A Short Story by Maria Diaz

If my brother found out that I was sleeping with one of the Beltrez boys, he would kill me. We had to be really secretive about it — sneaking out when the entire campo was at church, pretending we were arranging community meals so that we could be in the same house. I regularly invited Teofilo over when he was headed to New York, dizque pa’ mandarle algo a mi hermano. I knew they never saw each other, but the effort kept the bochinchosos from opening their big mouths. Teofilo had a wife and kids in New York and a wife and kids right here, in Sabana Iglesia. I wasn’t his wife. I didn’t want to marry him, anyway.

In a few months, I would also be in New York, rich like my brother. The entire campo chased him every time he came back with his wife, whose beautiful blue eyes could only temporarily distract my neighbors from my brother’s good fortune. He bought a house in Queens, big enough for all of us, he said.

Teofilo lived in Manhattan.

“That’s where the real Dominicans live, mami,” he said to me, “how will the kids know what it means to be Dominican?”

Teofilo liked to pretend that we could one day live together, as if he did not already have several beds to keep warm and mouths to feed, as if I was not the biggest secret he kept. I knew there was no world in which we could coexist. He was actively a Trujillista, a believer in the dead dictator’s policies who had upended the life of so many Dominicans.

My family fought to save us from that reality; my brother was a very vocal opponent and protestor against the dictator’s hateful rhetoric. He moved to New York in fear that he might one day be arrested for his public dissent. I stayed in Sabana Iglesia as proof that we were not traitors. I had a visa. I could have left.

Teofilo entered my house and took one look at me before commenting, “Tu si ‘ta gorda,” as he rushed towards my bedroom. He didn’t kiss me; he didn’t hug me. He didn’t bother to ask how I was. He noticed the weight I had gained, and he made it a point to comment on how fat I was getting.

He had been gone for four months, and in that time, I had learned that I was pregnant. Teofilo was the only man I had been with in two years, so it was definitely his baby, but I knew that telling him meant risking losing him. Money and land were sacred in Sabana Iglesia, and babies guaranteed access to both.

“I’m pregnant,” I blurted out, as he undressed himself in my bedroom. He looked at me with a puzzled expression.

“It can’t be mine. I’ve been gone for months,” he said.

Teofilo thought I wanted his money. That’s what all DominicanYork men think the side chick they keep hidden away in el campo want. But I didn’t need any of his money. Our family had our own.

I wanted to hear three words I had never heard from him in the six years we had been doing this: I love you.

Teofilo kept coming back for a healthy release throughout the pregnancy and wrote me letters while he was in New York. He signed every letter, con amor, but he never once told me he loved me. In the last letter before Robert’s birth, he told me that his New York wife was due in October and that his Sabana Iglesia wife had just given birth to a baby boy months before.

Teofilo’s visits became sporadic after Robert’s birth. He sent me a total of $5000 to keep quiet about the paternity of the baby, but there was no denying who his father was. Robert had his father’s white face, his very round brown eyes and his coarse, curly hair.  He did not take after my side of the family.

I gave that money to my brother, to help him pay the mortgage on the Corona house that would soon be mine as well — a home I hoped would one day house my grandchildren and their grandchildren, a little piece of New York that could be ours. How would my children know they were Dominican? How could they deny what ran so prominently through their blood?

I left Sabana Iglesia in 1965, months after having Teofilo’s second child, who I left with his big brother, in el campo with my younger sister. I trusted that my boys were safe in Sabana Iglesia and I knew that this sacrifice — this temporary separation — was for our collective benefit.

Corona, Queens was unapologetically racist — we were among the first Dominicans to settle in the neighborhood, and when asked if we were Cuban, we often answered, “Yes,” though we knew the answer was wrong.

We thought people were asking if we knew Spanish, trying to find an easier way to communicate with us, but they were using Cuban as a substitute for communist, and every “yes” was an admission of guilt. We had not yet figured out how to navigate this new world where politics intersected with racial identity. Our light complexion, it turns out, told a particular story about our heritage that was neither true nor relatable in the Corona context. To our neighbors, we would be Cuban until at least the 1980s, when a mass migration of Dominicans made our story easier to understand.

I spent the first few years in Corona watching what was happening in the neighborhood through the curtains in the windows and calling las vecinas pa’ bochinchar, to tell them whose husbands I saw entering single women’s homes, spying on my brother, who developed a gambling addiction since arriving in the states, and cooking dinner for all of the Sabana Iglesia transplants who had settled in the neighborhood. I went to church not because I was a devout Catholic, but because that was the best place to get the latest chisme, pa’ saber que pasaba.

The prayer group of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans that came to my house on Saturday nights actually came over to play Bingo — we didn’t pray at all, except to pray that we took the most money home that night. I often cheated, making sure that the house always won.

I thought about Teofilo often, wondering what he was up to in his big Manhattan four bedroom apartment, curious about the daughter who was about the same age as our son. He was my past now, with whom I shared nothing but memories of sins of adultery and two beautiful boys who lived in the Dominican Republic, waiting to be reunited with their mom and stepfather.

