of her or anything that she could ever say to me. I wanted to make her cry again, and I wanted it to be my fault. 

 But I couldn’t. I was too weak, and I was too afraid; I had no idea who I was, or who I had become. So, I just laid there in that monochromatic sea, set aflame by all of the hands that never touched me.

 Why am I so loud? I often wondered, and I left those walls still wondering. When was I ever anything more than this?

 At some point that I still can’t quite remember, when I could see nearly nothing even when the lights were on, I began to understand. I grew older; I saw things—I met a girl who was even taller than me, who had sunlight in her hair and gold in her eyes. She breathed honey and traced it across my skin; the Muses could sing poetry about her hands alone. She picked me up from the underground, and the permafrost melted.

 “Nadia,” I called her. 

 “Henri,” she called me, and I felt liberation in her arms. It was love, I knew, and each time I laid eyes on her, it would spread throughout me in a great burst of flame—brighter and brighter, until the shadows began to fade. 

 “Look,” she told me one afternoon when I was helping her get ready for her interview. She pointed an olive-toned finger toward the bathroom mirror, and I had no choice but to follow. I expected the glass to break or the shards to rise in the air like knives. But instead I saw myself. I still didn’t look like everyone else—that hadn’t changed. My hair was darker, more bronze than blonde, and my eyes were, as always, my father’s. But I was older. I was stronger. I was no longer a child swaddled in gray, but a woman. And I was free and capable and deserving of love, of a mother, of being a daughter. I had been—after all those times I hid in the closet, all those hours I spent sprawled out on the bathroom floor. I never needed to.

 The shadows receded, little bit by little bit, until I was no longer laying down, but sitting up with my eyes locked on the bathtub. I crawled in and turned the gauge all the way to the left and let the scalding water burn me clean. Clarity rose with the steam, bubbles of misty lilac, and I could finally look at my mother face-to-face. I always thought her a cruel woman, wrought from trials that came before me, whose lips were painted permanently with wine and whose hair never fell loosely around her shoulders. She had her moments where she was cruel, just as I had, and just as my father had. It was no excuse to her, to have birthed her pain instead of a daughter, but I learned from her rage the value of freedom. Some are just not meant to be mothers, and though as daughters we suffer, we learn. No, my mother never hated me; she hated her lack of freedom, the loss of something she could have had. I used to think it was lost to us—lost to me, that I could never find myself holding a flower of my own and giving her the love she would need to bloom. That was wrong. We could have been something else, and when it was my turn, we would be.

The gray never truly faded, even after I forgave her and bathed in colors that I had never seen before. It trailed after me like a forgotten mist, licking at my elbows in a numb sheen of silver. It was cold still, with that same lulling buzz of the abyss—the canyon that I had yet to cross. But the gray chains had never jingled so softly as they did when I stepped out of that house, dripping with blistering dewdrops. I was twenty. 

 “Henri,” she said to me, her smile thin as I made my way to the train station. It was my second year away. Her wan lips twitched at the sight of my suitcase. That was all that I ever got from her, but it was all that I ever needed to know. 


Alexis Berry is an aspiring writer from Northwest Indiana with an ultimate goal to write something worth reading. Her work, Grandpa’s Chair, was recently published in Columbia College Chicago’s Punctuate. A Nonfiction Magazine. 



Jerakah Greene

The Binder

She is stretched out in the sun. I have always said that the sun was made for her. Right now I think it was made for the slope of her back, the bit of skin I can see where her tank top has ridden up. She glows for real. Not orange or yellow but that golden in-between, the color at the edge of Indian Blanket (her favorite flower, the one in ink on her shoulder) where the red bleeds into orange like a watercolor. 

I’m lying next to her. It’s early, only seven or so, and for some reason I’m wide awake. Blue morning light pours into our bedroom in shafts, makes her all that more golden. I sit up, swing my legs off the edge of the bed. I don’t know what I am going to do now that I am awake. Maybe I will try to piss. Maybe I will make her breakfast in bed. Maybe I will steal one of her cigarettes and sit on the front steps, and maybe this is the day I start smoking. 

I wiggle my toes where they dangle above the floor and pause. Put my plans on hold. No smoking today, I decide as my toes brush fabric.

