The Threat

Opens in a small western town. There’s a flatness. A dryness about the place. We are everywhere and nowhere. Far away. He doesn’t fit in. He’s running, but from what? We won’t find out for awhile, but it might be fun if he looked like Larry Hagman from the Dallas years, but not dressed that way. He’s in a tracksuit and either jogging or buying a soda and candy bar from a convenience store. If buying, in the background are tabloids. Headlines. His face? It’s face-like. There’s a roundness? But not too much. Solid chin. [See: Hagman, Larry.]

Scratch all that. He’s in a new town similar to that Catholic town in Florida where media is regulated. This is the only place where he can start over—but still lives in fear of being noticed since these folks will be more judgmental, thus: irony. But still buying a soda and candy bar from a convenience store.

Time period is important. This is at an unspecified point in the future. Something has changed. The change is not overtly obvious, but there has been a change in how humans interact with each other, strangers are even stranger, the difference between a friend and a casual acquaintance is negligible. Intimacy is hard to come by. The worst fears of some have come true, but these aren’t fears of terrorism or global warming—the new fear, the new threat, is more subtle and presents itself in many forms.

This person who looks hauntingly like Larry Hagman walks across a desolate street into a church (candy bar and soda in hand). Then the church basement. Opens the doors. Another fellow stands in a circle of men and women sitting in folding chairs. Very AA. That’s what you think immediately. When seeing it.

He says: “Welcome to the Hypocrites Club. We’re kinda like the Witness Protection Program. Except no one wants to find us. And no one’s protecting us.”

Do people laugh? Try it out. Try one take with the assembled folks laughing, not hard but that measured knowing laugh, that laugh that is more fatigue than levity. Gallows. And one where he’s dead serious and they are silent.

(It would be good if there was the potential for redemption. Yes?)

Who are these people? They’ll cut across society, of course. It’s probably too heavy-handed to have one be a snake oil salesman. Like he sells it on the Internet, this oil, make from snakes, but of course not. Olive oil. Canola. Maybe just water?

Some ideas:
A family therapist who routinely had affairs with the couples he counseled.
A police officer with a publicist.
A gay conservative politician, estranged from family.
A black judge who says his blackness affects his life as much as his being 5’8”. But have him be taller/shorter so it’s not obviously Clarence Thomas.
A school teacher who helped her students cheat on standardized tests. She’ll be the sympathetic one the audience roots for.
A gun-toting poet/pacifist.
Don’t go too wacky, too reality TV-y.
Wait. Wait. Larry Hagman’s lookalike is really Larry Hagman. We see the news of his death (2012) in the tabloid headlines. Then we see him, Larry Hagman, in the flesh, looking at them. And, say, flipping one over so the back cover shows instead but what’s there? Larry Hagman, of course, his face even bigger.

Problem: Larry Hagman is dead. At least as far as we know. Also: if this is in the future, then why are the tabloids still covering Larry Hagman?

Whatever. Easy problem to fix. For now, Larry Hagman’s lookalike squeezes into the circle.

“What do they want us here for?” asks one; a guy who’s been in the frame and seething, like the camera has never landed on him square, but caught him in the corners with crossed arms and rocking a little. Bad news, this guy, who says, “What they want? I’ll tell you what they want. They want us to fall on our swords. Cry on camera. Go on TV and beg forgiveness. Write a book about it all. But I won’t do it. I won’t give them what they want. I’m done with that. I don’t care if they are right about me, I don’t care if I did everything they said I did and am who they say I am—that doesn’t mean I have to give them the pleasure of inflating their own damn egos. They’re the damn hypocrites. Just like me. Bastards. They called me a con artist. Let me tell you this, people who get conned get conned because that’s what they want. Well, it takes two to tango. They allowed it to happen. They needed me and wanted me. Then they needed to destroy me.”

Too much?

Where does redemption fit in?

Nah. Forget it. What about this.

We call it MEAT.

A war zone. A family. Starving.

Simple. Yes? No?

END

 

 

Stephen McNutt is a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of Iowa, where he received his M.F.A. in Nonfiction and a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Culture. His work has been listed as notable in Best American Essays and appeared in the Iowa Review, The Atticus Review, The Millions, Knee-Jerk, The Morning News, The Burnside Review, Annals of Iowa and on WSUIs (Iowa) Weekend Edition. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

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Botanical Garden Duplex

Built from bricks of red poppy
The short-lived perennial
Two years of invisible war
Warriors carve into their skin
Birthing poinsettia on thighs
And with pineapple sage
They anchor fear to hyacinth wrists
With a hand full of spades
Instead of hearts, the warriors carve
Trenches of scarlet carnations
And before they can sew
Garnet daylilies across their lips
The poppy blossoms splay
Seeds of opium on silent tongues
The seeds sprout spikes
Augmenting their mouths with diseased cacti
Words blacken from the sap
And they spit poisonous spores in the air
From here I scream through the screen door
Dig up the weeds, you can’t breathe!
But I only see arms in decorative swing
Desperate to touch something in bloom.

I trace the bend of your vertebrate
To a wilting collarbone
Until my fingers are covered
In the oil of burning leaves.

