Photo by Andrew Bennett

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff what mythologies interest them.

Jacob Hall
Associate Editor, Fiction
Decatur, Illinois

I blitzed through five Percy Jackson books when I was burnt to a crisp on an awful family vacation. I’ve loved Greek mythology ever since.

Ethan Brightbill
Associate Editor, Fiction
Allentown, Pennsylvania

I have a character in a story I’m working on who has an interest in Norse mythology, and her knowledge presents an opportunity for all sorts of figurative language. The Germanic idea of doom, and specifically that one can occasionally recognize one’s doom, is something I’m trying to have fun with.

Tianli Kilpatrick
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Massachusetts

Forever Greek mythology. But also Norse, Egyptian, and Celtic…it’s hard to pick a single favorite.

E. Flores
Associate Editor, Poetry
Bowie, Maryland

I would have to say I always get snagged by how well documented and complex the mythology of Arda is. It’s not the most well-known mythology in the world, but Bolbi Stroganovsky’s books and videos on the subject is how I first really encountered it.

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Egg (safer kumquat replacement) Photography

Photo by Flavio


Editorial intern Brandon Hansen on today’s bonus story: Emma Sovich’s flash will shift your insides, and isn’t sorry about it. This nasty-beautiful thing refuses to take its foot off the gas pedal; it will forever change the way you think about uteruses.

I am accustomed to a certain amount of grotesquerie

Visualized: a kumquat. Not a kumquat. A knot of muscle and tissue, benign. Visualized: a grainy protrusion the size of a ten-week embryo. No fingers or toes. Submucosal, embedded in myometrium. I have bled for four months.

I am 28 and childless, one year older than my mother when she bore me. When first she saw me I was a twist of pixels on a small screen. My fibroid now a twist of pixels. The technician prints a strip; my uterus in five slices, ovaries and all.

Blood squeaks deep in my ears when I stand, sit, recline. Weekly I expend 40 super tampons, 32 overnight pads. A chair lives in the kitchen so I can sit to cook. I sleep in my my bloodstained sheets. I order delivery. Blood clots and tissue wrack my abdomen.

My mother, my friends, my boyfriend’s mother bully me to the ER for three pints of blood. I post a photograph of a pint to Facebook, forcing myself to explain, reassure, elaborate. I take 10 mg of norethindrone a day for months, waiting for surgery. I am crazy with hormones.

I am a 28-year-old woman with a recent history of heavy bleeding and anemia. My doctor dictates into the record. To visualize the fibroid, she inserts an hysteroscope into my vulva and then my cervix, which is gently dilated up to size 31.

My cervix is dilated only after I am placed in a dorsal lithotomy position with my feet in Yellofin stirrups, after I am prepped and draped in the usual sterile fashion. I have never been so fashionable. A speculum is inserted, a tenaculum applied to the anterior lip of my cervix to commence dilation.

Morcellate. Mince. My doctor has approximately thirty minutes. Visualize: she shaves more cautiously than I shave my legs, which I often do not shave at all. She shaves the fibroid with a Smith and Nephew’s TRUCLEAR morcellator.

The specimens my doctor remove consist of multiple tan, soft, irregular fragments of tissue with a small amount of associated blood clot. Pathology examines them, but fibroids are not cancerous. My boyfriend’s mother has carried a grapefruit and an orange through two pregnancies and menopause.

My entire specimen dimensions are 2.5 x 2.0 x 0.5 cm. Half the kumquat.

I tolerate the procedure well. Eight months later I bleed through a super tampon, an overnight pad, a sweatshirt, and into the driver’s seat of my car – in ten minutes. Everything in my body is leaving from this hole. Blood squeaks in my ears.

In the ER, I am transferred from radiology to a bed without underwear. I can barely stand. I free bleed onto the floor and the nurses and I admire the steady flow of crimson, the patterns it creates as it splashes on my legs, the radiator, the side of the bed. The nurses laugh when I ask for adult diapers but I am glad for them. Diapers, nurses. Five units of B positive. A shot of estrogen enough to seize my leg. Progesterone enough to make me weep openly. 40 mg four times a day. I do not want children. I am positive.

My mother offers my sister’s uterus for my future children. My doctor rewinds. I am a 29-year-old woman with a history of heavy bleeding and anemia. The half kumquat further minced. I am morcellated. My pelvis tender for weeks. But the fibroid: gone.