Robert could come at any time, but we were waiting. I wasn’t sure what we were waiting for, exactly. He would have a house with a big backyard, a garden, and his own bedroom. Nelson had to wait because he was younger, and he was struggling to learn to read and write. I felt like it was my fault. I abandoned my children and the younger one, the one I had spent less time with, could hardly write his own name.

Right after we came back from visiting my kids in December 1971, I came back to my Corona home to a brand new television in my bedroom; my brother and my husband had banded together to get me one because they knew I liked my bochinche. I watched Univision every night at 6:00 and 11:00, sure to write down any time they mentioned a Dominican last name I recognized from el campo: Diaz, Rodriguez, Collado, Nuñez, Beltrez, Valerio, Fernandez, Hernandez, Vargas, Franco.

The news stories usually repeated themselves between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm, so I did not expect the variation on January 2, 1972. I did not get a warning. Nobody called me to tell me.

The newscaster said that a man entered his four bedroom apartment in Manhattan, where he lived with his wife and his daughter, when he was approached by his angry wife, who met him at the door with a butcher’s knife.

Someone called her from Sabana Iglesia, to tell her that they saw a boy, about ten years old, who was identical to her husband, which meant he had to have been cheating on her. They had been married thirteen years at that point. She stabbed him seventeen times in the back. The life-threatening injuries took his life.

“Teofilo Beltrez, de Sabana Iglesia, Santiago de los Caballeros, murió en su apartamento en Manhattan.” Teofilo died in his Manhattan apartment, after his wife found out he had cheated on her.

After someone in Sabana Iglesia went to my house, took a picture of Robert, and sent it to her.

I called the boys that night to tell them.

I couldn’t mourn his death publicly. I was not his widow. I was married to a man who loved me, and I was expecting a baby.

I dressed in black for a week, stayed in my house, and did not bother staring out the window.

Robert would be flying to New York for his father’s funeral and I knew that in short time, I would be bochinche, not just for the Sabana Iglesia transplants, but for all Dominicans who live near — and for the Cubans and Puerto Ricans who make it a habit to spend Saturday night at my house.

When my son came, I held him over his father’s casket and said, “This is your father. He died in a car accident.”

Other mourners stared at Robert, whose face was identical to his father’s. They heard my lie, shook their head, and they did not have to say what I knew they were thinking.

His wife killed him.

But I caused his death.

Maria Diaz is an educational consultant living originally from Queens, New York, where she currently lives, though she has left parts of her heart in Cambridge and Palo Alto. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College, The City College of New York, and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

A Short Story by E. P. Tuazon
or Mamamalengke Ako

Los Angeles, California, May 31, 2020.

In the Island Pacific market, overcome by hunger, Jess cannot take it anymore. She draws an Asian pear from the fruit section. It is a little bruised but otherwise edible without washing. She takes a glance at the lola picking up and putting down Filipino sweat sausages in the meat section and the woman in the hijab preoccupied with trying to find the crease to open her plastic produce bag in front of the eggplant. Once she confirms they are not looking, she pulls down her mask and makes quick work of it. The juices of the pear run all over her face and make dark lines on her black mask. Its refreshing, sweet taste is short-lived and she plants its seed-peppered core at the foot of the display before wiping her face with her shirt and limps her way to the seafood section unnoticed. 

Pulling up her mask, she exhales and takes in the fruity fragrance of the pear mixed with the Dewar’s still sitting in her throat from last night. She is trying to get over the fact that she was hit by a truck in Hollywood just a couple of hours ago. She had joined the protest there, but once the looting happened, she started to trot off shakily with the rest of those like herself who lingered long after the more organized groups of protestors had left.

She headed in the direction of the metro station when she witnessed five masked men drag out an ATM machine from a nail salon and load it into a truck. Deciding it was none of her business, Jess proceeded to walk to the opposite sidewalk to avoid the growing mass of looters flooding broken windows and doors. However, once her feet made it to the asphalt, the truck screeched into drive and clipped her foot. She spun onto the ground and met the sharp smell of tear gas and weed.  The drone of cheers, sirens, helicopters and her own blood pulsing above her eyes accompanied the cold ache in her cheek and foot. One passerby coming out of a raided anime store stood beside her in awe.

“Bro, I saw the whole thing! I wish I got it on camera.” The man had on science goggles and a Messi jersey wrapped around his head and face. Despite all these things covering him up, she knew he was Filipino too. Under one arm was a giant Totoro. Under the other was a body pillow with an anime girl on it. Jess couldn’t help but laugh. Why did she think to come alone?

“Bro, you hit your head or something?”

“No, it’s just my foot.” She wiggled her toe, but she couldn’t tell if she was actually doing it or imagining it. She couldn’t be fine, she thought. You don’t come out of things like this being able to wiggle your toe without something else happening.

