The First Installment

Welcome to the beginning of StickBall Zine!

Inside you will find stories that stretch across countless cities and time periods as well as mythical lands. You’ll take a trip to the seedy side of Candyland, take a carriage ride with Mozart and even curl up in a corner at a dive bar in Michigan.

Enjoy each and every place. While you’re at it have a drink at the Mexican wedding with The Cubana.

Editor in Chief
Rachel Corsini


A Mozart Letter Story: I Met A Girl

By Brooke Hennen

To Michael Puchberg, merchant, of Vienna
December 1788
Honorable O.B.!

Dearest Best of Friend,

Times have changed my friend. When last I wrote I was down trodden and creeping towards death’s gate. Thanks to your grateful financial assistance I have been able to gain a new balance which allowed me to steady my mind on material matters.

As you may or may not know, my financial issues are in part caused by our country’s skirmishes with the Ottoman Empire. Joseph II’s decision to engage the Turks has brought near ruin down on Vienna’s musical scene. Two opera companies which had been mainstays for my work have closed. The only reason that I have been able to stay near Vienna is because of my position as Joseph II’s “chamber composer”. At times the money seems more like a noose around my neck as I think about traveling again, especially to Prague where The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni have been having spectacular performances!

One morning on my commute to Vienna from my new lodging in Alsergrund, I found myself in odd company. In one hand I softly grasped music sheets with an unfinished concerto scribbled on them in charcoal. I sat with my chin propped on the palm of my upturned hand, my elbow resting on the windowsill of the carriage. I stared through the portal at the sky which was overhung with wispy, sun stricken clouds that seemed to be thin enough that the sun light ripped through them as water passes through one’s own undergarments. A rain had fallen the previous night, and I could hear the wooden wheels of my ride sloshing through brown, soupy puddles. The carriage vaulted up and down while the wheels rose and fell through the sunken and rocky earth.

It was mid morning, and women set clothes on the lines outside their houses, or strung them across the alleyways. They called out to their boys to stay clear of the filthy road and swampish sections of grass left over from the night’s weather. I even saw one mother switching her boy wearing mud soaked trousers. The birds lit the air with their own concertos to the beat of axes striking trees into fire wood, that blessed pounding of the blade into the wood always fills my chest with energy, as if I was the one swinging the ax.

The carriage came to a halt. The door opened and sun light pressed in from all angles upon the dreary carriage interior. A nun, older than my grandmother, stepped into the carriage, after being given help by the driver. Her face was pale in all features, and I wondered what had happened to cause such a weathered look upon her countenance.

She was followed by a young girl. Her black hair was tangled from the top of her head down to where it stopped, just above her shoulders. She was no more than eight years old. Her skin was a darker complexion, so much that she made the nun appear to be nothing more than a ghost who was barely visible to the human eyes and I thought that if I turned away for too long, that she would disappear by the time I turned my gaze back to her from the window. The nun spoke to the girl in Turkish, which, of course, left me baffled at their discourse. I did catch the young girl’s name. It was Pamina.

The driver resumed his position at the front of the vehicle and took the reigns. As of late, I had been sullen, at moments unable to write any new pieces, let alone perform any. I had felt as the ghostly nun looked, as if my life was viable to be whisked away at any moment. Pamina stared blankly out the opposite window. She sat opposite the empty seat next to me. The nun was directly across from me. I made sure to look over one of her shoulders instead of into her eyes.

We all bobbed up and down as the horse pulled the carriage through the streets, until we came to an alarming halt. We sat idle for a few minutes before I leaned forward and peered out the window. We had stopped just before a sharp corner. A farmer’s wagon had overturned, his wheat soaking up the wet earth, and his wagon blocking the entire road as he calmed down his horse. Dogs ran out into the road and barked at the event, the sound of their voices rose and fell just as my resolve dissipated. I feared that I would get no work done today. I leaned back into the carriage, noticing that Pamina did the same. She had been watching the spectacle also. We were at a grueling impasse. The nun’s features did not change in the slightest. I folded my arms, my fingers crinkling my concerto. Pamina sat with one hand cupping the other, both of them resting in her lap.

I straightened the papers I was holding and looked them over. Pamina turned and offered a few words with a questioning glance to the nun. The woman shook her head, then turned her eyes towards the window. She stared blankly at it, as if her sight was merely hitting the empty space of the window, but not passing through it. I rubbed my forehead with my finger tips, and rolled my neck. I flipped over my concerto and drew two vertical lines, one parallel to the other that intersected two parallel horizontal ones. Yes, yes, I drew a tic tac toe board. Do you know that the scholars think that the Romans used to play the game? Is that not astounding?

I drew a circle in the top left hand corner of the board and without a word, held out the top sheet of paper to Pamina. She lifted her head and took the sheet. A smile wound its way onto her face. She took the charcoal and drew an X in the center box and passed it back to me. My next move was directly below my first. She then took the bottom left square to stop me. The nun’s brow rose. I made for the top right corner. Giggles came and went from Pamina. She blocked the top middle. I smiled. I took the bottom middle. I was not going to be beaten. I had first turn. I should have won. The game ended in a tie.

I am not one to give up a victory, but she stole one away from me in our second match! Her lips creased and the smile mocked me. I was beaten by an eight year old in tic tac toe. How humiliating. The next game was a tie. We both moved around in our seats as we looked the battle field over, accessing all our options. Pamina was still laughing when I whipped her in the fourth match.

The cart started to roll again, and I would never have lived down that carriage ride if I had not beaten the girl before one of us left the carriage. We tied the fifth game. The tips of our fingers were well on there way to blackness and my concerto was beginning to disappear underneath a cloud of smudged charcoal. I won the sixth game. I admit that I was frightened that if we kept playing that I would end up with the most losses to my record. After I beat her with only four turns that final game, I struck a line through the top row of circles and kept the sheet.

