Gun Shy

by Kate Jones

First Place Personal Essay

I remember when they got the pheasant stuffed. I didn’t think it was ugly or scary or anything, just a beautiful shiny-green, shiny-red bird with very soft feathers. After Dad hung the mounting on Dan’s wall, I used to go into his room and stroke the bird and watch Dan play video games. He always told me to be careful because I might ruin it. I didn’t understand how you could ruin a bird that was already dead. 

I’m not sure when I saw the pheasant last. I think it may have been when it was lying lopsided on its head, the neck bent back so the blank, shiny eyes focused on the garage floor, the soft body covered with dust. 

 

When I came back that night, I didn’t immediately realize anything was wrong. The air outside was the kind of bitter that makes your eyebrows freeze the second you step into it. It was a perfectly clear December night, one where the moon and stars are cold white nuggets strategically placed in a comfortless black blanket. I gingerly tapped the steps with my toes before I put any weight on them because those are the nights when black ice might kill people. I jiggled the door, my warm hand freezing to the metal handle. Kicking off my shoes, I stepped inside the house that was golden with Christmas Eve anticipation. I shivered in the new warmth and announced my arrival home. 

It was a good day. My parents let me take the car illegally to deliver my Christmas presents, and so I was on a kind of high from my new found freedom. In my thick socks I walked to the kitchen where I found Holley seasoning the raw salmon. I shook off my coat. I looked around for my dad and my stepmother. 

“Where are Dad and Lorraine?” I asked. 

A brief panic crossed her eyes, but she just kept parsleying the pan of fish. “Dan got sick again, and they took him back to Salt Lake.” 

“Oh.” I snitched a carrot from the relish tray and sat on the pine bench in our large kitchen. Holley wrapped foil around the fish and stuck it in the oven while I sat there eating my carrot. Finally I asked, “What happened?” 

“They don’t know, but Dad doesn’t think they’ll be back tonight. After what happened last time, Dr. Bjorkman said not to take him to Logan Regional under any conditions. Could you go check on Ryan and Scott for me?” 

“Sure.” I stole another carrot on my way out of the kitchen. The carrots were very sweet. 

I found the boys playing in the basement, and they taught me a game where we threw tennis balls at each other. Ryan especially liked it when he hit Scott in the head. 

“Katie?” Annie called. 

“Yeah?” 

“Come here for a sec.” I took the stairs two at a time and found her and Holley waiting. 

“Yeah?” I said again. 

“Dad just called and said Dan’s going to be fine but he needs to stay in the hospital again. He and Lorraine aren’t going to be home until early tomorrow morning, so we’re just going to do Christmas Eve without them,” Annie informed me. 

“Okay.” 

“Are you okay?” Holley asked. 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “Just hungry, I guess.” I was, I think. 

 

Christmas was a disappointment as usual. Not a terrible disappointment. I just didn’t really get anything I was hoping for. I don’t even remember what I wanted, just something other than what I got. This is typical and I should prepare myself not to expect anything. But then snow starts to fall, and I think about all the things I’d like, only to be disappointed again. 

I sat in the green leather chair, reading. I felt overstuffed and stale from the remains of Christmas excitement. 

“Hey, baby.” I looked up as Dad walked through the door and held out his hand. 

“Hi,” I said, grabbing it. “Coming with us to Salt Lake today?” he asked me. 

“I thought I’d go skiing this afternoon,” I said, knowing that was the wrong thing to say. 

“Your brother is lying in the hospital with a tube in his throat and you are too selfish to take a second out of your day to go see him. Where did you come from?” Yeah, that was the wrong thing to say. 

See, the thing is, I hate hospitals and I hate seeing people I know in them. It’s not that I didn’t love Dan or anything; I just didn’t want to see him with a tube in his throat. But I didn’t want the “where did I get such snobs for children?” lecture either, so I said, “Okay, I’ll go.” 

“Get your shoes on. We’ll leave in ten minutes.” He scratched my head, and I squeezed his hand with mine for the two seconds it rested in my hair. 

The drive seemed shorter than usual. I think that’s how it is when you have to do something you don’t want to, like debate in a tournament or see your dying brother. The more you don’t want it to come, the quicker it does, and you feel like you’re trying to firmly grasp something like a wriggling trout just pulled off the fly. 

We walked into the room Dan shared with his co-colitis patient, separated from us by a flimsy blue curtain. Dan’s six-foot-three frame was sunken taut around the bones, and a lump crept into the back of my mouth. Lorraine said that on Christmas Eve he weighed 110 pounds – as much as I weigh. I’m five two. 

“Hey,” he said, attempting a smile. “Dad said you didn’t want to come see me.” 

I tried to smile back. “That’s okay. I wouldn’t want to see me either.” 

