Volume 16 Number 2

February 27, 2015

Volume 16 Number 2
Table of ContentsHeadwaters
Editors' Notes
Dan Lehman and Joe Mackall

Haunted!
Some of the best writing speaks in that realm, whether we are readers of compelling nonfiction or, perhaps especially, when we struggle as writers to get such stories onto the page. One writer who gets this complexity is Justin Heckert, whose literary reporting, “Susan Cox Is No Longer Here,” first published in Indianapolis Monthly, is featured in this issue. The title character of Heckert’s piece—flinty, cantankerous, desperately ill—simply refuses to do what we expect of her, either as a literary character or as a real person. And, as River Teeth readers know, it is the knife’s edge between those worlds that endlessly worries and fascinates us. Read More...

"Breath"
Judith Kitchen

In with the good air, out with the bad. In with the good air, out with the bad. One thousand and one, one thousand and two. One thousand and one, one thousand and two. Push down on the back, lift up with the arms. However we chanted to ourselves, this was how we learned what they then called artificial respiration. How to save someone who had drowned. Push, then lift. Push, then lift. This was not CPR. No lips met other lips. One thousand and one. We went on counting as we practiced bringing breath back to the body before us.

“With Danger, Opportunity: Virabhadrasana, Warrior Pose”
Jacqueline Lyons

When my house in Lesotho, Southern Africa, was robbed, lock broken and door left ajar, my Basotho neighbors threw a party to take back my space. We drank to dilute my fears, restore my stance, reinstate me as a member of the largest tribe. The villagers and my fellow teachers worried that the robbery might scare me back to the U.S., and if I wavered they encouraged me to stay. The wizard priest said to me: “You see where you stand? You have as much a right to stand there as anyone.”

"Why We Don't Have Children"
Tarn Wilson

Waiting in the cluttered lobby of my car repair shop, I chat with the man across from me on the faux leather couch. He’s a round, redfaced, happy grandfather of sixteen grandchildren. We exchange the typical pleasantries of Silicon Valley, comments on the weather and the crazy housing prices, our conversation natural and lilting, until he asks the question—the conversation-stopping one I’ve been asked hundreds of times since I hit my fertile years.

"What Matters in Matters of Love”
Abriana Jetté

A certain nostalgic humor surrounds young love: the floating, deceptive happiness, the naïve belief in forever. With him and me it was as if nothing else could ever matter. We would sneak into the art closet
in the middle of sixth period, kiss, touch. We would spend the night breathing to each other on the phone, doze on the other’s shoulder in the auditorium before school started. We carried with us the ethereal thrill of romance, everything was done with the ease of a leaf unfurling, our lives opening and curling in the same moments. I will always hold with me the sensation—room spinning, stomach flipping upwards and around—when, at seventeen, in a darkened night club, in front of his cousin, in front of my friends, for the first time, he held my face between both of his hands, moved his thumb across my cheek, and bent down to kiss me.

 “The Fall”
Jan Shoemaker

One Saturday morning a couple of winters ago, as I was rounding a corner in my suburban neighborhood, leaning into the wind and pumping my arms, I tripped over a forty-year-old piece of rebar that was jutting into the sidewalk and broke both wrists. Blinking into the rough pores of cold cement and too stunned to move for the first few minutes, I ran my tongue tentatively over my front teeth, which seemed all to be there, and, gradually lifting my hips—inchworm-like—into a pitch that shortened my sprawl, I slowly stood up. My mittened hands hung from the ends of my arms like dish towels. Stepping over my irretrievable glasses, I blearily padded the three blocks home, climbed onto the porch, and nudged the doorbell with my elbow. When my husband, Larry, who was just leaving for tennis, opened the door and put down his gym bag, I burst into tears. Settling me onto the couch, he disappeared down the street to reclaim my glasses, which he worked gently over my ears, then packed me into the car, pulled the seatbelt across my chest—a move he would perfect in the following weeks—and drove to an urgent-care facility where an X-ray pinned to a lighted panel gave us the bad news: both wrists—definitely—broken.

