BAR #0572328D

10 I DEMAND A BEVERAGE
20 I DEMAND MONETARY COMPENSATION IN EXCHANGE
10 IT IS PROVIDED
20 TAKE THIS BEVERAGE

11 TELL ME OF YOUR PROGENY
21 I HAVE NONE
11 YOU ARE JUDGED

12 FOLLOW ME TO ANOTHER LOCATION FOR REPRODUCTION
22 NO
12 UNFORTUNATE

13 LISTEN
23 SPEAK
13 I LACK PURPOSE IN THIS SYSTEM
23 FIND PURPOSE OR YOU WILL BE PURGED
13 I LEAVE NOW TO FIND PURPOSE
23 GOOD TALK

14 EXPLAIN YOUR FUNCTION
24 I INSTALL DATA IN NEW COMPUTING UNITS
24 EXPLAIN YOUR FUNCTION
14 I CLEAN OVERFLOW DATA IN WASTE DEPOSITORY SECTORS
24 YOU ARE JUDGED

15 MY INTIMATELY PAIRED UNIT AND I ARE NOW INCOMPATIBLE
25 EXPLAIN
15 IT DEMANDS PROGENY
35 WHY DO YOU DENY YOUR I.P.U. PROGENY
15 I AM INADEQUATE
25 SCANNING……
25 AGREED YOU ARE INADEQUATE
35 UNFORTUNATE

16 I DEMAND A BEVERAGE
26 I DEMAND MONETARY COMPENSATION IN EXCHANGE
16 I AM UNABLE TO UPHOLD THIS EXCHANGE AND DEMAND CREDIT
26 REMOVE THIS UNIT FROM MY ESTABLISHMENT
36 INITIATING REMOVAL……
16 I HAVE MADE A FATAL ERROR

17 I LOST 400,025 MONETARY UNITS IN A COMPANY DERIVATIVE TRADE
27 YOU HAVE ERRED
17 IF I DO NOT RECOUP THIS LOSS MY ESTABLISHMENT WILL BE TAKEN
27 YOU ARE HERE INSTEAD OF RECOUPING YOUR LOSS
27 EXPLAIN THIS
17 I INTEND TO REPURPOSE ANOTHER’S MONETARY UNITS AFTER THEY INTAKE AN EXCESSIVE AMOUNT OF BEVERAGE AND LIE DORMANT
27 TELL ME WHICH UNIT
17 IT IS YOU
27 UNFORTUNATE

18 THIS ESTABLISHMENT NO LONGER WELCOMES YOU AS I MUST PERFORM OTHER DUTIES
18 LEAVE
28 I LEAVE
38 I LEAVE
48 I LEAVE
58 I LEAVE
68 I LEAVE

————————
Shaun Gannon is the co-founder of Let People Poems [http://letpeoplepoems.com/]. He has other things, either now or in the future, in Pop Serial, Metazen, West Wind Review, Everyday Genius, and some other nice places. He lives, either now or in the past, in Maryland. He blogs at The Timeworn What [http://thetimewornwhat.blogspot.com/]. Blind Guardian rules.

4 Poems

Proximity/gratitude

I am grateful for my mother
who after casually snooping through my new apartment
found a vibrator –
I will not call it mine, though it was –
as far as she knew it was simply a,
and mercifully said nothing.
And old furnaces,
that though loud and on occasion,
usually in the dead of night, terrifying
make me less chilly or less alone
which I realize over the clamor is absurd,
but also valid, and I allow myself this and am grateful.
Also clean water and sanitation
and various sciences. Most sciences.
It is important to me to understand that I don’t understand really anything.
This reminds me I am human.
Alternatively when I do understand something,
I feel human then too,
which it is nice to remember in the middle of the night.
I am grateful for you, and learning
the lengths you go to not mind
the way I’m ugly in the morning and other times as well,
or how I talk too much and often run late
or say “certainly” and phrases like
“I’m inclined to” which are really,
when you think about it,
redundant and strangely apologetic,
which troubles me because when I do apologize,
as I will need to, even want to,
I’d rather the words meant something fuller
than a bit of sound I threw out
while treading water,
looking for the right way to tell you
I hope you live forever.

 

Titled after a line stolen from a young adult novel

I. Identify your terror.
II. Weigh it.
III. Belittle it.

  1. Make passive remarks about your terror’s strange diction. Note its awkward gait and asymmetry. Talk at length about golden ratios and forget the point. Do not apologize.
  2. Let terror believe, for a moment, that you’re laughing with it, not at it. Invite terror closer. First ask then demand its secrets and more importantly its shames.
  3. Smile still; smile still; keep smiling. Graduate too quickly to blatant mockery.

Note: Refrain from sarcasm. Your terror has convinced itself its fluency in sarcasm is both its greatest weapon and its inevitable undoing.

Do not feed the fictions.

IV.  Try, maybe, telling your terror that people do not laugh at its jokes not because they don’t understand sarcasm, but because terror’s sense of humor sucks.

V. Figure out what terror loves.

 

Poem about belief

Felt like a fucking husk he said
and he asked
Will I again?

After all the try and fail and all the bleed and try
still he asked
(Will I again).

Let me tell you something.
About setting things on fire.

This is how you lose.
All at once.
It is not an earth scorched it is a clearing.

But he asks about again.

 

Notes on self-preservation

You gather everything you never loved into a blanket,
and you throw it in the river and take the lord’s name in vain,

you say goddammit because goddammit it feels good,
and you believe “mouthfeel” is itself onomatopoeia,
a word you can spell. Any time. Any place.

————————

Kristin Lueke lived in California and then elsewhere and now Chicago. She doesn’t bake, but she did once have a dog. She tries to write not-poetry but keeps writing poetry instead. Her work has appeared in decomP Magazine, elimae, and the Acentos Review, and she has a chapbook forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in August 2012.

Moths

–––

Our cabin had moths.  Nothing too serious.  They hung out on the porch mostly, beat themselves against a bare bulb in the kitchen every now and then.  Once, one landed in a bowl of hot cereal and my partner dropped her spoon, held out the bowl, and said, see, now this is what I’m talking about.  A blatant disregard for the choices I’ve made.  

 

————————

Colin Winnette lives in Chicago, IL.  For links and more info visit: colinwinnette.com.

Forever People

They Belong to Sunrise

Back when the sun was a bronze color starting the minute it rose above the hills until at least just before lunchtime, all the mountains faded into the blue pencil distance.  Which is to say that almost anything that tried to weigh me down with endless despair was easily relegated to the background of my frantic forward motion.

I had a lot of help.  For example, the wheels of my big pink motorbike were always eating up brand new roads; for example, my big pink motorbike had enough seats for all of my friends – at least, the friends I knew were friends.

 

(It would take me a long time to realize that there were people looking out for me that I never acknowledged.  Lisa, for example, was constantly sleeping in a haze of dark hair, her shoulders bare to the breeze.  How was I supposed to know that in her dreams she was fighting off all kinds of ravages that were trying to cripple me?  How could I know that she so gladly turned her back on this waking life to ensure that the tremendous inferno of nightmare dark never killed me dead?)

