Transmission

Issue #1

Fall 2010

Table of Contents

3 Letter from the Editor

4 Contributors

5 Events

6 Fiction – “My Late-Middle Period” by Eric Sasson

23 Poetry – “Maps” by Elana Seplow

24 Fiction – “Intangible Objects” by Douglas Silver

29 Poetry – “Awaker” by Elana Seplow

31 Haiku – “On Reading Douglas Silver’s ‘Intangible Objects’” by Christina Phelps

33 Fiction – “It Wasn’t Just a Dream &” by Jaime Karnes

52 Short Short Fiction – “Programmed Self-destruction” by Shannon Anthony

 

Letter from the Editor

Dear Reader,

This is where I write something nice about how this idea came about and what literature and the literary world, the literary life, means to all of us, and either a more professional picture of myself or just a photograph that is representative of the season without being too self-centered (something of New York City like leaves falling in Central Park, but nothing that implies the way this picture is is the way the world is because this is the only world that matters), and then I’ll write something meant to be inspiring about writing or art or what trans- means and what transmission means, and about our mission, and it will all be corny cheesiness, but I will mean it with all of my heart, and I will want everyone else to too, except we’re also going to be snarky when it is appropriate and satirical because it is always called for, and it will be very earnest sounding, and it will win hearts and inspire people to submit their writing to us and their time to us and maybe even a little bit of their money so it doesn’t cost me a million dollars, but I have no concept of money anyway, so it will be beautiful. Warmest,

– Christina Phelps

 

Contributors

Shannon Anthony just makes this stuff up.  The accompanying piece is pure fiction; she’s never watched TV in her life.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  You may remember her from such links as http://shannonanthony.wordpress.com/ and http://twitter.com/shannon_anthony. We’ll be right back.

Jaime Karnes teaches fiction writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop and English at Rutgers University.  She has a BA from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Rutgers-Newark.  Her work has appeared in Storyglossia, Willard & Maple, HTMLGIANT, and PopMatters.  She lives in Manhattan and can be reached at cellardoorcopy (at) gmail.com.

Denny E. Marshall lives in Midwest and would like to say hi to everyone. Has had art and poetry recently published.

Christina Phelps is a writer and bartender in New York City and the founder of trans lit mag.  “On Reading Douglas Silver’s ‘Intangible Objects’” is her first reader response haiku.

Eric Sasson’s fiction has not appeared in The New YorkerHarper’s, or the Atlantic, and he hasn’t won the Pulitzer, Nobel or PEN/Faulkner award.  Likely because he’s in his early-middle period, or maybe his late-early period, but definitely not his late-middle period.  Sure, he’s no spring chicken but he’s no autumn fowl either.  Let’s just say he’s a summer rooster.  You should Google him to read his other stories because he gets off on anonymous people typing his name into search engines.  Unless of course you don’t want to please him.  That’s fine.  Be that way.

Elana Seplow is a native New Yorker and a poet.  A Columbia and Oxford graduate, she is the recipient of the 2009 Burns Society Prize and the Helene Searcy Puls Poetry Prize.  She has a firm handshake with a too-quick release.  She is, after all, a young professional.

Douglas Silver’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in HobartBerkeley Fiction ReviewOur Stories, and Word Riot. He has been a finalist in competitions by Narrative Magazine and Glimmer Train. He lives in New York and fancies himself the World’s Greatest Uncle.

 

Events

9.21.2010 – trans lit mag begins transmitting “transmission”

 

Fiction

My Late-Middle Period

by Eric Sasson

I have recently entered my late-middle period, which, as most if not all of you know, is when I finally start making real headway with my writing.  Not just artistically, since a strong case can be made that the writings of my early-middle and middle-middle periods possess significant aesthetic merit, but mostly, professionally, as this is the period where I break out of the small circulation literary magazine “ghetto” (for want of a better term) and start to draw recognition from some of the more mainstream, widely-read publications that have the prevailing cultural impact of the day.  This period, which directly precedes my early-late period, that glorious breakthrough moment marked most significantly by the publication of both my first literary and first YA cyborg-romance novels, is characterized primarily by pieces such as this one, pieces where I find my “voice” as a writer and begin to demonstrate the kind of wit and playfulness with language that so many readers of a certain ilk were craving in these tough economic, spiritually uncertain times.  The opportunity offered to you here is a unique one, and if I were you [1] I would consider publishing this baby immediately.

[1] Of course I’m not; realistically I can’t be both writer and judge of my own work, and by “you” I don’t mean the general reader “you,” but the more specific publisher-of-a-mainstream-large-circulation-well-respected magazine “you.”