He was watching Star Wars, and the only thought in my mind was how I’d never seen that movie before. 

“I’ve never seen Star Wars before,” I said. 

“We’ll have to watch it when I get home.” I nodded and sank into a disinfectant-scented chair in the dim room while Han Solo and Chewbacca argued about Luke’s safety or some equally pressing issue. 

I don’t know how long we were there, but we were well into Empire Strikes Back when we left. Lorraine had some “business” to take care of in Salt Lake, so we agreed to take Dad’s car home. Dad would drive Dan’s Pathfinder back to Logan. 

“Do you want me to unpack it?” Dad asked my brother. The car contained everything Dan owned. 

“No, that’s okay. I’ll do it when I get home.” 

“All right, Bucko. Feel better, okay? We love you.” 

“Love you, too.” He closed his eyes, and we slipped out the door. 

Once Lorraine and I shut our doors and waved Dad on, she turned to me and asked, “So … where should we go shopping?” 

I knew this was her “business” all along. A girl gets a sense for her mother-figure’s intentions. 

“I could maybe look at prom dresses,” I suggested. 

My stepsister worked at Nordstrom, and we went to see her. She helped us find the dresses, and I tried on a burgundy crepe and silk dress that came with a scarf and was only forty dollars. Lorraine thought we should buy it because you never know when you’ll need a dress. I guess you never do. 

It was dark when we started home. Lorraine pulled Dad’s cell phone out of her purse and handed it to me so I could tell him we were on our way. 

 

When I was little, Dad used to always hum a song that never had words, at least in his world. He would start to sing it with lots of “ta, ta, ta”s, draw his arms close to his body, bent at the elbow, and shake one hand and leg at a time to the beat of his “music.” I think this is when the seeds of my extraordinary dancing abilities were planted. One day he and Mom took me to see Big River, and I learned where his little song came from. I turned to him in the darkened theater and smiled, and he smiled back. Sometimes he would walk into the kitchen after work and lay his briefcase on the table and start to sing. He’d take Mom by the hands, and they’d do the little dance together. 

One day he stopped singing and dancing to that song. I decided if he wouldn’t do it, I’d do it for him, thinking he’d like it. I drew my elbows up to my chest and began to shake my hands and feet. His eyes filled with tears, and he hugged me tight. But he never sang that song again, and neither did I. I guess there are things that just aren’t done after your wife dies. 

My dad once told me that I was the only child he really got to raise, so if he messed up, he would have hell to pay in the next life. My brother and sisters accuse me of having it so much easier than they did and tell me how he loves me more than them. But they don’t see what I see. An average workday turns into a sing-the-Metamucil-song day after Annie calls or Holley sends a note. I used to be jealous of their abilities to brighten his days like that, thinking they possessed some talent I didn’t. I reasoned he loved them more than me but knew that wasn’t true either. On the morning I left for college, I sat in the kitchen eating a bowl of Raisin Bran while he stuck two slices of bread in the toaster. 

“Why do we have a toaster that doesn’t toast?” he asked in mock anger when his bread came up white and hot. I just smiled and continued consuming my daily fiber. 

He put the bread back in the toaster and pushed the lever. It buzzed some awkward noise, and the bread came back up. He repeated this several times. 

“Why won’t this bread stay down?” he yelled. 

“Because you’re too impatient to let it cool!” I yelled back. 

“Why won’t it stay down?” he asked again. 

“Because you’re going to burn the damn house down!”

I realized what I said and began to giggle. 

He turned. “When we drive away today, I’m going to cry. I hope you know that.” 

I stood and hugged him. “I love you,” I said, my mouth muffled against his chest. 

“You’re my babiest baby,” he said back. And that was that. We don’t talk about things of emotional value in my family. I went back to my cereal; he went back to his “toast”; and I realized, after only a few weeks of being away, that I possessed my siblings’ ability, too- I could spark his day by a phone call or a visit. I think it’s because he sees my mom in us all, so his kids are kind of like a bonus pack, two for the price of one. 

Dan’s birth was special. He was the only boy, and Dad was so excited when his son was born that he bought a new car with money they didn’t have so he could take the new baby home in an off-road vehicle. When Dan could walk, my dad made sure he could fly-fish as well. He would wear little insulated overalls while Dad and Mr. Coray shot ducks from the canoe in the marshes. He made quick friends with the black labs and shot trap until he was a better marksman than our father. He got his own black puppy for his sixteenth birthday and soon thereafter killed a beautiful male bird that Mom took to a taxidermist in honor of her Ferris Beuller, as we called him. For one of Dad’s birth days, Dan gave him a photo of them when he was maybe three feet tall. My dad’s arm rested on Dan’s little shoulders while his other hand held a fishing rod. Dan’s blonde tow rested against my dad’s side and beneath the photo was a quote from A River Runs Through It: 

In the half light of the canyon all existence fades into a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River, and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it … I am haunted by waters. *

After his mission Dan learned that if he registered for university classes, Dad would give him money for tuition because he wanted him to get an education so badly. He also learned that if he dropped all his classes and disappeared for the day, he would get a lot of money and Dad would think he was at school. I don’t know if my brother thought our PhD father was stupid or what, but it didn’t take Dad long to realize what was going on. It created kind of a rift between the two of them. I think Dad always dreamed of things being like the birthday picture again when they would fish and talk and be best friends. But things sometimes happen that create a permanent divide between people you love, a divide that can never be bridged. 

