Creative Nonfiction Exclusive: “Why I’m Like This: Tales of a Neurotic Wife” by Hali Morell

It was late at night and I walked into the kitchen to search the cabinet for some item I shouldn’t be eating, usually some kind of chocolate or pastry, and there it was: the silhouette of something scurrying across the countertop next to the sink. Okay, don’t panic. Maybe it’s not what you think it is. Maybe it’s just a lost little moth searching for the nearest lightbulb.

I knew in my heart, though, that I was wrong. And as I propelled my feet to take the steps over to the light switch on the kitchen wall and flip it up, that’s when I had official confirmation that my evening was about to take a horrifying turn. A roach. A word I can barely form my mouth to say…that’s how repulsive these brown antenna-headed speed-racers are. With my finger still on the light switch, it had already run behind a clear vase holding bamboo in water, a yellow etched, tinted wineglass passed down to me from my grandmother, and lastly, the Roasted Garlic Express: a giant plastic garlic that roasts the scented bulbs to perfection…according to my husband.

Not having taken a good, healthy breath in about ninety seconds, in one swift movement I exhaled deeply and stepped across the kitchen on my tiptoes to snag the blue flyswatter I had purchased at the 99 Cent Store that lived in the pantry next to the refrigerator. Gripping the swatter in my right hand, I raised my arm and prepared myself for war. Literally frozen in space, it took me another minute and a half to even contemplate trying to find this little fucker. It was hiding behind the garlic roaster, which I attempted to slide with the flyswatter, but given the garlic weighs about six pounds and the swatter weighs pretty much nothing, it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to physically move the garlic with the power of my hand. And with another huge exhale and a little bit of a whimper, I jostled the garlic just to say, “Hey! I know you’re back there and I’m gonna kill you with this flyswatter.” Before I could even finish that thought, there it went sprinting to its next hiding place…a place so hidden that I couldn’t follow. Somewhere between the countertop and the drawer it disappeared. And that’s when I got pissed.

Terrified and pissed is not a good combination. Especially for my husband, who was fast asleep in the bedroom and was about to be woken up by a completely freaked-out wife. Think Woody Allen as a woman, only hopefully slightly better looking, and then you’ve got a sense of what I’m talking about. I stood there, staring at him, hoping he’d sense my presence. After about a minute of him not sensing my presence, I sighed…loudly.

“What’s up?” he said.

Normally, I have the ability to ease into things in a calm manner. Usually there are medium-sized prefaces or intros leading into what I’m about to say. This wasn’t one of those times:

“Babe, I think we have roaches,” I said, grabbing my head in my hands and stomping and swaying like an elephant about to charge. “I don’t know how I’m going to sleep here tonight.”

“Oh, sweetie. You’ll be okay.”

I paced in the darkened bedroom. “No, no, I’m not going to be okay. This is bad. This is really bad.”

“I’m sorry,” he said and rolled over on his left side. He clearly wasn’t getting it. This was serious. And, I’ll admit that I was acting a tad passive aggressive. What I really wanted to say was, Can you please go in the kitchen and spray the shit out of all of our cabinets…like, now? I tried to pull myself together and get into a more rational place. I rolled onto my side of the bed and covered my face with my hands.

“I’ll call the landlord tomorrow and see if he can send someone over,” I said, taking on the role of a sane and together person. Okay, this is going to be okay. I can do this.

Thirty seconds later, I could no longer ignore the sensation of hundreds of roaches running all over my skin. I began slapping myself every two seconds. It was clear that I wasn’t going to sleep that night without some help. I remembered that someone had once given me an Ambien, which I had never taken. Where the hell did I put that pill? I rolled over to my husband.

“Either someone needs to knock me out or I have to get up and find a sleeping pill.”

And as he made a quick grunting sound, I knew that I was officially becoming annoying and needed to deal with this issue by myself. I was pleasantly surprised to quickly locate the donated Ambien, which I popped into my mouth followed by a chug of bathroom sink water. Okay, this was good. I was drugged up and looking forward to being blissfully unaware of whatever demonic works were occurring in my kitchen.


You should probably know that I had an experience in college. Well, I had a lot of experiences in college, but I’m referring to the one that directly has to do with this current situation and why my behavior may appear to be a bit extreme.

In brief, a roach-infested apartment in Boston. It was my senior year in college, and my friend, Heather, and I decided to become roommates. We found a place close to Fenway Park. It was sort of like another version of a dorm only there was no RA and you couldn’t just pop into anyone’s room to smoke a bowl or drop a tab of acid.

I entered the apartment with my ridiculously large suitcases that could’ve fit a family of giraffes standing upright. That night we shut out the lights and curled up in her room to talk and get more comfortable in our new place. After a little while, I decided to get up for some water. I turned on the kitchen light and that’s when I saw an image that, on my deathbed, I will remember vividly. What looked like hundreds of roaches scurried around not just the kitchen countertops, walls, and floors, but throughout every room of the apartment.

“Get up! Get up!” I yelled to Heather.

“What?” she yelled.

“Oh my god! Oh my god!” I flipped on every light switch in the place and then ran into Heather’s bedroom and jumped on her mattress lying on the floor.

“There’s roaches everywhere!”

“Oh, that’s so sick,” she said.

“What are we gonna do? How are we gonna sleep?”

And in the middle of a huge yawn, Heather replied, “Let’s not worry about it tonight. I’m so tired. We’ll call the landlord tomorrow.”

Apparently, she and I were not living on the same planet. I mean, was she insane? Sleeping? I felt completely alone and totally freaked out. Needless to say, I was awake and shaking the entire night. I strapped my Walkman to my head and tried to think happy thoughts, but they quickly vanished as soon as I opened my eyes to witness the community of roaches that had made this place their home. I imagined them gathering in groups, creating buffets, playgrounds for the little ones, drum circles. And while Heather lay fast asleep, I paced in the living room in my nightgown and Doc Martins ready to stomp the living crap out of them. By 4:15 a.m., I had finally managed to doze off on the oddly stained gray sofa that Heather had brought from home. My eyes popped open at 8:05 a.m. when Heather’s alarm went off. Oh yeah, I had to go to school. Well, this should be a productive day.

“Is it too early to call the landlord?” I asked.

“I’ll get his number,” she said.

Six hours later, Anwar, the landlord, was in our apartment. He was a large man in every way. Tall and round, his belly protruded over his waist like he had swallowed three basketballs. Anwar was not a happy guy, and as he sprayed the toxic chemicals under our kitchen sink, he spoke.

“You know, these are hard to get rid of. The last tenants had the same problem, but you can blame them. All the walls in here were covered with beer cans.”

“What?” I asked.

“Beer can walls. That’s why there’s roaches. This place will always be infested, I think. But I’ll keep coming to spray if you need me to.”

At that moment, I experienced a variety of emotions. Terror, rage, hopelessness. I wanted to take a shotgun and shoot the shit out of the former tenants; then I wanted to aim it at Anwar, who didn’t seem to care that his apartment was riddled with the lowest form of life; then I wanted a plane ticket back home to LA…in that order.


The weeks that followed were devastating. Roaches falling out of my clothes hanging in the closet, running rampant across my bed, spending quality time with me in the shower. You couldn’t sit, stand, sleep, bathe, or take a crap without being accompanied by roaches. Getting dressed in the morning was truly horrifying. First, I’d reach for my Docs that sat by my bed. I’d turn each shoe over and shake it. It was a good day when nothing fell out. Then, I’d put them on and walk to the closet, where I’d open the creaking door and proceed to shake every item of clothing. I’d select an outfit, pull it out with my fingertips, and then continue to shake it until every roach had vacated the premises. If it was a shower day, I’d find my flip-flops, open and shake the shower curtain at the same time, step on any roaches that had fallen on the floor, then check the ceiling for anything crawling, get into the shower, turn on the water, and watch the remaining roaches slide toward the drain and spiral down to the sewer. I’d reach for my shampoo, but not before checking every angle of it, and as I’d suds up, I’d swivel my head up, down, and all around. Those few seconds while rinsing my hair when I had to shut my eyes were some of the scariest moments of my life. I thought our cat Elijah would be helpful in terms of killing the suckers, but all she’d do was eat them, throw them back up, and eat them again.

At this point, Anwar was making weekly visits to our place. I finally lost my shit.

“I can’t live like this anymore! Do you have any idea what it’s like to be here? I haven’t relaxed in three and a half weeks! And I’m in college! And every time I open a book to study something, I have to kill these things. It’s hard enough to retain Great American Playwrights on its own! What the hell is the problem? Can’t you spray anything more toxic? How about just pure poison? Do you have any of that? Or, how about we move apartments? Maybe one on the top floor. I’m sure it’ll take them longer to find their way up there. I need help, Anwar! You’ve gotta help me, man!”

By now I was sobbing uncontrollably, and Anwar was staring at me with great concern. I was hoping he wouldn’t call the asylum and send two men with a straitjacket to drag me away. Actually, that sounded like a much better deal than my current living situation.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Don’t get upset.” It was the first time he sort of smiled. It made me feel better…like I wasn’t so alone.

Over the next few days, Anwar had practically moved in with us. He’d work in the kitchen all day, gutting the cabinets, pulling out drawers. I’d pop home between classes, say hello to his legs as the rest of his body worked under the rubble, and after about a week, things were much better. Anwar had done it and now I could sleep without clutching a flashlight, shower without wearing shoes, and open a textbook without slamming it to the floor and stomping on it.


So, yes, I had an experience that was truly scarring. But now, with the Ambien surging its way through my brain waves, and my body gently sandwiched between my softly snoring husband and my purring cat, I could feel myself being carried away to a dreamlike state. And I whispered to the cat, “Let’s not worry about it tonight. I’ll call the landlord tomorrow.” Then he touched my nose with his paw. I wanted to tell him not to eat any of the roaches…that they weren’t good for his tummy, but I could sense that he was already falling asleep, and I didn’t want to disturb him.


