Romain Puértolas

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe


By Emma LaSaine

Romain Puértolas’s debut novel, much like its name, spans a great breadth. Geographically, the story carries readers, along with the titular fakir, from Paris to England, Barcelona to Rome, all the way to Libya, then back to France. At the start of this journey, Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod (Aja for short) is a self-interested swindler on a quest to buy a fakir-style bed of nails from Ikea, which he plans to resell for a profit upon his return to India. When Aja, spending the night in Ikea because he cannot afford a hotel, finds himself trapped inside a wardrobe that is shipped to England, he unintentionally becomes an “illegal alien.” Along the way, Aja suffers several “electric shocks” to the heart—epiphanies that broaden his world view, redirect his moral compass, and give him a newfound sense of purpose through his love for Marie, a beautiful French woman he meets along the way, and his desire to be worthy of her affections.

From the start, Puétorlas plays with perception, a key technique throughout the novel. We first see Aja through the eyes of Gustave Palourde, a Gypsy Cab driver who Aja cheats out of his fare by means of a counterfeit 100-euro bill (printed only on one side) and some invisible thread. Gustave, who turns out to be a violent and slightly dishonest member of the Romani community, recognizes Aja as a foreigner, and views his request to go straight from the airport to Ikea as bizarre. However, when Puétorlas backtracks and immediately retells the encounter, this time listening in to Aja’s thoughts, we discover that he has made an express effort to blend in with the Western locals and that this entire journey, while not a normal activity for the fakir, is perfectly reasonable (if morally dubious, considering that it has been financed through a series of dishonesties) in his mind.

Puétorlas uses this shifting third person to accomplish a sweeping array of tones and play with the reader’s perception of events. To Aja, the different display rooms constructed in the Ikea reveal real human lives—futures of young couples considering kids, evenings spent on the couch watching TV—despite the fact that these rooms are all false. To him, the automated doors on the front of the store are a technological miracle worthy of appreciation, to the French customers, they are only an aspect of everyday life. Aja’s outsider perspective makes readers question their own perceptions of Western culture and behavior. As Aja’s voyage ensues, the audience quickly discovers that they are merely along for the ride in this rapid-paced adventure where the ridiculous becomes rational and the accepted is revealed to be absurd.

Puétorlas manages to construct a largely farcical (and at times whimsical) journey that recalls such immersive adventures as Around the World in 80 Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, all the while establishing the fact that Aja’s journey takes place within our hardly fictional modern global reality. The novel handles humorous intricacies of pronunciation that come with transcultural encounters—Ajatshatru’s name alone is interpreted as “A-cat-in-a-bat-suit,” “A-jackal-that-ate-you” and “A-jar-of-rat-stew-oh-gosh!”—along with solomn geopolitical tensions and practices surrounding immigration and the divide between developing nations and what Assefa (“I-suffer”), a Sudanese migrant Aja encounters, calls “the good countries.”

Drawing, no doubt, on his time working as a French boarder guard, Puétorlas writes with remarkable intimacy about the way immigrants are transformed by the hardships they face, describing how “even the sturdiest men become vulnerable: beaten animals with lifeless expressions, their eyes full of extinguished stars,” when he lives with the eternal fear of being caught and sent back to the country and the situation he has worked so hard to escape. In our modern world wracked by war and the politics of refugee crises, Puétorlas aptly notes the absurdities and tragedies surrounding immigration restriction.

It is important not to be fooled by the humor of Aja’s occasionally slapstick encounters. Although the fakir makes his living by performing petty magic tricks, a master of perception in a sense, this mastery has its roots in a dark brush with the abuse and power dynamics that rule our postcolonial world. Aja may be a loveable fool, the good-natured cheat, but he also provides a window into the disparity in access to modernity, technology and basic quality of life that exists between “have” and “have-not” nations. As Aja travels throughout Europe and beyond, the reader also travels, learning to question their perceptions of what is “banal” and what is “magical,” while reshaping their sense of personal identity within the larger framework of global events, getting in a few good laughs along the way.

Emma LaSaine is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, with a BA in Creative Writing. She is an award-winning nonfiction writer, Managing Editor of Habitat Magazine, and Production Editor of Hair Trigger 38. Emma is also the 2013-2014 Honors Research Award recipient. Her writing appears in BORGEN MagazineSlacktivistThe Lab Review, and on her website,

November 07, 2016


Nia Tipton

David Friedman Award Recipient

Bones of Before


The nurse said he was an angel, with ten little toes and ten little fingers. He was a beautiful baby boy, skin a golden mixture of heritage and pride. His ancestors were strewn on battlefields and brought up in a world of death and enslavement; crimson blood spilled onto earthy battlefields for him to be raised in a world of white. The shackles of before are removed from his name as the nurse wipes him down and wraps him up in a white blanket, cloaking him in what is right, before handing him to his mother. Her weary brown eyes wash over his caramel skin, his button nose, and closed lips with adoration. She brushes her lips against the skin of his forehead when his father arrives.

His father is a man of his word. He is a man of six foot three, who bears the beatings of prejudice and racism with his head held high and his turban held higher. His beard is combed and neatly set as he strides in, his footsteps commanding and strong for someone who works three jobs to support his family. He settles at his wife’s side, the nurses clearing out as the couple looks down at the young boy. As the door clicks shut, silence coats them as they take in the miracle before them. The miracle of life.

In their hands, they hold more than a single life. He is an amalgamation of warriors, saviors, and fighters, sealed and branded with the name of Aman.

His father raises his tiny fist in his own, brushing the fingers that will write their way to a higher class of life. Pulling the Karo out of his pocket, he slips it onto Aman’s wrist, pressing a kiss to the blood that rushes under the skin, beneath the circular steel band of metal. Raising his gaze to his wife, he takes in the tiredness and the fear.

The fear of another soul that must bear the brunt of the words of the ignorant; one who must face the world with its whitewashed masses and its God-fearing leaders. And so she whispers into the cool air,

Ek Onkar.”

Not the word printed onto the notes that run the world.

Not the one that commands the country and its every move.

There is only one God, the one who is above and loves unconditionally, no matter what creed, caste, or religion.



He pants as he hides behind the school. His back meets the brick wall and the grooves dig into his spine, but he doesn’t bother to move. He has run too long from his past and future to bother about his well-being in the present.

He feels sick as he sees his rumaal in tatters in his hands. His mother warned him as she tied the cloth over his head, covering his braided long locks with the fabric of his religion. She told him of the boys with knives for words, that they would dig a groove into his faith, trying to dislodge it from the firm place within his heart. She told him, “Ek Onkar, and he will protect you,” that God could heal the wounds of the bravest soldiers and that Aman was the bravest of them all. Aman was a fighter, and his battle was every day; breathing and living with his golden skin and covered hair was his eternal war.

But she didn’t tell him of the hands that would grab and pull. That would rip and tear at the fabric on his head. That would yank the neatly combed hair down to his back and laugh at his demise. How they would jeer and taunt him for his “girl” length hair, for his strange head attire and jewelry that adorned his right wrist.

They weren’t taught from their fathers about the everlasting love the steel band signified, or how the cloth on his head was worn by his ancestors who fought for everything that his family believed in, for the air he breathes and the food he eats. They were taught of those who are great and those who are different, fear instilled into their hearts from the day they were born, just like Aman.

They don’t know a thing.

And neither does Aman.

With his back pressed against the brick wall and his pride in tatters in his hands, he doesn’t know anything anymore.

When he gets home, he stays silent as his mother curses the boys who harmed him. He doesn’t understand why she would say such words when she stays up late tailoring their mothers’ country-club clothes, her fingers calloused from the pricks of the needle.

He doesn’t know why his father seethes silently at the table when he presents his ripped rumaal. He doesn’t understand why he would leave the table and lock himself in his study, his mother tongue igniting the air as he shouts at them. Because he knows that on parents’ night, they will all whisper about his strong Eastern accent, laughing at the way he lingers on his “r” and skips over the “v.”

Aman doesn’t know anything as he stands in front of his bathroom mirror. His eyes meet the ones in the reflection, full of eight years of fire. He only knows that in this world, to stay alive he must appease the others. So, he lifts the scissors he stole from the drawer and raises them to his hair.

And when the first lock falls to the floor, the others soon follow, and he doesn’t know if there is only one God.

Or if there is a God at all.



The girls flock around him, sinking their claws into his tanned arms, smearing their fake tan on his caramel complexion. The boys envy him; with his broad shoulders and lean figure, he cuts a sharp form as he races down the field, skin glowing under the heat as he tucks the ball into his side, thick muscles straining with tension. He ditches three letters for the ease of others, his new identity represented by an “A,” the beginning of his new life.

“Ugh, A, I wish I had hair as thick as yours. It’s gorgeous!” Natalie mutters, her fingers combing through his shoulder-length hair. It’s longer now, grown out to a state where it’s longer than others but not too long as to be strange. Because being different is the worst fate in this God-forsaken world. His head lies in the girl’s lap, her long fingers playing with the hair. He rolls his eyes at the comment, setting down the book he was reading. He chooses to close his eyes, the gentle stroking and massaging of his head reminding him of when he was younger. It reminds him of the way his mother would set him down before her, oil in one hand and a fine-toothed comb in the other. Tenderly, she would brush out the knots, her talented fingers wrapping the hair into a plait, an art that has been passed down through many generations.

A smile teases his lips as he remembers. Natalie’s actions cause him to relax further into her lap. She moves her hand from his head to his face, the aqua on the back of her nail standing out against her pale skin. Lifting it up, she presses her rose-stained lips to his. He allows his eyelids to flutter open; he sees a halo of blonde framing her heart-shaped, pale face. He lifts off of her, cupping her jaw as he strokes her cheek tenderly.

“I can’t come ‘round tonight,” he says, watching carefully as her lips begin to turn down at the edges, “family arrangement.”

She sighs heavily, moving out of his grasp, “Why don’t you invite me ‘ro—”

“Natalie . . .” he says, wrapping a hand around her wrist and pulling her back towards him.   

“I know, you can’t. I just wish that we could . . . ugh your family is so backward!” she cries out and he tenses around her.

“Shit, I’m sorry. A, I’m sorry,” she apologizes, hands going to his neck to pull him back and closer. Their foreheads press against each other, and she lifts up onto her tiptoes to kiss him.

Soft lips slide against the chapped edges of his, the warmth of her tongue poking out to slip into his mouth. He breathes her in, the warmth she provides making him respond to her. There are no butterflies, no fireworks igniting in the pit of his stomach. Instead, he is content with the situation and the girl in his arms. Her arms slide down his front, playing with his belt as she presses closer to his front.

He pulls away, chest heaving with ragged breath. Emotionally and physically, he is far from her as he steps away. His hand drags through his roots, and he pulls on the ends before turning away, his words carried away by the wind.

“I have to go,” he mutters, and then leaves without a goodbye.



His hand cracks down on his desk, his head shaking as he opens his mouth. “Segregation isn’t the way to move forward, it’s moving backward at least a century,” he cries out loud, now rising to his feet. The lecture hall seems dwarfed by his stature; his tweed jacket and tortoise shell glasses age him beyond his twenty-five years.

“Well obviously something must be done for our own safety, otherwise they are free to kill civilians,” the boy opposite him scoffs. Aman feels his lip curl into a sneer, fists clenching by his side. He is about to respond when someone else cuts in beforehand.

“It’s perception; you perceive the situation to be one of aggression, that they are against you. They believe it is one of oppression. The root of the problem isn’t nuclear warfare concentrated on a place that holds more innocent civilians than criminals. The root of the problem is our own society.”

The class ends, and Aman finds himself approaching the voice. He wears a black denim jacket, and his hair sticks up as he drags his hand wearily through it. By the time Aman catches up, he has a cigarette firmly in the corner of his lips and his head bowed down to his phone. When he sees Aman, he breaks out into a grin, throwing his cigarette onto the ground and stubbing it out with his shoe. Sliding his palm against his thigh, he stretches it out toward him and smiles sheepishly.

“That guy was an absolute dickhead.” His introductory statement takes Aman by surprise, but as he slips his hand into the strangers, he finds the strength and warmth it emanates more surprising. He laughs as they shake hands before returning them to the safety of their respective jean pockets.

“Nick.” He grins as he slides his phone into his pocket and gives his undivided attention to Aman. The boy falters—in university he didn’t need to reinvent himself; people took the time to learn the soft “A” at the beginning of his name.

“Aman.” He settles, and he watches as Nick tests his name by breathing it out. It sounds wonderful falling from his lips, the soft hum of the “N” at the end of his naming vibrating through him.

Nick gestures to the side, and they begin walking through the campus side by side.

Slowly their friendship evolves, their seats in World Relations became closer and closer, until Nick and Aman sat beside one another. They’d debate together, voices united as they speak, points trailing and linking to one another until the pair overruled the discussion. Notes are traded (with Nick’s particularly detailed drawing of a penis sketched into the corner whenever the “dickhead” from the first lecture spoke).

It’s a Friday in the autumn term; orange stains the leaves and drags them to the ground around them. Aman wraps up a scarf around his neck tightly, longing for the warm chai that his mother would make for him. Nick fumbles with his hat and pulls it down to cover his ears. 

“It must be hard for you, listening to all that bull,” Nick suddenly says as they cross the road to a coffee shop, but Aman simply furrows his brows.

“Why would it be particularly hard for me?” He asks, the double meaning not missed by Nick who snorts before reverting back to seriousness.

“You know because you’re . . .” he trails off, and Aman’s lips form an “O” in realization.

