Two Questions for Hannah Cajandig-Taylor

We recently published Hannah Cajandig-Taylor’s otherworldly “When We Left Earth, the Whales Came With Us.

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) What really drew me to this piece was the imagery here — these whales in aquariums being tugged through space as children adore them from rocket ship classrooms, as they hold on to the things they have left behind. Why did you choose whales specifically for this lovely story, these lovely images? Did you ever consider, say, elephants instead?

The pieces of this story were actually born during a coffee shop writing session with my good friend and previous MCR contributor R. A. Matteson, and while giving elements or constraints, one of the concepts to work with was the word “whales”. Because of my undying love for outer space, I just kept thinking about what would happen to these massive aquatic mammals if humans abandoned earth in favor of galactic exploration. It seems like the world is on fire, but we just keep talking about leaving it instead of trying to fix things. I couldn’t stand to leave the whales behind on paper, so I figured why not chuck them into massive tanks and take them too? Though I was concerned about the laws of physics while writing this, it became clear to me that this piece was not specifically about the scientific impact, but more about the idea of transplanting life and attempting to understand a species that feels so distant to us as humans. I’m really drawn to whales in general, and have been on quite the whale kick since writing this, actually. There’s something so intriguing and lovely about these (mostly) gentle giants that roam the waters of our planet.

2) I love that the children write a song in honor of the whales, and that it is so long, some of the verses have to be cut, “for concision’s sake.” What is in those excised verses, do you suppose?

Funny enough, I’d actually written out a few more lines or verses for the whale song that ultimately didn’t make it into the story. One of those excised fragments talked about sperm whales, but I just couldn’t imagine children not giggling over sperm whales, so I ended up obsessively researching classifications of whales, both still alive and extinct, before deciding which lyrics would slip themselves into the narrative. I like to think that some of the unwritten verses featured narwhals. I’ve got a soft spot for narwhals. I imagine there could also be mention of other whale species with “clunky names” or such little cultural acknowledgement that they’ve simply faded into the background of history. I mean, at the end of the day, there are likely thousands of animal species and genera that humans have never encountered or classified, and that idea fascinates me because it makes me think about the creatures we HAVE taken record of and eventually lost over the course of time due to an attempt at simplifying things.

When We Left Earth, The Whales Came With Us ~ by Hannah Cajandig-Taylor

We loaded up tanks & fastened them with chains to blimps & rocket ships, secured their chambers with krill & oxygen & trained marine biologists in little green suits. We hauled them through the exosphere, defied all laws of safety & science as the whales tugged behind us in their glass boxes. Over the growing years, we spent hours in our classroom writing their names with yellow-orange crayons on cardstock paper, sang stories about the orcas & other types of whales. Blue. Beluga. Humpback. Fought over the plush Narwhal in the reading corner. Narwhals have always been the most loved. At night, our fathers read us bedtime stories as we gazed out the porthole glass & pointed at the nearby cubes of water, smiling at the aquatic creatures from our quarters. After months & months of watching whales from our windows, their numbers started to dwindle. We lost Sabrina &Thomas & Kenji & held a funeral for them before their lifeless bodies were launched into the blackness of space. Verses of our song were cut for concision’s sake. We forgot about the Long-finned pilot. The Sei. The Amazon River Dolphin, which yes, was actually a whale. When we finally arrived, to the new home with the new ocean & the new sand colored like cadmium, it was time to say goodbye to whoever was left. Each surviving whale was plopped into the swirling waters. We sang them our whale songs, waving from the shore as the tide lapped at our bare skin. They swam away, calling back in a language we would never learn to speak.

***

Hannah Cajandig-Taylor resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where she reads for Passages North and Fractured Lit. Her work has appeared in journals like Drunk Monkeys, Kissing Dynamite, and Pretty Owl. She loves to play Nancy Drew games on her computer and recently ordered a rock tumbler online.

Two Questions for Michele Finn Johnson

We recently published Michele Finn Johnson’s searing “Hunger, Listen, Thirst.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I like how the narrator calls the baby’s father “the man who is the baby’s father” or simply “the baby’s father.” For me, this gives a really clear indication of their connection … or lack thereof! Did you ever consider having her call him anything else, or is this really the only option she has?

