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Oronte Churm (and a CONTEST)

by Susan Henderson on February 20, 2008

Agents and publishers interested in contacting my guest or reading his manuscripts: OChurm@aol.com

My guest today is not the only one hanging around LitPark who goes by a pen name. But today he is stepping out from behind the mask.

If you are a regular reader of McSweeney’s, you know Oronte Churm as the author of “Dispatches from Adjunct Faculty at a Large State University” – an anatomy of being a teacher, writer, husband, father, and son. In short, it’s about a whole life’s education, which never ends. Churm is also busy writing for Inside Higher Ed, where he keeps a creative nonfiction superblog called The Education of Oronte Churm. He’s been a contributing editor for Adjunct Advocate, writes for World’s Fair, a Seed Media science site, and has a piece in Mountain Man Dance Moves (McSweeney’s Books).

So what’s the story of the guy behind the pen name? Well, if you click over to McSweeney’s, you can read the beautiful essay in which he reveals his true identity. It’s an essay that made me tear up again and again because it touches on almost everything I’ve been struggling with these past many months as I’ve tried to edit my book. That he manages to weave stories of ghosts, his dying father, porn star Ron Jeremy, and salvation into this one story shows why he’s my kind of writer and my kind of friend. I hope you’ll find the time to read it.

But first, while you’re here, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Churm, who is also my friend, John Griswold.

*

What made you use the name, Oronte Churm, to begin with? Why didn’t you want to use your real name?

John Warner, the editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, asked me in 2005 to write a column about being an adjunct lecturer at Illinois. He said I could use a pen name, since I’m not on the tenure track and don’t have that job protection. Neither of us knew, I think, what I might have to say, or whether anyone would frown on it. But I was also trying to finish a literary novel and wanted to keep humorous bits separate from the rest of my intended writing life. As it turned out, I’ve tried to do more with my dispatches than I think John expected from me—never waste a good publishing platform, my mother always said—and he’s been terrifically supportive of their oddity.

The pen name is a combination of two characters’ names from the Henry James story “The Real Thing,” which I was teaching at the time. I liked the sound of them together; Oronte is floral and Churm is muddy, a comical combination. The story questions who or what is “real” in art and life, and those questions seemed pertinent to my situation as college teacher and writer.

You allude, in the McSweeney’s piece, to some people being angry about the pen name. Can you say more about that?

In a dispatch called “On Apophasis,” I revealed that an editor at a big-time publication told me, nearly apropos of nothing, that if I wrote for them I couldn’t talk about the Iraq War. I heard later that her boss, the editor-in-chief, was quite upset with me and felt it wasn’t cricket to hide, as he viewed it, behind an assumed name. It made me wonder what satisfactions he imagined having, if only I’d used my real name. Duel at dawn? Trying to get me fired? Standing in my front yard yelling epithets? He and his shop all knew my real name anyway.

To me, a pen name can easily be the same as a surname, even if it doesn’t speak to geography. If the writing is clear, thoughtful, or even frequent, the “real” aspect of the writer’s being will out. Besides, even pseudonymous writers can be denounced, and most have e-mail. Writers have never been as accessible as they are now.

Talk to me about how it feels behind the mask.

It feels great. It feels like bunnies, like lilacs on a spring night, like good whisky and smiting one’s enemies. It feels like the 1938 Carnegie Hall performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” with the tom-tom beat of Gene Krupa and an unexpected and miraculous piano solo by Jess Stacy. Step back here a minute, Friend, and I’ll show you what it feels like.

Any downside to wearing a mask?

We all wear masks and change them according to the social situation. Usually we feel each to be “true,” even when one contradicts the one before it. A pen name is no different. I see nothing unusual about being Churm; it’s simply my persona for a certain context and is invisible to me at that moment.

I guess you won’t truly be able to answer this till you’re officially outed and start getting feedback, but do you expect you’ll feel free? Naked? Like Oz when he’s discovered behind the curtain, and people think, Oh, I thought he’d be bigger?

I’m actually a giant of a man, lewd and bulging, but comfortable in my existential skin. If someone can’t handle my nakedness, he can always avert his gaze.

Why now? What has happened or changed in you that you would rather be John than Oronte?

As Churm, I’ve amassed considerable nonfiction work, and I’m proud of it. I want to unify my two writing lives, if only to aid in further publishing and getting a tenure-track gig. Anyway, I’ll continue to write as Oronte in several venues, including at Inside Higher Ed, where I’m signing on for another year. Churm, c’est moi.

Come on over to my place, The Education of Oronte Churm, and read more on pen names in the Digital Age.

Want to say anything about McSweeney’s, or some of the other folks you’ve written for?

I can’t say enough about the impeccable taste, keen intelligence, and boyish good looks of Internet Tendency editor John Warner. Also, I had dinner with Dave Eggers once, and I’ll just say this: The man can eat the hell out of some chocolate cake.

I’m very grateful to McSweeney’s for everything, including introductions to some great good friends and opportunities for other work. The dispatches led to my being a contributing editor at Adjunct Advocate, and a year ago Inside Higher Ed hired me as their first Blog U. writer. (There are now five of us.) IHE’s editors, Doug Lederman and Scott Jaschik, are incredibly supportive and have also let me try anything I wished, from an interview with a Special Forces chaplain to long essays about my emotional connections to Vietnam, where I was born. Somewhere in there I talk about teaching, too. Lately I’ve been hanging with the scientists at The World’s Fair, a Seed Media science blog. I ask them if they intend to blow up the world, and they tell me I’m funny.

I’ll put it out there that I love McSweeney’s, too. There’s a good many people over there I consider to be like family. But let’s get to the contest because I know my readers want to win this money so they can buy more books.

*

The Little Truths Writing Contest:

Your submissions to the contest go right here in the comments section. Enter as often as you like!

In honor of Oronte Churm’s revelation of his real name and previously undisclosed location, his online friends are sponsoring a short writing contest with big-time prizes.

Write a creative nonfiction story or essay, 75 (seventy-five!) words or less, in which someone reveals something, is unmasked, or comes to a new understanding. (This is most of literature, by the way.) We call these “little truths.”

Our friends at Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction permit submissions ten times longer, but we like their standards for our contest:

Clear, concise, vivid prose—memoir, journalism, or lyric all welcome. Memoir and narrative are best told with scenes and detail, not explanation, and even the personal essay form benefits from image and sensory language. Bernard Cooper suggests that short nonfiction ‘requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.’ We agree.

Here is a little truth, exactly 75 words long, from Somerset Maugham’s notebooks:

We were sitting in a wine shop in Capri when Norman came in and told us T. was about to shoot himself. We were startled. Norman said that when T. told him what he was going to do he could think of no reason to dissuade him. “Are you going to do anything about it?” I asked. “No.” He ordered a bottle of wine and sat down to await the sound of the shot.

Mr. Maugham is currently dead and therefore ineligible to win this contest, so send your own little truth along. Enter as many times as you like! Post entries as comments to this posting by midnight, Friday, March 7, 2008. By entering the contest, you agree to allow Inside Higher Ed to re-post and archive your entry at their site, though all rights revert to you.

Entries can be funny, sad, ironic, hip, morose, hopeful, or anything else you want them to be, but they should be both true and True.

The judge:

The judge will be Steve Davenport, Creative Nonfiction Editor of Ninth Letter, and Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Steve’s first book, Uncontainable Noise, won Pavement Saw Press’s Transcontinental Poetry Prize. More importantly, he may be the basis for the character-foil “Rory” in Churm’s dispatches and blog.

The prizes:

Grand Prize is a $100 VISA Gift Card, courtesy of Inside Higher Ed, your online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education, and the proud home of The Education of Oronte Churm.

First Prize is courtesy of McSweeney’s: A $50 gift certificate to the McSweeney’s store, where you can find everything from magazine subscriptions to books to tattoos to the original circus t-shirt.

Second Prize is courtesy of featherproof books, a young indie publisher based in Chicago, which publishes perfect-bound, full-length works of fiction and downloadable mini-books. Get two featherproof novels of your choice and one of their “reusable, rewritable, rarely regrettable” letterTees.

Third Prize (two to be given) is the debut album of Les Chauds Lapins, Parlez-moi d’amour, courtesy of the hot little bunnies themselves.

Winners will be announced at The Education of Oronte Churm the week of March 10th.

Good luck!

*

Bio for the man behind Oronte Churm:

John Griswold’s short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in journals such as War, Literature & the Arts, Mediphors, Palo Alto Review, and Natural Bridge, which nominated his story “Transcript of a World War I Veteran’s Narrative” for the 2001 Pushcart Prize. A piece on the Midwest will appear in the next issue of Ninth Letter, and an appreciation of poet John Balaban in the next issue of War, Literature & the Arts.

John was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and grew up in Southern Illinois. He served as an Army deep-sea diver, earned a BA in English and philosophy, and worked as a corporate writer for several years. His MFA is from the University of Miami, Coral Gables, and since 2000 he’s taught undergrads creative writing and literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

His novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a collection of essays based on the dispatches are under submission to publishers. He’s currently working on a memoir, tentatively titled How We Become Men.

Agents and publishers interested in contacting my guest or reading his manuscripts: OChurm@aol.com

{ 215 comments… read them below or add one }

troutbum70 February 20, 2008 at 7:22 am

Big Dog

The big dog crawled out from under the porch and sniffed at the woman. She didn’t like it, and walked back to the street and yelled for me to come out.
I stepped onto the porch and asked what she wanted. “I want to speak to you about the Lord.” She said. I told her I spoke direct to the man and walked back in and shut the door.

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robinslick February 20, 2008 at 7:34 am

A Tortured Childhood

Her father came downstairs wearing only boxers with a joint hanging out of his mouth and clutching an empty jug of wine. She was sixteen years old and entertaining friends in the living room. He stopped dead in his tracks, stared at them, raised his hand and said “Hullo”, then headed into the kitchen for another bottle. He came out, waved again, and went upstairs. Everyone thought he was hilarious but they didn’t live there.

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Kate Gray February 20, 2008 at 8:03 am

He was dressed all in black, with a clerical collar, as he strode purposefully into the maternity wing that Ash Wednesday. The nurses all brightened up immediately. “Are you here to give us ashes?” They asked this with the hope of those trapped at work. “No,” he said tremulously, “My daughter is here, having her baby.”

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Heather_Fowler February 20, 2008 at 8:14 am

Thoughts on Masks, A (Macro) Micro-Essay

Feathers masks seduce lovers at balls. Black patches hide darkness where eyeballs fail. In October, we wear them, horror-drenched, to elicit sweets. Some buy expensive gowns, depicting glamour: Perfection? It’s illusory.

But Dunbar was right. Masks abound. I wear one, for example, to tell my children, a la Marley, that “every little thing’s gonna be all right.” Privately, at times, I screw up my own lying, earnest skin mask, mirrored, hopeful—to make myself believe.