I punched in the numbers on the cell phone. It rang once, twice, and then Dad picked up. 

“Hi,” I said. 

“Hi.” 

“We went shopping and ate dinner, and now we’re coming home.”

 “Okay.” 

“Are you okay?” 

He was never so sullen. “Can I talk to Lorraine?” 

I handed her the phone, and she held it to her ear. She made a lot of “mmmm-hmmmm”s and “oh”s and “oh, Paul”s. I perked my ears, trying to deduce what had just happened. She folded the phone and handed it to me so I could put it away. 

“What happened?” I asked. “Paul cleaned out Dan’s car …” she started. “And …” 

“And so I guess a few years ago, Paul gave Dan the guns they always used when he was growing up. They meant a lot to Paul — they were originally his dad’s.” 

“So…” 

“So Paul was cleaning out the car and couldn’t find the guns anywhere. He called Dan to find out where they were. I guess Dan was really tight for money awhile ago and pawned off the guns, a hundred dollars for all four of them.” 

“Oh.” I’d always hated shooting; the butt of the gun hurt my shoulder. But I knew how important it was to them. Hunting and fishing were their most important times together. Dan had let Dad down so many times before and had been forgiven generously. But this seemed to be more than Dad could handle – in a second, my brother sold the symbol of everything they had between the two of them. 

We don’t talk about the guns, just like we don’t sing and dance anymore. We don’t talk about anything of emotional value in my family. Dad still gets giddy when Dan comes home, even when he brings his live-in girlfriend, Susan, with him. They’ve talked about getting married and having kids together, and I think Dan secretly dreams of taking his own boy hunting with Steve, the dog, or fishing in Logan’s chilly river. But things have never been the same. Dad doesn’t pet black labradors. His guns stay locked in a cabinet in the attic. And a stuffed pheasant, still shiny-green and shiny-red but dusty now, lies on its head, neck bent backward, eyes staring blankly at the cold cement of our two-car garage. 

*Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).

Iwalco

by Ryan Cannon 

 

“Harry’s Bait Shop. What a name. Don’t these small towners have any originality?” Johnny opened the door and stepped out onto the gravel street shoulder. He shut the door and checked his hair in the tinted window. Mike walked around the front of the truck.

“We order the herring here, and we have to drive all the way out here in the morning before we launch, right? That’s, like, an extra twenty minutes.” Mike was twenty-three. Johnny was twenty-six. The difference in actual age and perceived age was, however, much greater. Johnny was nearly bald and thicker around the middle and chest. The heaviness of his upper torso was offset by a lack of heaviness in his lower body. Where his butt should have bulged, there was a decided slackness to his Levi’s. Mike had sun-bleached hair and a somewhat freckled face. His eyes were a pale blue that often appeared cloudy in bright light. He was taller and slimmer than Johnny. 

Johnny started to cross the street. “We have to get our saltwater tags, and I don’t think the place next to the dock has ’em.” 

“That’s twenty minutes more I could be sleeping.” 

“I’ll just tuck ya’ in twenty minutes early, sweet pea.” 

“Aw, you gonna miss your wife that bad, John? You poor thing.” 

The bait shop was a small house that Harry, the namesake and owner, had knocked all the walls out of. It passed like a “U” around a small center bathroom that was closed to the public. A sales counter had been erected in the leftmost corner from the front door. Fishnets and gaffing poles decorated the right arm of the “U.” The floor was empty throughout the rest of the store while the walls were laden with sinkers, aluminum sleeves, flashy rainbow-colored planers, barrel swivels, downriggers, deep-sea atomic lures, twin-hook setups on thick leaders, and so on. 

Marian was behind the counter. Mike saw her in still frame as his boot hit the wood floor. She was overexposed, the white of her skin washed out against the saturated red lips. Her thin hand with short fingers hung suspended over the counter. Her eyes flashed out of the white of her face in pale green luminescence. She inhaled and motion resumed. She was eighteen, petite like a bluebell and economic in the firmness of her limbs and torso. She would have been wholly and youthfully beautiful, but her face was drawn with tension. Slender concavities graced her cheekbones. There was something impassive in the way she held her head straight and in the rigid discipline of her neck. She had dyed her hair a bright and flamboyant red. It was the red of fire engines and blooming roses. Her nose was pierced on the left with a small fake-diamond stud. She wore a low-cut blouse and a push-up bra that accentuated what there was of suppleness about her body. The blouse ended three inches shy of where her bleached and torn jeans began. 