For clarification purposes, because I want to be perfectly clear on what opportunity you will be missing out on here,[2] this is the period right before the period when I trade pointed zingers with Letterman.[3]  This is, cosmically speaking, milliseconds before the period when George Saunders and Jonathan Lethem both, unbeknownst to the other, call me an “important new voice,” falling all over themselves with praise in their back-cover blurbs (Saunders adding that my sentences demonstrate “a staggering degree of nuance and verve”), right around the corner from the period when Tina Brown calls me while Nan Talese is on the other line, a hair’s breadth away from the period when Michiko Katukani discovers, in her review of my novel,  several new synonyms for the word brilliant, much like the Eskimos and their seemingly endless riffs on the word snow.[4]

Those of you familiar with the works of my early-early period (currently available on my blog, although PDFs of them have been circulating online for years) can chart the progress I have made from a passionate affinity for mad-libs, a precociously inappropriate use of polysyllabic adjectives and a fondness for all things superhero, to the writer I am now, an alchemist of phrases, a necromancer of subtleties, a man on the cusp of something huge.

[2] Here the “you” I’m using is more general, including not only “you” the hot-shot magazine publisher but also all of the “you”s out there in reading land, craving to be among the first to recognize a major new talent.

[3] A well-known talk show host of my late-early through early-late periods, a man known for his ironic detachment and deconstruction of the talk show format, whom, to be fair, you might be familiar with, but then again you may not, as you may very well be one of those snooty types who don’t watch television.

[4] In her review, Ms. Katukani also uses the word “limn.”  Twice.

 

Moving forward, my middle-early period was full of disconsolate poetry and images of isolation.  Also, lots of French words, believing as I did then, that only the French language could adequately convey my feelings of désespoir.  My journal entries from that time reveal an obsession with the social conventions of high school: scribbled litanies of the people who spoke to me in the halls that day, which new friends had yielded me their phone numbers, and whose parties I had managed to snag invitations to, all gloriously set to paper in a prose style and tone whose delicious lack of irony I daresay was ahead of its time.  The paper-thin attempts at disguising my sexual yearnings (and utter confusion as to how I would ever achieve them) are remarkably Post-PoMo, juxtaposing the quotidian desires of the teenage protagonist with metaphors for shooting stars, volcanoes and other geological wonders that are most apropos, when you think about it, being as they are simultaneously extraordinary and yet perfectly natural.

You also must give me credit for an astonishing one-eighty turn.  By eighteen, abandoning all the earnestness of my previous years, I plunged headlong into the symbolic and abstract.  I wrote stories whose opacity was matched only by my penchant for overwrought page-long metaphors, which, upon retrospect, seem to foreshadow the arrivals of those enfant terribles such as Douglas Coupland and David Foster Wallace.[5]

I don’t mean to brag, but surely I was one of the first to write the epistolary email story, the collective first person coming-of-age western, and more recently, the text message villanelle and the sonnet tweet, using abbreevs in ways quite startling in their economy and clarity.

Still, not every keyboard I’ve touched has turned golden.  I suppose this is a good time for me to apologize for some of the works of my late-early period.  If it counts for anything, it was the early nineties, and I had read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis and Milan Kundera.[6]  Deciding to find common ground between the two seemed like a good idea at the time, but upon reflection, a novel about an Eastern European serial killer with a heavily omniscient third person narrator who comments upon the text in short, product-placement-enriched sentences does not stand the test of time.  It’s hard, in your early twenties, not to want to shock people.  You want to be noticed for your supposed originality, but you end up mimicking your influences all that more obviously.  And yet the market did respond.  A few of those derivative stories were snatched up, by some ravenous editors at small magazines at obscure colleges in the Midwest, probably all in their twenties, too, probably writing similar stories themselves.

[5] Not to speak ill of the dead, but all the praise heaped upon DFW for his Pynchonian range and Falstaffian wit seem a bit excessive to me.  And these footnotes you’re reading now, which some of you skeptical types might be tsk-tsking me for using as Mr. F-W supposedly got there first, well guess what?  He didn’t.  I did.  I wrote four, that’s right, four stories by the age of seventeen that deftly (not to mention more intelligently) employed footnotes as a central thematic conceit.  And I refuse to give them up when the effortlessness with which I employ them is so patently obvious.

[6] Read them again; they have much more in common than you think.

