Stuck in the Middle


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Stuck in the Middle

Writing that Holds You in Suspense
An Anthology from Main Street Rag

Edited by David Bell & Molly McCaffrey

ISBN: 978-1-59948-587-4, 380 pages, $16.95

Release date: November 1, 2016






in medias res
into the middle of things


When we hear the word suspense associated with books or movies, we likely have certain vivid associations and expectations. Maybe we think of Janet Leigh stepping into the shower with Anthony Perkins peeping through a hole in the wall. Or maybe we think of Jodie Foster entering Buffalo Bill’s house with her weird night vision goggles on.

But we wanted to push the notion of suspense into some different directions here. Sure, these stories and essays and poems contain a fair share of dangerous situations. A guy who owes money to a vicious criminal. A child is found dead in the water…likely the victim of murder. A young woman is stalked—or is she?—in a department store.

We hope most of you never find yourselves experiencing anything like that. But, let’s face it, we all end up in sticky situations. We all come to forks in the road. We all face turning points. We all find ourselves suspended between possibilities, unsure of what to do next.

We’ve all been stuck in the middle.

And that’s what we’re exploring in these works by this amazing collection of authors. Those deer-in-the-headlights, standing-at-the-crossroads moments when there may not be any good decision, but we have to make one and live with the consequences. And isn’t that what the best writing is about regardless of form or genre? People making choices and living with the consequences?

Just look at a few of the situations the characters face in this book. A woman gives birth to conjoined twins—and has to risk an operation that might kill one or both of them. A young man has to decide whether or not to come out in high school—and might face humiliation either way. A married couple contemplates divorce with the help of a futuristic computer program.

And many, many more.

The point is, the writing in this book gripped us. When we read the stories, poems, and essays you hold in your hands, we couldn’t put them down. We sweated, worried, and agonized right along with the characters. And when we did walk away from them, we were a little more on edge, a little more cautious, because we understood how tenuous everything in life really is.

The comedian Stephen Wright once said, “Before we’re born, we don’t exist, then we’re born and we do exist. Then we die and we don’t exist. It seems to me life is merely an interruption of not existing.”

Stuck in the middle. All the time.

But at least we have something good to read.

—David Bell and Molly McCaffrey



Dylan Baker enjoys writing bios just as much as he enjoys nightmares, rabies, and exercise in general. Dylan is from Kentucky, and that’s really all that can be said about that. He’s been published before, but Dylan’s creative writing usually hides in the depths of his home desktop hard drive. While he aspires to be the next John Green, Dylan would prefer to maintain his far superior knowledge of Liverpool FC (sorry, John).

Mark Brazaitis is the author of seven books, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, (winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award), The Incurables: Stories (winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize and the 2013 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Prose), and Julia & Rodrigo (winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award). His latest book, Truth Poker: Stories, won the 2014 Autumn House Press Fiction Competition. He also wrote the script for the award-winning Peace Corps film How Far Are You Willing to Go to Make a Difference? Brazaitis’ writing has been featured on The Diane Rehm Show and The Leonard Lopate Show as well as on public radio in Cleveland, Iowa City, New York City, and Pittsburgh. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and technical trainer, he is a professor of English and the director of the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop at West Virginia University.
To learn more about him, visit his website:

James Breeden grew up in northern Illinois where “Righteous Rita” takes place. Since then he’s lived in various places in the U.S. and Mexico before settling in Durham, North Carolina. Some of his stories and poems have appeared in Broad River Review, Piedmont Literary Review, Main Street Rag, Yowl, Thrift Poetic Arts, and a dozen other literary magazines. The Shadow of Longing, a chapbook of his poems, was published by Finishing Line Press. Currently he’s in the process of submitting two novels, one of them written for young adults, to various agents.

Shelbi Broeking is technically in her freshman year of college at the University of Kentucky (studying English and biology) though she has been attending college full time since the age of sixteen through the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science. You can find her listening to her latest band obsession and drinking a cup of tea accompanied by her miniature schnauzer. This is her first publication.