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Heather_Fowler February 20, 2008 at 8:35 am

About Love

When a man lies beside you in a lifeboat, three days adrift, and you stare at a near-empty canteen at foot, lips dry, heart half-sunk on the no-boat horizon, food exhausted, what he says next is the sum of his character: “You take it, darling”—he wants to die, perhaps with nobility; “It’s mine”—he wants to live. You are secondary; “Let me hold this drink in my mouth. We’ll kiss to share”—that’s love.

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robinslick February 20, 2008 at 9:21 am

Another Tortured Childhood Memory

The cackling bitches were my mom’s sisters, Shirley and Helen. My father named them that because they disapproved of his jazz musician lifestyle and disregard for family. It was always, “Oh fuck, we have to eat Thanksgiving dinner with the cackling bitches? Please make sure I have three gallons of wine.” My mother begged him, “Not in front of the children” but he ignored her. We ate our meals in silence, terrified we’d spill something.

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Shameka February 20, 2008 at 9:24 am

The snap of the suitcase shutting, the decisive click of freedom- it was the happiest sound of my life. No longer would I be a shadow of my former self, a half-empty, life not led- today I would be free. Finally, it was my turn to stand up… even if it was only for me. I walked down the stairs, away from my now dead husband and out the front door… no more beatings

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Adam Levin February 20, 2008 at 9:39 am

NUMBERS

There’s 12 people in the box to my left. 1 man up high, adorned with a thick robe. 1 tired woman at the table a few feet to my left. And the man at the table with me is disheveled and fat. That is my current universe. “20 years with the first 15 to be served in confinement,” says the man with the thick robe. I should’ve taken the plea offer.

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Oronte_Churm February 20, 2008 at 11:47 am

Fantastic! Bring ‘em on, folks.

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troutbum70 February 20, 2008 at 11:54 am

He watched her as she drove through the darkness her face glowing in the light from the dashboard. She began to sing and then giggle when she relized he was watching. “Don’t stop, I like it that you sing.”
“I can’t with you watching.”
“I won’t watch.” She starts to sing again.
“I can’t.” She says and drives on into the darkness.

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robinslick February 20, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Hey, I realized that in all of the excitement of the contest, no one is commenting about the fabulous interview here today, your website, and all of your other wild endeavors. So I will take a break from obsessively writing 75 word memoirs (oh god, and I thought the six word exercise was a challenge) to say that I am a huge fan and have been haunting your various sites for months — ever since taking part in your “Who is your favorite Beatle and Why” study which I’d like another crack at, please, even if it’s just for myself…therefore a thank you to Susan for introducing us to you and for today’s post as well.

xo

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Heather_Fowler February 20, 2008 at 12:24 pm

True! Wonderful interview, as always–vivid, warm, with charming guests and host. Here’s to John (Oronte) getting his book-length work picked up as soon as possible! And what a fun post and idea!

As Robin brilliantly already did, I say we should likely all use Oronte’s post to reply to for general comments about how fun this thread is. (I, too, was appreciative, but reluctant to dilute the larger stream with commentary that wasn’t contest entry.)
:) Warmest to all, H

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Sbain February 20, 2008 at 12:26 pm

I’ll give it a go:

She didn’t know when she was five years old and staring at the hole growing bigger in her father’s back that her world was growing smaller. She didn’t know at 34 years old when she was staring at her unmoving belly that her whole world could grow even smaller still. If all the pieces of your own puzzle fall in ruins at your feet, how do you know which piece to pick up first?

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Kimberly February 20, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Paralysis had set in. She was daunted by the task of pitting her own meager words against so many others’ brilliance; nay overwhelmed. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t write. She could only revel in the decadence of the miniature filet mignons, rare and perfect, next to her iceberg salad essay.

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Kimberly February 20, 2008 at 1:07 pm

John! So nice to meet you formally! I have long-enjoyed your/Oronte’s McSweeney’s dispaches…

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kate dylan hall February 20, 2008 at 1:17 pm

I don’t remember when my mother started touching me. When we lived in the Seeger house, she had me wait on the stairs until she was ready for me to come in and “smoke” with her. She would be dressed in some skimpy piece of lingerie from the previous night’s date. Oftentimes, I saved my mother from death – it was not uncommon for her to fall asleep with her fingers clutched around a Lucky Strike.

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Hackett February 20, 2008 at 1:19 pm

“Congratulations,” they said. “We can’t say it officially, but we’re giving our recommendation to the Dean that you’re qualified.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“Well, you’ve earned it.”

The official letter arrived three weeks later, acknowledging that he passed the exams. The attached statement from the committee read, “Mr. K has demonstrated a thorough understanding of the material expected of a Master of the Arts, and he is intellectually honest about acknowledging the limitations of glib generalizations.”

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Aurelio February 20, 2008 at 1:25 pm

OUT

We walked Dad to the car.

My step-niece dragged from my step-mom’s hand. Step-mom was happy, I assumed because my step-brother wasn’t like me. She viewed life as a status competition and I was down a rung.

Dad hugged me, and shook Chuck’s hand. He had tried, but he just couldn’t dislike Chuck.

My step-niece broke the awkward silence. “I only saw one bed. Do you two sleep together?”

“Yes,” I answered, “yes, we do.”

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David Gianadda February 20, 2008 at 1:40 pm

The Mathematics of Telephone Wires

She had been drinking scotch and milk when she called to confide in me. “The telephone never rings with anyone important anymore. I’m sitting here like I do at night in the quiet with a piece of paper and a pencil and a stack of bills. The sound of adding and subtracting. Dividing. Figuring. It never adds up you know and this scratch paper is the saddest short story I’ve read in some time.”

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Heather_Fowler February 20, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Little Truths, Or Things My Grandfather Might Say

It is difficult to shave one’s own back. Bears shit in woods. No one shits roses. There is always someone to envy. Grandparents are happier since parenting isn’t their job; bedtime was never about children. If you laugh more and cry less, you’re happy. It’s easy to make others love you: Admiration. Don’t forget to breathe. (Good thing it’s involuntary.) But masks are stifling. Remove yours. Breathe again. Good. Better isn’t it? This consult: Free.

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Brilling February 20, 2008 at 2:06 pm

I never really loved my father, have I told you that? He was a hard man with cold Lutheran blood. He was an accountant for twenty years until our small town half died and laid him off. Finally, I let him work with me in a filthy, basement laundromat. Yesterday I pulled into work and saw him bent over, crying in his car. I’m not sure if that made me love him more or less.

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Oronte_Churm February 20, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Thanks, Kimberly. Loved your stuff on Valentine’s Day at She Shoots.

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Oronte_Churm February 20, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Hi, Heather. Isn’t Susan the best? I mean, really.

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David Gianadda February 20, 2008 at 2:09 pm

The Weight of Telephone Wires

“Then, at what moment, of all our moments, is life not utterly, utterly changed, until the final, most momentous change of all.” I nodded yes to that sentence after I read it and then my telephone rang. I marked the page with a torn subscription card. It was my mother. One thousand miles away. The blood test was back. The count was higher than normal. The call from my sister, “it doesn’t mean it’s cancer.”

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Oronte_Churm February 20, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Hey, Robin. I remember our Beatles fetish-connection. BTW, my friend Chaz sent me an 18″ John Lennon…doll, I guess you’d call it, though it’s so lifelike (Lennon: The New York Years) that my wife asked me to put it away out of sight. I made it a shrine to live in.

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Heather_Fowler February 20, 2008 at 2:22 pm

She very much is! Really, really. So positive and intuitive, but there is nothing saccharin about her. I love that. But then, I love a little salt with my sugar. And she’ll keep you laughing, too—I am still remembering this conversation about a piano tuning she had that was going South fast. I feared for him, that tuner. It makes me laugh even now. :) H

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Aurelio February 20, 2008 at 2:26 pm

As an owner of a pen-name too, I see it not as a mask but as a facet that focus attention on particular aspects of my personality that may have been masked by my given name. Obviously one name was bound to contain you, as it did me, so in that sense being Oronte Churm is ultimately more revealing, not less.

Thank you for all you revealed today. I’ll enjoy getting to know you better by perusing your past and future blog posts.

And thanks , Susan, for once again keeping it interesting in the Park.

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Douglas W. Milliken February 20, 2008 at 2:34 pm

“Your mother was just a bitter person,” he says. “Snide and vindictive. A person can live with that for only so long.” In his recliner, my father examines the winter light shining through his glass of water. “In that way,” he reflects, “she was a lot like my mother.” And after a short pause: “You know, you’re a lot like your mother, too.”

I nod. “Of course I am. She raised me.”

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Douglas W. Milliken February 20, 2008 at 2:46 pm

When I was a teenager, and Mum and I would get into fights about something—anything—the argument could end so easily, so predictably, her face red and words spit through gnashed teeth: “You are just like your father.”

This was before he and I ever met, before I could suspect that he might be more than a specter, violent and silent. A minotaur. And in my mother’s eyes, I was just like him.

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laurie February 20, 2008 at 2:51 pm

A sad, true entry for the Little Truths contest:
The phone call from the hiker came at 8:30 pm: “Steve’s gone!” “What do you mean, ‘gone’?” I asked. “He’s dead. He said he felt dizzy. We sat down on a log to rest a minute. I was in the middle of a joke, when he fell against me. I thought he was kidding, then realized Steve was in real trouble. I tried CPR but he was simply gone. Can you go tell his wife?”

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Douglas W. Milliken February 20, 2008 at 3:21 pm

The tom would’ve killed me if Mum hadn’t clipped off his upper beak. Which maybe was worse: a gaping hole in its boiling-red carbuncular mask, a single jutting jaw below, its eyes glaring level with mine. Each morning he’d chase me toward the bus, knock me down, club me with his faceless mutant head until my brother could grapple his neck and yell at me to run, get on the bus, go, go, go.

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Kimberly February 20, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Eek! I forget that anyone other than Nathalie or those seeking the “Best Red Velvet Cake Recipe Ever” (my biggest google search hit) actually visits!

Awesome! Thanks for checking in!

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Noah February 20, 2008 at 3:49 pm

On a concrete slab that served as a porch in the desert, Sam and I drank tea as the sun sank behind the mountains. The Shiprock rose like a giant middle finger from God over the entire Navajo nation. When scorpions began scuttling about in the dusk, Sam got up and began stepping on them. “That’s it,” I called. “Step on them all!” Sam danced on even after it was too dark to see him.

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Oronte_Churm February 20, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Well said.

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Noah February 20, 2008 at 4:02 pm

I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off. It didn’t hurt anymore, but, boy, was I ever lost! A friend told me not to worry because even if I never produce anything valid, like the McNugget, they’ll still find a use for me.