Her binder. I reach down, careful not to jostle her on the mattress, and gather it in my fingers. I remember the first time she let me take it off of her. How the spandex felt like a swimsuit under my thumbs, how it left space for her shoulder blades to jut out like tectonic plates when she lifted her arms for me to wrestle it over her head. It wasn’t graceful, but it was sexy. I clutched it in my fist, balled it up behind her back while we kissed, ’til I finally had to drop it so she could slip my sweater off. 

I stand slowly, easing my grandmother’s wide, woman hips off the bed as gently as I can so as not to wake my girl. I pad over to the smudgy full-length mirror I’ve lugged from apartment to apartment since my freshman year of college and look at myself. 

When I was younger, I used to sneak into my dad’s closet after he’d gone to work and try on his shirts. They were huge and hung off my skinny girl-body like circus tents. I am bigger now. The shirt I am wearing now—the one I stole when I moved out of his house—doesn’t look as cartoonish anymore. I don’t look as much like a boy as I used to now that I’ve grown into my grandmother’s curves. Of course, I don’t blame my Nena for my body. In fact, sometimes I wish I could thank her. My girl loves my hips, likes to run her hands over them when we’re slow dancing to Dolly in the kitchen. That might be the issue though. Everybody else loves my body. Everybody else likes to touch my waist, to finger the curves that follow. Everybody else, everybody else. 

I slip out of my dad’s old shirt, binder still clenched in my fist. 

It’s harder to wiggle into than I thought it would be. I guess it is supposed to be stiff, otherwise it wouldn’t serve its purpose. To flatten, to constrict, to make whole by making less. I struggle into my girl’s binder one arm at a time, shove it over my tits ’til its snug around my chest. I let my arms fall. 

In the early morning quiet, I can hear her breathing behind me. I breathe in on her out breath and out on her in breath, my eyes closed like I’m still sleeping beside her. But I’m not asleep. I’m wide awake, and not a pussy, and I figure I better act like it, so I open my eyes and take myself in. 

Sometimes when she touches me, I can’t breathe. It has everything to do with her guitar-calloused fingers on my squishy belly, where my hair is light and soft no matter how long I go without shaving around my belly button. It has everything to do with how much she loves my tits, and how much she knows I hate them. But it also has to do with her hands in my hair and her mouth over my heart, and how I never thought I’d let anyone make me feel this good; so she touches me and I can’t breathe and she has to remind me every time, she says breathe, baby, breathe until she feels my chest swell again. 

This feels a little like that.

I look good. I look Ken doll good, flat chested and angular, twisting at the waist to see myself from all sides. And when I turn just right—call it 180 degrees—they’re gone. My tits are gone. It’s what I wanted, and it’s what I knew would happen, but I almost can’t believe it. 

I know I’m not a boy. That’s not what this is. But goddamn does it feel good to look like one. I run my palms over my chest, up and down 80% nylon, 20% spandex. The slightest curve, the slightest rise. I am not woman, not here, not now. Not man, not with these hips. I am that space in the middle, that sweet spot in the center. 

My girl rolls over in her sleep, right into a patch of sunrise. The blue morning light is warming. Through the mirror, I watch it wash over her, pooling around her sleep-loose body in our bed. I am struck dumb by how beautiful she is, how huge my heart feels.

I crawl in next to her, pull her tight against my stomach, and fall asleep with our binder still on. 


Jerakah Greene is a genderqueer lesbian from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where they are currently riding out the pandemic. They graduated from Columbia College Chicago in May 2020 with a degree in Creative Writing, and a double minor in Literature, and Gender Studies. Their work has been featured in Crabfat MagazineImpossible Archetype Issue 6, and the F(r)iction Log, and in the summer of 2019 they acted as an intern and junior editor at F(r)iction. 


Jac Jemc

My Only Wife


By Jennifer Bostrom

It’s a quick read that demands patience and fond visits. It demands to be left within reach, to be randomly flipped through, and enjoyed for only a moment. It demands to be read in one stretch, pouring over quirks and secrets. My Only Wife (Dzanc Books, 2012) demands attention. Written by Jac Jemc (These Strangers She’d Invited In, 2010; A Different Bed Every Time, 2014), a Chicago-based writer, My Only Wife explores the pains, pitfalls, and pulchritude of a marriage from its beginnings to its damnation.