“I’m not Muslim, Nick, but my stance isn’t because of religion. It’s because of my humanity.”



He sits in Aman’s two-bedroom apartment, grumbling at the “crappy New York City weather.” Aman laughs from the kitchen, while he overlooks the bubbling pot on the stove. It’s second nature for him as he places cardamom and clove into the pot, the water sizzling and spitting as he pours in milk.

He returns to his best friend, placing the mug into his hands, before collapsing heavily onto the sofa.

“Ew, I’ll pass,” Nick states, wrinkling his nose at the foreign smell. Aman rolls his eyes as he grabs the remote and flicks through the channels.

“Shut up, you pussy, and drink it.” Aman turns to see Nick yanking his beanie over his head before taking a tentative sip. His initial distaste was replaced by a small smile. 

Nick is cut from shards of ice, freezing to touch as Aman brushes against his skin. He is stubborn as he attempts to leave the apartment, but Aman stops him and reminds him that he’ll just get more ill. He is the opposite of the warmth that Aman provides with his hospitality and the blankets.

“Cheers,” he manages to call out from the cocoon of blankets and pillows, as Aman straightens up from the electric heater he had just put on.

“Get some sleep, you idiot,” Aman says affectionately. He heads towards the door, stopping briefly to send a soft look toward his best friend, before returning to his own room.

Their lives become more entwined, paths crossing and meeting until they practically walk side by side. Nick lies on his sofa, ginger hair messy on his freckled forehead as he frowns. He faces the window where snow falls thickly outside. The first term of their third year is nearly over, and the campus is full of mistletoe and Christmas trees, the seasonal glow casting a warmth within the students.

“I hate winter,” Nick grumbles, his feet resting on the portable heater that he has come to love so dearly.

“You hate the cold,” Aman says, his glasses fogging up as he eats his noodles from their plastic container.

“Same thing, ain’t it?” Aman simply rolls his eyes, pulling the corner of the blanket from Nick’s grasp and curling into it. They huddle together as the small TV on the coffee table begins the show. As one episode turns to two and two turns to six, Nick eventually has his head resting against Aman’s shoulder, and their thighs press against each other.

Nick Roster may be made of ice, but his skin is warm to the touch. Aman frowns as he tries to concentrate on the show, but his focus reverts back to the redhead beside him.

The way Nick’s soft hair tickles the crook of his neck.

The way his body curves into his side.

The way his soft sighs brush against his skin, raising the fine hairs on the back of his arms.

The episode ends, and Aman couldn’t be happier. Because he doesn’t understand why the mere feel of Nick’s body against his awakens more feelings within him than all the girls that he’d ever been with, their bodies under his control. He thinks of the coil in his stomach, rusting due to its lack of use, and how right now it’s pulled tighter than ever before.

Aman shrugs his shoulder, gently trying to pry himself away. But he doesn’t realize just how close they are.

Or that when Nick would look up, his green-flecked eyes would flicker from his screen, the emeralds glowing brighter than any jewel. His light breaths would hit his chin, fanning over his bronze complexion and flushing his cheeks the same rosy color of his lips.

Their eyes are on one another, running over the slopes of the other’s nose and the lines of their jaws. That’s until Nick stretches out to put a tentative hand to his jaw. Then he presses his lips to Aman’s.



Nick’s lips are warm, unlike his fingertips that slide into his hair. Each caress sends a shiver down his body, until his knuckles are white as he clenches his fist.

He doesn’t want to react.

He doesn’t want to give into the way Nick’s nose brushes and eyelashes flutter against his skin. He doesn’t want to melt under the gentle caress that he feels at his waist, as he is readjusted to face Nick fully.

But he can’t help it. He can’t help the way his lips part to let Nick into his mouth; his tongue languidly strokes his own. Somehow his hand has settled on Nick’s waist, fingers splayed out on the small of his back whilst his thumb strokes the front of his stomach. Another hand rises to his hair, the ginger locks so soft, and he almost moans at the feel. The strands are like silk beneath his fingers, engulfing them as they trail up the back of his head.

All too soon, they are parting and Aman wants to reach out and pull him back, but realizes he is the one who is retreating.

“W—we shouldn’t have . . . Fuck—I shouldn’t have—” Aman rambles, his hand flying to his hair that had been previously doted on by the boy before him, but right now, they were being tugged, hard enough to rip it out of his skull. He is scrambling to his feet, the blanket they were sharing flying to the floor.

Nick says his name, and Aman feels his heart rip, the tendons snapping at the despair in his voice. “Aman, stop,” he whispers as Aman tugs at his hair and scrubs his lips with the back of his hand. The light bruising left by Nick is replaced by a self-inflicted darker shade, the hue likening to the one formed when knuckles bury deep into skin.

“Aman, please,” Nick pleads, standing up as well, one hand placed onto Aman’s shoulder and the other on his neck. Nick’s forehead rests against his, and he inhales deeply. When he opens his eyes, Nick sees Aman’s wide eyes before him.

Wide with fear.

So, he brushes their lips against each other once more, before heading out of the door.

And that was when Aman Singh understood the pain of love. 

He visits home, and his parents gush over his grades, worry over his weight and love his soul. But he feels like an outcast because the same lips that brushed against his mother’s cheeks were pressed against his best friend’s. Yet to Aman, both seem right. So he ignores it, reverting his concentration to the tiles in the bathroom that his father was too frail to fix. He helps his mother wash the dishes, and when he heads into a supermarket to grab some milk, he ignores the look a woman gives as they both pause under the mistletoe. 

Aman thinks he made a mistake, and that it could be rectified with redemption and praying for forgiveness. 

His hands are clasped together as he bows down, his head covered, and his fingers slide the notes down into a tray. His head presses against the carpet, and under his breath he mutters the prayer his mother repeated night after night when he was younger.

Then he prays for forgiveness.

I’m sorry that I kissed a boy, and that it felt so right.

There are no lies with God, no aversion to the truth when faced with an Almighty Deity, so he is truthful. He asks to stop remembering the smooth planes of the boy’s body, with his freckles lining his cheeks and unruly ginger hair. He asks to forget his best friend.

When he returns home, the air has shifted, and there is a girl in his front room. Their horoscopes are matched, and his parents hold hands, hearts filled with hope as they watch the duo.

Her eyes are wide, and her smile is fake; he notes this down in his mind. A glass is thrust into his hand, and he drinks to sedate the drought his throat has subjected itself to.

When the adults leave and the girl is left with him, he finds himself looking away. His eyes are trained on the clock to her right when he speaks, his voice low and cold.

“I can’t marry you.” He doesn’t want to see the disappointment in the young girl’s eyes, a feeling that will be amplified in both his parents’ hearts and eyes.

She gasps, the first tear falling from her eyes, and he looks up to see tears rolling fast down her round cheeks.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “Thank you,” she repeats, again and again, her hands shaking and her chest heaving as she sobs. His humanity is what drives him to help her, an arm wrapped around her petite frame. When she calms down, she unlocks her phone and shows him a picture.

She is standing on a beach in her high-waisted shorts, a bikini top slipping off her shoulder slightly as she leans into the frame of the man next to her. His ebony arm is wrapped around her waist, and they are smiling so wide that the sun is thrown onto the back burner whilst they take the spotlight. His lips are pressed against her cheek as she beams into the camera, wrapped in love and lust. 

And life.

Aman sees how lively they look, living and breathing the very essence of life.

“I love him,” she whispers, and he holds her close as she sobs into his chest because Aman isn’t the first and won’t be the last, and neither will she. The door will be held wide open for a wife, even though Aman tries hard to deadbolt it every day.

“Promise me,” she whispers, her eyes flickering to the door before training onto his, “promise me, that when you fall in love, you won’t let any ties hold you back, even if you think it’s your parachute.” The hold that she has on his hand is tight and the intensity of her gaze makes Aman stumble to his feet, leaving the room with the stranger. He brushes past his mother, heading straight for the deadbolted door. 

“I can’t marry her, Ma, I can’t marry any of them.”



He rushes down the road, his foot firmly on the acceleration as he grips the steering wheel. Snow hits the windscreen repeatedly, his wipers working overtime to clear his vision. He flies down the freeway and grits his teeth as he approaches his destination.

Feet thunder on the stairs as he takes the steps two at a time. His knuckles wrap into a fist as he bangs on the door, and then it is swinging open.

Nick stands in a baggy Christmas jumper that has a crude joke about “ornaments” on the front. His hair sticks up on his head, late night on Christmas Eve taking its toll on the boy. Aman breathes heavily, his eyes flickering up toward the mistletoe above them before settling on Nick.

They are toe to toe. Centuries ago, their ancestors had stood in the same position, eyes trained on each other, ready to destroy one another. Their swords sought blood and flesh; their minds sought revenge.

As Nick Roster and Aman Singh face each other, they prepare for another battle.

With one last breath, Aman launches himself at the boy. Their actions are carnal, hands gripping the other’s back, pulling at clothes to bring the other closer. Their lips collide, teeth clinking against each other as they let their tongues tangle messily. His blood-stained fingers are marred red with the color of Nick’s hair, clutching it desperately as Nick holds him just as close by his waist. He is free-falling without a parachute, and he has never felt more alive. Blood rushes around his body, and his heart beats twice as fast due to the boy his lips are greeting.

Aman Singh isn’t gold. He isn’t a question nor a puzzle. Neither is he an object to admire for only it’s beauty.

Aman Singh isn’t fire. Nick Roster isn’t ice.

Aman Singh isn’t a mistake.



Nia Tipton is a fiction major at Columbia College Chicago now in her senior year. She hopes to publish her own magazine/zine one day. You can find her work in the 2018 edition of Stories Through the Ages: College Edition. 


Victoria Barney

The Last Shift


I feel as if the best stories start in the depths of hell, so let’s begin here: the night I’m fired from Denny’s. It’s an early Saturday morning, specifically 3:04 a.m., when I get fired by the one and only Big Chris.

I’ve been working here for quite a while, or at least what feels like awhile. Over the past four years I’ve served during the night shifts. I usually come in around ten or eleven and work ’til God knows when; by that point I’ve reached zombie mode and not even coffee can do enough to save me. I’m stuck working with these guys each night, along with the various characters of customers finding their way in and out.

One of the guys I work with is Manny, our dishwasher. He’s not too old, in about his mid-thirties, unusually short with a thick, murky mustache that covers his upper lip. Manny’s the type of guy who distracts you from every waking task you have but never lets you realize this. I’ll come in to drop off some plates and before I know it, I’m telling him stories about how a sea turtle attacked me on my last family vacation or how my girlfriend once sold a taxidermy chicken for a thousand dollars. In two minutes, he knows everything from my second cousin’s birthday to my little sister’s favorite cereal.

Because of this, our manager lets him play music on a speaker in the back, but this almost makes things worse. Now when I walk in, Manny’s there singing into the bottom of a glass cup, serenading me with either Tupac or Eminem. We’ve had more dinnerware break in the last month than in the past two years. I love the guy, but it’s starting to become a bit much at times.

The next guy I work with is Craig, our cook. Craig is the cool grandpa everybody wishes they had, even if you don’t want to admit it. And even if you have a cool grandpa, you still want Craig to be yours. His puppy-brown eyes and wrinkled skin just add to his whole persona. He’s always greeting me with “huns” and “sweeties” which I normally vomit at the sound of, but because it was Craig, they were always accepted. He is the sweetest guy anyone could ever meet, it’s just too bad he can’t work for shit.

Craig is one of those horrifyingly terrible workers but has been around far too long to fire. Instead you keep them on the job hoping one day they’ll improve, but never do and somehow, they even manage to get worse. Now don’t get me wrong, Craig is an amazing chef, but he messes up nearly every single order, every single night. Which wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but I’m the one losing tips because of it. For example, one day I had an order for eggs over easy, lightly crisp bacon, and some buttered toast. I got scrambled eggs, burnt bacon, and the poor man didn’t even remember the toast. The bacon was so burnt it looked like the bottom of a fire pit after the fire. It’s not like he can’t hear me right, because he repeats each order back to me perfectly correct. At this point I’ve started telling him the opposite of what I need with the hopes that I’ll get lucky and get exactly what I need. 

The next is our other waiter, Eric. Now there’s nothing too wrong with Eric; he’s a great worker, gets his shit done. But at the same time everything is wrong with Eric. He’s your basic wannabe frat boy. The kind of guy that wears khaki shorts in negative degree winters. The kind of guy that still talks about whatever sport he was semi okay at in high school (it’s lacrosse, in case you were wondering). The kind of guy that still feels the need to show off every single one of his Fortnite wins in order to proclaim his masculinity to others. 

The first time I met the guy was the time I caught him stealing tips from one of my tables. I marched right over to him and this is how the conversation went down:

“Oh hey, you must be that new girl, yeah? Lacey?” He licked his thin, colorless lips while looking me up and down as if I wasn’t just standing there. 

“And you must be the one that steals everyone’s tips, yeah? Shithead?”

“Only the cute ones.” He winked and I felt myself about to vomit.

“All right, well, hand them over.” I motioned with my hands for him to cough up the couple of dollars.

“Only if you hang out with me on Saturday.”

“As much as I would love that, I actually have a girlfriend.”

“Oh, well, that’s perfect for me actually. I’ll come hang out with you both and then return the money.” He shoved the bills deep into his pockets. 

“Rigghht.” I looked around for customers before kneeing him in the stomach. He fell over much faster and much more dramatically than I presumed he would. I bent down next to him and retrieved not only my dollars, but probably some of his as well.