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John Brown's Beard February 20, 2008 at 4:19 pm

“I stole ‘February Fat.’”
He looked up from his Miller Lite.
“What?”
“You know how I always call my physique ‘February Fat,’ even in the summer?”
“Yeah.”
“I stole that phrase from a crappy hockey movie.”
“Oh.”
He looked back at his beer.

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Matt Evans February 20, 2008 at 4:49 pm

“We broke up when she found out I was cheating on her again. I got real drunk that night. She was waiting for me at the house when I drove up. She was crying; she wanted to get back together. I totally lost it, and punched the nearest thing that wasn’t her: a brick wall. The bones in my hand just popped.” I made a fist. “See? It’s about the size of a large marble.”

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SusanHenderson February 20, 2008 at 4:53 pm

How great is it to see all these entries and to see how much you can say in such a small space. Keep ‘em coming! Hey, new folks. Welcome. Regulars here know I’m working like a nut on my book… just popping in to say you all rock, and it’s a pleasure to read these micro-essays.

Thanks all of you who checked out Churm’s essay on McSweeney’s and clicked over to Inside Higher Ed. And thanks to Churm for stripping down to his skivvies for all of you!

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aimeepalooza February 20, 2008 at 4:55 pm

ha! That’s how I feel. And yours is also a miniature filet.

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Chuck February 20, 2008 at 4:57 pm

The sun rose over the hill and the bare trees scraped black against the pink-and-purple sky. He was already hunched over the hole, pounding his shovel against the cold dirt. It had to be bigger. The frost still clung to the sharp blades of grass, crunching under the weight of his feet as he walked across the field into this grove. The sun rose higher. He dug deeper, faster. The hole had to be bigger.

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aimeepalooza February 20, 2008 at 5:23 pm

“Do you remember Peggy’s nursery?”
“Yes! She was my first baby,”

She told me that Peggy was her most beautiful baby and that Peggy had the most beautiful children, never realizing I was the fat blond baby with the brown eyes she was talking about.

She told me about her youngest child and how she did not allow her husband to raise that one.
“How did he raise the other children?”
“Brutally.”

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Douglas W. Milliken February 20, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Nestling onto my lap, almost tender, she runs a hand through my ponytail. “I love your hair.”
“Thanks.”
“It’s so long…and curly.”
“I haven’t brushed it in weeks.”
She’s wearing almost nothing. “I wish my hair was like that.”
“It really doesn’t take much.”
A minute later, my sister buys me another and the dancer begins again her featherweight twist, on her knees or against my jeans. But I liked her better sitting still.

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Aurelio February 20, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Susan is my heroin. (No, it’s not a typo this time.)

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aimeepalooza February 20, 2008 at 5:38 pm

I was twelve.
He’d given me my age in shots.
Said he didn’t want me to feel any pain

I opened my mouth so he could look at the tooth he was going to fill. He couldn’t reach so he was on top of me rubbing up and down.
Trying to reach he moaned.
Little Cinderella…I have connections. I’ll get you a full ride to college.
He’s now the middle school softball coach.

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aimeepalooza February 20, 2008 at 5:56 pm

I also wanted to say that once again, I really enjoyed this interview. I am very interested in the idea of the way we present ourselves to the world. The mask. I’ve never been creative enough to think of a pen name, though. I have a hard enough time thinking up names for my children and pets!
Anyway, your nakedness is beautiful.

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Oronte_Churm February 20, 2008 at 5:57 pm

Um, skivvies. Right.

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Oronte_Churm February 20, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Thanks to everyone today for your kind comments. Keep those contest entries coming–for the next two weeks! And please tell your friends.

I saw Steve Davenport today. He’s so distressed at how good all the entries are that he reached up to pull his hair out and…oh. Right. Well, anyway, he’s gonna go home and have a stiff drink. I’m afraid I’ll owe him for this one, and you never want to be in debt to Steve Davenport. Trust me.

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candybeans February 20, 2008 at 6:08 pm

He surprised me by taking my hand while we stood before the fussy rococo furniture. We’d decided earlier that the view from the terrace would be even more breathtaking after sunset. We headed towards the stairs, the click of my heels filling the marble hall. Having already given me his jacket, he stopped me to zip it up before we reentered the cold.

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TheKeroseneKid February 20, 2008 at 6:47 pm

A week after our second anniversary, my father came to our house to stay. Being a generous man, he fixed our doorknobs, walked our dogs, and insisted on buying sacks and sacks of groceries, hundreds of dollars’ worth.
When he’d finished carrying it all up the stairs and into the house, she peered into the bags and said:
“You forgot the butter.”
While the chicken spoiled on the kitchen floor, I went upstairs to pack.

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maria February 20, 2008 at 6:50 pm

It was summer. The window was open, birds were chirping. We were in the kitchen, arguing. After a while I stopped talking but she kept on. I poured some water and sipped it slowly, studying the intricate creases around her eyes. She smacked the glass while I was drinking, and when I choked, water spattered her face. She pelted me with her tiny fists then. I didn’t hit back.

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cherylsnell February 20, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Boomerang

Dad was not dead, but Mom decided to give him a funeral anyway. “He’s dead to us,” she reasoned, stroking his old harmonica like a pet. “He’ll be back.” I offered the words like a prayer prayed without faith.Mom shook her head, and gathered the edges of her blouse together with her fist. “Not this time,” she whispered. We watched the sky toss up a handful of stars. “Look, a liar’s moon,” she said.

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maryannestahl February 20, 2008 at 7:13 pm

You read to discover your own world, recognizable yet transformed: a world where you lose yourself, a world in which to hide from your daily dread, a world reinvented by you, that tells you about yourself and all that is not you. To read is to discover what you don’t know you know, to see the sky is more than blue.

What pleasure! You want more. You write

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Harrison Behl February 20, 2008 at 7:15 pm

I came home and he was sitting at the dining room table, face hidden between scarred leather hands and thick dark beard. We ate dinner in the living room with the t.v. on for the first time. This was after the phone call from Illinois about his grandmother. He was still there when I went to bed. In the morning he went to work. When I asked, weeks later, Mom said Dad was crying.

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maryannestahl February 20, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Ooh! 75 words, exactly:

At first, he wasn’t aware of anything amiss. The dog snoozed in the yard; the mail lay on the table. The furniture, inherited, stood in place.

He made himself coffee (French pressed) and carried it to the study. That’s when he began to intuit, to sniff the delicate absence of her scent.

Then he saw it, propped against his photograph: I can no longer bear to live beneath the twenty-seven tiny shadows of your accomplishments.

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Timon February 20, 2008 at 9:01 pm

LEARNED

With unbecoming authority, she asked me to leave. I said nothing, pulling on the clothes I’d draped over the desk beside her bed. I could feel her hard stare. In the end she had become as self-conscious and complicated as the others and I was proven no wiser. Flinging my bag on my shoulder, I left her with her spent candles, her textbooks, and her Doisneau print, determined to catch up on my marking.

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Kimberly February 20, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Oh how I love the punsters!!!! Absolutely my favorite crack-pots in the bunch…

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Jaylene February 20, 2008 at 10:58 pm

She didn’t know what to say to him anymore. He was always out with his friends, on motorbikes, speaking in quick, rancorous French. His obscenely bleached-yellow hair was a beacon, a symbol to everyone that he was no longer hers.
“I’m going out.” He was going to see his friends, or God forbid, that girl.
“Be careful.” She was angry at herself for being so pathetic.
“Of course.” He was already gone.

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Jaylene February 20, 2008 at 11:10 pm

I was wincing before it even happened. Metal collided with glass, with asphalt, flesh, and back into metal again. The dim light barely illuminated my reflection, looking out towards the street in faint annoyance.
There was screaming, moaning, frantic speech in a language I didn’t know.
I peered out the window at a man sprawled spread eagle, a girl curled up on her side, burrowing away from the pain and noise. I closed my curtains.

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Sbain February 20, 2008 at 11:52 pm

When my mother handed me my father’s sunglasses—ray bans—from the 60’s, I was certain that I’d see things I hadn’t seen before when I looked through the green-colored lenses. Did he wear them the day he died? Did he wear them with his collar on and tuck them into his robes before he stood up at the pulpit? Did he ever wonder why his direct line to God couldn’t save his life? Because I did.

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chuckles February 21, 2008 at 2:25 am

This was a great interview for me to read today of all days and the submissions are very impressive – truly, gems come small. On my bus ride home I cobbled together these two shiny bits of paste as my contributions:

1) He queued for the pharmacist like everybody else, on tape-marked lino under buzzing tube lamps. Time crawled. At first it sounded like he was having trouble with his lungs. Then he rested his head on the crossbar of his walker and sobs wracked his bulky frame. His mottled hands shook on the grips. A tap: “You okay? You can move up.” Bewildered, furious, he wheeled himself outside again, but then had nowhere to go.

2) Same bus, every day: I get on at the second stop and he’s already aboard. I have my usual seat; he has his a few feet down. Solid, undistinguished, quiet; he never reads or listens to music. For years we have ignored each other. Tonight he was looking unusually dapper. I met his gaze. He clenched out a grin and curtly nodded. Eye contact. He has become a person to me.

I have thought for some time about coming to terms with my own pseudonym – http://www.chucklehut.org/index.php/site/ind/when_i_got_started_here/ – so now it’s not even a pseudonym, it’s just the name I grew into, or one that shrank to fit me. Both, probably.

Also, skivvies is a great word. Mufti, too, but it’s harder to strip down to that. And in conclusion, I’m loving the Aquaman shirt!

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Nathalie February 21, 2008 at 4:00 am

Memories from a 13 years old

I had returned home early that day to find signs that my dad, who worked from home, had a visitor. A woman. Her green coat and hand bag were the first items I saw when I entered the living room. The house was silent.
As I was just getting into my room, my parents’ bedroom door opened and my dad appeared, rather pale looking.
Poor thing. He had a migraine. A green coated migraine.

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SusanHenderson February 21, 2008 at 7:36 am

To say I’m impressed by all of your contributions (and by how fast you can crank them out) falls way short of my true feelings. Once again, I’ll be unplugged most of the day and working on my book edits.

Many of you know I’m fascinated by robots and missiles, so I’ve been following this story: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23265613/

Great to see Kenny, Kathy, Pedro, and all the folks at open-mic last night! Cool eclipse on the drive home!

P.S. Anthony and Steve – Got it. Looks great, and I’ll be in touch tonight.

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Oronte_Churm February 21, 2008 at 8:35 am

I liked the old Aquaman. He had confidence, which could only stem from knowing he belonged to another world the others didn’t know well. Because didn’t he always have to ride in Wonder Woman’s plane when they went anywhere? The new Aquaman is a brute, too obvious.

