StoryQuarterly 49 (FULL).pdf - StoryQuarterly RUTGERS UNIVERSITY-CAMDEN � Publisher Rutgers University–Camden Editor Paul Lisicky Senior Contributing

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Unformatted text preview: StoryQuarterly RUTGERS UNIVERSITY-CAMDEN  Publisher: Rutgers University–Camden Editor: Paul Lisicky Senior Contributing Editor: M.M.M. Hayes Senior Advisory Editors: J.T. Barbarese, Tyler Hoffman Senior Associate Editors: Lauren Grodstein, Jayne Anne Phillips, Patrick Rosal, Lisa Zeidner Managing Editor: Stephanie Manuzak Associate Editor: Kevin Klinskidorn Editorial Assistants: Katie Bennett, Rebecca Grubb, Sean Lynch Readers: Katy Callahan, Kate Catinella, Deena ElGenaidi, James Faccinto, Shannon Fandler, Micaiah Johnson, Sarah Kennedy, Patrick Lamothe, Nina Lary, Tim Lynch, Sarah Mikulis, Monidipa Mondal, Alex Ruiz, Stacey Quinn Seidl, Gregory Lee Sullivan, Shelby Vittek, Brock Warren, Mariam Williams Founding Editors: Pam Painter, Tom Bracken, F.R. Katz, Thalia Selz, Delores Weinberg StoryQuarterly, founded in 1975, is a literary journal published by Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. We welcome submissions only through our submissions portal, which is available at . rutgers.edu. We no longer accept hard copy or surface-mailed submissions. Any opinions expressed in this magazine are not necessarily the opinions of the staff. For subscriptions, please visit us online. For all other correspondence, email the editors at [email protected] © 2016 by StoryQuarterly, Inc. All rights reserved. StoryQuarterly Department of English 311 North Fifth Street Armitage Hall Rutgers University Camden, NJ 08102 Book design by Jaime Watson Cover design by Kevin Klinskidorn Contents Letter From the Editor 7 Fiction Martin Fulmer  9 Garth Greenwell 31 Brian Booker 47 Vanessa Norton 77 Chris Shortsleeve 89 Derek Palacio 103 Nafissa Thompson-Spires 117 The Herbarium of Edwin Calhoun Cleanness Brace for Impact Never-Nada Newark Science Pupil Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology Prize Winner, 2015 Fiction Contest Amanda Leduc Wild Life 129 First Runner-up, 2015 Fiction Contest J. Bowers Based On A True Story Second Runner-up, 2015 Fiction Contest 143 161 Sabrina Jaszi 169 Bonnie Nadzam 181 Lex Williford 237 Pitchaya Sudbanthad 267 Peter Gadol 287 Nancy J. Allen 303 Meredith Luby 311 Paul Maliszewski 313 Stephen Dixon The Aging Rockstar The Time in Paradise A Good Green Switch from Mrs. Sauerwein’s Willow Monsters Friend Request Heishe The Smell of Salt Question Holding On Nonfiction 17 Meehan Crist 21 Jenny Boully 10-pointers Instant Life Kelle Groom 63 Brian Blanchfield  185 Emilia Phillips 195 From How to Cure a Fright On the Ingénue, Permitting Shame, Error and Guilt, Myself the Single Source Excisions Prize Winner, 2015 Nonfiction Contest Rachel Yoder There Is No House 209 First Runner-up, 2015 Nonfiction Contest Drew Krepp Lost in Sight of Land 219 Second Runner-up, 2015 Nonfiction Contest Dickson Lam 255 Emily Raboteau 263 About the Contributors 317 Sitting on the Toilet in the Alley Is the Hugger Who Waits for the Drunk Ear Picker to Bring the Red Bean Soup A Walk in Harlem Letter From the Editor A cedar shake, a cobblestone, a standpipe, a stand of bamboo: Petey pulls me from point to point through the island town, stopping every three feet. It is his first trip away from home, away from the Cape, thirty miles on the other side of the Sound. I am taking care of him while his human is away for Thanksgiving. I am as devoted to Petey as much as I’ve been devoted to any dog of my own, but today he is wearing me out. So far I have done a commendable job of not losing my patience. “The problem with the humandog relationship,” I say to my friend, Dawn, as Petey sniffs the pant cuff of a handsome bearded man, “is that we don’t have their access to smell. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a nose like that? How would our lives change?” This makes Dawn laugh, but I am completely serious. I don’t mind giving up some of my power to Petey. What I mind is being left out of the fun. We move on. The leash goes taut once again, and I am jerked along until my wrist aches. I grind my heels into the pavement. “He could pull me right over,” I say with awe, then turn the leash over to Dawn. It is good to be able to swing my arms for a bit. I like not having to worry about whether I’ll ever be able to use my hand again, until I see the look of suppressed terror in Dawn’s eyes and realize I am not being a good friend. I take back the leash. At some point, after we have been walking for hours, it occurs to me that Petey is reading. Not just reading wrappers or leaves or errant splashes, but reading me. He must feel my worry. He must sense that I’m not sure this day trip to the island was the smartest idea for all concerned. By pulling on the leash he is emphasizing our relationship. He is pulling even at the cost of hurting himself, hurting me, but maybe he finds that safer than relaxing the leash. We cannot take each other for