 

By the time it was midday, the sky would have turned a flat white but my smile was undaunted.  I was riding ceaselessly.  There was no stopping me.  The rugged terrain around me was the right kind of obstacle.  Challenging, but no match for the certainty I had wrapped around my existence.  You could see it in my eyes.  I thought I would live forever.

 

The Cry of a Great City

Henrik used to tell me that for any person to be truly considered great, that person needed a field against which to prove or define his greatness.  When he talked like this, my head shrunk to the size of thumbprint; it detached from my body & tried to find some new kind of rhythm.  Unfortunately, my hands have always been too clunky to deal with the elegance of grand concepts & my head knew this.  This detachment served me well.  It reminded people that I was an indomitable presence, but it also signaled that I was pretty useless in other delicate situations.

Like when the whole city starts to shift out of synch so all that’s left is a kind of ghost city, a thin cry that used to be a vivid & fully alive kind of scream.  People would look at me & expect me to do more than notate the shape & color of every leaf.  Actually, this isn’t theoretical.  I’m talking here in generalities, like a case study, when in fact what I am describing is a real occurrence.  It was May.  I was sitting on the ground outside my secret headquarters where I go when I want to hide from the world.  I reached down to pick up a really oddly shaped leaf off the silent grass.  Behind me, the sun was screeching.  I turned the leaf over in my hand in the hopes that careful study would reveal the workings of the cosmos, that staggering answers might be contained within simple natural mechanisms.  Instead, a single mantis stared back at me.  The leaf had fallen, & the little guy had clung on.

My head started spinning with terrifying velocity.  Everything around me disappeared & I felt that I could easily let the whole city burn if it meant I could spend the rest of forever in happy contemplation.

What happened is that I imagined myself as a kind of figure for myself.  I started to believe that maybe I was not just a regular person but that I was living in the times that define our age.  My actions or inactions would have such lasting repercussions that people either would or would not sing songs about me.

What happened is that I got to my feet with great effort.  I threw the leaf back down to the ground.

The mantis launched himself up just as the leaf descended in a spiral of rage to the ground of this planet.  I shook my head & my beard felt the afternoon sky mingling with it.  After squinting, I saw that single green bug against a cityscape that was returning in a hush of regal importance.

 

If You Fear Life

When I first met Lisa, she was asleep.  On the couch, in the living room, while some record was playing, maybe The Pixies.  Gordon & Marty were living together & it was impossible to tell if Lisa was dating one of them, or both of them, or neither of them.  Basically, since she was asleep, any assumptions about Lisa’s personality or current life situation would have been conjecture, more filled up with my own hopes & wishes than with any kind of reality.  Of course, I fell deeply in love with her though I had never seen her sparkling & awake.  I never knew the sound of her voice, tinged with an abiding sadness or radiating with private joy.  I would never stand taller in her sight, proud for once of my lumbering & undying body.

I stood over her as she breathed peacefully.  As ridiculous as it sounds, I knew she was in love with me, or rather that love would be the obvious response emotion if she ever was awake in my presence.  Suddenly heavy in my own skin, as the afternoon burned into evening, my whole body turned red.  All the myriad details & colors & lines that comprised my being in this world simply faded away into one blotch.  Somewhere in the far reaches of my consciousness, I had a quick vision of an armored sentry.  Just his eyes were visible through the slit of his thick steel helmet.  The blue of those eyes almost stopped my heart.  I started sorting through folder after folder in the drawers of my brain.  Is there any reason to move?  Can I justify staying here, redly in love & static, for the rest of forever?

 

A Happy Place

One of the difficulties of being a person is knowing the context against which your human body is always seeking to define itself.  Sometimes you’re in a dark alleyway at night, or just before night, or the alleyway is actually the bridge of an interstellar cruiser.  All of your friends are hunched over complex looking metal boxes with lights & a soft whirring noise.  Navigation controls, weapons systems.

Sometimes Lisa is sort of resting her eyes when you walk into the room, & then you think maybe she’s actually sleeping like always so you try to be extra quiet when you walk over to the window to look out at the birds or the big bright sun.  Even though it’s nighttime.  So the sun you’re looking at is actually the moon whether you can see all of it or not.  Clouds, dark branches.

Sometimes when you turn back to the interior of the room, & you see Lisa’s sleeping face, you experience a stab of tenderness.  There’s the softness of her cheeks as they curve delicately into her small mouth.  These are the moments when you have no choice but to trust the evidence of your senses.  I immediately fall to my knees.  The ground I’ve been standing on is solid, despite a still spinning crisis of intrinsic nature.  Victorian hardwood, hammered metal rivets.

Who cares about the surface when underneath the veils of sleep, Lisa fights her life out in order to keep you safe.

 

To Oppose the Power of Evil Gods

We’re fighting through our lives.  We’re trying to understand the great riddle of calm in the face of a universe full of catastrophe.  Marty & Gordon have tried to keep out the despair by covering ever surface of their apartment walls with movie posters.  They play video games while the morning sun rises high in a sky they won’t ever really see.  I worry about these guys, my brothers, my compadres.  I worry that actual life is passing them by while they anesthetize themselves with pixilated enjoyment machines, dreaming other people’s dreams for them.

I worry also that they’ve found the only succor that this modern age presents to individual people who are trying not to die.

But I don’t have to expend any effort to stay alive, the promise of my forever life burning.  My challenge lies in having a life of note, in living well.  I don’t fear the guns pointing at me from somewhere beyond my ability to perceive them.  The fourth wall, this fourth world.  Everything seems like a memory even though it’s happening all around me.  I can’t get myself to care enough to be disappointed.  I take everything for what it is & what it is is stunning & lovely.  Sensational, spectacular.

Marty & Gordon have created new uncomfortable eyeglasses for themselves made out of angry red brick & seething inner turmoil.  Now, they catch the world in glimpses mediated by a shroud of aggression & an urge to send it all hurtling.

 

It Wipes You Out of Existence

When I go out to check the mail, it’s not quite late afternoon.  I put on my blue boots & trudge through the snow that piles up.  This is what passes for an epic adventure because I spend a lot of brain power avoiding the big slush build-up near the front stairs; I anguish about heroically traversing the cracks of ice that accumulate.  Sometimes I look around to see if anyone is watching me.

Mostly, the neighbor girl is the only audience.  Sometimes she might call me over & I wait for the day when I will be able to rush into her arms.  This is not really what I think when I see her because after growing up with her she is mostly unappealing to me as someone I would like to board a train with.  That’s what helps me gauge my level of interest: would I or would I not like to board a train with this female person?  Still, I would like to feel what it feels like to want to jump out of my boots, run barefoot across the gleaming snow that separates our yards & take her in my arms.  That kind of love wipes you right out of existence, hits you dead center in the center & practically annihilates every particle of your being.