I flipped over the second page of my concerto and started forming rows and columns with dots. Eleven across and ten down from there. Pamina leaned across the carriage to see what I was working on, her eyes small slits searching to jump over the horizon of the page. Her care taker set her hand on the girl’s shoulder and pulled her back into her seat. A sneer escaped my mouth, both at her being chastised and at myself for being responsible. I filled in all the dots, laying down our battlefield. Every twenty dots or so the carriage would roll through a pot hole and I would smear a small dot into a tiny blob. I was relaxed. I took my time. I gain a greater sense of time. A new sense of anxiety was building out of the anticipation of our game. I started humming. It began with just a few new notes. The sounds just kept coming. The two gave me odd looks at first. They relaxed after a few movements. I was playing with a few of the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star variations that I had written a few years ago.

I passed Pamina the concerto. She was overwhelmed by all the dots that I had drawn. It was going to be the biggest dots and boxes game that I had ever played. I kept humming. She chimed in after winning a few boxes. I marked my boxes with Ws while she stuck with Xs.

The game came down to those last ten moves where you have to play it perfectly. If you do not, your opponent gets a chain that wins them nearly all the boxes.

We were both leaned forward into the small isle. Beads of perspiration seeped across my forehead. The ride would have seemed to have taken forever if I had not been engulfed in such a playful past time. I drew a line. She drew a line. I won a box. She won a box. The driver whistled along too. I had it. I was going to win. Wait. No. I had miscounted. She was going to take it from me. I felt like an utter fool as she filled the grid with her Xs. She beat me sixty five to fifteen! We played a second game. She beat me twenty one to nine in that one.

I waved goodbye as I stepped out of the carriage. My mind was ablaze. I was renewed. The spark of the girl’s smile stayed with me as I sat down at my piano to practice. I wrote six full dances that day. My joy was over flowing. I will never forget her small hands that held the very sheets that I wrote one of the dances on or how her tiny nails scratched the charcoal occasionally. Pamina gave me a new life that day. I believe that I will find many others to follow it. Each day that I ride into town I pray that I may see her again, or another like her, but I do not believe that it will happen, but oh that it would. Just remembering those moments is enough for me when I set my finger tips down on the black and white keys. Pamina’s song carries on, and that my friend, is what I have needed most over these past months. She was my morning princess. I may not have finished any significant pieces until Christmas Eve, but those twelve minuets have served my spirit well.

Bah. What does it matter? I am sorry if you do not approve of my childish behavior and thoughts since that day. I pray that you have lost no respect for me as a brother because of my indulgences with the girl. I pray that you fare well. May the music go on!

Your most devoted friend and brother,

W.A. Mozart

P.S. When shall I play again at your house? I think that you will love the minuets that I mentioned above.


The Cubana

By Carlos Marban

Memo wanted very much to have sex with his fourth cousin’s ex wife, Cynthia. He wanted to bed her. He wanted to make love to her. He wanted to fuck her. He wanted to hold her thighs and her ass and kiss her small mouth. He wanted to touch her. He’d wanted to do all of this from the time before he even met her. The way all of his family built her up, the way his maternal family had talked about her life as if they’d owned it. The way Cynthia’s and Fernando’s (Memo’s fourth cousin) two small children came from Texcoco to Mexico City with almost no clothes, with more toys than clothes, with pale faces even though they lived next to the ocean on a beach. He made her up in his mind, tall, a small, kind, tired face, still a young woman. Then he’d hear about her enormous behind from his cousin Sandra, and her small waist from his cousin Caesar, and her crazy sense of humor from his other cousin Nancy. Then he’d have to change the sketch in his mind. He was so pulled by her, he waited to meet her.

There were only a couple of days left for another cousin’s wedding. Memo Sanchez had been in
Mexico for exactly three weeks. He had done all of the very Mexican things that a Mexican American young man should have done. He went to the pyramids far away from the city by cheap bus with his mom and two sisters. They‘d struggled all day climbing the damned things. Memo’s mom was chubby and was inheriting her mother’s sickness of low circulation to her legs, so it was very difficult for her to climb up. For Memo and his sisters it was fairly simple. Stephanie, the youngest, was as skinny as a pole, and Rebecca had the stamina of the horse, as well as the face. Under the hot orange sun, Memo had seen the great Zocalo of the City of Mexico. The great Cathedral that housed ancient spirits and hundreds of tourists had appropriately made Memo think about the saints and religion. The pretty lights that came through the glass tinted windows were being repaired in the old church.

He’d spent the holidays with his maternal family. Christmas and New Years. He’d met all of his twenty cousins and their twenty sons and daughters with their various measures of cuteness and “Oh I can’t believe little Moncet said that again! She shouldn’t be cursing at the age of five!”

He’d wondered about whether or not his cousins’ children should be his nephews or nieces or just second cousins. He’d sat and contemplated about nostalgia and the many pictures that hung on his maternal grandmother Vicky’s pink walls. He’d heard her talk cackle when she’d laugh at the breakfast table, when she’d grab Stephanie’s long flowing black hair and say “I’m so jealous of you,” in her urban city Spanish “I remember when my hair was like that.” Or when she’d grab Rebecca’s curly lion hair, and say “I remember a black man that I once saw thirty or somewhat years ago in the train on my way back from work. He had this big round mound of black curly hair…I just wanted to run my fingers through his hair!” Cackle. Cackle. He’d also seen his maternal grandmother’s walk down her flower infested courtyard. A walk of a penguin since blood didn’t flow well to her legs. Flowers that you could get high off of. No kidding either, you could get high off of them, his dentist cousin Luis had told him the chemicals of the flower that looked like a white bell could get you high off your rocks. All that was left was the wedding and his cousins wife.

The entire family traveled to
Puebla for Sergio’s wedding: Caesar, Sandra, Esther and Gabriel; who didn’t speak to each other but could not afford to get a divorce and had to live under the same roof, Sandra’s husband Oscar and their children, Memo, Stephanie, Rebecca, and finally, Vicky with her trembling self.

