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Dead Dog

Sarah Edwards

Dead Dog

A Louisiana Thanksgiving, and the seatbelts burn hot ribbons across their shoulders. In the car, seventy miles down the road—bags thrown together, a cellophane-wrapped pumpkin pie sliding around on the floorboards—and they have not yet discussed what will happen to the dog. The wife can’t imagine that they’ll keep it, though she also can’t imagine giving it away. It has become worse than a bad dog: it has become a good dog who is a liability.
The husband’s family has often joked with the wife that she loves the dog more than she loves him. It is a joke about her devotion, just above average, to the animal, though its suggestive undercurrent is that she is a ridiculous person. During this visit, when the husband pulled out a Polaroid from their wedding—a courthouse wedding, a shotgun wedding, held just months before—his mother took it into her hands and squinted.
Interesting, she said. So what exactly is it that you’re wearing here?
And when the wife proudly told her that it was actually a vintage prom dress, a thrift-store find, if she could believe it, the mother-in-law stood up to clear the table. A steal, the wife said to her mother-in-law’s back as she stood before the sink. God, I mean. I swear. It feels like air.
The husband and wife had met at a party, back in May, crowded among yucca; a party that had seemed average to her but new and daring to him, glinting with bayou liquors, freewheeling and dark, an experiment. In June, they drove to the coast at midnight, speeding through conversations about coincidences and the joke/not-joke names of future children. In July, they drifted into cohabitation. By August the weather had turned muggy and biblical. The hairs on the tomato plants stood on alert ends, and impossibly long snakes tumbled out of trees, spooking up the yard’s speedboat tarp. They’d awakened one day and lain in bed with the wife’s phone on their knees, watching the green eye of a hurricane move across the screen, flickering persistently like trick candles on a birthday cake. And when, after a while, the husband walked out into the yard and picked bouquets of iris (Louisiana iris, the rare kind, artery red), one for each of them, she had laughed, nodded. OK, yes. OK—yes!
The flowers wilted before they made it up the courthouse steps, but the hurricane itself never came and swept on suddenly toward the Carolinas.
Later, when they look at the wedding picture, the juvenile shimmer of the wife’s dress is hard for the husband’s parents to swallow; also the age difference. The husband was born in 1990. The wife was born in 1978, the year “YMCA,” by the Village People, came out. Were they to learn of her first two marriages, the husband’s parents would likely find those hard to swallow, too.
The parents, who run a popular magazine about rare bourbon varieties, are famously magnanimous. They have an open-door policy. Everyone knows this. But when it comes to the wife, they cannot help but feel that she is backwoods trash. Whenever she brings up astrology, they grow uncomfortable. Children, as a topic, don’t sit well with them, either. Dogs, as a topic, have been weakly agreed upon. Dogs, so full of neutral habits. Dogs, so full of eyes and ears, noses and tails.
The husband worships his parents—the unflagging, hand-on-back grace of their devotion to each other. He wishes that the wife could see them as he does. They are good people, dog people. Until last night, they had one, too.
The wife has had hers for nine years, and … Oh! This dog! A Tom Hanks among dogs, licking babies, flopping ecstatically on the floor. A dog who sits when you say Sit, who high-fives when you say High-five. Its nose is wet as a bath faucet, its paws large and helpless as oven mitts. The dog has been through everything with her. It has been through the first husband, the second husband, the Clozapine, the tiled kitchen floor, pink like a Mary Kay Cadillac.
She has only had her new husband for a few months, and the dog will not hurt anything again—really. She will make sure of it.
Can you keep an eye out for gas? Something under $2.90? the husband says, breaking the silence, brushing the back of her hand with his. Then he says, You know, let’s make it harder—something under $2.85.
The husband likes to make little challenges like this for himself, although, maddeningly, he is not actually competitive. He is kind. Just below the surface of what he knows about himself there is also this: a belief that the marriage is, itself, a kind of kindness.
