Before It Passed

By Jonathan Koven

swallow these pains

unconscious

beautiful

creation . . .

brain to foam

obsidian listener

the sob resets

dew reflow

petaled conjoining

sap red
sap red
sap red!

vapid groan!

stupid sun spiral!

blading quick

before calamity

leak red

as grief rouses

palest filter . . .

core fantastic

scarlet

out

the heart riverbed

before no color remains


Jonathan Koven grew up on Long Island, NY, embraced by tree-speak, tide’s rush, and the love and support of his family. He holds a BA in Literature, and Creative Writing from American University, works as a technical writer and is Toho Journal’s head fiction editor and workshop coordinator. He lives in Philadelphia with his best friend and future wife Delana and cats Peanut Butter and Keebler. Credits include Lindenwood Review, Night Picnic, Iris Literary, and more. His debut chapbook Palm Lines is available from Toho Publishing. His award-winning novella Below Torrential Hill is expected winter 2021 from Electric Eclectic.

To Bring a Pulse

By Jonathan Koven

A moment might be parched until
you dive entirely into Love, childlike.

Its blue shuts, like sky
to baby bird, blue.

Framing its little form with it,
flooded by chance of a fall.

Love, sky fondly stilling
baby bird to kingdom.

Kindly doused in drink,
every remnant yet to live.

Alive within horizon song,
the rest, chatter by the sun.

Silent thrust,
reverberant,

softened beak with Love, wings raised
on wind’s cradle, rinsed without ransom,

adrift over
the dream.


Jonathan Koven grew up on Long Island, NY, embraced by tree-speak, tide’s rush, and the love and support of his family. He holds a BA in Literature, and Creative Writing from American University, works as a technical writer and is Toho Journal’s head fiction editor and workshop coordinator. He lives in Philadelphia with his best friend and future wife Delana and cats Peanut Butter and Keebler. Credits include Lindenwood Review, Night Picnic, Iris Literary, and more. His debut chapbook Palm Lines is available from Toho Publishing. His award-winning novella Below Torrential Hill is expected winter 2021 from Electric Eclectic.

Reason on the Horizon

By Jonathan Koven

walls croon
wild heart
smoke batters
unapologetic
(spirit in flight)

glimmer dance 
bedspread 
glass torching
(fire on fire)

ever hopeful
enchantress
melody raveling
(bright night)

I see you there

magenta thrill
bids farewell
(cold siren)

high pines
never ending
phone lines
everlasting

(in one ear 
out forever)

I hear you there


Jonathan Koven grew up on Long Island, NY, embraced by tree-speak, tide’s rush, and the love and support of his family. He holds a BA in Literature, and Creative Writing from American University, works as a technical writer and is Toho Journal’s head fiction editor and workshop coordinator. He lives in Philadelphia with his best friend and future wife Delana and cats Peanut Butter and Keebler. Credits include Lindenwood Review, Night Picnic, Iris Literary, and more. His debut chapbook Palm Lines is available from Toho Publishing. His award-winning novella Below Torrential Hill is expected winter 2021 from Electric Eclectic.

ASIAN MOM

By Kelly Ann Gonzales

Kiki’s mother warned her to be careful when she was pregnant because the aswang was watching from the trees in the jungle. All Filipinos knew that the scariest creatures lived deep in the jungle where no one ever went, and then they walked out looking like one of us. They were shapeshifters who ate the flesh of fetuses. Kiki rolled her eyes and promised that she would say her prayers, wear black and add more garlic to her chicken adobo to ward off the aswang that wasn’t native to New York City.

Kiki met her husband, Georgi, on a Tuesday night at a Chelsea café. As a professional matchmaker, she saw the irony of needing to go on dating apps for her own dating life. She could help 40-year-old White American divorcees, and the odd 29-year-old with gout find the loves of their lives. Still, there she was on another lonely weeknight at a café instead of a bar because the guy wanted to get coffee instead of an extra dirty martini.

“Here’s your matcha latte.” He handed her a warm, recyclable medium-sized brown cup of foaming green bliss.

“Thanks,” Kiki smiled, “I love matcha.”

“Is it because you’re Asian?”

She sighed. She thought because he was a foreigner that he would understand the subtleties of race in America. She wondered if he got away with being so clueless because he was foreign. She wondered how many people assumed he was actually White American because he was tall, handsome, and pale in that acceptable way.

Kiki knew that she had an easy choice of finding an array of men—some desirable, most were not—on dating apps. She was a hot, young, single Asian woman. Although most decent-looking, youngish, single men in her area called themselves liberal and progressive, they succumbed to everything from cheap pickup lines (can you love me a long time?) to, “but where are you really from?” FROM MY MOTHER’S VAGINA, YOU MILK SOPPING, OVERGROWN BOY.

She was used to years of brushing off casual racism. The comments were subtle. She knew how to wipe off their comments like she was a towel, and their words were only droplets of water. Kiki knew that men like Georgi didn’t mean any harm. They didn’t know any better. She straddled between feelings of an obligation to educate him and to chalk it up to dating as a young Asian-American woman.

Their wedding was on a Saturday afternoon on the elevated High Line, a freight rail line that became a public park. The onlookers gawked at them as Kiki and Georgi huddled in a semi-private corner of the High Line that should have been of no interest to these tourists. The corners were filled with old grass and uninteresting buildings that had changed from a hip restaurant to a clothing boutique to a bodega over the past few years.

Kiki didn’t mind the stares of the 60-year-old Midwestern couple and their detached 14-year-old hobbling along, trying not to walk into other tourists. She didn’t mind the stares until they kept staring, looking her up and down as if she was the tourist attraction. Looking at her against the city backdrop next to her European husband, trying to figure out which of them didn’t belong here. Kiki figured she and Georgi deserved the stares because they chose to have a wedding in a public venue and if they wanted privacy, well, couldn’t they have just had it in the privacy of their one-bedroom 750 square foot apartment?

The Midwestern wife from the crowds holding a DSLR camera piped up, “Are you almost done?”

Kiki and Georgi’s officiant whipped her head back and glared at the stranger, “They’re in the middle of getting married. The one picture you’re going to take of this very NYC bodega and never look at again can wait another ten minutes until we’re done here.” She smiled apologetically at the bride and groom and quietly mouthed, “Sorry.”

Kiki smiled awkwardly because she didn’t know what to say. Was she supposed to get mad? Was she supposed to laugh it off?

She was pregnant a few months after their wedding. It was a Sunday, January morning, before her weekly brunch date with her mother. It was the January, a few months before the pandemic came.

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Her family was sheltered in place for months. They took safe haven in their home partially because they wanted to protect themselves from the virus and because they wanted to protect themselves from the uneasy public’s reaction to the people who embodied the virus. To the average onlooker, people that looked like Kiki looked like they were from Wuhan. Because of that, Kiki and anyone who looked like Kiki were to blame for social distancing, loneliness, and disease.