As soon as I wrote the line—”He’s a man who stayed when we both know he would’ve been long gone by now, if not for the circumstance.”—I knew the father would remain nameless in the story. His only tie to the narrator’s life is because of this baby, and I imagine she can’t help but feel the thinness of this tie every time he points out yet another failure on her part as a nurturer. He also seems to take his role as the baby’s father seriously with his tip-toeing and baby-burping and amazing catalog of nursery rhymes. That title defines him in this household; he’s certainly not a lover anymore, which is something our narrator hungers for.

2) The baby and the father both show how they aren’t satisfied, how the narrator can’t satisfy them fast enough or in the ways they want. But she is unsatisfied as well, though her feelings simmer below the surface, quietly. Do you think she will ever let them — let anyone — know exactly how she feels?

I’d love it if she would! The narrator in this moment of life is so incredibly overwhelmed and over-needed, it’d be a miracle if she had the time for self-assessment. She’s in total sacrificial mode for the benefit of the baby, but pretty soon she’ll wean him and get some bits of herself back. That seed of hunger for more is definitely there. She’s listening for some hope in the baby’s father’s throat, but I’m pretty sure that’s a dead end. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has her own equivalent moment of banging on a plastic tray of CheeriosTM in the not-to-distant future. Maybe once she finally gets a solid night’s sleep!

Hunger, Thirst, Listen ~ by Michele Finn Johnson

It’s a Friday during Lent, so I feed the baby jewel-toned purees—carrots and green peas, avocado, butternut squash. He’s unsatisfied. He wants meat. Chicken meat. Turkey meat. Stewed crockpot meat. Something stringy and shredded; something he could choke on. He squawks at me, mouth outstretched.

 

Last Lent, I was overly pregnant and iron deficient, but determined to maintain a forty-day meatless existence. My OBGYN recommended supplements; the baby’s father pushed red meat. He made jerky from the various animals he’d killed and presented me with his leathery offerings. I refused. You’re so damned pale, I can see your heartbeat, he said, flogging me with a stick of deer.

 

To take the baby’s mind off meat, I take him for a walk in the desert. It hasn’t rained in months; saguaros poke out their anorexic ribs. Down, the baby says, this month’s favorite word. He’s only just beginning to sense the true value of having feet, and so he quickly teeters onto his bum. Waa, he cries, the fuchsia bloom of a barrel cactus just out of reach. No baby. Ouchies, I say, once again denying him his deepest desires. The baby cries and cries. I scoop him to my chest, digest his wails.

 

The man who is the baby’s father accuses me of malnourishing our son.

Just because you’re a hippie, it doesn’t mean he needs to starve.

Just because you’re an animal killer, it doesn’t make my baby a hick.

The man who is the baby’s father grabs the keys to his F-150 and slams the front door.

I hate his words: hippie and starve.

I hate my words: killer and hick.

 

The baby’s father is a good man. He is a man who sings an amazing catalog of nursery rhymes; he is a man who tiptoes down the hallway when the baby is finally asleep; he is a man who tests the temperature of the baby’s milk on the inside of his wrist; who burps the baby to absolute splatter-patterned completion. He’s a man who stayed when we both know he would’ve been long gone by now, if not for the circumstance. I hunger for our beginnings, listen for some hint of it in his throat. When the baby’s father comes home, I know that I will eat my words.

 

Meanwhile, the baby sits in his highchair, preoccupied with an orgy of Cheerios. He sees me and starts to pound his chubby fists on the plastic tray. Cheerios tiddlywink into the air. The baby looks like the man who is his father when he is angry.

I’m close enough to smell that his diaper needs changing. The top of his head is translucent; his skull is a river of purple-blue veins that pulse with each scream—Momma, Momma. As I wipe his tiny bum, he transforms into a songbird, cooing. I listen to his song as I unbutton my shirt, never fast enough to satisfy his thirst. He grabs at the tentacles of hair that hang in front of my face; he jibbers something that sounds like Hungry, Hungry, again and again like a refrain.

***

Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, Booth, The Adroit Journal, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her work was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019, won an AWP Intro Journals Award in nonfiction, and has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Microfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her online at michelefinnjohnson.com and on twitter at @m_finn_johnson.

