Artist, Marta Sanchez: Marta L. Sanchez is a survivor, author, activist, and self-taught visual artist from Panama who employs poetry, art, and storytelling to address sexual violence. Her artwork and presentations have been internationally received, and her creative activism provides a bridge between communities and support resources. Her interactive exhibit, Her interactive exhibit “PISSED OFF!” will be touring bathrooms across the country until October 2011. To invite her to your community or view more of her work visit: www.poetryandart.org.
The first time Mary flew she had her hand down her pants. She was thinking about the two older boys down the street; in her head they wanted her and only her, and were willing to share. It was pleasure and discomfort all at once, like long strips of paper-thin skin being peeled from a sunburn. Bringing herself as far as she could go, she opened her eyes and found herself nose to ceiling, the bed no longer beneath her body.
That summer one of the boys pressed her up against a catalpa full of cicadas. When his lips found hers, her toes tingled. She banged her foot on the tree trunk.
“Stop squirming,” Garrett said, putting his hands on her shoulders. He tasted like Orange Crush; she smelled like Coppertone. It felt as if ladybugs were tiptoeing up her thighs.
If she was lighter in his arms Garrett didn’t notice. When the street lights came on, he muttered, “Later, Mary!” and she thumped back down, her hair catching in the bark. She watched him coast down the road, standing on his bike’s pedals and leaning over the handles. As the tingle faded, she knew it was true: she could fly.
Through experiment she found it wasn’t touch alone that did it. Even candy became a game; the crackle of rice crispies, the rich chocolate, the crinkling silver wrapper—how many bites would it take?
She felt sure her mother could do the same, and her father must have known. Before Mary could play dress-up in the clothes she’d left behind, he threw them away. He dumped her spices down the disposal, poured out her perfumes, hung curtains over the picture window. In confusion, five-year-old Mary climbed into his lap and asked where her mother went. Her hair, the same as her mother’s, tickled his face. He pulled back, then pushed her aside, rushed into the bathroom, and threw a bottle of her mother’s shampoo into the trash.
“It was her time, Mary, that’s all.”
He ran a tub for her, told her she’d have to bathe herself now that her mother was gone. The soap was slippery; she kept dropping it and had to pat around the tub’s floor, finally finding it between her knees.
“Don’t touch there,” he whispered. She wasn’t sure where he meant.
By ninth grade Mary knew what could make her rise; if the sun warmed her skin, or her favorite teacher read aloud, she wrapped her feet around the legs of her desk. She let her hair cover her flushed cheeks, and if her bottom rose, she feigned just getting comfortable.
That spring Garrett started coming to Mary’s house to study. She let him lie on top of her when they kissed. But one day Garrett asked to bring Tim along, the other boy from her fantasies. She baked cookies that filled the house with cinnamon and nutmeg. She buried her head in Tim’s neck, lips parted to take in the scent of grass on his clothes, the taste of sweet tea on Garrett’s tongue.
Up close, she saw the ceiling was cracked. Her body was electric; her dress was on the floor. The boys, still on the couch, stared up at her with wide, frightened eyes. Her father’s keys rattled in the front door.
Tim fumbled with his jeans while Garrett crammed his feet into the wrong sneakers.
“I think she’s possessed or something!”
Her father slammed the door behind them; Mary fell to the floor.
Her door was removed, her stash of chocolate, too. There would be no more pleasure for Mary, no more flying.
“You can’t do that,” he said.
“Dad,” she backtracked, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to!” But he knew she did, and told her so.
The next morning she came out of the house with a daisy tucked behind her ear. Her father snatched it away, his fingers dry against her cheek. He tossed the flower to the ground.
When she got to school, the girls looked at her like they smelled something musty and sour; Mary wondered what the boys had told them. During class she focused hard on her textbooks.
That night she sneaked out to lie in the tall grass of her backyard. She sucked in a long breath, tasting the green, living things and coming rain. The wind brought the charged scent of lightning. Something big floated toward her, landing on her sweater. A luna moth. She raised her hand slowly, and it tiptoed onto her fingers. She remembered doing the same thing when she was small, before her mother left. Attracted by her bright clothing, butterflies would land and unfurl their proboscises to taste the salt on her skin. They’d fly away to pair in wild corkscrews before she could touch their powdery wings. Her mother would wrap her up tight, her arms a cocoon.
When the luna opened and closed its wings, Mary felt the air caress her face. Warmth traveled up the back of her thighs, her eyes went soft. She realized the fence was much lower than it should be.
She heard her father slide open the screen door.