 

In any event, you know all of this already, because you are following my career.  Which brings me to this period I am in.  Likely what would be of interest here is what set of sociological and personal circumstances led me to this stage, what are its highlights (and perhaps some lowlights), and how it eventually leads into the next phase, that, of course, being the period of my astonishing (not to mention astonishingly deserved) critical and commercial success.  What you are seeking here, if I may be so bold as to read your mind, is some “context.”  Best it would be (forgive the Yoda-speak), I believe, at this point, for me to set some parameters on what exactly constitutes this “late-middle” period.  When designating a historical phase to someone’s oeuvre, one doesn’t want to be arbitrary, or worse, simplistic.  For instance, deciding that this is my late-middle period simply because I have, perhaps, entered my late-middle years, or even say, looking back upon my life from the vantage of a full career, and subsequently assigning this period as late-middle just because it actually classifies as such chronologically.  No, “late-middle” must be more than that; it must somehow be representative of the state of mind I am in, some unifying idea that incorporates what it means for me to be an artist on the brink of such tremendous stardom.  What are my thoughts, and how am I expressing them?  What casserole am I bringing to the literary table, for surely it is something magical, or rather I should say, verging on the magical, leaving the actual magic for the fast-approaching early-late period, that when I blossom into an undeniable man of letters, a man whose literary output needs no introduction, but whom many people do indeed introduce, to their friends, say, or to an audience, on several occasions, when I’m about to stand before a podium at a Barnes and Noble or at an AWP conference lecture hall in the well-appointed Hilton of a large urban center.

Not to be crude, but perhaps the best way to designate my late-middle period is essentially to look at what I am writing lately.  As in, say, the past few months.  Maybe weeks.  The next phase, the wildly successful one, is imminent, although I can’t say for sure how imminent.  By this I mean, any day now.  Don’t ask me which day or which month, but soon.  Very, very soon.

Everyone has their obsessions.  Most, if not all, of the venerated authors of history keep circling back to the same themes in their work, be it Dostoyevsky’s zeal for retribution or Joyce Carol Oates’s seemingly insatiable thirst for rape scenes.  These obsessions define them as writers, make them the supreme talents they are.  My great obsession, the leitmotif that flows through each of my periods, is my desire for success.  Don’t get me wrong; other demons possess me as well.  I have always been somewhat awkward at parties, have had more than a few brushes with sexual uncertainty, and my family, dear as they are to me, has not always been behind me one hundred percent.  And these obsessions have manifested themselves as well—adding color to my large body of work much like minor characters add depth to a scene.  But through all my works, across a wide spectrum of genres, and believe me I have experimented with several—commercial jingles, Facebook status update haikus, musical theatre adaptations of obscure postwar Hungarian comic books–no matter what these works were ostensibly about, be it the death of a loved one, the loss of innocence, the psychosexual coming of age of a deaf boy in a small, isolated farm town—what they really were about, above everything else, was my hunger for fame.  Glorious, large scale fame.

It is perhaps my willingness to so shamelessly embrace my obsessions in this phase, my refusal to couch this supposed character flaw under layers of innuendo and symbolism, that makes the works of this period so startling—so fresh, if you will.  Here I am, baring open my soul to you, dear readers, telling you in no uncertain terms that I want to see myself in print, and not just any print but among the pages of the great journals of our day, or even better, in book form published by the big lions—Knopf, FSG, Scribner, I know you’re itching to press that dial button, so go ahead, why don’t you?

Success is the obsession of all writers.  It is the universal theme underneath all our other universal themes, the dotty grandmother we keep locked up in the closet when our daughter’s fiancée’s family comes to visit for the first time.  And why stop at writers?  All artists.  All people, for heavens sake.  Success is the universal obsession of the world.[7]  I am hardly alone.  Am I not tapping into a deep-seated desire here?  Do you not aspire to success in your life?  You know how it is, don’t you, toiling away at your task, working hard to advance in your field, to make enough money to pay the bills, buy the spouse a spiffy new elliptical cross-trainer, send the kids to fencing lessons.  You know how many long hours you’ve put in, how much you have strived, day after day, month after month, year after goddamn year, waiting for that elusive moment when at last you turn the tide, when finally the fruits of your endless labor are baked into delicious reward tarts, tarts which win you the culinary equivalents of the Booker Prize.  Because then, ah then, it will all be okay.  The grueling hours spent in front of a computer.  The debilitating bouts with Carpal-Tunnel.  The eternal waits for form rejection letters, the failed relationships with self-absorbed significant others who simply couldn’t appreciate me for the talent I would soon one day be, the pathetic euphoria I feel upon receipt of that single contributor’s copy from the freely-distributed student-run community college ’zine nestled on the banks of a town so small it doesn’t even show up on Google maps –all this will be worth it,[8] because these humiliations will have served their purpose: to provide a context for my gargantuan ridiculously-near-future fame.  They can serve as fodder for the clever, self-deprecating anecdotes I will use when interviewed on NPR.

[7] Of course, it depends on how you define success.  Some people say that success is being happy with what you have.  To which I say, how happy are these people, really?  Happy that they are not successful?  Really?  This makes them happy?  Right.  So they chase after their dreams for years on end, and don’t achieve their goals, and yet, somehow, it was all worth it.  I see.