Courtney Butler was born and raised in South Texas and moved to New Mexico in 1997. She earned her B.A. in English and B.F.A in Creative Writing from St. Andrew’s College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. She then moved to Wales to earn her M.F.A in Creative and Media Writing from the University of Swansea. Life took her onward to Chicago for five years where she worked as an academic tutor and English instructor for Chicago City Colleges. In 2013, she moved back home to New Mexico to be closer to family. She now works as an event coordinator while writing a children’s book with her fiancé and snuggling her assorted furry critters.

Carol V. Davis received a 2015 Barbara Deming Memorial/Money for Women grant. She is the author of Between Storms (Truman State University Press, 2012) and won the 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize for Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg. Twice a Fulbright scholar in Russia, her poetry has been read on NPR, Radio Russia, and at the Library of Congress. She teaches at Santa Monica College and Antioch University, Los Angeles and taught in Ulan-Ude, Siberia, during the winter of 2015. She is poetry editor of the Los Angeles newspaper The Jewish Journal.

Sarah Domet is the author of The Guineveres (Flatiron Books, forthcoming 2016) and 90 Days to Your Novel (Writers Digest Books, 2010). Her short work has appeared in numerous journals, including Beloit Fiction Journal, Potomac Review, Blue Stem, New Delta Review, and Juked. She lives in Savannah, Georgia.

Susan Eisenberg––poet, visual artist, and licensed electrician––is author of the poetry collections, Perpetual Care, Blind Spot, and Pioneering, and the nonfiction We’ll Call You If We Need You, a New York Times Notable Book. Introduced to the craft of poetry by Denise Levertov, her essay about that mentorship is forthcoming in Denise Levertov, In Company. Her poems were recently published or are forthcoming in Virginia Quarterly Review, The Progressive, Nimrod, Labor, and numerous anthologies, including American Working-Class Literature. Currently a Resident Artist/Scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center, she has been selected as the 2016-2017 Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist at the University of Michigan.

Brittany Eldridge has completed two editorial internships, most recently with 2nd & Church, a literary journal in Nashville. Brittany claims she is a fiction writer down to her bones, but occasionally likes to dabble in poetry. She has a Miniature Pinscher named Izzy she adores completely.

Eric Goodman is the author of five published novels, most recently Twelfth and Race, Child of My Right Hand, and In Days of Awe. His short stories and nonfiction have appeared in a wide range of publications including Saveur, Travel & Leisure, and The North American Review. His work has been awarded three Ohio Arts Council fellowships and residencies at the Headland Center for the Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. He directs the Low-Residency MFA program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Gwen Hart teaches writing at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. Her second poetry collection, The Empress of Kisses, won the 2015 X.J. Kennedy Award from Texas Review Press and will be published in 2016. Her previous poetry collection, Lost and Found (David Robert Books), is available on Amazon. Her poems and stories have appeared recently in journals and anthologies such as Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior (Holy Cow! Press), Heater, and Eclectically Vegas, Baby! (Inklings Publishing).

Richard Heyne considers himself to be the wildcard of most of his friend groups. He’s been writing for as long as he can remember, although still considers fiction to be a confusing and scary place to dabble. In the fall of 2015, he founded Warped Gaming, a company dedicated to the development of tabletop adventures, and plans to release new games in the future. Currently, he lives in Normal, Illinois, where he earned his Masters in Communication from Illinois State University. If you spot a bearded man sporting a Unicorns of Love jacket, that’s most likely Richard. Or Dick, as his friends call him.

Rachel Hoge is a Tennessee native who loves sweet tea and her family garden. She’s an MFA candidate at the University of Central Arkansas, an intern at the Oxford American, a ghostwriter upon occasion, and a strong believer in the pseudonym. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Architrave Press and Pembroke Magazine.

