Response: Violence

Editor Kirsten Larson, Editor's Choice, September 29th, 2014

...a very small space between their two bodies.

julien pacaud collage nailed magazine
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In our monthly Response Column, NAILED asks readers to respond to a particular word or phrase. We are seeking raw, honest personal responses that aim less to answer questions and more to raise them. October’s topic is FAT, please email your responses to Kirsten@NailedMagazine.com by October 20th, for publication at the end of the month. (Word count limit: 1,000 words.)

Response: Violence

 

Violence, by Jenny Forrester

 

We cut up venison and peaches at the little round table where the army recruiter told my brother to sign his life away. The recruiter wasn’t allowed on the high school property, but somehow half of the boys in my brother’s class had the same conversation and signed the same papers at their own family tables.

My brother hadn’t learned to write as early as I had and he’d never written as well, because, as my mother said, he wasn’t a girl, but he wrote stories about wolves and ranchers and wilderness. He read his stories to me in the middle of the night.

“Wake up, Jenny, I have a good one. Tell me how it sounds,” he said that night after he’d signed the papers and there was no going back to how things had been when we wandered the high sage and piñon pine desert and the rocky, cold mountains. My brother dreamed of finding a gold mine and I dreamed of moving away and becoming famous.

He read what he wrote about the reintroduction of wolves and I listened, happy to be forgiven for having cried when my brother signed the papers for the army.

When the army recruiter told my brother to sign, I said, “Mama, if mothers would not let their sons fight, there would be no more war.”

She stood against the wall drying her hands with the dishtowel and said, “If you can stop him, go ahead and try.”

My brother put down the pen after writing his name and grunted at me and ignored me for a day to let me know that he was mad.

So, when he wrote about killing all the ranchers and saving all the wolves, I listened. I didn’t tell him that even though I agreed with him, I thought there was no way he’d get away with it.

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Jenny Forrester is co-editor of The People’s Apocalypse with Ariel Gore. She won the 2011 Richard Hugo House New Works Competition and was runner up with her fiction, “American Charity.” She’ll be published by Putnam in 2015 in the Listen to Your Mother Anthology. She co-curates the Unchaste Readers Series.

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Wiggle Room, by Trevor Dodge

 

He’s not even hard yet. I stop walking towards the bed, feel my toes in the tips of my shoes. There’s wiggle room. All of my shoes have it.

“Are you serious?” I ask. I don’t know why. But I do.

The skin doubles and triples under his chin as he watches himself unroll the condom. It’s hard to believe he can see given all that territory between there and there, even laying down. Which he is. My question doesn’t seem to bother him. I have no idea what he can see and what he can’t.

“A mistake is a chance to try harder,” he says, neck craned and forehead creeping more and more into the air he’s breathing. The oxygen’s thin in the room. Feels like all of it is in front of him, not me.

I take three short steps towards the bed. I have no desire to move his direction but it happens anyway. I don’t say anything.

He finishes unrolling and sinks his head back into the pillow. He aims his eyes straight above him, his fingers still below his belly, scooching the condom. The tip of his tongue pops out and wriggles between his teeth. He keeps staring up to the ceiling so I look there, too. There’s nothing to look at up there.

“What’s the name of this one now?” I say this as a question, but I don’t care about the answer.

“Magnum!” He’s finally looking at me now. The last time it was Crown. The time before that it was Gold Circle. The time before that was the first time so there wasn’t any. That was the time he got me a Coke after we were done and told me to drink it. The whole thing. All at once. As fast as I could. He told me it would stop anything from taking hold in me. That warm, big river raged through me, carbon dioxide in every empty space and cell of me. My stomach a thick blanket of sugar and foam. The rush and weight of it smothered me, a feeling bigger than drowning, the sharp pains in the back of my throat as my muscles constricted and wouldn’t let go, the thump-thump-thump in my ears, louder with each swallow, my eyes closed, head tipped all way back, those heavy drums.

He told me I had to keep standing right there, that I had to keep absolutely still after I finished the can and dropped it to the floor. I kept my eyes closed but I could feel him blink at me, that little clicking sound of his eyes the only sound in the room. I never heard the can clank on the floor in front of my toes, didn’t feel a drop of it splash my skin when it one-hopped under the bed. Every drop churned inside me.

“Good girl,” he said then. That was the last time he called me that. Because the drowning-standing cure, it didn’t work. Which made it my idea. After that, after the violence, I tried as hard as I could to never have another idea.

“I changed brands,” he says now, and points to the strip of condoms dangling off the dresser. Their careful packaging and machine-scored perforations. The crazy scaffold of defiant angles and Escher gravity. I don’t know if what he says is supposed to make me feel better but it doesn’t.

“Again.” I don’t say it as anything close to a question because I don’t say it at all. I’ve already emptied my head of ideas. I’m just trying to keep still.

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Trevor Dodge’s most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Green Mountains Review, Little Fiction, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Gargoyle, Metazen and Juked. His latest book is The Laws of Average, a collection of 60 flash fictions recently published by Chiasmus Press. He is managing editor of Clackamas Literary Review, lives in Portland OR, and can be found online at www.trevordodge.com.