Charlene Ashley Taylor earned a BA in English with a Minor in Linguistics from the University of Louisville. She’s a former editor of The White Squirrel and mentor for the Sarabande Writing Labs. Her work has appeared in Limestone Journal, Coe Review, Transcendent Zero Press, The Bitter Oleander, The Chaffey Review, Yellow Chair Review, Spry Literary Journal, and others. She is currently a MA student in English at the University of Louisville, working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the University Writing Center and interns as a leading editor with Miracle Monocle.

Shadows

drool in my garden
like honey on the hilt
smearing beneath the skin
and swimming through the rock
like eggs     to eat a rose
bitter with diamond petals
I tongue the smell of rust
and watch the water moan
ripping hair from my throat
the lather licks my forest red
the blood on the peach
boiling juice into rain
it shines raw above me

 

 

Charlene Ashley Taylor earned a BA in English with a Minor in Linguistics from the University of Louisville. She’s a former editor of The White Squirrel and mentor for the Sarabande Writing Labs. Her work has appeared in Limestone Journal, Coe Review, Transcendent Zero Press, The Bitter Oleander, The Chaffey Review, Yellow Chair Review, Spry Literary Journal, and others. She is currently a MA student in English at the University of Louisville, working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the University Writing Center and interns as a leading editor with Miracle Monocle.

Shipwreck

the harpy trembles with a distant rhythm
pulsing and scratching at the curl of my ear
she sheds her skin to unravel the scales
revealing muscle and bone wound with salt
she breathes into the nape of my neck
teeth tilling the weave of tiny hairs on end
I close my eyes to the siren
as she whisks heat between wings

tongue as obelisk her chassis morphs

to birth spikes like snapdragon petals
nectar creeps from a curved lip
down my chin to pool in my palm
mouth tethers plexus to belly, hip to thigh
body as beacon I grip the gulf of her
clutching flesh to force us into the shore

 

 

Charlene Ashley Taylor earned a BA in English with a Minor in Linguistics from the University of Louisville. She’s a former editor of The White Squirrel and mentor for the Sarabande Writing Labs. Her work has appeared in Limestone Journal, Coe Review, Transcendent Zero Press, The Bitter Oleander, The Chaffey Review, Yellow Chair Review, Spry Literary Journal, and others. She is currently a MA student in English at the University of Louisville, working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the University Writing Center and interns as a leading editor with Miracle Monocle.

Inked

I watched the seamstress keep a stoic face as the needle guided tar-black lines out of her skin, stitching a heart. I imagine myself as tattoo artist, mutilating the softness of her body and making dashes around an empty space on her chest. I invent myself in memory, launching harpoons at the unattainable. She wears the tattoo on her breast plate but the thread is tangled around my finger like a forget-me-knot. The line is looped around splintering bone and the sweep of thread tickles the porous ends of marrow like a phantom limb.

A clean void paints a silhouette where your dresser was

Sinking into the sand carpet, I think of the paint on your jeans and markers without caps. I think of when you would pirouette down the hall, your arms up to hug the ghost that led you – heel toe spin again and again until you spilled your high, stumbling with a smile. The moment I saw the boxes I became the candle wax on the television, the cat piss snuggled on your pillow, the mold in our coffee pot. I became the starved python that stunk for a week – until you noticed the trash and scattered ashes, loose threads etched in the floor. A clean void paints a silhouette where your dresser was and I can taste the antique grime that caked its mirror.

 

 

Charlene Ashley Taylor earned a BA in English with a Minor in Linguistics from the University of Louisville. She’s a former editor of The White Squirrel and mentor for the Sarabande Writing Labs. Her work has appeared in Limestone Journal, Coe Review, Transcendent Zero Press, The Bitter Oleander, The Chaffey Review, Yellow Chair Review, Spry Literary Journal, and others. She is currently a MA student in English at the University of Louisville, working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the University Writing Center and interns as a leading editor with Miracle Monocle.

The Trashed Up Beach. It Took Her Time and Time to Find a Clear Swatch for Them to Sit. The Man Was Truant but He Wears a Watch.

Her searching eyes stuck in a patch of gleam, the forward rippling ocean. Mounting
the

sand dunes, the man swells into a throbbing shape. Ascending the dune the man slides

a smudge in his alligator boots. He struggles against the sea-grass. Hey he calls out. The

puckering ocean stitching the sand into the smoke water. I like your dress he says. Thanks

she says I got it on sale. He says I can’t tell. She says This fabric is itch-worthy
I

don’t care. Grasping the sand in his wide open palms, clutching its natural pulp.
The

woman lets her knees drip against his terse, they stare at the particles of trash who pucker

the shore. She says There’s a dead seagull at your feet. He says Well. A seagull at
the

hull of his boot where the sun beats no relief. Its limp eyes, its glass eyes, adore its misfortune

yes. Its body limp on the sand in a splash, crooked, bizarre. Its no-luster wings
splurched

in a dizzy near a paper towel, coagulated in brine, struggles against the landscape
the

woman her stethoscope scalp is hot, she spindles inside her inner-map and fine
feeling