She was already taking precautions as a woman. She didn’t walk down dark alleyways. She looked behind her periodically when she walked. She carried her car keys wedged in her hand like she was Wolverine to swipe at any grabby man.

As much as Kiki wanted her whole big and loud Filipino family with her in the birthing room, due to COVID-19 restrictions, she had Georgi by her side and napping periodically on a red vinyl sleeper chair. She was one of the lucky ones when some other women had to be completely alone at the beginning of the pandemic. At the very least, she had her husband running on coffee and nerves, pacing back and forth around the room.

He held her hand when she gave birth. She sweated and screamed through her N95 mask. When she pushed, he pushed too. He wanted to commiserate with her. She appreciated his gesture, although he’d never fully understand. He could be an ally, and he could sympathize, but he never really understood.

She still thought about the one bad date she had during her single New Yorker years. She met a guy at a networking event, and he asked for her business card, and since she worked at home and worked for herself, her business phone was just her cell phone. So the guy had her number, and he wanted to meet her on a Friday night after office hours for a pair of old fashioneds.

“Extra ripe cherry.” He winked at her as he handed her a cold glass with one of those abnormally large square ice cubes.

“Thanks,” Kiki smiled, “These abnormally large square ice cubes always wigged me out, but there’s something calming about just looking at the cherry in this brown liquid.”

“I feel like this drink represents you.” He raised his glass. “Cheers, y’know, because you’re like this little cherry in the brown.”

“What?”

Before she could say another word and before he could explain any further, he leaned in to kiss her. She put up her hand. She blushed, shaking her head, “No, I can’t. We can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I…I just started dating someone.” She was three weeks into dating Georgi at the time.

“And who is he?”

“I met him on Bumble. He’s nice.”

“You met him on Bumble? But aren’t you a Matchmaker? Like you can’t find a nice brown guy on your own?”

She furrowed her eyebrows, “What makes you think I’m dating someone brown?”

He rubbed his eyebrows and adjusted his glasses. “Please don’t tell me he’s White.”

“Yeah. He is. Not White American, but yeah, he’s White.”

“Like from Europe? Wow, so he’s REALLY not going to understand you.”

She wanted to throw her drink at this guy. “Why not?”

He put down his glass and started waving at the bartender for the check. “Because he’s not like you and me. You’re an Asian woman. I’m Black. I can understand you in a way that he NEVER will.”

“That’s not true.”

He kept his eyes down on the check as he signed the check. “You’ll see.”

When she laid awake at night with her hand on her pregnant belly, she wondered how she was being a good POC ally to the Black Lives Matter movement. What would happen when the news cycle decided it was no longer important? Were people really going to change?

A few months into motherhood, after her young half-Asian, half-White daughter was brought into the world, #StopAsianHate bubbled to the surface. It was all over Facebook, Instagram, and her family group text messages. She wondered if her daughter was going to have to worry about this a decade from now. She wondered if her daughter would “pass” for White enough in this country or if her almond-shaped eyes were the dead giveaway for being spat at.

Kiki couldn’t be sure which was safer: walking to the pediatrician appointments twenty blocks away from their apartment, taking the subway five stops away, or spending $60 both ways to hop into an Uber/Lyft/Via and hope she didn’t get raped. Or catch COVID. Did she need to invest in getting a car? What was the point of being a city girl if she needed a car?

Whichever option she chose each time, and she switched up her options each time to not leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs for a potential stalker/assailant/Asian hater, she had to be hypervigilant. It wasn’t just herself she was looking after. She was looking after a defenceless child. Then what if she and baby Bisera Del Rosario Dachkov were hurt? Who would cook Georgi’s dinner? And all that hospital and insurance paperwork. He was no good at all of that. Her husband needed her.

But then, even when her family was in a different state and their friends hadn’t seen them in months (last she heard, her best friend from college grew a philosopher’s bread), somehow she found relief in the distance. Having the time apart to drown out the noise from others’ opinions and cautionary tales of danger, real like on the news and imaginary (sorry, Mom) like the aswang, allowed Kiki the space to form her own opinions. She was one person in a city of millions.

If something happened to her, they’d call her the 28-year-old Asian-American mother and professional matchmaker because she wouldn’t just be a 28-year-old American businesswoman and mother. The world, for better or worse, would have needed to know she was an Asian mom.

All Kiki felt was fear. Some days the fear weighed down on her like a brick being thrown into her glass window. She couldn’t replace fear with hope, love, and determination, but she could make room for those sentiments.

She took a breath when she remembered to breathe. She thought that because her parents were the ones who were foreigners and because she was born and bred on US soil that she was one of us. Race in America continued to be a taut, tight rope we walked across.

Kiki wondered if she could get away with being so admittedly sad. Kiki wondered if she could get away with navel-gazing for so long until she had to do something other than feeling so sad, so lonely, so angry all the goddamn time. Kiki had to do something because she was here, and she was alive, and she was just brave enough to do something. Even if that something was small.

Even if she only started expanding her matchmaker business to include other women, other AAPI women on the fringes who didn’t just want to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers. Even if she only started volunteering on boards and asking to be a part of their diversity and inclusion program to see more women who looked like her and more women who didn’t. Kiki had a mouth to speak, and if it were only a few words she would say that would fall upon a few choice ears, it was better said aloud than not said at all.

Kiki dreamed of a world where her daughter wouldn’t become numb to years of remaining unseen. While Kiki’s mother warned her of creatures that didn’t exist, Kiki imagined warning Bisera of the real dangers. Because all minorities in America knew that the scariest creatures were the ones who told them they loved their clothing and their food and their people of caramel persuasion to push a pin into a country they never actually planned to visit. They were coworkers who went to lunch with us at Panda Cottage and asked us if the beef with broccoli or the sweet & sour pork was better. They were friends who showed us off as their token brown friend.

Kiki wasn’t going to keep rolling her eyes and saying her prayers, hoping people would change. She needed to change. She needed to say to whoever was going to listen that she had enough, that it wasn’t enough for people to love her food but hate her. When she still didn’t feel the courage to push through, she looked down at Bisera with her long eyelashes and eager coos, so she could be the Asian mom she always wanted to be. Free to love, laugh, and be angry, taking up space in their corner of our world.


Kelly Ann Gonzales is an Executive Matchmaker and Dating Consultant. Her published works include short fiction publications featured in Penultimate Peanut, Write Launch, Rigorous, Change Seven, and elsewhere.

JOYRIDE

By Isabel Wolfe-Frischman

Naomi had planned to stop for a date shake that morning, at the turnoff to the high desert, before she journeyed on in the hope of adventure or a hamburger and a couple of beers, whichever came first. Still, she got sidetracked by the hand-painted sign: CAHUILLA GIFT SHOPPE – SOUVENIRS. A blood-red arrow pointed toward the San Gabriel Mountains. Naomi turned left abruptly and zipped past a stand of sage bushes with blue-purple flowers. She stained the blacktop with rubber tread marks.