Mary hovered, the breeze lifting her hair. She took in every sensation: the heavy scent of peonies, thunder she could feel behind her ribs.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded, grabbing for her leg. She bent her knees so he couldn’t reach. She floated higher; it reminded her of kissing beneath the catalpa.
“Mary!” His voice cracked. He looked tattered and torn. She shrugged off her sweater. She kicked off her shoes, too, and they landed a few feet from him.
“Is this what my mother did? Before she left?”
Mary slipped out of her jeans, letting the night air surround her. As she reached the tips of the tallest trees, her father remained grounded. He stared up at the spitting sky, maybe seeking his wife among the rolling clouds, she thought, maybe fighting the instinct to join them.
Michelle Lawrence is earning her Master’s degree in fiction at Miami University, where she also teaches writing. Her fiction has been featured in Identity Theory, Stone’s Throw Magazine, and Fawlt Magazine. Lawrence’s story ‘Lividity’ placed second in the Seventh Glass Woman Prize in May 2010.
My tumor is the thing that melts but does not go away.
My mother stands at the window looking out while I fit the wig on my head. It’s the same wig I wore when I was little and played dress-up, my mother’s Marilyn wig, blonde with loops of curls that drop low across my forehead, hiding my bad eye.
It’s not the eye that’s bad, the nurse chides me, tucking a long curl behind my ear.
She means well, I tell myself. I look in the mirror the nurse holds up. The wig sits lopsided, or maybe it’s on straight and it’s my perception that’s skewed because of my not-bad bad eye. I tilt my head and squint my good eye. In sharper focus, it is clear that this wig has seen better days.
My mother turns from the window. Bad weather, she says, looking at me. Against the dark sky, her face glows, a worried white nimbus. You look cute, she says. Fresh.
This is not possible. The wig smells of moth balls. Moth balls are the opposite of fresh. My good eye waters, burns from the menthol smell. My mother used to smoke menthols, mmm mmm, she’d say, like sucking in fresh air. At the state fair once, my brother and I ate cotton candy, big fluffy pink clouds of it. Holding the tip of the white cone to his mouth, my brother pretended the pink fluff was cigarette smoke. Mmm, mmm, he said, laughing.
The wigs at the shop were terrible, too old for you, my mother is saying. I open my bad eye as my mother brings her hands up to my face. We’ll get you home now, she’s telling me, pressing my cheeks together.
I make fish lips. Glub, glub, I say, not laughing.
She means well. Everyone means well. My life is full of well-wishes. I am surrounded by Wellness. Except for the fact that I am terminal, I would be full to the brim with Wellness.
My mother drives me to my apartment. The man who has been stalking me sits on the stoop across the street and whistles soft when he sees me. Ignore him, my mother says, steering me past by my elbow. Bony, she says, tsking. You need to eat.
I have become all angles; when I walk, I cut the air.
I pull my wig lower and watch the man from under the fringe of my new hair. He looks thinner, pale, worried. I missed him in the hospital, but now that I am home, I know he will keep watch. He will sit on the stoop across the street and stare up at my window.
You need to call the police, my mother tells me. I need for him to see me, I don’t tell her.
Instead, I stand at my window and stare down at the man with my bad eye. I’m training it to see, I tell her as she’s leaving.
Rest, she says. Eat.
I do neither. I measure my days by the growing pitch of my bones. The man stays put and so does my tumor. With my bad eye, I watch them both.
Julie Innis’ stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Gargoyle, WomenArts Quarterly, The Long Story, Thunderclap!, Prick of the Spindle, jmww, BLIP and Pindeldyboz, among others. In May 2009, Julie was a finalist for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and in May 2010, she won the Seventh Glass Woman Prize for her story ‘Sanctuary’. She has high hopes for May 2011.
Lullabies and Other Noise
The house had settled into a quiet that slipped through the rooms like pointing fingers. It was a quiet that didn’t dissolve with the television on or music playing. It hummed like white noise a strange tune of its own. It was more than Ellen expected quiet could be.
She was thirty-nine and on her own again. She was a nurse so her mother’s care had been routine. Life had been cluttered with oxygen tanks and tubes and a bed that filled the living room. She hadn’t minded. She missed her mother. She missed the activity. With all the equipment now gone, quiet had more space to bounce off the walls.
Ellen had worked for years in the hospital geriatrics wing then recently was transferred to obstetrics. The rushing around and the cranky overblown women were a challenge to patience. There were wonderfully happy things like handing out babies to cooing new mothers no longer screaming at the staff and cursing mankind. The only part she hated, could never get used to, were the abortions performed every Friday. The second trimester saline were the worst.