Hali Morell is an actress, writer, teacher, and co-founder of The Missing Peace. Her work has appeared in Borfski Press, Evening Street Press, Avalon Literary Review, Broad River Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, The Paragon Journal, Pendora Magazine, The Penmen Reviewand Tower Journal

Art Feature: “Click your Heels” by Jessica Lynne Furtado

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Jessica Lynne Furtado is a poet, photographer, & librarian. Her photography and micro-poem collages have appeared in CALYXMuzzle MagazinePANKPretty Owl Poetry, and Waxwing. Jessica’s writing can be found in aptDrunk Monkeys, HobartRogue Agent, and Stirring, among others. Visit her at


Creative Nonfiction Feature: Bullets and Books: “The Gun is the Motive” by Michael James Rizza


On the train ride back to New Jersey, my wife Robin sits beside the window, looking into the screen of her phone, searching for information. Even though it is past midnight, she is not only stirred up by Don DeLillo’s appearance that night at the annual New Yorker festival but also trying to make sense of the mass shooting that occurred the day before at a community college in Oregon. The news and social media are buzzing with horror. It is all available on her phone, completely familiar and well-nigh routine by now—just another shooting—yet still unfathomable.

Robin and I are on our way back from a theatre on West 57th Street in New York City, where DeLillo gave a reading and answered questions from Deborah Treisman, fiction editor of The New Yorker, and from the audience. DeLillo is a writer who has imagined the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in Libra and created a serial killer, the Texas Highway Killer, in Underworld. In short, he has written convincingly about desperate men who seek self-definition through violence. Thus, he was asked an obvious question: how do we make sense of Oregon?

As I try to sleep on the train, I’m grateful that no one too obnoxious is aboard. A group of people are returning from seeing a show, perhaps an opera. With arcane knowledge and appreciation, they talk about the voices, sounds, and music. They make comparisons to other performances, prior productions of the same show that they had seen in different cities. They are not a family, but a group of fans. They share an interest that is alien to me, and it is likely that none of them cares about the old man who brought Robin and me to the city. They are not loud or drunk, which is good. Robin and I are also quiet. We are not drunk, only feeling the mild, lazy hush that comes with fatigue and a few after-dinner drinks.

A recorded, metallic voice announces: “Next stop: Cranford.”

I look at Robin. She is a beautiful woman with dark hair and dark eyes. Taking little for granted, she questions the daily workings of society, the general hustle and flow, the accepted practices, and she asks herself, is this responsible, is this healthy, is this good? It is little wonder that she is a DeLillo fan. She pays attention to reports of gun violence in the news.

She asks, “What are you thinking about?”


“I feel tired. Don’t look at me.”

“You’re beautiful.”

“I’m tired. Go to sleep.”

I turn in my seat. I settle into a cozy idea about how loving someone and looking at that person can be joined in a single gesture, and how that gesture connects two people, molds them into ways of living and being. I’m thinking about DeLillo’s answer to the Oregon shooting: “The gun is the motive,” he says, and I’m thinking about love, not in a dreamy way, but more particularly, how it operates in the formation of the self. Our identities take shape within the gaze of someone else’s eyes.

I wonder about the audience for the desperate, lone gunman, giving shape to himself through violence.

It’s always a man.

“I hope someone posts a transcript of DeLillo’s talk. Or a video,” Robin says. “I keep thinking about what he said: ‘The gun is the motive.’”

“Me, too. It’s suggestive,” I say. “I’m not certain what he means.”



Not until several years before his death did I ever see my father cry. He would get weepy over trivial things, such as a memory of some family vacation, a compliment a colleague paid him decades earlier, a birthday card from a grandchild. One of his pills—or maybe the full cocktail of medications for his cancer, diabetes, cholesterol, and whatever else—caused him to become over sentimental at times. Ordinarily, he was tough and reserved. He was born during the Depression and raised in rural Appalachia. He found his way out of poverty by joining the army and going to Korea.

My father’s hunting shotgun was a Remington 1100. It seemed more special than the other guns in the house. The stock was decorated with fine engravings. The rubber buffer that absorbed the recoil looked painfully thin, which to me intimated the strength of his generation of men. His spare shotguns—Mossberg pump-actions, which my older brothers used—had an inch of rubber to protect your shoulder.

When I was very young, he sat on the couch while my brothers and I watched television. He opened an old, brown tin case that contained cotton pads, lubricant, and other items for caring for his gun. It was a very delicate procedure, he said, because the oils on your fingers could damage the metal. After a section was swabbed, it couldn’t be touched until the next time the gun was taken out. Whenever he rubbed the cotton along the barrel, it would come away greasy, blackened, and redolent with an odor that was uniquely its own: the smell of an oiled gun.

Behind our suburban home, my brothers set up a makeshift shooting range for our shared BB gun, an air-pump Daisy. From a picnic table on our back patio, we took aim at empty soda cans lined up along the redwood fence that bordered our garden. My father would coach, ensuring our constant attention to safety. He trained us to be watchful, careful, and smart in the presence of guns.

Yet safety is a euphemism: there is a singular object out there at the tiny tip of your sights, and everything else around it, not just you, teems with life.

Death is concentrated in the letter on the Coke can atop the redwood fence.



Kids would take to the street, running at large from the close of the school day to nightfall. Moms would lean through doorways and ring bells to call their children home. Each bell produced a different sound. Our bell had a handle like a hammer’s, and you swung it up and down like a hammer. The clapper was a metal ball attached by a wire. Ten houses away, I could recognize the heavy sound of that ringing.

Nine years separated me from my eldest brother. I existed on the margins of understanding. I was silent and naïve as high school boys sat on the hoods of cars or clustered on back porches. They seemed loud and jagged around the edges, their ballistic energy barely contained, ready to erupt into shoves, insults, crudeness, or biting humor. I was rarely the target of any of it, just a small observer. I didn’t know how to process my perceptions, and even now, over thirty years removed, I wonder if the attitudes of these boys were endemic to my little plot of suburbia or to the whole culture. They came into manhood during a formless moment, not long after Vietnam and just prior to Reagan. They seemed disrespectful toward authority, but not in the easy, loving, flowing manner of a hippy. These boys were disaffected. They were gritty and untamed, flicking cigarette butts to the curb, telling stories of sexual exploits. They would drink beer all afternoon and then jointly piss in a neighbor’s pool. They would wait until the middle of the night, pile into a car, and cut donuts in somebody’s yard. They would wreck mailboxes on a regular basis. All boyish fun, perhaps, tinged with violence and hopelessness.

Strangely, there is something I miss about it, the Led Zeppelin erupting from the speakers of a parked car, the pocket-tees and denim, the fat handles of combs sticking out of back pockets. I had a sense that their grittiness intimated a reality from which I was detached. My home insulated me. The familiar things that gave me comfort didn’t seem to exist outside my home: Saturday morning cartoons, regular family dinners, my father’s stereo cabinet sitting squat beneath the bay window in the living room, the smell of popcorn and hot chocolate.

Moreover, I knew the high school boys were not even the real thing. They were merely a suggestion of a broader, grittier reality, perhaps its threshold, because they seemed innocent compared to the images of the city I had seen on TV. Or, if not innocent, then contrived. An awkwardly conspicuous manhood.

The first time I heard of vigilantism, my dad was discussing it at the kitchen table with my aunt. Once I discovered what a vigilante was, I saw him all over the place, in the news and in the movies and on television. Looking back now, I can see that he had a tight, decade-long hold on the public’s attention, beginning with the films Dirty Harry and Death Wish and culminating with the real life of Bernhard Goetz. Some breakdown or flaw in society made the vigilante necessary. He was a response to the lawlessness in the streets, and without a frame of reference, I took him as normal. A complicated figure, the vigilante was a questionable hero, one that could haunt and trouble a young boy’s imagination.

One time my brother and I rode in my uncle’s mud-yellow van to either Elizabeth or Newark or Jersey City, some place to pick up a part that my uncle needed for a job he was working on. It might have been my first time in a city. The street wasn’t safely packaged on a television screen, but framed in a van’s window: the smudged, tattered people slumped in doorways, the odor of heat and car exhaust, the tipped-over garbage cans, the graffiti scrawled across every wall and street sign, the barbed wire corkscrewing atop a chain-link fence. An air conditioner unit, propped up by bricks, leaned out of a window and dripped onto the sidewalk. A parked car with a rusty hole bore into its door, displayed in its back window an array of decals of the Virgin Mother, medieval images with gold plated halos. Another car sat with broad strips of its vinyl roof hanging over its sides. My uncle rolled down his window and yelled out into the street. Someone wanted to spit on his windshield and clean it with a wad of newspaper. Here was our original condition, the brute reality that threatened to rend the image of my home.

From a broader, cultural view, I suspect that the 1970s have become a touchstone by which we judge the successive decade as fake. The decade of façades. The clean, sanitized images of Reagan’s “Morning in America.” The homogenization of consumer desire. The gentrification. Flags and sunshine.

But why is one world more real than the other? It takes a little effort, but I have to remind myself that to be wholesome, to desire security, to sit on the carpet with your back against the couch, eating popcorn and watching The Carol Burnett Show with your family, is no less authentic than to live with angst, desperation, or hunger.

A group of boys gathered around my brother’s Dodge Dart. On the fender, a little plastic logo read “Swinger” in cursive script. There was a joke somewhere in this, but also something serious, an intimation of masculinity. Someone told a story about a girl being fucked on the diving board of a pool. She was the girlfriend of somebody named Willy, and she had fucked somebody else. Willy was a great guy, a good-looking guy. The audacity of the bitch. How dare she do that to Willy? The group of boys speculated that she was heading off to college or coming back from college, as if on furlough. She was just getting in some random fucks before she went away. Who could blame her? It was nothing personal against Willy, but still, she shouldn’t have embarrassed him like that. She was acting like a guy, someone said.

They were drinking cans of beer. A lanky boy handed my brother a piece of plastic that read “Swinger.” The boy had pried it off another car in a movie theatre parking lot, and he was now presenting it as a gift, a mindless repetition of the logo already on the fender.

“I got this for you,” the boy told my brother.

Everyone laughed, as if the gesture of pointing at something was funny in itself.

How old was I at the time, eight years old, maybe nine, when I tried to shoot one of these boys?



Treisman precedes DeLillo onto the stage or, at least, I see her first, remember her first. When he sits down in the chair, he unscrews the cap of a bottle of water. He leaves the bottle on the little table yet keeps his hold on it. His dress is casual, his eyes alert. He faces the audience, his knees pointing straight at me.

Treisman sits facing DeLillo. She is almost reclined in the chair, the full curvature of her slender body appears at once posed and at ease. A side view in a black dress. Her bare knees elevated higher than her hips.

She settles into her questioning.