[8] Well, I mean, at least for me it will be.  My success approaches.  I cannot speak for yours.  You may very well not achieve anything, and be stuck in the aforementioned vicious cycle of failure and regret until you die, or at least until you redefine your life. as about the journey, and not the destination, which is what most failures do to reconcile the grandiose fantasies in their mind with their dead-end realities.

  Many of you may be wondering why I keep using phrases such as “as most of you know” or “of course you know by now” in this piece.  The simple answer to this is that while this piece very much merits your consideration right now (this very second, Deborah Treisman) I am humbly and perhaps realistically allowing for the possibility that you will not read this imminently (at least not as imminently as my oh-so-forthcoming breakthrough period; wow is it close!) but rather, a bit after I have already achieved the successes of my early-late period, perhaps a few months later, or even as many as a few years, when readers (one possible “you”) become more curious about me, or when editors (the other “you”) begin to recognize, considering my astonishing success and name recognition, the cash-cow potential of putting any and all of my earlier works into your pages, no matter how worthy.  Which is not to say this piece isn’t worthy by any means.  It is worthy of being published yesterday.

As for my middle-late and late-late periods, let’s just say discretion prevents me from discussing those seminal works.  Suffice to say a little modesty might be in order, but don’t be surprised when certain words that sound very much like Wulitzer and Zobel start getting used in sentences alongside my name.  That’s right, Wulitzer and Zobel.  Think about it.

Of course such success will come at a cost.  Certain people will betray me out of jealousy, others will speak ill of me behind my back, claiming I was much more down-to-earth before fame struck, bemoaning how accessible and empathetic I used to be, the kind of guy who understood what it felt like to be continuously and relentlessly disappointed.  But these criticisms are unfair.  I will not change.  I shall remain the same awesome dude I have always been, only now the world will acknowledge said awesomeness.  Will it be my fault when my schedule won’t allow for dinner parties in Bushwick?  For movie night at Tom and Hannah’s?[9] Hardly.  It’s just, I’ll be busy.  You know, writing masterpieces and all.  I have nothing against any of you, really.  You were a lovely bunch of friends, and even if you haven’t exactly reached your potential, you certainly helped me achieve mine.  Look out for your names in my acknowledgments page.[10]

[9] Yes, I still have your Bridge on The River Kwai, Hannah.  It’s been a few years, and I know I promised to watch it with you guys at some point, but really, under the circumstances, isn’t it best to just move on and wish me well at this point?  I’ll see you at my book-release party.

[10] Some of you.  A select few.  Probably no more than a handful.

 

In any event, I think you get the idea.  It’s best not to oversell oneself in these situations.  Don’t cart out an appetizer when an amuse-bouche is all that’s necessary.  And this little morsel has been quite tasty, ne c’est pas?  So I ask you this: why delay the inevitable?  You’re feeling rather overwhelmed by my genius—you know you are, admit it.  I have bedazzled you like a mid-eighties sequin sweater.  Finally we have reached that great moment of synchronicity, where both of us are viewing my talent through the same pellucid lens.  We are sharing a moment here, yes?  A moment in history, where you, [11] with your trusty rollerball pen or MacBook write me that congratulatory letter and launch the next great career, and I, with modesty and grace, grant you First North American Serial Rights.  Or go ahead and call, my phone number is on the top.  I’ll pick up, I promise.  I’d love to hear your voice.  I imagine it’s quite sexy.

[11] Do I have to explain the “you”s again or have you gotten the idea by now?

 

Go ahead.  You know you want to.  Of course: this is exactly how my late-middle period ends.  I reach the end of this story with a final descriptive flourish, a fiercely touching coup de grace which leaves readers dumbstruck and yet somehow supremely satisfied, and then, oh then, I print out the pages with my HP All-in-One, slip them into manila envelopes, consult Fiction on Demand’s postage calculator to determine the right amount of stamps, walk down to the mailbox, stare at the envelopes one last time before closing my eyes, knowing that all those times I faced the grueling uncertainty of the marketplace are finally behind me, knowing and feeling somewhat nostalgic about it, warmly recalling the struggles which I am now leaving behind.  I open the slot, and pop the envelopes inside.  And the fairytale Early-Late period begins.  Yes, it begins.  This time, I know it’s happening.  Not like last time, or the time before, or the many times before that.  This is different.

And a whole other story.  One that I will expound upon at length in my first of several memoirs.  Which I don’t want to say too much about just yet, except to mention the very distinct possibility of a certain famous talk-show hostess inviting me to her studio in a certain Windy City to be on her show, most intentionally doing so and not making a “faux-pas,” if you’re catching my drift.

Wulitzer, Zobel, and Faux-pas.  Sweet.