When she was young there had been a doctor she loved with ridiculous passion. He loved her back through college and his residency then he left when she thought she was pregnant. It still stung. Though she wouldn’t have said so, it was part of the reason she had been so unwilling to transfer. Motherhood was out of her reach and men, well, men had never been a big thing in her life after him.
Ellen still dressed in whites though it wasn’t required. Many nurses wore floral shirts that made her think of exotic places where she never really wanted to go. On this Friday, she would’ve worn black. Her training made her response to need automatic. Her life made it hard to keep her thoughts to herself.
The morning count was sixteen. All of them under twenty, unmarried, bulging with somebody that wouldn’t ever be president or a french fry-maker at the downtown fast-food. Fridays were hard to get through and each one got tougher with time.
The girl couldn’t have been fifteen. She looked scared when she entered the ward, scared when Ellen told her to change into the hospital gown, twitching away from the cold white of the room. She did what she was told like an alien waif, with no fire or anger or grief. Most of the others were sullenly quiet or loudly demanding, moods Ellen was used to.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
The girl said nothing. Stared at her with colorless eyes.
Ellen softened. “You can still change your mind.” The girl looked further along than six months. There were doctors that would sign papers they shouldn’t, fill in forms just to get paid.
This girl, skinny and out of balance, her belly a beachball in front of her, didn’t seem to hear her. Ellen helped her get into the bed and gave the hospital-approved instructions that she knew now by heart, no longer had to think about or feel what she was saying.
The process started within a few hours, sometimes lasting two days. Ellen brought in iced water, answered the alarms as each woman panicked in the sudden rush of fluids, the slippery squid of an unwanted child she’d find in the bed, the bathroom, one in the hallway. The weekend wore on.
The girl delivered Saturday night just before Ellen’s shift ended, ringing the alarm only once. She sat on the bed and pointed beneath her.
Ellen took the bedpan and carried it into the bathroom. She looked at the mess of urine and blood and fetus. It was nearer to seven-months, the largest she’d ever seen. A boy. Some of the live babies, the premies, were smaller than him. She felt her stomach push towards her throat, a headache suddenly pound in the back of her head. She changed the sheets while the girl stood and waited, still silent, still staring. “You’ll be all right,” Ellen said and managed a smile. She carried the bedpan out of the room, cleaned up, filled out paperwork, and went home.
She started a bath but it looked like an ocean. She brought in a large pan and set it inside the tub and placed the small body inside. She washed it carefully, gently rubbing the dried blood and fluids off with a washcloth. He was perfectly formed. She held his tiny hands, spread out the fingers, curled them over her thumb. He had just a fuzz of dark hair. She soaped it and shaped it on his head. It turned lighter as it dried.
She toweled him dry and wrapped him in a small pastel blanket she found on the top shelf of the closet. She cradled him in her arms, singing a lullaby she’d heard a long time ago. With the small solemn face poking out, he looked like he could just be asleep. She listened to the creak of the rocker. It made her house feel full.
Susan Gibb, a recent Pushcart nominee, writes one blog on literature analysis and another on hypermedia writing and reading. Her poetry, fiction, and digital art have been published in many fine zines. Her work is included in the “Valentine Day Massacre” chapbook (Cervana Barva Press). She wrote 100 hypertext stories in Summer 2009, 100 flash fictions in Summer 2010 and in 2011 she’s teamed up with an artist and writes one flash piece each day. Gibb’s story ‘Wanderer’ won the Eighth Glass Woman Prize in December 2010.
Her work is painstaking and slow. Her hands are given to small fits of nerves, followed by short lapses in memory, afflictions she shakes aside with a slight movement of her head. A low humming fills the kitchen – the light bulb clinging to life above the sink, the cold wind squeezing in against the weathered window pane, the refrigerator steadily at work in the corner- but she no longer hears the real.
Someone comes to the door – she can see the person from the place she sits at the table. He is handsome, young, strong. He has a package for her, something she can open. He helps her with the tape because she asks him to. His hands are callused and hardened and she likes this about him. His name is Sam. She pulls from the box a white satin nightgown trimmed with lace, the icy gauze draped, dripped, sewn to edges. It is from him. Not Sam. Wait –
Someone comes to the door – she can see the person from the place she sits at the table. Her auburn hair is cropped short and windblown. She’s wearing a green raincoat but it doesn’t seem to be raining, or maybe it’s a light rain or a mist or well, just come in there, yes, and you can put your coat on the chair. She offers the girl a seat, asks her to stay for a minute, but she can’t, she just came by to say hello, and don’t you like my new raincoat?