Elizabeth Iannaci is a widely published and anthologized Los Angeles-based poet whose work has appeared in The Saranac Review, Verse Wisconsin, Crab Creek Review, Conclave, Noircon Biennial, and Italian Americana to name a few. She has read at venues in the U.S., Slovenia, Istanbul, and Paris. Iannaci earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts, was a finalist for the New Letters Literary Award, has one son, three grandchildren, and shares birthdays with Red China and Julie Andrews.

Carol Kanter’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Atlanta Review cited her for three International Merit Awards and then published two of her poems. Finishing Line Press published her two chapbooks, Out of Southern Africa (2005) and Chronicle of Dog (2006). Two of her books—No Secret Where Elephants Walk (2010) on Africa and Where the Sacred Dwells, Namaste (2012) on India, Nepal, and Bhutan—marry Carol’s poetry to her husband’s photography. Check them out at

Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis is the author of Intaglio (Kent State University Press, 2006), which won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, and The Rub, which was recently awarded the Elixir Press Editors’ Prize. She teaches at Columbus College of Art and Design where she is the faculty advisor for Botticelli Literary/Art Magazine.

As a child, Jason Kapcala often passed the ruins of the defunct Bethlehem Steel Works. The cold blast furnaces lit orange by the security lights in late winter forged a lasting impression. He has since worked to recreate that feeling of post-industrial struggle. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, and he is currently shopping a crime novel, Hungry Town, and a linked story collection, North to Lakeville. He is also writing a novel about a small town rock band from central Pennsylvania.

Georgina Kleinhelter is working as a commercial designer and screen printer in Louisville, Kentucky, and is a member of the Louisville Cartoonist Society. A recent graduate with a BFA in painting and a BA in creative writing and printmaking, she is passionate about storytelling in a variety of mediums and has won a number of awards for her fiction and artwork, including the Henry Fiction Award and the Allen Award for Environmental Writing. Molded by the ancient hills of Appalachia and the deep current of the Ohio River, she has had the opportunity to study with Kentucky writers Silas House and Gurney Norman. At present, she lives in the colorful South End of town with two boys too many and just enough dogs to make up the difference.

Philip Kobylarz is a teacher and writer of fiction, poetry, book reviews, and essays. He has worked as a journalist and film critic for newspapers in Memphis, Tennessee. His work appears in such publications as The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Best American Poetry series. The author of a book of poems concerning life in the south of France, he has recently published a short story collection titled Now Leaving Nowheresville.

Sandra Sidman Larson, twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has three chapbooks to her credit: Whistling Girls and Cackling Hens, Over a Threshold of Roots (both Pudding House Press Publications), and Weekend Weather: Calendar Poems. Recognized as a full-length manuscript finalist for the 2013 Lost Horse Press’ Idaho Prize for Poetry and the 2015 Trio House Press Trio Award, she was also a semi-finalist in the 2015 Concrete Press chapbook competition. Her chapbook Ode to Beautiful is scheduled for publication by Finishing Line Press in the spring of 2016. Her poetry has been published in many venues such as the Atlanta Review, Grey Sparrow, Earth’s Daughters, and The Studio Potter. As a poet perched near the 45th northern parallel, but a wanderer, she is drawn to writing about the landscapes of home wherever she finds it. Holding an MSW, Sandra managed nonprofit organizations for a career, and, as a poet, she is an active member of The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis as well as the grandmother of two promising grandchildren.

Jessica Levine is the product of two musicians, one a psychic hillbilly and the other a Jewish New Yorker. She is pursuing a degree in English and creative writing. She lives in a small Tennessee town that is overrun with stray cats, and her free time usually consists of loitering in her town’s library, chasing off her little sister’s potential boyfriends, or binging on Netflix. This is her first publication.

Brandy Meredith read her first full-length novel at age eight after innocently selecting a book from her parent’s bookcase—Pet Sematary by Stephen King. She didn’t sleep for a week, but she’s been hooked on Stephen King and everything horror/suspense ever since. Brandy just earned her B.A. in English and creative writing and currently lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with her husband, Dan. Her writing has appeared in Zephyrus and The Ashen Egg, and she won the Ann Travelstead Fiction Award in 2015.

