We recently published Rebecca Orchard’s haunting “Please Employ My Ghost Boyfriend.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
We recently published Rebecca Orchard’s haunting “Please Employ My Ghost Boyfriend.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
He needs a place to be other than the underbellies of ships swollen beneath the water. He spends all day sliding along anchor chains, twisting around mossy links, and comes home glowing green; I pick the kelp from his hair but still he smells of barnacles and rust.
Please give him a job where things are seen and touched, not yawning huge, hidden in depths.
He does not need smoke breaks, sunshine, or lunch; let him sort mail under harsh fluorescent bulbs in rooms where paper peels back from the wall.
My ghost boyfriend is loyal and steadfast; he cannot bear to leave this world and for you he will work silently, carefully, and eternally.
If you are nervous about hiring a ghost, please let me lay your mind at rest. He is not transparent but translucent, gathered more thinly than you or I. When he stands against sunlight his edges burn; close your eyes before a bright light and you will see where he starts to dissolve. He cannot disappear, or walk through walls—no disembodied sounds accompany him.
In fact, he makes no sounds at all, but you will quickly learn to interpret his eager, mournful smile.
My ghost boyfriend would be an asset to your company in any role involving repetitive tasks and few words; if he would stay at home when I left, I would leave him list after list of things to do.
But when I shut the door behind me he is suddenly restless, and must ride the trains for hours, silent straphanger, until he can no longer ignore the slow-sounding dance of the chains in the harbor.
Please give him a place to be when I am not around; ghosts, you see, cannot define themselves without another. When their presence is not confirmed, and confirmed again, they must slip into the water, tangle themselves in the unseen tethers that bind the ships to shore.
Rebecca Orchard is a recovering classical musician and professional baker. She has an MFA from Bowling Green State University and is in the PhD program at Florida State University. Her fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Passages North, Tammy, Exposition Review, the Baltimore Review, The Pinch, and elsewhere. Her work on the Voyager Golden Record has been profiled in the Guardian, BBC World Service Newshour, and Atlas Obscura.
We recently published Lior Torenberg’s stunning “Je Dévore.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I fell in love with the first sentence of this story: “My mother taught housewives how to bake, and then she died.” The baking is such an important thing for the narrator to try to learn about their mother, and those little high heels too. They seem like such unconnected things, baking, wearing high heels. How do you feel they become part of the same thing for the narrator?
The heels, the baking – they’re symbols of femininity. My narrator idolizes his mother as a representative of the ideal woman without acknowledging what she gave up to acquire those totems, and how restrictive they can often be. For Marge/Margaux (and for everyone) femininity is a performance, a costume, just like it is for the narrator later in his life. The difference is that, for Marge, it is confining, but for the narrator, it is freeing.
2) The section with the changing of names is very powerful — it seems expected to be “American” that you must have an American name. The mother goes from Margaux to Marge — do you think she lost a piece of herself with that change, the way she lost her French?
I think Margaux did lose a piece of herself by switching to Marge, but to be more specific: she willingly gave up a piece of herself in exchange for something else. Cultural capital, belonging, the avoidance of potential discrimination. She had found a new life for herself and wanted to immerse herself fully in it. I want to emphasize that, at the time, she was excited to do so. When I moved to America, there was a while when I wanted to go by Lori instead of Lior. It’s only later that you realize what you’ve given up. The narrator tries to pay tribute to his mother by allowing her to live after her death as someone free and unapologetically Margaux.
My mother taught housewives how to bake, and then she died. She made angel food cake so light it disappeared in my hands, pineapple upside-down cake syrup dripping down the legs of the table where I’d hide out of sight and watch legs, legs and the motion of slim calves, ever-reducing calves. A rainbow of nude hues. Stockinged legs of powder and pearl, porcelain and parchment. Little heels, too. Little feet in little heels.
I wanted those heels. I lapped at the syrup.
My mother’s kitchen was a monument to the all-American apple pie, black and white checkerboard floors, appliances buzzing hot and loud. And all those ankles, little birds. Eaglets in training. Flying, flour-covered hands fastening the straps of their Mary Janes and leaving white dust on the ground for me to gather and stuff in my nostrils. Flour, sugar, salt. I devoured them.
It was 1955 and the town was Augusta and the women went by other names. Heloise was Helen, Giulia was Julia, and my mother was Margaret, or Marge, but never Margaux. She had moved to New England from New Brunswick a decade prior. She married a man from Maine, an Irish man named Aiden that she had met in a record store in Quebec. He had reached for a Jimmie Rodgers record and she had reached for him, reached and clung hard and flew away.
