Bio: Whitney Sweet is a poet and writer of fiction. Her work has been included in A&U Magazine, as well as Mentor Me: Instruction and Advice for Aspiring Writers anthology. She is the winner of the 2014 Judith Eve Gewurtz Memorial Poetry Award. Her poetry will be included in the forthcoming Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem Anthology (October 2018) and essays can be read in the Far Villages: Welcome Essays for New and Beginner Poets (2019) She is the creator and editor of T.R.O.U. Lit. Mag, a literary magazine dedicated to love and diversity. Whitney holds an MA in Communication and Culture from York University, as well as a BA in Creative Writing and English. When she isn’t writing you might find her laughing with her husband, napping, knitting, cooking, or petting her dogs.
Haley Morgan McKinnon is a poet and playwright based in Portland, OR. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pacific University, and works as an editor for Cascadia Rising Review. Her work has been previously published in The Almagre Review, and more can be found online on New Play Exchange, or on Instagram at hmm.writer.
on the nights when your snoring is gentle it radiates
through your body like the most comforting thunder
tonight you hum with it, and even in your sleep you
reach out to me, wrap me up
inside your rumbling warmth
as if to say my love thank you
for the ways you can calm the tempest within me
and I try
to match my delicate breathing to yours, bury my head
into your chest, imagine
the relief of a summer storm
you don’t shake when you’re asleep
but dear god most nights
you sound like an old car
trying desperately to turn over but just grinding
rusted gears inside your lungs, please forgive
my inability to ignore it
I have written
enough sappy love poems to put
the entire state of Vermont out of business, but
my darling you know how I hate it when
my hands get sticky
I fear I have not spent enough time
remembering how sweet it all is
I hate your snoring
but I hate sleeping alone even more, it is
I can stand
for one night, or thousands
to lie awake and marvel at how perfectly alive you are next to me
Artist Bio: Haley Morgan McKinnon is a poet and playwright based in Portland, OR. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Pacific University, and works as an editor for Cascadia Rising Review. Her work has been previously published in The Almagre Review, and more can be found online on New Play Exchange, or on Instagram at hmm.writer.
A belief, word by word, a sentence would travel the miles,
unraveling a message of love,
at your lips;
Channeling the extremities of our country’s north and south.
A belief, the words would take me closer to you,
widening the pages,
shortening the distance,
till I taste your scent, like my breath.
An untamed desire to listen the reverie chirping in your eyes.
Feel the sense of your first touch on mu skin;
brushing my memory slate,
The chillness of Januaries in Pondy.
I write to you,
back to back
day after day, one after the other;
For in these pages are delved an exotic burrow to you,
which I see indefinitely.
JGeorge is a 26 year old writer from Pondicherry. Her poems have
appeared in several online and print journals, most recently in “The
Martian Chronicles”, “FishfoodMag”, “Muse India”, “Madras Courier”,
“Spark the Magazine”, “VerbalArt”, anthologies of “Boundless”(Rio
Grande Valley International Poetry Festival 2019) and “Love, As We
Know It” (Delhi Poetry Slam). Currently, she is pursuing her research
at Pondicherry University.
He came inside of her, but having her tubes tied meant that he could without any worry. She already had kids and whatever was hers, he felt, was also his.
“Are you going to stay tonight?” he asked.
“You know.” she said.
She dismounted him and went back to the bed. He climbed in after her and pulled her close to him. They were silent—for everything that could’ve been said was said in what they did. His willful control of her body as she succumbed to his power, it made her want to cry. It made her want to stay.
“I want to.” she said. She shifted her body to face him in the bed and they stared at each other, their breath synced.
There were things that she wanted to say to him. Things that she needed to say. Had to say. The bevy of thoughts crowded her mind like a train station at rush hour. Packed in, each one fighting for place, with the buzz of it low and heavy. The emotion rose in her chest and pressed to burst forth, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate and she choked on what she felt. Her cell-phone was on the nightstand next to the half finished apple turnover that they shared moments before. It vibrated with fervor and urgency.
“Don’t answer,” he said, “it’s him, isn’t it?”
“It could be the kids.” She reached over him and picked up the phone, resting her bare chest on his—as foundation, for support.
“It’s never the kids love, you know it is never the kids.” He cupped her face in his palms and kissed her on the bridge of her nose just between her eyes, long and soft. “But I get it.”
She looked at her phone and the bright screen confronted her with force. It was him. Her husband.
The phone felt heavy in her hand and he could see the weight of it—the heaviness of what it said pulling her down, and so, he took the phone out of her grasp and placed it back on the nightstand.
“I’ll have to go soon.” she whispered.
“I know,” he said, “but maybe it will be for the last time.”
* * *
Savannah Roberts was in her kitchen making dinner when her husband, Kyle, came home from work. The meatloaf had been cooking for thirty minutes already and she was washing the string beans when he came through the front door.