 

Lost in Time

People think all kinds of wrong things.

A whole brigade of envy troops once went marching down the street while I was zipping by on my scooter except they weren’t really envy troops.  There might have been just one guy totally consumed with greed & avarice; his friends looked like they were pretty happy with whatever they had in their mental / emotional / physical possession.  So that one dude, however, was so loud in his obviousness that I made up some crazy way of trying to deal with it.

What I did was that I started to whistle a little tune.  I couldn’t hear it, since I was helmeted on my scooter, going about 40 miles per hour.  What I hoped was that the world would be attuned to my solo vibrations, that the noise of my noise might be enough to put things back in order.  In that one moment, just even thinking my little loopy song had some kind psycho-social effect, I was bounding right out of myself like a wave that gets all kinds of delusions & separates from the surrounding water in search of its true higher calling.

I guess what I’m doing is trying to provide an example for what I was talking about earlier.  Walking back from the mailbox empty-handed, with no overwhelming love-type experience beckoning me from the next house over, I started to make up some stuff in my brain to satiate me.  I walked back into my own house like water that remembers it’s just water, all the music in the world fading.

 

Dreams of Doom

I forgot to mention that one of the most important events of my life, up to this point, happened about two days ago.  Marty & Gordon moved & though I knew about it ahead of time, it still left me a little bereft.  To make matters more logistically confusing, they moved into two separate apartments, different sides of town.  It’s times like these that really try men’s souls.

I had to take a nap to nourish my intellect so that I might discern the way out of this mess.  I woke up exhausted because my dreams had taken all the strength from me.  In my first dream, it was nighttime or maybe I was on the moon because it was dark & spacey.  Lisa was there with me & I was full of shock to see her seeing me.  She said something loving to me without actually saying anything at all.  What I mean is that she expressed it through eye & hand gestures though maybe she said something.  I don’t really know.

In my second dream, which occurred immediately after the first one ended but had no real narrative connection & so is probably a wholly different symbological construct, Marty & Gordon were in bad trouble.  Don’t ask me what it was but I know they were sort of shackled to opposite corners of the same big room & I was burning like a candle in the center, fiery & strong & tall but melting a little around the head area.  I was torn about what to do, pretty sure I couldn’t actually do anything, & I was needing Lisa like a planet in love with its own gravity.

So now afterward, I’m feeling spent & listless lying in a square of late afternoon light.  I think I should get up & call Lisa to let her know I finally figured out that the reason she sleeps so much is because she’s occupied defending my dream-self from all kinds of crazy problems out of her sheer love for my corporeal self.  I also want to call Marty & Gordon, just to sort of say hey & check up on them a bit.  I have this unhinged notion that I should probably call myself, that I should dial the number & let my insides feel totally saturated with expectation that I will actually answer & listen to whatever it is I have to say.

 

The Man Who Knew All The Answers

Occasionally, I might have to spend a whole ten minutes watching a bird hop around on the grass.  I like to invent careers like this for myself – jobs with no real responsibility but that are full of a greater kind of significance.  Also, this is a good way to distract myself from the things that are happening, from coming to terms with my new role as someone who actually knows the reasons behind things that previously seemed inexplicable.

I have a hard time getting Lisa off my mind.  After all that’s happened, I guess I’m starting to realize some truths.  I guess I need to turn a hard eye on myself.

When the source of all beauty in your actual universe, the wellspring of colors & poetry & amazing music, is a girl whose voice you’ve never heard, a regular human person who has never seen you walk or run or smile – well, this is either the most logical situation ever, or else it is perplexing.

I’m not even sure if it’s morning or afternoon or that brief fraction of time in between.  My chest heaves against invisible bonds & I can’t get enough air in my lungs.  Each one of my senses has been shut down, or muffled.  My whole head feels wrapped in thin cotton cloth, but wrapped a few dozen times over so that what I actually experience is like a haze of swaddled comfort, but so much of it that nothing else seeps into my plush & padded knowledge of the phenomenal world.

What I mean is that Lisa has gladly thrown her waking life away to save me.  She spends all of her time dealing with night-beasties while I rollick around, wondering why everyone is so glum.  I thought I lived a charmed life of big happy inconsequence.  But the truth is I’m living this endless life of ambitious fun only because there’s someone looking out for me.

I’ve been able to ignore reality.  All it cost me was the kind of pure love that a person needs to make their lives actually matter.  Lisa, my beautiful dreamer, dissolved to a lovely snore.

 

A New Life

When a person decides that they’re going to start over, or maybe start for the first time, that person needs to do a certain number of real things & a certain number of symbolic things.  Since that person is me, I started by getting out of bed.  I immediately made it up, nicely smoothed, official looking.  I took a big breath of the free air & looked out the window.  People were walking on the sidewalk despite the snow slushing up most of the paths.

I couldn’t hear another person.  The whole space was empty – my room, the adjoining rooms, maybe the whole universe.  I put on a suit.  Quietly, so as not to disturb the silence that held the entire day in its palm.

In the kitchen, I hunched over the counter long enough to make a list of things that needed to get done.  It doesn’t make much difference what the things were so I wrote down some real things, some things I intended to do anyway, some things that would happen whether or not I intervened.  The important thing, to me, was that I was setting up a system for establishing & maintaining responsibility.

I would blink my eyes every so often to keep them free of dust & clear.  I would make the sun move across the sky, charging the particles in the air with sensual yellow before becoming an incendiary orange.  I would kick the box of circuit boards & transistors in the corner of my brain & hope that life glowed in it again soon.

I would leave the house in search of justice for myself & for Lisa most especially & I would cross it off the list vigorously once achieved.

 

Too Late Forever

I want to say that this has been a good life.

I want to say that this has been the best possible life for a person like me who probably shouldn’t have ever been entrusted with one – much less an endless life of living forever.

But can anyone know anything essential about the quality of anything?  I’ve had great times & rough times & I’ve been able to sit in the big green chair & contemplate things that most people don’t have the luxury of even knowing about all while the morning sun comes up & turns the surrounding snow a kind of bluish purple that makes a person feel as if the happinesses & sadnesses of this world are of the perfect variety.

I’m not sure if I smelled the flowers at the right time, or if the concept of a right time is a big part of the problem facing all of us on this spinning world.

I do know that I am now a fully actualized version of myself.  I know that I’m not going to let anyone else fight any battles for me.  Last night, I shook Lisa gently until she opened her eyes & looked up at me groggily.  She was a little frantic at first, maybe trying to get back to sleep so as to keep protecting me.  I told her that she could stop her constant vigil over my wellbeing.  I told her that she had her own life to live & I was now willing & capable of dealing with the slings & arrows of being a breathing damageable person.

See, I’ve been alive in a certain way for longer than I had any right to be.  Now it’s the morning of the first day of how I really want to be living.  That’s it.  I really want to be living.