My blood now entirely borrowed.

I am not alone. The NIH states that 70-80 percent of women develop fibroids. Most fibroids are benign. Acquaintances on Facebook tell me about polyps, about endometriosis, about polycystic ovarian syndrome. No one understands our bodies. When I tell women about my horrific body they have also been horrified by their bodies. By horrified I mean resigned. We can’t go anywhere without bleeding.

Emma Sovich is a poet and book artist from Maryland. Her first book of poetry, Wendy Wendy Wendy, is forthcoming from Red Paint Hill Press. Her chapbook, None of Us Know Any Stories, is available through dancing girl press. She has writing forthcoming in Denver Quarterly and Crab Orchard Review, and previously in Salt Hill, Sixth Finch, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and others. Her book arts works have been shown in nine states, and have homes in the libraries of Indiana University, University of Florida, the Newberry Library, and elsewhere. See them at emmasovich.com.

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Photo by Tiia Monto

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff what themes or subjects they actively avoid writing about.

Ashley Adams
Associate Editor Emeritus, Nonfiction
Watervliet, Michigan

I mean, I try not to write about monster girls, but it keeps happening!

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Animals.

E. Flores
Associate Editor, Poetry
Bowie, Maryland

People.

Tianli Kilpatrick
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Massachusetts

Horses.

Brian Czyzyk
Intern
Traverse City, Michigan

Anything existential. I have enough personal crises as is, I don’t need them to infect my writing.

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

I want nothing to do with writing that even gestures toward co-opting the suffering involved in experiences that aren’t mine. There are people who write those experiences whose voices deserved to be amplified more than mine. People’s struggles aren’t a metaphor for my life. Ever.

Also, place-based writing, I guess, being that I’m rootless trash and all.

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Photo by Terry Dawson

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff where they would travel with one plane ticket to write anywhere in the world.

Patricia Killelea
Editor, Poetry

Ireland. I have visited there in the past because it is ancestral land and I still have family there. I have many poems I wrote during my visit in 2012 that I need to polish. The spirit of that land brings out the storyteller in me, pushes me outside of my distilled approach to image. I believe very strongly in writing in foggy cemeteries.

Alexander Clark
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Thailand; the way Thai people and culture perceive gender is completely different than gender norms in the west. And the food/living there is really cheap.

Niikah Hatfield
Intern
Marquette, Michigan

France. Cobblestone alleyways, coffee, gardens, and good food… What more could anyone need? (Venice and prosciutto, maybe.)

E. Flores
Associate Editor, Poetry
Bowie, Maryland

Definitely Russia, not only is it a place with a rich history that I know very little about, but I suspect Putin and I would hit it off.

Hayli Cox
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Morenci, Michigan

India, for sure. Ouside a market in Bombay, on a lake at a mountain’s base in Kashmir, Thar desert, and anywhere else in the country, really.

Tianli Kilpatrick
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Massachusetts

Greece, overlooking rolling hills of olive trees and the Aegean. Hunting and eating fresh octopus, climbing the ruins at Delphi and Knossos. I’ve never felt more free in any other country.

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Photo by Doug Kerr


Associate fiction editor Brenna Womer on today’s bonus story: Post-trauma and postpartum, the narrator of “Motor City Slide” is callous and distant, unfeeling but not without thought. She swings at the playground and watches Netflix and sometimes remembers she has a baby. Judy T. Oldfield so beautifully glimpses the mind of a woman cracked, but not completely broken, by tragedy.

Motor City Slide

I said I had had one, but I had had two. Which is technically true. I had had one, two hours ago. But then I’d had another. And one glass of wine seems normal so they didn’t give me a breathalyzer. They wrapped me in a blanket and gave me a bottle of water, which was cold and it was cold outside. I kicked my feet back and forth, rolling the hard soles of my shoes over rock salt, the rest of my body in the police car. So I didn’t drink the water. I opened the cap, to be polite, and then resealed it and set the bottle next to me in the plastic seat and I guess it is still there.

The paramedics asked if I wanted to ride along in the ambulance to the hospital with my husband, Brian, but it had to be a quick decision because they needed to get him going right now and so I said no. No because I had to get home to my baby. I had to pay the babysitter and send her home and check on the baby.