That’s basically how it went and not much has changed. Most of our current conversations still include him trying to “hang out” or begging me to bring my girlfriend to work sometime. He still tries to steal my tips. After each table leaves I run back before the little shit beats me to it.

But now we’re definitely at the last and least of them all, my manager, Big Chris. Everyone always wants to know why “big”? Sure, it’s kind of a weight thing. He looks like the blueberry girl in the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, but that isn’t exactly why we call him that. It’s probably because he’s the man in charge and while he is supposed to be helping us through the night, instead he does a big nothing.

Before I get into it, before I talk about the countless scenarios and stories about him, I would like you to imagine every single bad boss or manager you’ve ever had to deal with. Now, I would like you to imagine all of those people as one. That¾that is who Big Chris is.

He’s the type of manager to sit in his office watching Netflix, which is bullshit because we’re all out here busting our butts to get everything done and he has the audacity to occupy himself with nothing. At the same time though, when he does come out to “help,” all it really is, is him yelling and complaining to us about stuff we are already working on. He ruins our whole system by bossing us around with stuff he’s just too lazy to do himself.

The beginning of the most terrible shift of my life starts out pretty normal, maybe even good. We are all in back, in the dish room with Manny jamming out to “Lose Yourself,” singing about Mom’s spaghetti. Whenever we aren’t busy, we always find time like this to slack off. It’s this harmless fun that keeps most of us from hating our jobs. Manny is standing on a bus tub in front of the dish line. Craig and I are his two background singers on his sides. Eric throws dollar bills at us while cheering and whistling.

Not even a minute later Big Chris stomps into the dish room. We all stop immediately as if we are playing a scary game of freeze dance. Manny drops yet another glass right before Big Chris starts his terror. 

“This isn’t some fun house we’re running here, get back to work or I’ll find ya more to do!” 

Everyone rushes out like sheep scattering from a wolf. I see Manny behind me picking up pieces of glass while getting the same lecture he has gotten so many times before. I make my way around taking orders and cleaning tables. I begin cleaning sections and Big Chris yells at me for doing that wrong. He’d probably yell at me for walking wrong if he really wanted to. That’s when I can feel it. That’s how I know it’s going to be the worst and my last night at this Denny’s.


An older couple walks in and I quickly make my way to greet them before Big Chris has one more thing to yell at me about. The couple looks like the trucker type, probably here on their lunch break. They both wear black leather vests with baseball caps.

“Hey folks, how are you doing tonight?” I put on the fakest Disneyland smile I can manage.

“Oh, you know,” the woman with long, noodle hair sighs. I nod sympathetically before turning my back to lead them to their table. Now before I can explain this next monstrosity, I must provide context of what this specific Denny’s looks like. The layout is almost like a perfect rectangular “H.” The middle cross is where the kitchen is located and below that is the host stand and entrance (where we are currently). In the two bottom legs and the top right leg is where all the seating areas exist. The top left, the bathrooms. Now, I seat them at a table over in the lower left part of the “H” and as soon as I start to walk away, I hear the woman yell, “Um, miss?” I turn back around flashing them a smile.


“Can we please have a booth, they’re better for my back.”

“Of course.” I move them two tables down in a booth. I proceed back to the kitchen when I hear her again.

“Oh, miss?”

“Yes?” My smile is fading.

“This is too close to other people. I want to be able to hear what I’m saying if you don’t mind.” I glance around the restaurant to see only three other vacant tables. I almost roll my eyes, but instead nod and lead us all over to the bottom right of the “H.” Once I select a booth and place both plastic menus on the table the woman wags her finger at me and points to the upper back part of the restaurant, usually reserved for parties. I dread bringing them over there, but I do.

“All right, it’ll be right here for ya. It might be a moment until I get over here for you just because my other tables are on the other side.” I explain politely.

“Oh my gosh, that’s so stupid.” The woman moans and the man with her clenches his teeth at me in a way that says he’s sorry. Big Chris eyes me to get back to my other tables and I scurry over to them like a little mouse.

And that’s when I see her seated in my section.

Pickle Lady.

Now this lady is the kind that servers will sit in any section but their own, and because Eric is the only other server on, of course I get stuck with her. Basically, this woman is never satisfied with any amount of pickles we give her and yet here she is, back again.

“Hi ma’am, how are you tonight?” I click my pen. She smells like hot dog water and the smell already starts to seep into the rest of the restaurant. Customers look around in question of what and where the odor is coming from.

“Just great.” She flips through the menu, even though she gets the same thing every time.

“Just the cheeseburger for ya?” 

“And extra pickles,” she smiles extra bright so I can see the yellow of her teeth.

“Of course.”

When I ring in the order to Craig, I look him dead in the eyes and say, “Craig, I love you, but I swear to God if you fuck up this order, I will have to murder you.” He laughs at me, but for a moment I don’t feel like I’m joking with him. In fact, I feel as if my whole life depends on if this man puts twenty-seven pickles on this damn burger. 

“I’m serious, Craig,” I place my finger down on our small expo line to show I mean business. It’s messy and full of crumbs, the man can never keep a clean area in that kitchen.

I then head over to my third and only other table (thank God) and for a change they are actually really sweet. It’s an adorable young couple with their daughter that looks about six or seven years old. Why are they here so late? Maybe they’re on vacation or something. All that matters to me is the fact that they are the only table that doesn’t make me want to kill myself. I’ve already gotten their food out, easy orders, nothing complicated like fucking Pickle Lady over here. Serving them is the most therapeutic and simple task of my shift.

In my spare second, I check my phone to see cute little texts from Lillian. She knows my job is shit and does so much to at least put me in a better mood. Already picked up your faves for tonight. Don’t worry about the rest of rent, I got us covered. Just don’t die at work, I need your warm cuddles :). I smile at the thought of getting home to her. It makes getting through shifts a lot easier knowing I have the most amazing person to see afterward. 

I pass Eric and he nods toward the kitchen to let me know my food is up. I pass one of his tables which is occupied by two girls that are so drunk I wouldn’t be surprised if they stood up on the table and started singing “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton.

“Hey girl!” The one with pink glitter eyeshadow shouts to me. They both wave me over and I cautiously make my way to them, afraid they might smother me with hugs. The girl without makeup has teal-blue hair and begins touching my straight blonde hair, saying how she wished they had some like it. 

“Your skin is just so clear!” Pink Glitter nearly yells.

“And her green eyes are so radiant!” Blue Hair joins in.

“Also, we just see how hard you’re working,” she slurs on every single word. “And we wanted to give you something special.” She hands me something like one does in order to get into a fancy restaurant even though they don’t have a reservation. Pink Glitter nods and mouths what I think is the word “enjoy.” I thank them and continue my way to the kitchen. I look down into my hand to see a Starbucks gift card, but it’s so faded I can barely make out it’s prominent logo. Love that. 

Eric runs up to me as if he has something important to say, but I should have known it was just going to be some Eric bullshit.

“So, you like my table twenty-eight?” He winks at both girls and they giggle in enjoyment.

“Maybe, if that means you’ll find someone and finally leave me alone.” I sigh.

“Never, you always come first, Lace.” He smirks. We’ve been working for so long I can’t tell if he’s serious anymore or just likes fucking with me. Probably both.

“Craig says your food is up for Crazy Pickle. I yelled at him to make sure it’s the exact amount because even don’t wish that woman upon anyone.”

“Thanks.” I nod. Once I arrive at the kitchen Craig is already waiting for me.

“Hey hun, I fixed those orders for ya, sorry about that.” He smiles his sweet and adoring smile. I almost melt, but then remember I have tables to get to. I bring the trucker couple their food and they seem surprisingly okay, maybe even happy. I head over to Pickle Lady in hopes for the same. Her burger is so covered in pickles that I can’t even see the patty. It’s just bread, pickles, and more bread. I cross my fingers, hoping it’s enough to please her.

“Here ya go, ma’am.” I set the plate on the table and clench my teeth waiting for her approval. I watch as she pulls off the top bun and inspects the sandwich like a detective on the scene of a crime. She rolls her eyes as far back into her head as she can and lets out a long, dramatic sigh.

That’s when it begins.

“I am a good Christian woman. I don’t deserve this. All I ask for is a burger with exactly twenty-seven pickles and you idiots can’t even do that. Do you see my issue?”

Big Chris hears the yelling and immediately comes out to the incident. If only it were him coming to save me. He pushes me to the side and puts his hand over his chest to show he sympathizes with the customer. They both look over and start bitching me out as if I’m the crazy one that asked for twenty-seven pickles on a fucking burger. Big Chris fixes the burger and brings me to the back to have a “talk.” He sprays me with saliva while repeating the “customer is always right” phrase. I honestly never understood that bullshit quote because, like, if the customer punched me in the face, would they really still be right? Well according to Big Chris they probably would be. He begins threatening to fire me, which he does often, but never actually does. He’s always bluffing just to seem like he has power, saying stuff like “one more thing and it’s over.”

After a little while most things have calmed down, and the only table I have left to cash out is that sweet little family. The wife has gone to the bathroom and I go to pick up the check from the husband. I bring it to the register and cash it out, but on the tip line where an amount of money should be listed is “call me baby” with a number attached to the end of it. I stare at it in disbelief. I’ve had guys write some pretty nasty things on my checks before, but never a guy with a wife anddaughter, let alone while they are both here with him.

“Eric,” I shout across the entire restaurant not caring, just wanting to know how to handle this. He jumps up from stacking glassware and comes over to me.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?” I shove over the check. He lets out a laugh that sounds like a chainsaw. I give him my best angry mom look and the laughing stops.

“Okay, okay, sorry. I would maybe go to the wife because, like, she deserves to know her husband is a piece of shit.” I nod and go back over to the table before my doubts stop me from confronting the situation.

“Excuse me miss, I think there might be a problem with the tip.” I reach down to show her the bill. Her eyes grow wide in disgust as she turns to her husband who seems to have no idea what she would be upset about. That’s when she turns back to me.

“Why are you making moves on my husband?” She raises an eyebrow. I can actually feel the muscles in my jaw drop.

“He wrote that to me,” I point out.

“Well maybe if you weren’t so flirtatious during dinner, he wouldn’t be giving his number to you.”

“I wasn’t flirting and even if I was, it wouldn’t be to him because I have a girlfriend.”  I feel my voice rising. I’m so fucking confused. She stands to size me up and I can’t even believe what she says next.

“Ohhh, so you’re trying to make moves on me then?”

“What?! No?” I see Eric in the corner of my eye, bent down and laughing at the whole situation and maybe if I weren’t directly in it, I would be laughing too. Because seriously, how does this shit always happen to me? The daughter looks totally unfazed, as if this kind of thing happens often. The wife then puts both of her scrawny arms up as if she’s ready to box me, but I’m positive this woman has never fought anyone in her life. Like the Hot Cheeto with fake nails type. All talk, no walk. Big Chris is already booming his way over to intervene. He puts on his fakest nice voice and addresses the wife.

“Hello miss, what seems to be the situation here?” 

“Your server here keeps trying to put moves on my husband and me. And then, she threatened to fight me.” She sounds like she genuinely believes what she’s saying. He turns to me, hands on his hips, and this time I can’t help but slip.

“Oh my fucking God. I did not. I promise.” I feel tears filling my eyes, but I’m not sad.

“Lacey, you already know what we talked about earlier, the customer is always right.”

“But I really didn’t do anything like that I swear,” I try.

“That’s it. I told you one more time and it’s over. Lacey, you’re fired. Get your stuff and get out.”

This time he isn’t bluffing. 


Victoria Barney is a Creative Writing Student at Columbia College Chicago. She has been an editor for Hair Trigger and is always looking for new experiences within the writing world. Additional information can be found at


Katie Lynn Johnston



The neighbors stomp. Every night they stomp; unceasing, unyielding, a constant drumbeat inside my head, but Hammie says I was asleep so when her black-soled shoe came through the ceiling. I didn’t wake up, but she peeked her head through the hole—I see her with the light shining about her and the splintered wood panels like rays of sunshine around her neck—and, later, she told me she said, “o, hi!” anyway with that voice now that I can hear whispering through my ears like honey-butter melted, dripping through my fingertips because, yes, o, yes, she didn’t want to be rude, she said. How could someone possibly be so rude?

They haven’t fixed the hole (of course, of course). “Because,” Hammie says, she knows—and I say, “I know,” she knows—that I am “completely alone and have never not been.” So, “harm is none and done, my dear,” she tells me, and a star-studded rug is placed over the gash above my bed so when their parties go on late into the night-times, it shines like phosphorescent butterflies, and I fall asleep with white stars dancing behind my eyelids because I am alone and have never not been.



The rug is red and white and blue, but it is not a flag. The stars are white on a backdrop of blue with a band of red around the outside. It looks quilted.

In the day, the rug is dark and the splintered wood around the hole shines like streaks of sunlight coming through gray storm clouds. At night, I can see shadows moving above it as it glows, covering the light for a moment—just for a moment—before blazing bright again as the sun. I can hear nothing, smell nothing, but I know Hammie smells of maple and vanilla like the scent of sleep when awakening, and I like to think that, in the late morning, I can smell her dozing and dreaming.

But I am lying here now, and I smell nothing. It has become night as though by the snap of fingers. The moon is shining through the windows white and blue, streaming across the wood floor because I haven’t yet bought drapes. I can hear Hammie laughing upstairs, and I’m trying desperately not to fall asleep.