 

Two Questions for Noa Covo

We recently published Noa Covo’s soaring “Amelia.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) What I love about this story is how vividly you create your Amelia Earhart (and there are so many versions of her, don’t you think?) in such a small space. What inspired your variation of this famous aviator?
A while ago, my little brother suggested that maybe Amelia Earhart disappeared because she reached outer space. I thought that she had always strived to escape Earth and distance herself from other people, so I found it very fitting. (Which just goes to show that my eight-year-old brother is smarter than me.) Amelia Earhart really was, in my eyes, the achiever of the impossible so writing her going to space felt like a natural extension of her journey. I think Amelia Earhart was more than just her tragic disappearance, and that she deserved a lot more than that, so this was kind of my way of expressing the fact that her story should’ve continued.
2) I especially like the moment when the Martians call her “our very own Amelia.” Does she belong to them, or to earth, or to anyone?
There are people throughout history whose stories others like to claim in a way that isn’t entirely fair. The thing that always irked me about Amelia Earhart is that she was let down by the people who should’ve rescued her, but when we tell her story and claim her, nobody ever takes responsibility for her disappearance. In my mind, Amelia Earhart belongs to the Martians in the sense that they appreciate her from afar and don’t try to limit her, unlike the humans. I wanted her to get a happy ending in which she belonged, and I’m not sure she felt that she belonged on Earth.

Amelia ~ by Noa Covo

Amelia Earhart rebuilds the plane after the crash. She buries her navigator under the soft sand as her pleas for help fizzle over the radio and linger in the air, ignored. When a week passes, she gets into the cockpit and aims the plane at the sky. She passes through the atmosphere unimpeded. (The atmosphere knows it isn’t its place to stop her. There is an order in the universe, and in it Amelia Earhart is above forces of nature and other people’s opinions.)

She discovers gas giants and sun spots. She counts stars and watches them dance. When she’s lonely, she tunes in to the Martian radio programs and listens for her name. (Our celebrity, the Martians say, our very own Amelia.) When she passes the asteroid belt, she wonders if women on Earth wear pants yet.

She’s due to come across Voyager One soon. She doesn’t know it’s the farthest human-made object out in space, but maybe it will remind her of us. Maybe she’ll send us a message when she sees it. Maybe she’ll lean into the radio and say this is Amelia speaking. Maybe she’ll glance back at Earth and notice for the first time how far away it is. Maybe she will grieve the fact she can never return. Maybe she’s always known she never intended to.

***

Noa Covo is a teenaged writer. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Jellyfish Review, Okay Donkey, and Waxwing. Her microchapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow this July. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.

Two Questions for Sabrina Hicks

We recently published Sabrina Hicks’s evocative “My Drugstore Queen.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) This is such a great moment, one of those small freedoms that teenage girls find in places like drugstores. Do you think the narrator will ever experience that kind of freedom again, without Maeve?

The freedom the narrator experiences is so specifically tied to Maeve that I don’t imagine so, or at least not at the same level. For her, Maeve encompasses the drugstore: a world of possibilities, shrink-wrapped and waiting, the make-up still sealed below pictures of models with impossibly long eyelashes, where teenage girls can roam and make-believe. Without Maeve, drugstores will never be the same for the narrator, just like that tube of mascara won’t make her lashes impossibly long. When the seal is broken, so too is the fantasy.

 

2) That flash forward moment is so heartbreaking but also somehow completely expected. In this moment, before her end, Maeve is so beautiful. Do you think people other than the narrator recognized her beauty? Or did they just use and dismiss it?

The idea of beauty here is fraught with currency. With Maeve, I saw her beauty as something wild and weaponized. Young girls, in their desire to be more beautiful, don’t fully understand the cost of that beauty, how they can become objectified as a result, or that the game of manipulation can backfire, especially in Maeve’s unprotected and vulnerable circumstances. I’d like to believe the narrator was the only one who saw Maeve’s beauty as skin deep, but even she idolized her in a way that dehumanized her to some degree. In the end, she sees her as a saint, as an impossibly beautiful being not made for this world.