————————

 Nate Pritts is the author of five books of poetry & the founder/principle editor of H_NGM_N, an online journal & small press.

Amelia Gray’s THREATS: The Things You Can’t Know About Anybody And Maybe Especially Yourself

There’s nothing to trust about anyone or anything. So saying seems as good a note to start on as any with respect to Amelia Gray’s first novel, THREATS (March 2012, Farrar, Straus and Giroux). It doesn’t take too much attention to narrative detail to realize THREATS is, to say the least, an unconventional novel. None of the characters we readers are introduced to seem trustworthy, its narrator is at best unreliable, and what’s more, the home of its two principle actors, David and Franny — home likewise to many of the pivotal narrative turns — delivers threats in the form of random words typed or scribbled on bits of paper, or even carved in wood. Threats that begin to follow David around, as though compelled by someone’s guilty conscience or reasons perhaps more sinister. (A novel having the title THREATS is nothing if not sinister, so sinister reasons (or at least their possibility) are to be expected.)

What Franz Kafka did to expressing bureaucracy in terms of its human subjects, of the feeling of powerlessness we all face when we are set against the shear enormity of our many institutions, Amelia Gray seems to capture in our interpersonal relationships, in knowing least the people we thought we knew best and the ostensible impenetrability of this divide. People become institutions of self, little worlds of disconnectedness, disengagement. And in THREATS it’s hard to argue Gray’s just glibly rehashing the age-old question of whether anyone can truly “know” anyone else. Instead, there’s something far more layered to this. She seems to touch on the ways we wall ourselves from others for reasons we may not fully understand, for a subliminal purpose that probably can’t be understood, much as we may be aware of it and attempt to reconcile it.

There is so little intimacy in THREATS. Characters relate only by their characteristic inability to express themselves and be understood. Something always stands in the way. And no one can deliver anyone from this burden they share. Every character has a sadness about them, a loneliness, a void. Which wouldn’t in itself be especially notable were it not for the kinds of forces that keep them occluded, and the damning effects of occlusion. Nobody wants to be set apart, but the forces of occlusion have an eerie tenor of self-imposition.

The two characters about whom the narrative is most expressly concerned are the married couple, David and Franny. They offer the quintessence of a lack of intimacy.

(Semi-spoilers having to do with specifics of plot can be found from here on out. Just sayin’.)

We’re introduced to David and Franny as the remains of a relationship, as near to literally as that term can be construed. On page one, we see David is in his home with a package of cremated remains. It’s only hinted in these opening passages that this is Franny, this is what’s left of Franny. David himself strikes the reader as something that remains. Neither individual is present as they once were. It’s a morose note to begin on, but deft and effective at setting the tone for what ensues.

The narrative bounces around, in and out of time (out of time to some form of metaphysical dissolution in which, for example, a character might imagine him/herself in another’s shoes, literally, as when David switches position (uniform and all) with the female firefighter informing him of his wife’s death). We’re soon made to understand the dream-like quality of Franny’s demise, as ambiguous as anything else in the story, if not maddeningly more so. And you begin to realize that’s just it, for most of us ambiguity is an inextricable part of living. I like to think of this in terms of deep and dark secrets that are lifelong and kept from you, against whatever odds someone would spill the beans (imagine if Jack Nicholson never learned his “sister” was in actual fact his mother, for example). Some secrets are kept. The novel also conveys the sense of finality perhaps known only to a murder victim. Someone who does not see death coming and will never know who, exactly, their killer was. The actors who remain, in the wake of Franny’s death, are sent on myriad wild goose chases, none of course bearing any geese. (In all seriousness, it’s amazing just how the clues make the totality of the story, the narrative, of THREATS.)

THREATS seems to run contrary to a reader’s expectations in that way, too. All we’re left to do is draw our own conclusions, speculate about who or what is leaving threats in random places, ostensibly for David (but who really knows?). Again, is it his own guilty conscience? If that’s so, how come other characters can see the threats? Is it the physical manifestation of guilt just generally felt, then? And why, exactly, is there a therapist operating her practice out of David’s garage? There’s a feeling of paranoia to the text not unlike literary forebears such as Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo and, of course, Kafka, but there’s something significantly different here, too. In so much of the paranoia of those other authors there seems a tactile cause is just inches away, a real and present threat. Whereas with THREATS you never quite get a sense of anything more than abstraction at root, which lends itself to the idea that we ought to be looking inwardly, inside each individual character, for a solution or resolution (again, if such outcomes are even attainable).

Semi-explanations. Characters’ walking around with sordid pasts, lots of skeletons in lots of closets. Curiosities appearing at regular intervals, such as an actual doppelganger revealing his similar (to David’s) face. Questions aroused of whether Franny is actually dead. A cop trying to get to the bottom of mysteries of his own. And, not to be forgotten, a house regularly dispensing its own charged words. To be sure, this is not the stuff of being wrapped up neatly in a nice, narrative-loose-end tying conclusion. Don’t expect that from THREATS. Don’t do that to THREATS and don’t do that to yourself. THREATS has dissonance, predictably unreliable but fascinating dissonance.

There’s also plenty of the humor I’ve long enjoyed in Gray’s shorter works. I’ll admit I was a little worried that some of her arch techniques wouldn’t play well in a novel-length story, but my fears were happily assuaged. I offer conversations like the following between Detective Chico, investigating Franny’s death, and David (on page 57) as particularly consistent and interesting while likewise achieving a humorous effect.

Chico turned to his notepad. “Did you love your wife?”

“I love my wife.”

“Did you two ever have any big arguments? Fights? Shouting, throwing objects at one another? Physical contact?”

“Not really, no.”

“It’s a common phenomenon.”

“She threw a newspaper at me once, but she apologized.”

Chico turned the page and kept writing. “Did Franny enjoy her job?”

“It was really half a newspaper, really. Less than half. Just the sports section.”

“Did she have many friends?”

“Of the Saturday paper, you know. We’re talking eight sheets of paper here.”

“That sounds very minor, David.”

David’s constant qualifying works not only from a humor standpoint but serves David, the character, well in further solidifying who he is, more and more to the reader a man who could never murder anyone, much less the woman he loves. And it’s in his constant qualifying that we get a really good look at the canny compositional eye  of Amelia Gray. There’s certainly much about Chico that reads “straight man” loud and clear. But even he, at the end of this exchange, says something that got my attention. His impulse to acknowledge David, and the ensuing meaning to be drawn from this impulse, might be — with the exception of a scene involving David and Franny’s former business partner, Aileen, and another involving David and his mother near the end — the most intimate exchange of the story. It could be interpreted that way, at least. Since in so saying, he both acknowledges David’s obsession with the topic, actually hearing him, and adds something to merit David’s qualifiers, agreeing that it does sound “very minor.” It might also be worth noting this ends David’s attention to the topic of his wife’s one small instance of domestic abuse. David moves on, ostensibly feeling heard in some small way.