“Van?” Kyle hollered as he closed the door. Savannah did not respond. “VAN? That you in the kitchen?” He placed his sweater on the coat rack and went into the kitchen. Savannah was at the sink so that her back faced him. “Savannah Lynn Roberts,” he declared, “didn’t you hear me calling you?” He moved in close to her, wrapped his hands around her waist, and kissed the hollow cove where her neck and shoulder met.
“I don’t like it when you call me that.” she said softly. She shrugged her shoulders and slid out from his embrace. He obliged.
“Come on Van. Really? Since when?” He walked toward the living room while he removed articles of clothing—his tie, his cufflinks, his socks. “Are the boys home?” he yelled.
“They’re not home.” she said cooly.
“Again?” he replied. Aggravation oozing from his tone. “It’s a school night Van.”
“Kyle.” She turned the water off at the sink and stepped into the passageway so that he could hear her clearly. “I’ve never, EVER, liked that. You know it. I say it to you every single solitary time.” She went back in the kitchen and placed the pot of greens on the stove. “You do it all the time, and all the time I ask you to stop.”
Kyle snickered, walked back, and stood in the kitchen’s passageway. “Tell me one single time you’ve asked me to stop.”
“I just told you not four minutes ago.” she sighed heavily. “See Kyle. This is our problem. You don’t hear me. It’s like what I say doesn’t matter to you.”
“Oh boy,” he said with exasperation and flung his hands in the air, “here it comes.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” She turned the stove down to low and sat at the kitchen table.
He stood between her legs and palmed her smooth face in his calloused hands. “Va—Savannah. Love. Can we not do this tonight? For all that is peace and football. The game’s gonna start in an hour.” He kissed her on her forehead and as he moved toward the bedroom, he chuckled and yelled back at her, “Good talk…Van.”
She watched him shuffle to their bedroom as his laughter echoed through the hallway. Her chest burned with anger as she glared down the empty space. It mimicked how she felt inside. She had enough.
* * *
She set the table for the two of them to dine together, and placed everything with force and weight. The hard clank of the plate, cup, and fork resonated through the entire house. She plated each of their portions earnestly and sat at the table with her arms folded. She waited for Kyle to join her. Her cell phone alerted her to an unread message, she smiled slowly and enjoyed every word that she read.
“That the boys?” Kyle pulled his chair from the table, sat down, and started eating.
“No.” Savannah put her phone back in her sweater pocket. “It’s Ted.”
“Ted?” Kyle looked up from his plate. “Who’s Ted?”
“He writes our curriculum. You wouldn’t know him.”
“Hmmm.” Kyle turned his attention back to his food and stuffed a mound of mash potato in his face. “So what is it with the boys tonight. Jace have practice or something?” He talked with his mouth full—and open. That disturbed Savannah more than being called the name of a motor vehicle but she would never tell him to close his mouth or speak when he was done chewing. She wasn’t his mother and wasn’t going to raise him into the man that he should have already been. Kyle lacked couth and he was absolutely unapologetic about that–he was borderline proud.
She looked at her plate so she could avoid watching Kyle eat as if he had no training. She didn’t eat her food though, but rather pushed the mashed potatoes from one side of the plate to the next, occasionally swirling a string bean around her mash potato whirlwind. “There isn’t any practice tonight Kyle. They’re at Scarlett’s. They’ll be back in time for bed.”
“Scarlett?! You know I don’t like them going over there Savannah.” He slid his chair from under the table.
“I’m Savannah now, huh.” she mumbled under her breath.
“What’s that?” he looked at her firmly.
“Kyle. We need to talk about something.”
“That woman runs her house like an arcade, come as you like, do what you like, whenever you like. I don’t want our kids around her kids.” he said.
“Kyle. Are you hearing me?”
“I’m going to go get them.” he started up from his chair.
“KYLE!” she shouted, and did not move in her seat.
He stopped where he was and stared at her.
“Kyle, please.” she pleaded gently. “Sit back down. I need to talk to you.”
“Van, it can wait twenty minutes, can it not?”
“Hear me now or not at all.” she said.
“What’s going on?” He sat back down and pushed his plate forward and rested his arms in the space. He was annoyed. “What is it?”
“I’m leaving you.” she said, and the tightness in her shoulders subsided. She relaxed back into her chair and took a bite of the mashed potatoes.
“HA!” Kyle laughed. “You’re on a roll tonight, huh Van.”
“Ohhp! I’m sorry—Savannah.” He stretched the vowels in her name like taffy. “Just what in the hell is going on here?”
“I don’t want to do this. Not anymore.” She sat in the chair and crossed her legs, her tone stayed even and mellow.
He stared at her in disbelief. “You’re serious.” Kyle laughed. “Where is this coming from? I mean, I’m confused. By this, you mean, this marriage? This life we’ve built?”
“You built it, Kyle.”
“Oh no no no, you’re not gonna do that! YOU DO NOT GET TO DO THAT!” He stood behind the chair that he sat in moments before and clutched the back so tight that the chair rattled and scuffed the floor when he talked.