When they got to the station, the rest of the family was there: Memo’s aunts and all of their children. Among the mass, the only ones that were missing were the bride and groom themselves, and Sergio, who had decided that he and his wife could not be together in the same building.

Memo saw Cynthia. She had a very tight pair of jeans on. She had a brown blouse with a long sweater that looked like a bath robe opened. She hid her eyes behind a large pair of sunglasses. She was sitting away from the rest of the family with her legs crossed and her bags on two seats next to her. Her two small children were dancing, running like maniacs in circles. She seemed to be in a daze, asleep, or maybe she could have been just looking up at the ceiling with her mouth half opened. She seemed to be mumbling to the children, but whatever she was saying was being drowned out by their crazy and happy screams.

Memo walked over to her, while his aunts and cousins talked about her, how she was not taking care of those children properly. “Look at how yellow they are. You shouldn’t have let those kids stay at my mom’s house Esther, you already have enough with Sandra and Oscar’s kids, you can’t feed two more. Look, she’s not even paying attention to them!”

He sat down next to her and woke her up. She looked at him and he couldn’t see her eyes. When he asked her the equivalent of “What’s up?” in Spanish she answered, in the most teenage girl voice he had heard, “I’m sooo tired.” It was a strange voice, because there was this groan, moan, sigh to it. He wondered about her age. He smiled at her and told her, “You’ll get to rest soon. We’ll all get to rest soon.” She raised her eyebrows, and laughed.

He’d only known her for a week, the week that she had come to visit with his grandmother, who loved Cynthia like a daughter. Certainly after the way Fernando the military man had treated Cynthia for the three years that they were married. He used to kick the door with his boot heel and demand that she open the door looking amazing and with food ready. Later on, he demanded that she go on a diet, quiet down that booty that she had because it had the possibility of being vulgar to his military friends. This was all happening while he cheated on her with a seventeen year old girl. But Memo didn’t know this. He liked her thighs; he liked the way her thighs looked when she sat down.

It took four hours to get to
Puebla. Memo sat next to his sister, Stephanie and Rebecca, and Cynthia sat behind them. The two sisters traded stories about American life and their experiences so far in Mexico with Cynthia. Memo took his chances to chime in with witty or funny things to say, joking about the difference in language, joking about the apparently large groups of beautiful women with ugly boyfriends. Rebecca swore she had never seen one good looking guy so far while Stephanie said she had only see two, one on the train and one in the bus station. Memo looked behind him and saw Cynthia’s crossed legs, her knees, the red high heeled shoes that she wore. Her unpainted toe nails. periodically she would call her children to her and ask them if they needed to go to the bathroom, or if they were hungry. She’d touch their chins and wipe their noses; she’d kiss them on their necks. She’d comb her daughter’s hair. She would send them off to the very back of the bus, were she said she hoped they fell asleep from behind her sunglasses.

The other cousins would joke with her.
Nancy would ask her about her new man. Nelly would tell her that her ass was too fat. Claudia, the only really conservative one, would ask her about the new maid she’d gotten for her house, and if she could really afford it on a bartender’s salary. All the while Memo could see Cynthia from the reflection of the TV screen that was connected to the ceiling of the bus. She smiled when it was appropriate, laughed when it was called for, stuck her tongue out behind someone’s back, but this gesture was only limited to Stephanie and Rebecca. It seemed that some small camaraderie had formed between them from the time they met.

Memo felt a little bit excluded, but he thought that would be made up for later, when they were in each others arms and he had his hands all over her. They’d have a real camaraderie then.

When they reached
Puebla, everyone was given two hours to get ready and get back on the bus. There were family photos to be taken, then it was the wedding, and finally, the party at the banquet hall near the towns Zocalo. During the commotion of movement and finding the hotel rooms, losing and getting keys back, applying perfume and tying ties, lacing and shinning shoes, keeping the children presentable and not sweating too much in the suits and dresses. Cynthia told Memo to clip her necklace on her. He did so gently, and didn’t miss the opportunity to run his fingers down the bridge of her neck slightly, but not subtly so that Stephanie hit him upside the head. Cynthia turned around and thanked him. She didn’t have her glasses on then. Her eyes were so clear they seemed grey.

Cynthia wore a black dress that many of his cousins and aunts said did not suit a young lady her age anymore. That it left nothing to the imagination. “She should have worn something that she could easily move in so she could catch up to those crazy kids.” But Memo thought that the dress suited her thighs, and that even her small breasts, the courage that it must have taken her to expose herself in that way. As his grandmother said, “Poor girl doesn’t have anything up there but little beads!”

During the family photos, everyone marched up to stand next to Sergio the engineer, and his beautiful wife with Asian eyes. All of his aunts and his cousins gathered and crowded around the happy bride and groom. Sergio had a smile so wide that his teeth looked like they were just about ready to jump out of him. They took pictures under an arch, next to a monument of an old canon made out of bronze. Two children stood as part of the monument, one was shoving a stick into the end barrel and the other was lighting the canon, holding one hand over his ear.

When Memo’s first aunt, Angelina (who was Cynthia’s ex-mother in law) was going to take pictures with Sergio, the bride and groom wanted Cynthia to come as well, with the children. At first she refused, but Sergio insisted that she was “a part of the family as well” and dragged her out of a circle of family members and into the center, where they stood in front of the canon. Just before placing herself in front of her nephew and his soon to be wife, Angelina said “Well, what else is left, she might as well be part of the family…” Memo took a picture of the group standing together. Angelina had her hand around Sergio’s waist, sucking her cheeks in and pouting her lips. On the bride’s side, Cynthia, with her two children on either side of her, looked not directly into the camera, but somewhere under it, so that her eyes appeared red.

During the church ceremonies, Memo made faces at little Norma while her mother tried to get her to look forward at her uncle getting married. The only noises during the wedding were of the father, the music that would be played occasionally, and Cynthia’s children squirming and crying because they couldn’t see anything from their seats. During the final vows, there was also the sound of Cynthia biting her fingernails, or pretending to, waving her hand around her face to hide her tears.