Margaux became Marge and forgot her French fast and with a purpose as she rolled out dough and filled molds with strawberries and gelatin. There were still twinges: sip was seep, water was watair. She whacked me in the ear when I imitated her. She didn’t know. How could she? She thought I was making fun of her, but I was in the process of becoming her. All I ever wanted were those smooth, pale ankles.
On her deathbed, my mother became Margaux for a brief moment of delirium, re-learned her French in death knells of hushed prayers. She never taught me the language so I don’t know what her last words were. As she died, she became herself again, and became a stranger to us. I looked at my father. It was clear that neither of us had ever really known her at all.
From then on, I tried to know her. She had the slimmest ankles of all. I put on her stockings, broke her kitten-heeled shoes with my teetering weight. I baked angel food cake, dense and dark as the nightclubs where I looked for her. In my twenties I went to college and picked up a crude, unwieldy French, not in class but in the basements of The Roxy and The Anvil where French was whispered into ears and into the grout of the bathroom floors where I was bent over, an upside-down cake with my hands on the ground, syrup flowing thick-heavy down the back of my legs. The year was 1972 and the city was New York and I was in the process of becoming.
Je m’appelle Margaux, I said. I danced on the tables at Julius in the Village.
Je m’appelle Margaux, I said to a rainbow of nude hues as I pulled my stockings back on.
Flying, ecstasy-covered hands fastening themselves to their lovers and leaving white dust on each other’s lips. Confectioners’ sugar, the floor covered in powder and sweat. I devoured them, my open palms full of sweet, sweet apple pie.
Lior Torenberg is a young Israeli-American writer living and working in New York City, eager to get her work out in the world. Her writing centers around women’s personal and psychological growth with an emphasis on sexuality and family dynamics. She has had pieces published in Boston College’s student literary journal, “Stylus”, and received the 1st Place Prize in Bridges Together’s intergenerational story competition.
We recently published Pat Foran’s musical “The Truth about Florence Henderson’s Floating Notes.”
Here we ask him two questions about his story:
1) There is so much music in this piece — the singer in the beginning, the floating notes themselves and, of course, the musicality of your language. Was there a particular song that inspired this piece, or one that you listened to while writing it?
There wasn’t a particular song that inspired it, but I was listening to the newly mixed version of The Beatles’ White Album (the 50th anniversary six-CD set released in November 2018) the day I was writing this. It’s possible listening to a new mix of a record I knew backwards and forwards, a mix that enabled me to hear instrumental and vocal moments I hadn’t heard before, inspired me to listen to myself differently, to hear my voice a little differently, to let the words tumble out a bit differently. But television — how it sounds to me, how it sings to me, how I experience it — was more of an inspiration here. TV has a rhythm, dimensionality and voice all its own, especially (for me) shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s. And I think that’s where my head was, what my ears were listening in on and listening for, that day.
2) Florence Henderson is best known for her role in the Brady Bunch. Why did you choose her as the voice for this piece, as the owner of these floating notes?
Yes, she’s best known as Carol Brady. But Florence Henderson was a singer — first in musicals on the stage, and later on TV. She also was a guest on a lot of TV talk shows and hosted a show or two of her own. When the initial chorus of listeners in this story — the baby antelope, the zebra and the orangutan and the toucan — started to hear what they heard, it had to be Miss Florency, given where my head was at and the way my brain works. I saw Florence Henderson in that scene. I heard her. It probably didn’t hurt that her name has a singsong quality to it, a certain flow. Her Carol Brady hair had a certain flow to it, too — like when she had it cut in the “flip” style during the middle (and seminal) Brady episodes. That the unpretentious and generally joyous Ms. Henderson sang a “Wessonality” jingle in a commercial for Wesson cooking oil probably sealed the deal. She had to be the one to birth those notes.
A singer on a TV talk show is sharing a story about her voice and how it’s changed. She wonders if longtime fans hear her new songs and realize she’s the one singing them.
“I get it if they don’t,” the singer says. “I mean, whose voice is this?”
“Maybe you could find it again, this voice you’ve lost,” the talk show host says. “You could go for walks with it, ask it ‘How are you really feeling?’, massage it like an open heart, take it to the movies, sing it some of the old songs.”
“I don’t know if it’s that kind of thing,” the singer says.
I change the channel and see Tarzan cradling a baby antelope. Tarzan, the Info button on the remote tells me, is being chased by poachers. He’s also lost his hearing.