“Those guys are lucky. They got that whole thing. Fuck the police!”

Jess thought of the nail salon. Scattered among the glass were the signs that read “Reopen June 1st” followed by something hand-written in red and Thai.

“Yeah, fuck twelve.” Jess said, reading the graffiti that was everywhere now.

“What?”

“Fuck twelve.” She said and pointed at the boarded-up windows across the street, eyeing the restaurant signs and the billboards. They were all covered in the words.

“Bro, fuck the police.” The man said and proceeded on his way, walking off to the smoke in the distance, the glow of destruction reflected off his goggles as if he was participating in an experiment.

“It means the same thing!” Jess explained although the man was gone by then, his exit expediated by the sound of sirens in the distance, the lack of things to take left in the vicinity.

And, somehow, Jess was able to get up and walk. Somehow, she made it to her stop and the metro came and her foot could push the pedals down in her car and she was able to go home to her one-bedroom apartment in Canyon Country, far from it all. Somehow, she was able to pour herself a drink and another drink and swipe through all the news on her phone trying to find news about what just happened until she passed out. Somehow, there was nothing about her. Somehow, she hadn’t let the pain bother her until now, in the market, her insides empty, her foot throbbing. And, somehow, it all came with a question; while she lay on the ground, trying to explain what meaning things had, she did not know what meaning there was for herself. Why did she go to the protest in the first place?

She is trying to skip over the fact that she was hit by a truck a couple of hours ago, but her body cannot help but remember. Her shoulder hurts, her face hurts, her legs hurt, her foot hurts. She finds the aisle for beauty supplies and, below the malunggay supplements and kalamansi oil, she plucks a small bottle of Aspirin from its place. She presses the bottle open, pours a couple into her palm, then launches them into her mouth. To wash them down, she throws in a few gummy vitamins straight out the bottle. She chews on them and lets her mouth flood with saliva and their sweet-sour taste while she counts the number of pixels that make up the blown-up, low-quality picture of fruits on the label. She swallows them and cruises up the aisle thinking about what kind of thinking terribly made labels came from. If you had to do a label but couldn’t afford to give it a good finish, why even try to do something with color in the first place? Why not keep it simple, like black and white? Surely people would trust to buy what you’re selling that way. But that was the problem, wasn’t it, she thought, tasting the vitamins come up and mix with the Aspirin, the Asian pear, and the Dewar’s. The label could never live up to what was expected inside, what the inside could offer.

She feels like she nearly reaches an epiphany but, at the end of her aisle, there is a young Filipina her age crying into her phone in the seafood section, disturbing Jess from her reflection. She sees her move from the iced squid to the blue crab. She watches, wondering if it is a problem with allergies, the Corona virus, or if she is genuinely weeping. One has to be skeptical these days. She had marveled at the possibility of the thought going away, and with the protests and reopenings, she nearly convinced herself that it had. However, here it was, the awareness, the mistrust.

Jess throws the open bottles of aspirin and gummy vitamins into her cart and rolls it towards the woman until it is between them.

“Excuse me? Are you ok?”

“Ew, don’t fucking talk to me.” The woman says, not even looking at her. She puts her back to Jess and continues to look down at her phone, over the red snapper.

Jess immediately regrets being concerned but does not have enough strength to fight her pride. “Sorry, I just noticed you crying from the beauty section.”

“Six feet! Privacy!” The woman says, still not turning around.

The butcher several displays away notices the woman raise her voice but doesn’t look alarmed behind his mask. He looks back down at his work and forgets Jess and the woman are there again.

Jess shakes the handle of her cart. “The cart’s six feet and we’re wearing masks.”

“What? Are you a doctor or something? You going to point a temperature gun at my head and shoot? Get away from me. I saw you limping from a mile away. You’re making me feel uncomfortable.”

The word “limp” hits a nerve with Jess, but she is still too weak to retaliate and continues her crusade. “I’m sorry. I got hit by a truck yesterday.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I was at the protest last night. Some truck dinged my foot.”

This makes the woman turn and Jess cannot help but feel a pang of shame for having to stoop so low as to have to mention it.

“Oh my God. Those racist assholes!”

Jess doesn’t correct her. She looks down at the woman’s phone and there is a feed of posts from the protest last night. She recognizes some of the people and moments from yesterday. She sees the protestors, the police, the store owners, and rioters. She sees the chanting, the praying, the marching, the beauty, the bricks, the broken glass, the looting, the police brutality, and the fires. They collage on her tiny screen in sharp tiny boxes.   

“Did you go to the hospital?” The woman says, dabbing at her eyes with the cuff of her sweater. Jess could tell she is not wearing makeup. She is not either. It is too early and too late.

“No, I’m all right. It’s just sore is all.” Jess says, still looking at the woman’s phone.

The woman notices Jess looking, and she swipes the screen with her finger, the squares rolling down it like a slot machine. “Wasn’t it terrible what happened last night?”