The party was in an elegant banquet hall, with balloons that touched the ceiling in all different colors. They were protected by Mariaelena, the mother of the groom, dressed in green. She said that all of the little boys and girls should not touch the balloons because they were supposed to be a surprise for the newly wedded couple. Someone pointed out the fact that just what the hell were the balloons supposed to do when the bride and groom arrived? Magically float down manually from their places in the ceiling? So an hour before the bride and groom entered the hall, children of all ages and sizes were running around with green, red, blue, yellow, orange, and pink balloons. The children ran around the dance area in circles to the band that played instrumentals to keep the converging mass of family entertained. Cynthia was the only parent chasing her two children around the hall to come sit at the table.

Memo’s and Cynthia’s tables were next to each other. Memo sat with his family and Cynthia sat with her children and the children of Sandra and Oscar. By the time that the bride and groom entered the hall, all of the children at Cynthia’s table were asleep under it, using chairs as beds. Her daughter had a red balloon wrapped by its string on her wrist.

While the groom and bride danced their sacred dance, Memo looked over at Cynthia and decided that this was the moment, this night or the morning that was coming soon. The plan was he would drink in a calm and normal fashion. He would watch her smoke cigarette after cigarette with wonder as to how her voice sounded the way it did when she smoked so much. Then, when he drank enough to give him courage, he would go over to her and ask her to dance.

That was the plan, and it was indisputable. What he did not expect was to be asked by her to dance, which is how it happened. She pulled him out while putting out a cigarette in a drink.

“No one else wants to take me out, so you’ll do.”

It was the closest he had been to her since the bus station, when he was sitting next to her. As they walked towards the mass of dancing relatives, he watched her hips and ass sway in front of him in her black dress. He wanted to reach over and pull the dress up, just slightly, not all the way, so that her legs and thighs showed, and just a little bit of the rest of her. The band played upbeat banda music. Trumpets, and accordions and a driving rhythm of bass filled the stage and the hall.

He placed his left hand on her waist, just above the round bump and just next to her spine. He felt himself get hard immediately, and tried not to think about his hand on her waist, her thighs moving. She had the waist of a glass of wine. Her ass was two small babies heads, two bowling balls put together, she had rolling flesh under everything and he could not stop thinking about it. Memo’s already terrible dance skills worsened.

“You dance like a crab.” She laughed and looked over to her table. Memo tried to keep up and dance.

“So you’re American.” He could see bags under her eyes.

“No!” He shook his head. “No, I’m not, I’m just from America.”

“Were you born there?

“Uh, yeah. Yes.” A man bumped into them. She laughed again.

“So you are American, that’s that.”

“No, cause I don’t feel American, even when I am in America.”

“What do you feel like?”

“Like myself, I don’t know.” He felt his erection go away, but his hand moved down, down the curve of her spine, down to the peak of the bump.

“And when you’re here?”

“When I’m here? I feel like myself too. I don’t feel like I belong here…” She grabbed his hand and put it back where it belonged.

“Let’s watch it yeah?” Memo nodded and smiled. After a slight frown, she laughed as well.

“And what do you do over in your land?”

“Over in my land, Jesus. I’m a student.”

“Oh? College?

“Yeah. I don’t usually dance, I write.”

“Really, you’re going to have to send me a poem sometime.”

“Yeah! Yeah sure!” He was ecstatic.

“So is this your whole family here with you?”

“No, I have a little brother, Manny, that stayed. He’s a senior in high school.”

The song ended, but she wanted to dance more. While they danced she yelled at him for not spinning her correctly, and taught him how to spin, and turn, and guide her hips and her body with his hand, with the simple movement of his wrist. The dance floor became crowded with people of various sweat properties.

The band announced that it was time to throw the bouquet. While Sergio and the bride stood on two chairs, holding hands, a long snake line of people passed under them, faster and faster. Each time they passed underneath, more and more people would try to get under the arch of the couple. Finally, the line burst and the couple was disconnected and Sergio ended up traveling through the sea of people on someone’s shoulders.

Then the bouquet was thrown, and the women piled atop the blonde haired girl who caught it. They piled on top of her like football players. Memo was sitting at his table, his grey suit coat balled up in his lap. He watched as Cynthia came back from the dance floor, laughing and giggling with one of Memo’s cousins. He wondered why Cynthia would be hanging out with her if she’d been one of the people who kept Fernando the military man’s affair with the seventeen year old girl a secret.

When the whole thing was over, two couples still danced. A fat man with a black moustache and his short wife who kept trying to pull him away from the dance floor, and Gabriel and Esther, (Memo’s aunt and uncle) who hated each other and did not speak to each other, but had to live together because they could not get a divorce. All night long she had seen him dance magically with all of the cousins and nieces. All night they had stolen looks at each other while dancing. Earlier when he had asked her to dance, she shook her head and said, “Bah! What for now! I’m tired out!”

Cynthia woke her children. She carried the little girl in her arms and made the boy march, although he wavered and began to stumble around like a drunk. When they got outside, the cold air hit Memo in the face and he became more and more drunk. His vision started to limit itself to a small black circle, like a peephole. Eighty seven percent of the bus’ passengers were completely hammered. Memo watched as drunken aunts or uncles, some older than others, stumbled into their seats under a full moon in
Puebla. And only a faint cold wind swept in, and only a faint puff of smoke escaped his mouth.

At the hotel the younger ones decided that they wanted to keep drinking, and to get to know their American cousins better. Memo thought about how he had lost all control. Everyone decided that there was a bar at the edge of the town with their names written on it. But by the time they all reached their floors in the hotel, everyone deduced that it was too late, and they would have to get up at twelve later that morning anyway. Cynthia said she was going to put her kids to sleep first. Memo’s room was a floor below hers. Before going to sleep he paced the entire two floors that the family occupied, asking for a lighter that his drunken aunt Rosa had demanded. He walked around barefoot.