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Chuck February 21, 2008 at 9:01 am

The bowling ball was purple, and had been stolen earlier that night from an unattended Goodwill truck. Ten — maybe 12 — pounds. Light enough, anyway, for Lucas to toss easily into the air. He always had been strong, something that likely stemmed from his rough upbringing – divorced parents, lesbian mother, drugs, drink. As he tried to catch the ball in the parking lot the buzzing lights shown dully on his fractured finger and slowly pooling blood.

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Kimberly February 21, 2008 at 9:15 am

Slightly off topic. But who cares?

http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2008/02/25/080225ta_talk_widdicombe : is the link to click.

Brilliant review of SMITH Memoir book.

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Heather_Fowler February 21, 2008 at 9:51 am

First Birth

After nauseating hours of labor with my daughter, post-epidural, I was determined to be frontier woman, regular labor, except the nurses said: “Don’t scream.” When the babe descended, entering the canal like a mammoth thing, she grabbed her umbilical cord and her heart rate dropped. They wheeled me to Emergency, knocked me out, and cut me open. As I woke, I knew the others saw her first. Surprising—this had hurt the most.

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Betsy February 21, 2008 at 10:08 am

I really enjoyed this interview and LOVED the post on McSweeney’s as well, very moving and such beautiful writing. Can’t believe I haven’t been following Oronte all along, given my status as lecturer to the greater chicagoland area.
75 words… man, I had to pick out single words here, ‘clean’ is NOT my style.

Pot/Kettle
by
Elizabeth Crane

My century-old grandmother was happy to have a fresh audience in my new fiancé. “She was a beautiful baby,” she said, something she’d always considered to be one of my greater accomplishments. Ben said, “I think she’s beautiful now.” Mamie said, “Oh yes, but she was really beautiful then.”
“Oh, I like your young man!” she said. “Me, too,” I said. She pulled me close to her face. “Now don’t be too dominating of him.”

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Douglas W. Milliken February 21, 2008 at 10:17 am

Gliding several yards behind, Jaison watched as my runner-sled fell apart, as I careened off the bank and into his path. Unable or unwilling to do anything but shrug, he raced skidding over my arm. He didn’t even try to miss me. I howled, more in disbelief than in pain: my own brother just ran me over.

Like a red ribbon whipping gaily in the wind, his voice trailed behind: “Sorry!”

My own brother….

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Douglas W. Milliken February 21, 2008 at 10:21 am

Standing in the kitchen—sandwich in one hand, glass of milk in the other—I watched my brother stagger toward the house amid a swarm of acid stings. If I opened the door for him, at least one wasp would dart in, would sting me. To save my brother, I would have to share in his suffering.

Glancing from the window to the front door, I wondered, could my sandwich stand another dollop of jelly?

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Douglas W. Milliken February 21, 2008 at 10:44 am

Sea grass rustles pale and dead against the balsa fences leaning crooked in the sand. Bill turns off the ignition and opens his door, pauses with one foot touching the ground, then says before slipping outside, “The phone works both ways.”

Watching the rain wash over the windshield, I sit in the muted silence of the cab. This is the first time I’ve seen my father in eight years. In two months, I’ll be seventeen.

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Douglas W. Milliken February 21, 2008 at 10:56 am

Fridge littered with taped-up Far Side cartoons about dogs; on a pantry shelf, prescription bottles from the vet and two unopened Milkbone boxes. Seth’s been dead for years.

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Nathalie February 21, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Nice, though…

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Kelly Barnhill February 21, 2008 at 12:19 pm

I watch you, love, and see how you will look when you are very old. Your nose lengthens and bulbs, a tender beak. Your smooth brow folds upon itself, a topographical map. Your long fingers, gnarl at the knuckle, sprout spots like mushrooms, yellow at the nails.Your hair, thins, pales, floats over your shining scalp like feathers.

Outside, the wind hurls itself against the house, and the trees lean as though about to fall.

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troutbum70 February 21, 2008 at 1:17 pm

I felt her crawl into the bed. She touched my shoulder and kissed neck. Her hand rubbed down my arm and she kissed my shoulder. I lay there. “Don’t you want me?” I didn’t. I rolled to her and kissed her. I ran my hands over her body. “I love you.” she whispered. I kept on with what I was doing. She pushed me away and got up. I went back to sleep.

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chuckles February 21, 2008 at 1:20 pm

I worked and reworked to get to 75 words but this is so succinct, so complete… I can smell that kitchen, and the pantry with the scuffed foodbowl still on the floor, too. Very powerful and evocative. I’ve already said more than you did, but not nearly as much.

I have a FS cartoon about a dog taped to my fridge. It’s dated 1990. We put Cosmo to sleep in April ’05.

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Oronte_Churm February 21, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Nice to finally meet you, ELizabeth. I’m a fan.

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Christine February 21, 2008 at 1:43 pm

“My first girlfriend was thirty,” he explained, “and I was sixteen. All of my relationships have been like that.” He looked into my eyes, gently touched my hair.
“Chronological age doesn’t matter,” he continued, “love matters.”
I was thirteen. He was thirty-four. I wish I hadn’t believed him.

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Betsy February 21, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Wow, I’m honored! Looking forward to reading more of yours, for sure.

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Betsy February 21, 2008 at 5:06 pm

Dang!
Thanks for your nice comment on myspace – I’m having trouble with commenting over there or I’d have told you sooner.

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Mark February 21, 2008 at 6:23 pm

I couldn’t understand. Why LA, of all places? “Why don’t you move where you won’t have to work so hard?” I’d ask them.
“No, no, no,” the Latinos would say. “We like it here. It’s warm. Like our parents’ home, but better.”
“I live in Colorado. You could find a cheaper home there.” But to them, Colorado is an Arctic desert with only chapped men and sun-bleached women. And in a way, that’s true.

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Diane Ostrowski February 21, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Today my son called me bizarre. I immediately thought of Bizarro, the fictional charactor arch-enemy of Superman. But I did some checking and discovered I am completely ok with this. Strikingly unconventional – check. Deviating from the customary – check. Conceived or done with no reference to reality or common sense – this one I need my mom to weigh in on, but knowing the family tendencies, I think there is probably a check here too.

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Jamie February 21, 2008 at 10:16 pm

Because my father was too drunk to stand up, my wife went with me to the funeral parlor. My mother had white sheet wound up around her neck. She looked jaunty in the casket even though they hadn’t quite put her head back together the right way. “Yes, that’s her,” I said. M. and I stood there for awhile. She took my hand, and something odd made me wish I’d remembered to bring the camera.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 21, 2008 at 11:52 pm

When is the deadline for entry, dearest Sue? I’ve been on the road with limited access to email for the last two days. I’m home now (holding someone else’s secret) but exhausted. I’d like to drum something up and post tomorrow if it’s not too late.

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EkEkEkEk07 February 22, 2008 at 12:06 am

I missed his final performance, but he still embraced me and wouldn’t let go. “Everyone liked me!” I wasn’t supposed to let go. “I’ll miss you!” He left us fifteen minutes later.

I dreamed he was in my shopping cart. He wanted everything from every shelf. “Don’t fall out. Don’t fall…” His smile in that dream was the same smile from the hug. I still feel that hug sometimes. I’m not mad at you, God.

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Heather_Fowler February 22, 2008 at 12:57 am

Looking forward to reading your book. I love when James R. Spring gets jealous. :) Warmest, H

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Andrew Roe February 22, 2008 at 1:44 am

That night he again found himself in the backyard, digging. It was the third night in a row. He awoke in the mornings with dirt under his fingernails, his back sore, his eyes heavily bagged. Stares from his wife and children and co-workers. He didn’t know why or what he was digging for, to, etc. Yet he knew he needed to keep at it. He had stumbled upon something profound, at last.

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jurgen Wolff February 22, 2008 at 4:16 am

“I am honest and have integrity,” Martin repeated ten times as he finished eating breakfast. “I deal fairly with everyone and think of their welfare as well as mine.” On his way to the front door he avoided mirrors.

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Oronte_Churm February 22, 2008 at 8:31 am

Hi, Carolyn. The deadline is way out at March 7th, so take a nap, have a coffee, relax, and then boot up the internet machine and come on back! We look forward to it.

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Oronte_Churm February 22, 2008 at 8:32 am

THAT Diane Ostrowski? Good to see you again.

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Douglas W. Milliken February 22, 2008 at 9:58 am

Warren turns to me from beside his father’s casket. “He looks good,” he says. “Really good.” Then, with a shrug, “Pretty good.”

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Douglas W. Milliken February 22, 2008 at 10:07 am

The man finished peeing in the sink then blasted the hot water, bending low to wash his nut-brown face. Outside, the streets were dirty and the tar was melting and in just a few moments, I would see a pale buxom woman sit down in someone else’s urine. It was good to be bake in Bakersfield.

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Diane Ostrowski February 22, 2008 at 10:08 am

Yep – THAT one is me. Good to be seen ;> I enjoy the blog. It is SO you.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 22, 2008 at 10:20 am

It occurs to me as I watch his ashes spread across the water, that all these years I’ve felt guilty for loving this man who was my Daddy. I unlatch the golden key from my neck, the one he gave me all those years ago to lock away our secrets. It slips from my hand, splashes through the ashes, and our secrets descend to the deep. And finally, I give myself permission to cry.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 22, 2008 at 10:58 am

Grandma had a superstition for everything. Spill salt, throw a pinch over your shoulder; if your left palm itches you’re coming into money; if your right palm itches you’re gonna pay.

I swept a dishtowel across my brow when I was fourteen and Grandma jerked it from my hand. “Wipe your face with a dishtowel and you’ll never marry.”

Grandma’s words whispered like a curse through my teens and twenties. Then I met the curse-breaker.

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Jaylene February 22, 2008 at 11:27 am

“Do you like it?” He was nervous. The shallower breathing, the eyebrow drawn closer to the left, the half smirk that should just grow up already – I hated it all. I hated him, I was so angry.
I inhaled deeply, the scent of anxiety thick in my lungs. “I love it.” All the air came out with those words.
He smiled adoringly, face relaxed into serene vapidity, cheeks pinkened.
I wanted to scream.

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troutbum70 February 22, 2008 at 2:21 pm

The sunlight shone through the window and drenched her in gold. He watched from the doorway as her hair glisttened in the early morning light and her body glowed and shadows fell upon her seceret spots. He watched as the sun moved and the gold slowly melted away and all that remained was beauty.

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SusanHenderson February 22, 2008 at 3:16 pm

You all are fine, that’s all I can say. Keep those contest submissions coming! This is not going to be easy picking for our judge!

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Justin February 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm

“You’re a cold bastard aren’t you?” she asked with no hint of sarcasm.

“Yes.” I replied smugly, not realizing how my arrogance offended her.

“Does that mean I can’t get a new monitor?” she asked with the faintest hope.