An old charter boat captain was leaning against the end of the counter, facing Marian. He was flossing his teeth with twenty-pound test fishing line and talking in a loud voice as Marian flipped through the pages of a magazine. The charter boat captain’s name was Harvey. He went by Harv. He had been guiding fishing boats out over the bar and into the ocean for forty-four years. Harv was saying, as Mike and Johnny walked into the shop,“’Ee ain’t never seen no storm, I told ’im. ’Ese rich Alaskin’ fishers think ’ey’ve seen …” 

The bell on the door, which should have rung when Johnny opened it, rang instead when Mike closed it. Harv paused in his narrative. Marian looked up. The captain pulled the fishing line out of his mouth and dropped it into a bucket at his feet that served as a garbage can. 

“’Ee’s on my boat, rite? An’ ‘ee’s tellin’ me when the things ’er gettin’rough? I told ’im, ‘Fifty ’ears I been fishin’ ’ese booie. Fifty ’ears.”” Marian turned the page of the magazine. Johnny went to look at the hooks. Mike stood next to a display of fillet knives on the wall. He picked one up and looked intermittently at it and at Marian. “An’ the other fishers starts to be scared ’cause one guy ’sboutta peein’ ‘is pants. Nobody’d caught ’eir limit ’n nothin’.” Harv bent over and picked the piece of fishing line from the bucket. He poked the end through a particularly large gap in his bottom teeth. “But I brought ’em in. S’ere dollar after all.” 

“Do you guys sell saltwater tags here?” Johnny asked, holding a fistful of Eagle Claw hooks. 

“Yeah. How many you need?” Marian replied. She set the magazine on the counter. It was a five-month-old copy of Seventeen. 

Mike made the peace sign as he approached the sales counter. 

Harv looked at Johnny looking at the hooks and asked, “You fishin’ fer salmon?” 

“Yep.”

 “Gotta ’ave barbless hooks, y’know.”

Johnny looked back over at the display on the wall.

“Don’t sell ’em. Gotta make ’em hooks barbless.” 

Harv walked over from the sales counter to Johnny and took the plastic package of a leader with two barbed hooks out of his hand. “Just get ya’some pliers and grip it ’ere, real tight. Squeeze ’til the barb ain’t there no more. An’ ’ere.” 

Mike looked at the reels behind the glass at the sales counter. Then he looked at Marian. She was writing with a pen on a small pad. Then at the magazine. It was dog-eared and used. 

“How many times you read that magazine?” 

“Do you guys want the two-day or seasonal tags?” she asked Mike. 

“Two-day. How many times you read that magazine?” 

“Too many times to make talk ’bout it.” 

Mike looked over at Harv. Harv was telling Johnny what time slack tide was the next day so that the bar wouldn’t swallow the two young men. Waste of youth, Harv told him, and a bigger waste of a boat. 

“Okay,” Mike said. 

“What’s your name?” 

“Mike. What’s yours?” 

“Full name. For the tag.” She held up the pad of paper so that Mike could see she was filling out a form. 

“Mike Richards. That’s my brother John.” 

Johnny heard his name and said, “Hey, Mike. Order a couple dozen herring, too. All right?” 

Marian said, “I need your driver’s license numbers.” 

Mike pulled out his wallet. 

“Marian.”

 “What?” 

“My name. You asked my name.” 

“Right. Marian. Good to meet you.” 

Harv was leaving. He kissed Marian on the cheek and said, “Where’s Harry, Mare?” 

“He’s out at Buoy 10 on the Redhead. They’re after kings.” 

Harv straightened his old cap and walked out, saying, “Good luck tommorra, fellas.” 

Johnny approached the counter. “She needs your license number, John,” Mike said. 

To Marian, Johnny said, “I need these hooks, too.” And then to Mike, “Did you order the herring?” And then, “Slack tide is at half-past seven. Plenty ’a time to sleep.” 

 

Marian closed the bait shop a half hour before nine. It was fully dark. She road her bike in the light of scattered streetlights. Crisp nighttime chill was settling in. She felt her cheeks and nose numb and redden with the rush of air as she peddled hard and fast the streets that she peddled every night, hard and fast. It was silent except for the ocean. That was Ilwaco. Silent except for the ocean. It got to most of them so that they didn’t even notice it anymore. The ocean was like an appendage of themselves. She felt as though she was never alone, and that was okay most of the time. 