There were various random sounds as he walked down the halls and knocked on doors, sounds that he tried to decipher before he got to them. He passed Cynthia’s door, 302, there was a light on, but he couldn’t tell if she was still awake. Hers was the only room with no noise coming from it.

By five in the morning he got the lighter from one of his distant third cousins, a high school History teacher who had brought a very young man as a date to the wedding. When she opened the door smoke and jazz came at Memo’s face. There was a red tint everywhere on the walls. The young man lay on the bed. She gave him a steel lighter with a drawing of a cartoon plane on it.

He passed Cynthia’s room again, this time he knocked on the door. He had to take advantage of the light on and the fact that he was still drunk with courage. Cynthia was in a bathrobe. Her hair was wet.

“Uh….do you have a lighter? My aunt needs to smoke really bad.”
“Oh, no, no I don’t have one.”

“Well…” He looked at the TV that sat on a counter. A cartoon of Tom and Jerry was being played, but there was no sound, so Memo couldn’t tell if it was in Spanish or English.

“Well, thank you anyways…Good night Cynthia.”


In his room Memo paced back and forth. The room was too big. He kept thinking about his chances. He kept seeing her thighs through the white bathrobe, her thighs through the black dress. The light that hung above him faintly illuminated the room, gave it a sleazy feel. He walked from the door, to the small window that looked down to the first floor. He walked back to the door. Then he went to the bathroom, dropped his pants, and started masturbating.

It wasn’t difficult for him to see her. He’d seen her in her three different stages, so that gave variation to his fantasy. What he was also thinking about though, was whether or not, like so many of his life’s loves, if he only wanted her body. Would he still want to go to her once he finished? Would he still want to be with her? What could he provide? Love? Respect? Protection? Happiness?

He saw her eyes in three different ways; defiant, sad, and tired. The bathroom’s white walls accelerated the brightness and it stung his eyes. He held onto the towel rack above the toilet. Each time he felt a pull, he took a deep breath, exhaled, sucked his stomach inwards. He arched his back as it neared; deeper and deeper he exhaled and took longer breaths. He came with one last grip of the towel rack. He looked at the time and tried to remember when it had been that he started.

Quickly he cleaned everything. Cleaned himself. Flushed the toilet. Changed his clothes, and sat on the bed. When he thought of her again, he still wanted to see her, but not for the same reason. He kept seeing in his head the image of all of those laughing and dancing and sweating family members on the dance floor. Cynthia sitting down, legs crossed, smoking, the tiredness in her eyes. At that time he thought she was bored.

And he saw all of the children with the balloons, and Cynthia running after her boy in the red bow tie, and her girl with the sun yellow dress. Like a yellow cake with white frosting on the side. The family looking on and letting their children run around, smiling at them from their seats, waiting for them to get back to give them secret spankings. “Cynthia doesn’t beat her children, that’s why they walk all over her” from the aunts and grandmas and the cousins.

During the wedding, Memo remembered how Sergio and his wife with the Asian eyes were vowing to each other, and how Cynthia’s little girl was asking her why she was crying. Memo thought then, that it might have been because the wedding reminded Cynthia of her own.

When he opened his eyes he could hear a man, somewhere below on the first floor lobby, singing in a drunken voice. “Shut the fuck up!” “Go to sleep man!” “Go away!” “Shut up!”

As Memo lay on the bed, voices from every room in the hotel told the man to stop singing. He looked over to the clock on the wall. It was seven in the morning.

Another bus picked the family up from the hotel. A tour of the city’s Zocalo was scheduled, and then back to
Mexico City. Memo took Cynthia’s daughter on his back and she rode him like a horse, while her son kicked at his shins and called him “Charlie.” Cynthia wore her dark sunglasses again. Memo tried to talk to her, but she was surrounded by all of the cousins that were her age, and she was laughing and smiling with them.


Wrong Side of Candyland

By Ryan Duke

You know you’re on the wrong side of Candyland, way, way west of the Chocolate River, south of the Ice Cream Mountains, when a gross goblin, in a ghastly green flash, shows you her tits.

Now look, you’ve been stuck outside in the frosty fresh wind blowing cold out of the Peppermint Forest, waiting forty minutes for the Jelly Bean Bus to shuttle you back to King Kandy’s Castle, thinking every ten minutes my sweet sweet ass. It sure doesn’t look like one’s coming anytime soon since it’s doubtful the caramel shocks can handle the potholes in the peanut brittle street.

This is the kind of area that King Kandy promised to fix with his Gingerbread Housing and Urban Development Plan, but the new Praline Projects only made things worse. Gingerbread is an overrated building material. Cheap, sure, but it can’t stand up to the weather in this region since all the raindrops are lemon drops and gum drops and all the snowflakes are Hershey bars and milkshakes.

You can see the boxy gingerbread high rises with graham cracker boards over broken windows and the blue flashing light of the Pecan Police observation camera at the street corner and know you’re in a bad way. You don’t wanna be here, but this is where your licorice dealer lives. You still can’t believe that King Kandy decreed his brother Lord Licorice was a villain and outlawed his brand of tasty treat. Despite his majesty’s royal ruling, you can’t get enough of the stuff. After a few sample licorice whips with your dealer, “sucking” as they call it, you’re totally sugar high. But that jittery feeling in your veins, arms, legs – that creeping paranoia – is made worse by the cold.

Look at you. Dumb little sweet boy, all alone on the gross part of town.

You can see a few of them. The gross green goblins. Foreigners here from Nastyland looking for work wherever they can find it. They’re short and gooey, like snotballs with legs and arms of incongruent length, sometimes walking, sometimes rolling sticky to the ground. Their bodies have no separation from their heads. It’s just an odd, roundish, undefined mass of yuck. They smell like armpit and they don’t have anuses. They literally shit where they eat. There are some goblins on the corner. Probably selling licorice or sourballs, you think then try not to think because you don’t wanna be sweetist or anything. You wanna be open minded, but you couldn’t tell one goblin from the other if your life depended on it.