David Olsen’s Unfolding Origami (2015) won the Cinnamon Press Poetry Collection Award. David’s poetry chapbooks from U.S. publishers include Sailing to Atlantis (2013), New World Elegies (2011), and Greatest Hits (2001). His work appears in leading journals and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic. A poet, fiction writer, and professionally produced playwright with a BA in chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley and an MA in creative writing from San Francisco State University, David was formerly an energy economist, management consultant, and performing arts critic. He has lived in Oxford since 2002. See

Carl “Papa” Palmer of Old Mill Road in Ridgeway, Virginia, now lives in University Place, Washington. Carl, president of The Tacoma Writers Club, is also a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee. His life motto is “long weekends forever.”

Kelcey Ervick Parker is the author of Liliane’s Balcony (Rose Metal Press), a novella set at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and For Sale by Owner (Kore Press), which won the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2012 Best Books of Indiana in Fiction.

Brandon Patterson’s recent work has appeared in Night Train, Thin Air, YA Review, Thuglit, Maudlin House, and Free State Review, and is forthcoming in Virginia Literary Journal and Gravel. He is a former fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and currently resides with his family in the Shenandoah Valley.

Lee Patton enjoyed a free-range childhood on northern California’s Mendocino Coast, attended college in Sacramento and the Bay Area, including ed-school at San Francisco State. He also earned an MA from the University of Denver’s writing program. He once developed an accidental career as a mystery novelist and woke from a ten-year spell as an accidental playwright to concentrate on fiction and poetry. In non-fiction, he’s focused on political satire, travel, and environmental reporting. His third novel, My Aim Is True, was launched from Dreamspinner Press in October 2015. “Faith of Power” is included in a collection-in-progress, Last of the Heartwood. More at

A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in both fiction and poetry. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest, and No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, earned the 2007 New Sins Press Editors’ Choice Award. Penha edits TheNewVerse.News, an online journal of current-events poetry.

Katie Pickens earned her Bachelor’s degree in creative writing in 2014, the same year she was chosen to participate in a fiction workshop with Gurney Norman and read her work at her college student research conference. Since graduating, Pickens has continued to write stories that are probably too long to be called stories and has worked as both a proofreader and a copyeditor. Currently she is experiencing the heartache of looking for a job with a degree in English. Pickens lives in Owensboro, Kentucky, with her four-year-old son, Lincoln.

Karen Pullen left a perfectly good job at an engineering consulting firm to make her fortune— maybe not—as an innkeeper and a fiction writer. Her first novel, a mystery entitled Cold Feet, was published by Five Star Cengage in 2013, and its sequel, Cold Heart, will be released in August 2016. She has an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. She also owns a bed & breakfast in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

Casey Pycior was born and raised in Kansas City. He earned his MA in Literature at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, his MFA in fiction writing at Wichita State University, and his PhD in creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His work has been awarded the Charles Johnson Fiction Prize and has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Fiction Journal, Midwestern Gothic, Harpur Palate, Bull: Men’s Fiction, Wigleaf, Crab Orchard Review, and Wisconsin Review among many other places. His short story collection, Hazards Not Otherwise Classified, is forthcoming in the fall of 2016 with Switchgrass Books, an imprint of Northern Illinois University Press. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife and son.

Senior associate director of the Institute for the Environment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tony Reevy is a graduate of North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Miami University. His previous publications include poetry, non-fiction and short fiction, including two non-fiction books (Ghost Train! and O. Winston Link: Life Along the Line), four poetry chapbooks (Green Cove Stop, Magdalena, Lightning in Wartime, and In Mountain Lion Country), and two full-length books of poetry (Old North and Passage) as well as a book of photographs (The Railroad Photography of Jack Delano). He resides in Durham, North Carolina with wife, Caroline Weaver, and children Lindley and Ian.