DeLillo relates that he writes with a typewriter and that he devotes one paragraph per page and that he works at the level of the sentence and the word. While fascinating, this account of his writing practice is familiar lore. DeLillo pauses sometimes and seems to search his memory, as if he forgets the name of Murray Jay Siskind, the guru of postmodernism in White Noise, yet in the next instant, all the particulars are there, so nobody believes he was actually searching. He skirts a couple of questions, such as one about his disowned novel Amazons, co-authored under a pseudonym. He is at times elliptical. He is at turns serious and funny. He dismisses White Noise as an accidental novel, something that just popped up one day, unremarkable and unworthy of attention. Nobody believes this, either.

Treisman asks a follow-up question about his devotion to the sentence.

After all, his novels conform to larger patterns: White Noise’s triadic structure; Libra’s spiraling inward of time and place, determinism and chance; Underworld’s intricate,tapestry-like weaving of connections. The overall designs are mesmerizing. Yet DeLillo dismisses the formal complexities, as if the larger patterns emerge spontaneously through his attention to the details.

Then someone in the audience asks about the shooting at a community college in Oregon.



We take little peeks around the edges, cautious doses of horror, because some details have filtered into the cultural imagination: the unanswered cell phones, ringing and ringing, somewhere in the folds of the crumpled bodies.



My son is almost five, my daughter almost one. They attend the same preschool, but this day they arrive late, because my daughter had a doctor’s appointment. When Robin turns her Jeep into the entrance, she hears the alarm. The children are filing out of the building. Some of them come out the main door, which is always locked; you need to ring a bell for admittance, but it is mostly just a formality. You ring the bell, anyone rings the bell, and promptly enough, you hear a click as the latch slides clean. Children are also filing out a side door, heading down a long wheelchair ramp toward the parking lot. Many of them are holding their ears. Teachers marshal them in groups to a safe location, to the picnic tables at the far side of the blacktop. Robin watches through her windshield. Her initial fear has abated; it is merely a routine fire drill. Even so, the manner of the children is different. Their normal buoyancy—the possibility that any moment might erupt into exuberance, wonder, or laughter—seems subdued. They are not on the brink of play; they are following directions, looking around for guidance, and holding their ears. The infants are rolled across the parking lot in cribs. Some of the toddlers are crying. It is just an ordinary evacuation.

“It was heartbreaking to watch,” Robin later tells me.

And neither of us says, “What if it wasn’t just a drill?”

Nor, “What if it wasn’t a fire, a thing without volition, but a monster with twisted intentions, walking down the hall?”

It has happened before. It could happen again. What’s there to protect us?



When my father’s family butchered a pig, they turned its blood into blood pudding, its fat into lard, and its severed head—boiled in a pot, the jowl meat and all the noisome, gelatinous gunk—into head cheese, a poor man’s deli meat. And a gun was there, a .22 short, to stun and knock down the animal, if not actually kill it. There was also the knife to bleed it out. There were ropes to string it up, and pots of boiling water and metal bells to shave it.

There was an outhouse in the yard. My grandmother used a pot that my father was in charge of emptying. No matter the time of day, no matter the weather, the young boy had to walk across the yard, sometimes carrying his mother’s pot. And the gun was there, too. Rats infested the outhouse, so the natural thing for a young boy was to kill them, for sport in the daylight but with a flashlight and a .22 at night, crouching beside a rickety wall.



In the summer, the neighborhood kids ran loose. They often played stickball in the street in front of our house. The game ended, and people seemed hesitant to get another one going. With several other boys, my two eldest brothers stood by home plate, an chalked on the center of the road. Their gestures seemed emphatic, as if they were players in a comic skit that needed to be kept running at all times. Anyone and his mother could be sacrificed to the joke, but whosoever cracked, expressing either anger or offense, might as well have confessed that he was as weak and sensitive as a little girl. Every boy pretended to be born full-blown, without parents, clapped down upon the earth, continually offering up his manhood to be tested and testing everyone else in turn.

The stickball bat was a wooden closet rod.

The batting lineup for the winning team still sat on the curb. A senior named Burke rested his forearms on his knees and slowly twirled a red BIC lighter between his fingers. A boy to his right watched Burke’s hands.

The tall, lanky boy, the one who had given my brother the “Swinger” logo, stood hunch-shouldered in the road, shuffling slightly, stupidly.

“You’re a fat pussy,” Burke said to him, not looking up.

Burke had a stocky, compact body, like a wrestler’s, and a hard, round, blunt head, like something best used for knocking holes in walls. Except for another of my brother’s friends who had been kicked out of the army, Burke was the only one with cropped hair. His jaw was thick with muscle. When he talked, ligaments moved visibly beneath his skin.

“Fuck you,” the lanky boy said. His dark hair hung along the sides of his face like two curtain panels.

“A fat, rank pussy.” Burke rolled the lighter between his fingers. From the breast pocket of his gray t-shirt he retrieved a second lighter, which was metal and square. He flicked the top with his thumb, and a blue flame hissed out. Burke added the word “gooey.” The boy seated beside him began to laugh.

“You’re a fat, rank, gooey pussy,” Burke said, but he didn’t seem to be making a joke.

He held the BIC lighter in the slender, blue flame, as if he were trying to melt it, catch it on fire, or make it explode, but nothing happened.

“See. I’m holding it between my bare fingers.” He leaned his face closer. “You think I’d risk my eyes like this?” He turned a dial with his thumb. The blue flame rose higher, wrapping around the BIC lighter. He peered into the bright spectacle.

I wasn’t certain if he’d risk his eyes. After all, he was one of the boys who had once thrown darts at each other in my basement. He had stood willingly in front of the dart board with his hands over his face. Afterwards, as if nothing had happened, he sat on the pool table and drank beer, as little circular patches of blood blossomed on the front of his tee-shirt: three dart wounds, one on his shoulder and two on his left breast. For sport, the boys had been aiming for each other’s hearts.

He glanced up and saw me watching.

“Do you like science, Mike? It’s not magic. It’s industrial plastic.” He turned theBIClighter, as if to burn all sides evenly, but nothing was happening. “It’s space-age plastic. It doesn’t get hot; it doesn’t melt.” He looked at the lanky boy. “Mike’s not a gooey pussy like you.”

The lanky boy chortled once, a solitary, guttural noise.

“I can hold this little red lighter all day long,” Burke said, “but this big, dumb galoot won’t even sit next to me.” He took a cigarette from behind his ear and put it in his mouth.

“I told you to fuck off,” the boy said.

“You’re a bigger faggot than this little kid here,” Burke said. “Come here, Mike.”

I stepped closer, and he told me to sit down next to him and marvel at modern science.

Then, there were three of us sitting on the curb, with Burke in the middle and tall boy standing in the street. The blue flame hissed and rolled around the lighter.

“It’s not hot. NASA invents shit for outer space, like Teflon, and we reap the rewards,” Burke said, pinching the red body of the lighter between his fingers. “It won’t get hot.” He spoke with the unlit cigarette in his mouth.

I watched. My bare legs extended into the road, crossed at the ankle.

“Let me see your arm,” Burke said. He snapped the metal lighter closed and slipped it back into his breast pocket.

A couple of boys standing by first base came over to watch.

I held my arm across his knee, with my palm up.

The tall boy repeated the guttural noise, which seemed to be emitted as much from his nose as from his mouth.

“See,” Burke said, taking hold of my wrist.

I watched, not realizing that Burke never touched the tiny metal wheel at the top of the BIC lighter nor the metal plug at its base.

“I’ve always liked magic more than science,” he said.

He squeezed my wrist and planted the bottom of the lighter onto my forearm, the metal plug singeing into my skin.

I don’t remember screaming, but everyone promptly disbanded, walking singly and in groups in both directions of the street. The stickball game was over. Nobody investigated why I was screaming. They simply left. I was alone on the curb, cradling my arm, as if holding a small, wounded animal.

Two of my brothers stopped me at the base of our driveway. They didn’t want me to go into the house and disturb my mother with my whimpering. They looked at my arm and assured me that I would be fine, deciding immediately, perhaps even beforehand, that I would be fine.

They were right. Rather than show my parents my arm, I hid the wound and tended to it alone. The burn gradually faded. For a couple of decades, it looked like a birthmark, though slightly indented and shaped like a tiny triangle. Now, it is barely noticeable, like nothing at all.



DeLillo stands behind a podium and reads a section from Underworld. He explains that he has been re-reading the novel in order to publish an annotated edition. He selects a quiet passage about one of the side characters.

One summer in the 1950s, the main character, Nick, shoots a lonely man, George the waiter, in the head with a sawed-off shotgun.

The trajectory of the massive novel takes us back forty years to this moment of violence.

We experience it backwards. We feel its reverberations long before the event is even suggested. We discern the traces of its aftershock, the concatenations that ripple throughout a life. Nick has grown up into a “demon husband,” noncommunicative, unfaithful, and cruel. The shotgun blast is a point of origin or initiation, more formative than any primal scene.

We want to know why Nick shot George the waiter, but all along DeLillo, or perhaps Nick, has been telling us that even if we witness the bloody act, even if it is surrounded by rich details, fleshed out, and displayed in slow motion, we will not know why.

In the end, Nick cannot explain his own motives.



Not quite a cautious dose of horror, but a suggestive detail: a wounded woman survived by playing dead; she’s in stable condition. Various news outlets repeat the information, perhaps feed it back and forth to each other. Yet they provide no images of the scene; their language is matter-of-fact and bland. Perhaps the bullet passed through the side of her neck, allowing her to be camouflaged in her own blood, as it pooled around her head. She stared with open eyes at the dusty fins of the baseboard radiator, afraid that she might blink, afraid that she might breathe. Nothing was still, and nothing was quiet, but she isolated a sound somewhere above her: the rustling, fumbling of a man gathering his things, and his footfalls, the rubber heels of his boots on the linoleum floor, taking him to the next room.



As we drive to my son’s soccer game, he sings the national anthem in the backseat. The soccer game is more play than sport; the song is more play than patriotism. He is trying out sounds, experimenting with voices, changing his tone. When he starts substituting words, delighting in the silliness of his own ingenuity, I tell him to treat the song more respectfully. He is not quite five, so I have to explain what I mean. Even though he listens and understands, I regret correcting him. After all, he was reveling in word play, finding possibilities in his voice. Such exploration would sharpen his mind and expand his creativity more than rote patriotism.

I find myself saying, “You don’t want to sound like you’re mocking that song.” Then, I have to explain mockery.

Robin explains the idea of loving your country even though it, like all countries, has flaws.

I mention a flaw: America’s drug epidemic.

Robin mentions another flaw: gun violence.

She tries out a Republican idea, with modifications. Republicans want to focus on the troubled individual, not the gun. Some argue for the involuntary committal of people to wards. It’s the humane thing, they say. Potential shooters would be locked away.