 

Poetry

Maps

by Elana Seplow

I assume that there is a point at which I stop

Thinking of you as my coordinates

My north my east my riverside walk

I am waiting for that time

That place where I will stumble wide eyed

And heavy breathing from your overgrown

And burdened branches outstretched and compassing

Inscribing me.  I will see my eyes my nose my mouth

The skin stretched across my bones unfold before newly unclosed lids

In a body of water all my own that will wash the river bed quietly

Flush up against the earth and the stars.

 

Fiction

Intangible Objects

by Douglas Silver

We stole karaoke, belting out half lyrics of songs we half knew during the odd second between the bouncer checking an ID and opening the door.  She stood closest to the velvet rope partitions, spying names on driver’s licenses as the bouncer waved his small Maglite.

I expected someone to chase us away, but no one seemed to care.  No one was ever bothered by her.  Cold winds blew in from the wharf and broke across my back.  I closed my eyes to focus on the melodies.  Eighties hard rock and glam metal.  Nineties grunge and rap.  We sang to each other, shouting above the stammering, shrill voices of tone deaf drunks.  We balled our fists into microphones and locked arms during duets.  We left when everything turned to pop and the crowd seemed too young for nostalgia.

Her jeans were studded along the waist, bronze and amethyst, like a reflective belt.  The knees were worn through, torn like spider webs.  A giant patch on her ass read What are you looking at?  I liked to let her walk ahead and catch people reading it.  She was so awkward, so self-assured.  I was envious of her comfort.  I was scared she knew it.

We stole pet names we overheard parents calling their children in the park, answering to them instead of our real names, until we stole better names and answered to those.  Noodle.  Mr. Man.  Sproutlet.  Sunshine.  Crankaboo.  Names the children had earned and would shed.  The kind of names no one ever gave her.  I tried to give her one, but she wouldn’t answer to it.  Even in bed, as she feigned sleep and I whispered “Crazypants” into her ear.  She’d roll over so I couldn’t see her smile.

We stole expressions we heard on the radio, injecting them into our conversations with waiters and Greenpeace reps we’d chat up on the street.  We volunteered for a Global Warming campaign, ordered Thai, rented a movie, and only ever used the words hollaso real, and fantasmagorical.  We stole stories and fascinated one another with other people’s lives.  We only went on first dates—different names and stories each time.  They’d last days, weeks; we rode them through to break up because there was no sense in knowing where we were going and not being there.

We stole yoga, laying out Styrofoam mats across her roof deck and mimicking the fluid stretches of instructors in the studio across the street.  Steam poured through the room.  We watched sweat drip off the backs of heads and down lithe necks, disappearing in pockets of Spandex.  We went through the motions.  Utkatasana.  Tadasana.  Garudasana.  Trikonasana, when we pitched our backs beneath our hips and the water tower’s rusted underside eclipsed the sky.  We twisted our bodies until the windows fogged, locking ourselves in the last pose until our joints ached and we called it relaxation.

We stole body heat, wedging ourselves between hulking men in double-breasted suits on the subway.  We rode the shuttle back-and-forth between Times Square and Grand Central.  She sat on my lap and I held her through the rush hour swarms.  Every ride she’d whisper something into my chest, prattling without pause, though I could never make out a word.  Once, after the cars emptied, I asked what she said.  She couldn’t remember.  There’s nothing she couldn’t remember.

She taught me it was okay to steal anything you didn’t have to touch.  And every time she responded to my questions with a head shake or empty stare, I knew she was just stealing time.  The subway car filled—briefcases and strollers and an amputee jangling change in a paper cup.  We pushed our way into the middle of the car.  I wrapped by arms around her, crushing down until she had just enough air to breath but not speak, nothing to remind me that soon everything would be too familiar and there’d be nothing worth taking.

 

Poetry

Awaker

by Elana Seplow

It is hydrangic stalks breathing in and

Out the stamen queer and quivering pained.

Teeth behind a petaled cheek,

shiver I do and quake.

Shuddering sweetly to the air,

I alter earth around me,

eyes mute the way hands in gloves are.

The buds are bursting slowly,

grass creeping to my teeth,

to catch my livid tongue and

I am tasting everything dry and gently alive.

(I do hope the world is flat

that I may roll and stretch

my florid fingers to the bed

of the sleeping sun.)

 

Haiku

On Reading Douglas Silver’s ‘Intangible Objects’

by Christina Phelps

At the laundromat, I lol’ed

(and almost cried) for

Crazypants.

 

Fiction

It Wasn’t Just a Dream &

by Jaime Karnes

I’m not a bad guy, but then again I’m not able-bodied either, which makes people think I’m inherently good; great even, or perhaps they simply feel sad when they look at me.