There’s a goblin across the street staring right at you, her booger green skin looking ever more sickly under the orange glow of a candy corn streetlight. She notices you trying not to notice her, so she calls out to you in a mucousy gurgle you can’t understand, “Wanna khit luk-hee?”

Against your better judgment, you reply, “What did you say?”

She wobbles across the street, her legs squishing in and out of the holes in her fishnet stockings with each step. Black straps of garter belts disappear beneath a short red skirt into reaches you’d rather not imagine.
“Sorry,” she gargles, “my candynese is bad.” With a quick shuffle of her hands she adjusts her black lace bodice, making a sound like spreading jelly on toast. Standing next to you and reeking of mustard and bad milk, she asks again, “wanna get lucky?”

You can tell by the size of the ring pop on the sixth of the seven fingerlike digits oozing from her left hand, by the way she twirls the high-grade candy necklace that hangs between her off center cleavage, and by the thickness and freshness of her red, green, yellow, orange gummi worm wig that this is a very experienced and successful hooker. “No thank you. Just waiting for the bus.”

She looks down the street one direction, then the other. “No bus coming, baby. But I’m right here.” She tells you then puts one foot up on the bench. Her kneeless leg not bending, but curving, showing off the goods. “Lick your lolli for a chocolate coin. Get your lolli sticky for milk money.”

“Really, no thank you, miss,” you say as your eyes search the darkness for anything to lock onto.

“Whatsa matta, baby?” Like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, she presses in the sides of her bodice until she plops out of the top. There they are, your first goblin breasts, looking like someone dropped a gelatin mold and it separated into two, wobbly, uneven pieces. She grabs her raisin nipples and sloshes them around a bit for your enjoyment before stuffing them back into her bodice. “You know you want this.”

“Sure, sure I do, I just don’t have any money is all.”

Her laugh sounds like blowing bubbles into chocolate milk. “You look like you got money, sweet boy.”

“I don’t have much, I promise you.” You pull your blue cotton candy cardigan sweater close around your shoulders. She looks at you sideways like a shopper at a bad melon.

“If no money, then licorice. I lick your lolli for a whip.”

She knows! you think. She knows I’m holding. She could turn me in to the Pecan Police, if I don’t give her what she wants.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” You’re nervous and a bad liar.

“I lick your lolli for HALF a whip.”

You start to walk away, to another bus stop, but she follows you, shouting “Whatcha rotting problem? You sweetist or something?”

Yeah, maybe I’m sweetist, but I don’t go gross, you think as you walk harder, getting away. Turning a corner you spy a bus heading to the Chocolate Swamp, a long way from the castle, a long way from here. You take a quick suck of a whip before waving the driver down. Just another icky night in the gross part of town.


All Dive Bars Should Have Back Doors

By Lorn McKay

When I was younger my parents would take us, my brother and I, to bars. Pool halls and bowling alleys mostly, but sometimes just a place with crappy bar food, flashy lights, and maybe a Terminator pinball table or a Pac-Man arcade game in a dark corner near an empty dance floor. I became very good at both. We mainly went while on ski trips in northern Michigan or some random state I would later forget everything about except some image of a crowded ski lodge, empty airport, small wooded creek perfect for rock hopping, or a random bar.

I always felt somehow on the outer edge of the loop. Like those charts with the overlapping circles. Venn-diagrams. One circle was the adults, and the other circle contained my brother and half cousins. Then there was me. My own little Lorn bubble hanging out somewhere on the outside of both circles, trying to squeeze in between them where they meet, and connect my bubble with their shared space. Trying to make it a three circled diagram. They would sit at a high topped bar table and talk and laugh and have a great time. I would stand in some dimly lit corner popping quarters into the little orange slot, pushing a joystick left, right, up, down. Smooth red, or blue, or white, or yellow buttons under my right fingers as I pretended I was a yellow head running for my life. It helped me to ignore the painful reality that I didn’t feel like I belonged there, or anywhere, except in front of that machine feeding it my quarters.

I still feel that way, only the two circles have changed. Bar employees and regulars, girls and boys, people and other people, sober pool players and drunks playing Pac-Man. I’m still not able to fit in the middle. I’m still not able to find a place where I’m accepted or where I belong. I’m not great at pool but I’ve been untouchable at Pac-Man since I was about seven.

How come I don’t fit in these scenarios where all the facts add up? I’m of legal age, good height, weight, and facial structure. I’m not hideous to look at rather. I can hold my liquor very well. I never become loud, obnoxious, sloppy or violent while drinking, providing I’m not drinking whiskey and no one pisses me off. Yet every time I step into a bar I immediately walk to whoever happened to have dragged me out of the safety of my own home to partake in a night of debauchery (assuming someone actually did drag me out and I’m not just getting away from sitting at home alone), or to a dark corner preferably at the actual bar top (you get drinks faster there, plus you don’t look like an idiot sitting at a table alone). I sit and I people watch and I blend into the wall behind me. I become invisible, something I also mastered by the age of seven.

I had my first legal drop of alcohol three months after I turned 19 at an Irish pub of sorts somewhere in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Being that I’d never ordered a drink at a bar, especially one in Canada, I had no clue what to get. So, I ordered a Guinness because they had it on tap and it’s what another of my companions had ordered. I figured it would bring me into the loop what with that being the hip thing to drink. Shortly after the waitress trudged the two or three stairs leading to the dark booth in the very back corner where we sat, I realized I don’t like Guinness.

Luckily for me one of my compadres traded me beers and gave me something still bad, but less horrid to my taste buds. I immediately felt stupid for having ordered something I didn’t like and couldn’t suck it up and finish. There I was the one person at the table now, not drinking Guinness. I sat in my corner and watched my French Canadian acquaintance, my record label owner acquaintance who was some other sort of Canadian (he was from Calgary. Calgary-an?), and two random Toronto natives that I’d never met before chat it up about God knows what. I felt so awkward and out of place. That was the last time I ever drank in Canada. It’s too bad there wasn’t Pac-Man anywhere for me to beat.