“Easy now,” Tarzan says to the trembling calf. “I only want to borrow your ears.”
Tarzan studies the antelope’s eyes, watches her ears, feels her lungs heave. The antelope twitches, turns, stops. Freezes. Tarzan looks behind him and sees a motionless zebra. A wooden orangutan. A toucan statue. Something’s happening. The animals hear something. They’re transfixed. It’s Florence Henderson. She’s singing a soaring song about change as an inherent element of self-actualization. Or cooking oil. I’m not sure which. The melody rises, it falls, it splashes, it colors the rainforest sky slate blue.
The swaddled antelope shyly looks up at Tarzan, then in the direction of Florence Henderson’s floating notes.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Tarzan says. “For listening for me.”
I hear what Tarzan’s saying but I can’t take my eyes off the floating notes. How they hover, how they flutter, look at them flit, they’re going with the flow, they’re going it alone, these notes. They’re unselfconscious, these notes. They’re themselves.
These notes are what you, when you and I were together, would call The Truth.
“We’re going to listen to the water drummers,” the floating notes say to me. “They make the river sing. Come with?”
The notes and I spy the water drummers waist deep in the rush that is this rill. They’re playing the river with their hands and each scoop-clap-swish is in sync.
I think I get it: The rhythm is the song and the song is the thing and the thing is what’s true. But the thing is, all I hear and all I’ve been hearing for months is the sound of your voice. The voice I knew. The song you sang. The song I knew. The one I miss.
I try to focus.
“What are the water drummers playing?” I ask the floating notes. “What song are they making the river sing?”
“We don’t know,” the notes say. “We never know. We can’t hear.”
So comfortable in their own skin, these floating notes. I think this in your voice. Not the one I think I’ve lost, but a new one. It’s a voice that’s all you and all yours, one with a little Wessonality in it. It’s a voice with new songs in it, songs I’d think I recognize, in shifting tempos and unidentifiable keys. Songs I’d need a baby antelope’s help to hear.
“I heard that,” I say to the floating notes, who are humming a tune I can’t place. “Anybody know that one?”
The river shrugs. Tarzan sighs. The floating notes hum and hum and hum as the syncopated beat of the water drummers welcomes the soon-to-be scatting rainforest moon.
Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Little Fiction, Anti-Heroin Chic, Gravel, Bending Genres and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @pdforan.
We recently published E. Kristin Anderson’s clever “Ted Cruz Injures His Hand at a Party at the Governor’s Mansion.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
2) You manage the great trick of making the character relatable, yet detestable. How hard is it to pull off that balancing act, to make someone so hated/hateful come across as sympathetic?
I feel like what makes this work is how the Ted Cruz that you see on TV is very much all there is to Ted Cruz. Like I sort of assumed that this was true, but after a couple of these pieces hit the web, I learned that a friend of a friend of a friend apparently was his college room mate and was like yeah the dude is really that weird and evil. So I think the actual absurdity of Ted Cruz’ personality and beliefs and actions feed right into what makes the mundane bullshit that I’m writing somehow entertaining. Like I never wrote the Stevie Nicks piece from the original text I sent myself. I ended up writing about him being in a feud with a possum and tripping over his kid’s science project and having gross, wet socks after stepping in a huge puddle because it’s so plausible. And enjoyable. I should say that the last thing I want is to humanize Ted Cruz. He’s a 100% revolting human being who is too gross for even Satan to claim. He has an actual history of DOING MIME! That is real! I didn’t make that up! And former Speaker of the House and purported nice guy John Boehner—yes, a republican—once said, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” So basically Teddy is so incredibly unlikeable and ridiculous that the only way to make him interesting is to give readers a reason to maybe feel bad for him. But not that bad. That pity/schadenfreude balance only works because the human filth vortex that is my junior senator is next-level uncharming. So for me, having him be a completely insecure menace to his own personal wellbeing is more interesting and believable than the Stevie Nicks thing. Anyway, I know way too many things about Ted Cruz now, even for a constituent. Like he’s a Sagittarius. And as a Sag myself, I really need to know his time of birth so I can do his full chart. For democracy. Or art. Whichever.
