Ivan the Terrible Tells Us How He’s Been

Small. Smaller than the fanned leaves of the Gingko tree. Palm of the hand small. So small, you wouldn’t believe. Terrible. I mean, you could see me, if you tried—if you wanted to—but it’s not like I’m really there or anything.

Cami Park writes small things various. Her work can be found in places like Quick Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Opium Magazine, Hobart, FRiGG Magazine, & elimae. She keeps a blog called Mungo at http://oddcitrus.wordpress.com.


Desire: An Elegy

The biggest problem now that you are dead is that I can talk about you. And it is unseemly to talk about you. But I have been talking. Because once I made a list of all the people I’d ever slept with. We were all making lists then. My list was in the double digits, eleven I think, and it made me feel strange until my friend Lisa said her list was in the forties. She lost count. And she was younger than me. But I could name every person on my list even if it had only been a one time thing and that revealed something about me she said. And you were on the list. And it was after you died, after I heard you’d died, that I returned to the list and it was true. You were the only dead one. The only dead one on the list. Someday others on the list will be dead.

There is one who is old, older than you were even, and so I imagine he will be the next dead. For now he is married to a woman my age to a woman who is an actress sometimes he tells me to a woman with a father who is also an alcoholic and isn’t that a coincidence he says, winking, in the way one can wink in an email. I didn’t know your husband was Jewish he writes with an exclamation point. It is unseemly.

These exclamation points.

But not as unseemly as your death which was gruesome we were all thinking about you and your belt and I’m not supposed to talk about it for days and nights though it was none of our business though you are allowed. Though we have to allow it of you though we revere you for it now though you make us sick and we love you now with an intensity that embarrasses us. The intensity we reserve for the dead for our love of the dead. You were beautiful we realize now and it sickens us. That we’d forgotten or hadn’t noticed.

And here I am with you on my list thinking of the time and the desire.

Desire was you sitting next to me offering me a Ritz cracker you spitting in your cup but desire was also the man at home the man in my bed that night. Desire was the way we kissed each other as if looking for something else not the other and it made us both sad. But we were already sad. That was desire. Desire was the way you liked that there was a man in my house if not my bed and you liked that I left his sweatpants at your house one day and desire was you feeding the man’s pants to your dog.

Desire was the way you took me to the grocery store in your new car and desire was you telling me “you’re hot” and me oh is he just like all the rest I must have thought because you did say hot you called me hot and you even you. Especially you.

Desire was the way you came over with your dogs and we walked around the park and you told me about your tennis match. Desire was the way you followed certain conventions and ignored others. Desire was the way you said I can’t be your thesis advisor because I want to date you. It was funny how you used the word date. We both laughed. It was funny how you opened doors for me. It was funny that when I commented on the insistent opening of doors you said that your mother had taught you. To open doors. It was funny that I knew then that I would teach my son the same thing.

Desire was me not caring and knowing it would break me open but also knowing that I needed to be broken open that I needed to die.

We ate Chinese food and it wasn’t good Chinese food because we were in Central Illinois. And my stomach hurt it was indigestion and I shouldn’t have told you but I did and you were so kind. Me gassy and you and I wasn’t embarrassed and that was desire.

Desire was your shirt that I wore that you wanted back that I wouldn’t give back because fuck you. And me sitting on your couch watching Alien and then Aliens on your VHS player because you couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen one or the other while you wrote letters you signed with smiley faces to all of the people who loved you.

I was nearing thirty; you were nearing forty. I thought you were old.

I told Lisa that I’d never slept with someone who killed himself. Or was it that no one I’d ever slept with had killed himself. Or that of all the people I’d ever slept with, you were the only one to be dead. To be now dead. To be dead because he killed himself. It was wrong, the way I put it, because there is no way to put it, but she knew what I meant. And after I heard about you I found my list and I wrote to everyone left alive on my list and I asked each one to promise me that he would never kill himself. And no one wrote back.