granted. Our senses stay at full attention, so much so that when we board the ferry back to the mainland, we both slump in exhaustion: my eyes fill up; Petey, usually the sweetest boy, growls at the baby held high by her father for display. “Damn baby,” someone says, projecting onto Petey, and half the boat laughs. It seems to me that the stories I like best hurt a little. They drag me along, and I feel them bodily, all the way up to the base of my neck. Sometimes they tire me. They require too much work and attention when I’d rather just 7 sit on a bench, eyes fastened to the face of my phone. And yet when I put a good story aside, I want it back. I want the delight of being tethered to another body, its eyes, nostrils, ears, mouth, skin. I want the disorientation, the challenges to the way I think and move and feel. The cage of its bones: what is it like to live in there? Is it warm, cold? Does it feel like home? I trust that you’ll find some of those stories and essays in this issue. Paul Lisicky November 28, 2015 8 StoryQuarterly Martin Fulmer The Herbarium of Edwin Calhoun Edwin Calhoun became a new species of marsh plant after stranding himself while collecting wildflowers for his taxonomy class. He walked into the marsh because he needed an herbarium, with which he hoped to impress his professor, Dr. Pender, whom he admired. She was the oldest and smartest professor in the botany department and required students to identify, diagram, and preserve native flora in a collection like a portfolio. To make an herbarium, Ed needed plants. They couldn’t be just any old plants, either, because Dr. Pender scoffed at cultivated species. He would need wild plants, so Ed waved goodbye to his mother, the Baptist, who stood on the front porch waving, weeping like he was going off to war. She was leaving, too, to wait tables at the restaurant. He told her not to let anyone cuss her out over food because she did not deserve that treatment. She said she would try. Ed left and walked down the street to the public access entrance of the beach. He walked the strand until he reached the other side of the island past the lighthouse, which was fifty feet from shore in ten feet of water, and continued into the marsh where he hiked around by the brackish creeks hunting for the right specimens. He followed a creek as it dug its way through the mud. Green reeds stood like spikes by the water. The air smelled of salt. A fiddler crab scuttled into a hole in the mud. Ed gathered various grasses to identify later because he failed to bring along his field guide. No matter, the task would provide a diversion later, the thought of which pleased him. Duck boots also made Ed happy, and the tops of his pants were tucked into his favorite pair, which kept his feet and ankles dry. Being dry in the wetlands was not easy, and in fact sweat sheathed his body from foot to crown. There was no path, only a channel snaking through the grasses. The water branched off here to the left, and there to the right so that he figured he would have to make a loop to get back to his house. A map had seemed completely unnecessary, and when he thought of it, he doubted there would be maps of marshes since no roads existed here. That someone might have mapped the creeks never crossed his mind. Instead, plants grew wild in his head. A plum colored hue spread like a Fulmer 9 10 bruise across the sky, but he did not notice because his eyes were fixed on the ground and plants in front of his feet. When rain poured, he could not find his way out of the marsh. He was stuck in the storm, where he looked one way and saw the creek curve through reeds and disappear behind a curtain of rain. When he looked the other way, he saw the same. He could not tell north from south or east from west. Every scrub palm looked the same, like it needed a haircut. With each step, his boots sank deeper into the mud, which seemed to suck at his heels until he stood knee-deep. He felt drained, too weary to pull his feet up. Ed thought about it and decided to wait because as a boy he was told: when lost, do not move. He had learned this from his mother, who conceived Ed with a traveling salesman. The salesman refused to be a part of their lives. Ed’s mother said there were few worse men than one who moved around and could not settle, so Ed settled. With these thoughts of his mother, Ed listened to the thunder. Above Ed’s head, the clouds poured on the bog. There was the salt and the gassy sweet scent of mud. His mother would be worried when he did not show up for supper. She was a fearful woman and would call the police who would come looking for Ed and save him. Ed remembered his last lab with Dr. Pender, during which they learned to identify a plant by dissecting its flower. To do this, he put his plant on a table that stood waist high. He unwrapped his plant from the folded paper in which he had it stored. The plant lay on the black table in a swath of sunlight, which felt warm on Ed’s hand. The air of the botany lab reeked of what he thought must be