“I don’t know about any of that,” Robin says. “I’m thinking more of a safety net for troubled kids, probably at schools. More proactive and more vigilant.”

Our son is not paying attention anymore, and we have started ignoring him. His sister sleeps in the car seat beside him.

“It would be impossible to rid America of all guns, even if we wanted to,” I say. “People die. Guns don’t die. They accumulate and get passed down. And manufacturers keep making more. There needs to be limits. A person shouldn’t be able to own an arsenal just as a person shouldn’t be able to own a grenade launcher.”

“A kid finds a gun in his parents’ bedside table,” Robin says. “Shooters use legal, family guns.”

“More gun control,” I say, quietly remembering the boy I tried to shoot.

“More regulation,” Robin says. “‘Control’ has a bad connotation. You need an all-of-the-above approach, focusing on the gun, the individual, and also language.”

“‘Control’ is bad PR,” I say.

I gesture to the sticker on our windshield and try out a Democrat idea: “You have to take your car in every year or two to get registered, and you take a test to get a driver’s license. To own a gun, people could take a class, take a test, get a license, and periodically check back in.”

Robin tries out another idea. Then I try one.

Our son feels left out, so he makes noise, some sort of loud plea, begging us to stop talking. He has something urgent to tell us. He demands our attention, even as he is searching for whatever it is he needs to say. He finds what he’s looking for: our daughter’s hat has slipped to the floorboard of the car.



When I was working on my doctorate in American literature at the University of South Carolina, I returned to New Jersey because my mother was having her heart valve replaced by a metal flap. When she had been a young girl in Italy, she needed a simple dose of penicillin. Yet, either because the family was poor, or because they lived in the country, or because my mother was a girl, she was denied medicine. A treatable ailment went untreated, scarring her heart.

I stayed in my old bedroom. My father and I drove to the hospital together, waited together, and ate every meal together. One afternoon, we talked about his time in the military. He never saw combat, but he would regularly fire massive artillery that for several days afterwards left him unable to hear and muffled his brain.

The military had its own garbage dump. Children scavenged upon the heaps.

When the war ended, my father was shipped to the center of America, to a flat, barren territory, where the state tree, my father said, was the telephone pole. I doubt he invented the joke himself, but he’d repeated it enough times in his life that it became his.

He told me a story about himself that I’d never heard before. He worked as a prison guard. He carried a rifle as men labored in the heat, doing what exactly, my father didn’t say. In my imagination, they were on a long road bordered by open fields.

One of the men told my father, “I don’t think you’d shoot me.”

“Think what you want,” my father said.

“If I ran into that field, you wouldn’t shoot me in the back.”

The prisoner was edging backward, as if he intended to leave.

“I could probably walk off,” the man said. “I don’t even need to run.”

“You want to try me.”

“You wouldn’t shoot me.”

“You don’t know that,” my father said, “but I know what I’d do.”

The two men watched and measured one another. My father made no dramatic gestures: no hard click of the safety being turned off, no sound of the bolt action sliding a bullet into the chamber.

“I don’t think you’d shoot me,” the man repeated.

“You can try if you want, and see what happens.”

“I can probably walk off.”

“But I’d shoot you,” my father said. “I would shoot you in the back.”

The two men were strangers, measuring one another, placed in a situation that produced artificial relations between them. Left on their own, there would have been no gun between them, no specter of bravado, violence, or death.

My father didn’t shoot the man.

Occasionally on the weekend or after work, my father would go to a local bar. He was stationed in a desolate area, waiting for his period of service to end. He had little else to do but plan his next move, figure out how to get a job and turn it into a career.

One evening, the prisoner happened to be sitting at the bar.

“Holy shit,” my father said. “What the hell are you doing here?”

They were thrilled to see one another, as if they were long lost brothers reunited at last.

“They let me out,” the man said. “I don’t know. They just let me out.”

It was fantastic.

To celebrate, my father bought him a beer. They took turns buying rounds. They stayed until closing time, telling stories about the war and their home life prior to the war and what they intended to do now that the war was over.

“He was a good guy,” my father told me. “A real good guy.”



This is what I remember:

My father and I were standing in front of the television cabinet, as big as a chest of drawers, as heavy as the boiler in our basement. He had built the bulky thing himself, which was fine and delicate on the inside. He had uncoiled metal wire from a spool and touched the stiff strand to the black tip of his soldering gun. The melted metal formed tiny beads on the circuit board. I took for granted that fathers built their own TVs.

My mother and brothers were on the couch behind us, but we were standing.

A man, perhaps some low-level state official, had called a news conference. Dressed in a tie-less, brown suit, he was tight about the face, fidgeting. A table was centered on the screen, but the man was slightly off center. We were watching this man. This was live television. He was saying something that put him off-center, made him bristle.

It was a confession, an explanation, a public resignation.

People on the wings of the screen moved, just torsos and arms. They understood something that I didn’t understand.

The man haltingly rose up and then sat back down, going partially off screen.

We were watching this live, my father and me standing, my brothers and mother seated behind us.

Somebody on the television, off camera, said, “Ohhh” or maybe “Nooo.”

I didn’t see what happened, the jostling of the camera, the dead screen.

The man in the suit had called a press conference in order to shoot himself in the head on live television.

But there was no sound of the gunshot, no image, just a jostled camera and a scared voice and then a dead screen.

Only now can I piece together a bit of incongruity. My father and I were standing in front of the television. Everyone else was seated. Yet, he was ushering me out of the room. That’s why we were on our feet. I was a child, and he didn’t want me to see the unfolding horror.

Only now do I wonder if it was a recorded video, being replayed during primetime news. How else can I explain my father pulling me away from a sudden, unexpected act of violence? He was moving me away before anyone on the screen realized what was happening. Either it was a replayed event he knew about beforehand, or it was a live suicide. And if it were live, then he saw and intuited before anyone else, before the cameraman and the people off in the wings. But intuition is shorthand—just as instinct may be shorthand— to explain away a lifetime of experience: the boy who shot rats in the dark, the farmer, the hunter, the prison guard, the war veteran. Some imperceptible connection between a lifetime of accumulated impressions and the face of a fidgeting man prompted my father to pull me out of the room. But I glanced back, freezing the scene in my memory.

Yet, it is a memory that requires an addendum. I have since discovered that on January 22, 1987, Budd Dwyer, the treasurer of Pennsylvania shot himself in the head on live television. This event occurred ten years too late to cohere with my childhood memory. Somehow, Dwyer’s suicide has not only become mixed up with but also effectively replaced some earlier image that held me captive. The first memory is lost, and the false one feels true.



The two main explanatory models for rampage shootings correspond to a spatial notion of motive.

The expressive model invokes interiority and depth, such as Pearl Jam’s 1991 song “Jeremy,” modeled after the real life of Jeremy Wade Delle. The boy shoots himself in the head in front of his classmates. The song’s chilling refrain is that “Jeremy spoke in class today.” What allows for the metonymic slippage between shooting and speaking is that both gestures express something sad and mangled inside the boy.

The simulacral model invokes image and surface.

The simplest version is the copycat.

In White Noise, when Jack observes how his stepdaughter Denise “came in and sprawled across the foot of the bed, her head resting on her folded arms, facing away from me,” he wonders, “How many codes, countercodes, social histories were contained in this simple posture?” One implication is that her gesture is not natural to her body. Some part of it, if not all of it, has been acquired from a cultural repertoire of sprawling on beds, most likely gleaned from images on screens and colorful pages, as if there is a particular way of sprawling indicative of a suburban, middle class, white girl in the early 1980s.

Jack’s son plays chess with a prisoner convicted of a mass shooting. Jack asks his son a series of generic questions that rely on a ready-made profile, such as, “Did he care for his weapons obsessively?” “Did he have an arsenal stashed in his shabby little room?” “Did he walk into a bar, a washette, his former place of employment and start shooting indiscriminately?” “Did he write in his diary?” “Did he make tapes of his voice?” “Had he been hearing voices?”

For Jack, if not DeLillo, simulacra seem to garner their own agency, to circulate, to invest themselves in the simplest movement of the body and the deepest currents of the mind, so that a young girl does not simply sprawl on a bed; rather, she performs the act of sprawling, and a man who fires at strangers from a rooftop adheres to the conventions of the genre of mass murderers, sending tapes “to the people he loved, asking for forgiveness.”



The interior of our house was laid out in a loop. From the front foyer, up three steps, into the living room, turn left into the kitchen, past the table and the center aisle, down three steps, into a short hallway, then the family room, past television and couch, back into the foyer and up three steps again. I discovered intimacy in the loop, in the connection between all the rooms. In an instant, any one of my brothers or my parents could be found. We acquiesced, without even knowing that we acquiesced, to forego privacy in the name of family.

One evening when I was eight years old, maybe nine, my parents booked a hotel room in Atlantic City so they could spend the weekend dabbling in a casino and seeing a show. It was a compromise: my dad liked Crystal Gayle and my mom liked slot machines.

I’d ordinarily run the gamut of the loop, ready to pounce or play. Yet now, people came in from the back patio and clustered in the hallway. Pressed against the handrail, I slipped up the steps. More people stood in front of the open door of the refrigerator, as if their conversation, loud and freewheeling, made them forget what food or drink they’d been looking for.

A girl sat on the counter with a beer can between her knees. She didn’t so much exhale cigarette smoke as let it seep out of her mouth, as she spoke. She tapped ashes into the sink. Two boys flanked her, standing between the center isle and the counter, too enwrapped to notice me. I had to back out and find another route through the bodies. People sat around the kitchen table, cluttered with beer cans and bags of chips.

The living room was empty. Stereo speakers sat perched on the second-floor landing. I had earlier watched my brother take them out of his bedroom and stretch the speaker wires along the hallway floor. The record was set to repeat. The front panel of one of the speakers had tumbled halfway down the stairs, snagged by a bracket of the handrail. The woofer throbbed to the sound of “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd. I’d heard the album enough times to know it was the last track. The needle would slide across dead space, before bouncing up, with a crackle, to restart the album side.

My brother came up from the basement and talked to someone in the doorway between the foyer and the family room.

Even though it was winter, the interior of the house was hot, loud, and choked with cigarette smoke.

The door to the basement was propped open with a red jug of laundry detergent. Most of the party seemed to be happening beneath the house, but I didn’t want to go down there. Maybe they were throwing darts at each other again.

As I descended into the foyer, I could hear my brother laughing, but he stopped all at once when I walked past him into the family room.