A couple of miles down the road, a large tumbleweed rolled in front of her car; she veered to miss it and nearly hit a rabbit. Naomi slowed down fifty feet from the shop, a small faded pink stucco house. She parked her car on gritty dirt and went inside. She was greeted by a middle-aged Indian woman, dressed in jeans and a denim work shirt, a white streak tinged with vestiges of green dye shooting through her black hair. The woman wore three gold chains, one of which sported the name Linda, written in script. 

The woman paused the old episode of Cheers she had been watching.

“May I help you?” she asked, smiling.

“I’m just looking,” Naomi said. There wasn’t much to look at — a few geodes, dust covering the amethysts and topaz and quartz, and some beaded bangle bracelets, a good supply of Concord grape-coloured bandanas, a couple of packaged tee shirts, also grape-coloured, and a reach-in refrigerated case filled with soda, beer, bottled water, and snack products. Naomi picked up a tee-shirt.

“Linda?” Naomi said, “Can I open this?” Naomi asked. 

Linda, who had resumed watching her episode, looked down at her necklace and back up at Naomi. She waved her hand, sure, and turned back to her screen. It took Naomi two minutes and a broken fingernail to open the tightly-secured shrink-wrapped package. 

“Shit,” she said, putting her finger in her mouth and biting off the rest of the nail. The Indian woman turned around.

“That’s a good colour for you with that yellow hair,” she said, pointing at the half-opened shirt package.

“Yeah, I just — Naomi stopped speaking as she shook the shirt out to view it. “Ooh. That’s pretty,” she said. “A dream catcher, right?”

Linda nodded. “It’s good luck,” she said, and she turned up the television.

Naomi pulled a credit card out from the depths of her Forever 21 plastic purse.

“Cash only,” Linda said.

“But I need the cash for — ” Naomi began. “Good luck?”

A few minutes later, Naomi walked out of the Cahuilla Gift Shoppe wearing her new tee shirt and three bangle bracelets and carrying two bottles of Budweiser and no cash. She had thought about the bologna and cheese snacks and the bottled water, but the bracelets were great, and she could buy food later, with her nearly maxed credit card. Besides, a drive like this one, an adventure, deserved some beer. She looked at the bracelets on her wrist and sighed with satisfaction.

Naomi drove on until she saw another sign: NO TRESPASSING. Since there was no immediate place to turn around, she ventured farther, hoping the used Toyota her folks gave her for her twentieth last year was up for the task. When the highway narrowed, and the shoulder disappeared, Naomi’s upper lip began to sweat, and she bit down hard on the lower one. Her back stiffened as the paved road ended without warning — now, there was no way to turn around without the risk of spinning her wheels in the desert sand. Naomi found herself driving over an almost barren field, fording a surprisingly robust stream — she was getting scared and feeling dizzy with the bounce of the ride. She hoped the Toyota wouldn’t roll over or get stuck. Then. Cows. Right there. Sweat-like bee stings in her eyes as she drove around them, as they ignored her, perhaps miraculously. Finally, a road, and it seemed to circle back in the right direction.

Just a couple more miles, she told herself. She picked up her phone to get the GPS happening, but there was no reception. How long had she been driving? She knew it was past noon because the sun had been high and seemed to be on the ebb. If only she had paid more attention at Girl Scout camp. Orienteering, they called it.

I need to calm down, she thought. Naomi pulled over to the side of the road. She put her head down on the wheel and counted to sixty before she twisted the cap off of the first bottle of beer.

“Oh god, what is that?”

The light was getting dusky, the sun going down. The beers had helped her nerves and given her the confidence to continue on. Still, after a half-hour of passing nothing but a couple of empty houses and an old Chevy parked by the side of the road, Naomi was shaking with anxiety. When she finally saw living, breathing people standing behind a two-foot-high stone wall, next to what appeared to be a church, she gasped with relief at the thought of help. As she pulled up next to the building, Naomi heard a drumbeat and chanting. She shut off the engine and got out of the car, faint with hunger and a vague need to pee. She took a step forward toward the gathering of people — maybe there were twenty — and lurched slightly to the side. She leaned against the car for a minute to get her equilibrium. When her breathing became steadier, and her eyes were able to focus through what she realized were tears, she saw one of the men in the group place a shovelful of dirt on the ground. No. On a grave. Naomi gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth to cover her shock, the bracelets adding to her distress with their jangling.

She put her hand on the door handle of the Toyota, ready to get back in and drive away, to take a chance on finding a way out of this maze.

The drumbeat stopped, the chanting stopped. The man with the shovel looked up, shielding his eyes from the glare of the setting sun. An old woman with fire in her eyes said something to him, visibly spraying spit. The man handed the shovel to the woman and took long strides to the cemetery gate. He opened it and continued over to where the little car was parked.

Naomi closed her eyes and bowed her head — the dream catcher appeared on the inside of her lids.

The man spoke in a soft voice. “Do you know what it is you are interrupting?” he asked. 

Naomi shook her head no without lifting her eyes. She could see the cuffs of the man’s black church suit and his polished black shoes. 

“Yes,” she said.

The man said nothing.

“I — I am lost,” she said, too quietly for him to hear.

As the man looked over at the group, Naomi raised her head and looked at them, too, the mourners. The women wore circular skirts and turquoise jewelry. The man with the drum wore feathers and beads.

“It was my grandfather,” the man said. He spoke in a near whisper. “He was respected. The old woman looked up, displaying a face carved with lines of grief and anger. “That’s my grandma,” the man said, gesturing with a nod toward the woman, who was exhaling storm clouds. He turned to face Naomi directly. 

Naomi let out a single sob, a sound that had been jailed and came limping, strangling, to freedom. 

Before she could think of what to say, a simple question, how do I get away from here? The man pulled Naomi’s passenger door open.

“Get in,” he said.

She did, a numb reflex, and before she could logic together that she was no longer in charge here, the man got in on the driver’s side, revved up the engine and sped off. 

“Where are we going?” Naomi asked. 

“I’m getting you out of here.” 

The tears slowed, and Naomi hiccupped for breath. The fears of the day washed over her. She had wanted an adventure. She hadn’t wanted to die. She took a ragged breath and turned to her new chauffeur.

“Thank you,” she said, with adrenalin-fueled self-assurance.

The man said nothing.

Naomi remembered the Swiss army knife she carried at all times, the knife she used to show her friends how cool she was, how prepared she was — she had learned that much in Girl Scouts — how she could always cut open a package or open a bottle of wine. Especially that, open a bottle of wine. She was so thirsty.

“I’m going to get a cigarette out of my purse,” Naomi said to the man. She was sure he didn’t want any false moves, that he wanted to see her hands at all times.