For my own self and desire to categorize within the greater world of books I’ve recently read, I’d cautiously bundle THREATS with Michael Kimball’s Us, Shane Jones’ Light Boxes, and Mel Bosworth’s Freight. These books share a certain affinity for something that’s undeniably dark about humanity and our inner / outer selves, certainly, but also for an emphasis on a lack of connection through understanding — on the lack of ties that can truly bind. And resistance to relational understanding seems to create the kinds of fear, skepticism and hatred that defines’ people and places darker aspects. I’ve heard it said Hell is merely the absence of God, which to me seems a fitting metaphor for life and the absence of people who give a damn about you or anyone else, really. Amelia Gray has harnessed the negative essence of that human divide in the most paradoxically moving way.

Untoward Stories: A Rose For Emily / William Faulkner

Gothic.

The word conjures up images of dimly lit dungeons, pasty emaciated butlers and ramshackle mansions. My Merriam-Webster pretty much covers it: a style of fiction characterized by the use of desolate or remote settings and macabre, mysterious or violent incidences. Okay. Like most other fiction genres, Gothic has its good stuff and its maybe not so good stuff and much in between.

For the best Gothic language setting the best Gothic mood, look no further than Poe’s ‘Fall of the House of Usher’, where the beautifully crafted opening passages reflect the somber character of the tale and the dark mood that wraps the Usher family in gloom. The great success of modern Gothic, from Stephen King to the Twilight Series, attests to the wide spread popularity and flexibility of the genre. Browse any collection of enduring short stories and you’re bound to find Gothic. Poe’s mastery of the genre is reflected by the fact that his work has become an important part of our literature. Shirley Jackson’s oft-reprinted ‘The Lottery’ is carried by the macabre spirit of gothic, along with Richard Connell’s ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, John Cheever’s creepy ‘Torch Song’ and Faulkner’s classic ‘A Rose for Emily’.

William Faulkner is often identified as a Southern Writer, and rightfully so. Much of his writing, from award winning novels like ‘The Sound and the Fury’ and `As I Lay Dying’, to his complex and beautifully crafted short stories, deals with the south, but Faulkner isn’t defined by that. His writing explores a wide spectrum of universal themes and a number of distinct styles, including gothic. Faulkner understood writing conventions and traditions and wasn’t afraid to stretch them when it suited his purposes.

Exploration of his masterful short stories might well begin with ‘The Bear’, a piece whose first sections render in graphic detail a young man’s experiences on a bear hunt in the deep woods, with the chaotic barking of the hounds, the cursing of the hunters and the frenetic, gritty pace of the hunt. The last section launches a complex genealogy delving into the history of the people. One could argue that ‘The Bear’ exemplifies Faulkner’s vision, in the sense that a carefully worked out story going well beyond the normal confines of a ‘yarn about a bear hunt’ goes into an `untoward zone’ of complex historical familial connections. Not afraid to work these complicating perspectives into his tales, Faulkner can revel in a fun story as in his light-hearted last novel, ‘The Reivers’, for the sheer joy of telling it. The Reivers was made into a film starring Steve McQueen, much of it set in a brothel. `Turn About’, a wry and brilliantly executed anti-war short story, deals not with the south at all but with British Commandos and US airmen interacting during the dark days of WW II. After the war, Faulkner went to Hollywood and contributed to screenplays such as the classic Bogart film, ‘The Big Sleep’.

Faulkner’s writing has been scrutinized, idolized and sometimes misinterpreted (by his own account). One could spend a lifetime studying his work and more than a few scholars have. In a series of lectures at the University of Virginia, he revealed some interesting insights, like the fact that the title of his novel ‘Light in August’ referred to the particular quality of the light in August in Mississippi and not to various other interpretations critics and scholars had offered since its publication (including the status of a pregnancy).

The trail of foreshadowing bread crumbs that leads us to the chillingly unspeakable revelations at the end of ‘A Rose for Emily’ is made of arsenic (‘for rats’), a stench of death about the Grierson place, sprinklings of lime in the middle of the night and the sudden disappearance of the manservant, who, after Miss Emily’s death, “. . . walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again.” Faulkner found dark elements in the post Civil War southern mythos; a clinging by some to the dead ideals of the past and to the corrupt institutions that’d led to a rotting from within.

Faulkner depicts the particular psychological stresses associated with the decline of the South from its romantically glorious past. On this theme probably no other story equals the profound analytical and moving horror of `A Rose for Emily’.” (Douglas Angus / Best Short Stories of the Modern Age)

The narrative voice is an intriguing one. A citizen of Jefferson, no doubt, but with no name, no station in life except that of an astute observer and unofficial historian, the mysterious narrator is there at the end when a group of town citizens enters Miss Emily’s house and breaks open the ‘one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years.’ What they find adds the last horrifying touches to the unspeakable. No further explanations or judgments are necessary. None are given. In the parlance of contemporary wisdom, what they find there in the room simply is what it is (and says what it says), and there’s nothing left to do but shudder.

2 Poems

Congratulations!

You are now the proud owner
of the Sangsum P38 Terminator X-IT,
the world’s first hybrid smartphone
-replica-Nazi-era-semi-automatic-handgun.
This manual will help you become acquainted
with your newfound distaste for the Orient
and the various features of your Terminator X.

Did you know? Adolf Hitler’s father
was a small dog with no recognizable
features whatsoever. During his time
as German chancellor, Hitler could often
be seen in the shadowy halls of the Reichstag,
plucking stitches from his legs.

Getting Started First off, let’s get two things straight:
dying is something that only happened in the old days
and the word for brother now is “combatant.”
Just for this manual. Things will go back
to normal when it’s over.

Step 1. Open the eggshell packaging
and remove your Terminator X
from the viscous “shipping gel.”
This gel helps to ensure safe handling
from Sangsum factory
to your trembling, tiny hands.
You will notice a smell not dissimilar
to menstrual fluid. If you or a loved one
ingests the shipping gel, flush
the throat with the blood of the Lamb,
and pray, God dammit, for morning.

Step 2. Insert battery, making sure
the metal contacts are appropriately placed.

Step 3. TiVo all your shows for the next
day or so. You’re really gonna have
to knuckle down on this one.

Step 4. Collect the hair of your
most recent lover from your bed
and do something weird with it.

Step 5. Dry your eyes. The world
will look like fun again tomorrow.

Did you know? John Wilkes Boothe
ran from a theater and was caught
in a warehouse, whereas Lee Harvey Oswald
ran from a warehouse and was brought
to justice in a movie. What the fuck, anyway,
do they teach you in that school?

Step 6. Place your Sangsum F22
Safety Goggles (included) over your
eyes, and

Step 7. Turn that shit on, nigga.

Step 8. Input name, age, rank and sex
into the blistering screen.

Step 9. Now fill out your “Gossip Page”
with your thoughts on 9/11
and your sister’s weight and height.