“Not my call.” I shot back. The blank expression hid my joy. I started back on nicotine soon after.

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maryannestahl February 22, 2008 at 6:54 pm

The Rabbit King

At the bottom of the garden lived the king of rabbits. The one the cat couldn’t catch and the moon didn’t frighten. The one I saw when I crept out in the middle of the night to escape my dreams.

His ears weren’t very large for a rabbit, but silhouetted, they suggested a crown. He never twitched when I kneeled on the grass.

I told him everything, though of course we never spoke.

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maryannestahl February 22, 2008 at 7:05 pm

When I was ten, I found the place where the devil lived, a tunnel into darkness dug beneath the porch, behind a trap door in the basement. A hole with a bottom I couldn’t see, but with things in it, nasty things.

When I lifted the door, horns rose from the shadows. A heap of something–bones? –threatened from a corner. In a slant of light glinted danger.

Evidence of the devil. Proof.

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Heather_Fowler February 22, 2008 at 10:53 pm

Okay, one last one. :) Love what everyone is posting!! xo, H


Second Birth

My son had kicked around my organs months prior, bowel adhesion plaguing my abdominal wall. C-section, I decided then: Already scarred, why destroy my vagina? Except they cut me wrong. Babe and father left me on table; surgeons called other surgeons. My bowels, perforated, leaked. Hours later, drugs wore off. Pained, I watched them lift parts of me out–cut, section, and return them—awake, Raggedy Ann in stitches, thinking: We are fragile, humans, yes?

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TG February 22, 2008 at 11:28 pm

At night and during the rains, I would sit on the roof like a gargoyle. I would accept this fate, watching the world from the top of an old stone structure, frozen in time and position while the rain drowns me. My features already hint at this: large nose, angular (soon to be bald) skull, bony limbs, indolent posture. Watching, watching, watching, surrendering to a fierce and eternal and crippling ambivalence toward life.

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Oronte_Churm February 23, 2008 at 9:03 am

Thanks again to everyone who’s written and commented this week, and of course to the incomparable Susan. Remember, there’s plenty of time to get more contest entries in. Spread the word, pass the contest along, re-post a link! Who knows, if it gets enough attention, maybe we can get sponors to play again. Personally, I love the idea of free contests with relatively short turn-around times and significant prizes. This is one thing electronic publishing can do well….

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TG February 23, 2008 at 11:14 am

Every so often, I feel like talking. It often happens after I have a cup of coffee. The caffeine begins to imbue a sweet, fuzzy buzz on my system, like a thousand nylon guitar strings gently humming just under my skin, over my nerves. Let us talk.

I look at my hands. I’ll take the dog for a walk, but darling, you should know: these are the times when I miss you the most.

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Dhull February 23, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Dennis held his three month old niece. As he looked into her eyes he noticed that they appeared rainy day gray and she didn’t seem to focus. It was May 20th, the day of the baby’s baptism and the family was together. Everyone was having fun and since the baby’s parents had explicitly considered Dennis “negative” and “cynical,” he decided that his observation wasn’t worth mentioning. By July 4th she was diagnosed. “Bi-lateral Retinoblastoma,” Cancer.

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jmbadger February 24, 2008 at 5:51 am

Something about the Holidays always makes things more exciting, and bad ideas seem good. It was just over halfway from the balcony to the ground, before the compound-fracture crack obscured the words that whipping New Year’s winter wind over his face whispered in his west-facing ear stung by strands too long licking the lobe in the tempest of an uncontrollable, impulsive descent.

“You know, this might just really hurt you.”

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TG February 24, 2008 at 11:34 am

She wore an aquamarine dress and a black sweater over tan skin. (She looked lovely, and I should have told her so.) We danced, slowly. We made fun of the DJ. We marveled at the giant moose head on the wall. She draped both of her arms over my shoulders. Several times she rested her head on my shoulder and sighed, and I caught the girly (read: wonderful) aroma of her hair. Lucky, lucky me.

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Karla February 24, 2008 at 2:30 pm

My head is oblong and gnashed with bumps kin to cartoon hammer-head spoofs. My ears are ridged like rings of fungus surrounding a dead log. My nose starts off vertical and ends horizontal. My mouth is half-empty, dirty holes where teeth ought to gleam. I wonder who we will beat when we inherit the earth.

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EkEkEkEk07 February 24, 2008 at 4:24 pm

“Mr. Doug?” I turned to him with a smile, but his tears washed it away. “The scissors snipped me.” Blood dripped from a tiny gash between thumb and pointer. I cleaned the wound and strapped on a neon yellow bandage. I performed a magic trick on his hand. “Does it still hurt, little man?” The blood stopped dripping, but the tears continued falling. “No pain. I miss mom.” My magic trick doesn’t work on hearts.

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Alfaro February 25, 2008 at 3:18 am

The Con Artist

“I love you,” she said.

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mark February 25, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Working in Hollywood

From behind his oak desk, with the towers of a city built on dreams behind him he said firmly, “Make him mid thirties, and white… and make her hate him.”

I borrowed confidence and replied, “The story is about his age, the projects and unrequited love… it’s what we cling to.”

“I cling to this contract you signed.” He said blankly. “My talent is white and pretends to still be thirty.”

“No sweat.” I said.

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mark February 25, 2008 at 11:19 pm

this is wonderful stuff. Well done. Although I’m not sure I like the vivid memories of hanging mooseheads you made me flashback on!!! :)

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mark February 25, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Great stuff Heather. Very visual.

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mark February 25, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Wow, this is really excellent. The best opening line I’ve seen yet. I really enjoyed this!

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mark February 25, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Damn Iove this Jamie. – She looked jaunty in the casket even though they hadn’t quite put her head back together the right way- Knock out line.

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mark February 25, 2008 at 11:56 pm

Wow, I’m just blown away by the quality of the posts here. Great idea! I could spend all night on these shorts but my girlriend would shoot me!!

A humble offering, untitled b/c I have no idea what to use as the title.

It is so warm in the womb. Life giving life and is certainly one of the best things they do. I think of this and struggle to keep warm in this cold, sterile room. My fingers leave imprints on the frigid stainless steel as I place them on the timeless slabs and latch the door. Death is never warm but it is, every day, the best thing I do.

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i love steve davenport February 26, 2008 at 3:25 am

I’ll check Facebook, maybe a girl posted on my wall (step one of modern courtship). Instead I see a slurry of “RIP” status updates. A high school friend had been shot. From now on, I guess this is how I’ll find out about the deaths of friends and family…and how they’ll find out about my own death, and how they’ll remember me when I’m gone… maybe my religious views shouldn’t be robotic penguin penis god.

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Douglas W. Milliken February 26, 2008 at 10:13 am

“If Dave pleads not guilty, and we pay our lawyer to represent him, the judge’ll still find him guilty, and he’ll face an even bigger fine.” A gust of wind rocks the house. “You have to face it,” and she stares Scott straight in his eyes. “You’re living in a fantasy world.”

Calmly, Scott nods, meets her gaze. “I know.” Another strong gust rocks the house. “But I still want to help.”

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Douglas W. Milliken February 26, 2008 at 10:28 am

“Because,” I said, “ ‘Dad’ is a term given in affection. It requires more than biology. It requires love. Familiarity. It requires a relationship.”

I had never before spoken so openly to my father. In all likelihood, it would never happen again. Grinning, Bill clapped his hands together—a meaty bell signaling the end of another day—and said, genial and polite as any telephone operator, “I’m glad we had this little chat.”

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Douglas W. Milliken February 26, 2008 at 10:32 am

Thank you, sir, and sorry for the delayed reply.

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Douglas W. Milliken February 26, 2008 at 10:52 am

My father and uncle—when they were still young men—were drinking beneath a tree when a bird amazingly shit straight down into my father’s bottle. He didn’t see it happen. He swigged the tainted beer.

Then he went inside the house. Found my uncle’s shotgun. Came out and shot the bird from its perch. Replaced the gun, fetched a fresh beer, resumed his seat under the tree as if nothing had happened at all.

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Douglas W. Milliken February 26, 2008 at 10:59 am

The first throb of whiplash was setting in when Jaison squeezed free a single tear. Plashing from his bucking head. Landing on Tanya’s blue dress. In a sudden jolt, Tanya stopped shaking him, and for a moment like the silent parting of judgement’s gates, she stared at that tiny stain, barely darker than the rest of her skirt.

“Look what you’ve done,” was all she said. Then the real thrashing began.

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Dan February 26, 2008 at 10:54 pm

The afternoon had acquired a feeling of the apocalypse. The sun was low, and our spirits felt as directionless as the dust motes that hung nearly motionless in the wake of the apartment’s high windows. As I rose to empty the ashtray, my glasses caught the light in a blinding flash, and for a moment I thought the time had come, and the flash was the last thing I would ever see.

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David Conrad February 26, 2008 at 10:55 pm

The afternoon had grown dim, and the noise on the street had acquired the speed and enthusiasm of youth. Our cups, the conquered foes, were arranged before us, full of melted ice and lemon wedges wrinkled like scrotums. During a long pause, perhaps the last, I leaned forward, and whispered, “But would you play Natasha to my Pierre?” It was then that I realized: she was too pretty to have ever read any Tolstoy.

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Cecilia Baader February 26, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Oswald
You’re always borrowing trouble, my father said. It doesn’t matter who people are. For instance, your Aunt Edna nearly married Lee Oswald. Senior.
It took a second to make the connection. You mean Lee Harvey’s father?
Didn’t I say senior? And anyway, she didn’t marry him. It looked serious, but it didn’t last.
Wow. But if Edna had married old Lee Oswald, maybe Jack Kennedy would still be alive.
Maybe. Maybe not.

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TG February 26, 2008 at 11:08 pm

I rushed to escape the claustrophobia of God’s absence. I checked my room, for maybe He was hiding in the closet behind my winter coat, but He was not. I checked my apartment: the pantry, the fireplace, the top shelves. I called out occasionally, looking for a hint, hoping that God would purposely bump the flower pot on the window sill and reveal Himself. I have lost God.

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The Skunk February 27, 2008 at 12:02 am

Chuck annoys the shit out of me. Pacing up and down the hallway to make his fucking little snacks every two minutes. Cutting little pieces of paper obsessively all night. Playing his goddamn French music as if he knew what the fuck they were saying. Oh, IS that what Freud would say? IS it? I really don’t give a shit. Chuck, i would punch you on your smug-ass lip. If you weren’t my husband.

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Jaylene February 27, 2008 at 3:16 am

When I was ten, my parents invited a couple from church over for lunch; loud, middle-aged, Filipino, and overweight. I watched as heels clacked into our sixties-green tile and food was stuffed into mouths that never stopped talking.
I still tried to prove myself. “Come see what I can do!” I climbed a crinkled four foot high plum tree.
She frowned. “Get down from there, it’s not safe.” I came down. They really were fat.