“I thought it smelled a little smoky in here,” the man said. He laughed. “May I have one too?”

There was only one Marlborough Light left, and she knew it. Naomi dug in her bag and found the cigarette pack and the knife, pulled them out together, palming the knife so that her captor couldn’t see it. “Oh,” she said, “there’s only one. I guess you could have it.” 

“That’s okay,” he said. “I’m Red Feather. You smoke it.”

“Naomi?” she said, with a little girl question mark.

Naomi looked at Red Feather’s face, only turning her eyes. He had large, sharp features and a deep dimple on his chin. She couldn’t read his expression. “I’ll put my window down,” she said, and as she searched for her Bic lighter, she thought about dropping the knife back into her bag. She didn’t, though — she kept it palmed as she pulled the lighter out. She lifted up one butt cheek and put the Swiss Army knife beneath her thigh, lit the cigarette. At the first inhale, she had a little coughing fit.

“You good?” Red Feather asked.

Naomi nodded through her cough, and when it subsided, she said, “Yeah,” and she tried again. “Where are we going?”

Red Feather didn’t say anything for a good minute. They were still on dirt, no pavement to be seen ahead, and as they went over a bump and the knife dug into Naomi’s buttock, Red Feather said, “My Grandpappy.” He shook his head. “He would have liked you.”

Naomi didn’t know how to take that. “I’m thirsty,” she said. 

Red Feather laughed. “When we get to Yucaipa, I’ll buy you a Coke.”

 “Oh, that’s not necessary,” she said, sitting up straighter. She could feel the oblong knife shape. “How far is it?” she asked.

“Coupla miles,” he said.

Naomi licked dry lips. “But where? Where are you taking me?”

“Away from the Rez,” he said. Nothing more. 

Naomi snuffed out her cigarette in the car’s ashtray. Neither Red Feather nor Naomi said anything else until they got to a small white aluminum-sided building with gas pumps out front and a sign that said EAT/TRY OUR FAMOUS PEANUT BUTTER PIE. Red Feather pulled the car up in front of the pumps. “You’re out of gas,” he said, turning around and walking into the building. 

Naomi climbed over the divider and got in the driver’s seat, the knife falling to the floor. She turned the key and hit the gas, then looked at the empty gauge. She turned the car off and got out, grabbed her credit card and inserted the nozzle into the neck of the gas tank. The tank was full when Red Feather came out of the place, carrying a can of Coca-Cola.  

“Here,” he said, “Now get in your car and go back to L.A.”

Naomi raised her eyebrows. “San Diego.”

“I was close, wasn’t I?”

“Off by a hundred miles and a lot of bullshit,” she said.

 Naomi turned the key, and the car started. They looked at each other again. She turned the key the other way.

Red Feather and Naomi walked into a bar. 

The white building was a truck stop, really, not a bar, no alcohol served — The Trading Post, it was called, and it was frequented by both locals and tourists. 

 “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid,” Red Feather said. He waved to the waitress and a skinny old man sitting at the counter and led Naomi to a booth.

She didn’t sit down.

“Where’s the —‘’

The waitress pointed to the back of the place, and Naomi walked quickly to the restroom and went inside. I’m crazy, she thought, but she was really hungry and really thirsty, and here she was. She peed, washed her hands, and checked a pale image in the warped metal that served as a mirror. When she came out, Red Feather and the waitress were talking.

“It’s a crying shame he’s gone,” the waitress said, and she wiped a tear.

Red Feather nodded. He turned to look at Naomi.

“Naomi, right?” he said. “This is Little Pammy.” Little Pammy was not little. “I’ve known her since was little.”

“And since was,” Little Pammy said, and she laughed, her chin like Jello.

“I think you’re beautiful,” Red Feather said.

Little Pammy snorted. She looked Naomi in the eye and said, “He didn’t think that when he and his drunken buddies raised hell in here last week,” she said. “I told them to go back to their government-owned land.”

“That was harsh,” Red Feather said. 

“You know we don’t allow no booze in here,” Pammy said. She winked and walked away.

Red Feather called out to her back, “Two peanut butter pies, please.”

Pammy turned and eyeballed Red Feather, dressed in his funeral suit, raised one of her pencilled eyebrows and blew a rusty red corkscrew of a curl from in front of her face up to her hairline, where it somehow managed to stay. Red Feather shifted in his seat, took off his tie, shrugged small, mouth twitching to smile. 

Naomi dug into that pie the second she got it, a hungry wolf pup. She had gulped half the piece before Red Feather picked up his napkin and dabbed at the corner of his mouth, eyebrows raised to indicate that there was something at the corner of her mouth – Naomi lifted her napkin and wiped pie goop away, and some whipped cream. She crumpled the napkin and threw it down on her pie slice.

“This place doesn’t even sell beer?” she said to Red Feather.

Red Feather stood up, seeming to wrestle with his demons. “Wait here,” he said and went out the door. Naomi watched him talking on his cell phone, not sure what to do. She took out her wallet — she would pay for the pie and get out of here. She looked up and saw what seemed to be her destiny — a CASH ONLY sign; she was beginning to rummage in the plastic purse for loose change when Red Feather took the phone away from his ear and came back inside.

“Um, this is awkward,” Naomi said to him, “but I can’t pay for anything. I don’t have any cash. I call myself ‘cashless wonder.’ I don’t carry it because when I have it, I spend it, but I better go, I better get back home, I better — ‘’

“I can pay for your pie, don’t worry,” Red Feather said. “My — he raised his hands and made air quotes — drunken buddies gave me a bunch of cash this morning because I let them borrow my truck.”

“I owe you,” Naomi said. “I feel like I owe you.” She screwed up her mouth.

 As they spoke, a young guy in a Lakers jersey and baggy pants placed a white paper bag on the lunch counter next to a toothpick holder, turned and smiled at nobody in particular, and left. Red Feather strolled over casually, took a toothpick, put the little stick in his mouth and picked up the paper bag with his other hand. 

“You’re not in my debt,” Red Feather said, back at the table and opening the bag. He pulled Styrofoam soda cups, lidded and full of beer, out of the sack. “I was thirsty too.”

“Oh god, what is that?” Naomi said, feeling the saliva come into her mouth, like one of Pavlov’s dogs. 

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Another paper bag came a half-hour later, and then another.

“I’m gonna call you Little Paper Poppy, ” said Red Feather. “Because you don’t have money, like those kids that sell those poppies.”

“No, seriously,” said Naomi, “I cry when I get those, you know, those little beaded things in the mail. And the pictures of the kids, the poor kids who don’t get enough to eat, the — ” She stopped, blew her nose on a napkin.

“Like I said a few minutes ago. It’s not your fault. And for the hundredth time, the ceremony was almost over. Grandpappy is okay with us having pie.”

The last few sips of beer had taken Naomi visibly over the line into wasted drunk territory. She moved her foot under the table, so it touched Red Feather’s foot.