“Actually, it was great.” Jess says, her pride going strong, her legs and knees remembering the march, the kneeling, the trek all over Hollywood and its uneven streets.

“But what about the police? What were those jerks thinking?” The woman says, her cheeks tender but the tears gone.

“Yeah, they were shooting smoke bombs and rubber bullets at everyone.”

“Oh my God, did you get shot?”

“No, just hit by a truck.”

“Oh my God!” The woman exclaims, as if she forgot she heard it the first time.

Jess winces as the guilt wells. “So, was that what you were crying about?”

“Yeah, that and I read that they’re putting a curfew on us tonight.”

“A curfew? Like we’re a bunch of children? Jesus Christ. I can’t believe they’re doing this.”

“Only a tyrant makes curfews.”

“Well, it did get pretty bad out there.” Jess remembers the awning to the anime store tattered and shredded, the Hello Kitty painted on it covered in soot. The torsos and legs of broken action figures strewn together with the glass on the sidewalk.

“I know. The police brutality was terrible. What happened to George Floyd was terrible. Everything needs to change. We need to be better. I can’t believe we did this.”

“I know,” Jess says, and, after thinking about the woman’s words for a second, continues, “What do you mean we did this?”

“Oh my God, yeah. It’s all of our faults. We allow this to happen every day. With our president, our American culture, and institutions of racism that keep minorities out of power. But what really gets me miffed, and I don’t get miffed about just anything, but what really gets me miffed is us. Asians. Filipinos.”

Jess feels the regret already resurface at the word “miffed”, the question she had applied to last night beginning to apply to the now. “You think we’re the problem?”

“Yeah! The model-minority. The silent panderer. We’re in league with the problem: the Whites of America.”

“What?”

“Think about it? Think of your parents. Weren’t they racist? Didn’t they say racist things like you shouldn’t hang out with those Mexicans? Stay away from that Black boy? Don’t lend that Bumbay that five dollars? My parents said things like that all the time. Don’t tell me yours didn’t.”

“Bumbay?”

“It’s what Filipinos call people from India.”

Jess thinks of her sweet old parents. They are living in Porter Ranch in a predominantly Filipino community. She had heard her fair share of off-hand ignorant things from them but never saw them as the problem. Should she?   

“We’re just as guilty as the Whites. We’re friends with them. We do everything they say. We date and marry their kind. We’re the lookouts while the White man murders all the other minorities who don’t step in line. We need to change. We need to fight back. We need to undo the conditioning and return to our roots and reconnect with our diaspora.”

And there it is, Jess thinks. She couldn’t figure it out until now, the feeling that had led her to the protest, that had led her to the girl. She feels it swell with the pain in her body. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”

“You have to continue fighting! Thank you for what you’re doing!” The woman says and Jess makes the mistake of looking back and catching the tears well in her eyes again. Jess cannot take it; it is humiliating to her to hear her talk about things like “diaspora” and mean it. It is embarrassing to Jess that this woman believes—actually, whole-heartedly, believes—in what she is feeling more than Jess believes in the same feelings in herself. It distresses Jess that this woman, this Filipina like herself, feels confident enough to scream it out loud in front of the dead fish and bound crab.

“I’m trying. I’m just someone trying to fight everything.” Jess says, remembering the lights of the truck turn on, the shadow she made on the street. She stretches out, wide on the pavement, but, she herself is so small in the light.

The woman’s face is covered in tears and a pure sheen of sincerity, but it does not understand her, Jess thinks. It only knows the answer to Jess’s question as much as Jess does. “Oh my God,” the girl says through the aisle Jess escapes, “don’t try too hard—you might get yourself killed.”

Outside, with her bag of opened aspirin and gummy vitamins, she is feeling the night beginning to wear off and the need to do something, anything, to satisfy herself again, to tell her she is doing the right thing. The thought of the woman, the man with the Totoro, and the pounding in her head like the chants and explosions from last night. She faces forward, looking beyond the parking lot, thinking about them, and—boom—Jess is hit by a car accelerating past the front of the store.  Jess spins to the ground and an all-to-familiar feeling buzzes at her foot again. She lies dazed at the front wheel, driver-side.

The woman who hit her leans out and yells, maskless. She is the same woman, the Filipina from the store. “Are you fucking crazy, lady?”

People gather. “Is anything broken?” someone asks.

She struggles to stand. She thinks she sees the feet of the man in front of the anime store running off into the chaos.

“Don’t move.” Someone else says.

“Let’s call the police.” Another says.

“Oh, Fuck. Thanks a lot, bitch.” The woman who hit her says, getting out of her car.

“Do you want the number of my lawyer? Just let her know it’s me and she’ll do it pro bono.” A woman younger than Jess scribbles a number on her receipt and gives it to her. At first, she thinks it will say something like “fuck 12” but there are just numbers and totals and items purchased. A bag of rice for $12.99. Two pounds of ox tail for $8.37.

“Fuck you, lady. I just tapped her.”