formaldehyde. The dissection kit was in a drawer under the tabletop. Sunlight flashed off the scalpel as Ed cut open the flower. The key was to leave intact the flower’s inner components. To do so required a steady hand. When finished, Dr. Pender came by to show him how to use the field guide. The flower belonged to a plant commonly called black grass, species name Juncus gerardi. Then Ed sketched the flower’s stamen because Dr. Pender required a floral diagram. To cure the plant, Ed placed it on a separate sheet of construction paper, which he folded in half to press the plant flat. Once pressed, the paper was placed on a rack in the convection chamber. Then the convection chamber worked overnight. Ed’s black grass was there now in the lab, which on a Saturday, would be locked up. He wondered if the convection StoryQuarterly chamber was still turned on or not. But he did not wonder long because the rain began to pour heavier on the marsh. Time slowed. Each raindrop struck him like a hammer on a resonant wire. The minor melody lulled him to sleep. When he woke, it was dark and rainy still. No point in looking out at the night, he reasoned, and closed his eyes again. Nightmares visited his restless sleep. In one, he was entombed in a box, and a stranger who was his father took the box from a car trunk. The stranger tried to sell the box door-to-door in a never-ending suburban neighborhood. No one would buy. In another, Ed was strapped to a chair while a loud drill sergeant smacked him repeatedly and called him pathetic. Then his mother was whipping him for trying to run away. She refused to help him buy a car, on the grounds he would leave her, and Ed had no job because no one would hire him without reliable transportation. He rode a rusty bike to the college despite his mother’s admonition. * When he woke in the morning, the pluff mud had sucked him down to his waist. The sound of hunger croaked from his stomach. There would be a rescue squad, he reckoned, and he ate a plant that looked like skinny lettuce while water dripped from his bangs into his eyes. Ed wiped his face and thought the plant was probably searocket. When he did not throw up, he ate more and wanted butter badly. For water, he sucked at the stems of the nearby rushes and reeds. He licked the air and watched the seaside sparrows flit, heard the honking of low flying ducks. Hours seemed to pass. Rescuers never came. When he grew restless, he struggled to rise up and pushed himself partway out of his hole. The mud sucked at Ed’s legs, covered them up to his knees. When he managed to lift a leg out, he heard the eponymous “pluff” sound. He ripped off his boot to shake out the mud while he stood like a crane on one leg. His balance faltered and his foot hit the ground, so he had to take off his sock. Then he stood barefoot on an oyster shell that cut his arch. He sat, grabbed his foot, and squeezed, which seemed to relieve the pain a bit. Fulmer 11 12 Ed tore a strip from his t-shirt and wrapped his wound. When the wound began to clot, his foot grew a thick, black crust. After deciding his struggle to rise had been a mistake, he dug a hole and smeared the displaced mud on his arms and face to protect his skin from burn and bugs. The hole filled with water to about two feet. He planted his gimpy foot in the hole remembering something about the healing properties of salt water, thinking the pluff mud would be a coagulant. The scab grew down and blacker, seemed to absorb the earth. He planted his other foot. As Ed’s feet sank deeper, he learned to breathe with his knees, to drink with his feet. His bones, like xylem, carried water from his root to his crown. His blood, like phloem, transported minerals from the mud into his tissues. While his lower self sank deeper, his upper parts stretched toward the sky. The phloem and xylem thickened his skin, and his palms spread like fans to photosynthesize sunlight. His hair grew Spanish mossy, draping his shoulders and arms, which helped prevent the burn. Night covered the marsh. A drizzle fell as Ed’s head throbbed. He poked out his parched tongue to catch a few drops. The wind blew in gusts. The wetlands seemed full of the sound of breathing. An owl flew overhead like a shadow. A silver crowned heron glided through the humid air. Then Ed passed out in the mud, slept a fitful night. In a dream, he found himself in bed at his mother’s bedraggled bungalow. An alarm clock screamed, over and over and over and over no matter how many times Ed hit the snooze button. His mother stormed in and called him lazy. “But you told me not to be moving around all the time,” Ed said. “Lord knows I didn’t mean you should sleep your life away,” she said. “Turn that blamed noise off fore I lose my mind.” Ed reached from under his blankets and pulled the plug from the wall. There was silence. His mother said, “Now get up and go get a job.” “I need a car for that.” “Don’t need a car to get a job.” “What about school?” “What good is college anyway? Waste of time and makes you think you’re better than