of granules beneath her toes, between fingers and elbows. Inside she is palpable
unzipped

space of black and quietude the woman splashes and splashes in herself, she scrapes

her oxygen against her topography, until the land scars. She’s finished. Sound is zipped

in a plastic bag. Death as cost of exchange, the man consigns his ear close to the
bird’s

chest, his knees ajar and knocking. Heat beats in her ear like the ear of a clock.
This

bird is still alive he speaks puckering his lips. I’ll have to kill it myself to shield it
from

a slow miserable… He stands up suddenly a harbinger, shrewd and composing a
blue

shadow across the woman who is prostrate on the bride beach licked in litter,
sun

drunk, her blood shouts into the edges of her levers. The man’s watch slides on
his

bulge wrist, grabbing the gull at its unbearable margins. Twisting its neck, a slow
departing,

bones puncture bird-skin, a sickle-crunch fetters the air like perfume, a solid blue
feather

flies off the handle body of the bird, its blood spurts in an arch, slicing the atmosphere,

its inside-heart smells like the gutter’sinside, oil, ripe gasoline, car-parts, factory-
lungs,

accidents and woman is nervous struck by its accidental blood among the perfume sewage.

She says, You’ve pulled its head off. The sand is speckled in a flag of blood. He
says

I guess so. I guess I don’t know my own strength. In one hand he holds its head, in
his

other hand its body. Can you put it back together she says. He says I don’t
think

so. From a distant lump, an ore smoke blows quietly from a factory. Inside the gull’s
pupils

the sun is blinking like a fume. Plop. He drops the gullparts. He drops the death at
his

feet, and they stare. Necessary. A flare of chartreuse blood smirks on the man’s
shirt.

He looks down, says, This sucks. He looks cold, this heat is frozen and hot. He says,
I

need to buy some detergent. His eyes buried inside a what. Relaxed like television,
the

woman is strewn, elegant. We can buy some on the way home, she nods. Laughing her

mouth spreads. A candy wrapper. She tastes like she burns.

Vanessa Saunders is the editor-in-chief of Helium Journal. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is currently an MFA candidate at LSU. She has previously been published in Stockholm Literary Review, Lighthouse Journal, Haight Ashbury Literary, and others.

At the Prison Her Hands Cling to the Sting of the Wires of the Chain Link Fence. Drained Blue Sky. Staring at the Red-Sign of the Prison Gate. The Placard Reads. There is No Unction for the Destitute.

Unslept prison-guard sleeps in his office of wire-chair. She says in a voice gripping
water

I’d like to enter please. The desk inside the foyer empty. She is pressing the
desk-bell

with soft finger tip, the bell-sound lances the room. A blue-uniform stumbles out
from

a fake-wood door. Slow slurred slinky. His voice coils strangely, Please sign in,
he

commands and shuts the door. Waves of loud laughter seep out from behind
that

door. The woman relinquishes her Hancock. Minutes slide down the yellowing
walls.

The Blue-uniform emerges, a line of spittle quivering on his lower lip, he says,
I’m

not really the desk-guy. His smile is a blank check. Where’s the desk guy she
asks.

I can’t find your father, he says. I know he’s here, she says. If he’s not on the
list,

he says, he’s not here. Quiver-smile. He slides a distending tongue across the
span

of his distending lip. She adjusts her mouth to speak, his plastic sneakers squeak,
he

slinks out. Waves of laughter soak the woman in a black wave. Dripping.
Outside

in the splitting sunlight. Daddy is standing in the corner of the prison-yard. Daddy!
she

calls out. Daddy is encroaching the chain-link fence, his eyes are littering his
hands.

His orange jumpsuit reads COCA-COLA across the breast. I’ve been working all
morning,

he says briskly, his face hung in syrup and grease. She says, Dad I came here to
tell

you something. He says, That’s great, glancing at the prison guard near the
entrance,

Come back during visiting hours. An alarm is bouncing into the prison-yard, it
smacks

against the chain-link fence and drips off Daddy’s face turning. His hands, choking
the

fence, are cracked with COCA-COLA syrup. He says, I hope I’ll see you sometime
soon

I’m sorry. He is turning. The smog stirs the trickling ends of her hair. She says,
Dad

I understand. Her Father slithers inside a shapeless grey building, a long shapeless
line

of prisoners. Empty yard, empty woman. At the desk again the forms shapeless.
She

is unseeing the walls buzz, the orchestra of florescent lights peel yellow and
swaying

above her head, the Blue-collar is poured, slumped, against his wood desk shivers in
his

sleep, his snore fetters the air like perfume, a window opening, his dream unrolls like
a

fish in the space she stands clam-like, unseeing the walls buzz, unseeing the lights
chatter

overhead the shapeless form, unseeing the Blue-collar froth in his sleep. She is
smearing

seawater across her clipboard, smearing her ink signature, her body flood. A trail of
seawater

is marking her exit, a snail’s intoxicating signature.

 

 

Vanessa Saunders is the editor-in-chief of Helium Journal. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is currently an MFA candidate at LSU. She has previously been published in Stockholm Literary Review, Lighthouse journal, Haight Ashbury Literary, and others.