Pakikiramay! Show ng ilang empathy!” an old man says coming out from the Island Pacific. He has more bags in his hands than he looks like he can carry but he does not run. Not like last night.

“Let me help you with those, lolo.” Someone who is not Filipino says. The old man lets him.

“What were you doing? How would you expect me to see you? Who do you think you are?”

“I was leaving.”

“Why didn’t you wait and look like people are supposed to?”

“You ran me over.” Jess says.

“I’m a mother. You ruined my day!” She says.

The woman gets on her phone while more people come to Jess’s aid. Some are wearing masks. Some aren’t. Someone brings her some coconut juice with pulp. Another one, a Lakers cushion. “Benny. I had an accident. I was getting out of the market and someone got in front of my car. She’s giving me a hard time. I hate people like that. People who think it’s other people’s fault for things that happen to them.” She stops talking to her phone to ask Jess, “Do I have to wait until the police come? I have things to do, you know?”

A worker from the Island Pacific comes with a package of lumpia and puts it on her foot at the point of impact. Jess winces. It’s cold. The worker uses a roll of duct tape patterned with the words Balikbayan on them to bind the eggrolls to her foot. “I’m training to be a medic,” he says with an acne smile, “in the Reserves.”

“What do I owe you?” Jess asks the man.

“You don’t owe us anything. Just promise not to let these go to waste.”

Jess forces herself to stand; the crowd applauds as she crawls to her feet. “Thank you. Thank you very much.” She says and takes a bow. 

E. P. Tuazon is a Filipinx-American writer from Los Angeles. He has published his works in several publications, most recently Five South, Peatsmoke Journal, Third Point Press, 3Element Review, Allegory Ridge, Adelaide Magazine,  and  a Forthcoming piece in The Rumpus. He has two books, The Superlative Horse and The Last of The Lupins: Nine Stories and The Comforters. He is currently a member of Advintage Press and The Blank Page Writing Club. In his spare time, he likes to wander the seafood section of Filipinx markets to gossip with the crabs.

A Short Story by Shae Krispinsky

At Rhythm & Brews Lounge, the pours would always be watered down, the bartenders surly, the jukebox programed to loop the same two dozen modern country songs, the dance floor empty. It was a place for people to come and be lonely together, and little had ever changed there in the all the years Natch had been going.

Except tonight when he’d pulled in, the parking lot had been full, unusual for the Monday-through-Thursday stretch that was the doldrums of life. Inside, some digital recording of a wannabe cowboy wasn’t warbling about a honky tonk badonkadonk; there was a long-haired pretty boy up on the small stage, wearing ratty clothes that looked pulled from a dumpster and playing a $4000 guitar. A gaggle of women swayed before him, transfixed, sucking on their Smirnoff Ices.

And then there she was, the most obvious change of all, seated in the far corner booth with a bowl of peanuts in front of her. By the way she held herself, back straight, not touching the red vinyl cushion, alert but not alarmed, Natch knew the loneliness he saw in her was a familiar feeling. The Busch Beer stained-glass lamp hanging above her table gave off a cool glow that highlighted her cheekbones and her sandy hair that hung in a long tangle over her shoulder. Natch wasn’t the only one who noticed. He was, however, the one who approached, offering to buy her a drink. He would have done the same even if she hadn’t been so beautiful; he felt it his duty to be welcoming. The beauty didn’t hurt.

“Thank you,” she said, “but I don’t.”

“Nothing?” Natch asked. “Coffee? It’s not bad here. I mean, it doesn’t melt the spoon.”

“Any chance they have green tea?”

“Sweet tea, maybe.”

She settled for a club soda with lime, which Natch retrieved along with a beer for himself. “Name’s Tod, but everyone calls me Natch.”

She squeezed her lime into her soda, then dropped the spent wedge on a napkin. “As in naturally?”

“As in Natchez, Mississippi. Where I was born.”

Her name was Hanlon and she had, she shared, been born right there in Marville, a fact he found hard to believe. With the green tea and the posture, he had taken her for a city girl. Turned out he was partially correct—she had gone to grad school at NYU. After that, she had spent a few years wandering around before settling for a while in Savannah. As she spoke, Natch noticed the way the sundress she wore dipped slightly in the front, revealing she had nothing on underneath. Natch forced himself to stare at his beer, his head cocked, as though straining to hear over the live music.

“What brings you back?” he asked.

“My mother died.” Hanlon said this as though she were commenting on Natch’s shirt. “Twice, really. First when she left me and my father, and then again last year.” She shrugged. “I got a house here out of it.”

At this turn of the conversation, Natch reached for his Mich Ultra, took a deep, distancing quaff, and considered getting up for a whiskey neat. She leaned in across the table, her hair catching in the front of her dress, and said she didn’t mean to make him uncomfortable. Natch forgot about his thirst.

She turned her attention to the stage, where the pretty boy was switching out harmonicas in the holder around his neck. The women on the dance floor continued swaying, even as the pretty boy adjusted his capo and told some story about growing up in Memphis. Pretty Memphis Boy began intricately fingerpicking and Natch had to admit, he could play.