Still, I haven’t met Bobby, but Hammie tells me of him every day, lying on her stomach on my hardwood floor (because she damns the couch, she told me once) with her golden curls floating around her cheeks and her glittering red-polished fingernails tucked underneath her chin. She’ll lie there and say, “Oh, you’ll love him, darling—just wait until you see him.” (Told me she was that particular type of person that’d rather lie on the floor and “damn every couch and chair between heaven and hell” so long as someone else was lying down beside her. [I thought Bobby must do that, that their apartment was bathed in sunshine, not a piece of furniture in sight.] I said, “Yes, that is a very particular type of person.” [And the first time I’d met her even, she hadn’t sat on my sofa—hadn’t sat down at all, hovered like a hummingbird in the air. “I’m Hannah,” she said, “But they call me Hammie, they do.”

It was just a week into my knowing her, my mattress still bare on the floor, that she rolled all the way down the apartment steps like a log to my door—I heard the steady thump . . . thump . . . thump . . .that drumbeat inside my head—and, invited in, she sat on the brown floorboards, damned my bed, the desk chair, the sofa puking out its fluffy entrails. She sat there crisscross-applesauce, asked me to join her on the floor, my apartment door creaking in with cool October air. But I didn’t. I don’t.]) And I’ll tell her, lying on my bed, “I’m sure he’s wonderful. I’d die to see him actually.” (Because I know if I ever touch the floor by her, I will crumble and melt, I’ll just die: fall apart [and sometimes I’ll just lie down alone on the floorboards and think, Damn the couch, damn the chair.over and over and over, seeing her sitting there away from me, damn the couch, damn the chair.the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen].)

Hammie talks of him fondly. The very first day I met her, she spoke of Bobby so affectionately, standing in my doorway on my threshold with cherry pie encrusted with sugar, talked like I should already know him—this grand creature just upstairs. She said something terribly ramble-y like, kept pawing curlicue strands of hair out of her eyes. She seemed to throw his name in whenever she had the chance as though he were famous. (Carlos said it was because she wanted me to know she was off limits. Annamarie exclaimed she was ten years older: Oh! the nerve!) But I came to picture Bobby this big burly, unruly fellow—this tall, wide, giant; dark haired and hirsute, so very butch and manly, wild in plaid and army greens (so that I’d never dream of little Hammie in any form or capacity), despite the flowery description his girl seemed to give.

I still haven’t met him yet. But when I woke up today, now just three mornings after Hammie’s foot came through the ceiling, I went out to fetch the mail and discovered three pieces of yellow, blue-lined paper all in a row taped to the chocolate colored wood of my door in as straight of a line as I have ever seen. The writing upon it was so sweet and curly I thought it must be Hammie apologizing for her foot broken through the veil of heaven since she’d never really said she was all that sorry. But after grabbing the mail downstairs (which, to my disappointment, was only a bill and a coupon for a department store), I didn’t read the letters—still haven’t done it. I glanced over them quickly enough just to see if Hammie spelled her name with a heart over the ‘i’ before I hurried back inside, but instead I saw printed there,

Deepest & Sincerest of Apologies,

                                                 Bobby M. Chester, Apt. 3N with the silver dragon door-knocker.

with no heart in sight.



They played “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons” eight times last night.

 I can’t complain.

Hammie kept laughing and I could hear the soft tiptoeing of her feet as she swayed back and forth in Bobby’s big hairy arms above me. I could see them floating around the room in my head, waltzing like angels bowling around that hole in the floor. I saw Bobby tower over her petite frame—pictured her this tiny, white butterfly in the calloused palm of his calloused hand, dancing with his thumb as he spun so lightly around the room, despite his immensity as delicate as a chocolate rose. I thought of Hammie as a butterfly flitting around my throat, butterfly kisses on my eyelids. “Damn the couch, damn the chair.” She landed on my mouth, flew away. I dreamt I danced with her until my ankles bled—until the balls of my feet were raw, until my neck began to crack, until my knees gave way, until my fingers became a part of her waist, until we melted, and Hammie said, “Damn the couch, damn the chair.” and Bobby flew around us, an orange butterfly with a big man’s big head until the breeze his wings created blew us away.



“I’d complain,” Gayle said, for when Annamarie came, her mother did, too, and her husband waited in their Morris Miner smoking chocolate cigars, claiming, when his wife came back down, that the smell of smoke was only from a passing car. (And three blocks down—I didn’t yet know—Carlos was waiting for Anna [his “girl,” so often he would boast], drinking coffee in the nearby department store.)

“Isn’t there a board? Or a super?” Gayle said, “I’d write a note. I’d complain. You could slip it under their door or put it on their car.” She shook her head disapprovingly, her hair pulled back into a tight, low cinnamon roll bun, not a hair falling out of place. “It isn’t right. Isn’t it sorude?”

And I said, “Well, maybe I will complain,” but Annamarie knew I wasn’t going to—that I couldn’t—and she stared up at the rug peeking through the ceiling, splinters around the edges, the stars so dark and so dull.

Gayle left.

We watched out the window, the bare tree branches obscuring her head. She waved a white-gloved hand, we could see her breath. She got into the car and they drove off. And then Annamarie said something about dancing— “Or a movie, maybe?” I told her I’d make some tea, we could go walk a bit, how was school? How was work? How was Carlos? (I always forget how much I love her until I’m with her again.) She said something about the tea being rather good, wasn’t it? But it wasn’t, and when I dumped mine down the sink, she laughed, gulping hers—scorching hot—down. (I imagined her throat cherry red and blistered like ornaments on a Christmas tree.) She asked me about the writing: how was class? How was school?

I said I hadn’t anything to tell her. “My life is boring. Seriously.” And then she said something about us going to the department store.



She’s staring up at the ceiling with her head thrown back, kind of tilted to one side, resting on her shoulder just so, leaning on her right arm so that she is stacked up like fruit at the grocer’s. Her slim fingers tap the floorboards and she rubs her temple with her other hand, her palm against her chin, her middle and forefinger moving in slow, violent, little circles, her skin twisting like a ripple by her eyes.

 “Got a headache?”


Her hair is shining in the sun, tinted like copper.

 “Want some water?”

 “No.” She looks like a cat cleaning her fur, bathing in the sunshine. “That’s alright.” She closes her eyes, opens them. She doesn’t look at me. She’s humming Vera Lynn, I think. “I’m fine.” She wears a white shirtdress with three big, brown buttons down the middle and puffy shoulders, her collar pressed down flat against her chest. Her stockings have a run in them, up the calf, exposing that white skin there beneath like milk glass. The sun streaming through the windows looks warm and orangey against her skin, like the tint of summer polaroid pictures lingering around her frame.

Suddenly, she flicks her head back to look at the rug coming through the ceiling and says that Bobby won’t let her wear her character shoes in the apartment anymore. “He thinks I’m going to make holes all over the floor,” she tells me, “And that then we’re going to fall down into your room.” She laughs, “I said you wouldn’t mind. Of course, you wouldn’t, would you?” She lets her head fall from her shoulder to look at me, her smile upside down, her curls gliding over her shoulders, swaying at her cheeks. “What are you writing now?” she asks.

 “A to-do list,” I lie. The sun has gone away from the window. All at once, I feel guilty.

“Ah.” She watches me. I see goosebumps rise upon her arms. She nods and smiles at something far off and away. “Coffee?” Hammie says, getting up from the floor.



dAmn the COuc H, daMN tHE ChaIr. DaMn tHe c Ouch, DAMn THe cHair. Damn thE CoUCh, Da M NthE CHAiR. dA m n T hE  c o u c h , damn tHe c H A I R . CHAiR T H E damn, cOUcH T H E Damn. couch the DAMNeD, chair the sav ed . CoucH the man- chaIr, mon chéri. Mi aMOUr, m on aMI, the f l o o r. DAMn THe COUCH, DaMN the fLOo r . DA MN the Cha Ir, thE cOuCH, thE wawlLS. dam the floor damn the floor damNthe floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the floor the flor



She called me, the warm bustle of something around her, and said, “There’s a party on Sunday. I know I haven’t been around much. The sun’s too hot here, I can’t wait for the cold. 3N, door with the silver dragon knocker—you know the place. You’ll come by, won’t you? I’m sure all my plants have died, but stop by, won’t you? Lots of writing material, parties—you’re always writing, you’ll need new material soon. Never see you without that silly pencil behind your ear or that ugly notebook under your arm, I don’t know how you do it. So, stop by, okay? I’ll have Mikey make a pineapple upside down cake and we’ll play games”—A bang-bang against the phone-box—“o, I’ve got to go now, alright? Someone else waiting for the telephone. Okay. I’ll see you Sunday. Okay. Good-bye.” She hung up the receiver without letting me say a parting word.



11steps to the table from my bed.

15steps to the sink from my bed.

13steps to the door from the sink.

24steps to Hammie’s door from mine.

72hours since I last saw her.

26 steps back to my door from Hammie’s.

19curses in a minute from behind Guy’s door.

7seconds for Straight Rob to lock his door.

steps back to the bed from my door.

26seconds without breathing.

47hours until the party.

50days since I moved in.



I hovered like some lost dog beside her. I wanted every minute with her—to soak up every single moment with her, every breath and every fragmented sentence. I wanted her to stand close to me—so close to me—to say she loved me,yes, she loved me, and I’d tell her I knew because of the way she spoke, the way her eyes looked, the way she sat on the floor and stared up at the hole she’d punctured through the veil like it was the greatest thing she could ever do for me.

But she bought chocolate milk instead: vanilla extract, sugar cubes, purple carrots, broccoli, pineapple in a can (“For the cake, darling,” she said), shampoo in a bag, hot sauce, soy sauce and dough in a cardboard tube, piled up in her red plastic basket so full she leant to one side and wouldn’t let me help her. I wanted to help her.

We went for hot cocoa afterward. She asked for sugar cubes and we waited for them to dissolve as we stood at the window bar in the coffeehouse with her grocery bags sprawled out around our feet. Snow was falling outside, lying softly on the ground like powdered sugar on bushes and trees. I watched the steam from her drink float up toward her face in beautiful white swirls, kissing her cheeks. I wanted to say something because it felt as if something had to be said, but Hammie looked at me out of the corner of her eye—smiled as if to say “Aren’t you lovely, aren’t you justlovely?” and we sipped our hot chocolate in silence because I was afraid what words might escape me if I were to let the simplest one free.



I thought Sunday would be a good time to tell her that I feel—in the marrow of my bones, I fear—that she’s going to be the only decent thing I ever write about; that I’m never going to get her voice out of my head, that I’m going to drown here thinking, Damn the couch, damn the chair,over and over and over in this silly little apartment, lying on the floor until I rot away. I thought Sunday would be a good day to run and fall to her: to collapse at her feet, to hold her hands, to kiss her face, to say, “Hammie, I love you, I love you—you are the most important thing to me.”

But I didn’t. I didn’t go.

I left.

 I wandered to the grocery store a few blocks away. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go—to be. I trekked through the snow in slippers that now I see are faded and blue, and then I stood in the canned-goods aisle and stared at the pineapples on the shelf under the florescent lights as the people moved around me, the Christmas tunes played and children laughed, and I thought, Damn the couch, damn the floor,over and over and over. I saw Hammie sitting there at my feet on the white tiles, looking up at me with her big black eyes like a doe. I thought, Damn the couch, damn the floor.My arms were cold and they were useless, entirely useless, hanging loose at my sides—suddenly I knew with every certainty that my fear was true: I would never craft a thing better than her, I could never capture her, I could never be anything more than her, and then this pimple-faced boy came up to me, squeaking, “Please, man, you’ve got to leave. We’re closing now.” so I bought a can of pineapples because I felt bad and a can opener, too, and I stumbled out and left as the lights flicked off behind me.

     I shuffled back home and alone, and all I wanted was to cry, to grieve and fall apart and let the ground swallow me. I wanted not to exist. I wanted finally to be stopped, to be silenced so  I stuffed tasteless rings of pineapple into my cheeks to muzzle my tears and wept quietly—like a child (so grown and the loss of all our innocence)—stumbling back to my apartment, her: home. I wanted to let it all fall away from me, but all I could think of was her—her—and everything I could never allow myself to tell her, everything I could never allow myself to be because of her.It began to snow, and I held my eyes open wide so the cold could sting them and blur the red headlights, thinking, Damn the couch, goddamn the floor, over and over and over.

Katie Johnston is a creative writing undergraduate at Columbia College Chicago. She has been an editor for the Columbia Poetry Review, a production editor for Hair Trigger Magazine, and her essay “The Barriers Faced by Female Writers” was published on the Fountainhead Presswebsite and won the Excellence Award at the Student Writers’ Showcase.


Janae Iloreta

The Hundred Dollar Bill


The roar of the city’s traffic had died down and it was a quarter to midnight. The man had been walking around the dimly lit streets, looking for a new and warm place to sleep. Besides a few couples walking by, smiling and laughing with expensive cologne and red lipstick in thick coats with leather gloves, most of the people were already inside, away from the cold weather with hot food. 

High above the man, through a curtained apartment window across the street, a woman’s silhouette appeared. She was feeding soup to a baby. The shape of her hand carefully dipped her utensil into the bowl laying on a high chair for another spoonful. Before the woman blew on it and raised it to the baby’s lips, the man imagined being there, up close, feeling the steam rise from the hot liquid. For a moment, he closed his eyes and tried to relive the soothing feeling of his father’s special papaya soup flowing down his throat and warming his chest. He then swallowed his own saliva, hoping it’d substitute the hollowness in his empty stomach. 