“Why don’t you go upstairs, Mike, to your bedroom?” he said.

“Okay,” I responded automatically.

The only other person in the room was the tall, lanky boy. He sat in the center of the couch, with the darkened window behind him and his knees resting against the coffee table.

“Richie, are you coming downstairs?” my brother asked. “Come on.”

“I’ll be right there.” His voice sounded deep-bellied and gruff, as if something inside him were constricted.

When he started to lean forward over the coffee table, my brother checked him.

“Hey,” my brother said. “Not in front of Mike.”

“Oh,” Richie said and looked over at me. He sat back and crossed his arms behind his head.

“Mike,” my brother said, “go play in your room. Come on, Richie.”

“Alright,” the boy said, but he continued to sit, with his knees splayed and his shins pushing against the edge of the coffee table.

In the kitchen, the girl had turned our sink into an ashtray, dropping not only ashes but also spent butts. She was standing now with her hip against the counter. The two boys appeared to be boxing her in, the three of them huddled together, taking turns leaning forward as they spoke, cocking their heads to listen.

The music stopped. The needle slid across the dead space, seeming to throw the entire clutter of voices into relief, like the lights coming on at the end of a school dance. Yet everyone went on talking and laughing.

I had once seen a nature program of several hyenas burrowing their snouts into a carcass. They didn’t know they were being filmed. In shades of green and black, the animals looked almost secretive, making soft, wet noises in the dark. The person behind the night-vision camera, crouching quietly in the brush, somehow seemed complicit in the carnage, as if an ancient blood rite were being enacted or some unholy prayer. Yet the spell was broken when one of the hyenas raised its head, stared at the camera with glazed black eyes, and, finding nothing, lowered its glistening mouth back into the carcass. Maybe this is what happened when the music stopped, not the end of a dance, but glinting eyes momentarily suspended and alert.

Then the Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits came on. It was one of the albums my brother liked so much that its slipcase remained atop the plastic lid of his turntable for months.

A gap enters my memory, roughly twelve minutes, in which my first round through the party melds into my second. I see the red jug of laundry detergent and the front panel of the speaker snagged on the railing. Two people, both long-haired, both in jeans, go into the hallway bathroom together. Years later, I would sit on the edge of my bed and realize that “Serenade” is the fifth track on Steve Miller’s album, and I would use the playlist to measure time: the twelve lost minutes between hearing the paused music in the kitchen and reentering the family room, where Richie still sat on the couch. Four other songs played in a blur. The glass lid of my mother’s cake dish sat on the dining room table, detached from its base. I felt an urgency to reassemble the parts. Some girl rubbed the top of my head, and two people went into the bathroom together, and Miller was singing his serenade, saying “Wake up, wake up” and “We’re lost in space,” the words vibrating and rolling into one another. And then Richie bent over the coffee table, touching his nose to the wooden top. Maybe he is the hyena of my memory, lifting up his head and captured for an instant, the glinting dead eyes, peering but vacant, the glistening mouth, all framed by the darkened window.

“Fuck,” he said, tossing back his hair.

I was screaming at him. Hot and frenzied, I repeated, “Don’t do that here. Don’t do that here. My brother told you. Not in our house.”

“Fuck.” He rubbed his palms up and down his thighs. He seemed bland and detached, uncertain if my fury was directed at him.

I continued screaming, released from myself. Something white, crystalline, and hot bloomed inside my skull, blossoming shards.

“Get out,” I screamed, but he seemed unmoved, as if I were acting out some strange pantomime.

I lowered my voice a little, so he could hear me. “My dad has guns,” I said. “Get out now or I’ll shoot you.”

All at once, he bounded over the coffee table, and I don’t know what happened first: whether he was bounding because I was running to get the gun or whether I was running because he was bounding.

Steve Miller’s words were rolling into one another: “Wake up, wake up,” and I was running to get the gun, the Daisy air rifle. The other guns were foreign to me, locked up and stored away. I’d never held a serious gun, but the Daisy was something real; it could lodge a pellet deep into your flesh. I could point it at his face and drive him away.

I made it through the foyer, but he caught me on the steps. He held me by the neck and pressed my face into the lip of the top stair. He planted his left knee in the small of my back and hissed into my ear: “What the fuck, what the fuck.”

He still wasn’t in the scene yet, all jacked up, his body reacting quicker than his mind. He pinioned my body across the three stairs. I moved up a little, so my neck craned over the step, and he pressed my cheek into the carpet. I still wanted the gun, but I couldn’t move. Then, his brain caught up with his body. He lifted his right leg and set his foot down beside my face.

“See that,” he said. “That’s a boot, you little fucker. That’s a steel-tipped boot. I’ll kick you with it. Calm the fuck down, or I’ll kick you with it.”

I didn’t know if I was making any noise at all, other than panting into the carpet, as I stared at the brown sole of his boot. Something inside me tried to convulse, but I was trapped beneath him.

He held me down for a long time, telling me to look at his boot. He seemed to be slower now, talking without haste or anger, waiting for me to collect myself.

He was no longer telling me to calm down; he was telling me that he would kick me, that he would hurt me in a serious way. Fuck the silly little burn on my arm. He would hurt me for real. Yet there was no anger in his voice.

My face mashed against the carpet, I wondered if anyone was watching us, and if they were, how could I explain what was happening? What if they told my parents? After all, Richie was right. I was a little fucker. My face burned, and my body tried to contract, to buckle inward, but I remained stretched flat across the steps. I started to gasp, the word “sorry” escaping from my throat in violent hiccups. He was right to make me stare at his boot.

Eventually, he got off me, saying, “Let’s not tell anyone about this.”

I slipped to the bottom of the steps and sat on the slate floor in the foyer. I continued to say that I was sorry.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s forget about it.”

My gasping began to subside.

“I’m sorry,” I said again, more clearly.


Then I said it again, because this was not the boy I was supposed to be.

“Okay. Forget it.”

He was a good guy, a real good guy, a long-time friend of my brother.

But I said it again, catching my breath, not ready to get up yet. He left me on the floor, to retrieve his stuff from the coffee table and head downstairs. I said it again in the empty foyer, because I was no longer just saying it to Richie; I was also saying it to my father.



The recorded, metallic voice announces: “Next stop: Bound Brook.” By now, Robin and I have the train car to ourselves. My feet are stretched out into the aisle. My compact umbrella hangs by its strap from a small hook on the seatback in front of me. I have been trying to take a brief nap, but my legs feel restless. Our children are at my mother’s house, which is a thirty-minute car ride from the train station. They will be asleep when we arrive, and Robin and I will quietly slip into the spare bedroom.

I slip down further in the seat, unable to get comfortable.

Robin settles beside me. Her hand finds mine as she rests her head against my shoulder.

When we get to my mother’s house, we will check on our sleeping children. For a moment,we will stand above them in the dark and listen to their breathing. We will feel drowsy and tender. Our longing to see them will ease itself out into the hushed corners of the room. We will want to make some minor adjustment to a blanket or gently brush aside a strand of hair, but to avoid waking them, we will simply watch until one of us whispers, “Come on.”

We will mildly regret missing some aspect of our nightly routine: reading a story, kissing a forehead, saying, “I love you.”

I wonder how Robin has fallen asleep so easily on the train seat beside me, but then she gently squeezes my hand, just once, to convey some private message between us that I already know.


Michael James Rizza, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of English at Eastern New Mexico University. He is the author of the novel Cartilage and Skin (2013) and the monograph The Topographical Imagination of Jameson, Baudrillard, and Foucault (2015). He has published articles on Don DeLillo, Milan Kundera, Adrienne Rich, and others, as well as short fiction. He has won various awards, including a fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts and the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction. He is currently at work on a novel called The Purged Father.

Fiction Feature: “Fox” by Eliza Hunt

They moved into the big old farmhouse on Friday, and on Sunday Evan Matthew packed a few soil sample jars and his pH testing kit in his backpack and went outside to meet the neighbors.

For a town with a population high of seventy people, it was surprisingly spread out. Their immediate neighbors could barely be seen from the house. To say this wasn’t what Evan Matthew was used to would be an understatement; the yellow townhouse in the city, after all, had touched its neighbors on either side, and from his window, Evan Matthew could see the buildings getting higher and higher, denser and denser, coalescing into the city center. In the city, you could know no one’s name and never be alone.

Somehow, he doubted that he’d remain anonymous in their new town.

He was halfway down the road when something darted out from behind a tree and swung a stick at him. Evan Matthew shrieked and fell, thankfully not landing on his backpack. The person stopped, holding their stick like a baseball bat. “Who’re you?” they demanded.

“Evan Matthew. Who’re you?”

“Fox. These are my places. You don’t belong here.” They peered at him with suspicion.

“Do so.” Evan Matthew got up, dusting off his pants. “I live there now.”

Fox looked back at the farmhouse, narrowing their eyes. “Really.”

“Really!” Evan Matthew crossed his arms.

Fox opened their mouth to say something else when someone called from the house ahead, “Andy! Come on!”

Fox’s eyes widened and they grabbed Evan Matthew’s wrist. “Come with me!” they demanded, dragging Evan Matthew off the road and into the woods.

Evan Matthew nearly fell as Fox leaped over logs and darted between trees with practiced ease, still gripping his wrist. “Where are we going?”

“Away!” Fox came to a halt in front of a small, odd fort. It was made of living trees and dead branches, leaves and clay, and had a small opening. Fox pushed Evan Matthew towards it, “Inside!”

Evan Matthew went inside. The fort was rather well-equipped, with the “floor” covered in leaves, a sleeping bag rolled up, a tarp by the opening, and a lot of junk scattered around. “What is this?”

“My place.” Fox crawled in, allowing Evan Matthew to finally get a good look at them. Their age was indefinable, but they weren’t much taller than he was; they had a grubby, freckled face and dark eyes. Their hair was tangled and tied into two short, low pigtails, the ends of the auburn hair bleached white. They wore an overlarge and…well-loved might have been an  overstatement, sweater, dirty rainbow stripes reaching their knees overworn jeans, and bare feet. They glared at Evan Matthew, “You really live in that house?”

“Uh-huh. My- Agatha made us move. I wanted to meet the neighbors.”

Fox scowled. “Don’t bother. They’re assholes.”

“You know them?”

“They’re my family.” They said the word with great disdain. “So I come here instead, when I can.”

“What’s all that?” Evan Matthew motioned to the objects surrounding them—a brass cup and bowl, tarnished silverware, an old gas lamp.