In the back of the car, the dog lets out a long, low whine. His feet stutter as the husband eases onto the brake and off an exit. He slings a paste of drool across the headrests.
The wife has heard this particular sound from the dog before. It doesn’t have to do with shame, doesn’t have to do with hazy dog-grief; no, her dog is not thinking about the other animal it killed this morning—the dog belonging to the husband’s mother; boxy, unremarkable, and patient, the dog they found when they came downstairs for breakfast. Upon spotting it limp beneath the table, the mother-in-law let out a little throat cry, high-pitched and compromising. The wife didn’t make a sound, but her thoughts began racing. She thought, Who has come and hurt our dogs? But then she understood. When she found her own dog in the front-hall closet, hiding behind a set of golf clubs—tawny hair still caught between its teeth, confused and frightened by its own strength—she knelt and gathered it into her arms.
Now hot air zips through the open windows, and a Rolodex of billboards—they all seem to be advertising either hell or something large, the world’s largest!—unfurls beside the car. Now the sound her dog is making only has to do with needing to pee. It is a need that has appeared suddenly in its brain like a suggestion, a commercial, a balloon. It is inflating, slowly, outsizing everything else. The dog is not thinking about what will happen next.
Bingo! the husband says, pulling into a station. See? $2.84.
He glances back at the dog and gets out. In the past, he was eager to volunteer for menial dog-care tasks, eager to prove some Boy Scout willingness. He likes the dog, of course, but now when he looks at it there is already a suggestion of goodbye, an appraisal of the facts: here sits a nice dog who sometimes kills things.
It was only a few days ago, the wife thinks, that she lay in bed with the husband, her face pushed peacefully up against the cleft of his shoulder—a warm, piney miracle. She wonders mildly what she would do if she were in his position, but the thought is too impossible to host. The least she can do now is get out and take the dog over to a dry patch of grass and let it do its business. That much is on her. Open the door, she thinks. Get out. OK, do it now. Now.
She doesn’t move. She adjusts her sunglasses, takes her hair and winds it into a new ponytail. The dog whines, nudges her elbow with its nose. Outside, the pavement sizzles like seltzer and smells of bruised citrus, of something sweet and newly rotten—though once, when she described something this way, the husband laughed delightedly at the precision. What a goober, he said, we’re nowhere near fruit trees!
He pumps gas, then cracks the door open and peers in. Want anything? he asks. Peanuts? Ginger ale? Shitty coffee?
What he is getting at is that she probably wants cigarettes to calm her down, to smoke her out of this darkness. He is a good man, but he wants her to ask him for the bad thing so that he does not have to suggest it.
Peanuts, she says in a secret voice, though even as she says it, she’s not sure whether she is saying it to throw him off her trail or because she really wants peanuts.
That all?
Yes, she says.
He finishes pumping the gas. No, she thinks. She cannot part with the dog. It is getting older, and with age come spurts of a dazed, feral energy. But it has never meant to hurt anything. If it comes down to it, she thinks, if the choice is between taking the dog and driving out of this gas station, burning rubber, the husband jogging behind, yelling, Maggie, Jesus freaking Christ, Maggie, come on, Mags, she’ll do what she has to. She loves the husband, loves the uneven upside-downcake viscosity of their union, but he will be fine, will be loved, always, by someone. Of course, he might miss her, but his life is male, muscled by college sports, is blue oxford shirtsleeves rolled quarter up, is still at the very beginning—he’ll move on,maybe become a youth pastor. There is always time left for a man to become a youth pastor.
He walks off in the direction of the gas station. He trots back, peers in. From inside the car, his face looms large, impossibly big, enveloped by a white glare, almost impossible to make sense of.
He drops the keys through the crack in the window. He waits.
What? she says.
Hot out here, he says, and it is as if he is baiting her.
OK, she says. OK, and turns the pleasing flashlight of her smile up toward him.