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suzie selectric February 27, 2008 at 3:18 am

I noticed a little piece of chicken in my “vegetarian” pasta. I’m not hardcore vegetarian, I wasn’t going to complain. I picked it up with my fork to offer it to my mom. I stopped myself with the subtext; it isn’t good enough for me, but I’d give the hormones and chemicals and who-knows-what to my own mother. I brought the fork to my lips. Sorry chicken, I’ll try to immortalize you in a story.

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KMcKay February 27, 2008 at 10:58 am

Barely fifteen, she was conscripted to the farm of a German woman whose husband was away at war. While cleaning her mistress’ bedroom, she discovered a curiosity under the bed. Holding it aloft, she entered the kitchen where Mistress was giving instructions to the others. “Mistress, I found this in your room.”
Mistress gasped, and slapped her to the floor, snarling, “Curse you!”
Anita later whispered, “It’s the foreman’s condom.”
The girl stammered, “His what?”

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Amelia February 27, 2008 at 11:48 am

I learned to paint from experience, the botched green walls of a room I left and will always remember as they were, even when the house is sold and the room is repainted.

Understand that if you don’t paint a room properly, you will know those pieces of wall forever. Understand that every piece of paint that was not properly painted continues to quietly exist, misapplied strokes a dull truth that remains under new coats.

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Amelia February 27, 2008 at 12:01 pm

A Miracle

One day, the two of us stopped over-thinking. Instead, we started thinking just as much as we should, not a bit more than necessary. There were no more misunderstandings between us. Minor disagreements were forgotten, not turned into proof of larger things. Trivial errors of speech or judgment were just as important as the items we chose off the breakfast menu. You chose waffles and I chose eggs and it was a god damn miracle.

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Amelia February 27, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Cleaning a Couch on a Sunday Afternoon

To clean a couch, one must first mix an enzyme cleaner with soap, and then use a clean towel or rag to scrub the soapy water into the couch. After scrubbing, one rinses the towel, refills the bucket and starts anew, removing soap and dirt residue. Depending on the stain’s remaining visibility and odor, another pass may be necessary with soap and rag, water and rag. What I’m saying is that my life is furniture.

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Amelia February 27, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Rain (Theory)

Why does the rain make us feel romantic? Because we are unnatural spectators from inside our homes, and the rain is a reminder that we have the power to live our entire lives like this. It’s not the smell of earth, or the slick leaves, or the way we must amplify our voices to be heard over this larger presence. No, it’s the power of the rooftop that makes us want to fuck under it.

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Nikki February 27, 2008 at 12:12 pm

News from the Oil Inspector

I took a pregnancy test while David sat in the dining room. The basement lights shined through the bathroom vent where the serviceman inspected the oil heating tank below. Several minutes later, a plus sign appeared. I felt elated and unprepared. I closed the door, stick in hand. “Guess what?” I asked. Before David could reply, the serviceman walked into the room, painted black with grease. “Well, it looks like you need a new filter…”

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Mark February 27, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Great! Now I’m addicted to this super short writing Susan!! :)

My last two entries…I swear! Then I’m seeking some help.

Decisions-

I asked her what she wanted to do now but she only stood outside the bathroom door staring at the plastic stick still wet with her own urine. Her eyes were wide as she looked at me and hurled the thing at my head. It landed with the single pink line visible in the clear plastic bubble. She closed the bathroom door crying and we spent the night mourning on opposite sides of the door.

Addicted to Hope-

After pushing the thought away all day I finally called him and met him on the corner. He was greasy and happy to see me. Moments later- in the dark empty stairwell- I thought, “Last time…just a taste.” Then the needle poured out hope for tomorrow as I sank it into my pulsing vein…today.

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TG February 27, 2008 at 8:34 pm

well, i guess everybody’s been to a wedding at a county club. moose heads go with the territory.

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TG February 27, 2008 at 9:45 pm

“Junior Trink had a hernia,” the story began, “that was so big it could almost have a name.”
“I always thought he was just fat,” my mom gasped.
Turns out Junior’s mom had died under the surgeon’s knife, so his pop wouldn’t let him see a doctor. After his pop died, Junior finally had the thing removed. I asked Junior about it once over a beer.
“The bastard lived to 87,” Junior sneered. “Eighty-fucking-seven.”

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Dan February 28, 2008 at 12:57 pm

I recall a drunken night, somewhere in the postindustrial northeast, when she confided to me that it was her life’s goal to arrange Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major for woodwinds. I told her this would sound like someone farting. That’s when she threw her drink in my face.

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SusanHenderson February 28, 2008 at 2:30 pm

I’m trying so hard to stay out of the comments in this thread because it’s Churm’s contest and not mine, but I do have to say this one got right to me and I like whoever wrote it.

Okay, carry on. You all rock and you know it.

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Oronte_Churm February 28, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Hey, it’s Davenport’s contest at this point, and only behind the scenes, in lunchrooms serving Pabst, or late at night on the lonely Internet, will I chide him for picking all the wrong entries.

He and I are agreed, though, that the original contest rules are the basic criteria.

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Oronte_Churm February 28, 2008 at 2:45 pm

And you all do, of course, rock like banshees. Or something. What Susan said.

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Randy February 28, 2008 at 2:49 pm

In his younger days, my father was a deep-sea scuba diver. Instead, I get violently sea-sick.

My father once told me about a spearfishing dive with his friend Tom and Tom’s son, Randy. Randy had lost track of how deep he was, but his sin was panicking, using up any extra oxygen that might have saved him during the timed ascent.

He wasn’t half the man his father was, my father said.

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TG February 28, 2008 at 10:52 pm

He lights a cigarette, and the flame reflects off his eyes in a sinister way. He might be the devil. He clicks the lighter closed against his knee; sounds like a Zippo. It’s dark again, deeply dark. The dashboard lights died somewhere outside Barstow. I smell smoke and cracked leather, but I do not smell him. I’ll be dead before sun-up. I know because he told me so. And the bastard just sits there.

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TG February 28, 2008 at 11:56 pm

on a scale of 1 to fantastic, i’d rate this pretty super fantastic.

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B. O. (D-IL) February 28, 2008 at 11:59 pm

It was the night after the debate, and I was feeling good. Poll numbers were up, negative press was down, and Michelle and I were settling in to yet another hotel room. “So, what did you think of my performance tonight?” I asked playfully, hoping to get her in the mood.

“I liked it,” she said. “But for crying out loud, the next president of Russia is Dmitri Medvedev. Don’t you read the papers?”

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ESP February 29, 2008 at 11:53 am

The therapist: “If you had to choose one–the place or the marriage–which would it be?”
You piped up, “The marriage, but . . .” But. That tiny word hung in the air for seconds long as days, pulling my earlobes with all the weight of the world. You didn’t know you said it. I looked past your nose and out the window to see canoe-shaped leaves whirling softly, but certainly, toward the ground.

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K. Carson February 29, 2008 at 12:03 pm

When my usual is served at the cafe´s counter that morning, I realize I can do nothing to reverse what has become. I debate against the lump in my throat on whether or not I want to pay for the extra latte and take it home to no one, or send it back to the barista, explaining that I now have a new order.

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ESP February 29, 2008 at 12:07 pm

I admire your honesty–both with this girl and with yourself.

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ESP February 29, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Father’s Heart

The x-ray of your shrunken heart rested against the backlight; the machines expanded your thorax with unexpected force just beyond the glass. Sour notes of dark breath from the tiny folded balloons of your withered alveoli hung around my shoulders, an acrid cape I could not slough. Light filtered through mesh of coronary and capillary showing me that if there were such a thing as mercy, this would be its shape and form.

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davidgianadda February 29, 2008 at 1:24 pm

In the morning with the weight of unpaid bills on the table, we drank coffee, stared out the window, and admired the bees. They hopped and skipped across the purslane. They landed in bursts of pink and yellow, just popping up and off yellow and red flowers. They turned gracefully and flit up over the bent chain link fence into a sky as blue as a crayon. In that stillness, everything else fell away.

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Amelia February 29, 2008 at 2:02 pm

The Seeds

She woke up covered in seeds, the color of toasted sesame. There were many thousands of them all over her body. She had never been covered in seeds before and it was a strange feeling, slippery, like a snake might feel in sand. There was no reason behind the sudden appearance of all the seeds, but it was a comforting feeling and she turned over three times in the slippery weightlessness before falling back asleep.

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SusanHenderson February 29, 2008 at 2:08 pm

I’m reading along, and you all are KICK-ASS. Davenport has his work cut out for him.

Remember, you have till March 7th to enter as many times as you like.

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brainbag February 29, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Lazarus argentatus

They take the blue man out on a stretcher, stiff in cyanotic repose until the paramedics shake him.
He sits bolt upright, startled, confused, indignant.
‘Lazarus?’ I ask.
‘Argyria. Happens every fucking time he naps on the couch. Someone looks in the window, calls 911.’
The paramedics hate him. Nutter has pica, they say, and eats silver; it turned him blue.
I say if you come back to life you can eat whatever you want.

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troutbum70 February 29, 2008 at 5:07 pm

She pulled the bottle from the inside pocket of her coat unscrewed the lid and took a drink. She could feel the whiskey warm her inside and she could feel the cars as they drove over the bridge she called home. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling. She looked at the bottle and thought. Why the hell is it plastic? Then took another drink.

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brainbag February 29, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Sarcoma, or sockoma

Dismay, then relief, storm so violently across your face that I must ask.
‘What’s wrong? What happened?’
Chagrined: ‘I felt this lump on my leg. Thought it might be leg cancer. It was just my sock.’
We laugh but I know if you had leg cancer you would never let them cut it out; you would rather die first slowly, then quickly by your own hand, so I think would leave if you had cancer.

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EkEkEkEk07 March 1, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Wand at the Ready

He had no molars, so he ordered fried eggs and slurped them off his spoon. I peeled back the cheese and sprinkled my tuna with sugar. His gummy gob ravaged my appetite.
“Take pictures of Daniel’s dick.”
“It’s not about his…wand, wanker! I’m seeing the play because I portrayed Alan Strang. And I love Potter.”
Will Dan get a boner on stage? Will I?
I nattered, “My seat is in the fourth row, center. Jealous?”

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Randy March 2, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Nine months ago, when we were still married, you asked me if we should have a baby together.
I asked, is that what you want? You said, is that what YOU want? After a moment, I replied, I think so.

I think I was supposed to say yes. I wish I had said yes. Or no. One, or the other, without hesitating. Or not asked the question, at all.

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lorrim March 3, 2008 at 4:40 pm

“Ryan’s on the cliff of the stairs!” five-year-old Alaina yelled on her baby brother’s behalf, and I got there just in time to grab onto his suspenders before he toppled over. Later, during bedtime prayers, she thanked God for “making my mom be as nice as she can be, so far.” Oh, to be young enough to be saved; to believe that life is being arranged for your happiness.