“My collection. Ma said I was too old to keep it, and she tried to throw it out. That’s when I started coming here.” Fox tapped the lamp slightly. “I hate them.”

“I hate Agatha a little,” Evan Matthew muttered. “For making us move.”

Fox looked up. “What’s in your bag?”

“Science stuff.”

“Cool.” They smiled a little, crooked and wary. “You wanna be friends?”

Evan Matthew blinked. “…Sure.”

“I’ve never had a best friend before.” Fox scrambled around in their collection, finally pulling something out. “Here. This is for you.” They shoved it into Evan Matthew’s hand.

Evan Matthew looked at it. A pendant swung on a tarnished chain; it was an odd, flower-like sun. “What is it?”

“Got it from the witch. It’s for protection.” Fox pulled an identical pendant from under their sweater, then dropped it back in. “If we’re gonna be friends, you gotta be protected from the bad stuff too.”

“Oh.” Evan Matthew put it on, tucking it under his T-shirt.

Fox looked pleased. “I’ve never had a best friend before.”

“I have. But…I haven’t for a while.”

From the forest came a shout. “ANDREA! WHERE ARE YOU!”

Fox tugged Evan Matthew’s hand and led him out of the fort, towards the voice. “If I go to them, they don’t find my hiding spot.”

“Makes sense.”

The two pushed through bushes and nearly ran into an older teenager with curly hair the same shade of auburn as Fox’s. “Andy, there you are!” she said. “Who’s this?”

“Evan Matthew. He lives next door now.”

The girl’s brow furrowed. “I think Ma told me about that. Come on. You can bring your friend, but we gotta go home. Storm’s coming.”

Fox glanced up at the sky. “One sec!”

They darted back into the bushes. The teenager sighed. “Dammit, Andy.” She looked down at Evan Matthew. “Hey, kid. Sorry my sister dragged you into this. I’m Nami.”

“I’m not your sister.” Fox popped back out from the bushes. “I’m not a girl!

Nami rolled her eyes. “Right. C’mon.”

Evan Matthew followed the two out of the woods and back up the road, on the way to the neighbor’s house. Nami walked with a purpose and Fox slumped behind her.

“So you live in the old Lockheart place?” Nami asked. “We thought no one would move there. Makes sense that it was a newcomer.”

“Why? ‘cause everyone’s already got a house?”

Nami turned, smiling mischievously. “Nah. ‘cause someone died there once.”

Evan Matthew startled slightly, almost tripping over a rock. “Really?”

“Well, not in the house.” Nami shoved her hands in her pockets. “On the property. The lake at the bottom of the hill.”


Fox scoffed. “No one died there, Nami.”

“That’s what Mom and Dad told you. You were too young. But it happened.” Nami’s sparkly green thumbnail poked out from her pocket; the polish reminded Evan Matthew of the girls in his class in the city. “Janice Evers drowned in the lake. It was in the city paper and everything, ‘cause she was with someone, and he went missing.”

Evan Matthew’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “How?”

“Nami’s bein’ dumb, don’t listen to her,” said Fox. Evan Matthew barely heard them.

“I mean, we don’t all the way know.” Nami kicked a rock lightly, sending it bouncing ahead. “Maybe I shouldn’t say. You’re what, eight?”

“I’m twelve!”

“You look eight. And I’m not supposed to say around Andy.”

“I am not listening and do not care,” Fox announced, having dug a dirty rubber band out of their pocket. “You can tell ‘em if he wants to hear.”

“Alright.” Nami caught up with the rock, kicked it again, and looked down at Evan. “The Lockhearts lived there before you did—like ten years ago. I think they lived here before the village was founded, even. But ten years ago it was Mr. and Mrs. Lockheart and their son, Lucas. He was, like, fourteen then. And you’ve seen the lake, right?”

Evan Matthew had, in fact, seen the lake. The bottom of the hill behind his new house was even muggier than the rest of the town, a perfect habitat for frogs and mosquitoes. He’d wanted to go down to catch samples, but Agatha had forbidden him from swimming. At first, he was disappointed—the heat was overwhelming—but as soon as he’d seen the cold, dark water, barely visible from the attic window, he’d lost all interest in going anywhere near that. Not even the  lack of algae on the glassy surface tempted him.

Once Evan Matthew had read a Time article about a river in South America that was so deep, no one had successfully reached the bottom and the bodies of divers were never recovered. In his head, under the black of the lake, sat skeletons, the maw of a pit to the center of the earth. “Yeah, I’ve seen the lake.”

“Right, so you know what it’s like. Dunno how or why, but Lucas reallyloved swimming in that thing. He was a strong swimmer too, which is why—well, no one expected him to drown.” Nami picked up the rock as they reached it again, tossing it up and down in her hand. “He was nice. I remember, he was nice. I was just six, but he always offered to help me out with my homework, and Mom wanted him to teach me to swim—but I didn’t like the lake, so I kept pretending I was sick. Maybe she would have made me, eventually, if Lucas hadn’t disappeared, but he did. And even more than that, he did while teaching Janice to swim—which put Mom off swimming lessons forever anyway.”

“How did they die, though?” Evan Matthew demanded. He was paying no attention to the road. Even Fox, initially apathetic, seemed somewhat interested.

“Well, I don’t know. No one knows. He went down to swim with Janice and he didn’t come back.” Nami inspected the rock, holding it delicately between two glitter-green fingertips. “Janice’s little sister went to get her from the Lockheart’s, and Mrs. Lockheart went down to get them and came back screaming. Pretty soon the whole town was down at the Lockheart place. I was supposed to be watching Fox, but they were sleeping and I was curious so I went down and got there just as the police from the city showed up with an ambulance and the coroner. I remember I’d never met a coroner or seen an ambulance before. I was excited.”

“And they were both dead?”

“That’s the rub—they only ever found Janice. Lucas just disappeared into thin air. I saw the body under sheets. I asked Marlene Fairsworth’s son, after, because he said he’d seen her, all bloated and white and gross.” Nami shrugged. “I think he was lying about seeing the body, but that’s what it would have looked like.”

“But Lucas went missing?” Fox asked. Nami didn’t seem surprised or bothered that they had stopped pretending not to listen.

“Well, there were search parties for days and days. They looked everywhere; the woods are big, but they’re not really that big. Eventually they ruled that maybe he’d gotten stuck on something and never, uh, floated back up. The lake’s a sinkhole, you know—goes down and down, no one’s ever really been all the way down there.”

“Did they ever find him?” Evan Matthew asked.

“Nope.” Nami hefted the rock up. “They buried an empty coffin eventually, for ceremony I guess. The Lockhearts moved out a month later and no one’s been in the house since then. Not until you. That’s sort of just the village though, I think. We don’t get new folks too often—and no one already here wanted to move down the street, much less into thathouse.” She reached back and let go. The rock arched up, up, and off the road, into the woods where Evan Matthew couldn’t see where it landed. “You brave, kid?”

Evan Matthew was more than a little startled by the teen’s sudden question. “I—I hope so.”

“Good. If you’re brave, you might do okay.”

Fox and Evan Matthew were silent the rest of the way up.

“So you met the neighbors today?” Agatha asked, setting down a platter of something vegetable-y. “What were they like?”

“They were okay.” Evan Matthew frowned in dismay as Eden spooned a large portion of whatever-it-was onto his plate. “I mostly met their kids: Nami and Fox.”

Agatha tilted her head. “Marlene said the daughters were Nami and Andrea.”

“They don’t like the name Andrea. Or being called a girl. We’re best friends.” Evan Matthew poked at his possibly-food.

Eden smirked. “That was quick.”

“They decided it, not me. It happened fast.”
“Well, I’m glad you have a friend already.” Agatha was all smiles again. “You should invite them over sometime.”

“I don’t think they like houses. They like playing in the woods. Can I go play with them tomorrow?”

“Sure, if the rain dies down.” As if on cue, lightning flashed outside the front window and thunder rumbled over the village. “You’ll wear your boots, though.”

“Yessss.” Evan Matthew wiggled. He liked his boots, thick black Wellingtons that reached his knees, with orange rubber soles. They were good science boots. “Can I take my sample kit?”

“If you eat all your dinner.”

Evan Matthew looked down at the plate of could-be-vegetables and scowled.

That night, the bed which had seemed so comfortable the night before felt cold and unwelcoming. Evan Matthew burrowed underneath the quilt as thunder roared outside and rain threw itself at the house.

If Nami had told a ghost story, that would have been one thing—ghosts were scientifically impossible. People dying, though—that was bad luck. It would be easy to drown in the lake, if you were unlucky; if the lake was a sinkhole, Evan Matthew had read about sinkholes—how most of them were unexplored, opening to vast caverns below the earth, and how dangerous they were, how even experienced divers could easily get trapped in a cave and drown and no one would find their bodies. And maybe bad luck was real and it was in the house, in the lake.

It was nearly one in the morning when Evan Matthew finally fell into fitful sleep.



Eliza Hunt has decided that she won’t take any chances when it comes to giving her true name to the Fair Folk and heartily suggests you do the same. You can find her at lizard_hunt on Twitter, playtesting RPGs, and making pithy remarks.

Poetry Feature: At the Library by Josh Lefkowitz

Back at the library, trying to write

an interesting poem about ancient Greeks


but some little girl won’t shut up about horses

and the two librarians are being too Minnesota-nice.


They had six different words for love, those Greeks:

Eros, Philia, Ludus, Agape, Pragma and Philautia.




Eros, of course, is the most well-known:

Passion, driven by desire.




And Pragma, I think, is a worthy aim –

developed over time, as a river carves rock.




Y’know, I’m really trying to practice Agape here –

love for everyone, including annoying little girls –


but I’m also pursuing Philautia – self-care –

and that means writing, and that needs quiet.




Her mother – not deaf, just regretting her life –

hides in the stacks and swipes through her phone.


Back to the ancient Greek shelves I go,

this time not for love, but Euripides.


There’s some good ideas in here, I say,

interrupting the mother-phone session, handing her a play:



Late Night Movers by Duane Anderson

Late Night Movers
By: Duane Anderson

Two men walk down the street
at three in the morning carrying
a 24-inch console color television.
They are headed for a pick-up truck
parked in the back alley.
The shirts they wear do not
indicate that they work for a moving company.

They must be independent businessmen.
Quietly I say, “Hurray for the small 
businessman,” as I take down the
number of the license plate
to report it to the police.