I said it all calmly, but I might as well have said it in raging hysterics, because once the word baby puffed off of my lips, the word turned visible in the January air, I was a bomb or an alien or something with the potential for catastrophe just below the surface and they laid off and I watched the red and white lights of the ambulance fade into the night. I slid back and forth on the plastic seat of the cop car as they took me home. I never knew how wide those seats were.

*

I paid Hannah the babysitter and told her that Brian had gone to the hospital but no, nothing to worry about, I’m sure, and no, no need to stay, thank you. I paid her and she left.

I was alone in the house. No, that’s not right, because the baby was there, but he was asleep. I meant to check on him, but instead I found myself in the office, in front of the bookcase. I looked at all those books, so many I hadn’t read. Before the baby came we had gotten rid of so much stuff. Nesting. I hate that word, as if I’m going to sprout feathers, which, hey, maybe wouldn’t be so surprising my body already distended and skin stretched over, organs turned into caverns of wonder. But anyways I got rid of the books I had read and kept the ones I hadn’t. I kept meaning to read these leftovers, but I could not make my eyes focus on the pages. “Mommy Brain” or I don’t know. Maybe the Internet ruined my capacity for sustained thought.

There is a story, a family legend, about my grandmother, newly married, newly a mother on the eve of World War II, just twenty years old. Her first was a summer baby. So, one hot day in Northwest Detroit, she put on her lipstick and went out for a hot fudge sundae at Sander’s. Halfway into it, the ice cream melting into a sweet puddle, the spoon almost to her lips, she said, “Oh, I have a baby at home!” and rushed back to her house in her heels.

Being a father, he did not have to fight, but her husband, my grandfather, left his job at Ford’s, kissed his wife and baby, and went off to Europe where he dodged bullets and mines and tripped over the bodies of his fellow soldiers in the mud and shit. He came home from the war with an inability to remember little things too.

I left the office, switched off the light. The house was dark. I turned off my phone, or maybe it died and I just didn’t plug it back in, I don’t know. The moonlight came in through the front window, highlighted the spots on the rug where the green pattern gives way to white.

*

My parents were back in Florida. They are snowbirds now. They got here before we even brought the baby home from the hospital and were here for the first couple of weeks, and then went back and I only had one day of relief before Brian’s parents drove up from Indiana. They stayed two weeks and made casseroles and completely wiped me out.

Friends keep coming. They bring stuffed animals with no plastic eyes so the baby won’t choke and they bring tiny T-shirts with trucks and footballs and all matter of nonsense.

The baby falls asleep a lot with my nipple in his mouth. Milk—my milk, or was my milk, now I guess it is his milk—crusts at the corners of his lips. He expands, a water balloon, in my lap. I sit, not wanting to disturb him, watching his face. So peaceful, my heart slows to match his, to soothe his dreams and lift his spirit. I try to count each individual eyelash, so blond, so faint, just a whisper of an idea of an eyelash. And I think, I am inside each eyelash. I am inside and so is Brian. Look at this marvel that we created.

And it’s a funny thing. Friends. Family. Strangers at the grocery store. They all see me as an extension of the baby, rather than as him coming from me. As if He is the Godhead and I proceeded from Him.

But now I was alone, or close to it. So I went down into the basement and found a bottle of wine. I brought it up and poured myself a glass and so now I had had three. And then I poured myself another so now I had had four.

All big glasses, full up. Goblet-sized at the party, and at home I just used a juice glass. “Finally you can drink,” my friends all said. They said it like I have been abroad and have just come back. “Pump and dump,” the other mothers advise.

*

The airbag hit me in the face. I heard a screeching crunch. That metal on metal was so much louder in my ear than Brian’s scream. Blood dark and wet on his face. The winter air was flowing in from the broken passenger window.

I forgot what to do for a moment and then I thought I better put the car in park and then I thought maybe I should put the two-ways on. Someone came up to the window on my side and said they’d called 911 and something about black ice and was I okay.

Brian’s eyes were closed but he was breathing. Up down, his chest in the night, causing a slight flutter of his airbag.

“I’m cold,” I said.

*

I am on maternity leave still. Which is nice, I guess. The baby and I watch a lot of Netflix together. Well, he can’t really watch yet. The other day I took him to the park in the stroller. We got all bundled up—Egyptian cotton onesie under flannel sleep sack under blankets wedged into stroller; lululemon pants and sweater under boots and parka under scarf—and I pushed the stroller fifteen minutes across the subdivision, past big houses filled with people whose names I do not know. When we got to the park he was asleep and I was disappointed. Then I realized it didn’t matter because he is too small to go down the slide or even hold his head up for more than a second. So he slept in the stroller and I sat in the swing.