“Whoa, I’ve got to use the facilities,” he said, getting up so fast he knocked over a ketchup bottle.

When he returned, Little Pammy was sitting at the table, holding Naomi’s hand. Naomi was crying. Little Pammy looked at Red Feather. “Did you want your check?”

Red Feather stood up. “Yes,” he said. “Please.”

“At least let me —” Naomi reached for her bag, then remembered the no-money thing.

Red Feather put his finger to his lips. “Shhhh,” he said.

She wanted to kiss him, she wanted to — she wasn’t sure what.

Red Feather threw a twenty on the table, put an arm around Naomi, and guided her outside, lifted her into the car.

Naomi passed out as soon as they started moving, and when they got to the reservation, Red Feather parked the Toyota in his truck’s space — and left the kid in her stupor. He covered her with a blanket, dropped her knife into her plastic purse, which he placed on the other seat, and cracked a window.

“It stalled, then restarted and jerked to speed.”

“Little Poppy.” Red Feather was shaking Naomi awake. It was almost dawn. She lay under a blanket in the passenger seat of her car. A light rain was falling, rare in this part of the world. “You had best get your sweet self out of here.” Red Feather fished her keys out of the crevice between the car seats.

Naomi felt a cosmic disconnect as she took the car keys out of his hand. Her brain was packed in bubble wrap, and she was afraid if she made the wrong move, the bubbles would begin popping and cause her head to explode. Naomi once again climbed into the driver’s seat in a trance, pushing the purse to the side, and started her car. Red Feather pointed. “That way,” he said, “straight, all the way. Up over that hill.”

She saw where he was pointing and understood his urgency, although the reasons did not come to mind. She smelled beer; her stomach was slush. Her bladder felt like a football. Vomit rose like lava – she gulped it back. Head pounding, vision skewed, Naomi tried to speak. Thank you? Is that what was required? Words did not come.  

Naomi started the car. It stalled, then restarted and jerked to speed. She straightened the wheel just short of driving off the shoulder and lurched away. She tried to lift her leaden hand to wave. Body not working. She made a peace sign on her thigh, where nobody saw it. When Naomi crested the hill, Red Feather turned around and walked home. 

“Her hands were slippery, sweaty, and she had trouble steering.”

In a parallel universe, Redfeather’s drunken buddies had been matching Naomi’s beer consumption. One of them, Big Al, had been ranting most of the night about the blonde that fucked up Red Feather’s grandpappy’s funeral. When they saw the little Toyota, Big Al revved up the engine of Red Feather’s truck, skidded and squealed out after it. Dogs began to bark.

When Naomi heard the truck roaring behind her, the barking, when she glimpsed the men in the truck in her rearview, when she heard them shouting and laughing, her cobwebbed brain became a little clearer. She pressed her foot down on the gas pedal, and the little Japanese car jumped and began to go as fast as it could — the speedometer read ninety. 

“White WOMAN!” one of the guys shouted. “Get your white ass off my land!”  

“Gonna rip you up, honey!” someone else yelled. Laughing. 

She squinted to keep from seeing it double, the sign up ahead — CAHUILLA GIFT SHOPPE – SOUVENIRS. Linda. Linda had been so nice. Another minute to get there, and then to the main road. Her hands were slippery, sweaty, and she had trouble steering. Fear had her right where it wanted her. Maybe she didn’t deserve to get to the road. Maybe she had to pay for the sin of trespassing. And for interrupting the sacred — Jesus, God. 

Naomi’s mouth was dry; her lips were stuck together; her tongue was thick and covered with moss; bile rose in her throat; she was about to wet her pants. She said a prayer, not even sure what prayer it was, maybe the one the alcoholics say, the serenity one. She fingered the dream catcher on the front of her shirt. It was for luck, good luck, perhaps the thing she had started out to find.

She was so thirsty.


Isabel Wolfe-Frischman’s fiction has been published in The Listening Eye, Paterson Review, and others. Her photographs have appeared in Trajectory and Olentangy Review. She has fiction upcoming in the fall issue of Fugue and a personal essay in a winter edition of Streetlight.

You, a telephone conversation

By Barenya Tripathy

It coils over a distance,
twisting, twisting, twisting
Stay shut & listen as the mouth runs,
You open your mouth: it’s a static.
Like a signal, you stay on high rises
And like a conversation, you splinter
Into disconnected echoes,
Then like wind, you drift in through
Sealed lips and out through open ears.
You open your fist, lay yourself
Down on a twist & twist your body
Into stair folds & have velvet knuckles
That you knock into your stomach
& make vibrations to reach your ear
On the other side of the world.
You; twisting, twisting, twisting…
Turn your face & the voice fades.


Barenya Tripathy is a 21-year-old Literature major fresh out of surviving graduation. Previously, her poems have been published in The Pangolin Review, LitGleam Magazine, and a poetry anthology called Intoxication. She is equally passionate about the authors she reads and the songs she puts into her playlist.

Lead Butterflies

By H.R. Parker

She crawls into my waiting mouth while I sleep. She comes on silent wings from the dark side of uncertainty and sneaks past my parted lips. Dream-whispers creep past and float in the air, disappearing forever. She crawls down, down, down, spindly legs at awkward angles, down the tunnel of my traumatized trachea. Into my belly to lay her eggs. She does this nightly, and I can’t stop her. I try so hard but to no avail. When I wake, the eggs have hatched, metamorphosed. I can feel them inside of me, leaden butterflies. Every morning, scraping gashes into my belly.

Sometimes I can ignore the lead butterflies, but they start making new slices and scrapes into my fibrous flesh when I do. They rise up sometimes, up and up and into my throat, abraded by their mother the night before. Then they begin to pull, dragging my breath down, down, down. I begin to fold back into myself and retreat. I fold in at the corners to collapse into myself. A tiny square. I’ve refolded so many times the paper is tissue-thin, like a butterfly’s wings, powdery and torn slightly around the edges.

When I fall into a fitful sleep, the lead butterflies rise back up, this time stopping in my lungs. They wrap their sticky dream threads around them, hijacking my breath. I awake, at the edge of panic, frenzied dreams still dripping from my eyelids. My heart is in my throat, a bass drum pounding out an erratic, desperate rhythm. I fight to retake my breath from these invaders, but the more I fight, the weaker I get. They flutter suddenly, all over, invading. My throat, lungs, stomach, their leg-knives digging in. The fear rushes up, up, up, from dark places and spreads.

We wrestle the lead butterflies and I. I wrestle for my breath, closing my eyes to will away these unwanted visitors. With each breath, I push them down, down, down, once again. To die in the darkness. I win, momentarily.

But in the night, she comes again. She crawls into my waiting mouth while I sleep. She comes on silent wings from the dark side of uncertainty and sneaks past my parted lips. And I can feel them inside of me, leaden butterflies. Every morning, scraping gashes into my belly.