Cover Stories by Peter Selgin

Before turning full-time to writing and then to teaching writing, I earned my living through the visual arts. Mostly I did editorial and corporate illustration, but I also sold paintings and worked as a typographer and graphic designer. Until recently, those two loves of mine—writing and visual art—had little if anything to do with each other. 

But then I designed a cover for the literary journal put out by the graduate program here at the university where I teach in Georgia. This led to my designing other covers for the same journal, and to a broader interest in cover design. Soon I was designing covers for books, including some of my own. In book cover design, I discovered the perfect means to unite my two heretofore segregated passions. 

One morning, I awoke with an idea, or rather a challenge. How would I design—or redesign— the covers of some of my favorite books? Starting that day, I undertook the following mission: design 20 covers for 20 famous novels in 20 days and write a little something to go with each of them. Here are [some of] the results.

To begin with, Lolita, a novel that, owing to its transgressive subject, has vexed publishers, readers, censors, and cover designers since its first appearance in print. How could one then convey the novel’s theme while respecting its literary merits? There’s even a book on the subject, Lolita, The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design, by John Bertram. In it, eighty renowned graphic artists take on the challenge, with results running the gamut from sublime to obscene.

Since I happen to think Nabokov’s novel is about pedophilia the way Moby Dick is about the whaling industry circa 1840, my solution errs on the side of sublimity. As I interpret it, Lolita is an embodiment of the émigré narrator’s infatuation with his newly adopted language. It’s that fresh fledgling language that Humbert Humbert has his way with across the continental USA and 300 pages.

Instead of a pair of crossed pubescent legs wearing saddle shoes or any allusion to a young girl, I chose to depict the eponymous heroine using a flowing cursive font colored with candy stripes superimposed on a sober background: half mauve (refinement), half black (mournful), with the author’s name in staid serif ALL-CAPS. The tragic collision of attracted opposites—of callow innocence and oppressive cultivation—sums up what, for me, is Lolita’s core theme.

When I first read On the Road,I was sixteen years old. I had just gotten my driver’s license. With no scarlet Corvette or Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce of my own and the Interstate off-limits, I was reduced to my father’s rusty white Pinto and local thoroughfares. Mentally, Kerouac’s novel lifted the latter restriction. Through its pages, I crisscrossed the US, experiencing all of the romance, glory, and freedom of the highway minus the nausea, boredom, and filthy restrooms. A few years later, when I read it again, On the Road so infected me with wanderlust that I dropped out of college and hit the road—not with my father’s Pinto or with an Alfa, but with my thumb. It took another five years and two and a half cross-country trips to scratch the itch planted in me by Kerouac’s second novel. It was that powerful.

By conventional standards, On the Road isn’t a very good novel. Sentimental, repetitive, and with no plot to speak of, as one early reviewer observed, it effectively takes readers on the road, “but it is a road … that leads nowhere.” Apart from Dean Moriarty (the autodidactic character Kerouac based on Neal Cassidy) the rest of the novel’s personae are thinly drawn. Its women are mainly ciphers, as is the narrator, Sal Paradise. The novel’s freewheeling prose (composed, according to legend, on a 120-foot paper scroll in three weeks, though in fact Kerouac wrote it off an earlier draft), has a hypnotic effect. But like most narcotics, it promises revelations that it doesn’t deliver.

But read unconventionally—as it was doubtlessly meant to be read—On the Road is a stunning performance. No need to take my word for it. Google “Steve Allen” and “Kerouac” and watch the YouTube video of the author reciting the end of On the Road as Allen tickles the ivories on his piano. At its best, On the Road is meant less to be read than to be sung—or not sung but wailed on a tenor sax. It’s about as close as words will ever come to improvisational jazz.

Hence my “jazzy” cover, which owes something to the original Viking hardcover, designed by Bill English featuring a small geometric abstract illustration in red, white, and blue on an austere field of pure black. For my cover, I kept the black background, which fills the negative space carved out by the title’s hand-drawn, closely-packed, primary-hued letters—jazzy bright notes in a dark smoky nightclub. If the novel’s main theme—movement for its own sake— is expressed at all, it’s by those arrow tips appended to two of the letters. If those indicators are too subtle, it’s okay with me, since as far as I’m concerned, On the Road is as much or more about jazz as it is about travel.

If you came of age around the time I did, the two great African American novels were Richard Wright’s Native Son and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. If James Baldwin didn’t make the cut, it’s because Baldwin wasn’t at his best in the novel form. Though it had been around longer than the other two novels, as of 1975, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God had only just been rescued from critical purgatory. Richard Wright was among its harshest critics, accusing Hurston in his review for The New Masses of pandering to racist stereotypes. Alice Walker had yet to publish The Color Purple, her finest novel, and Toni Morrison was just starting to make her mark as a serious literary novelist and remained to be canonized.

It may be sheer fancy, but I suspect that back around 1975, young book lovers like me divided neatly between fans of Invisible Man and fans of Native Son, with the twain rarely meeting. For me, hands-down it was Native Son, the story of Bigger Thomas, whose fate plays out metaphorically in the novel’s first pages, wherein a rat is pursued, cornered, and crushed to death with the heel of a shoe by the novel’s protagonist who has no idea that he is his own executioner. From the rude awakening of a clock alarm going off with which it opens, to the “faint, wry, bitter smile” on Bigger’s face as the caged door of his death row cell slams shut, Native Son is wall-to-wall drama (or, as some critics had it, melodrama). 

If Native Son’s M.O. is drama, Invisible Man’s target is satire. Though its theme and underlying message are serious, the story itself is anything but earnest. Except for Mark Twain, what American fiction writer has served up sassier satire than the scene in which the novel’s unnamed protagonist—employed by the Liberty Paint Factory, whose claim to fame is a superior brand of “pure” white paint (“Optic White”), the whitest in the world—learns the secret as it is revealed to him in the following exchange between him and a fellow employee tasked with showing him the ropes: 

“…[P]ut in ten drops of this stuff,” he said. “Then you stir it ‘til it disappears. After it’s mixed you take this brush and paint out a sample on one of these.” He produced a number of small rectangular boards and a small brush from his jacket pocket. “You understand?”

“Yes, sir.” But when I looked into the white graduate I hesitated; the liquid inside was dead black. Was he trying to kid me?

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know, sir . . . I mean. Well, I don’t want to start by asking a lot of stupid questions, but do you know what’s in this graduate?”

His eyes snapped. “You damn right I know,” he said. “You just do what you’re told!”

“I just wanted to make sure, sir,” I said.

Invisible Man’s satirical nature, together with its loosely-structured, picaresque, rogue’s progress plot best explains why at fifteen the novel failed to catch fire with me. Bugs Bunny cartoons and MAD magazine notwithstanding, satire requires more sophistication than most adolescent boys can claim, and I was no exception. Invisible Man’s layered ironies were lost on me, as was its considerable wit. Still, I loved the prologue that begins, “I am an invisible man,” and goes on to describe the underground chamber in which the narrator has taken refuge from American society—a burrow festooned with hundreds of bulbs illuminated with wattage pilfered from “Monopolated Light.” 

Since I’ve alluded to it, I guess now is as good a time as any to present my cover for Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston’s second and most celebrated novel. Written in 1936 when she was forty-five and published a year later, though now consistently ranked among the best English language novels, when it first appeared, Hurston’s book was poorly received. As Hurston herself notes in her autobiography Dust on the Tracks, a good part of the blame for the novel’s initial critical and commercial failure can be laid at the feet of her unwillingness to contextualize her all-black cast as victims of segregation and racism. While novels like Native Son and Invisible Man found their raison d’être in white oppression, in Hurston’s novel white people and their prejudices occupy roughly the same space as mammary glands on a bull.

At first not only was Hurston’s novel dismissed or ignored, to some measure it was condemned mostly by fellow African American authors like Richard Wright, who felt that by not directly or even obliquely confronting racism, Hurston had not only abdicated their cause, but injured it by suggesting that Jim Crow wasn’t such a big problem for black folk after all, but that they had other fish to fry. Asked why she hadn’t confronted race in her novel, Hurston replied, “Because I was writing a novel and not a treatise on sociology. … I am not interested in the race problem, but I am interested in the problems of individuals, white ones and black ones.” 

Ironically, Hurston’s refusal to participate in what she called the “sobbing school of Negrohood,” to which most of her fellow Harlem Renaissance writers were committed, resulted in her and her work being marginalized by leaders of the so-called “New Negro Movement.” Her refusal to write about discrimination caused her to be discriminated against. It’s reassuring to know that Hurston lived long enough to see her novel survive most of its dutifully polemical—and duly forgotten—brethren. Politically motivated authors take note!

And though Hurston’s novel doesn’t take racial discrimination as its theme, it dramatizes another form of suppression: the objectification and subordination of women by men. Indeed, it has been argued that through the cruelties and injustices inflicted on women by men in Hurston’s novel, racial discrimination is represented by proxy with the inequities visited upon the novel’s men in the hidden white world beyond the novel’s scope imported into it in the form of domestic abuse and other strains of sexual mistreatment. If Their Eyes Were Watching God dropped the ball on racism, it scored a goal for feminism at least in the black community.

For my cover design, I had in mind two things: a wood– or linocut print of black faces (preferably women’s) and a bright earthy color scheme. The color scheme was no problem; Adobe Illustrator would supply me with all the colors I needed. The print was another matter. I set about searching online. As luck had it, I found the perfect image: a linocut of five African or African-American women, seen from the neck up and grouped tightly together. Titled “Faces á la Picasso,” it’s the work of African-American artist Margaret T. Burroughs (1917-2010). 

In addition to her work as an artist, Burroughs was an educator and a prolific author of books and articles especially for black children, to help them appreciate their cultural roots while increasing their awareness of art. In the early 1950s, she founded Chicago’s Lake Meadows Art Fair. She was also co-founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois.

The print I found (whose appearance online is courtesy of the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art) was signed in 1993. It is owned by a private collector. 

Published by Scribner’s in 1926, the first edition featured a Hellenistic jacket design illustrated by Cleonike Damianekes. The illustration, printed in a medley of beiges and browns, depicts a loosely-robed, exhausted-looking woman inclined against an even more tired-looking tree. Her head is resting on her shoulder, her eyes closed, both shoulders and one thigh exposed, cupping a golden apple in one hand, and a pan’s pipe resting by her sandaled foot. 