“I get it. I get that you’re confused and mad and you want to say mean, hurtful things to me. And that’s okay. I get it.” she said.
“So wait. Let me get this straight here,” he paced and turned in a small circle behind the chair. He shook his head vigorously. He was shocked. He was blind-sided. He was pissed-the-fuck-off. “You send the kids away, make dinner, pick at me, tell me you’re leaving me, and now you want to psychoanalyze me?” He laughed a monstrous and deep laugh.
“I just want you to listen for once. I just want—no, I need you to hear me.” she said.
He swung the chair around so that the back was in front of him and slammed it on the ground. He sat with a thud and placed his arms around the chair. “Floors all yours—VAN!”
“I want to say that I’m sorry that this is going to hurt you. But I’ve been hurting myself for the past three years by staying.”
“Do tell of just how hellish its been for you to stay home and raise our sons while I work my ass off to pay for this house you live in and that car you drive. Please, continue.” Kyle chuckled just loud enough for his sarcasm to cut through his laughter.
“You’re an amazing father, Kyle.” she acknowledged.
“You don’t say!” he scoffed.
“You’re a shit husband!” she stated.
“Alright, now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Our entire marriage has been about you. What you want and when you want it. Sex is about you, our money is about you, even how the house is decorated is about you. It–this has been about what Kyle wants and how Kyle wants it. You never consider me and that’s become so familiar, and I let it. You don’t see past yourself when it comes to this marriage and I’m selling myself short by staying in it. You don’t love me,” she said with certainty, “you love the idea that you conjured up of me. And it’s not totally on you. I went along for the sake of the boys. But I’m dying here. You suffocate me and I don’t like who I am when I’m around you.” Her cell-phone vibrated in her pocket. She reached in and silenced the alert without taking her phone out.
Kyle stood up. “You’re fucking around!” he jeered.
“What?!” Her shoulders stiffened. “What are you talking about?” She shifted in the chair.
“You…are fucking…around!” With each pause in his speech, he took a step closer to her.
She stood up to meet his approach. “Whether or not I’m fucking around, it holds no bearing to what I am saying to you right now. THIS!” she slammed her fist on the table, “THIS RIGHT HERE is our demise. You don’t even hear me!” With urgency, she rose and headed to their bedroom. Kyle followed her.
“Oh I hear you alright. That’s the fourth time your phone went off in the twenty minutes we’ve been sitting here. You didn’t even look at it.” They reached the bedroom and Savannah went in their closet and pulled items of clothes from their hangers. “Who keeps calling you?” he yelled at her. Savannah put the clothes in a duffle bag. Kyle stepped in the closet and pulled her out by her arm.
“KYLE!” she shouted. “GET OFF!”
“Give me your phone.” He snatched at her pocket but she jumped back and got her bearings.
“You’re being ridiculous. Stop it!” she barked at him.
“What’ve you got to hide, huh. Give it to me!” He lunged at her and she screamed.
“KYLE!” She held both her arms up motioning for him to stop where he was. She took the phone out of her pocket, “Here you go,” and handed it to him.
He didn’t take it from her. He watched her and his eyes began to fill with tears. “Savannah.” He let out a wail and fell to his knees and grasped at her legs. “Why are you doing this to us, Savannah?”
She reached underneath Kyle’s arms and guided him back to his feet. She looked him in his eyes and said, “I want to live, Kyle, that’s all it is. I want to feel alive.” She motioned him toward the bed and he sat down. She sat down beside him. “You should want to feel that too.”
“But…I…I did.” He muttered. “With you, I did.”
“No Kyle. We didn’t.”
He wiped the tears from his face and turned to face her. “You can’t tell me what I feel.”
“You’re right. I can only tell you what I feel and I feel like I have turned into someone other than myself. It’s killing me. I can’t stay here. I can’t stay with you.” She went back in the closet and continued to pack her duffle bag.
“Where are you going? What about the boys, huh? Did you think about them?” he asked her.
“They’ll stay here.” she answered him.
“Now I know you’ve lost it. What kind of mother leaves their kids, huh? What kind of woman does that? Tell me. So she can find herself.” His tone was sarcastic and full of pain.
Savannah stood at the frame of the closet door and folded her arms. “The kind of mother who thinks about the disruption to her children’s lives, that’s the kind. Moving them out of the only home they’ve known since they’ve come to this earth would be catastrophic to them. On top of the notion that they’re parents are getting a divorce.”
“Who’s going to take care of—divorce?!”
“I’ll be here to help send them off to school in the mornings and here until they go to bed. I just won’t sleep here. And yes, I want a divorce.”
“You need to go, now.”
Her phone vibrated again and they both looked at each other.
“Go ahead,” Kyle said, “answer.”
Savannah answered it and never took her eyes off of Kyle. “Hey…yeah…yeah I’m fine…just getting a few more things and then…okay…I’ll be out in a few.” She disconnected the call.
“Who was that Savannah?”