Her house was nearly dark, except for the bluish flicker of a television set. That was her father. A chain link fence surrounded the small house and the overgrown yard. The gate was missing. She pushed the bike over the curb and into the yard. The night was clear. She looked up and could see the stars in infinite layers of brightness and density. 

“Mare, is ’at you?” her father said as Marian closed the front door behind her. Glen was in front of the television with a beer. 

“Yeah.” 

“How’s work?” 

“Good.” 

“Harry get out?” 

“Twenty-three-pound king.” 

Glen’s red face split into a liquored grin. He hadn’t fished since he lost his leg, yet he couldn’t stop talking about it. There was nothing else to talk about. “Where at? Had to be in the mouth.” He turned his wheel chair around to face Marian. She looked past him at the television. 

“Buoy 10.” 

“Knew it!” 

“We got anything to eat?” 

“Meat pies in the freezer. Sandy brought us some silver ’ee caught out at CR, but yer brother already et most ’a that.” Tad was thirteen, five foot six, and nearly two hundred pounds. He ate like her father drank. The two rival high schools in Astoria had been recruiting him for their football teams for over a year now. He didn’t like football. 

“Where’s he?” 

“Where’s he always?” Glen waved his half-empty beer bottle in the air. “Leave ’im. The boy can find ‘is way ’ome. ‘Ee’s big ’nuff.” 

“Well, I worry that something will happen to him. He’s not so big. And you know he doesn’t pay attention to anything.” 

“Awright. Go get ’im then. Tuck ’im in. Baby ’im. Your mother didn’t do it ’nuff.” 

 

The beach was bright in the starlight even though there was no moon. The waves beat out a rhythm as they broke and spilled up the sandy incline, running thinner and thinner until they collapsed back in upon themselves. Beyond that was the roar. The wind stirred the lengths of tall grasses that grew among the piles of driftwood at the beach’s edge. It was a cold wind. The ocean stole the silence. 

Marian walked quickly down a trail that wove through the grass and stocky pine, over piles of bonewood to the beach. She left her sandals at the trail’s end. The coarseness of the sand against the soles of her feet was warm at first, but as she got closer to the surf, the sand was damp and cold with ocean waves. Her toes and the balls of her feet made tiny imprints in the wet sand that flexed and settled as she passed. Gooseflesh broke out along the base of her throat and along her naked arms. She stopped to roll up the cuffs of her jeans so that they wouldn’t get soiled in the sand and seawater. Her feet were white and thin jutting out into the moonless night. 

She could see the shifting shadows of the grass and small pines to her right as she moved northward towards the cliff and the lighthouse. The ocean seemed like a pulsing inconstant to her left, inconstant and eternal in inconsistency. The cliff was far enough away to be blacker than the night, like a great void before her, where vanished the pale stretch of beach and the crashing ocean. The lighthouse spun its warning slowly atop the cliff, hundreds of feet above the beach and the sea. The light danced over the sky, never touching down, never slowing. At the base of the cliff were jagged, barnacled rocks of tidal pools and clutching shellfish. The waves pounded and broke over the lower rocks, splintering into spray and mist and fast appendages that coursed through deep channels between the rocks. She walked along the line of surf where the waves fell back, leaving a thin line of whitish foam. The waves made her dizzy if she stared down at them as they coursed in and back. The ocean could not rest. 

There was a large formation of jagged igneous rock that stood separated from the cliff and the other freestanding boulders in the upper corner of the beach. At high tide the water only crept about its base. It was forty feet high with an aggressive slope to the sides. This was Tad’s rock. He would sit and read in a sheltered, sandy bowl at the crest where the sun wasn’t so direct and the ocean spray and mist drifted overhead. There was room for three or four up there in the little half cave, too high for the tides to reach. But it was too dark to read now. 

As she grew closer, she could hear better the wind whistle as it hit the rocks and the cliff. The whistle quickly superseded the rustle of the grasses. No chance for silence. The stars were bright enough that she could spot the dim outlines of beached jellyfish and bull kelp and driftwood in time to step around them. The large rock, Tad’s rock, materialized before her, its outline black against the black cliff. Like a halo the lighthouse spun.

The ascent was on the back side between Tad’s rock and the cliff. The rock was sharp and uneven on her bare feet yet warmer than the wet sand. She worked her way up through the fissure, bracing her hands on either side and lifting her feet from foothold to foothold. She wondered how on earth Tad forced his bulk through the narrow crack in the rock. She thought maybe he would be sleeping in the sandy crater at the top with an open paperback resting on his large chest. He didn’t get cold like she did. She would scare him, leap on his huge chest or plug his nose or stick her pinky finger in his ear. He would awake, groggy at first and then laughing. He would chase her around the sandy crater. She was faster, though. 