The man continued to walk down the lonely sidewalk, when a drizzle of rain touched his cheek. Tiny beads of water dribbled on the edges of his thick beard, and right before he was going to give it a quick brush with his hand, a pink and orange poster caught his eye. To his right stood a brightly lit donut shop. “FREE COFFEE. ANY SIZE. TODAY ONLY. SPECIAL PROMOTION,” it read. He entered through a revolving door, stepped into the shop, and grabbed all of his cotton-covered fingers at once, pulling off his tattered gloves, then his hat. The anticipated swirled scents of hot beverages, freshly baked pastries and sweet frosting advertised on the various posters around him were only replaced with a reality of scanty donut pans and a washed down aroma of lukewarm coffee. 

Other than himself, a middle-aged woman sitting on a two-seater table nearby, and a cashier who seemed young enough to be his son, yet old enough to buy his own alcohol, were the only people inside. The sounds of a digital sword slash followed by bubbly point gains filled the silence as the man heard an electronic game being played. He looked toward the cashier and saw his elbows propped up on the counter as he held his phone with his eyes concentrated on the screen. The pinned nametag on his turquoise apron read, “Kyle.” Instead of a pair of eyes, the man spoke to the top of a youthful head of chestnut-brown hair.

“I’m here for the free coffee,” the man said hopefully, pointing his thumb behind his shoulder toward the promotional sign at the front window.

Raising his head after pausing the game, the cashier looked up and immediately covered his nose with the back of his hand. He took a step away from behind the counter. The man strongly smelled of sweat and onions. The man himself knew this, but didn’t realize how potent it had become. 

The cashier saw the multiple loose threads on the edge of the man’s beanie and discreetly scanned down to his waist, looking at the rest of his worn out clothes. “What’d you say?”

“The free coffee,” the man replied.

“Oh, that was for yesterday. It is now. . .12:01 a.m.,” the cashier responded, checking the watch on his wrist. “Actually, now that you mention it,” he said, making his way out from behind the counter toward the front window. “I forgot to take that thing down.” He peeled the tape from the day-old poster, rolled it up and walked back to the counter to place it in the cabinet below the register. He concluded their conversation with a “Sorry, have a good night, sir,” and went back to playing the game on his phone. 

The woman sitting nearby, wrapped in a silk, emerald scarf, carefully observed the man with the corner of her eye as she took a sip behind a cup of coffee. Just before the man was about to leave, the woman got up from her seat. Hasty clacks on the vinyl floor made their way closer toward him. She lightly bumped the large tear on the elbow of his jacket, and a crisp hundred-dollar bill floated down to the man’s shoes. 

The woman rushed out of the shop without zipping up her coat, letting the end of her vivid green scarf flutter, and her scent to linger on, longer than her brief exit. She smelled the way his grandmother did when she was still alive, like shriveled rose petals and a hint of woodiness. He questioned whether or not it was the same perfume his grandmother used to wear or if it was just a duplicate of a similar smell. He was sure the perfume had been discontinued the year she died, because since then, he never saw another magazine ad or TV commercial revamping the line like the companies usually did. The woman could not have been a young ghost of his grandmother because the most money she would ever give her grandson was ten dollars and she certainly would not have left one hundred dollars slip out of her sight.

Outside, shrouds of fog had now crept into the half-empty streets and hazy glows of green stoplights struggled to make their way through the gray thickness. From inside of the donut shop, he listened to the muffled crashing of water pouring onto the sidewalks and squinted toward the front window to observe the droplets of water sticking onto the other side. He grabbed the paper bill from the floor, crumpled it into his jacket pocket and hurried into the revolving door to look for the woman.

The metal handle gave his hands a cold shock, allowing him to remember he had taken his gloves and hat off earlier. He put them back on and as he spun through, the fog seeped into the gaps until he was no longer able to see any of the buildings from earlier except for the warm breath marks made on the glass square in front of him. The smooth swiping of the door’s rubber edges down below began to lag, spinning slower than usual. His effort to push the handle harder only made him feel weaker, delaying his intention to make it outside.

When he finally spun himself out, his first step away from under the shop’s front roof brought him into a cold sauna. His nose immediately turned red and the apples of his cheeks burned from the icy splashes of rain as he began to cross the street, leaving almost no dry remnants of clothing. He followed the faded splotches of streetlights, loosely scattered through the dampened, powdery night air. Out of pure estimation, he quickly turned to his right, hoping the woman had gone the same way. 

What felt like continuous loops around a few blocks gave the man very little sense of time, and his effort in filling the air with “hello’s” and “excuse me’s” gave him no response back. In the distance the man saw the shape of a figure waving its arm as if it were trying to greet him, but when he got closer, it had only dissolved back into wisps of gray clouds. 

The hole from the elbow of his jacket widened into a crooked smile the faster he walked and the sole of his left boot had already opened up, flapping like a wet tongue. With both feet drenched, an even greater rush of water poured into the torn boot. It gave thick, soggy footprints on the cushioned interior with each step he took. His persistent calls after her died down when both the clicking of the woman’s heels and her smell had returned. He found himself looking down in front of him at a pair of feet, quickly walking in black heels. 

They started running as he got closer from behind so he began to run, too, trying to catch up, keeping his sight on them. The thick fog floated generously around the woman, almost covering her entire body. It left only a faded sight of her ankles and below. She wore no stockings. The man caught glimpses of blue and green veins bulging like fragile tree branches from the skin of her pale feet. They were even lightly sprinkled with tiny bruises, and pink blistered lines from her shoe’s tight imprints as they continued to run in the hazy night air. The paper bill was now soaked and the man didn’t know the crumpled paper had found its way to stretch part of itself outward, toward the edge of his jacket pocket, nearly falling out. 

He reached his arm out in front of him, hoping it’d find its way into tapping on the woman’s shoulder, but there was no solid form he was able to touch. Waving his arm from left to right, the same gloomy air remained vacant in front of him, yet the feet were still there, still running. He lowered himself to grab her ankles, and reached for his pocket, ready to give the woman her money back, but once he stuck his hand in his jacket and leaned in closer toward her, just like the hundred dollar bill, her feet were gone.


Janae Iloreta is a Hawai’i native and graduating senior at Columbia College Chicago pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. “The Hundred Dollar Bill” is her first published piece of fiction. She will also have forthcoming work published at 101 Words.


Lex Vasquez

Paradise, Nowhere







Diana Chrisman, Cover Photographer

Diana developed her “Laundry Series” during her time in Italy.


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Kala Wahl

I Promise This Is Not About Sex


Anna Nicole Smith is like a mother to me. Tall, buxom-blonde Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith. The one who died of a drug overdose or whatever in Hollywood, Florida. Who knew there’s a Hollywood in Florida? Not me. Anna Nicole is like a mother to me because she looks so much like my own mother, and she was all I had while visiting my father’s house during the holidays.

I got into my dad’s porn stash. Big deal. I was seven years old, but he still didn’t exactly go out of his way to hide it. I found Anna Nicole Smith: Exposed right next to my copy of Finding Nemo in our movie cabinet. One movie is about a lost clownfish, and the other is about a naked woman having sex in some mansion with a pond out front. I watched the DVD while my father was away, working for some airline company he’d get laid off from a couple of months later. I’d cozy up on the couch with my stuffed bunny, affectionately named Moo (exactlyjust like a cow noise), and watch Anna Nicole have sex with her chef, housekeeper, publicist, and whoever else happened to poke their head into her room. Her platinum blonde hair was just like my mom’s, and so was her picturesque, pin-up body most men buy vodka tonics for at bars. She was beautiful like my mom, and I watched her porno often. Moo and I did.

Watching Anna Nicole’s sex tape wasn’t sexual to me. It was a reminder that I wasn’t alone at my dad’s house—that some entity that looked like my mom was there to keep me company, along with the random girl Anna Nicole had sex with in the fourth or fifth scene of the film. It felt like she was babysitting me, or like I was back home at my mom’s place. Because I’ve always loved my mom more than my dad, I never wanted to go to his house. It never felt like I was totally wanted there, or that he even knew what to do with a daughter. I was a specimen for all he was concerned—he’d keep me in a plastic cup, poke holes in it, and slide McDonald’s and a sugary drink into the opening at least once a day.

My dad stopped calling me when I was twelve; I remember this because it was around when Michael Jackson died. Twelve was also the age the court decided I was no longer legally obligated to visit him anymore. After that, it was always just my mom and I. We’re very close because of it. I am twenty-one now and I think about my dad often, or, the idea of him. It’s hard to differentiate the two sometimes.

I have what most people would refer to as daddy issues. It’s not a medical term, but I think it should be.


Everybody writes about their dad, because nobody likes their dad. You’re in the minority if you do. I actually can’t stand people who talk about how much they love their dad. I find them annoying—and if that’s you, you’re annoying. Maybe you can go tell your dad about it.

Here’s what I know about my father: his name is Clifford, like the big, red dog. Cliff, for short, because it obviously made people think of the big, red dog. I don’t see how that could be a bad thing, though. He was a wrestling hotshot in college—supposed to make it big or something, but who knows, because all old people say stuff like that in order to feel less like losers in their old age. When I last left Cliff, he was living in his mother’s basement and selling gently-used hardware from the garage on Craigslist. He considered this to be his career. It was the fourth or fifth “career” of his. I don’t know where his downfall was, nor does my mother, who was never married to him in the first place. I guess we’ll never know because he and I don’t talk. I’m sure if I asked my mother, her answer would be along the lines of “wasted potential” or something. She claims all her exes had “wasted potential.” Whatever that means.

Most of us have daddy issues, but my issue is that I can’t find my dad. I actually can’t locate the motherfucker. Believe me, I’ve tried looking. I’ve looked right up at lots of forty-plus-year-old men who could have been the same age as my dad, but even all their cash and the unlimited mixed drinks they’d get me at hotel bars couldn’t suffice for my real, biological father. I don’t know where he is and sometimes I’d like to. Maybe it’s because I’m nosy, or maybe it’s because dads are something all of my friends have, like the latest iPhone model or denim jackets. I don’t miss him or anything—my dad was a piece of shit, one of those guys who skipped out on child support and kept pornos next to his kid’s copy of Finding Nemo. He wasn’t a good person. I don’t think he ever wanted a daughter, and sometimes I’m not even sure he remembers my name, or that I exist. But I miss something, and I can’t figure out what that something is. I know he has something to do with it, though.

There’s a void, and my dad is responsible for it. It’s deep and dark and it makes me feel empty sometimes. I have trouble with men, and I don’t think I would if my dad were still in my life. That’s what my harem of BlueCross BlueShield therapists have said. I think my dad is the reason I “date” older men. And when I say “date,” I mean have sex for money. It’s an issue of semantics, I guess. I have sex for money with older men. But it is kinda like dating, except you don’t get to see their rooms or meet their parents or anything. You just go to nice hotels and earn like, three-hundred dollars (It’s always difficult to put a price point on sex. I charge three-hundred dollars because that’s how much I think I’m worth. My mom always told me I was worth millions, but I quickly figured out that’s an unreasonable amount to charge.). These men provide for me much like a father would. They give me money so I can take care of myself, and buy like, nail polish and those little, plush keychains you see in displays when you’re checking out at a store. I tell myself they provide for me, at least. They’re around the same age I imagine my own father to be. I’m not a shrink, but I think there’s gotta be some kind of connection there.

Don’t tell my mom any of this. She would fucking kill me.

These men are desperate. They are socially inept. And they’re not always rich. Some save up a paycheck to get their dick wet, while it may not even dent another’s bank account. A few have been married, a few have wanted a girlfriend, and a few have been uncircumcised. You have to watch out for the uncircumcised ones.

I am seemingly the worst escort they could ever pay for. If it weren’t for my tight pussy, youth, and long, blonde wig, they would hate me. (The wig is more for me than them. I hide beneath it like a turtle in her shell. And I slap my clients’ hands when they try to pull on it). I don’t listen when these men speak. I don’t make noises when they fuck, asides from an occasional yawn. And I don’t kiss them goodbye. But I’m successful; I have regulars. I am overpaid for mediocre blowjobs with teeth and half-arched doggystyle. My clients find me endearing. They mistake my silence for shyness and my laziness for inexperience. I’m a cute college girl, and they’re ugly old men who wear dress shoes with jeans and offer me hard candies from their pockets.

Sometimes, when I’m with my clients, I fantasize about my dad’s reemergence. Like, he might rise from the ocean waves and chant my name, or break through my bedroom window with a superhero cape on and take me to some remote island with fairies and mermaids and shit. I may not remember what he looks like, but I’ll know it’s him. I think I’m looking for my dad to save me. Because I’ve convinced myself that this whole escorting thing is his fault, and I need him to come stop it. My dad is a changed man in this fantasy. He’d tell me how disappointed he is in me for sucking old-man dick for money, and then I’d remind him I was only doing it because of my deep abandonment issues or whatever. He would understand, and I would feel nice, having my father be disappointed in me, because I’ve always wanted something like that. He’d tell me I wouldn’t have to escort anymore, and then we’d go to Disney World, because I always used to beg him to take me there. My dad has yet to appear in my window, but I keep hoping he’s been trying to yell at me from the ocean. Since I live in Chicago, I wouldn’t be able to hear it, so I always ask my friend in Florida if he’s seen or heard anything unusual in the water. So far, it’s been a no.


I tried to find my father in a forty-eight-year-old man named Richard. He preferred to go by Dick because he thought Richard sounded too stuffy, too formal. He is the only man I’ve ever “dated” who had children. One had autism, and the other just resented him. Probably because he was throwing money at twenty-one-year-old, blonde chicks like me.