Suzanne Scanlon’s fiction is forthcoming or has recently appeared in The Iowa Review, PANK, 580 Split, Midwestern Gothic and many other places; essays and reviews have appeared in The American Scholar, The Review of Contemporary Fiction and elsewhere. She writes about theater for Time Out Chicago.

Failure in the Underground Time

At that time everyone lived in a cave underground and the burrow I found to call home hosted so many fleshy languid wayfarers that every move and thought became erotic, even walking to the fridge, now nestled against a few boulders but otherwise the same cheap white affair it had always been in dens of that ilk. Don’t ask me how it worked or how anyone got oxygen because what did I care? Everyone was so sincere and sincere is sex, so no, no one minded living underground, in our burrow or anywhere else, since violence went away forever and life was a boudoir mall cave: rock, and open-faced people, and things people bought before the underground time. Walk out of the burrow through another rock burrow into another rock burrow and pass women in faded silk bathrobes still carrying designer handbags, men in slippers and suit jackets, children in lollipop-sized rubies and bug-eyed Chanel sunglasses. Everything functional and back to a new norm, just step over rubble now, no architecture, no wallpaper, no plants, no sunlight, everyone mellow, all around cave. A hippie living in my burrow left me a love note in a bag of chocolate-covered graham cookies, but I never have any privacy so I walked to the river running through the cave to read. The note was four pages long and full of sincerity, I was sure, and I couldn’t wait; it would totally turn me on. What do you think but when I got there and pulled the note from my pocket, strangers still slung their arms around me and tried to look over my shoulder, everyone sharing everything now, so I waded into the water but you wouldn’t believe the current and with the water rushing and masses of people bobbing along for the ride, urgency lost its hold and the next thing I knew I was at least twenty miles downstream in who knew what burrow. Talk about no maps. Everyone let those go awhile back. But I climbed out of the current and tucked myself in a corner to read the blue-ink handwriting, now smeared. Then I thought of when I met the hippie and returned his warm smile, and I felt something like light, but then I remembered once when he went to the shower and he took off his hat, how his hair underneath fell down to his butt, which meant he’d been growing it out since before the underground time. That was a turnoff, I had to admit, like his hair could get in the way, like I wouldn’t be able to feel his skin. I sat in the corner by the river while contented people rushed contentedly past on the current and I felt contentedness creeping in because the river was warm and fast and the freest of all the free underground, but I clutched the note and couldn’t let go. Still, I’d already forgotten about the cookies and soon I would forget about the note or it wouldn’t matter anymore and I knew, even as I unfolded the note, because it was impossible now not to fail, that the light was fading away but what I wanted was a reason to find a way back through the burrows to the hippie. What I wanted was desire.

Other stories by Lydia Ship have appeared or are forthcoming in Night Train, Hobart, The 2nd Hand, The Battered Suitcase, The Pedestal, A Capella Zoo, Metazen, The Armchair Aesthete, New South, Neon, and The Dead Mule, among others; in 2009, one of her stories received a Pushcart nomination, and she is a Contributing Editor at The Chattahoochee Review. Read more of her stories here–

The Mountain Goats

I see them climbing their mountains and I see my mom looking up at them, her head raised and her chin pointing out, my dad with his back turned. We are standing there looking, up the mountain the goats and their white fur, some of them their horns. Some birds come in and around them but the goats, they don’t do anything. They stand and barely move their heads every once in awhile.

We stand and watch, me and my mom and my dad. All of us looking in a different direction.

And the mountain goats here are white and they have these tiny little goats with them, their babies, so it must be that time for them, when the goats here have their babies and they climb the mountain with them, up on the grey rocks.

WE SHOULD GO my dad says and he doesn’t turn back to us when he says it, he keeps his back turned, and the mountain goat up on the mountain, its baby by its feet, it chews with an open mouth. When I chew with an open mouth my mom will say DON’T CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN. Her face will look pained, her eyebrows dipping into her eyes. But if she is feeling good she will say DON’T CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN, PLEASE. Some days she feels good and some days she doesn’t. That is how I am my mother.