My Drugstore Queen ~ by Sabrina Hicks

Maeve walks the CVS aisles high as those Mylar balloons, the ones that break free from their cage or slip loose from a hand, trapped in corners of tall ceilings. She tears the plastic seals off tubes of lipsticks and compacts of iridescent eyeshadows, coloring her face like the wings of a still hummingbird as I run down the aisles after her, inhaling pine and lemon, Skittles and holiday chocolates, skimming the Hallmark cards celebrating lifetime achievements she’ll never imagine: graduations, marriages, births, anniversaries. The pharmacist yells over the counter, Girls, you have to pay for that now. Maeve inspects her newly painted nails she finished in aisle 5b, Alley Cat black, pouts her Jolly Rancher red lips, tugs down her sun-faded top and whispers in his ear with her warm watermelon breath words that throws him back to middle school and hard-ons. We’re both thirteen, but no one ever thinks Maeve is thirteen. Not ever. She turns her head, sticks out her candy-coated tongue. We have the place now. Outside the rain hits sideways and somewhere Maeve’s mother is finishing her shift at Waffle House and will walk across the street to the trucker bar, tend to the drunks and bring one home; somewhere my mother is cooking dinner and will wait for me, looking at the clock, meatloaf growing cold while my father watches football. And all I smell is sun and possibilities when Maeve peels off the seals of scented lotions: coconuts, Hawaii, waves. Do you smell the beach? she inhales, closing her eyes long enough to feel she is slipping away into a riptide. She grabs hair dye. We become blonds and get the fuck out of here. And I nod, thinking I’d follow her anywhere. Maeve, the only girl who’d talk to me in eighth grade. Maeve, the girl my father called white trash. We get the fuck out of here, I repeat. Maeve, the girl who will go missing in two years and never be found, looking like a stained-glass saint under these florescent lights.

***

Sabrina Hicks lives in Arizona. Her work has appeared in Wigleaf Top 50, Split Lip MagazineLost BalloonBending GenresBarrenMatchbookEllipsis Zine, and other publications. More of her work can be found at sabrinahicks.com.

Two Questions for Steven Genise

We recently published Steven Genise’s thoughtful “An Abridged List of Small Gratitudes Heading into Month Five.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his piece:

 

1) What I love about this piece is that the gratitudes, while small, hint at largeness. Was it hard to leave unsaid the large things and let the small things do the speaking?

It’s not that it was hard to leave the large things unsaid, but that it was necessary.  The large gratitudes—that I am here, that my family is well, et cetera—draw attention to the reality that we’re only allowed those things because of privilege and luck.  Not because of formal action, but in spite of it.  The systemic issues in our society are the result of policy choices, and so to describe the large gratitudes would mean not reveling in those things, but instead being reminded of the hundreds of thousands that CAN’T find gratitude there because they’ve been intentionally left behind.
The small gratitudes, though, are a practice.  Not everyone has a little yard with a little patch of sunlight, but my hope is that in reading the piece, they can find those small things in their own life for which they’re grateful, and in doing so find some peace from the larger problems around us, in the face of which we feel increasingly little agency.

2) What would be your perfect pandemic breakfast, if not bacon and eggs?

Just before the pandemic, my wife and I went on our honeymoon to New Zealand where, much to my wife’s dismay, I acquired a taste for Marmite on toast. It has been my true go-to pandemic breakfast; I only hope that the very, shall we say, UNIQUE taste of Marmite doesn’t become permanently associated with this year.

An Abridged List of Small Gratitudes Heading into Month Five ~ by Steven Genise

  1. That even though I can’t bring myself to get up early (or on time) most days, on the days I do, I can make pancakes and eggs for my wife.
  2. That on the days I can’t, she suits up like Diver Dan and brings us coffee.
  3. That even though we’ve spent more than half our married life thus far in one room, we got married before all this.
  4. That we moved out of that studio apartment last year.
  5. That even if it is very small, we have a very small yard.
  6. That even though most of that yard is in shade, there is an even smaller patch of light that I can put a garden box.
  7. That our dog doesn’t hate us yet.
  8. That we don’t hate each other yet.
  9. That we don’t hate our dog yet.
  10. That even though our dog does hate our garden, we still managed to salvage some lettuce.
  11. That that lettuce was edible.
  12. That even though when I sit at my desk to work my neighbor can clearly see that I’ve been wearing the same clothes for a week, he doesn’t say anything about it.
  13. That even though my wife and I are both depressed, we were depressed before all this too, so in a way we’ve been training for this.
  14. That we’ve been taught to practice gratitude.
  15. That this is an abridged list.
  16. That the things left off this list are much more important than the things on it.

***

Steven Genise’s work has appeared in Gone Lawn, Flash Flood, Menacing Hedge, Crack the Spine, and others, and he is the fiction editor for Cascadia Magazine.