I thought Dick was going to be the one. Not my soulmate—but like, my dad. He was the closest thing to what I wanted out of a father, therefore, he was the man who would take care of me and keep me safe and tucked under his wing, like I was a baby bird or a precious jewel. I even considered taking my wig off for him, but we never got around to that. Dick asked if he could be my last client; he wanted me to stop escorting. He wanted exclusivity. I was ready to give it to him, because he sounded disappointed in me when he told me I deserved better than what my other clients were giving me. It was a lecture; I loved that. I loved his disappointment. I rolled around in it like it was mud and dirtied myself up. Please, I mentally begged, let me know how I can disappoint you further.

Even though Dick called me his girlfriend, he still paid me. He’d leave money in my purse. He’d sneak it in as not to make a big deal about it—“it” being paying me for sex, I guess—I’d find it while in my cab the next morning. I never understood why he wouldn’t just hand it to me, or why he was still paying me if I was his girlfriend. But I would dismiss this thought quickly. I’d tell myself he was just taking care of me, like a father would. Sometimes he’d leave me real fancy chocolate too, or leftover bottles of alcohol from one of the few bars he owned (it depended on how big my purse was that day), or sleeping pills. He knew I had trouble falling asleep. It was thoughtful. A guy, especially my own father, had never thought to do little things like that for me.

Dick did lots of little things. He held my hand in large crowds at nightclubs, because he knew lots of people made me nervous. He’d walk me to the bathroom at restaurants because I asked him to. He’d whistle me cabs and make me text him whenever I got home, you know, just to make sure I was safe. These are things I imagine dads do. Maybe not going to nightclubs with their daughters, but everything else.

I brought up the age gap with Dick a lot. I joked about it; sometimes I joke when I’m uncomfortable. There’s always going to be something inherently uncomfortable about trying to relate to someone twenty-seven years your senior. He didn’t think it was funny when I called him old, or told him that he couldn’t keep up with me during sex when he’d roll onto his side and pant. I thought it was kinda funny. But he got really offended by it, so I stopped.

Dick never stopped talking about his children. He would send me pictures of them and tell me about the vacations we’d all take together. He’d tell me about his son’s autism, and that his daughter recently threatened to slit her wrists at the tip-top of his ex’s Malibu mansion. He said she was going through a phase and asked if I could talk to her. Dick had a lot of cash from working in medical technology. Dick also had a lot of baggage. I never questioned why his children didn’t live with him.

“But I don’t expect you to be a mother or anything,” he’d remind me in between sips of a chocolate martini at some bar in River North. I would always be near blackout, per usual when I’m not paying for my own drinks. I’d tell him I didn’t care and I just wanted to get to know him. I’d usually have to repeat that sentence a couple of times because I would be slurring so bad, slouched over my drink, face nearing the rim of my beer can. This was the usual during an outing with Dick; getting drunk and listening to one another try to form sentences was how we got to know each other. I always wondered what we must have looked like to other people.

After a night out, we’d go back to his high-rise apartment and drink more. Dick always had a stocked fridge with all the nice alcohol they keep locked up at stores. I usually vomited in his bathroom and then stripped naked, in that order, leaving my clothes strewn along his linoleum tile, his toilet filled with my puke, unflushed. Dick never saw it because of his cleaning lady, or maybe he was just too much of a gentleman to ask me to start flushing my own vomit. I’d then stumble out naked like nothing had happened, and he would chuckle as if thinking, Oh, what am I going to do with her? I’m not sure if he actually thought that, but that’s what his laugh sounded like. I’d fall onto Dick, who would be sitting on his couch, and he’d finger me or something. We’d be so wasted that it’d be a wonder if he even found the right hole. We’d have lackluster sex on his couch; Dick didn’t want to get any sweat or cum on his bedsheets. Then, I’d look out at the city lights around us from the large window of his living room, and I’d contemplate vomiting again. That was how Dick and I spent our evenings. My clothes would always be folded for me the next morning and a cab would be waiting.

No matter how much glitter I caked onto my cheeks, or how long my Walgreens, false lashes were, I was still my mother’s child. I’d wind up in situations that were seemingly too big for me, and I’d blame it all on anything but myself. It was never my fault. Just like my mom, who claims that, in the prime of her alcoholism, the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrote a song about her. It’s called “Scar Tissue,”—you might’ve heard it. My mom says she’s the young, Kentucky girl in a push-up bra. And if you pry too much on this subject, she’ll just say she doesn’t remember the details. “It was the Jameson,” she’ll remark.

“And it’s the daddy issues.” That’s what I’ll remark. It’s how I wish my problems away. I blame it all on my dad. That’s how I think I’ve ended up in these situations.

“Will you take me to Disney World one day?” I was sitting on Dick’s lap on his bed, a glass of vodka in one hand and my other gripping his shoulder to stay upright. He squeezed my side and told me yes. At that point in the evening, he might as well have had a funnel shoved down my throat, pouring bottles of Absolut down the tube as if I needed it to stay alive.

And that’s not untrue, or anything. I did need it. I needed that Absolut in order to be there. I needed it so that I wouldn’t be thinking. I didn’t want to think about sitting on Dick’s lap and feeling his boner pushing onto my inner thigh. I could tell he wanted to mention that he took his kids to Disney World once, but I was done talking about the kids. Let’s talk about me, I thought.

“You know, I know a lot about Disney World. I could tell you about all the rides. I’m the best person to go with,” I told him. And I meant that. He wouldn’t regret taking me to Disney World. I’d always wanted my own dad to take me to Disney World. And in my drunken stupor, I chose a guy who prefers to go by the name Dick to replace him. He was going to take me instead.

The more I got to know Dick, the more I disliked him. Isn’t that true for anyone, though? I thought Dick was pathetic. I could see why he couldn’t attract someone his own age. I think it was because he thought he was my age. The father persona began to crumble.

He was annoying. Dick liked to talk about himself a lot. I told him I was a writer, and then he made me read his poems about the moonlight and grass and the noises owls make. He had so many fucking poems, and I couldn’t understand why, because they weren’t any good. He bought me clothes I didn’t like and that didn’t fit, and old lady perfume. He’d buy me the perfume my mom wears: Chanel No. 5 (I regifted it to her for Mother’s Day.). He kissed me too much. He was too comfortable touching my face; he’d cup my cheek in public and tell me he loved me over a plate of tacos from a place off of Diversey—another rich people place, with small-ass, rich people tacos. Perhaps if the tacos were bigger, or perhaps if he ever ordered me something more than an appetizer, I’d say I loved him, too. His breath always smelled like gin and tonic. He walked funny, probably because he was always buzzed, or because he had an abnormally large dick for a guy in medical technology. He took conference calls at dinner. He was too into real estate.

And he had two children. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t overlook that detail. How could he focus all his attention on taking care of me with them around?

So I ended it with Dick. I obviously never made it to Disney World on his dime, so I decided to peddle my wares elsewhere. By wares, I mean body; I started escorting again. You could really argue I never stopped since Dick paid me. But it was pretty easy to slide back into things, because most of my clients had never stopped contacting me. My phone was filled with unknown numbers and unsolicited dick pics—every girl’s fantasy. It was time to find a new suitor to take me to Disney World. Suitor? I think I mean father. I keep getting the two mixed up.

“I’m gonna go down to the bar,” Danny, one of my regulars, called from the other side of the hotel room. I was completely naked, my left arm handcuffed to the nightstand with cheap, plastic cuffs, straining my neck upward toward the plastic straw of my Cosmopolitan sitting on the surface above me. I leaned my body onto the side of the bed.

“Okay,” I said.

“I might be gone for a while.” The tone of his voice was high and playful, like he just knocked over someone in a wheelchair and ran away or something. Danny peaked at me from behind the room’s front door as he exited. I could see exactly what he wanted in his face—his raised eyebrows and his half-smile. He wanted to provoke me. He wanted me to plead with him and to acknowledge the handcuffs cutting into the skin of my wrist. Please! Hurry back soon! I’m just dying here, handcuffed to this nightstand. I need to be fucked! That’s what I imagined he wanted me to say. He thought he was being kinky. I could never tell with these types of clients if they were genuinely turned on by this kind of thing, or if they were trying to prove their masculinity. I guess it was flattering that they wanted to impress me. With Danny, I could only manage another, “Okay,” before leaning upward for a sip of my Cosmo. I was tired, and these handcuffs were too tight. I did ask him to bring me another drink, though.

Everyone wants the satisfaction of knowing why I do the things I do, and I can’t give it to them. I don’t know why my dad is involved in this, but I know he is. I can feel it. It’s a lost kind of feeling, drifting in and out of this world of store-brand lubricants and hairy, grey chests. I am aimless. My life is filled with cheap condoms and insecure old men and Hilton hotels, and I couldn’t be unhappier. I’m not finding what I’m looking for. I don’t want my mother’s disappointment; I’m used to that. I want my father’s. Something new. The smell of my perfume is constantly stuck in the crooks of my nostrils, a cheap kind of vanilla mixed with roses or something from the clearance section of Victoria’s Secret, my synthetic wig’s hair caught between the tight straps of my bra. I pick the hairs off and I go to school the next morning. And then repeat. I can’t get out of this loop. I’m trying to figure out why.

It’s not about the money. If anything, I consider that to be damage. The sex is just a hobby, like a workout or a killer scrapbook collection, if it happens to be any good; it never is. I think I just want someone to take care of me. I want someone to want me. It’s nice to have men pay to be with you because it means they want you. There’s affirmation in it, getting handed three hundred dollars. It makes me feel prized and valued. I can never understand why the one man I’ve always wanted to want me, never wanted me. Sometimes I try to play back in my head what I might’ve done to push my dad away. Maybe he knew I watched that Anna Nicole DVD and he resented me for borrowing one of his personal items, like when kids don’t want to share their toys. Maybe he didn’t want me during the holidays. Maybe I was preventing him from doing other exciting stuff with Craigslist or his wrestling career. Maybe he just didn’t like me. I’ve had people tell me they didn’t like me before. If that’s the issue with my dad, I might be able to understand it.

Maybe I took up too much space. Maybe I breathed too much air. Or maybe I reminded him too much of my mother. I don’t really know what happened between them, but I can infer it wasn’t good, because they’re not together or anything. Maybe it was unrequited—because he was jerking off to a porno with a woman who looked a lot like her.

Danny was at the bar, and I was still naked and handcuffed to the nightstand. I didn’t want to be there, but I couldn’t bring myself to have an existential crisis about it and leave. It’s not like I had the keys for the plastic handcuffs. I didn’t care enough, anyways. Like my unkempt bush, which was resting in between my pasty thighs on the scratchy, hotel carpet beneath me, I didn’t care enough. My pubes stuck out in every direction. Danny had said he liked it. Of course he did; it probably reminded him of the women he used to jerk off to in the seventies. But a bush on me means I’m depressed. And I am depressed. I’m depressed and tired, and I don’t know how much longer I can do this.

Because it’s not just sex. It’s never just sex. It’s sex with weird men who can’t name a single song from the past twenty years, or who want to tie you to things, or talk about their children. Maybe both at the same time.

I actually got infected from a guy named Greg. He didn’t clean his foreskin well enough. I should have known better when I saw the thick, off-white goo surrounding the head of his cock. I’ve heard that’s called smegma. I was too startled at the fact that I could barely even see his cock, hidden beneath a flap of fleshy skin, to pay attention to that. Admittedly, it was the first uncircumcised dick I’d ever seen in-person. So, I excused my negligence. Greg wouldn’t foot my doctor’s bills, and I ended up telling my mom I must have gotten infected from a toilet seat at school, because that’s easier to explain than what I’m actually doing. She took care of it and told me to be more careful. If only she knew. We’re close, but I don’t think there’s any easy way to tell your mother that you’re having sex for money. If there is, please let me know.

And besides, this is my dad’s issue—not hers.

One Cosmo down and one wrist handcuffed above me, I thought about Danny. He didn’t strike me as the Disney World type. I’d had sex with him before, and I knew exactly what type he was. He thinks foreplay is me sucking his dick, as if that does a whole lot for me, and he tries to spank me during sex, but ends up missing my ass and instead hits my lower back. It’s because Danny is one of those guys who can’t receive pleasure and do something else at the same time. He grabs me real hard and it hurts, like an Indian burn, or when your cat scratches you. He throws me on the bed beneath him and makes growling noises; I think he’s trying to be dominant. He cums quickly. It feels like only a few thrusts, and he doesn’t want it in my pussy. Danny wants it in my mouth, like I’m swallowing his “essence” or something romantic like that. Then he rolls over and falls asleep. He always pays for an entire night, so I just turn on the TV and watch Dr. Phil or whatever else is on and listen to him snore. Again, it doesn’t scream Disney World to me. Danny isn’t nurturing, and he sure as hell doesn’t want to hold my hand.

I looked toward the wide window of the hotel room, and still, no dad.


I dream about Anna Nicole a lot. She holds me in most of them. We lay together and her face sprinkles glitter down on me, little flecks from the apples of her cheeks. I feel like a princess as I rest my face on her massive, silicone breasts. They’re the size of bowling balls and as soft as a bed of kittens, whatever that feels like. But it must be the dream—I’ve been told implants are hard, not soft. She scratches my forearm with her red, acrylic nails and tells me everything is going to be okay. I love Anna Nicole like I love my mom. I wonder what it would feel like to love my dad like that.