me. You go off and spend money you don’t have, debt piling up. That’s all it is, a bunch of liars out to enslave you with debt. They say you can StoryQuarterly make more money, but I sure don’t see how when you just come out with nothing but a piece of paper and a load of money to pay back. Why you want to do that?” “I want to be well-rounded.” “Lay about some more and you’ll be round, all right.” Ed decided to argue no more. She waited on businessmen all her life, and he watched them treat her like a servant. “Servant of the Lord,” she liked to say. But Ed had not seen the Lord in all his life. Instead, he saw his mother cry when a man refused to tip her because she was not fast enough to satisfy him. He saw her cry plenty over such nonsense in his nineteen years. So Ed decided he would never work a job where people demeaned and belittled him, and he found that plants were never as cruel as customers. When he told her he would be a botanist, she cried that he would go away and leave her like his daddy did. * He startled awake in the morning to find gnats swarming his face; they flew into his nose as he breathed because the rain had washed away his mud layer. The sun rose and burned away the last of the rainclouds. He had dug his hole on a bank above the creek where the grasses and rushes swallowed him. He remembered Dr. Pender, his botany professor, plucking a gnat from the air, eating it and saying, “Nothing but protein, nothing but protein,” licking her chapped lips—had something to do with her pitcher plant lesson. Thus, Ed swallowed the bugs that flew into his mouth, as if he were some kind of insectivore. Now, he decided, he would do without his mud covering and let the bugs come. He would eat them. The more still he became, the calmer his mind grew until his inner chatter was silenced. He could hear the ducks, the egrets, the herons, and the swallows. He sensed the movement of the creek and tides. The fiddler crabs, the snails, and the worms all seemed like better versions of himself. With these thoughts, Ed wondered: What was the point of a solitary life? The point seemed to be to give yourself up as food to some other life form. No, he was delirious. He saw things that may or may not have been there: a Fulmer 13 14 dog, a rat, a woman in silhouette. The woman looked like the shape of Dr. Pender; her tilted head conveyed the same disapproval as the fists on her hips. “A way out,” he tried to say. “Help.” When the sun was high above, Ed stared at its light with infrared sight. Ed saw Dr. Pender, red against the cool green waves of the water, reflected on the sun-spangled creek. Moving seemed impossible. The mud held him fast. He hated not to do for himself, hated to feel so helpless. His legs stretched deep, his toes spread out. No matter how he strained, he could not uproot himself, not even for Dr. Pender. She murmured above the trickling of the creek. Her brown eyes were clear, her white hair washed and flowing. She had a look on her face he interpreted as full of admonishment, and he deserved it, he thought, for being such a lazy sap. With the tide rising, Ed wondered if he would drown. A muggy wind could not cool the heat of the pluff mud, which seemed to exhale steam. He perspired with the sulfur stink of anaerobic marsh bacteria. As he sweltered, he watched while crabs fiddled and burrowed in the earth. Snails piddled and dug out of sight. Worms wriggled and fled from the heat. All the woolly clouds of the previous day had abandoned the sky and refused to dampen the sun. Ed thought he might never escape as his tiny marsh neighbors had done, and he prepared to die as a failure: failing to learn, failing to complete his herbarium, failing to survive in the end. He was like a scrubby plant that would not grow to fruition. He withered and drooped, and just when he was about to pass out Dr. Pender appeared to cross the creek. The human shape looked red and yellow with the gait of Dr. Pender, wading in the water waist deep until she stood at the edge of the near bank. Ed saw she wore a floppy hat and hip boots, which were dark green. She climbed up the bank, approached Ed, knelt and fondled his limbs in the manner of a botanist identifying a plant. And the marsh grasses rustled, the short shrubs spread. Then Dr. Pender dug him from his spot and wrapped him in paper before placing him in her bag. She carried him out of the marsh and put him in the back seat of the car. While Dr. Pender was driving, Ed dreamed of his mother, who asked, “Do you know how long you was gone?” “I was out there five years,” said Ed. StoryQuarterly “You was there for three days,” his mom told him. “You left to hunt plants the other day. I was there. You was doing your homework instead of looking for a job.” “What about my herbarium? I still have to finish that project I was working on.” “Oh, you can’t work your projects no more, Ed. You have to be still now, like all plants do.” “But I don’t want to be a plant. I’m going to have my PhD ...
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