In 2016 Spuyten Duyvil will publish James Reiss’s debut novel, When Yellow Leaves, as well as his second novel, Façade for a Penny Arcade in 2017. He is the author of six full-length poetry books, including The Breathers, Ten Thousand Good Mornings, and Riff on Six: New and Selected Poems. His work has appeared in such places as The Atlantic, Esquire, The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Poetry, Slate, and Virginia Quarterly Review. As Professor Emeritus of English at Miami University, he is also the Founding Editor of Miami University Press in Oxford, Ohio. His website is

CSU Distinguished Professor Vivian Shipley teaches at Southern Connecticut State University. Two new books were published in 2015: The Poet (Louisiana Literature Press at SLU) and Perennial (Negative Capability Press), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her eighth book of poetry, All of Your Messages Have Been Erased, (2010, SLU) won the 2011 Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, the Sheila Motton Book Award from New England Poetry Club, and the CT Press Club Prize for Best Creative Writing. In 2010, her sixth chapbook, Greatest Hits: 1974-2010, was published by Pudding House Press. Her poem, “Foxfire,” won the 2015 Hackney Literary Award for Poetry. Shipley also won the Lucille Medwick Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Prize, the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from USC, the Marble Faun Poetry Prize from Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner Society, the Daniel Varoujan Prize from NEPC, and the Hart Crane Prize from Kent State.

Nancy Shires fell in love with reading and writing poetry shortly before her retirement.
Although she still has little spare time, she writes various kinds of poems now, including haiku, free verse, and prose poems. She has appeared in Main Street Rag as well as such places as Barbaric Yawp, Pinesong, and Rockford Review.

Shoshauna Shy’s narrative poetry has recently been published by IthacaLit, Hartskill Review, RHINO, Gulf Stream, and Sliver of Stone. Her flash fiction has been accepted for publication or has already hit the streets courtesy of 100 Word Story, Fiction Southeast, Literary Orphans, and Prairie Wolf Press Review. Shoshauna lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin, works for the Wisconsin Humanities Council, runs the Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf program, and has a cat care service.

Laurence Snydal is a poet, musician, and retired teacher. He has published more than one hundred poems in magazines such as Cape Rock, McGuffin, Columbia, Common Ground, The Comstock Review, and Runes. His work has also appeared in anthologies including Visiting Frost, The Poets Grimm, New to North America, and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror as well as being performed in New York City and Baltimore. He lives in San Jose, California.

Monica Spees is a native of Paducah, Kentucky, who, three years after earning a BA, still hasn’t left the town where she went to college, and she’s perfectly okay with that. Monica majored in news/editorial journalism and minored in creative writing while working for both the yearbook and newspaper staffs. After college, she worked for The Daily News as first a police reporter and later as a business reporter. She currently works for the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County. Her work has appeared in Zephyrus.

Canadian fiction writer, poet, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published sixteen books, including Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Would You Hide Me? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), An Affection for Precipices (Poetry, Serengeti Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), A Glass Shard and Memory (Stories, Recliner Books), Identity Dreams and Memory Sounds (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), and Madhouses in Heaven, Castles in Hell (Stories, Ekstasis Editions). His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies internationally, and over forty of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States.

Larry D. Sweazy is the author of ten mystery and Western novels. He won the WWA Spur award for Best Short Fiction (2005) and for Best Paperback Original (2013). He is also a two-time winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction (2011, 2013). He was nominated for a Derringer award (2007) and was awarded the prize for the Best Book in Indiana (2011) as well as the inaugural Elmer Kelton Fiction Book Award (2013). He lives in Indiana.

Maria Terrone is the author of the poetry collections Eye to Eye (Bordighera Press, 2014), A Secret Room in Fall (McGovern Prize, Ashland Poetry Press), and The Bodies We Were Loaned (The Word Works) as well as a chapbook, American Gothic, Take 2. Her work, which has been published in French and Farsi and nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, has appeared in magazines including Poetry, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, and Poetry International and in more than 20 anthologies. She was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum to write an essay for its performance project, “stillspotting nyc” and has published her nonfiction in Witness, Briar Cliff Review, The Common, Evansville Review, and Kestrel. Visit her website at

Sarah Brown Weitzman, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has been widely published in hundreds of journals and anthologies including Miramar, Zymbol, Thema, The North American Review, Rattle, Mid-American Review, Ekphrasis, and Spillway. Sarah received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A departure from poetry, her fourth book, Herman and the Ice Witch, is a children’s novel published by Main Street Rag.