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L March 3, 2008 at 6:36 pm

“Do you have that insurance policy?” He asked.
“I don’t care about that, Grandpop.”
“I know you don’t care, but that’s for you. I want you to have that.” He looked solemn, contemplative. “My days are numbered.”
“Grandpop, that’s not true,” I protested, as though I wasn’t thinking the exact same thing.
“That’s the way it is, and I know it.” He grumbled. “Don’t get old.”

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altoflacoblanco March 3, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Shakes the sugar into the bottom of the sachet, carefully tearing the brown paper, depositing Demerara grains on to the hot milk crust.

The first sip is narcotic, caffeine and glucose coursing through his body in sweet uprush. The late afternoon sun is just comfortable, eating into the back of a white cotton T-shirt.

Looking out at the waves tumbling into shore, wheeshting their way in, he thinks:

Here,

far away,

the water is no longer restless.

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lorrim March 3, 2008 at 9:47 pm

I think about food all the time, Sue says, staring at the antipasto platter.
This is me first thing in the morning, Christie says, waving a piece of salami as she talks: what can I eat, when, and how much?
Charlene spears an olive and tells about a woman who eats only when God tells her to.
That’s funny, I say, sipping a Lemon Drop. God’s always telling me to have a drink.

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Jaylene March 3, 2008 at 10:02 pm

I have important work to do, she says, frowning at her computer screen, like a small country’s well being rests in her hands. I know she always has three internet explorer windows open, sometimes four. She hits refresh a lot.
I see something load on the screen, and she does too. She could serve whiplash on a platter. She sinks a little lower in her seat. No one’s gonna email you, bitch.

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Oronte_Churm March 4, 2008 at 12:27 am

Hey, folks: To make sure everybody gets a chance to enter despite technical difficulties, let’s extend the deadline for the contest to midnight, Monday, March 10. Winners will still be posted at The Education of Oronte Churm, my blog at Inside Higher Ed (InsideHigherEd.com/Churm), later that week. Good luck!

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Mark March 4, 2008 at 2:53 am

Mother had made mistakes before but none so blatantly, heavily ridiculous. Bob wasn’t half the man Dad was and is. His heart was made of iron and his head was full of lead. His pockets were filled with gold though, and that’s the metal my mother was attracted to. It certainly wasn’t Bob’s looks. Or his personality.

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Amelia March 4, 2008 at 11:41 am

Fish

Dale looked out at the quiet pond. “Explain women.”
“We’re fishermen who don’t eat fish,” Howard said, closing the cooler. “We catch fish, but we enjoy pointing out interesting things about their fins and scales.”
“Remember that trout I caught with the two mouths?”
“That trout was mutated.”
“I cut it up later and that second mouth was a vestigial situation.”
“That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.”
“We don’t eat fish,” Dale said.

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Daffodil March 4, 2008 at 5:09 pm

Cicada wings glint in the sunlight, perfectly intact. Some bird had neatly devoured the fleshy body, dissecting and discarding the wings like cellophane candy wrappers.
He slips them into an envelope with urgency and places it on the mantel, away from the destructive pincers of his little sister.
“There are no cicadas in our house, right?” he asks me, but repeats the question as he often does, like a mantra that wills it so.

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BabyNinjaBeau March 4, 2008 at 5:37 pm

You catch me in the cath lab. I am supervising a spine reduction. An ordinary, onerous task, so while we talk I barely notice the strands settling about my chest, waist and limbs until too late, the web set firmly in place. The ring on your hand glitters when you point at a screen, where a tangle of blood vessels twitches – spindly, arachnoid. ‘They call that view of the heart The Spider.’
‘Apt,’ I reply.

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TheElementary March 5, 2008 at 12:00 am

Do not doubt it: oysters are the food of love. He revealed after forty years that he ate her annual oyster stew out of politeness, beginning with their first anniversary- a night of stars- and a gastronomic suggestion.
She cooked it, he ate it and they assumed the other’s pleasure. Both wrong but each offered invisible, enduring proof of affection.
He thought it was her family tradition. She thought it was his. It became theirs.

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Webwriter March 5, 2008 at 2:52 am

She was five years old. She was a tiny little burgeoning baby of a life. And her father took it. He crushed it in his huge meaty fists while quenching his hot desire. He never stopped to think what he would perpetuate. It didn’t matter one whit that three generations, and counting, would suffer incalculable loss over and over again. All he knew was irresistible need. All she knew was searing pain and blessed blankness.

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BabyNinjaBeau March 5, 2008 at 3:10 am

They called me about a 22 year-old man, axe versus head. Surgery saved him but he’ll never walk or talk again; at his age, he will waste away and live for years. Before we got to him, he was a model. You know, we never did ascertain who swung the hatchet – jilted girlfriend or jealous husband – before his mother, Mrs. Wood, took him back to Chicago.

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BabyNinjaBeau March 5, 2008 at 3:10 am

They called me about an 80 year-old man, axe versus head. Surgery saved him and now he’ll never walk or talk again; at his age he will waste away, die of pneumonia or sepsis within the year. Family wants everything done and no expense spared. If the old man dies in the hospital it means a murder charge, and mercy, his grandson is only fifteen with an older brother and father already in jail.

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Rubiale March 5, 2008 at 12:38 pm

fucking beautiful and lush.

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Webwriter March 5, 2008 at 4:28 pm

Once a year I allow the iron curtain to drop and the memories come. For twenty-four solid hours, there is nothing but me and my ultimate pain. I drink. I write. I cry. I hurl invective at the sky. As dawn casts gray light into the French doors guarding my office, I force it all away again, force control onto my face and into my heart. I have survived yet another year without him. Why?

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Marie Jean March 5, 2008 at 5:55 pm

He went on and on about the proper management of all things personal, silencing her whenever she tried to get a word in. “There is nothing worse than a human machine gun”, she thought,” in love with the musical notes of his very own speech”. She had finally surrendered to his verbal diarrhea, when he abruptly ended their seemingly endless conversation. As the dial tone set in, she thought, “I’ll never play that song again!”

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lorrim March 5, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Did you know that a hickey on the lip is blue, impossible to hide without making your whole mouth a bruise? I paid for his sin by carrying it around for a week, typical women’s work. No one said anything.

Now the wound is gone, transformed into story, and so is the man. He rented the house next door, but the owners never sold it to him. I made sure of that.

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TG March 5, 2008 at 10:36 pm

I spent an afternoon in the university library, pacing through tightly spaced, metal bookshelves in search of an obscure scientific journal. The sun shone lazily through hazy windows. I kicked up dust giving the rays a geometric shape. Giving them depth. Like a rhombus. A parallelogram, too.

Turned out the article was actually on microfiche. It didn’t teach me anything useful.

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Cheter’s Bubble Wrap March 6, 2008 at 1:46 am

Innocent and Still Imprisoned
For Jose

They pace the emergency room, needing to hear their unconscious two year old laughing again. The nurse tells them Lucy is stable. Minutes later the police arrive and arrest Jose. Diagnosis: Shaken Baby Syndrome. While Jose’s imprisoned, Lucy has more blackouts. Frustrating legalities follow. Three years after the emergency room, he finally gets to see his daughter. He’s between trials and violating restraining orders. She’s in a casket. Not child abuse, but brain cancer.

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Liberty March 6, 2008 at 8:41 am

“All you ever know is what you don’t know,” she said, swilling her wine. Jorge gazed toward the ceiling fan. “Stop rolling your eyes,” she said.

“Why do you have to go all Nietzsche on me?” He tried to imagine how his life—short as it was now to be—had intersected this irritatingly astute redhead’s.

“To discern the unknown in the known was more his thing,” she shot back.

Oh, yes. He’d been horny.

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Dey March 6, 2008 at 8:47 am

My friend adored the word, “FREE.” He was so enamored with the word “FREE,” that when his neighbors invited him to their party, his lust for “FREE” beer overwhelmed him. At the party, as he buzzed around the room, he noticed that there were no women present. Reality bit him quickly when one of his hosts tried told him how cute he was and tried kiss him on the lips.

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Noah March 6, 2008 at 9:30 am

The Juicy Lucy is a hamburger too marvelous for condiments. Its dripping beef around a molten cheese core is enough food for anyone, even the Hungarians. I bit down and burned the roof my mouth and chipped my tooth on a bone. Not a cow bone, as it tuned out. But a human finger bone wrapped in a bloody bandage. Then I remembered that my brother was getting married that day at the Weisman.

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j3black March 6, 2008 at 11:54 am

You won’t melt if I leave you in the rain, but I provide cover as you unlock your car. You reach for me; my umbrella shields our quick embrace. We let go and promise, “See you,” almost together.

You drive away. I know I should have held you longer and savored your arms holding me strong. The road collapses behind you, rebuilt by glass fibers that can bear only the weight of words.

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libbeyw March 6, 2008 at 2:37 pm

I lived in the dorms, so it hadn’t occurred to me that I might go trick-or-treating. But after dinner, I saw people doing just that. I took a navy blue sheet, draped it over my head sans eyeholes, and went outside. That’s how it came to pass that my boyfriend and another girl walked next to me without realizing it, talking of their cemetery-going plans. That’s how I came to be a forlorn ghost.

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Matt Evans March 6, 2008 at 4:04 pm

The ghost, a little dead-eyed girl, appeared in my room around three in the morning. I was nine. The walls were painted light blue; they glowed like bleached bone in the pre-dawn moonlight. My “Empire Strikes Back” pillowcase had the Darth Vader side facing up. My mom said Satan sent the ghost to scare me away from following God. I was excommunicated from my church thirteen years later.

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mamacat March 6, 2008 at 4:31 pm

A last image of Dad: smiling, eyes closed, falling into Beethoven’s Ninth, his head cradled in a pillow. I massaged rosemary oil into his feet, grown infant-smooth. Then he removed the earbuds, painstakingly wrapped the cord, asked for the case. I finished his feet, covered them with his blue blanket, kissed his forehead, and took the iPod. He held my eyes and murmured, “You are a blessing. Thank you.”
This time I’d got it right.

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MDH March 6, 2008 at 7:07 pm

I’ve been alive now for 22 years.
The only piece of honest advice I have is:
Never buy luggage drunk.

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Happy emeriti March 6, 2008 at 7:32 pm

A retiring professor sat down to read the final papers from his last class. Then he stood up, puked, and flunked them all.

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RobinGrantham March 7, 2008 at 12:09 am

The house was finally quiet enough for me to whittle this down:

I still have your card.
I use it as a bookmark; touch it, between the pages, a bit of you, memories of us.
You in the words. They take me away and that’s where I find you, waiting. So patient. There for me. Always willing to make me feel wanted.
Call, write, come back to me.
Finally, I leave you for the story, like us,
unfinished.