The television show Cheers ran for eleven fun filled years. It gave us all a glimpse into a world where “everyone knows your name”. A world where after a long day at the post office you could go up to the bar and see all of your friends and tell them stories about your day, get advice about life, or talk baseball. It was a world where even the most annoying psychologist’s wife, or the dumbest bar back could still be accepted by anyone else. It showed that you never had to drink alone. That there’s always some place in the world where you belong, no matter who you are or what you do, somewhere there is a place that will accept you for you. And who doesn’t long for some form of acceptance?

Ever since I turned twenty one I’ve longed for my own Cheers. Somewhere everyone knew my name. A place where I could just belong, bar or not, a place to fit in. I do drink, but I’m not a total lush and alcohol really has nothing to do with it. A place where I could sit and listen to good music on a jukebox, and smoke cigarettes, maybe have a couple beers, and people watch. Bars always have the best people watching.

Then I discovered a love for a small dive bar in Hamtramck, Michigan coincidentally called “Smalls”, just a hop, a skip, a jump, and about 20 minutes of driving from where I grew up. A small dark, rock and roll bar just outside of Detroit, with a kick ass jukebox selection and 2 dollar PBR’s, my kind of bar. It was the place where just about everyone knew my name. On any random night I could go up there and run into at least four people I knew. Majority of the time they worked there, but whatever. I would grab my stool at the bar top, which was close to the middle between either end. Face the mirror behind the liquor shelves so I could keep an eye on the door behind me. A P.B.R. would materialize in front of me and a tab would be started that generally cost about ten dollars less than what I had actually drank in a night. I would spend the rest of my evening eaves dropping on other people’s conversations, talking to one of the employees I knew, making fun of people, or I would be joined by a random acquaintance that happened to wander in.

For the first few weeks of this wonderful discovery I thought I had found my own personal cheers. I thought I’d fit into one of the circles on that stupid chart and become part of something. A couple months into it I realized I was totally wrong. I still felt like I somehow didn’t fit. That only a couple people knew my name, but that didn’t mean they wanted to talk to me. And for a reason that is completely unknown to me, I’ve just always been the least likely suspect for friendship. The reasons behind this distaste for conversation will always baffle me; I’ve never found an excuse for my lack of popularity. If only there’d been Pac-Man there I would have had something to beat.

In May of 2006 I attended the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in L.A. This is where I realized my connection to Pac-Man. I had no expectations going into E3, so I was pleased to gain something more than a preview of the year’s upcoming games. While standing in Namco’s booth to pass time while waiting for my companions to get done with their work related meetings (I went there with a game designer). I was playing some cell phone version of my beloved arcade game, and beating the high score, when it dawned on me how the world really is like a video game. Excuse me while I geek out philosophically for a moment. I used to think that life was like a game of Tetris. You’re constantly having these odd shaped pieces thrown at you and you have to put them together and make them fit in order to clear lines and move on to the next level. The farther you get into it, the faster things are thrown at you and the harder it is to clear away the completed lines. You’ve got to learn to think fast and move faster. Now I realize, though life is still like Tetris, it’s also pretty similar to Pac-Man.

Tetris is really more of an overall thing though, going gets tough sort of idea. Pac-Man is like a social philosophy, men are from mars type of thing. Or not, either way, I say its life. Maybe the ghost’s just want to hang with Pac-Man, but Pac-Man’s all “no way dude you’re different, you’re ghosts, you scare people and can be seen through.” This makes the ghosts sad. So they kill Pac-Man when they catch him cause Pac-Man’s a dick. He totally asked for it.

So here’s how that makes sense to me. I’ve never had a best friend since I was about 12, and went to junior high. My best friend since I was two decided to hate me because I started listening to punk rock music and was different from everyone else, with my funny colored hair (typically blue), black clothes, chains and punk rock band t-shirts. She of course was a very smart, normal, preppy type, and those types of kids dominated my school, hell my whole town, the clean cut Abercrombie and Fitch model types, with their polo shirts and khakis. They were always picking on or looking down on people like me, because we were different and I guess different is scary when you’re all the same.

I’ve never had a very tight knit group of friends, I don’t talk to anyone from high school, I don’t have bar buddies that I go out with, or even someone to call when I have a bad day and just need to bitch. No one comes over for pizza, baseball, and beer in my apartment in the summer. I’m like the ghosts. Now I know there were several ghosts all banding together to kill Pac-Man. That doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. Behind the cute ghostly exterior was real hurt and pain of being alone, of being different. I know because I usually feel like a ghost, looked through, unseen, scaring people away, hiding in the shadows, messing with people’s minds or things when they’re not looking. Constantly trying to fit in somewhere, trying to make friends with the yellow guy. Except I’m not 8- bit.

Out here in the windy city I tend to just drink at home. Everyone in my apartment knows my name especially since it’s just me and my two cats. Well, the cats don’t really know it but they know who I am, I’m the keeper of the food. I can play all the Pac-Man I want, as soon as I actually get it for one of my systems. I can drink and not have to worry about how I’m going to get home. I don’t have to worry about smoking bans. It’s like cheers, sort of, I mean there’s little socializing outside of me yelling at my T.V. when warranted or at my cats when they knock stuff over, but it is what it is.

Maybe one of these days my attempts at getting a new job in a bar and put this bartending license to good use, instead of working at the hell-hole that is my current corporate restaurant job, will be fruitful and I’ll find a new place to go.

I’ll make some friends and find a Cheers all for myself. A real place where everyone really knows my name. And maybe I’ll get lucky enough and that place will have Pac-Man in some dark corner, just in case I ever feel like I need to fight some of my old ghosts.