I took a picture #babysfirstpark #swingbabyswing #whatacutie #lilpickle and posted it and “aaaws” and “love him” and “so sweet” chirped back at me.

The sky was gray, the snow lay in clumps. I closed my eyes and pumped my legs until my body flew higher and higher like I was no longer tethered to gravity, like my milk-filled boobs were not weighing me down, like I was not drowning under the heft of my own body.

But of course I was tethered to gravity, and each time I went up I came back down, and when I stopped pumping my legs my boots skidded in the snow, and I dragged them back and forth until the snow was dirty with woodchips. I came back to a stop. Sat still. And then I left my swing and I pushed the stroller back home.

He woke up and cried when we went inside.

*

I drove home from the party because I had had only the two glasses of wine and Brian had had the many whiskeys. And who gets drunk on two glasses? I guess someone who was just pregnant for nine months and breastfeeding for two after that.

Mostly I was tired. Sleepless nights. My crotch still hurt. I dribbled pee in the middle of conversations or in line at the ATM. At least a baby makes a convenient excuse to run to the bathroom.

I felt sick all of the time. I looked in the mirror every morning, pulled at my skin, inspected my gums, examined the whites of my eyes. Whose body was this?

Every night Brian showed me funny videos. Shocking videos. We ate ice cream in bed and watched them on his laptop.

One night he showed me a video of a cat that could hold the beat of hip hop songs, one of an old woman from a mountain village who had never seen the ocean before wading into the waves, one of a high school basketball team doing trick shots. He showed me a video of a car smoothly crossing multiple lanes on an interstate, no turn signal, just one long diagonal move, like a bishop on a chess board. It is something I have a habit of.

“The Motor City Slide,” I said.

Brian didn’t grow up in Metro Detroit. We met in college. He asked me if that was what it was called.

“No, just something I made up. It’s one of those nameless things that so many people around here do it really ought to have a name. You know they don’t do that in New York? When we visited your sister in Los Angeles nobody did it. For all of their traffic. I have never seen anyone in Indiana do it. Or in Florida. Or maybe they do, but if they do then they’re from here. People who got out.”

The car in the video smashed into a semi-truck the driver could not see.

“Don’t do that anymore,” Brian said.

I shrugged.

“I’m serious. We have a baby now,” he said and so I said okay, because I wanted to go back to the funny videos.

But I was still thinking about that video days later and probably thinking about it when I slid across three lanes in the Motor City Slide going 80 Eastbound on M-14 back from Ann Arbor to our suburban house after two large glasses of Montepulciano.

Outside, the snow fell thick and wet and the lights of other cars smeared across the windshield. I looked at Brian and thought about the video and then I slid, baby, I slid.

*

Our house is big, looks more expensive than what it is. We live in the suburbs because deep down, I find everything boring, so we might as well have a large house in a good school district. Detroit still feels barren, forever up-and-coming by which people mean there’s now a Whole Foods there, and after four years as a student and another four as someone who could still pass for a student in Ann Arbor, that became boring too. So we bought the suburban McMansion when the market was favorable.

When everything is boring, what does it matter. Might as well just go all in.

I corked the bottle and put it in the refrigerator. I rinsed the juice glass and tucked it in the dishwasher. A large drop of red wine caught the artificial light pouring in from the street lamp outside. I looked down at it as I walked past the granite counter and out of the kitchen.

Upstairs, I stripped down to my thong and got in bed, stretched out on my stomach, arms and legs wide, and slept the best sleep I’d had in a year.

Judy T. Oldfield’s work has appeared in The Portland Review, JMWW, Gravel, So to Speak, Cleaver, and other magazines. She grew up in the Metro Detroit area and attended Western Michigan University, where she earned her BA in English and comparative religion. Judy lives in Seattle with her husband, but you can find her on Twitter at @J_T_Oldfield.

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Photo by Les Chatfield

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff what lesser-known writers they’re reading.

