In the box where I keep this story, the woman in the doorway of the hotel room was tall and blonde. She had swept-back bangs in the process of growing out. At 2 a.m., the Flagstaff air was crispy outside. Jacket-weather already. Winter was on deck with its frost threat. Besides the front desk staff I passed on the way to the room and this blonde woman who was in my way, I hadn’t seen another person since I’d arrived. Most people were done for the night. I stood in front of room 234 of a Courtyard by Marriot waiting to be validated.

I was 20-years-old, and believed in terrible things. I thought Savage Garden made some pretty good music. Folgers made some pretty good coffee. And Drew loved me. Love, like lust-love, like he needed me in the middle of the night because the middle of the night is when you truly realize what you want, like it was crazy but understandable how he’d always burned or bit his tongue and that’s why he couldn’t ever kiss me.

“Drew is sick,” this woman said.

Not sick-sick. Drunk-sick. Curled in a ball while his body expressed poison. The metamorphosis. Toxic to non-toxic.

“He called me,” I said in the key of I don’t know who I am, my voice rising in pitch.


By Patrick Moloney



A neighbor killed himself. He got in his car and drove to the woods. He walked out into the brush, put a gun to his head and ended some pain. The weight of it fell to the ground with him.

He seemed the cliché. A happy guy, beautiful family, successful career. I would see him walking his Golden Retriever and smoking a cigar, always smiling, always positive about the weather, or ready to talk baseball. He was on the school board, was always busy doing good things for the community like raising money for a new pool at the high school or coaching baseball or being a good father to three kids. He was making a difference.

Everyone who knew him extolled his virtues, which were many. But now we wonder. What had he been carrying that was so heavy he couldn’t hold it in any longer?

What was his secret pain? What was under his skin?

Was there some evolutionary need to hide that pain? To give up his life rather than reveal it? Was dying the better option than living with his agony? What is the shame so great it kills? Or was there just not enough of something in him when he needed that something the most, was there some chemical, some element of life he was lacking?

We are all many strata: DNA, RNA, bones and tissue of ancestors, animal fears and flights, pasts we had no role in, diseases and mental states—all stacking our geology. The slightest tremor brings it all to the surface. What we’ve stood on for years, our crust, in a moment can be broken open, gone. And sometimes we can’t seem to put it back together. Maybe we shouldn’t even try.


cox 1

Tyler and I are sixteen and we’re hunting for Dead people. We say to each other during class, loud enough for other people to hear, “Hey! Let’s go hunting for dead people today!”

It’s a game. But it’s also real because maybe, if we see Death, we won’t be so scared of it.

Most days after school we drive to the university, Cal State Channel Islands, which is not Cal State Channel Islands quite yet. Half of it is still a boarded-up mental hospital that was shut down in 1997. The other half of it is in some stage of renovation as the building transforms from psych ward to college campus.

It’s 2005 and we don’t just drive down the curvy canyon road. We fly. I sit on the windowsill of Tyler’s hand-me-down Mustang as he takes hairpin turns way too fast, but he’s doing that for me. It’s so I can stretch one arm out, stare up at the sky and really feel like I’m flying

He never puts a steadying hand on me because he trusts me to not fall and I trust him to not let me. Like life and death, we exist within the same idea, yet never touch.

It’s stupid and irresponsible and fabulous and fast and makes you scream in every good way. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re sixteen?

We arrive at the abandoned hospital that’s under renovations. Some of the buildings look like skeletons; just the framework juts out of the ground. Others are already finished, complete with thick walls and paintings of blue dolphins.

There’s a six-foot chain link fence around the hospital. We race up it, then jump down the other side. Tyler and I run across the grounds, looking for a hallway to explore. We pick the longest one. The darkest one. The one that goes down.

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My father died courteously a few years ago. We stayed in touch through the period of his decline. I visited as often as I could and he seemed grateful for my company. There was never any particular beef between us; he was mostly absent when I was a kid. Lots of dads hung around the periphery of their children’s lives in the sixties and seventies.  When I told him we should talk about him not living alone any longer, he said he understood. The following day, he told me he was checking into a nursing home to rehabilitate himself. I was baffled, but already had plans to see him in a week.  We’d work it out then. He waited for me, health declining. We both knew no “rehabilitation” would occur. When he saw me, he smiled, said he loved me, everything was good, and then he died. Before the next morning. Done.