“Ted from work? Ted, I-wouldn’t-know-who-Ted-is? That Ted?”
“Kyle.” She picked up her bag and started toward the kitchen. Kyle followed behind her.
“You are fucking Ted, aren’t you?” He quavered.
She dropped her bag in the hallway and turned to face him. “Yes Kyle, I am fucking Ted.” She stood there and stared at him but he didn’t respond. As the tears streamed down his face, Savannah sighed, picked up her bag, and walked out the front door.
Tsahai Makeda is a storyteller. She also knits blankets and drives her kid to soccer (sometimes they fly). She spends her days teaching young scholars how to be amazing people/writers/thinkers/doers. At night she writes and reads and writes some more. She’s currently working on her debut novel and a collection of short stories. Some of her work will be forthcoming at breadcrumbsmag.com. She holds a BA in English/Philosophy from SUNY New Paltz and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She was born and raised in Brooklyn NY and now resides at the foot of the Catskills with her husband and two of her three young humans.
Oh! I could barely contain this joy, this excitement spilling poetry from the edges like molten lava of a volcano; on hearing your voice through this corded universe coded. My heart here knows today, such tremendous explosion, like the sudden boom of an underwater sea bed. Sending those ripples of zeros and ones across the sky surface, I decipher them in the space between us, to a bottled note of love, music in the ring of that call; and there is a voluptuous eruption of joy in my bosom as I taste your hiccupped laughter over the line, like bubbles in my cappuccino, my latte. Ha! The words flow nearly noiseless like honey from a dipper, smoothly dripping from your lips, shhh! reaching my ears too far away from your tongue tracing its curvatures, yet piercing my innards you go on talking. Oh! Your voice, so rich so intense cutting across this silver network of signal, fails to make believe me; how far a kiss is homed, and there I curl my fingers over some lately cut bangs, cuddling to a leech in the gaps between your fingers, I try to knot you in my tangles, a screenshot here, click! A souvenir until we meet.
Artist Bio: JGeorge is a 26 year old writer from Pondicherry. Her poems have appeared in several online and print journals, most recently in “The Martian Chronicles”, “FishfoodMag”, “Muse India”, “Madras Courier”, “Spark the Magazine”, “VerbalArt”, anthologies of “Boundless”(Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival 2019) and “Love, As We Know It” (Delhi Poetry Slam). Currently, she is pursuing her research at Pondicherry University.
Thank you for being with me on this journey over the past three years. TROU has grown and I hope has made a difference in your lives. I know it’s made a difference in mine.
Starting soon, I’ll be able to share two posts a month with you! For that I am thankful and excited. I love sharing your work with the world, to carve a space for those who need to be seen means so much. Please, keep sending in your pieces for consideration. It is a joy for me to read them.
To be honest, I was not sure if I should be celebrating this anniversary, this milestone, that was otherwise so important to me, until March and Covid arrived. And now with the trouble in the United States, and to a lesser extent, in Canada here too, I don’t know if I’m in a celebratory mood. However, despite the virus, and despite the hate that can over run our world, TROU has always been about love, inclusion, diversity, and being heard. If we don’t celebrate that when we can, it may never get celebrated.
Here’s to another year of amazing stories that change the world a little at a time.
If you’d like to support TROU financially, as it is my dearest wish to be able to pay the contributors to the magazine… past, present, and future, please take a look at the shop and the cool TROU swag I designed just for you!
Now, as is customary on every one of TROU’s anniversaries, I give you the very first story I published here, written by the wonderfully talented, Chael Needle. “Birthday Cake”
Birthday Cake by Chael Needle
The remains of the cake looked like a clock. Two pieces were left, where 11 and 4 might be, or 8 and 2, depending on where you placed midnight.
Even without its pedestal, it had been a tall cake, layered with lemon curd and knife-swept with pink frosting, topped with roses and birthday wishes to Will, the red-jellied cursive now reduced to the top of the ‘H’ and the double ‘l.’
The cake had seemed out of place in the 7 p.m. quietude of Hank’s kitchen, whose cold draughts had for once been dispersed by the waves of heat emanating from the oven, hardly ever used, and never for baking, a pastime which he had given up in 1984 after he had made too many loaves of peasant bread for hospital visits and too many pans of banana bread for wakes.
It had seemed out of place on the fourteen-block trek down Second Avenue into the East Village, as Hank, carrying the gift and sweating, his thumbs slipping on the opaque white plastic of its cover, dodged the New Year’s Eve revelers who lurched and laughed and nudged him.
It had seemed out of place in the elevator, where Hank had stood among men, younger and much better groomed friends of Will and Sean that he barely knew but recognized, who cradled gold and silver beribboned bottles of wine and liqueur in their arms like babies, perfect angels who never cried.
The cake had seemed out of place on the table that had been laid out for the party guests, a rich tower of sugar amid the bowls and platters of kale-topped this and star anise-infused that. The guests had complimented Hank on his baking as they ate their polite slices, thin as minutes. However did he create such deliciousness?