Alexander Clark
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Mount Pleasant, Michigan

It’s not the most avant-garde work, but I really love queer writer and storyteller Ivan Coyote. They write a lot about growing up butch in a small town in the Yukon and they do such a great job reaching out to people who may not be familiar with that experience. I like how they examine their struggles from a place of sincerity and, most of all, love. We need writers who are angry and we need writers who play with form, but I appreciate how Coyote’s writing feels like a kitchen table conversation, the kind that makes you want to cry and get just one more cup of coffee not because you need it, but because it means you can stay and listen just a little longer.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My four-year-old, Sean Silas Belc, penned his first experimental micro-essay, “Sean Butt Poop,” soon after learning to sound out words. Since then he’s written some other micro-essays, 2-5 words in length, generally, which I’m encouraging him to compile in a chapbook.

Rachel Jenks
Intern
Howell, Minnesota

I recently read “Sweet Bitter” by Stephanie Danler. It’s her first novel, and its beauty lies in the sentence structure and word choice. Her other works include creative short non-fiction pieces, which I highly recommend.

Liz Trueblood
Intern
Onalaska, Wisconsin

Derek Landy!! He writes a sci fi/fantasy series that is totally my guilty pleasure.

Jennifer A. Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

I can’t get enough of self-help books. I (sincerely) love seeing a prissy, together, actualized person trying to quantify efficient lives for the rest of us. Right now it’s Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, a lovely collection of advice about developing good habits. She’s given me all sorts of satisfying ways to categorize myself (obliger, underbuyer, lark) and tips for getting through the day given who I am. And isn’t that all we want, Hufflepuffs? To feel like we’ve been sorted into the right house?

E. Flores
Associate Editor, Poetry
Bowie, Maryland

I’ve been getting into Lorraine Peterson a lot recently. Her theories are becoming very influential not only in my work, but also on my outlook on life.

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Photo by James Marvin Phelps

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff to look toward the new year and how they plan on improving their writing.

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

Like most other things in my life, I really like to feel as though I’m in control of my writing at all times. This year, I’d like to learn to roll with unexpected developments, maybe see what happens when I’m just along for the ride.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I gotta write more queer things, especially with the impending doom settling upon us in 2017. My voice is important. Onwards and upwards.

Liz Trueblood
Intern
Onalaska, Wisconsin

Collaboration–I hope to have more time to share my work with others and get feedback!

E. Flores
Associate Editor, Poetry
Bowie, Maryland

I look most look forward to the part where I reward myself with food before I’ve actually even written.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

I want to be taken seriously as a horror writer. My fiction has used and continues to exhibit a lot of these tropes and this semester I’ve declared this is the tradition of my stories. Whether or not this is true can be up for debate. So, all that comes with forging an identity as a writer–reading exciting new horror (Kea Wilson, Paul Tremblay, for starters), converting chilling scenes into experimental flash forms, and subsequently selling my parents on this thing I was always meant to do.

Alexander Clark
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Mount Pleasant, Michigan

Write things that aren’t about me, but are still focused on queer/trans identity. I really want to work on research and long-term CNF research projects.

Patricia Killelea
Editor, Poetry

I need to actually submit to publications. I write everyday, but I rarely send work out. My new year’s resolution is to honor my words by once again sharing them with others.

Deziree’ Brown
Associate Editor, Poetry
Flint, Michigan

Writing more. Writing queer things. Writing weird things. Experimenting with forms like ghazals and tankas. Getting a publication system in place so I’m submitting every few months at least. So all the things?

Ashley Adams
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Watervliet, Michigan

Working on some fun novel outlines.

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Rosa Parks

Photo by Thomas Hawk


Associate fiction editor Jason Teal on today’s bonus essay: An essay preoccupied with humanness could not have arrived at a timelier juncture in our country’s marred history. With everything piling up, almost insurmountably in recent months and weeks, we need revelations like “But There Is Also Rosa” to remind us it’s okay to be tired. Poring over “steel-heavy” qualities of McCauley’s distant relative in the essay, we glimpse Parks’s legacy mirrored in Cousin Ricky’s pride for his doctor uncle, Black Lives Matter protests, and students united against death threats at University of Missouri. Investigating Reconstruction in these trying times, McCauley has unspooled a startling self-portraiture reified by that “Something Important” roaring within generations of loved ones and groups fighting daily for basic freedoms.

But There is Also Rosa

Sometime ago, Cousin Ricky found out about my father.

Ricky lives close to where Daddy grew up, which is five minutes outside of Ferguson, Missouri. Ricky is sharp-brained, slick-tongued, and fought in the Iraq War. He was surprised Daddy became a famous doctor, especially since my father grew up true-poor and life-hurt. Ricky was impressed Daddy got out of the Lou and became an Important Man who makes kidney medicines you can find in every hospital. McCauleys don’t do shit, Ricky said, far as I know. Almost didn’t believe it when Mama told me your Daddy was a doctor.