She shakes her head and resumes her work. Her cuts are methodical and precise, and she only makes them if she is sure her nerves have passed the moment. Now and then she flexes the buckles from her fingers, shakes out her hands, wipes her palms on the front of her skirt. Starts again. The humming continues behind her, around her.
Someone comes to the door. This time the person is hard to see, never coming inside, wandering back and forth out on the porch. She thinks she spots a gray hat, fedora-type, but she can’t be sure. The hazy outline moves slowly through the long afternoon light.
She’s halfway through now, so she stops and evaluates her work. She thinks the work is fine, and she is confident. Confident, confident. This will work. Thinking this gives her the strength to continue. Her hands resume their task. Flex fingers, shake hands, wipe palms. The fits come and go, but she rides them out and keeps on.
A bird is a bird is a bird, she sings, knowing it is untrue. A bird is a bird is a bird.
House quaint, devoid of pictures, pictures of cropped auburn hair and gray fedoras, long ago dusted, finally dusted and put away, fallen and tied, stored for the spring, for the next movement.
Nearly finished, she wipes an itch from her cheek. The wood, turned soft in her hands, is warm, feathered, the song sparrow’s breast a perfect curve. Setting the creature on the table, she reaches for her shawl and pulls it around her shoulders. A last look around, amidst humming, everything humming, floorboards to the attic. But it is not humming. They are words, language in other forms. A whole world within, without.
As she walks out the door and down the steps, she is finally, completely at rest. Turning toward the back field, she raises up the bird and releases, and it is she who is rising, rising through dusk, through icy gauze of winter, awaiting the next.
Kari Nguyen’s short stories have appeared online and in print, most recently in Boston Literary Magazine. She lives in New Hampshire and is a nonfiction editor at Stymie Magazine. Nguyen’s story ‘Star Anise’ placed second in the Eighth Glass Woman Prize in December 2010.
My Own Story
It’s likely you have heard of me, but you probably don’t remember. My name is Dunyazād. I’m the little sister. I’m required to hang out on my separate carpet while King Shahryār enjoys Shahrazād. When they are done, I need to make the all-important request: “Sister, please tell us a story to make the night pass pleasantly.”
I love my sister. She sparkles. I want to be exactly like her. Except for one thing. I think I’d rather die than lie with a man who routinely has girls’ throats slit because his ego was once dented by an unfaithful wife.
I know that’s easy to say. If it came right down to it, I don’t know if I would rather die. I love this life. Its flowers. Its wild cats slinking through the sand. And desert foxes. Lizards. Eagles. Owls.
I want to live my own story now. Or soon.
It’s easier to say what I don’t want in my story. Those things are often so vivid.
I don’t want in my story a seventy-year-old woman who has her foot cut off in the name of Allah and justice because she inadvertently exposed her ankle.
I don’t want in my story girls who cannot by law be executed when they are still virgins, but whose problematic virginity is so easy to correct.
I don’t want in my story a king with elegant power and a boyish smile who raises his charming cup of wine to his beautiful mouth, when earlier in the day he had a girl’s throat slit after enjoying her body. It is said that the smile, the now, is always what matters. But to the girl, I think, her life mattered more than his charm. Her dreams mattered, dreams of books or babies, of flutes or doves, of goats or fig trees, or countless other things, none of which had anything to do with a bored queen looking for pleasure anywhere she could find it, and an enraged king trying to soothe his sore ego in vain in rivers of female blood rather than learning how to please a queen so that she didn’t have to look elsewhere for pleasure.
Sometimes I wonder, though, if I leave these things out of my story, whether everybody will just keep hearing the same old familiar words and themes and nobody will notice anymore what horror is swept under the shimmering magic. We get so used to the atrocities, they end up seeming normal, part of a recital of exquisite beauty. We focus on the perfumed atmosphere of djinns and jeweled bazaars and quickly tune out the whimpers of the one thousand and ninety-five girls the king has killed. Some stories are so enchanting that even I almost forget my dread that any night I might be next, in his bed, under his sword.
Some nights my sister’s stories are quite short. We all need sleep from time to time. She and I can nap during the day if necessary, but the king still has a government to run.
I hear his loud breath now. I hear the fast slap of his skin against hers. Soon it will be time for another story.
What would I want in my own? Foxes. Definitely foxes. And eagles. The sea. The mountains. Sand. Leaves. Pine needles. Roses. Sunrise. Rain. Fairytales. Even sad ones. Oh yes, and men and women who honor each other and life. And love. I definitely want love in it.
I want to live for that kind of story. Yes, I do.