Worm, Rising by Nora Brooks The first time I left Portland, I went to Transylvania. I got a job at a private language school near the center of a small city. Along the cobblestone street near the school was a raven that would hop down in front of pedestrians to scare them. All the students rose when I entered the room, their blazers a mass of maroon, winners of an application lottery. The students made up plays about corrupt traffic cops and suicide attempts, and we went to theater festivals to perform. At the break each day, some of the kids went to a café with me and sipped tiny cups of coffee. One of them told me I was brave, but I didn’t think so. It was only that I didn’t know of anything else I could do. I was reading a lot then, furiously. Ann Carson said: I like to open my bedroom drapes as wide as possible at night. I like to see everything. My boyfriend in that city had another woman who lived across town. Sometimes we all got beers together. I walked up to the wall along the school and waited for the raven to hop down. He just stood there, eyeing me, his giant black beak a razor at its tip. I came back home and got a teaching certificate. The easiest part about that year had been the walk to school, dreaming of what we would do in class. A year later, I was driving up and down the interstate to a farm town named Canby, a house and a man waiting each day back in Portland. * I pushed the chalk stub along the green board. The scratch of pencils behind me grew quiet and then stopped. “Pinche lombriz,” Jorge yelled. Juan’s thin face showed no reaction. He had three teardrops under his left eye. I had never heard of this particular tattoo before, one teardrop for each person you had killed. This was my first year at Canby High. All I knew was that at a minimum, I didn’t want to harm anybody. “No swearing,” I said. Juan’s arms lay loose across his orange desk. All the kids were sitting in a half-circle, my attempt at discourse and cooperation. There was no way to move without everyone seeing. “I ain’t swearing,” Jorge said. Juan turned his shaved head. Through the wide windows were visible the alfalfa fields along the edge of the high school. The building was like a ranch house, long and low. Outside there were the kids’ parents, working somewhere off in the long green grass. “We’re just joking, maestra,” Federico said. He flipped his hair off his face. “We always call each other like this.” “That doesn’t sound like joking,” I said. “Look, Jorge is a pinche burro, Lupe is a loca,” Federico said. “That’s how we talk.” “Maestra, lombriz just means worm.” Lupe tried to save me. She was my teaching assistant. We had shared a few afternoons of cutting apart sentence strips. “That’s not any more okay than swearing. Look, if you don’t all agree to stop, we will all have to sit here until you do,” I said. “Ay Federico, calmate tu boca.” Xochitl slammed her pen down. “I’m not trying to stay after school.” I hadn’t thought of that. Seventh was the last period of the day. “What did I have to do with this?” Federico…
Baptism by Gilmarie Brioso It’s cold in this box of dark, carved wood. The incense guides my breathing, and I focus as each breath peppers my throat. Spiced air flows through my body and calms the trembles that run along my arms. Confessionals are always cold. “They’re kept this way for the confessor; it keeps him alert. The dimmed lights let him look into his soul, directly at his sins.” Sister Cera told me this as we walked through the empty nave one evening. Accustomed to her thin, pale lips in a straight line, I noticed a quirk then, as if she were amused with the idea. The cold is fierce and prickles at my skin, but I know it’s not the sole reason for the shivers that take over. I search my mind for any sins left unsaid. Look through every mistake— the pointless lies I told just because I could. God’s name, spoken in vain. That time I stole chalk from my elementary school to play with back home. When I cursed Doña Blanca for gossiping about Mamá. I was 12 then, but I’ve felt agony over it since, even more after la Doña’s death, as if I were the cause. Then there was the time I saw Don Antonio have sex with Emily, his 19-year-old cleaning lady, and enjoyed the thrill of the scene. I had watched from the kitchen window as I washed the day’s first dishes. The white cotton curtain moved gently with the morning breeze, but did not do much to obstruct the view—el Don’s knuckles pressing against his back, Emily’s knees kneading the floor. My hands did not stop scrubbing. I have revealed every evil thought: the exact way I wanted to hurt Papá for leaving Mamá. My hatred for Mamá after he left. I hated her weakness. I can still see her, clinging to Papá’s feet as he left for the last time. Hearing her choking cries, I could only think, You stupid, stupid woman. I vowed to never let a man have control over me. And then there was the day I brought a razor blade to the right side of my face, drove a clean incision to cup my cheek. The scar never faded; it rests gently across my face. My brown blunder, rosy and rounded. It was what Sister Cera first asked about. “A carnal sin,” she said, nodding her head, eyes closed. “That must be confessed before you continue.” But Sister Cera never asked me why I had done it. Would I have said it was for Sofia? Would I have shared the way Sofia whispered my name, with all the air in the room? “Marina,” she said as she touched my spoil. The hair on my arms rose up with my name, as if they were tiny feelers tuned to Sofia’s voice, capturing her sound, pulling her to me, making my heart pump faster. “You did it,” she said. “I did,” I told her, begging her to believe me since, just a day before, she wanted to end us. “You’ll leave me,” Sofia had explained. “Flacita and beautiful, you’ll leave me for some rich old man. I know it.” So I carved away at my own flesh, took the beautiful from it, and felt the warm blood on my hands. I had expected a flood, but when I looked down only three small pools had dripped to the floor.…
“This year, I love a man with a hole in his plan.”
“We made it to New York. That’s how we put it when we talk about it with each other, even though it means something different to each of us, and even though we’re both pretty used to it by now. I came straight from school, worked some crap jobs, then landed a decent one. It’s at a hedge fund and I hate it, at least theoretically.”
This makes me think of a writer who runs. He can have ideas only when he runs. However he has a problem remembering the ideas until the end of the run so he decides to run with a dictation machine. It’s not a dictation machine, it’s a tiny tape recorder, it’s not a tape recorder, it’s one of those electric sticks that records the sounds on nothing. In digital no-space. He runs with it once and he records each idea in panting running speech. When he gets home he is excited, but when he presses play the machine has failed him, nothing has been retained. He does not resolve to discover how to properly work the machine. He just takes this as a bad sign and places the machine on the mantel, among his other signifiers. It joins a rotten orange, a flower, a bottled ship, a train ticket, an eye patch, and the universe on the mantel.
“Wilson Willowdell shaved his face. He was naked at the mirror and his mustache kit lay open in front of him. Strapped inside were two black brushes and a pair of small, sharp scissors. He worked the scissors to his thin, dark mustache, taking off just a shade. When he was finished it was even and good. You could not have drawn it on any straighter than he cut it. It was Sunday, the only day that Wilson cooked for himself alone. On other days he attended the ancient skillet at the diner. He cooked slowly but not many complained. His French toast saved him from any real criticism. The toast was fluffy and light as new snow.”
“Gordon’s Lux-O-Liner bounced into the rear end of Boston on streets that seemed to be undergoing a bombardment of some kind. Explosions boomed outside his bus as it passed through shrouds of smoke and steam. It jolted over craters in the road accompanied by insane screeching that turned out to be giant War of the Worlds metal monsters rampaging in fenced-off excavations. He watched them in his tinted window, swinging their mechanical limbs against the sky. Then gray exhaust enveloped the bus and all he could see was himself. The whole city had been a war-zone for decades now. It was even worse today than the last time he’d been here, a year ago, and they were still calling it progress.”