The fissure placed her on a small indent in the rock face that was no easier on her feet. Small natural steps led up to Tad’s haven. As she ascended she heard, above the whistle of the wind and the roar of the surf, the muffled clink of glass on stone. She paused. There was a groaning sigh. 

A man was there with his back facing her. He stood at the edge of the small crater, mostly veiled in the deeper shadows of the overhanging rocks where the starlight did not filter. He had placed a hand above him on the rocky wall. His other hand was out in front of him somewhere in the shadows. He was urinating into the sand, pelvis extended and back slightly arched. There were several empty beer bottles at strange monolithic angles in the sand. 

“Tad?” she said and he leapt, startled. 

Cursing aloud, he turned his head back towards her, hunching somehow and taking his hand from the wall. He was smaller than Tad, shorter and thinner. There was a vagrant leanness to the way his clothes hung on his frame. The starlight defined vaguely the beakish ness of his nose and the hard planes of his thin face. He looked Marian up and down, casually finishing to zip up the front of his jeans. Venus gleamed in his dark eyes. Marian knew him. They went to school to gether, only he was a little younger. She couldn’t remember his name. He produced a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. He lit one. The flare from his lighter flashed in the black long after it was extinguished. 

“Where’s Tad?” 

He stepped closer, never averting that Venus gleam. He ran his free hand through his wiry mess of hair. His nostrils spat smoke, and the wind whistled it to sea. “He’s gone, baby. He’s left the scene.” 

“Where’d he go?” She felt a flush rising in her cheeks as he came closer. He stopped directly in front of her. She felt terribly conscious of the great empty expanse behind her — the sharp decline, the craggy outcroppings, the beach so far below. 

He reached out slowly and laid a long, thin finger on the fake stud piercing in her nose. The skin of his hand felt like latex. She could smell the pungent beer now wafting from his clothes and breath. “Didn’t you hear, baby? He got out.” 

Then she was gone, stumbling down the little steps and struggling through the fissure until she hit the beach on the balls of her bare feet. She slowed her momentum with her hands and ran back through the edge of the surf away from the lighthouse. 

She had cut her foot. She could feel the immediate stickiness of the blood. Sand adhered itself as if glued to the wound. She grimaced as she slowed to a walk, breathing forcefully and feeling her heart pound throughout her skull. The wind whipped up, nearly howling across the beach. There would be a storm. The ocean crescendoed, agitated and roaring thick. 

And the light from the lighthouse on the cliff went round and round, flashing over the top of the beach and the small town. 

 

There was a cold mist the next morning, a fine spray of water wafting off the low clouds and fog as they drifted from the cold ocean to the warmer coast. Marian knew to grab her slicker before she left for the bait shop. It was instinct, as was turning the television off and helping her incoherent father into bed from his chair. He slung his heavy arms around her neck and garbled incomprehensibly. She could smell the distinct odor of beer and underneath that, something ranker, corpulent, and familiar.

Her legs felt fatigued as she braved the slick hills on her bike. The mist seemed to press her down, adding to the heaviness of her eyes and face. There were several men waiting outside the bait shop for herring when she arrived to open. Soon after she unlocked the door, the shop was full. 

“Get out past the bar during slack tide, er just ’ang loose, skipper,” Harry, the shop’s owner and namesake, said to a man in thick glasses frosted with water spots. Harry’s voice was like an old dog’s, with a rasp in the throat that wouldn’t cough out. He smoked when he fished and he fished all the time. The ocean had made him strong and thick as a sea lion, layers of fat coating the brawn beneath. There was a permanent redness to his face and neck from the harsh sea air and sun. Walrus jowls hung down the sides of his face. 

“Where’re they bitin’at?” 

“Charter boats ’er out by Buoy 2 ’n the CR buoy.” 

“S’posed t’get windy t’day, ain’t it?” 

The fishermen thronged in and out, multicolored slickers and rain gear, faces beaded with the cold mist. To get them in and out quickly, Harry sold herring from styrofoam coolers in the corner for cash. The fishermen joked with each other about the size of fish they’d reel in that day, about the size of wife they’d left at home, but there was an underlying gravity. That day they faced the ocean.

Mike and Johnny trailed in a little before eight. They wore yellow slickers over flannel shirts. Johnny was very pale. 

“I don’t know if he drank too much or what,” Mike explained to Marian. “He just woke up that way.” 

Marian felt numb. She had thought at first that she was simply tired and that the lethargy would lift as her body warmed and the day progressed. No. It was numbness. She just wanted to sit for a moment and breathe deeply, in and out, in and out. For hours. For days. 

Harry turned a bucket upside down and sat Johnny on it. His jowls shook as he put a thick red hand to Johnny’s forehead. 