I’ve never thought to ask Anna Nicole what my dad is up to, but I should. I have a message I need her to give him, because she can do that now that she’s dead, you know, from Heaven or whatever. Or maybe through the screen of his TV, if he’s even watching Anna Nicole Smith: Exposed, still, with the surge of Internet porn and all. I’d have her tell him this: I think I need you. I say I think because I really don’t know. I don’t know if I need my dad or not. I don’t know why I’m so fixated on him, and I don’t know if he’s really responsible for all the things I’ve gotten myself into. I feel anger for not having normal relationships with men. I feel anger that sex has become some kind of quest to locate someone—anyone—that can take care of me and want me. But there’s something hopeful about searching for my dad in all of this. It gives everything meaning. It gives me hope that this will all stop someday, and I need that. I need that in order to keep going.

I don’t have my dad’s phone number, I don’t have my dad’s address, and I don’t even know his middle name or what his favorite color is. I’ve tried finding him online, and I couldn’t. I could hire one of those private detectives . . . but who has the money for that sort of thing?


Arely Anaya

I Feel Poopy


His full head of hair smelled like the farm. Pig shit and corn feed. I didn’t mind moving my nose and hands through it, taking it in. I was lying on my back. He was biting my neck and making me wet. Anytime he bit too hard, I pulled his hair, and he’d say, “I know, I know.” I knew he didn’t, though. Everyone in town bitched at me whenever I had a hickey. Then when he had a hickey, I was still the one bitched at. So I always reminded him, “Not too hard.”

He slid my shirt and unhooked bra up my chest. His mouth traced kisses down to my boobs. His warm lips contrasted with my cold skin from the blasting air conditioner. He mumbled something against my nipple about beauty and being all his. I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was trying to figure out how to tell him I really had to take a dump.

I forced myself to hold it in and save it for later, because this was sort of a big deal. I finally liked Elie enough to want to be in the back seat of his car. We’d been friends since we were in pre-K. But it’d taken the last three years of middle school, and hundreds of deep conversations about our exes, our parents, and how bored we were with our little, old town, to make me want to have sex with him. So, yeah, I guess pretty important, but fuck, I had to shit.

I tried not to think about it. I closed my eyes and thought about Elie’s smelly hair, his soft lips, and his hardworking hands. Then my stomach made a growling noise. My eyes snapped open and I froze, thinking he heard it, but he didn’t notice. He was too into it, into me, with his eyes closed, taking savoring breaths against my boobs and stomach. I stared down at his widow’s peak. The night was actually feeling perfect. We had the right parking spot at the west exit of town. At the side of the road, a cluster of trees consumed us. We could fool around as long as we wanted. But anytime I started to lose myself in the mood, there’d be another growling noise. I kept tightening my ass cheeks, thinking it was all going to flow out.

When he unbuttoned my jeans, I thought what if I were to shit myself right there on the back seat? How solid would it be, if solid at all? Then I started thinking about women giving birth in backseats, and I chuckled at the thought of my turd baby. He thought I was giggling with ecstasy and bit my nipple too hard.

I pulled his hair just as hard. “Ow! I’d look damn weird with one nipple.”

“Sorry.” He started licking.

I sighed. “Can we stop?”

He looked up at me with panic and wrinkled eyebrows. I felt his hand clutch the seat next to my hip.

“What? Why? You don’t like this? I won’t bite anymore. I promise. I’m sorry.”

“No, I like it. You’re cool. I just don’t feel good.”

He moved off of me, and we sat up. I buttoned my jeans.

He looked down, slowly running a hand through his hair. “Are you mad we’re doing this in my car?”

I really couldn’t care less where we fucked. “No, I just gotta use the toilet.”

“Oh, um . . .” He looked around his car.

“I’m not using a cup.”

He slumped in his seat. “Dores, we’ll lose the mood and my hard on.”

“I feel poopy.”

“No, don’t feel poopy. It just feels like you’re forcing me to stop peeing.”

“No, I mean I feel poopy like I have to take a massive shit.”

 “Can you hold it?”

“Can you remove stains? Because I’m sure having you pound my pussy is going to make my butthole hard to control.”

He tilted his head and considered it. Then he gave me nod and got out of the car without a word. I watched his silhouette walk around to the driver’s seat before I crawled over to the passenger side from the back, being as small as I was. I smiled because I wasn’t going to shit my pants, and pretty soon we’d be back to getting it on. The headlights lit up the trees hiding the car from the road, and the dashboard lit his round brown face. He was bummed, his shoulders sagging and eyes avoiding me. I’m sure they were empty, and he was deep into a loop, telling himself he sucked, that I didn’t actually need to use the bathroom, and I didn’t want to have sex with him because he smelled.

“Cheer up, and maybe I’ll give you head.”

And just like that, he grinned. He tried pulling the car out onto the street, but it wouldn’t move. All we could hear was the motor roaring the more he accelerated, and the tires blowing wet mush from underneath. He floored it a bit more, and nothing. He stared at the stirring wheel for a second, silently tapping it with his thumb. Then he cleared his throat to fill the silence before finally looking at me with a tiny smile that begged me not to get pissed.

I sighed. “Ah, fuck me.”

He spoke under his breath. “Well, I wanted to.”

I rolled my eyes. It’d been raining for days. Soft dirt should’ve been obvious, but all we’d been thinking about was fucking. My stomach growled again, making me want to punch it. Elie turned off the headlights. We grabbed flashlights from the glove compartment and got out of the car. I immediately wish we hadn’t. The humidity made my skin sticky, and my hair puffed up despite it already being a curly mess.

We moved to the front of the car, bouncing our flashlight beams along the dirt. The front tire on my side was sunk in. He put his flashlight on the ground, facing the tire. It made the light streak stretch. He started shoveling the mud with his hands.

I liked those big hands a lot more than he knew. I stared at them a lot working at the farm. There was something so sexy about big rough hands holding and drying tiny piglets covered in blood and vagina mucus with a towel. Ugh, fuck yes. I avoided telling him things like that, though, because he’d end up asking me to tell him more and I’d feel weird.

I just wanted to tell him to forget about being stuck in the mud and fuck me on the hood of his car, but my stomach growls turned to brutal knots. I turned my flashlight off and placed it on the roof of the vehicle. I gripped my stomach to fight the stabbing ache and tightened my butt cheeks the hardest I could. I hurried off with teeny steps towards the back of the car, taking deep breaths and focusing entirely on my body. I told myself no one could command my butthole to deliver but ME. But then it felt like my butthole was trying to prove me otherwise. So I tried thinking about anything else.

I stood there as stiff as a stick, and ended up thinking about all the times I didn’t appreciate toilets, but then how toilets are whatever, and I should be able to shit in the woods without feeling embarrassed. My dad would think this isn’t lady-like and bring up other stuff like displaying my self-respect and self-worth. But I don’t think that matters when you really gotta go, and I seriously couldn’t hold it.

I took advantage of the dark, pulled down my jeans, formed the perfect squat, and pushed like I never had before. It squirted out like a broken faucet, the soggy lumps slapping the ground. Then stupid mosquitos bit my butt, and I smacked my own ass cheeks to kill them off. The smell of meat left out in the sun hovered around me. It was a long and sweaty job, but it felt incredible until I thought about wild animals or a serial killer attacking me in my vulnerable state and dying. I’d be in the newspaper. I’d make the front page because it’d be so fucking tragic.

Then Elie came over to where I was squatting. The glow of his flashlight hopped across the ground toward me until it reached and lit up my face. I squinted my eyes and gripped my bare knees. I never meant to be found in such an unattractive position: my digested enchiladas stinking it up, jeans around my ankles, my ass sticking out, my hair all over the damn place and clinging to my sweaty face.

I yelled at him, “GO AWAY. GO AWAY. GO AWAY.”

The flashlight fell out of Elie’s hand. The light rolled and disappeared into a bush. I accidentally farted between every word, and I tried yelling louder to hide how wet it all sounded. I nearly fell over. Elie backed away with bulging eyes from the trauma, but then his face relaxed. He tried holding back a small grin. He yanked the flashlight from within the bush before dashing back to the front of the car.

The knots in my stomach remained tight, and I moaned. I felt stupid because I knew exactly why I was shitting so severely. I had chewed a bunch of seeds that looked like nuts. I was only supposed to take one nut every night to help me lose weight. I’m not too sure though, because the label on the package was in a different language. When I was looking at them, my dad walked in on me, and I had to lie and say it was trail mix. He didn’t want me buying products from sketchy websites. So I ate all the seeds to hide them. I prayed I wouldn’t lose my butt. It was the only thing I had going for me. I guess the price was shitting my guts out in front of Elie.

I finished pooping and squatted for a while longer. I didn’t think about what I was going to wipe myself with. I patted the ground around me. I felt mucky mud, leaves, rocks, and twigs poke my fingers. I wondered if a snake would slither along and bite my butt cheek.

Elie came over to me again but slowly. He was on guard with one hand up, pitching something between his fingers, and the flashlight in the other. The beam pointed at the ground. I turned my butt away from him. He stiffened up at my sudden movement.

Before I could swear at him, he quickly handed me one tissue with a pinch of his fingers. “It’s all I could find.”

I said thanks, and he went away again. The tissue was thick. Using as much of the surface without getting any poop on my hands was tough, but I made it work. I pulled up my jeans and shoveled some mud with my hands to cover my poop. I went over to the front of the car, got onto my knees, and helped Elie shovel around the tire some more. The slush mixed with gravel made the shoveling hurt. We kept scratching ourselves with rocks, and as soon as the wet mud smeared over our skin, it dried. We didn’t say anything to each other. Elie looked too serious with his eyes stuck on the task and lips tight. I wondered how disgusted he was by me.

“I dunno what your momma told you but girls poop, too.”

He stopped shoveling and looked at me. “What?”

“You’re grossed out. You’re quiet.”

He shook his head, relaxing his lips and grinning. “No, it’s not that. I just wanted this to be special, us making love for the first time.”

I never really knew what to say to stuff like that. So I let it get quiet. We shoveled another while longer before he went back in the car to try driving out again. It still wouldn’t move. He went over to his trunk to see if there was anything else we could use and I heard the splat when he stepped in my poop. I faced-palmed.

I pretended to not know. “Is everything okay?”

He gave me a cheerful, “Mhm.”

He was honestly a nice guy. I went to the back of the car. He had a hand on the trunk to balance himself while he tried to use a stick to scrap the poop off his shoe. I felt so pathetic.

“I’m so sorry.”

“No, don’t be. Just tell me if you still like me.”

I narrowed my eyes. “But that’s my shit on your shoe.”

Elie stopped scrapping and straightened up. He stood a foot taller than me. His eyes beamed. “I don’t care. You’re still perfect.”

Eh, I didn’t know what to say to that either, and silence is weird, so I asked, “You still wanna do it?”

He grinned, shyly looking down at the ground. “How’s your stomach?”

I shrugged and gave him thumbs up. “Ready to go. Did you bring condoms?”

He tossed the stick aside. “I brought two kinds.”


We found water bottles in his trunk and rinsed our hands. After scratching the crust off our skin, I went for Elie’s cheeks and brought his face a foot lower so I could reach. I stumbled backward, kissing him the whole way back into the car. Escaping from the heat and back into the air-conditioned car was a blessing, but we couldn’t avoid the damn sludge. Our heavy shoes were heavy and caked with mud.

“We’re gonna fuck up your carpet.”

“No, don’t worry. You’re more important.”

I almost said something dumb like, “Thanks dude,” before telling myself to leave the lovey-dovey stuff to him. He was good at it. I would’ve never known a good shit would make me want him so much. I could finally focus on getting dick.

We kicked off our shoes and let them fall onto the floor. I lay back onto my rainbow polka dot blanket. He moved on top of me and kissed my neck, harder this time. I closed my eyes and felt his hands move under my shirt to touch my stomach. I hate getting my belly rubbed, but those big hands could touch me wherever, whenever. His kissing slowed though, and I thought maybe the smell of shit was still lingering and killing the mood.

 But instead, he asked, “Did you ever think we’d end up together?”

I didn’t hesitate. “No.”

He moved his lips to my cheek. “How come?”

I opened my eyes and narrowed them at the roof of the car for a second. I knew he was trying to get me to pour my heart out, with those yummy lips of his, and make me get all silly. I wasn’t going to let him trick me, though.

“I dunno.”

“Come on, tell me.” He moved back down to my neck and bit me just right.

The biting made me close my eyes again and run my hand through his hair instead of pulling it.

I still wasn’t giving in though. “I dunno.”

He was all about talking, especially about feelings. He wanted to know what I was thinking. I knew he really wanted to know when he moved his hand into my jeans.

 He whispered, “Come on, Dores. Tell me.”

Oh damn. Those hands. Maybe Elie liked me talking feelings as much as I loved his hands. That made sense. I bit my lip to keep from moaning, because then he’d know he was doing it right, and I was close to talking.


Hell no.





“Tell me.”

He was making my toes curl. Dammit. “You were too quiet.”


 Breathe. “I thought things would be boring.”


I squeezed the seat by my hip. “You’re not boring.”


Fuck, those hands. I’m not kidding. Those damn hands. “Yes. I like you. I like you–a lot. You don’t mind us eating off each other’s plate when we go out to eat. You never tell me to stop talking or to shave my legs. You’re a sweet guy with really really nice hands.”

God, what a mess. He was breathing hard against my neck, as hard as me, and I wasn’t even touching him back. I reached down to unbutton his jeans so we could just get to it. But when I opened my eyes, I noticed the roof was lit up. Someone’s headlights were facing our car.


He froze. “What? I hurt you? I’m so sorry.”

He pulled his fingers out of me and wiped them on his jeans.