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Interviews, New Interviews

Sarah Edwards

INTERVIEWS

Sarah Edwards

Interviewed by Jackson Armstrong


Your story “Dead Dog” has deliberation and grace (and a lot of humor). To borrow an adjective from it, it is, in some ways, almost biblical. How conscious were you of the tone of the story, and perhaps the balance, during the process of writing it?

That’s nice of you to say! In a rare turn, this story had a specific set of language that seemed to belong to it: language that felt both florid and reticent. Normally, I think, I write more narratively—there’s more dialogue, more backstory, more plot points. This one felt very tied to a moment and to an internal, fluid, distorted state of mind. Because the narrator is spiraling a bit, the burden rests on the sentences to replicate that feeling: I wanted there to be a sense that the wife is experiencing emotions that she can’t contain, that they flow over the boundaries of a sentence (hence the run-ons!). I do feel strongly that lyricism can (and should) be funny—that that pairing is as true a reflection of life as any. I don’t like stories that take themselves too serious.

What, might I ask, was the genesis of this piece?

I don’t know a specific origin point, but when I originally wrote it, two years ago, it was much longer. It began before Thanksgiving and walked all the way through dinner and the dog killing and there were multiple characters and it was awful; it really didn’t work. So as an exercise I deleted everything except the scene after Thanksgiving, and then began to write within those parameters. And that felt right.

Generally speaking, I am interested by messy situations in which blame is unclear—which, with animals, is so often the case. We can feel so close to them, and feel that they understand us, and of course there’s this giant gap between us and the way they experience threat and sometimes simply don’t understand their own bodies and urges. I’m sure this isn’t the last story I’ll write about a dead animal.

I know you’re also a poet. How does that influence your prose writing, or vice versa? Do you prefer one over the other?

At some point this past fall, I taped a note to my mirror that said: “Poetry doesn’t have to be autobiographical and fiction doesn’t have to be nice.” Both forms and their autobiographical sourcing have become more loose for me, recently, and it’s a bit of a relief. I feel less pressure (though obviously that’s a lifelong tussle) to have stories reflect me as a person or the gracious Southern woman I was raised to be, rather than me as a writer. I like both stories and poems that have distance, that bleed into each other. Often a story will begin as a poem (and sometimes even vice-versa) and I think that an attention to emotional compression, to really fleshing a thought out in a single lyrical line, helps sentences to stand on their own. I want a story to do that, to powerlift with syntax. Or ideally that’d be nice, right? Many of my favorite writers write both fiction and poetry, or super short fiction that has the feeling of a poem.  I don’t think I can pick one over the other!

If you had to cast this story with B-List actor  (but the dog is literal human Tom Hanks, on all fours or not; we can discuss this) who would you choose and why?

Hmm. very good question. I can kinda see Leelee Sobieski in a prom dress wedding getup. Aaron Eckhart is way too handsome to be a normal person, but he definitely has youth pastor vibes, don’t you think? As does adult Jonathan Taylor Thomas. In a very different way, but they both kind of have that healthy—so robust as to be sinister—thing going on.

And wow, a literal Tom Hanks as the dog! That’s good. I guess I should really read your fiction, Jackson, if this suggestion is any indication of it.

There’s always time for a man to become a youth pastor. This is true. But what does a man need to become a youth pastor? An unusually well-manicured goatee? What are some other qualifications?

Hmm, probably a name like Clay or Harris or any kind of non-name that could also be the name of a neighborhood subdivision, maybe a goatee, a signature handshake, a suspicious overfamiliarity with the word “lust,” probably an internalized hatred toward women. I don’t know, I’ve met a few really kind and genuine youth pastors, but when I paint with a broad stroke (like I am right now) I don’t have a lot of good things to say.

Ultimately, youth pastors need to have a vicious competitive edge that is barely kept at bay, and more than a passing proficiency in table sports.

Lastly (noting that “Dead Dog” is your first prose publication), where can we read some of your poetry?