Heather R. Parker is a freelance writer, editor, and poet from Georgia. Her work has been published by Nightingale & Sparrow Magazine, Goats Milk Magazine, Analog Submissions Press, Between Shadows Press, Friday Flash Fiction, Clover & Bee Magazine, 365 Tomorrows, and others. In her spare time, you can find her doing yoga, taking long walks in the woods, birdwatching, or picking flowers in sun-dappled meadows. You can follow Heather’s writing on Instagram and Fictionate.Me.

The Muralists

By Aimee Brooks

I showed up early with a few suitcases of paint-splattered clothes, feeling more like a sojourner than ever. The church was unlocked, so I left my things near the entrance and followed the labyrinth of hallways to the sanctuary. My feet squished into the dark red carpet, and fragments of stained glass filtered light danced all around me and over my body. I took my seat at one of the wooden pews and briefly examined the cloth covers of the red King James Bible and black hymnal.

My body conjured up a powerful hollow sensation against my wishes, the intermingling of anxiety and longing that often pierces my chest when I exist in wide-open spaces. I tried to lean into it, to remember that feeling and hold it tight as if it were some sort of physical object.

Soft footsteps left the tile from the hallways that led into the sanctuary, and goosebumps prickled my arms.

“Isla?” A voice called my name.

When I looked up at the person coming towards me, I came to the realization that I would be spending the summer with my ex-boyfriend.

“Javier,” I said his name back, unsure how to respond. It felt inappropriate to hug him after our skin had not touched in so long.

He took a seat several pews up from me. I felt even smaller with the two of us in the vast room.

“How have you been?” I could see something cross over his eyes — pain, maybe confusion. He was trying not to make too much eye contact.

“Fine.” My answer was hollow. It always was. Empty words describing an empty person. He knew that already.

“And you?”

“It’s been okay. I’m making it.”

His profound honesty struck me. There I was, in disguise in plain sight.

They say ‘take her swimming on the first date,’ — the nasty men that are in the business of sizing women up like a piece of meat at the butcher’s. You wouldn’t want to get a bad one, someone who doesn’t live up to the narrow expectations of what it means to be beautiful.

Javier had taken me swimming. Not on the first date or ever, really to my recollection. But he saw my makeup melt off of my face, mascara drip from my lashes. My foundation flaked away, revealing acne-scarred cheeks and dark circles under my eyes. He had seen my body as it dove into the water, the bit of pudge that my swimsuit couldn’t hide, the cellulite on my thighs.

Take me swimming.

‘Take me swimming,’ I wanted to say.

Reveal me. I’ll strip myself down before you can do it with your eyes. I would have taken a sponge to my face right there. Because I wasn’t afraid of showing what was already apparent — what clothes, or powder, or even a false sense of confidence couldn’t hide, but of what I could not show on the first date or the last.

Before I could embarrass myself, the pastor entered the room, introduced himself, and began explaining our first tasks as the muralists.

The internship application promised that it would be a summer full of networking with other artists while doing good for the community, painting large-scale works that all could enjoy. As the pastor droned on about the next two and half months, I became increasingly aware that all of the networking had already been done.

I rode in the back seat to the rec center owned by the church, staring down the dusty streets with colourful houses. I leaned my head against the window, looking up at the sky. The clouds chased each other as the wind blew them parallel to where I sat. That small moment of peace felt like a consolation prize for being stuck in one of those towns where my nationality was a slur.

The pastor explained to us that we would be preparing the wall of the center facing the highway so that cars passing by could see and planning another near the basketball courts for kids to take pictures in front of.
I began to sweat upon arrival. My hair became hot to the touch, and I tried not to make it obvious that I was checking its temperature every few minutes just in case it were to spontaneously combust.

He told us that all of the supplies and water bottles that we would need were in the gym and that he would be back to bring us lunch.

“I don’t know about you,” I said, staring forward at the grayish wall, side by side with Javier. “But I already think I have regrets.”

“No kidding. Let’s go inside and get some water right now. We need a game-plan.”

Our calculations showed us that our best schedule would follow the sun, rotating between both murals to avoid overexposure, not that it was completely preventable in that barren wasteland.

We sat with our damp backs to the cool inside of the gym, keeping our distance while we took small sips from ice-cold water bottles. A group of kids was playing basketball. Shouting voices, the distinct squeak of rubber on vinyl, and the sting of each dribble echoed off of the walls. No one seemed to notice us. It was not our frontier, though I assumed we would be spending quite a bit of time in there until we finished.

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After scrubbing the dried mould and other potentially harmful scuff marks off the gym’s stucco wall, Javier informed me that we would need to prime the surface before we started with any kind of paint. I could tell that this was more of a process than I had imagined.

“I can’t believe that guy left us here.” He let out an exaggerated sigh and wiped the sweat from his hairline that was threatening to run over his sharp brow and into his eyes.

“Did you bring your car? We can take mine tomorrow if you want.”

He didn’t bring his. A city boy at heart, he hadn’t thought much about the lack of transportation in the rural south. We both agreed that it was the best course of action to take my car the next morning.

There I was, already giving in to temptation. Or was I simply being nice? I had the sun, my ruthless interrogator, to force me to grapple with this for the rest of the day.

By the time the pastor came to pick us up at the end of the day, we were fairly war-torn looking for artists. Our skin was that reddish hue that pointed towards damage later down the line, and our clothes were stiff and salty. Neither of us said much on the car ride to the little apartment complex that the church had put us up in.

I said my goodbyes and walked upstairs, not even bothering to shower before lying across the plastic mattress and falling asleep.

In the middle of the night, I woke up and stood under the lukewarm shower, unable to move. It served as my sensory deprivation chamber and allowed me to wrestle with my thoughts while water dribbled over my body.

If I were to spend the rest of these sixty or so days with Javier, we were going to have to talk things through. We were the only people our age in this entire town. Our days were going to be spent alone together with the scorching sun beating down on our backs and faces. We were going to see each other and all of our ugliness, so we better make the most of it. As our bodies wore down, got sore from the labour, blistered our cheeks and cracked our thirsty lips, the conversations to come were all we had.

“How did you find out about this internship?” I asked early the next morning. We had gotten out before the sun was fully up to avoid the most powerful rays.

“If I’m being honest, my mom found it for me.” He did not look at me, just kept priming the wall. “I think she thinks I’m some kind of burnout or something and that I’m never going to do anything with my life. You know.”

I did.

There were many reasons why we cut ties. The constant comparisons got to him. His parents adored me and my conventional style of fine art while trashing his illustrations, telling him that he wouldn’t make it in the art world and that he needed me. He needed to seal the deal with me while he still had the chance. Javier had an aversion to settling down, and I liked being idolized as a concept more than respected as a whole human being. That was just the beginning of it. It’s hard to love when you feel dead inside.