“He puked twice just on the drive over here.” Mike’s face was shadowed with short stubble. A black stocking cap was pulled down over his brow. Marian wondered what he was like, outside of bait shops and fishing trips. 

“You best sit today out, son,” Harry rasped, peering from under his thick brow at Johnny. “The ocean’ll only make that worser on ya?” 

“Forget that.” Johnny was holding onto the corner of a wall and lifting himself from the bucket with wilting bravado. His face was bloodless and sweating. “I wanna fish.” 

Mike shrugged and asked Marian, “You got our herring?” She did. 

She wanted to ask Mike to take her with him when he left Ilwaco. She could sit in the extended cab of the truck. She wouldn’t make much noise. She would press her cheek to his and relish the sandpapery feel of his stubble and take the sunburn off his lips. She was sure that there was so much under the yellow rain gear and the old flannel; so much that had nothing to do with endless ocean roars and everybody know ing everybody and nowhere to go except out where the cliffs end and the light just circles round and round overhead; so much that was only passing through 

“You better hurry,” she said. 

He took the three bags of dripping herring in one hand and his brother’s arm in the other. Their eyes looked like glass, the fishes’. They stared blankly out from the ice and plastic bags. Mike looked at Marian. 

Glen was in the road in his wheelchair when Marian returned from work in the late afternoon. There was still daylight, but the mist had been falling all day. Glen was soaked, but he wasn’t drunk, as Marian thought he would be, seeing him from her bike as she coasted 

down the hill. He was shivering and angry. 

“Didn’t you find Tad?” 

She laid her bike down against the curb and took her father’s wheelchair. She began to push him down the cement path to their front door. “Yes. He was out on the rock.” 

“Why ’idn’t ’ee come ’ome?” 

Her voice stuck in her throat. She felt her cheeks burn and her heart ache. “I’m not sure.” 

“Did’ya tell ’im ta come ’ome?” 

“Yes.” 

Glen hit the doorframe as she pushed him through it. He hit it hard enough that he split his knuckle. He looked at the blood with a sense of wonder. “Ee’s a giant boy, but ’ee’s only thirteen, Mary. You tell’em that. Tell’em ‘ee’s only thirteen.” Mary was her mother’s name. 

Marian helped her father into some dry clothes. He stared at the blood welling out of his split knuckle the entire time. She thought to herself how she would find Mike that night and he would take her away when he was done passing through. How he would take her out of Ilwaco. 

Inclination

by Stanley Thayne

 

a mother and a daughter stand on a lawn looking down
at a duck standing on a sidewalk looking down
at a denim jacket that is draped over the curb. 

three ducklings scramble up
the inclination. 

Because Laws Were Made to Be Broken

by Christine Spencer 

When the highway patrolman got off duty, he ate pasta in a booth,
told the checkout lady a joke, and I was sitting in his car, laughing,
wishing he’d pull me over, turn on his siren, teach me a little bit
about the discipline of careful driving-you know, love me
the way a cop can’t live without his chocolate-glazed in the morning
but is willing to give up his coffee for a cup of marriage on wheels —
oh the mileage we’d get! driving over freeways into the sunset,
chasing jackrabbits off road at eighty-plus until the C.B. radio goes out
and his snow tires grow flowers — a quiet, off-the-record,
mountainside wedding with two headlight witnesses and the right to
remain silent — a citizen’s arrest with no parole.

A Death in the Family

by Sterling Larsen 

I fell from the swings once, 

    real high up. 

I pumped 

    and pumped 

’til my big toe

blotted out the sun. 

The sky flipped upside down and 

I slipped. 

She loved him 

      like sick-sweet candy and fast cars, 

but threw up on her wedding day, 

      holding back peroxide hair 

and the veil 

rented just for a day. 

 

He doesn’t live here anymore.

Mom says they fell out of love, 

    not like on swings though 

    or chairs when you laugh hard,

but like dingy nickels 

flicked on a smooth table 

that buzz and blur and whir 

’til they are dizzy or sick

and fall down 

  wob 

    wob 

       wob, wob, wob 


click 


I go in there sometimes 

    where the smell of pine lingers 

    where he used to hang his ties 

in rows, like crayons 

    neat, by color 

before Mom dumped them 

    with shouts and a suitcase 

onto the lawn. 


He comes back sometimes, 

    stuffed in an envelope 

    with a wrinkled five 

    and a tainted “happy birthday,” 

but cards don’t give underdogs. 

Drinking in Scotland

by Sara Blaisdell

It seems the obvious thing to do. In that way there is so much home here.
The rain is a faithful machine designed to drown out wickedness,
but for some reason the natives keep going. They’re the only survivors.
It has something to do with their huge black umbrellas. 

The strange man who invites me to sing a song,
from my country to his, and won’t relent —
he will kiss me if I let him, and I will become
purified as well, maybe even famous. 