I whispered, “Somebody’s out there.”

I pictured the damn sheriff walking up, taking one look at me before saying he was going to call my dad to come whoop my ass and take me to church. He’d said that the last time he caught Elie and me making out at the shelter at Voss Park in the middle of the night.

Elie popped his head up to see who it was. Their headlights lit his face, and his mouth dropped. He came back down, hurrying like he was now the one that had to poop. He buttoned my jeans, fixed my shirt, and gave me my shoes, all in a beat like he had a plan. I know he didn’t though, because he kept glancing around the car like he lost his balls.

I slid down onto the floor and hid behind the driver’s seat while slipping my shoes on. “What? Who is it? The po-po?”

“No. It’s my dad.”

He stuffed the bag of condoms under the passenger seat. The crinkling of the bag clashed with our panicky breathing. His dad, Lonnie, was going to snarl at the sight of me just like he did at work, at the gas station, the post office, and everywhere else in town. He didn’t want me with Elie because Elie could do better. I was too frank and loud and short and fat for Lonnie’s liking. He reminded me every time he saw me.

“He hates me.”

“I know.”

We stared at each other for a split second before we heard a car door slam, pushing me to speak.

“You just gotta go out there and tell him you’re by yourself. I’ll hide here.”

I grabbed the blanket and threw it over my head.

He pulled the blanket back to get me to look at him. “I’m here alone doing what?”

“Doing drugs.”


“Yeah, dude. Drugs. Go, he’ll forgive you for doing meth, but not for wanting to fuck me.”

I covered my head again, and he didn’t say anything else because he knew I was right. I heard the car door open and shut. I pulled the blanket off and watched him walk toward the headlights like he was about to die. He tried to catch his breath. I thought about our plan again and faced-palmed. His dad wasn’t going to believe the drug thing. It was ass talk. Elie wasn’t the type.

I peeked from behind the driver’s seat. Elie jogged over to his dad’s black truck parked a few yards away. It stood between the trees, at the entrance of our spot to get back onto the road. Lonnie meant to trap us not knowing how trapped we already were. His truck towered behind him, making him look even shorter. The headlights still managed to shadow him like a god. Elie tried rambling to keep him there. Lonnie had his arms crossed and kept narrowing his eyes at him, staring at the mud smeared at the knees of his jeans. He made Elie look dumb and small with that stance and his intimidating goatee. It was all too familiar. It was the only way Lonnie talked to him. Now that puberty had added a few pounds and made Elie a whole foot taller, he could snap Lonnie in half, like the twig he was. But it hadn’t changed anything. Elie was still small inside, so Lonnie always won.

It made me sure that Lonnie was going to walk to the car no matter what. So I grabbed the condoms from under the seat and wrapped my blanket around my head and shoulders. I watched them a second longer as Lonnie walked toward the car, but Elie pulled him back by the arm. I cringed because I knew Lonnie didn’t like being touched. He turned away from my direction to face Elie and swear up at the poor kid. Elie leaned back as Lonnie ran his mouth. I opened the door, crawled out on to the ground and into the damn humidity again. I pushed the door closed, leaning against it with my shoulder to let it silently click shut instead of slam.

I crawled away from the car on my hands and knees, my palm crushing the box of condoms. Lonnie and Elie’s arguing hung behind me.

“I’m sorry. You’re just not listening. I said I was going to get . . . high.”

Lonnie mocked him with a laugh. “You’re too pussy. You’d think you were dying. But I’d rather you do drugs than that fat bitch!”

I could hear Elie was shaky, but still trying to keep his voice firm, “Dores. It’s Dores!”

I stopped crawling and let go of the box of condoms. I’d never heard him yell before. There was a struggle, shoes scrubbing gravel, a thud, and a drop to the ground. My hands scanned for a glass bottle or a branch in case Lonnie decided to hit him more than once, which he never did because Elie never fought back.

“So then you were with her?”

“No,” he groaned through his teeth. “I was going to get high.”

He wasn’t actually lying because he’d get high on my pussy for sure. I grabbed the box of condoms again and crawled into the bushes. Branches scratched my face and leaves found their way into my mouth.


It started raining before I reached the railroad tracks. The rain dripped down my face, and I kept wiping it away although I knew it’d keep dripping. The blanket over my head and shoulders got heavy and seeped water on my clothes. My skin felt saggy, and so did my soul because, well, damn, I was really looking forward to getting dick, but Elie just ended up getting hit. But small town living is ridiculous. Make out point was probably the same point it’d been back in the ’70s. No wonder Lonnie had found us.

A car pulled up next to me, and the window rolled down. I kept staring straight because if it were someone nosy, my dad would find out I was out and at about three in the morning before I even made it home.

“You okay, kid? You need me to call somebody?”

I recognized him based on the sound of his muffler. It was the mail guy. “I’m fine. Thanks.”


“Yes, Mr. Pederson. Please carry on.”

“Does your dad know you’re out here?”

“Yes, sir. He sent me to get milk.”

“Elie’s looking for you.”

I stopped and spun my head in his direction. “He’s actually looking for me?”

I thought his dad would send him straight home. Mr. Pedersen gracefully stepped on the break, and his scruffy, chubby face grinned. It teased me. He knew all too well that only Elie’s name could break my guard in any situation. He also knew I would never admit to something like that.

I turned away, dropped the emotion, and started walking again. “Not that he would be. It’s whatever.”

“Get in the car, Dores. He’s stationed at the park. He said he was looking for his dog, but I know Vicky ran it over a year ago.”

I gasped. “You didn’t remind him, right? Or I’ll have to sit through another three seasons of Gilmore Girls to get him to stop crying.”  

“Of course I didn’t. Get in.”

I sighed and walked around the front of the car. The headlights blinded me for a second before I got into the passenger’s side. I quickly got a whiff of the peppermint air freshener he used to hide his pot smoking. He headed east of town.

 He rolled up his window. “I got a hoodie here somewhere.”

He kept a hand on the wheel and the other dove into the darkness of the back seat and came back with an XXL gray hoodie. The print on the front was Threshing Bee 1972. I had five similar hoodies at home that Elie had bought me every summer for the past five years. I think tractor parades are boring, but he took me for the homemade ice cream. It was guaranteed to give you an orgasm.

I set the wet blanket and plastic bag at my feet.

“What’s in the bag?”


He glared at me. The light from his dashboard and stereo made the shadows of his face look more skeptical. “Elie’s out looking for you at three in the morning, and you’re carrying a bag of gum?”

“Yeah, it’s what the kids are into.”

I didn’t notice him reach for the bag while I pulled the hoodie over my head. He was staring at the crushed box of condoms the second the hoodie was past my face. He was wide-eyed.

“I’m sorry. I thought you meant drugs.”

He put the bag back. He looked awkward for invading my privacy. He rubbed his chin, stuck his eyes to the road, and didn’t say anything else.

I tried lightening the mood. “Sex is so much fun.”

He shook his head, too familiar with how I talked, and chuckled, “Well, good thing you have a big o’ box of condoms. Looks like you got enough for weeks.”

I grinned. “Nope, days.”

We made it to the park, and before I got out of the car he said, “You and Elie. You sure about that? He seems too timid. You’re too . . . I don’t know.”

Mr. Pedersen had known both of us since we were third graders when he volunteered as a para at our school. He’d witnessed me fighting off sixth graders during recess. I’d force Elie to back me up, and he would because he liked me.

“I’ll decide that, Mr. Pedersen. You just worry about your rattling muffler. It sounds awful. Call my pops, and we’ll get it switched out for you.”


Elie spoke the instant I got in the car, “I’m so so sorry.”

As I shut the car door, I noticed Elie looked even muddier than before. It was all over his shirt and the crotch of his jeans. His lip was cut and a little swollen, too.

“I should be the one sorry. It looks like your dad used you to wipe his ass.”

He glanced down at his clothes and awkwardly brushed off a few dried chunks with his fingers. “No, it’s whatever.”

He pulled away from the park and headed south of town to drop me off at home. He was too quiet again. He was often quiet, but there were two kinds. He was either enjoying the silence or overthinking. I could tell he was overthinking because he had both hands on the steering wheel and his jaw was tense. He kept opening his mouth and moving his jaw to relax it, but it wasn’t helping.

“What did your dad say?”

“Nothing. I just can’t use the car anymore. But it’s whatever. I’ll use the gas money to buy us slushies, pizza rolls, or something.”

I wanted to ask about his lip, but I knew that was one thing he wouldn’t spill. All these years and he’d only shared a few words on it. “He just wants me to behave.” I grabbed one of his hands from the steering wheel and held it in my lap. Elie had recently gotten his license. There wasn’t going to be any more night cruising around town while blasting his hip-hop or my punk rock, make out sessions, or driving out of town to be bored somewhere out in the country where the sunset felt like ours.

“You should’ve just headed straight home to keep your dad from getting more pissed. I would’ve gotten home fine.”

Elie shook his head. “I wanted to say sorry.”

Sorry for having to hide me. Sorry for the times he didn’t stand up to his dad. Sorry that his dad forced him to leave me out in the country the other night we got caught. I had to walk three or four miles by myself until my dad found me. Elie had gone to my house to tell him where we had been and to apologize, as many times my dad would listen. We didn’t talk for weeks while Lonnie kept him sheltered off, and I didn’t make an effort to be around him. I’d catch him looking at me during class, and he’d sneak baked goods into my locker with notes. He’d explain how much he was sorry and how wrong his dad was for thinking Elie could do better than me.

 “You would’ve never left me behind.”

We didn’t say anything else until we got to my house. I kissed him hard and heavy. He reached for the shifter to pull away.

He joked, “Let’s just run away. I have plenty of gas and food money to last us weeks.”

I pulled his hand back to me to stop him. We’d already tried to run away once before in elementary, and we got lost in the cornfields and shared a Snickers bar.

“Maybe some other time. I want to go appreciate my toilet.”

He grinned and nodded. I kissed him one more time and got out, holding my heavy wet blanket. He waited for me to reach the front steps before driving away. He turned right at the stop sign and headed north of town. That’s when Lonnie pulled up in front of my house and rolled down his window.

He called out, “How stupid are you?”

I should’ve gone inside, but I couldn’t help myself against a confrontation. Lonnie was always on my ass about the same old thing: don’t fuck my son. But I was looking forward to doing lots of fucking, and he knew he couldn’t stop me. Lonnie still spent too much time trying to find ways to mess with me, like telling my boss I purposely spilled coffee on him, or ruin my rep by telling other parents I sold pot to their kids. Thankfully no one ever believed him, mostly because everyone knew he was an asshole. I never bothered discussing any of it with my dad. He knew, and he always tried fixing it by confronting Lonnie. I just didn’t think it was worth his time. I didn’t want him to worry, especially since sometimes I was the one feeding the fire. It was too funny to me how much a grown ass man could get upset at a sixteen-year-old.

I left my blanket on the porch floor, went down the steps, and got a little closer to Lonnie’s truck. I didn’t say anything, looking down and focusing on the squishy sound of my wet shoes. His voice was a lot deeper than you’d expect from a short dude with a lanky body.

“What do you do to him? It can’t be your looks.”

I shrugged. “I guess he just wants my pussy.”

He laughed. “But you’re disgusting.”

I mocked his laugh, mimicking his small face, and raising my voice to a higher pitch instead of lowering it, “HA HA HA.”

“Why are you so annoying?”

“Why does your goatee look like pubes?”

For a second, the only noise was the rain hitting the concrete like pebbles. I appreciated the hoodie. I would’ve been cold.

“Don’t make me mad.”

I looked at him then, and sharpened my voice. “Or what?”

Threats are weak. I challenged Lonnie’s gaze; the dashboard light reflecting off his crinkled eyebrows and dark face didn’t scare me one bit. I waited for a response until he turned away.

He merely said, “Fuck off.”

“Fuck off?” I went up to his truck and reached for the door handle. He stiffened up and locked the doors before I could get it open. “Or what? Huh? You bony dipshit. What the fuck you going to do?”

I knew I was too loud, but I couldn’t help it. If I were taller, I would’ve climbed through the window.

“Classy, you fat whore.”

He started driving away. I grabbed a piece of cement from our cracked street curb.

I swung my arm back, and my dad came out the front door yelling, “Dolores! Don’t!”

I caught my breath and let my hand drop to my side. I kept squeezing the piece of cement. Lonnie’s truck took a harsh turn at the stop sign as he sped off. His tires screeched. My dad walked down the steps and toward me with his shoulders broad, neck tense, and eyes glancing in the direction Lonnie had gone. He was still wearing the jeans, white t-shirt, and boots he took to work.

Hijo de su puta madre. What did he say now?”

I dropped the cement on to the ground, sighed, and shook my head. “Nothing. He’s just ugly. Ugly voice. Ugly heart. Plain UGLY.”

“Tell me what he said.”

“Nothing,” I repeated. “It’s whatever. Don’t waste your time.”

He loosened his shoulders and ran his hand through his hair to cool down. “Then you were with Elie? Do you know it’s three in the morning?”

I tried holding back from grinning, but broke. My dad shook his head and pointed at the house. I knew he was going to ground me and give me the sex talk again. I didn’t mind. They were nice talks. I swiftly headed towards the house and up the steps. I started planning for the next time I’d see Elie. Pooping before leaving the house was at the top of the list.

Arely Anaya graduated with a fiction major and a minor in writing for television. She’s been published in Hair Trigger 40.  She is a staff writer for the St. James, Minnesota Plaindealer. When she isn’t writing, she’s raising piglets. 


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