Ricky does not have my father’s last name. He told me he thought the McCauley name was plagued with prisonbars, drug trouble and liver sickness. To him, McCauley meant failure, a bad fate. But here was my Daddy: one of those bad-named folks. Acting smart and doing good with that no-good last name.

I understand this thing Ricky said, because I always thought my last name was no-good.  Unlike Ricky, I never knew a McCauley outside of Daddy and my brother Tim. I didn’t like McCauley for different reasons.  I simply wanted a last name that fit my Blatina-black skin, something like: Marisol King or Kenya Gonzales or Magarita Freedman, a name that showed my ancestors had some kind of agency; a name that offered no dark surprise when I came into a room. I didn’t know how to be proud of my last name, but I wanted to be.

Sometime ago, when I was a teen-kid, I found out about Rosa.

I discovered Rosa Parks’s maiden name was McCauley. I found this thing out while working on a project for 7th grade social studies. I got a book about Black Heroes with Rosa’s name on the first page. That name, in big golden scrawl: Rosa Louise McCauley Parks. I stared at the McCauley, loud and long, between the delicate-sounding Louise and the stately Parks. I thought then: could Rosa be one of ours? Was she, even superficially, part of me?

A year later, Grandmama let it out at a family party in St. Louis: she knew ‘bout Auntie Rosa, said she was our kin. She was my greatgreatgreat grandcousin.

When I learned all of this, I thought my name wasn’t so bad. Hey, a holy dark woman on a history-bus shared my blood-line. She’d spent her full, young life walking around Alabama with our ill-fitting name.

#

I am an adult, in Montgomery, Rosa Parks’s homecity. Montgomery is clean, old-feeling and normal. Many folks claim Rosa’s blood here; they are proud and confused and searching for heritage, like me. I say my last name to the folks who work at her museum and they say oh wow. Like it means something. Like it’s a good name that doesn’t belong to a Scottish whitegirl. Like it’s a name that fits my skin. They say: Well, you’re part of some legacy, aren’t you? You should be proud. I think of my Daddy, Timothy, my Mami, my Georgian cousin Dee, Ricky and his Mama too. I say YeahIam.

I am an adult, in Montgomery, at the Rosa Parks Museum. I am sitting on a big fake bus, and going back in time via digital presentation. There is all this rainbow flashing and it stops on Rosa’s face. I know this picture. There are only three or four photographs of Rosa Parks you’ll usually see on television or in books. What Rosa looks like: calm-faced, fair-skinned. In that picture she is straight-backed, ready, pleasant, about to turn history into revolution.

There is a presentation in Rosa’s Museum that takes you on Cleveland Avenue on December 1st 1955, when the Alabama night got cool, purple-red, shaggy with fog. They show us digital Rosa: she is dark-eyed and dead-tired, waiting for this historical bus to take her home. Rosa sits in her hard, famous seat and the night gets full-black. Her busmates are grumbling, the museum shows the other passengers—black and white—getting mad she’s holding up the ride. She stares out of a bus-window while the bus driver barks for her to get up. She doesn’t. Everyone on the bus is annoyed and yelling. The driver says he’ll get authorities if she didn’t move, and Rosa says, firmly, near-politely, “You may do that.”

Rosa, you know, wasn’t always-polite You’ll never see pictures of her hollering, but you know she can get upset. Rosa Parks, you know, wasn’t always a Negro Saint; she was a woman who could get tired. She wanted folks to know she wasn’t body-tired on that day, though. Her spirit had been kicked enough times it got hard from hurt. Then that hardness got steel-heavy, wouldn’t let her move from that damn seat. She said: “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” The video at the museum quotes her saying this too.

I think about when I was a little girl, friendless and bullied by a bevy of suburban white faces. I think about them coolly slinging “niggers” at my child-face, remember them theorizing my skin was brown because God didn’t wash black folks. I remember a whiteboy I sort-of liked saying, “I can see you in private, but we can’t go home ‘cause Grandma lives there and she’s racist.” I remember the richboy who cornered me after class and asked what black girls taste like. I think of when I was at Trayvon and Mike Brown protests in Miami explaining to red-eyed critics why black folk lives matter. I remember being at the University of Missouri, the morning after the death threats on black students. I remember coming to work and seeing empty buildings and sidewalks and quads, save for a few dark faces, even though dark folks were the ones targeted. I remember the blackboys in front of the library who came up to me, asked to escort me to my car just in case someone started shooting. I remember asking them if they were scared of what had happened the night before. They said, “Nah. No way. We’ve seen worse. We got classes to go to.”