Maggie Woodward is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Mississippi. She serves as senior editor of the Yalobusha Review and curates the Trobar Ric Reading Series with poet Marty Cain. She has been named a finalist in contests held by The Atlas Review and Devil’s Lake, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Axolotl Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Wu-Wei Fashion Mag, among others.


David Bell and Molly McCaffrey met at Indiana University twenty-six years ago. During that time, they have been in several sticky situations, which is why they were interested in editing a collection of stories, poems, and essays about suspense. They both received their doctorates from the University of Cincinnati, and their stories, poems, and essays have been published in numerous books and magazines. Previously they edited Commutablity: Stories about the Journey from Here to There together. McCaffrey is also the author of a memoir, You Belong to Us, and a collection of stories, How to Survive Graduate School & Other Disasters. Bell is an associate professor of creative writing at Western Kentucky University and has published eight novels, most recently Since She Went Away. His third novel, Cemetery Girl, won the Prix Polar de Cognac. They live in Bowling Green, Kentucky.


To be annlounced

Blue Balls

by Eric Goodman

We were sixteen, but she was born in April, a month before I was. And she would be a senior in September, while I was only a junior. So when we met at our parents’ beach club and quickly became girlfriend and boyfriend, I expected great things, especially when after only a week, she left me feel her up under her bikini top. We’d walk four beaches down, slip through the fence that marked the beach club boundaries, spread a blanket, and make out. She had small, well, maybe medium-sized breasts—they were the first I’d seen bare, so I had nothing to compare them to—with dark brown nipples that seemed too large for her breasts. (But what did I know?)

I learned to tongue them, to slurp them, to tease them erect until they became bumpy little birds’ beaks trying to take off. She’d get squirmy and whisper my name and seem not to mind when I placed my hand against her bikini bottom. Soon she’d be grinding her pubis against the boney knob where my hand met my wrist and I could feel her getting WET! through the thin cloth, but as soon as I tried to slip my finger underneath (once I succeeded, feeling with a thrill I could not describe except as Good, Good, Very Good! what it felt like to touch a pubic hair not my own, and that, that I thought but wasn’t sure was the tip of her vagina, her pussy, her wet cunt), she’d push my hand away and say, “No, Jimmy, I can’t.”

But if she couldn’t, she seemed to want to. As July crept towards August and the tan on my back grew towards burnt umber, she began letting me slide my hand under her bikini bottom, though she never let me remove it. Sometimes it felt as if my wrist were cracking, but if I bent it just right and she arched her pelvis, I could slip my middle finger inside her, slide it in and out and in and out. She’d moan even more than before and press through the front of my trunks against the most insistent hard-on Breezy Point had ever known, a hard-on I relieved once and sometimes twice a day onto the truly unbelievable tits of Miss April 1969 behind the locked door of my bedroom, but which here on the beach Lisa would touch only through my suit and seemed to have no idea what to do with.

One overcast August afternoon, after I’d kissed her breasts for hours while moving my finger in and out of the wet chute of her vagina, she moved her hand from the outside of my Speedo, where it had played concertos against my erection as if it really were the skin flute my cousin Bobby called it, inside that very same Speedo, where it became only the second person’s hand (this left out the probability that my mother or older sister, when changing my diaper had touched me there, but thank God I couldn’t recall that) to touch my penis.