Music was the fastest way to earn Natch’s respect. He spent so much time on the road that music was what kept him awake and focused. He liked to say he owed his life to the songs. Pretty Memphis Boy started in on a harrowing cover of “Pancho and Lefty” that brought a palpable change upon the bar. No one wanted to face that kind of emotion at Rhythm & Brews. They came to forget their troubles; the wood-paneled walls, thankfully, did not reflect their darkest selves and never would. Conversation on the periphery drowned out his singing, but Pretty Memphis Boy took it in stride. A few women at his feet took this time to refresh their drinks, but the majority stayed: he was pretty whether he sang sad or not. But then he doubled down, playing “Waiting Around to Die,” and the floor cleared. Natch admired his conviction and whistled when the song ended, the only one to acknowledge Pretty Memphis Boy’s detour from his set of bluesy originals.

“That was remarkable,” Natch said, turning back to Hanlon.

She stopped playing with the lime wedge. “I prefer not to dwell on sadness,” she said and slid from the booth. “Time to call it a night.”

Natch stood. “Let me walk you out.”

In the parking lot, the transition from sad songs to a symphony of cicadas felt almost violent, the rending of two distinct realities. Natch shifted uncomfortably.

“You noticed that, too,” Hanlon said. “You sense things others don’t.” She put her hand on his arm, down near the wrist. “I could tell you saw me when you walked in tonight. No one else did.”

“Every guy in there was looking at you,” Natch said, his attention fixed on her hand, the heat pooling there. “Some of the women, too.”

“But they didn’t see me.”

Though she was tall, she had to stretch up to kiss Natch on the cheek. He could feel himself blushing as he watched her cross the gravel lot.

Returning inside, Natch found Pretty Memphis Boy posted up at the bar, staring at his phone, his set over. Women milled around, trying to get his attention.

Natch, cutting through the crowd, joined him. “That’s the first time Townes Van Zandt has been played in Rhythm & Brews. It was a welcome change.”

“Hey, thanks, man,” Pretty Memphis Boy said. He turned, offering his hand. “Seamus.”

Natch shook and introduced himself.

“So, Natch, how do you know about Townes?” Seamus asked, pulling a pack of Marlboro Reds out of his pocket.

“My mama.”

“Yeah, me too,” Seamus said, lipping his cigarette. Three beers and one stop at the package store later, Natch and Seamus were down at the creek, skipping stones and passing a paper-bagged bottle back and forth. Night smells rose off the water and the silence around them seemed to hold up the moon. As the liquor settled in, they climbed the embankment leading to the train tracks abandoned when Marville began fading from the map. A quarter mile up was a bridge leading toward Missouri and there the two men sat, staining their hands with rust and kicking their feet, sharing stories until they caught dawn eavesdropping. Before going their separate ways, they made plans to grab a beer later in the week, the bond between them set.


The nearest grocery store was down in Union City, across the Tennessee line. Natch, amid his bi-weekly run, rounded an end display and found Hanlon studying a package of bulgur wheat. She smiled when she saw him and put the cereal back on the shelf. “I hate grocery shopping,” she said. “Let’s go explore the city instead.”

There was something about Hanlon beyond her beauty that made Natch want to go wherever she led. He left his buggy in the aisle next to hers and followed her out into the bright warmth of a Tennessee spring morning. Natch heard the day singing with possibility.

Downtown, they walked the length of the storefronts then talked over Mexican food. Her knowledge of music was slim; of art, vast. She told him she had moved to Savannah to study under Lenka Vargas, a world-renowned performance artist. Natch found the name vaguely familiar but couldn’t place it until Hanlon mentioned Vargas’s most famous work, stripping bare and hiking across Siberia alone. He had heard about that on the television.

“Is that what you do?” he asked, wondering if she, like her mentor, worked naked, and then chided himself for such a crass thought.

Hanlon shook her head. “I do endurance work, like Lenka, but her focus was on the physical limits of the body. Mine is more psychological. I test myself when faced with the quotidian.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“Boredom is what I work with,” she said. “It’s the one thing that challenges me.”

“Well, I hope you’re not currently being challenged,” he said.

“No,” she said, lowering her eyes. “I’m not working now.”

“If I recall,” he said, nudging the conversation back to Hanlon’s mentor, “Fox News called her a witch. They said it was the only way she could have survived that trek.”

Hanlon sucked in her breath. “Please don’t tell me you watch that.”

Natch sprinkled hot sauce on his rice. “Not on my own,” he explained, “but stop in any ten diners from here to Tucumcari and eight of them’ll have it on behind the counter.”

Breaking a tortilla chip into pieces, she said, “You spend a lot of time in diners?”

“A trucker’s life,” he said.

“It sounds lonely. Like being an artist.”