I do have one fiction piece up, though not in print. You can read it on Joyland. I don’t have a lot of linkable poems! There’s a couple in the upcoming issues of TYPO and The Sycamore Review. And then others in Prelude, Hobart, and The Hampden-Sydney Review.

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Uncategorized, Works

Closed Doors

Richard O’Brien

Closed Doors

Every Place that you left is Eden in some way.
—JOHN DARNIELLE

Rooms where for good or for ill—things died.
—CHARLOTTE MEW

Frewin II.10

In this room, at that desk, I must have written
my masterpieces of misogyny
(through this knowledge would only come to me
far on the other side of the illusion).

One window faced onto St. Michael’s Street.
Outside the homeless shelter—now a Bill’s—
star speakers would arrive in Benzes, Rolls.
I Blu-Tacked postcards to a lilac sheet

of sugar paper: was that the same year?
The gourmet vegetarian sausages
we cooked hungover were burnt to a crisp;
dough-soft inside. A rag rug on the floor

I still have now. I threw up in the sink
(a sign below about the “Rodding Eye”)
from dawn till six, the day of the goodbye
meal Ally had planned for me at Brasserie Blanc.

Lycée Jean Perrin

In Charlie’s flat—I barely know the contours
of what was there. I know what happened in it.
On nitrous, once, I passed out for a minute
that nothing in me wishes to restore.

Another night, I hopped the green steel gate
I couldn’t open; walked the tramlines home
to Place Viarme, and back to find the phone
I never did find (God knows in what state).

There was a party when Lindsey kissed Kate;
a night when someone stole two chicken fillets;
pizza, and football games I played, unwilling
to be left out; a neighbor who complained.

The laptop loud on Traktor, matching beats.
A photo of his girlfriend near his bed.
Bastien picked me up the last night; sad
to remember, now we barely even speak.

XIV.10

In what some rower called “the Arab Staircase,”
I tried and failed to turn tea into sex.
Deep green armchairs. The question of “What’s next?”
not just at three. That bathroom was the last place

I’ll ever make filled pasta in a bowl
with kettle, sieve, jarred pesto, grated cheddar.
There must have been a desk. A single bed,
two sets of brown sheets. Posters on the wall

for books I’d read with different cover art.
There was a mantelpiece on which I leant
French biscuit adverts—statements of intent,
sophistication stamped on A4 card.

The last weeks saw it filled with props for filming,
a generator. I brought back a girl
who held me till I broke my shameful spell;
who asked if I’d tried to hide her, that first morning.

1 Rue Sarrazin

In the top-floor flat, Nantes, Rue Sarrazin:
a couch with orange cushions no one chose;
the floor (stone, somehow?) cold against my toes;
a kitchenette I’ll never use again.

There was a cupboard lined with bathroom tiles
our jovial, vague landlord tried to fit
a shower in: the plumbing wouldn’t stretch
that far, he told us once, after a while—

so there they stayed. Jovanna had a map
of Europe, countries marked with playground slurs,
and though I almost never spoke to her,
one day I came back from a weekend trip

to find the condoms missing from my wardrobe.
The wall pitched steep above my bed; a window
looked on the never open church below,
roof ringed with angels. I left without a note.

Tintagel House

In the old Vauxhall Met Police HQ
there were blue, corrugated carpet tiles
and corridors which seemed to stretch for miles
between the toilets and the large, blank rooms

Lydia and her artist friends were renting
at bargain rates: the scheme kept squatters out.
They’d built a long, rough table. No amount
of shelves could make the kitchen feel less empty.

Mattresses on the ground. The windows looked
over the Thames: this was no student skyline.
It had the feel of an abandoned high-rise.
I stopped to buy Portuguese chocolate milk

each morning, walking to an internship:
for what? It led nowhere, since I’ve forgotten.
The owners finally kicked out the guardians.
For all I know, they might be demolishing it.

30 Waterside

In Helen’s house, which we can’t go to now:
rich faded rugs, a large flatscreen TV,
cases of red wine shipped from overseas
to save in bulk, I think—I forget how.