The day was long, and by the time one of the ladies from the congregation dropped off a casserole for us, my body throbbed my sunburn started to peel. I sat at Javier’s desk chair and picked through my flavourless ground beef and beans. He sat with his back to the bed, knees up on the floor, slightly wide-eyed at the amount of visible grease pooling at the bottom of the clear plastic.

“Would you want to get pizza?” He suggested.

“That sounds great.” I was relieved that I didn’t have to ask first.

We walked to the local place right around the corner. We then sat on some of the splintery picnic benches outside to enjoy an only slightly less concerning dinner.

This became the beginning of our rituals that summer — walking to the pizza place, driving around after a quick trip to the drugstore and just listening to music. We formed a secret society, just the two of us, outliers in a town that seemed all too much the same.

Sometimes Javier wanted to drive my car, so I would let him and lean my head against the window on the passenger side, feeling like a stranger in my own mode of transportation. It was best when it was night, and I could see the stars at a standstill even in my motion. I felt small and began to crave that feeling, the first sips of summer air.

Towards the end of the rec center murals, we started to get sloppy. Filling in some of those finer details felt useless and tedious when they couldn’t be seen from the road. I knew Javier was thinking it too, but he was too prideful to ever speak it out loud.

I took more breaks, sometimes drinking long slow sips of the steamy water from my bottle so I could at least pretend like it was part of the process. Still, Javier got faster, looser, messier. His brushstrokes became inconsistent with any previous blocking that we had done. But I liked it. It felt like him.

One afternoon, in the hottest hour of the day, I sat watching him. He was up on a ladder, his face and arms bronzed, the ripple of his muscles through his shirt.

I crouched in a duck pose, popping both of my knees in the process, knowing that I wouldn’t want to get up if I sat down. The feet of the ladder rocked, and my eyes darted back over to Javier.

He was reaching his brush so far out that he only had one foot on the wrung where he should have been firmly planted. I wanted to call out to him and tell him that he should take his time or just be careful, but I didn’t want to micromanage him.

The incident happened before I could even inhale to shout — the ladder slipping out from underneath him, the clatter of metal against concrete, his body falling and the sharp crack that coincided with the impact. He lay crumpled on the ground, the stillness hanging heavy in the air before the fibres in my muscles frozen to stone eased, allowing me to move towards him.

For those brief moments with that heavy dose of adrenaline coursing through my stiff veins, I was not myself in my own body, unable to move, powerless to breathe. It felt like too long before I was at his side.

Javier was flat on his back, his eyes fluttering to stay open, unequal pupil sizes. However, I only remembered this in retrospect.

“Are you okay to sit up?” I asked with full knowledge that we needed to get to the tiny hospital as soon as possible, briefly wondering if they could even treat him there.

“Yeah,” he said but didn’t move.“It’s okay. Just give me a second.”
He started to maneuver very slowly into a position where he could sit up, and that’s when I noticed that his arm was clearly broken.

“Wait.” I panicked in forceful voice. “Let me help you.”

I knew he wouldn’t want it, but there was no other choice. Looking back, I guess there were other options, like EMTs stabilizing his neck and making sure the bones in his arm did not move around too much. Again, I was not thinking as clearly as I could have been.

Pushing from behind, I helped him come up to a sitting position, careful to make sure that he didn’t put any weight onto his arm, which he has since noticed and was staring at intensely.

“Does it hurt?”

“I can’t feel it.”

“Okay, we can hurry and get you to the hospital.” From what I remembered about anything medical, the shock of events like that could wear off all of a sudden, and the pain comes on quickly.

He stood slowly. I grabbed his other hand and helped pull him to his feet, trying both to be gentle and to use all of my body weight.

The ride to the hospital was mostly silent. His pain had begun to grow severe from the look on his face.

I was driving like a maniac. Every time we took a sharp turn, I would whisper, ‘sorry.’ He wouldn’t respond. His eyes were closes, and his head tilted back against the rest. He held his broken arm around the back of his tricep to help keep it still, close to his body.

After he checked in and I filled out his forms for him, we waited in the emergency room lobby for what felt like an eternity. I know that ER’s are not known for their speed, but it seemed ridiculous how long we waited, with almost no one else in the waiting area.

The transition from the boiling outside to the sterile interior of the hospital made my arms prick with chill bumps, and I tried to run my hands over my arms to warm them. The sweat on my back was ice cold. But it felt wrong to comment on it, even if I voiced it as an observation and not a complaint.

“Good luck,” I said when they called his name after what seemed like ages. I contemplated following him, but I didn’t want to overstep my bounds.

He hesitated, opened his mouth a little, but said nothing and followed the nurse back through the double doors.

I started to cry, just a few warm tears on my cool skin. I had too much dignity to let myself fall into one of those deep shudders meant to be practiced alone. My eyes fixed on the white baseboards closest to my row of plastic chairs so that if someone did happen to notice, I wouldn’t have to meet their gaze.

I think my shock had worn off, not just from this event which was undoubtedly traumatic, but from months of suppressing emotions that came rushing in all at once.

Instead of wailing in the shower and eating tubs of ice cream for a few days until I could muster up the strength to hit the gym to get my revenge body, I carried on like Javier, and I had never broken up. I didn’t even tell anyone unless they asked. But my pain was waiting for me, never processed, an untreated wound festering somewhere deep within my flesh that I could not see. Part of me believed that those kinds of things go away with time, but this public display of weakness proved otherwise.
Half of me wanted to steel myself, harden my heart and lessen my capacity for love for then and forever. It would be the same as it had always been. I was an emotional hermit crab, and no one could pry me from my shell.

The other part of me wanted to embrace Javi as soon as he walked back through those double doors and gingerly kiss each finger poking out from his cast and read to him out loud while he closed his eyes and recovered from his concussion.

I assumed that the church would send him home from the internship with his dominant arm broken. Still, I visualized us running through the church like children and kissing in the sanctuary when no one was around. God, I missed those lips.

I waited for hours alone in the lobby with nothing but my thoughts, weighing my options and calculating my risks, making promises to myself that I didn’t know if I could follow through with.

“Take care of him.” The nurse told me as he opened the door for Javier, ushering him into the lobby with his hot pink cast reflecting a warm glow onto the bleached walls. We locked eyes, and though a little weaker than usual, a small smile graced his face.


Aimee Brooks is a twenty-something pseudo-hippie living in Texas. She spends her time coffee shop hopping, eating Koren breakfast foods, and wandering the local college campus searching for Andy Warhol prints. Sadly she’s not from Canada but has visited and found it quite an enchanting place. Follow her on Instagram

Being Human

By Shelly Lyons

“Sometimes I sleep with the tv on all night so I won’t feel so alone,” 
he confesses, wanting to share his loneliness.

I prefer going to sleep to music, I tell him, 
hoping the songs and their world will float 
into my dreams to shape them.