So what if the world is ending outside in a flood that no one will forget?
The castles are floating down the streets in small particles;
the sheep are tucked away for the night
In some ways life is just beginning— a novel idea, 

one we toast to several times, I with my Pepsi and he
with his whatever. I can feel him needing me all the way
across the table. All his ancestors are dead or have left
for America. Why, no one can say. 

The endless rain, the castle patterns on the horizon—
all look better with a drink. Everything looks better with a drink. 
“You're so glorious,” he says. “Like nothing I've ever seen.” 

The Men Who Write the Dictionary

by Karen McKnight 

Mozart plays softly on a phonograph
as a dark circle of old, old men in
Victorian burgundy leather chairs
hunch over their literature and
smoke pipes around a tall,
tall fireplace. 

Knobby, wrinkled, itching fingers
scan the pages of scientific journals
and teen magazines
as the men inhale the curly smoke
in their heated search:
this priapistic hunt for new words. 

They have a guest speaker every other Wednesday,
their melancholy meetings
libido bleach stained momentarily by the
sun-bright highlights in the salty hair
of hot-pink-t-shirt-wearing girls who 

– backpacks on backs and flowered flip-flops on feet –
will get extra credit in their language arts
class for teaching some prurient old men a few
lip-glossy waves of new vocabulary. 

A pretty little Aunt Jemima-like woman
brings sweet potato pie on Thursdays,
which they eat as she whispers
new salacious locutions
into these aging bachelors’ ears
and offers them a little sugah.
Some are words that her street-ball-playin’
nephew would never say at home
if he knew she understood them. 

On Fridays they have Barbara Streisand movie marathons
until midnight when the grey and concupiscent
dictionarians tremble with a little
more than intellectual excitement
as that big-haired lady from The Nanny arrives
to give a speech about the effects of coffee
on the bilabial vocal patterns
and resultant palaver eroticism
of the cream-cheese-eating,
Wall Street reading
members of society. 

 

And This, Class, Is What Is Known as Refraction of Light

by Audrianne Porter 

My science teacher looks a lot
like a trout in a suit
the way his bottom lip protrudes
from a spotted, leathered face
his lake-bottom eyes,
pebbles pushing out two rings of soft skin ripples
pulsing from watery glasses
reflecting the overhead light. 

He reaches to us with hands
quivering like two fish out of breath,
clearing his throat slowly, halfway
while I sink to the shallow bottom
of gleaming dust in refracted sunlight
muted, crooked by the pounds of water
between him and me.

Gluttony

by Brenda McIfenna

You won’t like the black goose eggs, my best friend Rosemary said as she perfumed her hair with oriental spices
and the steam of sticky white kernels.
I’d eaten rice paper and seaweed that night, our first sleepover,
but I believed she could scan my tongue as she still
reads my mind. She knows I haven’t called
in a month. I should. I keep forgetting.
The night rain sizzles like hot oil
or static in the background of memory.
Americans need to remember their elders,
Rosemary said, remember
the wrinkled wisdom of my neighbor Norma Ripplinger,
in her hunger for company gladly giving away Scottish phrases and chocolate-covered peanuts. I
devoured the chocolate
by the handful her words —
’twas o bra bit moonlit nit tonit
it’s alrit ye cen — ravenous as
only a privileged child with a plump belly
can be. Norma died lonely after she ran out of peanuts
and couldn’t speak anymore —the tubes in her nose
prevented it, and I hid at home, afraid of catching
old age while rain whispers nit ye nit ye on the hospital roof.
And did I remember
my mother,
when her body attacked itself
and she was forced by allergies to live on the foul stink of split
peas and beans washed down with soy? On Christmas
we smacked our tongues on almond roca —
her old favorite — as she patiently
waited for the beans to boil.
In my greedy craving I forgot then.

But I remember
now as I reach for the telephone,
the rain hissing the language
of a thousand years not lost forever, it seems,
in the gluttonous night.

Birthday Letter

by Sara Blaisdell

It’s like this. I drove, no one knew.
I drove around the beach,
thought of our binoculars and plans,
the stupid plans, to float away ­-
careless fisherpeople,
we said – never to return.

I’ve gained five pounds since.
I’d like to slice off pieces of myself.
I’m not talking about metaphors.
There are places where flesh should not be –
places where, however, there is flesh.
My little sisters, for example,
are still small and graceful,
like modern magazines.

The boat we should have taken –
right over there with its aged captain
and his ridiculous comb-over flapping around
like the sails- it wouldn’t have helped.
It was a wonderful thing, that boat, that life
of someone else’s.

Look, maybe we’ll do it sometime­ –
we’ll take that boat, or some other boat,
and we’ll eat fish and ripe oranges.
We’ll die in an existential fatness
unsurpassed by anyone.