Hank misread the question as a true question, and he began explaining about this first try at baking after many, many years, how it all came back to him, the secret extra scoop of lemon zest in the curd, the closely monitored mixing to the right fluffiness, how his grandmother had taught him that the temperature dial rarely measured the true heat of the oven.
No one was listening, except Jeremy, there in the back, he noted, so he stopped. His baking seemed like a triumph only to Hank. It was. He was the only one who cared. He was not a child anymore. He thought of his grandmother’s kitchen and its branches of blinkless owls, always judging him—a boy in an apron—with their glossy ceramic disdain. He quietly pivoted away from his pride.
As he had with a tray of glasses and chip-and-dip carousels, Hank carried the mostly eaten cake to Will and Sean’s kitchen, rooms and rooms away from the study, where everyone (everyone who remained at 1 a.m., that is) huddled around Cards Against Humanity, their laughter a moat. At Sean’s bidding, Will bounded up, tried to stop him from cleaning up. Hank was a guest. He should relax. Hank kissed Will on the cheek and returned him to the game with a nod.
“I don’t mind.”
Hank wanted to leave, but all that awaited him was a tour of desire. As he did every night, he would scroll through the unlocked profiles of all the young men on Silver Daddies who had marked him as “Hot” and nurse his penis into plumpness. He never interacted much with them of late—some wandering chats, some messages to stay in touch. He rarely hooked up. They were very often looking for what he was looking for, someone to take them in hand. He wanted to play son, but he looked like a daddy.
He had wanted to leave since the first moment he figured out that he was the only single man at the party, except for Jeremy, there in the back. He did not mind being unmarried, not usually, but, these past ten years, he had found himself in a stretch of late middle age where seemingly all of his friends were disappearing, disembarking from all of the carousels of New York to pair up, to grab at different rings. Miriam said “I do” to Robin. Joel spoke the same to Kenji. Will to Sean. The list went on. He and they still met for readings at the Y, for coffee and crepes, for the odd rally in Union Square, but across each friendship, something had changed. It was as if their happiness had displaced all the old commiserations they had used to share. He and they had once balanced each other, complaint for complaint, struggle for struggle. Now, in the face of their new joys, Hank thought he should spare them his sadder worries.
Like when Will had cornered Hank for a brief aside that night, and asked how he was doing, Hank had assured him that everything was okay. He told him he was glad to be there to share his birthday, and he was, but he had squelched the reason that had truly motivated him—he did not want to spend New Year’s alone, thinking about all the dry, bitter champagne of the past.
In the empty kitchen, Hank set the cake down on its pedestal and paused. Instead of covering it, he brought it over to the nook with a fork he snatched from the drawer.
He began eating. The four o’clock piece. It was luscious and sweet, overly so, as he had always remembered it to be. Those blinkless owls on the branches of his grandmother’s kitchen had never understood—that with every tart, every kringla, every cake, every sweet creation, he had been able to make his own pleasure, and that had given him the power to resist the ready-made hate of the world that had named him pervert, poison, plague-bringer.
When he dug into eleven o’clock, the kitchen door swung open. Jeremy shuffled to the sink, his long arms burdened with trays stacked at angles.
“Oh! Why are you eating the cake?” he asked, alarmed, as he set down the load gently.
“I never had my slice.” He ate faster, mouthfuls fit for a giant.
“They were saving it for the kids. Remember? They came out and wanted a piece and Will promised it to them?”
“I must have been on the balcony having a smoke.” That pleasure was killing him, even as his all-natural additive-free cigarettes coaxed him to believe he was doing something good, communing with the Native American smoking a peace pipe pictured on the box. “Anyway, children should learn early that life means disappointment. You can’t always get what you want.” He set down his fork, but it was too late. The eleventh hour had been reduced to a crumble of seconds.
Jeremy stood over him, glowering. “That’s a cruel lesson. ‘Happy New Year, kids!’”
“I’m sure they’ll have forgotten by morning.”
“Do we ever forget—what we want? What did you want when you were that age?”
“To love whom I wanted.”
“And have you achieved that? Have others?”
“You’re right. We’re all still fighting.”
“So you would tell them you don’t always get what you want? Deal with it? Stop fighting for liberation?”
“You were there when the kids came out wanting cake.”
“You know that for certain?”
“Yes, I know that for certain.”
“And how is that?”
Jeremy softened, slightly, leaning against the counter. “Don’t you know that I’ve been staring at you all night?”
“I can’t imagine why.” He herded the cake crumbs with his fork if only to have something to do besides face this beautiful man.
Hank laughed. “You’ve barely spoken to me all night.”
“I was waiting to—you’ve been avoiding me as if I’ve done something wrong.” Jeremy twisted half-round, fiddling, moving an espresso cup from one stack to another. He wondered what had happened to the man he had met, the one who wore an “Ask Me” button on the lapel of his pea coat at the anti-racism rally, such mystery, such openness, all at once, like the twinkling and the sadness of his blue-gray eyes.