My mother won’t be so easy. She’s losing her memory. She’s spent all of her money. She’s in great physical health and just moved into my house last week.  She seems to believe that most things are either my fault for nagging her too much or Barack Obama’s fault. This is, at least in part, because he’s a Black Democrat Muslim. The worst kind of each of those things.

What happens when the mind begins to misfire? And then a relationship begins to misfire? Rewind. What happens when a relationship misfires and then the mind misfires and? Playback. Misfires create misfires create minds. Forward. Where do we go from here?

Good Sister

By Stephanie Austin


austin 5

My sister rocks a 90s scrunchie like no one’s business and still loves The Lost Boys, her knock-off Crocs and silk shirts. She cannot rock adult conversation, the processing of complicated information, or general emotions. She is retarded, if you prefer that horrid little word. She is disabled, challenged, slow like dial-up. You hear the connection trying to start, you know eventually the connection will start, but in the meantime you’re sitting there sighing loudly in frustration, waiting because this has been your whole life, waiting for Sandy to get something. And sometimes when the connection happens, you get a  happy story about the wedding she wants to have at Disneyworld, the bakery shop she wants to open in downtown Phoenix and all the free cookies she’ll give her family, or sometimes you stories about her bullies in high school, her sadness hiding under irrational anger that involves swearing at people under her breath, stalking around, crying in the corner, locking herself in the bathroom because she is different and doesn’t quite understand how she is supposed to fit into the world.

movie theater chair 2

At a recent screening of The Gift, a sneakily great psychological thriller partly about, amongst many relevancies, the unknowability of other people, I felt that familiar paranoia. I’d noticed a man in the parking lot on my way in, walking in circles and talking to himself, hands never leaving his pockets. I told myself I was being unreasonable, misjudging this poor guy who, like me, only wanted to pass an idle Thursday at the movies. I bought my ticket and my popcorn. I took my preferred seat in the theater, in the center of the center row. Then the man entered, mumbling louder now, hands still in his pockets. He chose a seat in the first row, reconsidered and moved back one, thought again and moved back a few more. I decided to wait out the trailers in the lobby.

The rise of the movie theater shooting is, for the consummate moviegoer, a threat both mortal and existential. As a writer and a cinephile, I proudly consider myself a member of that special class of Americans—surely a growing class—who feel most fully themselves when situated in front of a screen; for all its ordinariness, no public space seems as momentously personal, to me, as the movie theater. That this secularly sacred place has become a stage for unthinkable, deathly violence is pure tragedy, one that I’ve condemned simply and processed complexly. Choosing between a matinee and a midnight show shouldn’t be a life-or-death decision, but the lurking, random terror of our violent present has leant that choice a terrible new weight. It’s a cruel inverse relation. Americans have never had more reasons to escape to the movies, and yet never has that escape been so dangerous.

On Hatching

By Katie Seeley



return to sender

In the fall, I received an email intended for a woman named Kelly Seeley: a buoyant welcome to the parents of new second graders. My first thought, as with every legitimate-sounding email from an unknown sender, was that the catalyst of my life’s plot had finally arrived.

I have no second grader. I have no child at all.

But this email had mysteriously presented the idea of a long lost child who would be hilariously introduced to my student loan-riddled life with a sideways cap and a pet frog. He would joyfully playact fairytales by puppeteering low-rent cockroaches around the Lego universes he builds atop my duct-taped floorboards. He would fill any unobserved voids I have, and call my boyfriend Pops. We would ride the train to Cubs games and he would punch the stiff leather of a mitt and I would worry about a foul ball shattering his perfect zygomatic arch. He would start school and I would spend hours at Mariano’s toiling over which selection of sliced turkey I should sandwich for his lunch. And I would think about whether I should send him alone on the El to school, or if I should lease a safe sedan. Consider the tactic I would advocate in how to approach a bully. Wonder if his crowd of second grade friends will transition safely and responsibly into high school. How and when to warn him of the link between hereditary lung cancer and peer pressure. How much money the tooth fairy should leave. Are molars worth more than the front ones? Or by second grade, had I already missed the wiggly teeth phase completely? And what else would I miss?


A few years ago, over the Grapevine mountain range, down at Disneyland, I caught sight of the Beastmaster waiting in line for the Mad Hatter’s teacup ride. And by that, of course, I mean I saw Marc Singer, the actor who played the sword-swinging, animal-loving barbarian, Dar, in the 1982 fantasy film, Beastmaster.[1] I saw the actor, not the character, though it was, admittedly, a little tough for me to keep them apart in my mind.