Five years ago someone in a Volvo ran my wife and me off the road.  She was my fiancée at the time.  Though I don’t remember the other car, I’m told that driver never came back to check on us.  The passenger side of our car caved in; it flipped five times.  I woke with my chin between my legs pressing on my balls.  My fiancée was barefoot in the snow outside the window.

“Ryan.  Ryan, can you hear me? Stay put.”

I passed out before she returned with help.

I woke, three weeks later, as if in a bad episodic rerun: my mother crying, my father doting, my fiancée and her parents waiting.  I was in traction with a stabilizing halo around my head that felt like a crown of thorns and oozed greenish puss down my cheeks like tears.  Imagine Jesus—that usually makes people feel better.

My fiancée wasn’t wearing any make-up; I used to really like that about her.  Her round cheeks looked rounder and her ash-blonde hairs were darkened with grease. I tried to pull away when she touched my head.

On our first date, when she touched my head, I leaned into it, allowing it to hang heavy in her smallish hand.  I let it rest too long and then she swiped my hair to the right side of the part.  Her fingers felt like velvet.  She asked me if I thought they were chubby.

I dated her again the next night.  And the following.  And again.  We dated so many nights in one week the next week began and we forgot where we’d started.  On our second date I kissed her softly, concentrating on not flexing the corners of my mouth.  I’d overheard my sister complaining about a tight-lipped guy in high school.  I was determined to be loose-lipped.  I negotiated my tongue in her mouth with the same seriousness as a job interview.

Walking into the Grant Street Pub, on our third date, her shirt lifted slightly from the top of her skirt and my hand slipped onto the fleshy divide.  I’d never been as excited by an inch of skin.  It was soft and goose-bumped from the chill air.  That’s when I knew I wanted to marry her.

I kept my eyes on my fiancée in the hospital bed, followed her nervous habits: a thumbnail between her teeth, the constant tucking of hair behind her ears, the shifting of her heft from one hip to the other.

“Hi.”

“What are we doing here?” I asked.

“It was an accident.”

She had my mother, poor thing, finish explaining what’d happened.  The roads were so snowy.  Snowy and dark.  Another car.  C6.

“Sick sex?”

“No, no.  S-e-e S-i-x,” she said, “It means you have limited wrist control, and complete loss of hand function.”  She wept.

“And my legs?”

No one answered me.

C6 spinal injury: translation: I was now a Quadriplegic.  What?—I was a tennis pro, not Christopher fucking Reeves.  I didn’t want to live if it meant someone would have to wipe my ass and my face.  I thought my mother would find something about this to make it feel less tragic.  Perhaps she’d delight in finally having a baby back in the house to spoon feed, read to, to tuck in tightly.  I imagined her saying “Good night, John Boy,” as she had when I was a child.

I went to a Mormon school.  I followed the rules.  I’d only ever had sex with my soon to be wife.  I should’ve learned how to shoot a gun.  I should’ve jumped from the 72-foot cliff at Red Rocks with my friends.  What if I couldn’t play my guitar again?  I should’ve had more blowjobs. Would I be able to finger my fiancée?  I should’ve had a lot more blowjobs.  I wouldn’t be able to play baseball with the son I now might never have.

I wondered how invalids committed suicide.  How did people swallow shards of light bulbs without hands with which to break them?  If I could just get my mouth around the bulb, surely, I thought, I could bite it.

They drugged me when I was in pain or showing signs of agitation. Sedated and satisfied, I’d try to wiggle my toes.  Nothing.  The first time my mother lifted my wrist to kiss my hand I couldn’t feel it and I shit my pants.

A lot of people came to see me.  They were a mirage of manicured faces, pressed button-ups and stiff wool coats.  I remember Amy had dyed her hair dark brown and added a set of trendy bangs to her already exaggerated image, and Joe and Susan had shown up together.  I wondered if he’d ever managed to get his huge dick inside her.  He complained she was too small for him.  She is short.  He is tall.  But in the few years he and I had been going out to pick up girls together, I couldn’t remember a single time when he’d purchased magnum condoms.  Not one time.  Then I wondered how very teeny tiny she could be.  Then she cried teeny tiny tears at my bedside.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“I’m glad you two are together.”

“Thanks.”  She hid behind Joe.

No more visitors.  No more, or I swear I’ll eat the lights.

When my wife and I were first dating she had a fear of lights.  She’d say, “don’t forget the lights.”

“Got ‘em,” I’d say.

God forbid I’d see her naked.  Shut off the lights.  Draw the shades.  Give her an oversized t-shirt to sleep in.  This lasted the first six-months of our relationship.  I begged her to shower with me because I’d seen shower scenes in porn and they worked.  When she finally agreed—with the lights off—I slipped on the shower scum and dislocated my kneecap.  We did it in the bed after that – her on top.  Her tits were heavy, but not in a bad way.  They were full and round, and sometimes I felt she was nervous of them bouncing about.  They looked amazing; I held them because I loved her.