“But apparently I haven’t done anything right.” He still didn’t look at Hank. The cups needed restacking. He hoped the tinkle of the cups would distract from the crackling, cracking sound of his frozen tears.
“I don’t know what you want, Jeremy.”
“Some respect, for one. Return my phone call? A text? An acknowledgement of what we shared?”
“We had a wonderful, beautiful night together. I didn’t imagine you wanted more.”
Jeremy looked to Hank, hoping he would meet his gaze. “No? You don’t want more? That’s right. You believe you don’t always get what you want.”
Hank shrugged, wishing he were drunker or drowsier so his body could shut down his mind. Until Jeremy, he hadn’t made love to another man for a year and one month (and four days).
Jeremy continued, “You’d rather sit in friends’ kitchens and steal cake out of the mouths of children? You saw their faces. How they begged.”
Hank thumbed a tear out of his eye. Sweet bile fountained up his throat and then subsided. “I’m sorry.”
“Are you? I don’t understand how you could be so cruel. Or at least, so careless. It doesn’t seem like you.”
“You barely know me.”
“True, but I’m usually a very good judge of character.”
“I’m a selfish prick.” Jeremy at first thought Hank was kidding, but when he saw that Hank had fixed his eyes at the blank wall of the nook, looking at nothing, he realized that he was serious.
He thought to leave, impatient with grand pronouncements that were meant to scare him away.
He thought to stay. He was not so easily dismissed from the connections that he sought. He remembered their night together, how Hank had suckled each one of his toes, making him twist and squirm and yelp as he reclined on his back, the sensation making his hard penis swing like an unbalanced metronome, counting some unknown zigzag beat against his tummy, sticky thunking time.
He stayed. Hank needed a friend, a shoulder, someone in the corner he had painted himself into.
“Well, let’s not be so absolute,” Jeremy offered. “You had a moment of selfish prickishness. It’s not like you’ve led Hansel and Gretel to their fiery deaths!”
Hank laughed, turning back to Jeremy, which made Jeremy glad.
“You’ve been a little down all night. Why is that?” Jeremy perched on the banquette across from Hank, like a wrestler at the ready. Hank pulled the cake plate to the far side of the table.
“Oh. I don’t know. I don’t know why Will insisted I come. We could have just had the birthday brunch I always treat him to. I fear I’ve become the odd man out everyone feels sorry for around the holidays.”
“That’s why he invited you? Because he felt sorry for you?”
“I imagine it’s something like that. All these couples and me.”
“Will hadn’t planned on inviting you, in fact. I pressed him to.”
“I don’t know what Will was thinking. No offense, Jeremy, but you’re thirty-eight years younger than I am.”
“So? I’m good enough for a fuck but not for a date?” Jeremy masked the seriousness of his import with flippancy, but not very well.
“Come on, you know it was a pity—You felt sorry for me.”
“Wow. Give me some credit.” He was tired of assuring men that they were wrong about themselves. Babies! With egos as soft as marshmallows! But sometimes he found the strength to cradle them.
“You had the chance to leave after we kissed that night, before we went upstairs. You wanted to leave. I saw it in your eyes. You hesitated. I have no delusions about my—Look at me.” He brushed crumbs off of his belly.
“Yes, look at you,” Jeremy said, his voice laced with the shiny sea-green ribbons of desire.
Hank looked up. He wanted to be the man that Jeremy saw but he knew that he wasn’t. He had long decided to retire from romance, collecting a thin pension of memories.
“I think perhaps you are selling yourself short. Look, I have a similar problem. You think men see the glorious alpha-sissy dom that I am when they look at my slight frame?” Most white men cast him as a boy or a geisha or a boy-geisha.
“But you so are a glorious alpha-sissy dom!” Hank had never heard the term before, but he never argued with someone’s self-description if it fit, and this fit perfectly.
“I know. But you wouldn’t have known that unless we had made love.”
“No, that’s not true. When Will and I ran into you at Pinkberry and introduced us, I knew straight off you were—commanding.” He let the word alight on him like the touch of a paddle before the first spank.
Hank remembered Jeremy, his dark eyes in all that gleaming white, how one long strand of his black hair had unspooled from his high-and-tighted pompadour and touched his cheek. Jeremy had given him spoonfuls of attention, prodding him until he had dislodged his voice from the rock it had been stuck under.
“It’s closed now. That Pinkberry,” Hank added.
“You went back? I thought—what did you call it? The death knell of the East Village?”
“I did not go back. Just passed by.”
“Hmm. Just passed by my neighborhood?”
“I walk. For exercise. It’s not that far out of my way.”
“Was that going to be your excuse if you had run into me?” Jeremy grinned.
Hank chuckled, owning the truth he had not admitted until then. He longed to be with Jeremy, in his strong embrace, eager to match his moves, pleasure for pleasure. “That was a good night. What did you have? Something decadent—blood orange yogurt and pineapple toppings and peanut butter cups.”