There was a tree once, made from stacking books;
a lime-green kitchen where we never went;
the gate, left open to the elements,
creaked like the stairs. Apparently, it leaked.

Helen took baths and disappeared for hours.
There was a patio where we got high,
where pigeons shat, were shot, and came to die;
a teddy sewn from scraps of other bears.

There was, eventually, a crystal skull
loaded with gin. Stuffed rodents. Hocus-pocus.
Sated with rent, the landlord gave them notice.
It had been months, by then, since I’d seen it full.

51 Ely Street

In Ely Street (pronounced the Fenland way,
not like the prophet, as I would insist),
the floor was red stone flags. Once, as a guest,
having somehow contrived to snap my key

in my own lock, I spent a night half-frozen
on a ratty couch beneath low Tudor beams;
a diagram for cribbing Cymbeline
and Hamlet on the wall. Each time I opened

the shonky bathroom door, the wrought-iron latch
had to be fought against. Dozens would drink
here, leave their mugs and glasses by the sink.
The backyard: weeds, barbecue trays, and ash.

And I was happy there. We praised Sankt Hans,
sang hver by har sin heks and ate charred Quorn,
understood hygge—friendship, keeping warm.
Someone’s rejigged the furniture, like best-laid plans.

Spectacle Works

In our apartment, by the standing lamp,
these are the things I’ll fix while I am able:
that jasmine plant. That marbled coffee table.
Socks slung over that clotheshorse: some still damp.

This flatpack sideboard, with the doors stove in.
This ten-meter TV extension lead.
These shiny cushion covers which you sewed
after about four months of promising.

Those salt-dough ducks, whose rough pearlescent sheen
soared over the eBay identikit.
That recess which you joked could hold a crib,
which doesn’t mean a joke is all you mean.

These stacks and stacks of books we’ll never read.
This open map. Those frames. That uncapped pen.
This rug I found a place for in the end.
This warm night. This unanswered text. This need.

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Interviews, New Interviews

Richard O’Brien

Interviews

Richard O’Brien

Interviewed by Hannah Whiteman

One of the things that drew me to “Closed Doors” was the personality that every location in the poem seemed to possess. It seemed (for lack of a better word) real. Does this poem draw heavily on your own experiences? If so, how do you balance that autobiographical strain with staying true to the direction that the poem is taking you?

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Interviews, New Interviews

Josh Russell

Interviews

Josh Russell

Interviewed by Earnest Buck

I was hoping to do a shorter interview that focused on some of the themes in “Grownups” that resonated with me. I hope this isn’t too much to share, but I was caretaker to my wife when she was receiving treatment for breast cancer and I found this story mirrored (strangely) some of my experiences. So, if you’ll bear with me, here are a few questions (I may have some follow-ups if that is amenable). 

What was the impetus for this story?

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Interviews, New Interviews

Tyler Barton

INTERVIEWS

Tyler Barton

Interviewed by Michelle Neuffer

Your story begins with Rhonda watching her neighbors through the window, and the rest of it sort of mimics that experience for the reader—we get glimpses into Rhonda’s art, her job, her marriage, the neighbors’ house. These glimpses hint at longer stories that feel like they remain just out of frame. Can you talk a little about how you find your way into a story, how to find the right beginning? 

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Interviews

Colby Cotton

Interviews

Colby Cotton

Interviewed by Michael Sirois

Your poem “Neighbor,” confronts the great American suburb. A kind of success or resistance emerges from the speaker’s inability to adapt to this lifestyle, yet you also convey a sense of this speaker wanting to be a part of this suburban world, even if only a small part. Can you speak to this tension within the poem? Was there a balance beam you walked on during its composition in order to avoid being overly cynical?

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Interviews

Deborah Levy

Interviews

Deborah Levy

Interviewed by Dan Shurley

You’ve said that what people don’t say can be more interesting than what they do say, and that there is power in silence. How did you square this insight with the expectation that a memoir give us the “soul laid bare”?

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