In the hospital bed, after the accident, I thought a lot about my fiancée on top of me.  No one had asked about my penis.  No one checked on it.  I obsessed.  I’d tell my hands to move, lift the sheets and peel back my boxers.  Nothing.  I thought about a movie I saw where some crazy woman stashes all the pills she’s supposed to swallow in the fat of her cheeks until she has enough to kill herself, but my drugs were intravenous.

The inside of my mouth dried out leaving my tongue barely strong enough to moisten my lips.  The tubes ruined everything.  I remember thinking my fiancée would be the last girl I’d ever kiss.  I thought of all the girls I could’ve kissed instead.

People didn’t kiss me in the hospital.  They couldn’t.  The halo was drilled into my head in six places: directly in the center, three inches to each side and then again around the back.  Later, I discovered they didn’t center it at all, and the pockmark scars now give my countenance a crooked look.  I tip my head if anyone stares for too long.

My fiancée sat in a low corner chair with her knees tucked to her chest; her hips disturbingly wide.  She’s prone to bashfulness and when she’d bury her head in her arms, I didn’t think it was cute anymore.  People rested their hands on her shoulders and cupped the bottom of her chin with their palms, too afraid to touch me, when they entered the room.

The hospital allowed no more than four visitors at a time.  This was nice, I thought, because the room was small and dank, and the more people in there staring at me the more I felt like a corpse.  The faded grey walls and dark brown wainscoting made it feel like being in the bottom of a grave. I was dead, I thought, but no one wanted to tell me.  I decided we’d all died, and were somehow, someway together in this seeming afterlife.

The furniture in the room, all pressed wood and hard plastic was ugly enough to be called modern.  The lights weren’t bright, not like in a dentist’s office.  And no one ever came near me with a drill while I was awake.

I tried to remember the last time my teeth had been brushed.  I’d had water through a straw without ice and ice without water and water with ice. Water.  Dirty broken teeth that no one bothered to brush: only water to wash away the dryness of my throat.

Each time my father leaned in to tell me he loved me, I’d think about the time on the Jersey Shore when he buried me in the sand, shaping my sand body into a mermaid—with breasts, and a tailfin.  I was ten years old, helpless to onlookers.

“I’m not a merman.”

“Of course you’re not, son.”

“I’m not a mermaid either.”

“Yes, I know.”

“What am I?”

Lucky to be alive; I thought he would say I was lucky to be alive.  I was glad he didn’t with my damn fiancée sitting in the corner chewing on her fingernails.

“You’re going to get through this.”  He patted my left arm.

There was something furious about my father’s charm.  I could tell he was comfortable around the new me.  He was the type of man who’d make conversation with strangers and make it mean something.  He was the type of father that would love his invalid son for being different – eccentric – special.  He was the type of person who’d already realized that I’d never feel the itch of a mosquito bite again.

&

The first time a mosquito bit my daughter, Anna, she was one and a half.  I saw it on her fat upper thigh readying itself, savoring her baby skin.  I wanted to swat it away, but my wheelchair wasn’t close enough.  Anna winced when it was over.  I tried to use my thumb and forefinger to make a delicate baby safe X in her skin, so she wouldn’t feel the itch.

After the accident it was difficult to conceive Anna.  The doctors had told my fiancée it would be impossible.  Something about ejaculation, about a flap, my flap, and the muscle I couldn’t use which diverts semen into the urethra.  The flap wouldn’t open if I stayed on my back.  My fiancée would learn to prop me up onto my knees with a pillow between my thighs and lower legs.  Holding my body behind hers with force, lifting her ass especially high until she was good and wedged beneath me.

I’d learned to cope with humiliation at our wedding.  I’d been out of rehab for two months when we got married.  On the day, my best man, Casey, bathed me, changed my diaper, helped dress me in the tux, and fastened my Velcro dress shoes.  He walked behind – wheeling me down the aisle.  Everyone felt sorry for me.  I could see it in their eyes.  I wondered why they didn’t pull lighters out and sway back and forth with sadness.

My fiancée looked beautiful in her gown, high heels, and the veil she’d eventually lift on her own.  At the last minute I wanted to change our vows, but it was too late.  Will you promise to clip his toenails and trim his pubic hair forever?

“I do.”

She bent at the knees and waist, squatting over me; her lips jutted out from her face for the kiss.  She tasted salty.  I had a hard-on. The first one I’d felt since the accident.

I asked Casey to take me up to the suite before the reception.  I needed to let the piss out of my bag, and change out of the tux.  My body couldn’t sweat anymore so I had to regulate its temperature.  When I tried to explain this to my fiancée before the wedding she asked me if I preferred calla lilies to gerbera daisies.