“Yes. And you had a mango smoothie. And then I walked you home.”
“Like a good boy scout.”
Jeremy stood and grasped Hank’s hand, nearer to him. “Like someone who didn’t want the night to end.” His voice grew louder, grew softer.
“Then you kissed me at my gate.” Hank felt anew Jeremy’s nimble hands on hips as he drew him close, gently rocking him into a kiss. The memory lingered close as if to whisper something like “yes” or “you’ll be okay” to him. “Then—you hesitated.”
“I hesitated because I thought I might be coming on too strong, too fast.”
“You were very strong.”
Jeremy flexed his smile. “I was, but you went the distance with me, huh? Your legs didn’t buckle did they?”
Hank coasted on Jeremy’s breezy flirtation. “No, though my back was a bit wrenched the next day.”
“You should have told me. I would have come over and massaged you. I can be tender.”
“You were tender—that night. That’s why I never called.” Hank squeezed Jeremy’s hand, as if to say goodbye—or not.
“No offense, but you still believe in all this romantic—the illusion. You still have hope that love, the house, the marriage can heal you. That the hearts and flowers and the seven-tiered cake will make everything okay.”
“When you put it that way, you make me sound like a simpleton.”
“No, I’m sorry. I know you’re not a simpleton. I know it’s just because you are twenty-five.”
“I’ve been disappointed in love. In life. My mother and father did not make my childhood one long fairy tale.”
“No. I disappointed them at every turn. So they claimed.”
“I don’t want to disappoint you, Jeremy. I want you to have your optimism. I don’t want to ruin that with my—bleakness. You believing, and me not believing. Why would I ever burden you with that?”
Jeremy let go of his hand, tamping down his exasperation as much as he could. “Could you please let me decide what I feel? Could you please see me as someone who knows a thing or two and not as some fragile—child?”
Hank looked to his eyes. “I see someone who is very wise and very headstrong.”
Jeremy accepted his apology. He pressed for more. “Anything else?”
“And very beautiful. You know that.”
Oh—how Hank loved that swagger. How Jeremy knew he loved it, too.
Jeremy quieted. “Life’s been that bleak?”
“Yes,” Hank said. Jeremy decided to take him at his word, for now. Hank continued: “Let me put it this way. I’ve never truly had a New Year’s kiss that brought me any peace. Every man I’ve ever loved has put me second and by that I mean put our relationship second—to careers, to social status, to sex, to porn, to drugs.”
“Sounds like they were too busy trying to survive the traumas of their youth.”
“I wanted to scream at them: ‘Why can’t it be about us? Just us?’” Hank blubbered, and then, taken aback by his own outburst, blotted his eyes.
“Maybe they were attracted to you because they saw how much you believed in the ‘us.’ Maybe they wanted that too.”
“They always ate the cake and saved you none?”
“Yes, but then—oh, why am I crying?—when does someone nurture me?”
“Maybe never. Maybe right now.’” Jeremy knelt and grasped his hands and kissed them. He had a big proposal. He had a small proposal. He had whatever Hank needed.
“Most likely never.”
“Maybe never,” Jeremy corrected. “Maybe right now.”
“Maybe right now?”
Jeremy stood and straddled him with the weight of his answer. He brushed his cheek with the back of his hand. He bent and pecked his lips. He waited, like a boy on a doorstep asking for his friend to come out to play. And when he saw a blast of glittery confetti flash across Hank’s glassy eyes, Jeremy kissed him deeply. Hank kissed him back.
Jeremy pressed his forehead to Hank’s temple, his eyes closed, his voice soft. “I can handle disappointment. What I can’t handle is missing another chance to give you pleasure. How many chances will you give me?”
Hank wanted to say a thousand. Hank wanted to say none. Hank wanted to say the truth. Hank wanted to lie. He feared everything would come out wrong. So he said what he had repeated all night long but which he hadn’t meant until now. “Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year, Hank.”
They kissed again. Nothing could break their kiss. Not even Will and the two or three other guests who had swept into the kitchen and began to tease them as they dropped off whatever clinked and clonked in their hands. “If only my vacuum had that type of suction.” “Midnight ended two hours ago, fellas.” “And everyone says we don’t care for our elderly!”
Jeremy and Hank did not notice they had left. The world had enclosed them in the deepest forest of their deepest dreams, where no blinkless owls dared to fly.
Hank was first to break the spell. He smiled as preface. “This is lovely but—lift off me. Please.”
“Why?” Jeremy dismounted him and watched Hank, his lover, rise and start opening cupboards and selecting out sundries—baking soda, flour, vanilla extract, spring-form pans. “What are you doing?”
“I need to bake a cake,” Hank said crisply, crouching and turning the temperature dial with the slowness of a safecracker. The power of this heat was unknown to him. He would have to watch it closely. Jeremy could help.