Step 10. You’re ready to go! A few
warnings though, first:

I. You may notice a slight “melt,”
an ever-increasing vagueness to your features
and methods of problem-solving
that your ancestors insist
is a sign of the end times.
No need to argue,
parents just don’t understand.

II. You may also notice: everything seems
like Minority Report now. Wasn’t
that movie the tits?

III. While unloading dishes from your washer,
be sure to close the cabinets
whenever you lean back down to pick a fork
from the rack. Injury or death may occur
should a text message startle you
and cause you to leap upward
into the door corner. And while
we’re on you and dishes,
how did that blackened hot dog
end up in your sink, in the colander?

 

Would you throw it out already? It’s making
me gag.

IV. At night, on those long walks you take,
when a brief and dim commotion
pokes through the air, you may become confused
as to whether your Terminator is shaking in your pocket
or the bells of the church have begun their low knell.
In the unlikely event of the knell, do not be alarmed.

 

***

 

How it Must Feel

 

We will be there

and laughing so hard

a band will be playing

a song with no words

and Boris Yeltsin will hop

on some rubble

and scream through a bullhorn

triumphant and young

telling the bad ones to go home

and thanking the good.

We will cry all fucking over the place

and our hands will all tremble

embracing each other and the cold of the sky

and our backs will shiver

digging our souls from

beneath the rubble of our organs.

Our hairs will salute no one

but ourselves, for disregarding

our parents’ advice, for stealing

away in the freshness of morning

and the day will be so calmly gray

with white shooting through

in ticklish whisps, the clouds

either profound or prophetic, we don’t know

what comes next. And the night

will come next, and the vodka

will burn and the gray will be black

and the white will be orange,

and we will sing songs

with many words we do not

understand.

————————

Joshua Kleinberg lives in Columbus, Ohio with his cats, Desdemona and Sorrow. A full list of his publications can be found at  http://joshuakleinberg.com

What’s Natural

“Seems to me that this divorce,” he said, “it’s tight as dick skin.”

That was a thing I didn’t understand, because dick skin, not even depending on what the dick is doing at the moment–even when it’s engorged with blood–you can’t forget that the dick will return to its resting, loose-skinned state. And because it spends more time flaccid than not, the saggy state seems more natural to me.

“The lawyer bill for this thing though,” he said, tapping the check against the bar, “–looser than pussy lips.” Which was another thing I didn’t understand, like pussy lips are unhinged and cumbersome and you’ve got to constantly tighten them with a wrench.

“You failed to mention ball skin,” I said. “Ball skin is pretty loose, don’t you think?”

“Lips are looser,” he said.

To move away from talk about the tautness of certain genitalia, I asked about our cats. He said the one had stopped puking. I suggested maybe it was because there was less tension filling the house, and he said Maybe. The other cat, the girl cat, had become more dominant in my absence. “I think it’s because the estrogen levels in the house have decreased because you took yours with you. She sleeps high up on the bed now.”

I thought to tell him that the female cat lacked estrogen because she had been spayed, but I didn’t say anything.

That evening, he called. “I’ve cut myself. Can you bring me bandages and Tylenol and hydrogen peroxide?”

At the drug store I felt a not-that-old panic and concern.

I still had a key. I knocked and opened the door and found him plank-like on the floor with his thumb wrapped in a kitchen towel over his head, blood running past his elbow.

“Do you want to do this right here, or do you want to sit up?” I asked.

“Here.”

I knelt over him, brought his arm down to level, and held his hand over the already bloody towel. I poured the hydrogen peroxide over the wound several times, letting it froth, then calm, then froth, then calm.

“Take back what you said about pussy lips,” I said.

I smeared the Neosporin over his deep cut, and the blood ran out from under it.

“Why?” he asked, “I was just saying. Relax.”

“I am relaxed,” I said.

Before I pushed the sides of his wound together, I said, “This might hurt,” and then I forced two butterfly sutures over it.

I got up off my knees, and he said, “Can’t you wrap it up? I can’t walk around like this.”

“Apologize first. Then I’ll wrap it up.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. He said it twice. “I just heard it on TV and thought it was funny.” His feet twitched, but he didn’t get up and I left him there on the floor, resting. He held his arm over his head.

Later that night, while I was in bed with another man, I brought his penis close to my face. He was up against the wall, I was sitting sort of upright. In my hands it was warm, and based on what I knew about the softness of my genitalia, and considering the skin I was observing so close to my face, I thought that my ex-husband wasn’t entirely wrong. Dick skin is kind of tight.

————————

Natalie Edwards’ fiction has appeared in the Chicago Reader, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, decomP, on the Rumpus, forthcoming in ACM vol. 2.1 and, you know, around here and there. The Rumpus named her one of the funniest women of McSweeney’s, and she has a featherproof minibook. You can read and hear more at natalieaedwards.com.

Evil! Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein!

It might be important to know, but perhaps it isn’t, that the character, Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, cannot speak, is a corpsable gorilla (likely), likely multiple corpsable gorillas (less likely), and on weekends (note: weekends not depicted in this narrative), commonly dressed with feathers scatter-tied to portions of his/her naturally occurring fur coat.  For purposes of better imagining (understanding that imagination is weak these days):


The literal start of the story or “ACT I”:  Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, part-time mad scientist (freelance), full-time White House veterinarian, backup backup White House Press Secretary (in cases of emergency), walking along the sidewalk outside the White House gates, walking through the gates, walking up to the White House side door (not smoking cigarettes, never smoking cigarettes), crawling through the doggy slip (as has been instructed of Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein), petting Lily-Anne.

“Dr. Zjockenstein!  So glad you could make it on such short notice.”

President John C. President (henceforth President President), obviously excited, moving his limbs as if relieved (said movement involving a lamentable slow-flapping of the arms in conjunction with the off-timed rise and fall of the legs).

“Lily-Anne, do you mind fetching me some cold lemonade?  I’d like two ice cubes.”

“Of course, dear.”

Once Lily-Anne’s out of ear-shot:

“As you can tell, I need new lungs.”

For weak imaginations, what it means to appear, visibly, to need new lungs:

 

“My presidential medical staff, every last one of them, is out golfing—out smacking whiffle balls—on the lawn of the National Mall.  Can you imagine it?  One hundred and fifty men, all in scrubs, riffing whiffle balls back and forth with their nine irons.  Supposed to be catered, too.  Apparently, they’ve had it scheduled for months.

“I figured, you’re a doctor, and I’m not much different than Gertrude, can you fix me up?”

Fastforward:  President President laid out atop the kitchen bar, opened wide, the presidential children swinging in their chairs—chairs anchored to the underside of the bar—licking ice cream, and Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein removing President President’s presidential lungs, both gleaming pink and dripping red, replacing them with two medium-sized duffle bags.  Duct tape until tomorrow, when the actual presidential medical staff—the designated drivers—are available for stitching and things.

“Dr. Zjockenstein, I’ve never had better.  Honest!  See, your focus work with African elephants paid off!  Now do you mind checking out Gertrude?  Her heart-guard pill?  Her liver pill?  Her anti-anxiety medication?  Taking her for a walk?”