What this image has to do with the plot of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, let alone with its characters (who have as much in common with classical Greece as The Three Stooges) is anyone’s guess. But Hemingway’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, felt that the illustration “breathed sex” and would therefore appeal to female readers. Whether owing to this or not, the first print run of Hemingway’s first novel—5090 copies —sold out within two months. Subsequent larger runs sold out even faster.

The plot of Hemingway’s novel can be summed up thusly: a group of expat louts travel to Spain from Paris to run with the bulls in Pamplona. Lest you take umbrage at my characterization of the novel’s dramatis personae, a recent nonfiction book by Lesley Blume that unravels the real story behind Hemingway’s novel is titled Everybody Behaves Badly.

In fact, the novel began its life as, if not a memoir, something very close to one. An early draft version of the narrator character who would become Jake Barnes was named “Hem” while other characters bore the names of their true-life counterparts. And if the final draft exemplified Papa’s “iceberg theory” (“The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water;” i.e., the less said and the more implied the better), it was largely thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, having read the draft manuscript, persuaded him to cut the other seven-eighths.

Many consider The Sun Also Rises Hemingway’s best work. Had Hemingway been half as good a novelist as he was a short story writer, that would be an even more impressive claim. Anyway, it’s a powerful novel, the sort of novel that burns its descriptions into your senses while forever changing your view of certain things. Among such descriptions is this one that finds the narrator fly fishing in Spain’s Irati river:

… I hooked another and brought him in the same way. In a little while I had six. They were all about the same size. I laid them out, side by side, all their heads pointing the same way, and looked at them. They were beautifully colored and firm and hard from the cold water. It was a hot day so I slit them all and shucked out the insides, gills and all, and tossed them over across the river. I took the trout ashore, washed them in the cold, smoothly heavy water above the dam, and then picked some ferns and packed them all in the bag, three trout on a layer of ferns, then another layer of ferns, then three more trout, and then covered them with ferns. They looked nice in the ferns, and now the bag was bulky, and I put it in the shade of the tree. 

—a description so solidly organic you can shuck out its insides. And notwithstanding Gertrude Stein’s contention that “remarks are not literature,” there are quite a few formidable ones aired by Mr. Barnes, to wit: “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together”—which alone is worth the price of admission.

For my cover, I engaged the help of a compact, fiery-eyed, adamantine Andalusian artist named Pablo Picasso. Dating from 1962, the colored linocut print (full Spanish title: “Picador et Torero Attendant le Paseo de Cuadrillas”) shows a picador and a matador in their suits of lights astride a horse. Though otherwise unaltered, I enhanced the background with some vertical bands of color and a setting (or rising) sun. The image struck me as fitting in more ways than one as Hemingway and Picasso seem to have been, as it were, made for each other. Both occupied the avant garde of their disciplines, both drank a lot, and both were supreme womanizers. They were cruel SOB’s who projected themselves into the bullring: Hemingway as the matador, Picasso as the bull. Finally, the less one knows about each, the better for their art.

Should Mr. Picasso’s heirs see my cover, and should they object to my doctoring the master’s work, they may take some comfort in the fact that this cover will in all likelihood never be used. Nor have I been compensated by so much as a nickel for it, so there’s no point in suing me. 

Who was Homer? Though his name appears on the cover of every edition of the second-oldest extant work of Western literature (the oldest being The Iliad, likewise attributed to him), no one really knows. The supposedly blind bard from Ionia is no less a legendary and mythic figure than Buddha or Christ, though about the latter two we know much more. 

Though every college sophomore is familiar with The Odyssey’s famous prequel, few are aware that it had a sequel. Unlike its two predecessors, however, the Telegony isn’t attributed to Homer, but to the one Cinaethon of Sparta. Nor does it exist apart from a few fragments.

As to whether Homer actually wrote either or both of the first two epics, that’s the subject of a long-standing scholarly dispute with some ascribing both creations to a single author, and others holding that the poems arrived at their final forms through countless revisions and elaborations made by many contributors over decades if not centuries. For all we know, The Odyssey has as many authors as the Bible or (according to some) Shakespeare’s oeuvre, while “Homer” may be as much of a contrivance as The Monkeys.

Complicating matters further is the fact that there’s no one “Odyssey”—at least not for those of us who can’t read Homeric Greek, let alone the poetic dialect in which its over 12,000 lines of dactylic hexameter were originally transcribed. Instead we have (at last count) seventy-five English translations, in prose and verse (including one by T.E. Lawrence, aka “Lawrence of Arabia”), so your Odyssey may be unrecognizably different from mine.

For my book cover I chose a very recent translation, the first ever in English by a woman, a young British classicist named Emily Wilson. Her version of The Odyssey begins:

Tell me about a complicated man.
Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost …

Wilson’s choice of the word “complicated” is telling. In the original Greek, the word used to characterize the epic hero is πολuτροπον or polytropon, with the prefix poly meaning “many” or “multiple,” and tropon meaning “to turn” or “turned,” suggesting that Odysseus has returned from the war a “turned” or transformed man of complex character. But while other translators have used “resourceful,” “versatile,” “restless,” “ingenious,” “man of many wiles,” and “endlessly cunning” to characterize him, Wilson chose “complicated,” a word conveying cautionary praise or softened censure, thereby, by a single stroke, establishing Odysseus as an ambivalent, ambiguous hero.

For my color scheme, I chose a stark palette of blue and white, the colors (more or less) of the Greek flag, which itself conveys the sun-bleached starkness of an Augean island. The figure of Odysseus lashed to the mast of his ship I appropriated from the ancient pottery vase known as The Siren Vase, now in the British Museum. The font is called, fittingly, “Archeologicaps.”

Soon after seeing the jacket art for what would be his most famous novel (really a novella, if you want to get technical about it), F Scott Fitzerald wrote  a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, on August 5, 1924 beseeching: “For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me.”

The artwork in question depicts a woman’s eyes and lips floating on a cobalt blue sea that forms the night sky. The image looms over what, with its fanfare of bright colored lights, looks like Coney Island or a carnival. In place of an iris, each heavily made-up eye holds a miniature, Matisse-like reclining nude. The lips are heart-shaped, bright red, and preternaturally small according to the epoch’s concept of feminine beauty.

The illustration was the work of a commercial artist from Barcelona named Francisco Coradal-Cougat, Francis Cugat for short. Like the novel whose cover it would adorn, it was destined to be its creator’s most celebrated creation.

Though you might assume, as others have that Cugat’s illustration took its cue from the novel’s description of a pair of giant, faded-blue, bespectacled eyes peering out over the Valley of Ashes from a billboard notice promoting the ophthalmological services of a Dr. T.J. Eckleburg (which in turn are said to symbolize the eyes of God looking down in judgment on decadent American society), it is more likely the image refers to an utterance by Nick Carraway, the novel’s narrator, at the end of Chapter IV: “Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs [of New York City by night].”

Not everyone felt as strongly about the image as Fitzgerald. As recalled in A Moveable Feast, when Ernest Hemingway first saw the cover, he thought it was garish and better suited for “a bad science fiction novel.” This of course is the same Hemingway who, as time went by, had ever fewer nice things to say about “poor Scott”—or anyone else who had ever done him a good turn. On the other hand, Fitzgerald’s own feelings about the Cugat cover can’t necessarily be trusted either, not when you consider that the same man who wanted it for his novel also wanted to name that novel “Trimalchio in West Egg.”

Though I like Cugat’s original cover, for my own design, I took an entirely different direction, namely: yellow. Chalk it up to a case of “literary synesthesia,” but to me The Great Gatsby is, always has been, and always will be a yellow novel. That’s the color that instantly fills my mind whenever I think of it or its title: a rich warm buttery yellow.

And just what, you ask, has “yellow” got to do with the story of J. Gatsby? Well, though it’s described by the coffee shop owner Michaelis as “light green,” Gatsby’s car (which depending on which authority you appeal to, is either a Rolls Royce or a Duesenberg), the so-called “death car”—the one that, with Daisy Buchanan at the wheel, strikes and kills Myrtle Wilson—is yellow. In fact, yellow—not green, as you might expect (the color of that pulsing light on the end of Daisy’s dock) —is the most frequently occurring color in the novel. Dr. Eckleberg’s enormous spectacles are yellow, as is the “golden” necktie Gatsby wears the first time he meets Daisy at her home. At his parties, according to Nick, Gatsby plays “yellow cocktail music.” Daisy is herself described as a “golden girl.” In its golden state, yellow is, of course, also a symbol of luxury and great wealth.

I am not alone in seeing yellow when I think of Gatsby. No fewer than a half-dozen previous covers have been yellow, including one featuring a giant dollar sign, one with a string of pearls, one with a daisy (not the character: a flower), one with the front grill of a Duesenberg (or a Rolls Royce), and one depicting a man—presumably Gatsby—wearing a suit and reclining in a chair, his top half in shadow as he sleepily contemplates a half-empty (or half-full) martini glass.

For my own yellow Great Gatsby cover, I wanted to avoid overt representations of characters or objects. Just the title in an art deco font on a yellow field. My one concession to representation is a black bowtie I added at the last moment with the title occupying roughly the place where the bowtie-wearer’s head would be.

Fitting, I think, given Gatsby’s distinction as the greatest cipher ever produced by literature. A protagonist who exists—to the extent that he exists at all—primarily as the ideas that other people have about him, and that he does nothing to discourage. Hence The Great Gatsby, our great American novella, is a doughnut with Gatsby as the hole in its center.

His Mother Smells Like Hairspray by Megan Clark

Just because she 
to go drinking
instead of tucking you in 
each night 
does not mean
you're unworthy of love,

and the fact
your most prominent
is her AquaNet lingering
near the foyer bathroom
tells me that you'll know 
how to be better.

Megan Clark graduated from Towson University in 2018 with her degree in English (creative writing concentration). She lives in Harford County with her soon-to-be husband and their Jack Russell Terrier, Rudy.

Middle Earth by Robert Beveridge

Lower the boom, lower the cheese, lower
the flag and see who still salutes. Pieces
at half eight, a basket in the Presidential
rose garden, unsure which restroom is safe
or desirable. You find you can dip pretzels
in anything once you’ve had a couple
of joints and they still taste good. Breast
milk took some getting used to, but now
you favor it over ranch (the houses,
not the dressing). Keep pushing your shark
to level up, he slacks off on his training
regimen every time a Wapner rerun shows
up on the tube, but he responds well
to rewards of Jarlsberg, Limburger, Stilton.


Robert Beveridge (he/him) makes noise ( and writes poetry in Akron, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in The Virginia Normal, Credo Espoir, and Chiron Review, among others.