I’d come to the Land of Disney with my former wife and our son. We’d driven four-plus hours to visit some friends in Hollywood and to escape the murderous San Joaquin Valley heat; and there we all were, nestled into the ample bosom of the happiest place on earth, queuing up for the Mad Hatter’s ride, when I spotted him.

Across the winding maze of happy people, I caught a quick glimpse of the Beastmaster. Brief at first, my gaze shifted away, but I kept glancing back, subtly collecting the confirming details—angular face, aquiline nose, overly large nostrils, broad shoulders and blondish hair. It took a minute or two for me to register Singer’s face and place him in the films I knew; but when I did, I felt that strange satisfying heat of nostalgia settle into my gut, and I wanted to roll around it in a like a dog rolls in dead stuff.

Funeral_Procession_by_Ellis_WilsonIn August of 2007, our co-worker, Sherri’s, daughter was killed by an ex-boyfriend. He followed her car home, slipped under the arm of the security gate, and then shot her multiple times in her apartment. He went back to the parking lot and killed himself. The complex has them on videotape: Daneel standing her ground, telling him “It’s over, Manny. Go home,” and then walking back up the stairs to her place, Manny in his car, getting his gun from the glove compartment, loading it with bullets kept in the trunk, walking back up to Daneel’s, then back down to his car before putting the gun under his chin. It took him thirteen minutes to die.

Zoom Zoom photo

That’s my life in 2009: my Mazda 3, my new landscaping, my maroon curtains I thought went well against the cream color I’d chosen for the walls of the room downstairs I made into an office. The office my ex-husband (sans ex at the time) used to walk into and spread his arms and say, “Look what I gave you,” and say, “How much money can you contribute this month?” and say, “I’m posting an ad for a stranger/roommate on Craigslist to make up for your lost income.” If you looked through those curtains, you’d see me slumped over my computer, unemployed, drinking my fourth cup of coffee, submitting resumes and/or writing my novel I used to believe in, and/or posting on Facebook and/or feeling depressed about my depression.

The City of Mesa paid us $500 to replace that grass with desert friendly shrubbery. Removing grass is a horror. Annihilate it with chemicals. Wait for it to die. Rip it out by its roots. Cover the ground with black plastic so it can’t push back through. My father-in-law, taking a break from schizophrenia to help with our landscaping project, shoveled the remains of the grass into the back of his white van and drove the dead pieces out to the desert where he dumped them. The same white van he used to park down the street and watch our house in an attempt to catch the kidnappers who’d taken my husband. The same white van he called from asking my husband if he was safe to talk, if he was safe to signal from the window, if he was safe to use code words so the kidnappers didn’t catch on. When we planted the Jacaranda near the walkway, we imagined how beautiful it would look in springtime, how magnificent it might act as shield from the sun. When I left in 2012, the support beams were still in place, holding up that scrawny trunk like two men carrying their drunk friend out of a bar.


In 2006, I started tutoring the Moorhead sisters twice a week at their charter school on Napoleon Avenue. It was one of the first schools to open after Hurricane Katrina with 319 students enrolled. The Moorhead sisters got to school by city bus. They had evacuated Katrina late – in a rainstorm – and saw the car in front of theirs drive over the spillway. Everyone in it died. Their family had lost their home and they’d relocated to a double on Elysian Fields. Their mom was an RN at Touro Infirmary, but she’d decided to open her own catering business.


How can I characterize my love for a place I only came to know after its devastation?

I first traveled to New Orleans in 2006 with a group of student volunteers half a year after the failure of the levees. The city never knew I existed until it was undone by Katrina’s storm, when it was ravaged and its insides exposed on national television. My love for this place is the other side of heartbreak, and sometimes the line between the two isn’t so clear. It is a strange kind of attachment, one that comes from seeing destruction, persistent injustice, and, sometimes, resilience.

Through a local grassroots relief organization, my group was sent to work in Violet, Louisiana, a small city in St. Bernard Parish, located east of New Orleans proper. Katrina pushed a twenty-five foot storm surge into St. Bernard, leaving oil-tarnished water with nowhere to drain for weeks. All of the Parish’s homes were declared “unlivable.” I knew little of what to expect, though I understood residents had to clear out the site of their former home to qualify for a FEMA trailer. Our job was to tear everything down, leaving only the bare wooden frame.