In postmortem of his marriage a husband falls in and out of love with his wife as her quirks shift into eccentricities. To quote Kundera, “Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory,” Jemc captures this notion to the very letter through the eyes of the husband; He is a man in love, a man infatuated, a man who understands his wife with perfect clarity and blinding befuddlement. “My wife was the start of me. If someone were to ask how I had changed since I met her I would be unable to find the words. It wasn’t that I changed because of knowing her. It’s more accurate to say that I began.” 

Though they are never named, the man and wife are outlined through a series of idiosyncratic vignettes, each one more lovely and disheartening than the next. While it could have been a hindrance, Jemc deftly handles the lack of titles by making tangible the severity of the husband’s loss through his repeated mantra, “my wife.” 

“My wife was a clumsy acquaintance who lumbered through days.”

“My wife wore trousers . . . She filled her clothes the way one fills one’s skin: exactly.”

“She was my only wife and I accepted her for all that she was, all quirks, all inconsistencies and unexpected preferences.”

The wife in question has one habit in particular that begins as endearing and quickly turns isolating. She records stories. After talking to strangers, she returns to her home every night and records stories that no one hears, stories that she hides way in her closet—a closet she keeps locked, only showing her husband once when they move in together.

“‘Can I see the closet again?’ I asked, at five years.

‘You know better,’ she said, locking it behind her and struggling to reattach the bracelet to her wrist, key dangling. 

‘Why not?’

‘That was a one-time thing. I told you that. You understood. That’s the end.’ She wasn’t amused. . . .

She was a bit bewildered by my stubbornness. ‘That closet is mine, and I get one thing that is only mine. No, you can’t look inside.’”

Her husband is tethered to her uniqueness from the very beginning, but the quirky woman who so hauntingly captures her husband’s heart is off-putting as much as she is beautiful, a train wreck demanding attention. His wife is an affable, irascible despot, moving from inclusivity and intimacy to independence and indifferent cynicism at the drop of a hat, leaving a sense of whiplash in her wake.

Jac Jemc wrestles the demons of love and loss in a sketch of two people fighting inevitability. Their “love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”

Jennifer Bostrom is a BA Honors Fiction Graduate from Columbia College Chicago, Academic Excellence scholarship recipient (2013-2016), Production Editor of CCC’s award-winning Hair Trigger anthology, and former contributer for HYPERtext Magazine. Jennifer’s fiction can be found at The Copperfield Review and Habitat Magazine or on her website 

September 29, 2016


Robert Goldsborough

Mystery Writer at Large

Interviewed by Ben Kowalski

The world of mystery writing is filled with secrets, clues, and brimmed hats, and Bob Goldsborough has seen just about every corner of it. The author of eleven Nero Wolfe novels and five Snap Malek novels, Goldsborough started as a newspaperman, working for 21 years at the Chicago Tribune and 23 years at the trade journal Advertising Age. His most recent novel, Stop the Presses (Mysterious Press), was published March 8, 2016.

Hair Trigger had a chance to talk to Bob Goldsborough about his unlikely route into mystery writing, the creative process involved, and working in Chicago.

Ben Kowalski: How did you first get into mystery writing?

Bob Goldsborough: When I was a teenager, I made what seemed like a mistake—telling my mother I had nothing to do. She could have come right back saying “mow the lawn” or “wash the car,” but what she did [was] say, “Why don’t you read a mystery story?” She gave me a Nero Wolfe story by Rex Stout. She loved these mysteries, partly because [they were] Who-Done-It [stories], but even more because these were not violent stories. There was not a lot of gore or a lot of sex or a lot of swearing in them. They were puzzles. Over the years, I began reading and enjoying them more and more. 

In the 1970s, Rex Stout died at a ripe old age, in his upper 80s. My mother saw his obituary in the Chicago Tribune and said, “Now there aren’t going to be any more Nero Wolfe stories.” I got to thinking about what my mother had said and thought, “Maybe there could be one more.” Without any real purpose in mind, I started writing a Nero Wolfe novel myself, using the very same characters that Rex Stout had. I finished it in time for the next Christmas. This was just type script—type-only on one side of a page, 8.5×11—but I had this thing bound in a leather binder, and I gave it to my mother for Christmas!