I remember thinking, then, manoman, darkfolks can get so tired.

After Rosa got tired of giving in, she did That Great Thing. They show you it on the fake bus. How she kept sitting, until the cops showed up. She is staring forward; you can’t read her thoughts. You think, maybe she is angry, maybe this soft-featured woman is boiling inside, but you won’t see that anger because her lips are a straight line. She is barely blinking, her small body taut; she is preparing for a battle you can’t see.

You know, just by looking at that face, you should watch out.

#

The museum presentation is over. I am talking to some folks who work at Troy, who knew Rosa. They say she was small, saintly, and kind. They are trying to find ways to talk about her like she is a real person while still being reverent. They are trying to say she wasn’t all about that bus. They come back to the bus eventually, because how can you not?

They are talking about her as if she is an idea, not a person. They don’t know how to go beyond her hagiography, but they want to. They try. They say Rosa was good at cooking. Her husband loved her; she loved her kin. I am wondering if this is how Ricky felt when somebody told him about Daddy being a doctor. Ricky didn’t know anything about Daddy but he got proud quick. It was easy for him to talk about my father in symbols, as if my Daddy represented success and transcendence of stereotypes. I think of my own father the same way, resume-first.

This is a survival technique, for dark people: if your kin does good, you mention that good first. Everybody else will be trying to find some speck or thorn.

#

I am an adult, in Montgomery. I linger in the lobby of the museum. An elderly blackman walks in, goes straight past the front desk. He does not share Rosa’s blood. He has lived in Montgomery all of his life, and came in the museum looking for a bathroom. The oldman can’t find it. He approaches me and grumbles about the lack of obvious bathrooms. I say ohyeah, though I’m not in the mood to care about what he is talking about. He says, “You look like a young woman,” as if he assumes I don’t know what I look like. “Sure,” I say. After being in antebellum South and researching Reconstruction for the past few weeks, this skin feels ancient, but he is right– I  am nauseatingly young, in the scheme of things.

The oldman asks why I am here, in this place without obvious bathrooms. I say I admire Rosa and add quietly, as if I don’t deserve to say it, she was related to my Grandfather. The oldman doesn’t congratulate me. He tells me to remember Rosa was just another sweet-smiled woman who lived in his town. She wasn’t just about busses and revolution. He says remember she was a woman too, like you. He means things I know but hadn’t thought much about because I was so full of pride: That Rosa loved, got sad, was unhappy. That she had other sides too, not just what they show us in Negro Temples.

Then the oldman says: Man, I got to take a shit.

I try to help him find the bathroom, but he walks out quick, unsatisfied.

#

When I leave the museum, I see a gleaming statue of Rosa. I look at this Rosa, the not-real, frozen one encased in polished bronze. She is sitting serenely, looking off at something. You don’t know what she is looking at. You can’t know what she is staring at, this fake Rosa, and you’ll never know what the real Rosa—the one they modeled this statue after–was looking at either. In this museum, at least, we are supposed to assume she is looking through a bus-window, forever.

I stare at her man-made eyes. Those eyes: defiant and aggressively calm. That look: lonely, tired of being slapped, resolved. Those eyes tell her body, a body warm with blood like mine: sit and rise on your own terms.

I’ve seen that look in my Daddy’s eyes, in the eyes of so many dark folks who have not been awarded Negro Sainthood.

Their eyes: beat-up, steely and shining, looking forward to Something Important.

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a writer, teacher and PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Missouri. She is also an editorial assistant at The Missouri Review, a reviews editor at Fjords Review and an associate editor of Origins Literary Journal. Her most recent work appears or is forthcoming in editions of The Los Angeles Review, Jabberwock Review, Split this Rock’s “Poem of the Week,” Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, New Delta Review and A Shadow Map Anthology (CCM Press), among other outlets.