Natch couldn’t fathom how someone like Hanlon could ever come to be lonely. It was a cruel world in which that could be the case. He tended to believe the cosmic baseline was lawful neutral and it was his aim to keep things on the right side of good. If it was meant for him to ease her loneliness—well, he was willing to shoulder that burden.

Back at the grocery store parking lot they stood at Hanlon’s car, not ready to say goodbye. He wanted to hear more about her life, so vastly different from his of making time, getting the next load, seeing dozens of states and experiencing none of them. Hers was spent chasing some spark, an inner calling, the vagaries of the muse. He found her interesting and got the feeling she felt the same about him. How that was possible, he didn’t question.

Natch’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He checked out of habit, expecting work. Instead, a text from Seamus. He had forgotten he promised to help change the drive belt on Seamus’s motorcycle. Natch knew the only way for one’s word to mean anything was to stand by it. “I should get back,” he apologized.

“You could ask for my number while you have that out,” Hanlon said, nodding toward his phone. Natch punched in the digits as she spoke them. “Don’t be afraid to use it.” She looped her arms around his neck and pulled him in close enough to smell her lilac perfume.


Seamus was parked in Natch’s driveway, lying supine on the seat of his motorcycle, his feet kicked up over the handlebars.

“Thought you needed my help with that thing,” Natch said, climbing out of his truck.

Seamus sat up, straddling the bike, a pristine Triumph Bonneville. “It was easy,” he said. “Figured maybe you’d want to take her out.”

“It’s been years since I’ve been on one,” Natch said.

Dismounting, Seamus said, “It’s like riding a bicycle. And easier than driving your rig.” He passed Natch his helmet, his leather jacket.

“Wanna ride bitch?” Natch asked, grinning, zipping up the jacket.

“You know damn well I don’t,” Seamus said, holding up his bottle of whiskey. “My date and I are going to sit on your porch and enjoy this weather till you return.”

Natch took it slow through Marville’s serpentine hills but then gunned it back to Union City. He pulled off at the gas station next to the Mexican restaurant and bought a lottery ticket, feeling lucky. He scratched it, matching three, winning five dollars, not worth cashing out. He’d keep the ticket, a token of the day. He zipped it in Seamus’s jacket pocket and headed back.

Seamus had moved from the porch to the bed of Natch’s truck, where he leaned against the rear window, listening to music on his phone. “This small-town living,” he said, after Natch parked the motorcycle and joined him. “There’s not a single fucking thing to do. It’s wonderful.” He was at the point in the bottle where he turned giddy, loquacious. “Any new conquests?”

Cordial and confident, Natch felt secure knowing he could date if he chose, though he rarely did. It was unfair to pursue something when he could have to hit the road for days at a time, and when he explained this, Seamus went into a bit about sowing seeds, carpe noctem. Natch asked why Seamus wasn’t doing as he preached. Seamus held up his left hand, showing off a simple silver band on the ring finger. “Those days are over, my friend.”

Natch strained to articulate the morning. A part of him didn’t want to present the date—was it a date?—for Seamus’s judgment. To someone like Seamus, who had gigged across America, leaving countless beautiful, heartbroken women in his wake, enchiladas and discussing art wasn’t all that exciting, even if Natch felt his pulse quickening thinking about it. He asked instead about Seamus’s wife.

“With her, sometimes I feel like the luckiest sonovabitch on the planet,” Seamus said, lighting a cigarette, taking a drag, then passing it to Natch. “Then sometimes it feels like I could be on fire and she would just sit there, letting me burn, like she doesn’t even see. And I know this makes me sound like an insufferable prick, but being ignored by women? Not something I’m used to. Maybe that’s why she does it, to keep me in my place—I like that.” He laced his fingers behind his head and stared up beyond the trees lining Natch’s yard. “I never thought it’d be for me, but there’s something about marriage, man, something about making something real, something lasting, out of love, that’s pretty fucking special.

None of that sounded like love to Natch, but he kept his opinion to himself. He thought of the way Hanlon had sat across from him, both earlier that day and on that night at Rhythm & Brews, with her attention focused, her interest apparent. He felt sad for his friend and decided he would call Hanlon to ask her on a proper date as soon as Seamus left.


Hanlon accepted Natch’s invitation to dinner and a movie a few evenings later. A storm had loomed in the distance most of the day, and as Natch pulled in front of Hanlon’s house, the sky let loose a spate of rain. She motioned for him to wait and disappeared back inside, reemerging with a leather jacket thrown over her long floral sundress. At dinner, she talked about her art, which still made no sense to Natch. She said she had been working on a performance for a while but feared she wasn’t strong enough to complete it as planned. Natch asked what the performance entailed, and she mentioned domesticity and countering the matriarchal paradigm of her youth. When Natch asked what that meant by that, she said, “Not turning into my mother.”

“I thought your work was about boredom,” he said.

“It’s one and the same,” she said, exasperation in her voice. During the movie Hanlon kept her arms crossed and her legs tucked up beneath her and Natch thought he had made her mad but afterward she suggested he take her back to his place. He asked if she was sure, and she told him never to question a woman about such things.