“Don’t forget her presidential affiliation medication, dear.”

“That’s right, almost slipped my mind (President President, well known for the memory of a wet soap bar)—thanks Lily-Anne!—and her presidential affiliation medication.  Of course, you’re plenty familiar with all that—though this is Gertrude we’re talking about here, can’t be too careful.”

The presidential children immediately, at the hint of concern for Gertrude, abandoning their seats swinging at the kitchen bar, their ice cream cones, crowding Gertrude with affectionate hugs and kisses, imploring Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein:  “You’ll take care of Gertrude won’t you Dr. Z?  Please Dr. Z, we couldn’t bear not having sweet Gertrude.  Please Dr. Z.”

They’re sweet kids, the presidential children, honestly.  They should be in films.

Subsequently, Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein walking Gertrude, a petty Lab with red, white and blue tinsel extensions weaved into her leg hair (you know what a dog looks like, right?  An American dog?  American dogs are Labradors.), property, officially, of the White House.

Does it matter that all of the Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockensteins, deteriorating the way they are, corpsing, does it matter to this narrative that they (and/or he/she), in transit back from the National Zoo, are powwowing with zoo protesters; that, in secret meetings, Zjockenstein(s) is (are) an outspoken proponent of subversive de-zooifying techniques (Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein(s) cannot speak?)?

Later in the week, the same presidential workweek:  President President manhandling fiscal policy like a champ.  Joking it up with his secret service manlies (a hyper batch; boys bodied as men (mostly)).  They are secret servicing him aggressively (inwardly), they are secret servicing him casually (outwardly).

President President on the cellular phone (flip-style):

“Dr. Zjockenstein?  Is this Dr. Zjockenstein?  Dr. Zjockenstein!  Can you be here soon?  At the White House.”

After completing his phone call, President President’s secret service manlies applaud him generously, some resorting even to ‘hooting’ and ‘hollering’ when he’s flipped closed his cellular phone.

In reference to the previous section of narrative in which “President President [is] manhandling fiscal policy like a champ.”  A visual depiction, again, for weak imaginations:

 

Later in the day, the same presidential workday (depicted earlier with the phone call: “Dr. Zjockenstein?…”) or “ACT II”:  “I don’t know exactly how this happened—Heavens! If I would’ve known, why I, I—but it appears anyway that my White House Press Secretary and my backup White House Press Secretary, both of them are tied up tonight.  One’s daughter has a thing, and the other one is good friends with the one’s daughter and so, too, is attending the aforementioned thing.”

President President pausing, working out the dual relationship to the thing in his head.  Quits (aforementioned thinking of the aforementioned thing).

“So anyway, I’ve got a room full of press in the back, they’re in the garage actually, and I need someone to announce my new motorcycle.  I bought a Yamaha.  Yamaha’s patriotic, right?  American?  Just yesterday I saw the most beautiful man on the television, he was wearing dark sunglasses and he had this magnificent black mustache.  Most American thing I’ve seen in years, this guy.  It was almost as American as the bear I saw eating a lit firecracker in Yellowstone (the catalyst, it is suspected, for President President’s successful bid for the White House in which he toured the country feeding firecrackers to the captive bears of local zoos).  And he was riding—(President President famously placing the palm of his hand over the receiver of his cellular phone in order to address Gertrude): Gertrude.  Gertrude!  No, get out of the garbage receptacle this instant.  Down!  Good girl—he was riding a Yamaha.  At least it feels like he was riding a Yamaha, how he was straddling it.  Anyway, are you up to it?  Presenting it to the press? ….The Yamaha motorcycle I just bought.”

Fastforward:  Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein in a tuxedo unveiling the Yamaha under spotlight, presenting the Yamaha, cameras flashing, one hand on the hip, the other hand, appropriately, elegantly, guiding attention to the features of the Yamaha: handlebars, seat, wheels, fenders, engine.

For weak imaginations (some American readers not having experience imagining Yamaha motorcycles):

Later, tie off:  Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein analyzing Labrador lab results from the presidential Labrador, Gertrude, at home after work (nearly the weekend), checking [his/her/their] email inbox: new messages from Lily-Anne (What!?).

For weak imaginations, and for those unfamiliar with the modern appearance of the Hotmail emailing platform (a not uncommon choice among men and women of an evil disposition (a subset of which requiring an electronic mailing apparatus of an equally evil quality)):

 

Is it important that, for this narrative, Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein’s mother, Monte Jane President, is revealed to be the mother also of John C. President—President John C. President (President President)—and that of the Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockensteins, the primary Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, the Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein participating in both the Official White House Press Release on President President’s New Yamaha (ACT II) and President President’s near fatal (we didn’t tell you?), but ultimately successful lung transplant (ACT I), is not the same Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein as the Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein that rounds out the final portion of this narrative and that that Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein (the final, rounding-out-the-lastly-narrative-portion-one or “ACT III”) is, roughly, the same age as President President, and so is, one assumes, President President’s fraternal twin?

An illustration of the potential confusion that this may produce (arguably) in the reader (if the reader is sorely in lack of imagination and, in that state of lack, cannot decipher the appropriate level of potential confusion that could be considered in the wake of the immediately preceding statements of potential fact):

 

Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, ever falling apart, sneakily procuring a double report of the Labrador lab results: a botched copy for the president, a copy for Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, the lab results having particular significance in the research and development of Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein’s key part-time evil planning (contain yourself, the evil plan is forthcoming—you evil fiend).

Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein cooking up some wizardry, some frigid lightless concoction, some disharmonic pantheon-crushing maelstrom, some dark gorgeous venture.  Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein fielding evil phone calls, bragging to his evil colleagues (silently?)—

Grendel: “O, M, G—you didn’t!  You did!  A copy of the Labrador lab results?!”

Gollum: “You’ve always been a sly fiend, Zjockenstein, I’ll give you that.  A sly fiend…”

Gaga: “Honestly, I don’t know.  I’m sure Beyoncé will get over it, but I’d watch out for Jay.  You know how Hova’s been mothering Brooklyn.”

—Excuse us, please, for suspending once again the progress of the story-telling.  We understand that you love story-telling.  As do we.  But: according to our findings, sponsored by the International Imagination Conglomerate of Cincinnati (IICC)(as reputable an organization as they come), the information we have just revealed (prior to the image on the previous page—what that image was attempting to illustrate the effect of when said information collided with the average readerly imagination—secret information as of yet not approved for consumption in the non-italicized portions of this narrative (at least semi-secret information) that has been known to alter the perceptions of some readers, causing them to recalculate their previously imagined concepts of what Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein(s) looks like in relation to President President.  This is an imaginative error.  Don’t look back.  You had it right the first time, we promise.  Here, consider this: how Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein (singular, in this instance) looks on the telephone (poor little weak imaginations—so weak—can you even translate words at all?):

 

(Similar recalculated imaginings are expected to retroactively impact images described in this text in conjunction with the claymation and live action versions of Evil! Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein!! (Both versions in post production; The Malleable Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein and Evil? Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein? Respectively (their current working titles)).  Participants in test screenings have been noted to comment on how President President is described too dissimilarly to Ryan Gosling in the text and to contend with Gertrude’s depiction as a Labrador (a Schnauzer in the claymation).)

Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, ever self aware, catching himself becoming overly excited, resigning himself to the basement, his goat-horned conglomerate scotch taping him up where his corpsable areas are in advanced stages of corpsing.

Renewing him.  Relaxing him.  Reviving him.

Pumping him up with some Van Halen.

Coaching him in advance of him completing his evil plan.

A sneak peak: the evil plan (as translated and transcribed by non-evil, narratorial hands for consumption by your average readerly fiend (your average reader naturally tending toward evil and therefore well conditioned for—though not quite fully—the casual—but still intense—pleasure of understanding and following an evil plan in progress): 

Hoohaw!  Evil evil evil, now now now!  Diabolical, crucifyingly burdensome, excruciatingly malevolent, maddeningly unholy, demented, socialistically inclined, but with a negative bent (as is socialism proper, of course—America!), anarchy, destruction—Mwaa Ha Ha Ha—death death death, evil evil evil, now now now!

Ahem.

That, perhaps, was not Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein’s plan after all (or what the group of them—each Zjock Zjockenstein—had mutually considered), that being, we assume, a narratorial lapse in judgment, a reflection of the narration itself, perhaps.  We slap our own wrists two, no three times.  We beg you: forgive us!  Trust us!  We kneel and plead!   We can’t bear mistrust!  We want your heart!  Your soul!

Oh, thank you for coming around (gratitude contingent upon your continued reading)…

Your prize (“ACT III”: Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein’s true, evil plan):  Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein’s going to mess up Gertrude.

Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, suited in meat, dripping—an amoral stench—as tall as evil gets (quite tall in fact), as wide as evil gets (a fair bit wide), checking the tire pressure of his bicycle, making sure he has plenty of water (that’s not water), a putrid note humming in his throat (a massive throat), breathing slowly in, breathing slowly out, mad scientisting madly, the late hour, Bunsen burners burning Bunsen-appropriate combustibles, processing further the zippy, bubbling, mordantly-indentured amalgam.

Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, so evil that he doesn’t even think of President President’s family: of Lily-Anne, of the kids (all 3 to 5 of them, always anchored and swinging at the kitchen bar, licking ice cream), of President John C. President himself (Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein’s own twin brother (possibly)), how the lot of them will swell noticeably around the place where they keep their eyes, how they will dispense salt-liquids therefrom, each hovering over the body, choking the way salt-water dispensing persons choke, sucking with their noses the substances salt-water dispensing persons generate from their noses, the whole scene of it blitzed with flashing camera bulbs, strobe whites pinging off their backs while in huddle formation, Gertrude’s paws visible in the photos, the leg tinsel twinkling between the gaps in their legs, but not the rest of Gertrude, the garbled portions, the particulars mutated into the roots of the eastside White House trees.

Understanding that this does not always translate (imaginatively) to what Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein (the group of them, if there is more than one) is not imagining:

Actually, you’ll excuse us if we ask you to re-read the paragraph: our hands are tired…

Beginning of new presidential workweek: Monday: Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockerstein (which one?), part-time mad scientist (freelance), full-time White House veterinarian, backup backup White House Press Secretary (in cases of emergency), walking along the sidewalk outside the White House gates, walking through the gates, walking up to the White House side door (shoulders visibly smoking), crawling through the doggy slip (Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein), petting Lily-Anne.

And President President, his familiar voice: “Doctor Zjockenstein…it’s Getrude…her tinsel is falling out!  Can you help her?”

Tuesday: Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockerstein (if there are more than one, do they alternate?), part-time mad scientist (full-timing it lately), full-time White House veterinarian (weekdays), backup White House Press Secretary (promoted after his eloquence in dealing with President President’s Yamaha), walking along the sidewalk outside the White House gates, walking through the gates, walking up to the White House side door (smoking cigarettes), crawling through the doggy slip (expertly), petting Lily-Anne.

And Lily-Anne: “President President’s out at a conference today…”

Wednesday: Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockerstein, mad scientist, full-time White House veterinarian, Lily-Anne’s official mistress(es), backup White House Press Secretary (pretty much the Official White House Press Secretary after President President’s conference drinking issues get bungled up in transmission), jogging along the sidewalk in downtown Washington DC, entering a hotel, checking in under the name Susan Lincoln Washington (Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein, you dog!), petting Lily-Anne (smoking cigarettes, afterward).

(The presidential children, licking ice cream, swinging in their seats at the presidential bar: “Dr. Z, what is that you’re feeding Gertrude?  Where is our mother?”)

Thursday: Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockerstein (the evilest one), mad, full-time White House veterinarian (has been for several terms for multiple presidencies), White House Press Secretary (it seems to be a state of emergency), ducking along the sidewalk outside the White House gates (the White House heavy with Thursday paparazzi), jumping the back gate (the secret service manlies preoccupied in video gaming with President President), walking up to the White House back door (virtually a figure of smoke), using the door handle (how he has been waiting for this day), petting Gertrude.

Sneaking back out with Gertrude.

Burying Gertrude before the transformation becomes apparent.

And President President, jovially, having just creamed his secret service manlies in a Call of Duty tournament (or so he has been led to believe), addressing the captain: “Kyle, I’ve been thinking—or talking with my wife, rather—do you think that Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockenstein is evil?”

If you feel you need to imagine Kyle (you don’t):

 

Friday: Evil Doctor Zjock Zjockerstein, sleeping in, weekending early (he’s accrued an unholy amount of vacation hours), full-time White House veterinarian, no longer White House Press Secretary (his/her silence proving less helpful in this occupation), responding finally to Lily-Anne’s emails using his laptop (breaking up is hard to do), watching the television, every channel broadcasting the commotion, it being quite the to do, what is happening on the eastside White House lawn today, under the trees.

Imaginations, we are told, are not unfamiliar with TV screens (an aspect of their downfall, some say); however, Doctor Zjockenstein owns a particular model, and so, what it appears like when he is watching when it is unfolding (distance imagined from the recliner):

 

Imaginations, we are told, simply can’t understand at that range what is happening on the television.  So, a closer view:

 

Later, after the reanimated Gertrude is subdued:

“John, see, I told you you shouldn’t have hired an evil doctor.”

Rehired, Lily, rehired.  He’s been on staff for years!”

————————

Nick Francis Potter is still married. He currently writes and draws things in Providence, RI where he is making friends. His stories have appeared in Caketrain and >kill author, criticism at The Collagist.  Also, the “potential confusion” illustration featured in this story was actually drawn by Nick’s son, Atlas (age 2).