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Rocket Launch

Photo by MMMescalino


Associate fiction editor Brenna Womer on today’s bonus story: There is discernible pleasure and vulnerability in Jamie Shrewsbury’s writing, which, in her short-short “Welcome Home,” is achingly simple, like the truth of two parallel lines, and resplendent with whimsy. The story highlights human inclinations toward hope and empathy and leaves the reader with the notion that, while there may not be protection in honoring passion, there is peace.

Welcome Home

One of the parachutes landed in the lush, rolling hills of the English countryside. It was tiny. The blue and white logo contrasted against a field of creeping buttercups, which bowed to break the object’s fall. Attached to the parachute was a small metal box with a latched door on one side.

They were on holiday in Devon with their daughter Sophie at a nearby farm cottage. They enjoyed the quaintness of the countryside, the solitude of muted earth. Three-year-old Sophie could not control her timbre as she ran through endless fields with only the top of her head visible in a sea of green and yellow. She happened upon the scene of the flattened flowers with eager curiosity. Her tiny, jam-sticky hands lifted the box, shook it, and thrust it forward. She stood in awe as the parachute deployed and flew in the same direction of the wind, evoking her laughter and applause. When her parents called for her to retreat inside for the day, she took the box, too.

When asked about the origin of the box, Sophie could only answer that she found it in the flowers. Sophie’s mother spotted the latch and opened its door. This revealed a yellowed piece of paper, folded in half, with a hand-written letter inside. She called her husband into the room and read the letter aloud:

To Whomever This May Reach:
I accept the fact that there was a miscalculation made. It is rocket science, after all.  Perhaps in some ways I consider myself extremely fortunate. Who else can view cosmic light reverberating in multiple dimensions whilst eating their breakfast? Send my family all the best.                                                                        

-Commander A.T. White.

The mother could remember learning about the NASA organization in her United States History course at university. This was many years ago—and she vaguely recalled space missions and exploration. Names like Scott Kelly came to mind, but A.T. White was lost on her. With this, she activated her inner-chip:

SEARCH: Commander A.T. White

RESULTS: Commander Alexander Theodore White, Mission XT411, Lost in Orbit  – All Transmissions Terminated, May 16, 2017.

Continue Search?

“No,” she answered. She walked over to the window and looked out at the vast sky.

“Perhaps someone is playing an elaborate joke on us,” he said.

“Should we contact some sort of historian for verification? If it is real, it may be worth something,” she said, with her back still turned.

***

His muscles were beginning to atrophy now—the Interim Resistive Exercise Device had malfunctioned weeks before. There were fourteen vacuum-sealed metallic pouches remaining. He still attempted communication at least once a day, holding out hope that a new nearby satellite would pick up his signals. He spent most of his days staring at the void, wondering if his family was staring into it as well.

He promptly located pen and paper and began writing his first letter. This took him longer than usual, since his arm muscles were in a weakened state.

Houston:
We have a problem. By my calculations, I’ve drifted farther into the darkness than any man has ever before. By the time this reaches you, I’ll be stardust. My faith is pushing me to send it anyway.                                              

-Commander A.T. White.

He delicately folded the paper and placed it in the box. The vacuum port sucked it through a tube and out into space. He watched it drift away into the cosmos.

Useless machines surrounded him now: Wires, particle detectors, laboratories, ports and air-locked doors. The engine was still running. Microgravity whirled his body into fetal positions, and he fed on the oxygen that remained.

When only seven food pouches were left, he decided to write yet another letter.

Earth:
Will I ever see your shades of green and yellow again? Your prodigious oceans? What do your poets know of loneliness? Please send help.                              

-Commander A.T. White.

It was all so futile now, all his years of training and study. He had no sympathy for himself. This was his dream, his religion. We began as universal particles, and we ended as such.

He composed his last letter with irrelevant calculations in mind. He wished he could shrink and shoot himself out of the ship and into the void. Would something he touched really make it back home to create his memorial centuries after his departure?

He pressed his bare hand on the cold window, and a tranquil air orbited his bones.

Jamie Shrewsbury lives in Ocean City, Maryland, and is a recent graduate from Salisbury University. She has previously been published in apt and decomP.

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Flowchart for Fixing an Awkward Sentence


*Click on image for a larger version.

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and winner of the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. She has been published in The Rumpus, Hobart, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review among others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown and a volunteer reader for Creative Nonfiction. She teaches creative writing online with WOW! Women On Writing, and received her MFA from Rainier Writing Workshop. Visit her at www.chelseyclammer.com.

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