Casey held a cold compress to the back of my neck while I practiced cooling-off.  I thought of all the money I’d save on deodorant.  He fixed us drinks, Jameson on the rocks with extra rocks on account of my heat exhaustion.

“A toast to you and your wedding day.”

“Mazel tov.”

“Ah, fuck.”  I hadn’t paid close attention to my grip; the one I’d practiced for six months in rehab, and the glass sweat, then dropped.  Cold Irish whiskey wet my balls.

“Let’s just take a shot,” Casey said.

Learning to use my hands – my fingers together, all at once to grip things – was more difficult than sex.  Individually my fingers were only useful for pecking.  Like a newborn; like a bird; like a half-human.  That’s how I thought of myself then: half-human, half-dead.  I went about the rituals because they made others happy.  I hadn’t found happiness.  Or, if I had, I’d forgotten all about it.

My wife and I moved into a new apartment – an accessible apartment – on the first story of a very bland but new brick building.  The neighbors in 3D were Korean, thus the hallway smelled foreign and fried.  My wife, responsible for furnishing the apartment, said her taste would better suit our style.

I paid the credit card bills when they came in.

I became skilled at holding wine glasses and coffee mugs with large handles.  She bought stemless glasses because they were chic and forgot to buy coffee mugs because she drank tea out of small cups.  My father brought over a set of nice wine glasses and my wife put them in the cabinets above the counter.  I should’ve known then that she would buy a big tall bed – a bed that, for me to transfer to, would require a bulldozer.

“What about a nice Swedish-style platform bed instead?”

“Do I look like I like modern to you?”

“No,” I said.

“Those beds are ridiculous.  Besides, everyone has one.  Do we want to be like everyone?”

“No,” I said.

“I’ll ask my brother to build a ramp so you can wheel up into the bed.”

Her brother never built a ramp.  It used to take me twenty minutes to transfer from my chair.  And by the time I got there, she’d be “too tired for sex.”

After the accident, during the few months post rehab, pre-marriage, we fucked all the time: in my chair, on the floor, in the shower—in my chair in the shower.  I couldn’t control my hard-on and when it happened she sat on it as if it may never happen again.  It was the best sex I’d never felt in my life.

I learned to listen to her body, like the soft hiccup of her vagina when I pull out slowly.  The way her smells changed: her perfumed skin lost to heavy panting with sweet breath.  The back of her neck and behind her ears; behind the ear sweat is very sensual, it really smells like no other place on a woman’s body.  Still, my favorite smell, that moment when she removes her panties, is like coming home from school to discover mom has just finished baking a pie.  Still too hot to eat, yet I’m allowed to get close enough to breath in deep and let the steam streak my glasses.

At night now, instead of sex, my wife positions my body exactly as instructed: legs separated from the thighs down, feet turned in slightly, and knees unlocked.  I rest my arms across my belly or at my sides.  It feels like a ritual – a cigarette after sex – a prayer before bedtime.

Having a system makes sense to me; it gives me an illusion of control.  And then I fall asleep.

The worst part about my life isn’t the accident.  It’s not that I roll myself around all day as if walking through garbage on my hands and then rub my eyes, or accidentally put a finger in my mouth.  It’s not that I can’t take my daughter on a roller coaster or protect her from a carjacking.  It’s not that I know my wife is having an affair with a guy named Dan who wears tight black t-shirts and has an unkempt beard.

The worst part is simple: I wake up every morning forced to realize that it is all still true; it wasn’t just a dream.  I tell my legs to kick off the covers, push back the flat sheet, roll over and hang from the side of the bed, carefully finding each slipper, left first, and then right.  Nothing moves.  And then I wake up, really wake up, and ask my wife, the woman I no longer love, to help me from our bed.

 

Fiction

Programmed Self-destruction

by Shannon Anthony

Family?  History?

Bravo.  USA.  E!

What?  My family had more sets than members.  Nothing special about what went on after school.  Good times (happy days, wonder years).  Did I jump, or was I written off the family tree?  No lifelines left, but who wants to take this cliff

hanger seriously?  Respond to jeopardy in the form of questions?  Not in the home version.  Paraphrase a parachute, cable stitch a safety net, quilt some scraps into a blanket statement.  Daytime talk and nighttime talk in-between these messages.  That oughta hold me.  It’s been a very special episode, with enough Learning and Discovery to last a Lifetime.  Naturally it looks bad from this angle, at this velocity, through this faux hand-me-down shroud.  Dead air looms.  Don’t touch that dial!  And don’t point that thing at me.  Or are you just happy to see me?  Oh, the wacky misunderstandings we get ourselves into, week in, week ou—