Ted Cruz Injures His Hand at a Party at the Governor’s Mansion
and it’s not really his fault. But whose fault is it anyway, when a man is injured? And why did no one tell Ted that there were still nail holes in the banister in the front hall from when Governor Hogg’s kids couldn’t help themselves and were constantly sliding down like some Leave it to Beaver nonsense? It seems like something the docent might have cared to mention before Ted wound up with a sliver of wood in his palm. Now he’s trying not to make a weird face while he picks at the skin, wanting badly to remove this aberration from his hand. And now there’s blood. Ted presses an off-white cloth napkin into his palm. It’s not that deep of a cut, really. Someone else might try to find a first-aid kit, but Ted just takes his bourbon into the restroom and pours it into his hand, pulls out the splinter. It stings, but it’s not the first time he’s injured his hand—his hand-shaking hand, even—on something mysterious and possibly unsanitary. He’s been fishing many times and there was that one incident where he almost sliced right through his thumb on his cousin’s rusty tackle box. He had to get stitches that time. At the ER. Wouldn’t let any of the guys on the boat sew him up with fishing line—though the bastards had wanted to try. Thank God they hadn’t. Ted still has his thumb, after all. He squeezes the napkin to his bourbon-soaked palm as he re-enters the party—what was this a fundraiser for again?—smiling at woman across the room. She quickly turns to look at the painting behind her. Ted backs himself up against a wall, making a mental note to get a tetanus shot.
E. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture (Anomalous Press), and Hysteria: Writing the female body (Sable Books, forthcoming). Kristin is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including A Guide for the Practical Abductee (Red Bird Chapbooks), Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press), Fire in the Sky (Grey Book Press), 17 seventeen XVII (Grey Book Press), and Behind, All You’ve Got (Semiperfect Press, forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker. Find her online at EKristinAnderson.com and on twitter at @ek_anderson.
We recently published Timothy Boudreau’s stark and lovely “Grandma Told Us Her Happiest Day Was When they Bought the Satellite Dish.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story.
It was always composed of tiny moments. I wrote the original version for a Kathy Fish workshop. I think the assignment’s word count limit was 150 words, and my first draft was probably 250-300, made up of brief sections. For the assignment I sweated this down to 150. When I came back to it a month or so later, I resurrected some of the words I’d cut, as well as adding new material. I’m drawn to shorter forms at least partly because I tend to write in small units, a couple of paragraphs at a time, afterward stitching the pieces together to make a whole. With a story like this, rather than expand and connect the fragments, I condense them, the goal being to present only the most concentrated and vital sections. And then as you point out to let the reader fill in the gaps.
I do believe it’s still there, though I haven’t been up that way for a while. But the last time I drove by, it was there on the hill, with grass grown up around it. The house itself was empty, and has been off and on for years.
It got channels from overseas. Grandpa: “Can’t understand those languages anyways.” His favorites were westerns and wrestling, no news or sports. Best not to play music while he was in the house.
Her garden was filled with dianthus, sweet Williams and Johnny jump-ups. “Always a gob of Johnnies where you don’t expect.”
Shelves of records, eight-tracks, cassettes: Hank Snow Sings the Golden Greats; Merle Haggard; Hotel California; Def Leppard, Pyromania.
After Grandpa left for work, she made us French toast. Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla; as much syrup as we wanted.
“Your Gramp always had a temper. First I was afraid of it. Then I got so I didn’t pay any attention. Just let him rant and rave.”
Once we were tall enough we had to help her reach the top shelf. When she was a girl she drank some vanilla because it smelled so wonderful. “Worst thing I ever tasted. Got me in big trouble. In those days your daddy took you out back with a switch.”
Her favorite shows: Little House, American Bandstand. “I need something, I’m to myself all day.”
A row of VHS tapes, labeled in wobbling blue cursive:
“The Net, good drama, Sandra Bullock”
“J. Roberts, The Stepmom”
“Goldie Hawn, 3 funny comedies”
The bedsheets changed each night during our sleepovers; their freshness after drying on the clothesline between her garden and the garage.
Six months after the wedding she was at Great Grandma’s door with her bag. She didn’t have to walk, Grandpa drove her. She was crying. Couldn’t get her words out. Great Grandma called Grandpa to come take her back. “You made your bed, now go lie in it.”
The dish groaned on windy days. Sparrows made nests in it, raised their young. It took up half their side hill. After they got cable they couldn’t find anyone to take it away.
In her hospital bed she held out her hand. Grandpa pretended he didn’t see it.
Timothy Boudreau lives in northern New Hampshire with his wife, Judy. His work appears or is forthcoming at Lost Balloon, Memoir Mixtapes and Fiction Southeast. His collection, Saturday Night and other Stories, was published in 2017 by Hobblebush Books.