"31 July - 1 August"
John Patrick Tormey

It’s a very hot afternoon. The traffic through the tunnel and all the way to Quincy is miserable. The two conditions always seem to coincide.At home, I unlace and remove my boots on the enclosed porch, where they’ll stay for the night. I give Kieran a quick hug and kiss in the living room, then walk through the back hallway into the laundry room, where I peel off damp, filthy clothes. I dump them in a soggy heap on top of the dryer instead of into the hamper. I don’t want these clothes, soaked in creosote fumes and diesel exhaust and who knows what the fuck else, to contaminate the normal T-shirts and shorts and bras and onesies. I walk through the kitchen to the bathroom in my underwear. Sarah is holding Declan, the baby. I kiss him on the forehead. He scrunches his face, annoyed. Sarah giggles and makes a joke about my extreme farmer’s tan. She does this more days than not. Her favorite joke. She’s pale, chained inside because of the heat and the baby. She’s already lost twenty-five pounds because she’s breastfeeding. I shoot back with a crabby, self-pitying comment. This is what I get for having this job. This is what I deserve. Sarah titters, tells me to relax. I step into the shower and I let the cool water pour over my head. I’m too tired to jerk off. I leave the bathroom in nothing but my underwear and shuffle into the bedroom, where the air conditioner is running. I fall onto the bed and stay there for ten minutes. I don’t want to leave. But finally I get up and get dressed and I help Sarah wrangle Kieran and I hold the baby so she can make dinner. She scoffs as though I’m joking or being lazy when I call to her from the couch and tell her that Declan is not happy. As I hold him, he is looking at my face and screaming out of fear. Declan is never thrilled if someone besides Sarah holds him, but this time is different. I rock him and use a soothing voice to no avail.

"In Other Words”
C. Levison McGuire

It has been forty-six days since my last face-to-face English conversation. I’ve started speaking in nonsense synonyms, onomatopoeia,even when I’m speaking to myself. I recruit both handles to the same hand (recruit: to bring together). My host’s son shows me the baby chicks he’s adopted. “They were in the garden. Outside, the dogs kept—the word—lȁjati in Serbian?”

"Evidence"
Jennifer Lunden

The story I always told was about the time my mother and I got lost in the woods. But this, I realize now, was not the only story, or the whole story. When I think back on it, I realize that in fact the story I always told was not really the story at all. There was a piece missing. It was the part about what happened when we got to the waterfall...

“Susan Cox Is No Longer Here”
Justin Heckert
This is something that happened during a long, dry summer, and if I don’t write it down now I fear it might haunt me forever. My hope is that the woman from the hospital room will eventually let go of my thoughts, so that I no longer see her peeling fingernails and the black bandanna tied around her head, her ruby slippers and that blue monkey with beads for eyes and a single black stitch for a smile. I can still hear the last thing she said to me, in her tired, smoker’s voice, and I wish to God I could forget it.

“Conversations with Caputo”
Mark H. Massé

Unlike the veterans from America’s “Greatest Generation,” those who fought and died in the Vietnam War have no public anniversary, such as a June 6 or December 7, to annually commemorate their service. Certainly there is extensive reminiscence for the nation’s signature conflict of the 1960s and ’70s. But the Vietnam generation’s story, unlike World War II’s collective saga of sacrifice, is more of a narrative quilt, a patchwork of individual tales, traumas, and singular triumphs.

"Everything at Once: Notes to My Son”
Jonathan Hiskes
We returned from the hospital, our family, and immediately I shrugged the bags off my shoulder and set to work unpacking dirty clothes. I’ve always had this compulsion to unpack right away, always in a hurry to restore order. Then I turned to watch your mother. Unshowered, still exhausted from labor, she lifted you from the car seat into her arms. “This is our couch,” she whispered, walking softly. “This is our kitchen.”
“Method Acting”
Courtney Kersten

Crying was the hard part.

We, students in the art of professional pretending, would sit in a circle and pass around a gutted chili pepper and dab our eyes with the innards, a bag of onions sitting in the corner on stand-by. We’d smear menthol on each other’s faces and stage complex sleights of hand with eye-drop bottles hidden in jean pockets. Sitting on cement floors waiting for class, we’d yawn and yawn and yawn and yawn trying to eek out a leak. Hours were spent in front of the mirror honing tortured Halloween mask faces: a muscle-memory technique intended to evoke previous tears cried for skinning your knee or seeing the neighbors’ dog bloody and broken in the street or hearing the gunshot that killed Bambi’s mother. A mascara smear on your cheek was a prize. That moist wad of Kleenex a trophy. Crying was an art, a thing to be applauded, to be complimented. “Did you see Elizabeth in that scene? She cried. Real tears. They were real.”

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