by Gwen Hart


There’s a reason you can’t bear
to watch her on the screen,
the long-legged girl you beg
not to do it, not to open the door, answer
the phone, pull back the curtain, roll down
the window. She’s the part of you that can’t resist
any sharp, shiny thing on the sidewalk,
the part that lives to investigate strange noises
in the garage, the one who tells you
this time will be different. Her problem is
she’s lucky. She miraculously survived
the first time around, walked away woozy
but whole, started a new life in another city,
and she feels stronger, smarter, safer
now that the sequel is here. She spends a lot
of time polishing her nails, washing her hair,
undressing slowly in front of the mirror. And here
comes the danger, ta da!, appearing behind her
with a ski mask or machete, revving up
the chainsaw or the engine, headlights
bearing down on her. All mouth and lungs,
she has a talent for screaming, tongue
red and soft and just begging
to be plucked out. When the creature
lunges, it lunges after you, who are driven
by this stunned girl, this bimbo
of the brain, who’s too beautiful,
too stupid, to run. Pick me,
she screams, love me, murder me,
and you’d like to smack her silly, make her
pack her bags, walk the plank,
but without her you know you’d never
work again, not even a two-bit part in a third- rate
movie and the half-price theater
on a Wednesday night at midnight
with a wino asleep in the front row.
You need her, this impossible
hussy who’ll live long enough
to let you die again and again in new
settings, at odd angles, with different men.



By James Breeden

for M. Rudolph


The old farmhouse faced east, and when Kralick first moved in, plastic sheeting covered the glass over the modest picture window. He tore it off; the view was worth the draft. The house was small—two bedrooms, one bath—and nestled in a knoll rounded by years of plowing. The rent was low. Now, in summer, rows of tall corn lined the fields and encircled the house. A two track led from the county road to the small apron of gravel between the house and the decrepit barn.

Kralick considered it a necessity to see who was driving up to the house, and his dog let him know when someone was on the way. Moses the dog was dead now, and Kralick happened to be standing at the picture window, watching a Cooper’s hawk cruise the barn. A sports car raced up the two track, dust barrels muscling up and dissipating behind it. He cussed when he recognized the car.

He stepped to the screen door as the car skidded to a stop in front of it.

Tripp smiled, nodded at him from behind the steering wheel, and turned off the ignition. “Well, well, Mark‑o, how they hangin’?” Tripp’s oil‑black hair was slicked back. He wore a white sport shirt tucked into his blue jeans with the sleeves rolled to the elbows, revealing deeply tanned arms.

“Not too good, considering what your boys did to me last week.”

Tripp walked up and opened the screen door. Its metallic grating caused Kralick to tense, biting down with a grimace he hoped Tripp didn’t notice. He stumbled back, off balance, favoring his sore knee as Tripp passed in front of him.

“Whoa, now Mark. Take it easy. It’s just me, come to pay a visit.” Tripp cocked a smile at him. “Gonna offer me a brewski?”

Tripp’s musk-scented cologne hit his nose like rancid butter. Kralick said,“You know where it is.” He walked to the couch and sat down, stretching his legs out on the coffee table. He heard the fridge open and close and the pop of a pulled tab.

Tripp strolled in and seated himself in the easy chair across from him. “Had to go up to DeKalb. Thought I’d pay a visit. See how you’re doin’.”

Kralick shrugged. They had been friends for six years and business associates for half that time. At one point, early in their friendship, they had talked on their cells almost daily. They followed Chicago sports teams and both liked to place bets, but it wasn’t like that anymore.

“You owe me forty-two K. Forty-two point five to be precise.” Tripp took a swallow from the beer. “Whatta you have for me?”

“Have for you?” Kralick sat up, swinging his legs off the coffee table and feeling a twinge shoot up from his knee. “It hasn’t been a good week. You see, I’ve been busted up. Got a fucked‑up knee. Got these fucking cuts and bruises all over the front of my body, including my dick. My back’s burned, my ass’s burned, I’m burned, and you wanna know what I got for you? Shit.”

“Come now. It’s been a week.”

“I gotta a grand.”

“A grand. A fucking grand?” Tripp set the beer down by his foot and leaned forward.

“How long do you think I’m gonna wait for my money? I got business, boy. I need my money.”

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