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Swimming Lesson, by Doro Boehme

 

Her father gave his right leg within the first month of combat and now walks on crutches wherever they go, to the local pool for example. She carries the towels and swim trunks for herself and for him, one bag over each shoulder, which only emphasizes further her symmetry and his lopsidedness. Side by side they walk up the path leading from the cash register to the locker rooms. It meanders through the grounds as if nature had carved it as such, curves itself gently out of the way where people are sunbathing. If ever it needed to be re-designed and she had any say in it, she would draw it short and straight between the two points.

The squeaking of the crutches draws attention. Anyone who’s kept his eyes open takes a good look at her father, especially at the space where a leg should be swinging, and then at her next even though she has two and hauls the two bags. Children of any age turn to the nearest adult to ask questions. The answers are being whispered and remain secret. With every step of their three feet, more sets of eyes are cast her way and soften up the pavement even on chilly days, stretch the path longer and longer, a black rubber band that one of the gawkers must be holding on to from the entrance side, and another one must be pulling at it from the other end.

By the time this hobbling parade of two has reached the cabins, guilt has settled firmly between her shoulders, has stiffened her with shame about how much she would rather be someone else’s child right now. With one quick grab, her father cuts through her thoughts, reaches for his satchel and turns towards the men’s section. There is never any telling what exactly he feels and she never says a word. In a public pool with no other perks than a slide and a soft-serve, self-service ice cream maker, he continues to draw attention when he drops the crutches next to a bench, hops to the edge of the water, glides in and dives like a fish. Once submerged, he moves better than anyone else while she lifts up her head and breathes again, but knows full well that reprieve will last only until it’s her turn to get in.

Putting on a swimsuit in the changing cabin, and folding her clothes carefully into a locker, takes four or five minutes, six if she stands immobile behind the closed door, four-legged now, because the two she still had a minute ago are being reflected in a small puddle at her feet. With her big toe she expands its yellow circumference into the lukewarm leaf of an acorn tree and then into a brick, listens to the noise outside the door long enough to be sure all sunbathers have flipped back onto their bellies.

Once in the pool, the water snaps coldness around her belly, pushing it higher with every step and fastening it tighter, as if to offer her with one hand a life preserver while using the other to render all four of her limbs as useless as if she’s never had any. Slowly he drags her towards the deep end, holds up whatever is still left over: a ten-year old head attached to one end of a skinny and leaden trunk, which he supports the way some people prop up a baby, with one hand right through the crotch while the other one covers her chest. She spreads her legs wider and kicks them stronger and circles her arms but the only thing she ever moves out of is the correct sequence. Each time he lets go, she folds up and sinks under.

The lifeguard doesn’t seem to realize the emergency she’s in, must have somehow determined she is in good hands and looks only at others or at his phone. She tries hard to stay afloat, for a chance at survival and also because she doesn’t want to be touched by his stump, scarred purple and now scarring the pool’s glossy blue right below her belly. Sometimes it catches her by surprise, raises itself for no apparent reason. Up it comes and looks thicker under water than out in the open, a magnified bud from which something could potentially sprout at any moment but then never does. Maybe the water is just too chlorinated. A number of animals can regenerate missing limbs, a fin maybe, a tail, even eyes. Starfish can regrow their whole body from just one portion of a severed leg, but her father comes out of the pool the same way he went in, except he’ll be a hue darker by summer’s end.

It is loud except for a very small space between their two bodies. Fragments of laughter and broken-up shouting flash across the water in every direction and quickly become an indistinct drone whenever she goes under. The closer she gets to the floor of the pool, the more muffled the cheering becomes and therefore more tolerable but he scoops her up at the very last moment, and her head bangs against the same joyful clamor each time it breaks through the surface. That hurts after a while. The skin on her fingertips starts to bloat. All she had thought of as dependably solid in her body’s outline now readies itself to dissolve.

She gets to leave fifteen minutes early for a hot shower, to get the chlorine off and everything else and then he buys a bowl of split pea soup to help her warm up. They sit on a bench near the entrance and she uses her spoon to push down hard on a few little half-heads, floating too green on the too oily surface.

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Doro Boehme studied Visual Arts first (MFA, Kunstakademie Stuttgart) and Library Science later. She writes fiction, curates exhibitions, and produces artist books and catalogs. Past jobs are too numerous to count but include stints as a Lighting Technician at the State Opera Baden-Wuerttemberg, Nurses Aid in a homeopathic clinic, Art Therapist, and Forest and Woodland Conservation Worker. Currently she heads the Library Special Collections at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and takes pictures of the city’s alley system during her lunch breaks.

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 Header Image courtesy of Julien Pacaud. To view a gallery of his collage for NAILED, go here.

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Kirsten Larson

Kirsten Larson is a Contributing Editor at NAILED. She lives near Portland, Oregon. She loves words and is very curious. She received her MFA in writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She writes for The Huffington Post, and is an Adjunct Instructor at Portland State University. Her work can be found in NAILED, Huffington Post, Pathos, M Review, and several other places. She is currently working on two books.