I thought I knew the scope of Katrina’s wrath from photos and videos, but looking out the window while driving into St. Bernard Parish for the first time brought the reality into razor-sharp focus. It was seven months after Katrina and all the traffic lights were still broken along the four-lane road into town. There were virtually no other cars and certainly no people walking down the street. No businesses were open. We passed a gas station where the typical T-shaped roof had completely toppled over, its legs folded and buckled. I saw rusting cars in the grassy median and a motorboat in a ditch by the curb. A small wooden house with light blue siding lay off its foundation in the middle of the street. Even the most iconic American corporation didn’t survive, the golden double arches of McDonalds bent into an unrecognizable shape. As we drove deeper into St. Bernard, the accumulated mountains of trash and debris grew larger, more sinister: couches, tree stumps, broken furniture, refrigerators, mattresses, and entire chunks of wall and insulation.



When I meet the father of my children, he is muscled and brown-skinned with freckled shoulders from swimming in the ocean in the midday California sun. I am a protozoan. Soft and open. Absorbing everything. When I change, we change. This pattern will repeat. By the time our children are born, my husband is shaped like the Buddha. I don’t mind the change in his shape. He doesn’t mind the change in mine. There are other things that will come between us and end us, but the shape of our bodies is inconsequential. Later there would come the confusion of how my body would be regarded as it aged, what my shape would telegraph to the next person who loved me. When our marriage ends, I am lean and shrewd. An apex predator.


By Liska Jacobs



There are times when she is gentle, but there are also times when she is not gentle, when she is fierce and unrelenting toward him or them all, and she knows it is the strange spirit of her mother in her then.

– “Her Mother’s Mother” by Lydia Davis


Every oldest daughter of an oldest daughter is named Elizabeth. We are all Elizabeths, except one.

I pick her up, the one not named Elizabeth—my oldest—at her apartment in Mar Vista. She’s packed only one suitcase for the trip and when she sees me, asks if she should drive. I am crying again so I say OK.

We stop at the house in Van Nuys to pick up my mother. It’s near the wash and has been remodeled often, the courtyard bricked in, a fountain in the side wall, jasmine and rose bushes and stone steps leading to the back. Every room smells like cigarette smoke and when she comes out, my mother looks smaller, thinner, cheekbones severe, her green eyes dark. I let her take the front seat. It is, after all, her mother who has died.

I watch her closely. She plays with the radio station, one hand over her mouth. My daughter, thank God, has enough sense to put on a cd, to talk about trivial things, like the length of the flight, where we are staying in Binghamton.

On the plane, getting us seated is a hassle. My mother wants to sit by the window and she’s been assigned an aisle. For a moment I’m reminded of our childhood. Her bouts of depression, her anger, how she used to, as punishment for some slight—perhaps the dishes were not completely dry—ignore us for long periods of time. Mom, I would cry. Mom, Mom, Momplease talk to me. But she would continue puffing on her cigarette, switching through television channels or reading some thick hardcover book. I was wind outside a window.

Paul Boyer

By Tanya Rey


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Recently I had a job writing the life stories of people with Traumatic Brain Injury. Accident victims, named so because they’ve had tragic events happen to them. Ceilings collapsing on their heads, steel fences burying them in construction rubble. Their only role in all of it was being there—showing up for work or living in a home with a soggy roof. The accidents were often fluke-like. Fateful. One woman was walking down the street when a giant red R came unmoored from its awning and met with the crown of her head. Her last name? Rodriguez. Coincidence?

The job made me question just how much control we have. I began to think it a silly notion, that control is something one can possess. Like drinking water from the earth and calling it yours.

I wrote these narratives for a law firm. I interviewed the clients and recorded their stories. They were used to strengthen the accident victims’ cases for trials. A “good case” was one in which the victim was at no fault and yet was undeservedly suffering a great deal. It’s a backwards reasoning that could sometimes get you into trouble. My boss liked to tell the story of a man who’d once been a potential client. The man had had an accident but his injuries didn’t seem severe enough to warrant a lawsuit, and the firm turned down his case. Years later, running into my boss on the street, he confessed that he’d only gotten worse—he was now experiencing debilitating head and back pain. Without thinking, my boss clapped his hands together and said, “That’s great!”

One of my best cases involved a man with light green eyes and hands covered in calluses from a lifetime of fixing cars. He’d had an accident while driving for work. It was a messy collision that killed the other driver on impact while my client stumbled away with multiple serious injuries but alive; and this, he said, was the exact problem he faced every morning when he woke up.

I knew from early on I didn’t want to hear his story. The deposition was practically damp with trauma. It awakened something in me.