Small Town Snow Storm

By Tanya Robbins

January 11th, 1998
In the small town of New Boston, New Hampshire, it has been snowing for eight straight days. This is the type of town that can shut down because of the brute force of a snow storm, and if it rains too much, the Piscataquog River over steps its banks and roads begin to erode away. Sometimes when the weather causes the town to shut down, it appears to be a ghost town. It has been snowing non stop for 192 hours and each minute that passes is blurred by the white.

New Boston Central School has been shut down, not only because there’s no power, but because the school buses haven’t been able to travel down the long, twisted dirt roads to pick up the children.

In this town, there is one small general store called Dodge’s. It’s a typical general store with drinks and candy and other small house hold items, but now, most of the shelves are bare. There are no more jugs of water or loaves of bread, or batteries. The shelves look lonely and old with nothing on them. The store is still open so the workers who have spent countless hours plowing the slushy streets can get their coffee to stay awake.

The fire trucks from the volunteer fire department are all inside the garage, sleeping, waiting to be woken up and rev to life again. The ambulance, XI is out on a call, some sort of car accident involving black ice and the Piscataquog River. XII, the standby ambulance that’s usually kept at the Air Force Tracking Station on Joe English Hill, is sitting in the drive way of the fire station, running, waiting to once again be called into action.

The Town Hall is closed. There are no cars in the parking lot, but the plows still push aside the snow. Anyone would be crazy to go out in these conditions. Their complaints and car registrations can wait for another day.

The Community Church, which is directly to the right of the fire station and across the street from Dodge’s, is still holding their services on Sunday, but junior choir is cancelled. There’s one lone car in the parking lot buried underneath the snow. It was abandoned as soon as the snow started.

The Whipple Free Library, named after William Whipple the Revolutionary War hero, is also closed. The white, one floor building looks like it’s missing, thanks to the fresh coat of paint, it blends in with the whiteness of the snow. There are no books in the book drops. Instead, people are at home enjoying their books for an extra week or so. They’re not getting nagging phone calls from the evening librarians asking them to please return their book. It’s the only copy and the reserve list is ten people long.

The one blinking traffic light at the corner of River Road and Meeting House Hill is blinking red instead of its usual yellow. You can see skid marks from cars that tried to come to a halt too quickly already beginning to disappear under a fresh layer of snow.

You can see the thick slabs of ice crashing against the rocks in the river, creating ice jams. If you stand on the bridge in between the Apple Barn and the bank, you can see the icy, green water. You can tell it’s cold by the look of it, or maybe just from the frigid arctic smell that’s in the air.

Helena Drive is a small ‘dead end’ road that begins in New Boston and ends in Weare. It connects the two towns through an almost impassable rocky path, which is now covered in snow. The tree limbs are severely bent under the heavy wetness of the fresh snow. They stretch across the road in arcs, creating a tunnel of white. They block out all of the sun light there are so many of them. When the sun does manage to penetrate the cover of trees, the icicles sparkle radiantly and so does the rest of the snowy hill.

If a car travels down this road now, the roof would be scraped by these branches. A car probably couldn’t get up or down this road right now if it tried, even with 4-wheel drive. The pot holes would trap the tires and send them spinning violently, snow and dirt flying everywhere. Maybe if you had chains on your tires you could gain at least a little bit of traction.

You can barely notice the thirty foot embankment on the other side of the road the snow has become so deep. It has blanketed the ground and built its way up like a white, fluffy pile of pillows. There are no guard rails on this road, although some people think there should be. This is non town maintained, meaning the residents of the road have to plow and grate it themselves.

Gary Robbins, who lives at 76 Helena Drive, the last house before the trail becomes impassable, is always the first one out on his shiny black tractor to plow. The people who live at 60 don’t do a damn thing. Jug, who lives at 40, does what he can. He works for the Union Leader newspaper late at night. Usually he and Gary take turns plowing.

Gary is now out on his tractor, with two layers of flannel coats on, one padded, the other just simple cotton. He has his hat pulled down just above his eyes with the two ear flaps securely fastened under his chin. His tough, calloused hands are covered with thick, brown insulated workers gloves. His black Michelin boots house his wool socked feet and under his flannel lined blue jeans, he is wearing long johns. He is sitting on the single, springy seat of his tractor with the front plow pushing the snow down the embankment and off of the road. He keeps brushing the accumulating snow off his shoulders and the top of his hat. There are icicles stuck to his tiny, brown mustache. His nose is running and bright red just like his cheeks. He’s been out on the road for two hours straight and still can’t keep up with the snow.

Back at his house, his ten year old daughter and wife are playing Go Fish at the kitchen table to the light of a kerosene lamp. They’ve emptied the fridge and most of the freezer, sticking everything that needs to stay cold in the snow. There is a jug of milk sticking out, and random packages of meat. The snow is so high that it has started coming into the covered porch through the screen windows. The wood stove is holding a roaring fire with orange and blue flames that eat the wood and newspaper being fed to it.

Gary’s daughter keeps complaining that she wants to go play, and that she’s bored, but there’s nothing her mom can do. She doesn’t have any homework because the school is closed and she can’t go play outside with her neighbor because they’d both get lost in the snow. She can’t even sleep in her waterbed because the electricity is out and the liquid in the bed is too cold.

Everything in the town of New Boston is frozen and white. It looks like a winter wonderland taken out of a book.

Gary’s daughter has never seen a snow storm like this. She sits on the couch looking out the big window, watching the snow accumulate on the window sill. She wants to go sledding or ice skating downtown, like she usually does when it snows, but it’s getting dark, and it’s too dangerous outside. Her mom keeps going outside and shoveling around their cars, so when they finally are able to leave, they don’t have to remove mounds of snow from the roofs.

There is absolutely nothing for Gary’s family to do while the snow storm swirls around them. All they can do is sit and wait for the snow to stop and for the sun to begin to melt it. The entire town of New Boston lies under a blanket of freshly fallen snow, waiting for it to stop so they can emerge into the world again.