About the Author:
Chael Needle is a writer, editor, and teacher living in Astoria, Queens. He serves as managing editor of A&U: America’s AIDS Magazine, and he coedited, with Diane Goettel, the anthology Art & Understanding: Literature from the First Twenty Years of A&U (Black Lawrence Press). His fiction and poetry have been published in Callisto, The Adirondack Review, Owen Wister Review, Blue Fifth Review, Lilliput Review, and bottle rockets.
Somewhere between Virginia and North Carolina: Find slips of her wit igniting weeds between the concrete slabs of the city sidewalk or in the worm-hooked smirk of a crow in the Blue Ridge sky.
Tiffany Chaney’s poetry chapbook Between Blue and Grey (Amazon, 2012) won the Barnhills Books & More: Mothervine Festival Award for Best in Poetry in 2013. Her writing has been featured in such publications as Thrush Press, Moon Books, Moonchild Magazine, Pedestal Magazine and VQR’s Instaseries. Follow her @tifchaney on Instagram and visit www.sassafrassoothsayer.com for more.
Maybe it was at your surprise 40th birthday party two years ago when your eyes sparkled and danced, warning me mischief was soon to happen.
Maybe it was at our picnic beside the lake. How you giggled when that earnest young man stood in the canoe, courted his girl with a half-decent version of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ and then fell awkwardly into the water.
Maybe it was when we left the others and walked to the playground. ‘I want to sit on the swing,’ you said. ‘Push me,’ you said. ‘Higher and higher like I’m flying free.’ Your hair, tossing wild in the wind, caught in your eyes and mouth. I wanted to brush it away with my breath and many light kisses. But didn’t.
We laughed at silly things, much like new lovers do, but weren’t. At least, not then.
Maybe it was when we watched the swans along the river. We shared a soft cone, daring long gazes at each other, then glancing away. But not embarrassed. I remember how your tongue made shallow smooth grooves in the fresh white cream. I wondered what you’d feel like on my skin.
Maybe it was when you came into my dreams. Just us, no commitments to others. Always together in the quick flashes of my thoughts. Nothing to pretend or fake. Just us.
Maybe it was when your dog got killed. You were weeping, its broken body in your lap. I pulled you into me, feeling your beating heart, your warm breath heavy with pain upon my neck.
Was it then I knew I loved you?
Maybe it was our first kiss. Not that ‘hey, how are you, good to see you’ kind of kiss. But deeper, our tongues eagerly exploring. Was it then I touched you? Butterfly touching bare skin beneath the light summer blouse you loved to wear.
Maybe it was your love poem. I opened it, daring not to breathe. I read your thoughts over and over, feeling your passion’s heat. Did I ever tell you I hid your poem so others wouldn’t find it? But I don’t remember where. Not even today.
Maybe it was when we first made love. I don’t remember exactly when. I couldn’t mark it on a calendar. But I do remember the rest of it. At least I think I do.
I do remember when it ended.
You phoned while I was driving to our swings in the park.
‘We mustn’t see each other again. Not ever. It’s complicated,’ you said.
‘Promise me,’ you said.
‘Please keep your word.’
You were crying. I wanted to reach out and pull you close. Tell you it’d be ok.
‘Just give us time,’ I wanted to say. But didn’t.
I don’t remember if I cried. Or if you might have felt my tears.
I don’t remember most of what I said to you back then.
Except for two words.
Artist Bio – Don Herald is a writer with thirty-two publishing credits for his short stories that frequently feature flawed characters who often decide to do the wrong thing for themselves and others. His work has been published online in the US, UK and Canada. A retired social worker and workplace behaviour consultant, Don lives in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
“You shouldn’t have to be “perfect” in order to be deserving of self love.” – Bex Saunders
“Self love is a difficult journey but its ultimately the most important journey one can do. It’s not an overnight journey; it may take years or even a life time. Once you love yourself, you are unstoppable. No one can bring you down. You are capable of truly anything. You become the best version of yourself.” – Bex Saunders
Artist Bio: Bex Saunders is a 23 year old multi award winning photographer from the south of England. She specializes in conceptual work, with an emphasis on self portraits. You can follow her Instagram @bexsaundersphotography
Artist Bio: My current work centers on self examination and expression. My influences are many spanning from turn of the century into contemporary. From classic to modern I love artwork in all forms. My three most favorite are Art Deco, abstract, and pop art.
I draw mostly from pop culture and the city I call home San Antonio Texas.
My day consists of tending my home, networking with preforming acts and checking in with good friends. Painting daily and sketching with the odd doodle mixed into a routine of sorts. Early mornings, late evenings, lots of interesting outings make up my life. Photography is another passion for me being a person who observes more than the usual.
Born on the west coast. I grew to adulthood on the third coast. I still have yet to see the east coast. The eldest of a single parent household. College educated and formally trained for graphic design. Growing up I was mentored by my grandmother an oil painter and hobby artist.
My pace is a constant flow of new mediums or art traditions. Switching them back and forth to keep the artwork fresh.