TRAFFIC my dad says and I say YEP, like how it slips out. I don’t drive and I don’t know about traffic except that it takes us longer to get to where we want to go. What do I know about driving I am thinking when my dad he says the same thing. WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT DRIVING he says and I almost say yep again, but then I don’t, because today at the zoo is a day I am learning. Sometimes you say things back and sometimes you don’t, And sometimes words come out on accident and you can’t take them back.

That happens and traffic happens and we stand and watch in quiet.

My mom wipes sweat from her forehead, where her hair meets her face, and my dad he looks at his watch twice. I guess he is hoping that today will be something it is not.

And the mountain goats, their baby, one of them, it hops down from where it was, its hooves making a thud on the pretend rocks, this mountain made of sidewalks, and it says something. What the baby mountain goat says is called bleating. It isn’t words but noise. I know that it is called bleating because I read the sign last time we were here and I remember what it was called. The mountain goat baby leaps down from its mother and bleats. And its mother, she just chews some more with her mouth open. And the mountain goat dad, like my dad, he stays off to the side somewhere, up a level, his horns shining tan in sun.

IT’S HOT I say because I don’t want YEP to be the last thing I said to my dad, his back turned at this fence, my mom looking up at the grey. And YEP is what he says back, just like me, the two of us.

The goats they stand and the sun goes. If it was raining then these goats would stand I think, in the rain, feeling the rain go into their backs. And the sun when it came again it would dry them down, warm them up again.

And we will come back to this zoo, me and my mom and my dad and maybe then it will be raining and we will stand in it, in the rain or under a tree, the water looking like static in the air. My mom and my dad and me. Her chin pointing to the sky, my dad’s back towards the fence, me not saying anything. Because the silence here and the goat hooves on the fake rocks, that is better.

They stand in the sun, these mountain goats here. They burn up in white fur. We stand and watch and are quiet again.

WE SHOULD GET GOING my dad says, and so we do. We go. And the goats they stand, don’t move, and that is how it stops, us looking at the goats, us making to go.

J. A. Tyler is founding editor of mud luscious and the author of Someone, Somewhere (ghost road press, 2009), In Love With a Ghost (willows wept press, 2010), and Inconceivable Wilson (vox press, 2010) as well as the chapbooks Our Us & We (greying ghost), Zoo: The Tropic House (sunnyoutside), Everyone in this is Either Dying or Will Die or is Thinking of Death (achilles), and The Girl in the Black Sweater (trainwreck press). Visit: www.aboutjatyler.com.

A Brief History of Your Mom

One mother was not impressed with his urinal routine. Marcel’s aim was better than that she knew. Years later, when he changed the meaning of “meaning,” she pushed all her potted plants off the sill. There was no point, and that was the point.

One other mother removed her undergarments and posed for her son’s painting. “Is this a still life?” she asked her son. “Please don’t do this to me,” he said. Gustave was ten seconds old when the light slit open his eyes and that wild bush came into view. There are those who say vision itself is pornographic. Those people do not live in France.

Another mother made her soup from scratch and resented many things. “Soup is not a commercial,” she thought. “My son is gay.” In America everyone is American, probably.

This other mother boiled potatoes in the dark. She had man hands and her sons did not. Vincent and Theo never helped with the potatoes, so she never helped with the rent.

And then there was one mother who had a square face with blue and red boxes, though her nose was an off-center rectangle. She liked to arbitrarily place one thing next to another. Her husband felt she was a control freak, but kept quiet his entire life.

And this one – this one menstruated black and white. This was before color television and black and white was good enough. To call her unabashed was not an exaggeration. Her drippings at the center of town confused both Rorschach and the mayor. “Can you please stay in the barn when you do that?” the mayor asked. She said okay.

The last mother refused to rid of her son’s peaches, pears, and placenta. The cleaning lady was less than enthralled and waited for each of them to die.

Jimmy Chen‘s fiction has appeared in Dzanc Best of the Web 2009, elimae, NOÖ Journal, Juked, Diagram, among others. He is a contributing writer at HTMLGIANT, and lives in San Francisco.