I had not written this story with a plan to have it published, but I later met a man who was involved in the Rex Stout estate. I told him I had a manuscript [for] a Nero Wolfe novel and showed it to him. Through a very complicated series of events, it ended up being published about eight years after it was written. Of course by this time, my mother had passed away. That story, Murder in E Minor, became a new Nero Wolfe novel published by Bantam Books in [April 1986]. That was the beginning.

The people at Bantam liked the book, and this helped to revive the backlist [of Nero Wolfe books]. It was good business for them. They wouldn’t publish it, though, unless I signed a contract for two books. I ended up, over a period of years, writing seven Nero Wolfe books for Bantam Books. Then I stopped. The publisher felt that these books had accomplished what they’d hoped for—not only did they sell reasonably well, but they [also] reignited the backlist. Rex Stout wrote over 30 novels and almost 40 novellas in his 40 years of writing, so they were able to put [those] back in publication.

Then, I started writing my own series. I created a Chicago newspaperman named Steve Malek, and called him “Snap” Malek. He was a police reporter for the Tribune—my old employer—and I called him “Snap” because he always wore a snap brim hat. I set [the books] in the 1930s and ‘40s, using some real people and real Chicago events as a backdrop. That was phase two. 

About five years ago, I got the idea to go back and do some more Nero Wolfe books. I wrote a prequel to the series Stout had done, called Archie Meets Nero Wolfe. There really wasn’t much of a backstory to how they met in Mr. Stout’s books, but he gave me a few clues and I used every one of them in putting this book together.

BK: What is the biggest difference between your first Nero Wolfe novel, Murder in E Minor, and your most recent one, Stop the Presses?

BG: I have gotten more comfortable with the characters. There’s an ensemble company of characters in these Nero Wolfe books—close to 20 people making continuing appearances. [In the beginning], I was very cautious about making them behave exactly like Rex Stout would’ve had them behave. I still do that, but I’ve gotten more freewheeling and given the characters more of a backstory. For instance, there is an Inspector Kramer on the New York City Homicide Squad and Rex Stout never gave him a first name… so I gave him the first name of Lionel. I’m still trying to make sure I don’t do the silly things—make the characters behave in ways that are totally out of character—but I have gotten less timid about the way I picture the characters.

BK: How has your creative process changed since you began writing mystery novels?

BG: Probably not very much. There are usually a five or six suspects in every one of these books and I do write thumbnail biographies—maybe 100 words or so—on each of these suspects, [including] their age, their appearance, their personality, and so on. I still do that.

Basically, my approach has been pretty much unchanged over the years. I’m not a disciplined writer—I’d like to say I was, but I’m not. I don’t dedicate a certain time of day to writing a book, and I didn’t in the beginning. The thing that was a little different early on was that I had a full-time job at the Chicago Tribune, so I had to work on a book in off-hours. In the last eleven years…. I have [gotten] a much more flexible schedule. I could be writing right now, for instance, because I’ve got no job to go to!

BK: How has your time working in Chicago journalism affected your mystery writing?

BG: When you’re working on deadlines for a newspaper, you cannot sit at the type writer, or in front of the computer screen, and just agonize over what you’re going to write because you haven’t got the luxury of time. You’ve got to write fast. That really prepared me—I didn’t intend it to but it worked out that way. When I’m working on a book, I can take small chunks of time like an hour […] and write several pages. I don’t sit in front of that computer screen and agonize. I’ve always been able to use small chunks of time to my advantage, and I think that was the newspaper training that did that for me.

BK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BG: I’m going to echo a quote from Rex Stout: “If I don’t have fun writing these stories, readers aren’t going to have fun reading them.” I feel the same way. To me, writing should not be agony—it should be fun. Sometimes I do run up against a tough spot and have to work my way around it, but by and large when I am working on a book, I’m having a good time doing it.

Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop’ (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at

September 29, 2016

Tags: Ben KowalskiBob GoldsboroughMysteryFictionNero WolfeSnap Malek