I’ve slept alone since before I was born,
so it’s not being alone that I am scared of,
no, that’s the easiest thing in the world.
my fear is having to 
share space and air and life with others,
because then my nerves can’t sleep or even take a rest – 
I must be ever aware
so I can be right,
breathe right… speak right… move right…
interact in this world in the right way,
so I’ll be accepted and included and maybe even sought after…

The music accepts me,
urges me to sing along and join the game,
but even alone with it
I blush when I sing the wrong words at the wrong time, 
burn with the shame of making a mistake,
of letting it be known that my brain works
a little differently than anyone else’s.

Yet I am so lenient,
accepting and forgiving of others, 
because mistakes by them are just 
real life,
perfectly okay and human,
but I am so scared of making a mistake, 
looking the fool, making bad impressions, turning people away,
of forgetting what to do or how to do it,
or what to say or who to be – 
it’s easier, much easier,
to hide in the shadows and soak up everyone else’s lives,
just hoping that someday 
I’ll learn how to live
and just be human. 


Shelly Lyons is a writer and teacher from North Carolina. She has been a life-long writer who’s especially partial to poetry and short stories but is now working on her first novel. She’s had a variety of poems and articles published both online and in print through the years.

Gutsy

By John Banning

Our friend Daniel always comes out. He does not initiate outings, and in this was doubtless said something about his want to be wanted, and his want that we should not know that he wanted to see us.

I have known Daniel for some years now, and most of us have. So it surprises us no longer when at some early or late stage of the evening, dependent on his progress through the line of drinks he will consume (and which I too slip through with far too much ease, because it is far too much like that: progress, that a glass or a bottle should not be empty purely because that is no longer getting you anywhere, that the physical act of pressing the glass edge to your mouth must continue, that the pursuit must not stop because there is some something at the end of the line, some final miracle at the final drink that will make disquiet living come to an end, though this miracle will not be reached because before it is intestinal and mental sickness, and the dreaming blackout in which you meander through scenes to be unrecollected, mumbling sleepy incomprehensible things to others also in their alcohol dreams. I am old enough that I should not know inebriation with such a naive simpleness. What this miracle is at the finale of night and when the very last sap of spirit has been supped, I can have no idea, and will not ever. However, I can remain utterly induced with the conviction that other people reached the mystic zenith before going home or after. At my own finale, at the end of each night of outing, I will sit in a brown dim-lit bedroom with no other thought than this: that I have lost.), Daniel pulls up his ironed shirt to reveal the scar with which we are all familiar. It might once have been alarming, but it is no longer. He will pull apart the seam; the stitches will pull into the flesh. Some of us will keep on talking, keep on smiling, and he will too. And when the grin across his belly has been fully forced apart, our friend will pull out a pile of his intestines and deposit them on the table in front of him. The table, or the bar, or he will drape them over a chair, or he will stand there with them in his hands, looking like someone with too much to carry, or a doorman holding coats, if you were holding a party for people who did not wear coats, but wore necklaces of butchers’ things.

Now, as far as I have been told, and have pieced together, Daniel in his adolescence, without the aid of a procession of drinks, tore open his belly and withdrew his innards and would have them out most of the time; some years later this hole was stitched by parties unknown, and bled not at all, though shortly before our coming to know him he began picking at the wound, and has since then reopened it entirely, returning to his previous habits yet now aided by inadvisable inebriation.

Daniel will vary in the displays of his insides. Sometimes the guts will be released surreptitiously, not spoken of directly, but noticed by those around the place who choose to notice them. At other, rarer times (though not less rare when we first came to know him), Daniel will not take out any of his inner functioning and will converse jovially with the occasional rubbing or picking of his stomach. I have yet to decipher any correlations amongst Daniel’s behaviours, as there can be a lot of drinking and a lot of guts or a lot of drinking and no guts. There will tend to be a lot of drinking, whatever the case.

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More recently, there tends to be a lot of alcohol and a lot of Daniel’s insides all over the place. This past March, he removed his guts and made very many jokes about them. Everybody enjoyed them, and everybody laughed, and everybody got on with Daniel very well. Two weeks after this, he removed his guts but made no jokes about them at all and instead turned very poisonous, so much so that it was a surprise his guts were not themselves discoloured. The fleshy tubing lay in a great mess across more tables than our group occupied. He spoke very loudly about how it must be very horrible to have his innards all over the place and for everybody to have to look at them. Most agreed but did not find it helpful to say so, and instead, all became quite awkward and were less worried about Daniel than they were hoping he would soon go home. So, lamentably, there is no grace to his sadness. Nor is there to mine such as it comes upon me; I do not visualize these emotions as shining beacons begging great sympathies, but now as very muddy and unwarranting of condolence.

Perhaps this all would not have been so dire if the procession of drinks could not be obtained, but as I have said, I saw the need for the progression and could not damn my friend for it. It was not only the drinking that I saw tilted towards some imagined pinnacle, either; I needed the idea of the progression of everything else, of life towards some goal, of everything towards an impossible perfection; the progression of my body even, towards the ultimate betterment of it through the removal of calluses and invisible errant facial hairs and the correction of tooth order and colour and the resurrection of hair thickness. It was a good thing I looked selfishly inward in this way, as I knew that when I scrubbed this body to perfection, I would collapse in terror as I took on the world itself as an extension of this frame and never stopped grouting the walls of everywhere.

As such, I did pity Daniel as I saw a part of myself in him, though for this very reason, I could tire of him too, as I had very much tired of myself and all my parts.

Once the night degenerated into early morning drinking at a club where the music was obviously loud, and the people were obviously semi-conscious. The only thing that was not obvious was how terrible I felt. Daniel was wild that night and brought horror to us all, even if we knew his past eccentric theatrics. He pulled his scar open wide, he gave maniac laughs, and he jumped about the place spinning his guts in the air like a sickly lasso. He passed the point of smiles and got us all to frowns and scowls. I told him he might want to go home, but he would not. People from outside our group and within it jumped as their faces were suddenly slapped by liquid droplets flown off of the whipping entrails. Without a sign of stopping, the rodeo went on. Daniel shouted and laughed angrily. I could only imagine that he would hitch himself on to some crazed bull and that the pair of them would go surging off into a nightmare.

That has been the extremity of its outlandishness. It has not been the extremity of Daniel’s feeling. Four days ago, I squatted next to him outside a pub. A man at a right angle farther along was being sick. Our shadows did not occur in the strip of beer-coloured light that fell on us, came tumbling out of the awful nighttime in which the shade of cloud became the same as a streetlight on the pavement.

He looked up at me with a smile that surely ached.

‘More than anything else, it’s easy to get pity in this world. Might as well go all out.’


John Banning lives in London, England. His work has appeared in Maudlin HouseRejection LettersLigeiaDream Journal, the Bear Creek Gazette and The Daily Drunk. He is also J. F. Gleeson, and at some time, soon will appear under such in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Do take a look.