I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground

               When was it?
               Summer in Minneapolis, near Lake Harriet, eighty-five degrees.
               Right, a tattooed group preceded us through the fifty-odd rows of roses, skin tanned and curlicued, bestial designs pouring out of their tank tops and black knit shorts. They paused at each row. They were drunk on roses.
                You speculated they were dialing back through memory on purpose, plumbing their psyches.
               I overheard a woman, stick-skinny, with a blue mountain tattooed across her back, speak in quiet reverence about smells, amygdalas, the limbic system. I’m guessing it was her husband—the big man, bald and hairy—who got down on one knee, sank his nose in a yellow bloom, and wept. The group, nine or so, leaned in and palmed his wooly shoulders. I remember your noting that.
                Yes, and “When the man rolled to the ground, collapsed on a mound of black bark and mulch, everyone seemed happy.”
               Incredibly happy.
               Dazed, even.
               Later in the car, my daughter Lil said the garden lacked an “appurtenant array” of pre-modern tea hybrids.
               Lil would go on and on about those tea hybrids.
               Evie was there.
               Yes, Evie, her friend. Evie was shy.
               Evie passed away.
               Yes, in June.
               Years earlier, in Roanoke, without Lil and before your mother died, we were at a costume party where an astronaut spoke plainly about girls in pink clothes.
               His name was Hector, or Herman.
               An eloquent drunk.
               Somewhat. He was maudlin.
               What I loved most about that party was the crystal chandelier hanging from the living room ceiling.
               I liked the bartender who poured drinks from a collapsible bar near the window.
               The place was quasi-rococo, heavily curtained.
               “It’s supposed to be like a vagina,” the astronaut told us, “a womb-like color to attract mates.” Whenever the astronaut drank—I believe it was scotch—he raised the mirrored shield of his helmet and tipped his glass inside.
               “A straw is like a little penis,” he added.
               That night, back at the hotel, in the mirrored bathroom, I tore off your Mary Poppins outfit. Four paper quote marks fell off the wire hangers around my shoulders. The remnants of “myself” and Mary Poppins like a constellated code of sewn wool and paper on the cold tile grid.
               You put it so nicely.
               Which reminds me, in Wyoming, the tomb of Dick Cheney. His disembodied voice crooning at us.
               Like an icy birch tree, as you put it.
               I offered the apparition a drink and he said, “We were just kids then, our lives were intact, the radio transmitted true lo-ove.”
               Then the police came.
               Booked, I lay in white rubber slippers, coarse orange jumper, eternal lighting, a combination of body odors. The call was collect; you refused—I told you everything in that pause where the name goes.
               Next morning you were stellar in the courtroom.
               The judge said, “There’s no camping in the cemetery… city ordinance.”
               “You’re kidding,” I said.
               “Nope, no littering, no trespassing, no slurping with ethereal statesmen, get outta here.”
               A helicopter ride over Charleston. My uncle Leo asked me to transport a small rifle to Murfreesboro for a talent show—a bolt action .22 named Judy. “Leo,” I said, “I don’t get it. I mean Judy. How does she do it? How does she dance that way?”
               “Well, the routine goes ‘Pretty Fair Damsel,’ ‘This Land is Your Land,’ ‘Acadian One Step,’ then she closes out with ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground.’ There’s a lot of faith involved, which is key.”
               That year Judy won first prize in the Middle Tennessee Firearms Talent Competition, as I recall.
               But Leo never saw the ribbon.
               Right. Brain tumor that August.
               Yes, brain tumor. Always a brain tumor.
               Well, not really always. Sometimes it’s other things.
               Most of the time, though, it’s a brain tumor.
               I guess so. Those fucking brain tumors.
               Can we talk about something else?
               Of course we can.

Josh Collins teaches at Texas State University and serves as book review editor for Front Porch, editorial staff for Southwestern American Literature, and fiction editor for Precipitate. He also has work forthcoming in Quick Fiction.