In his kitchen, he offered her a water, apologizing that it was all he had beside beer. “I don’t do this much,” he said. “Have company.”

“Why is that?” she asked.

“It’s hard to connect when you’re always leaving again.” Natch uncapped a beer but held it without drinking.

“Yet here I am,” she said, with a small smile. “Don’t worry, I won’t get too attached.”

Natch set his bottle down on the table and pulled Hanlon into a fervent kiss. She shrugged off her jacket and worked first the buttons of his shirt, then his belt buckle. They made their way to Natch’s bedroom and afterward, Hanlon dozed with her head on his chest. As he lay listening to her breathe, he considered if this was why he had remained single for so long, to leave himself open for the right person, who arrived in Marville like a miracle. Hanlon was willful and independent and occupied with her art; he didn’t see her getting teary and begging him to stay when she knew he had to go. It was a match like a hand in a glove.

Lightning flashed outside the window, followed by a thunderclap so loud it rattled the glass and woke Hanlon. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—” she said, sitting up and smoothing her hair. She glanced at the clock on Natch’s side table. Its face was blank. “Did the power go out? What time is it?”

Natch leaned over the side of the bed and retrieved his phone from his jeans. He held it up for her to see. “Not too late.”

She burrowed back under Natch’s blanket. “I hate being in the dark during a storm,” she said. “It makes me feel so powerless.”

“I’ve got some candles in the pantry,” he said, “but I’m not sure about matches. I’ll look.” He slipped on his jeans and headed to the kitchen, using his phone as a flashlight.

“Check my jacket. There might be a lighter in the pocket,” she called after him.

Natch found the candles, then picked Hanlon’s jacket up off the floor. He had never seen her smoke and wondered why she would have a lighter, but there it was. Something else, thick paper like a business card, was in the pocket. Curiosity getting the better of him, Natch fished it out and struck the cheap Bic to inspect. His heart sank. The lottery ticket, matching three, winning five dollars, that he had forgotten to take before giving Seamus back his jacket.

He stood there staring at ticket, piecing together what it meant, until the metal lip of the lighter grew too hot and bit at his thumb. He cursed under his breath as it clattered to the floor.

“Everything okay?” Hanlon asked, coming up behind him, wrapped in the bed sheet. “What were you looking at?”

“Just an old scratch off,” he said.

“Win anything?”

He crumpled the ticket into a ball and lobbed it into the sink. “No.”

The few citronella candle tins, once lit, cast angry shadows across the cabinets. Glancing around, Hanlon said, “It’s nice like this.”

If he feigned ignorance, he could keep the night going on his preferred trajectory. Carpe noctem, right? Seamus’s own dictum. Lead her back to his room for a reprise kept going till dawn. Her skin against his, the scent of her hair permeating his pillow. Instead he slipped the lighter back into the pocket, zipped it shut, and handed the jacket to Hanlon. “This is Seamus’s,” he said. When Hanlon didn’t respond, he added, “He’s married.”

“Yes,” she said slowly. “To me.” Her face hardened. “I thought you knew.”

 Anger hit Natch so swiftly he had to steady himself by grabbing hold of the table. “How would I have? What are you doing here?”

“And here I was impressed by your nerve,” she said.

The microwave beeped and the overhead lights flashed back on. Hanlon blinked up at Natch. “I never wanted to get married and do that whole thing. Neither did my mother,” she explained. “That’s why she left. She couldn’t stand it, the honoring and obeying. I wanted to prove that I was stronger than her, that I could do what she couldn’t, that I could make a commitment and stay. And it would be the ultimate performance, something more brutal and numbing than crossing Siberia because even in Siberia, the scenery changes. Sleeping next to the same person night after night—no one talks about how difficult that is. No one talks about how boring it is, being a wife, or how lonely. Or how strong you have to be. How do you prepare for that? How can you? I thought I could.” She clasped Seamus’s jacket to her chest and dropped her head. “I’m just as weak as she was.”

Natch held Hanlon’s gaze as he said, “She left, and so should you.” It was a hit below the belt, and it felt good to land it.


To avoid the conversation he was not yet ready to have, Natch waited until Seamus would be gone before heading to Rhythm & Brews. After ordering his whiskey neat, he fed a twenty into the jukebox and searched the digital database until he found the song he wanted, setting it to play ten times in a row. A voice like well-oiled leather began to sing about a woman leading him down through misery and leaving him as low as low could be. Natch didn’t want the music to save him tonight. He wanted it to sear the pain so deeply into his chest that the next time he saw a beautiful, beguiling woman across the bar, he would remember that hurt, and he would wince, and he would walk away.

Shae Krispinsky lives in Tampa, FL, where she fronts the indie rock band, Navin Ave. Her short fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Vending Machine Press, Connotation Press, The Citron Review, Thought Catalog, and more. She is currently at work on two novels and finishing up her band’s first album.