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RobinGrantham March 7, 2008 at 12:42 am

Oops, fiction. Please disregard. If I weren’t so tired I’d try, in 75 words or less, to tie this into the current faux memoir situation. As it turns out I have to retire to my den, where the pack of wolves that currently protects me from the mutant killer bunnies under my back porch is waiting. Or I have to go kick the dog off my side of the bed. One or the other.

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badly bradley March 7, 2008 at 1:31 am

We drop and snort and drag and gulp, to blur responsibilities and priorities. We scrape and sigh and swagger, through the ups and downs of days which weave in and out: our lives intertwine, our souls define. Tomorrow we get a job, produce children, accumulate papers. But for now we live.

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BJB March 7, 2008 at 2:44 pm

FRENCH TWIST

Once I grew out my bob, I rummaged around online for pictures of women who kept long hair out of their eyes while working, and found comments from a guy heartbroken to discover that removing one bobby pin would not, as in the movies, release his lover’s French twist. I repeated this story to my lover, and she responded, “welcome to life.” Yet when she removed my pin, it did all come tumbling.

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upright citizens March 7, 2008 at 3:16 pm

I asked her why. She said smoking was control. I was naïve then. Yet there she was: tubes strangling arm, dripping unknown chemicals, machines counting down.
Daddy left the room, I never saw him cry. So I stood bravely, while Mama coughed my name.
“Light me a cig.”
She inhales as her grip goes limp to white-coat men who enter. I pick it up, smoldering, coughing clouds of smoke.

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thevoice March 7, 2008 at 7:57 pm

He likes to build 3-D palaces from blocks. First deciding on a shape, then adding rooms for knights and a pen for the dragon. He spends hours embellishing with windows and an arch over the entrance. “Please, can we keep it up,” he says at night, jammies clean and teeth like slices of bread. I just want to tear it down, stack the blocks in their box. Out of his creation my own clean space.

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Daffodil March 8, 2008 at 12:08 pm

The receptionist for “hot doctor” is a twenty-something with a glossy manicure, blow-dried hair, bleached teeth and not a stitch of Old Navy. She smells like perfume, not spit-up. She probably jogs and eats sushi and drinks cosmos and does not drive a minivan that reeks of sour milk. She is a sparkly sprinkle with an effervescent laugh and has likely never yelled “go potty!” at anyone. “Crap”, I sigh and dial my husband’s office.

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Oronte_Churm March 8, 2008 at 4:03 pm

Just a couple more days, everybody, and Davenport will begin his judgement upon us. (He has special robes he like to wear; he’s had them dry-cleaned for the occasion.) Get those true Truths in by midnight Monday!

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TG March 8, 2008 at 7:54 pm

My coworker’s job, he says, is “to turn shit sandwiches into meatloaf.” I’m not surprised by the phrase. Once, he thanked me for “slaying that dragon.” I had run a single copy of one of his memos. These things routinely sport a shotgun blast of quotation marks; he puts quotes around words like “overarching” and “catch-up” and “convenient” when there can be no other meaning.

I consider him to be a bit of a “jackass.”

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TG March 8, 2008 at 7:55 pm

The city was dusty and hot. The children carried neon golf umbrellas to cut the sun, skipping through the market, a cobblestone street lined with bloody fish and sombreros and tinny loudspeakers.

The arena somehow smelled of freshly cut grass hay. A bull snorted pure dust. A slight young man skillfully slid left and pricked his foe with the ease of a Roman soldier guarding the crucifix. “¡Olé!” they cried. Indeed, Pancho Villa.

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Jessica March 9, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Lying on the grass, you join me under the unexpected February sun. I love your outstretched arms; they could hold the sky, I swear, just embrace all that blue and love it. We discuss seminary, but dancing with you last weekend— oh sweet Jesus, it made me lose my faith. (Last year Elise warned me about you. How did she know?)

I go to class. The one time I’ll leave you before you leave me.

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lorrim March 9, 2008 at 5:40 pm

“I can’t leave her,” V. said.
“After what she’s done?” C. was indignant, incredulous.
“If I leave her, she’ll be lost.”
“Look, you could be Jesus, some people just want to be lost. They spend their whole lives at it.”
He didn’t care what the evidence was. You had to assume someone wanted to be saved. You had to believe you could be the one to save them.

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maryannestahl March 9, 2008 at 7:33 pm

On Tuesday I decided I didn’t want to take the time to get dressed. I would wash, when I had to, but I wouldn’t put on anything other than my soft old robe. After all, slipping out of it meant relinquishing the possibility of dreams. And I could no longer afford to waste hours on anything else.

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maryannestahl March 9, 2008 at 7:39 pm

My cat’s spotted belly is my link to the soft underside of what has gone. His purr vibrates through past perfect memory and the present tense of what I know. Because he carries it , I understand, through muscle beneath fur and the green of his eyes, through scent and years–that I could hate my mother,
because she let me.

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lorrim March 9, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Jay Leno asked Patricia Arquette if she’d ever been chased by a wild animal. Twenty five years ago I was chased around my car three times by a neighbor’s goat before I finally made a run for the house. The goat wasn’t wild, but it butted madly against the front door, my roommate laughed herself into hiccups, and my heart nearly broke free from its cage. Not that anyone will ever ask.

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TG March 9, 2008 at 11:52 pm

The mud was thick, ankle-deep, and the sound of suction I heard as I labored to walk became so nauseating that I finally vomited. I thought, if I ever make it off this trail and out of this state, I’m going to move to the desert and live in sweaty isolation. Skin cracked; throat parched. I’ll roll in the dust like a disenchanted thoroughbred. Why? Because water is cumbersome, and you are beguiling, addictive, muddy.

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Emma March 10, 2008 at 8:04 am

A word trembles on his lips. He’s too old for ‘sick’ (do they still say that? Has he reached the stage where he has to ask if they still say that?). Too young to settle for ‘excellent’. This is how it starts. His eyes dart round the room. No other Timberlands. As the word ‘cool’ is swallowed down, and re-emerges as ‘great’, we see that he has hunched up, pulled his pants a little higher.

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Oronte_Churm March 10, 2008 at 8:50 am

Our friend Winston Churchill said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Bring me my brandy, haw haw haw.”

And so today is the end of the beginning of our Little Truths contest. Get those entries in before midnight today! Now where are my cigars? Haw haw haw….

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apbechmann March 10, 2008 at 9:34 am

Stealthily came the recognition I had no business being here.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, and I knew a cloud must have settled on my face.
“Nothing,” I lied.

There is no thermometer for sincerity, for trustworthiness, for concern for others. It’s all a shifty literature, read in the eyes and words, most often misinterpreted. My first, best friend on this campus was a boy, until he raped me. Now any friend was suspect.

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lorrim March 10, 2008 at 6:36 pm

That weekend up on Orcas Island, R. was off his meds and told my kids, aged 12 and 9, that “the only thing wrong with drugs are the narcs and collectors.” Later, he stretched out over the end of the dock to pull up his makeshift crab pot. I wondered if all it would take to put us out of his 30-year misery would be to watch him slip under the surface, and do nothing.

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lorrim March 10, 2008 at 7:37 pm

Nip/Tuck was on and my husband said, How can you watch that? Hey, it’s real life, I said, meaning, of course, the hidden parts—the insecurities, betrayals. The ways that time makes traitors of everyone and everything. I shouldn’t have said it. Who can stand knowing that you can love someone forever and they might leave you anyway? That you can live for 50, 70, 90 years and still die?

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Patrick March 10, 2008 at 11:08 pm

I was sitting with my feet against the vault, pressing my soles against twenty feet of cold steel and trying to imagine it was cool, green grass. Three years since we’d been sealed in and it was getting kind of hard to remember how different, how alive everything felt outside. Rose bent down and rested her chin on my shoulder. “I can’t wait to get out.” She said. The lie came easily, “Neither can I.”

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Patrick Hall March 10, 2008 at 11:57 pm

“Balls!” I shouted angrily. She just stood there, looking like a half eaten hamburger, one hand perched on an expanse of milky white thigh. “It’s simple” she said, in artificially sweetend tones. “No. More. Meat.” A pause and I coughed to cover the grumbling of my stomach. “Or I walk.” Her breasts rebelled against the confines of her t-shirt, teasing between Meat Is Murder. I had her for lunch; she was hard to swallow.

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Oronte_Churm March 11, 2008 at 12:37 am

The contest will close in a little more than two hours in deference to our Pacific coast friends.

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Oronte_Churm March 11, 2008 at 8:37 am

That’s it, folks! Thanks to everyone who entered the contest. Check in later this week over at my superblog for announcement of the winners (InsideHigherEd.com/Churm).

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Daniel March 12, 2008 at 9:32 pm

I’m late, I know! I misread March as May on The Education of Oronte Churm site. Fool! I know. If there is room (or clemency), here are a few entries I’ve been working on.

1. Whiskey.

The young man swallowed with difficulty, watching his father’s face flush.
“Shaving,” he nasalized, removing his hands from his closed eyes. “Your mother says you’re shaving.”
“Oh. Uh-huh,” the young man answered.
“Listen…” he paused, drank it off, and filled the Dixie Cup to its brim.
The clouds moved, shading the apartment. “Got a girlfriend?” he asked.
“Uh-uh,” the young man answered.
“Try it. It’s bitter, though.”

2. Exploration

Daniel and Danny laughed suddenly and had to surface for air. The high school pool was full of Saturday morning families and their kids. Juvina was wearing a polka dot bikini, smiling at her aficionados, Mexican almonds behind oversized sunglasses. At 14, she was more of a woman than her teachers, and knowing this, insisted that her “boys” take a deep breath and “this time, do something you pendejos!”

3. Show and Tell

Eric Hawk opened his uncle’s Hustler and pointed, rubbing the page with his thumb. “See!” he started. “Told you it was gross.” It was nausea and thrill at first sight. Before I could peer into the eye of a manicured vagina—truly a clinical sight, almost alien, like a close-up of a deep-sea beast without a name—Eric had his pants around his ankles and, while masturbating, goaded me to follow suit.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked.

4. Denouement

“Weh!” The Penguin began. “You’re wondering how I outsmarted Mr. Batman and purloined your capital, aren’t you?” The Penguin paused to adjust his monocle. “Let me give you a word of—” “Well, if I can make a comment about the stated question, the very fact that we’re discussing them tells us a lot about the sort of intellectual culture and moral culture in the United States,” replied Noam Chomsky.

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Daniel March 13, 2008 at 12:58 am

I forgot to add this to the last story entitled “Denouement” (Noam Chomsky, The Real News Network, November 19, 2007)

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troutbum70 March 14, 2008 at 6:21 pm

thank you…..

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