Death at the Shower

The winter Chet turned 83, his family threw him a death shower and invited all his friends. The ladies made a coffin out of yellow cake. The men measured the inseam for his last suit with the ribbons from the gifts he had opened on his lap: a pair of wingtips, a travel-size Aqua Velva, a scrap-fabric hanky sewn into a pocket, and a gold watch with a missing hour hand from Death himself, who had arrived late and, in those days, wore the flip flops and seedy pencil mustache of a cruise director.

“Let’s take guesses on how it will happen,” Chet’s daughter said, passing a yellow legal pad around the room. “Closest wins a booby prize.”

“How droll,” Death said to Chet, rolling his eyes.

But the daughter collected the strips of paper anyway and put them in the hanky pocket, stirring her fingers in the papers before pulling them out to read. “Exposure. For fear of crossing a bean field. Wasps. Impaled by steering wheel.” Each seemed more reasonable than the last, they all agreed, and even Chet cracked a smile.

Toward the end of the evening, Death spun records and wah-toosied time to a freeze, though Chet checked his watch to measure the lapse.

“Don’t be such a stiff,” Chet’s daughter said. She pulled him onto the kitchen floor and he broke in his new shoes dancing the collegiate shag as the music roared. But then Death, always the klutz, spilled the last ladle of punch on Chet’s white cabana shirt.

“I’ll get the club soda,” Chet offered, but Death put up his finger.

“Think nothing of it,” he said. He took off his own shirt and put it over Chet’s shoulders, buttoning it neatly over his bony chest. The spill flared out beyond the line of holes in a gash of color, like the wing of some bird of paradise Chet no longer knew the name of.


“Never put clothes in drawer,” Nana scolded me. She had come to visit for my thirteenth birthday. “If they’re in drawer, how can get out?”

She smacked the top of my hand, then made me lift my arms and stuck her nose in my pit. She sniffed. “Good,” she said, thumping my head. “Almost ready.”

“Hey,” I said. “I’m no melon.”

“Quiet,” she said.

She took out a red plaid wool shirt that smelled sharp like my first pee in the morning.

“Unbutton top buttons for shirt on hangars. Shirts need air so they can fly and find you strange women.”

I cringed.

“Be man,” she said. “Listen.”

She explained my grandfather was a boarder in her mother’s house. He was from the farms. Lice jumped off him in such multitudes that he looked fuzzy. Her father made him sleep in the barn. Each night, before my grandfather went to bed, he left his tan corduroy jacket in her house, saying it was his only good garment.

“It festered and stank,” Nana said. “I don’t think he had touched bar of soap ever. Food rotted between his teeth. Wax crusted in his ear. My mother want to dip this jacket in lye and him with it, but I hide it in my closet. Every night, the jacket came to me and I sat up in bed like Bride of Frankenstein monster and holding arms out to receive its sleeves. It slid on top of me, so my breasts pressed against soft satin of back lining. And then it buttoned its top button. Only top button though. Jackets were gentlemanly in these days. Not like today. At first this smell gagged me, but this lining was so comforting and cool. Soon I grew to know this smell, to search for it among my village, beyond smoke and soot and shit.”

She said “shit” like it would cover a bed.

“When he left, I followed smell over ocean until I find it again here and marry your reeking grandfather.”

I hung the plaid shirt in the closet and smiled.

“You laugh from other side of face, bub. It’s truth.”

“So where’s the jacket now?” I asked.

“Here,” she said. She rolled up a floral sleeve. The skin hung off her arm like wet paper. She pointed to the sunspots on her bare arm. I could see it was not skin but blackened holes where the corduroy had worn away.


Downstairs, my mother called me to light the cake. After I blew out the candles, Nana handed me a rectangular coat box. “Open later,” she said and then told my father to take her home. My father agreed.

Before she went to bed, my mother reached out for my arm and pulled me toward her.

She was never one for hugs, but she held me there.

“Happy Birthday,” she said and squeezed.

My fingers felt the soft cleft of her back and there along her spine, the hard nub of a button.

Patrick Crerand
currently lives and writes in Florida where he teaches at Saint Leo University. Recent work of his has appeared in Conjunctions, New Orleans Review, Sentence, and other magazines. He is currently at work on a novel about Bingo (the game) and Jesus (the Christ).