Fall 2014 Mini-Magazine
Sometimes Things Are Not What They Seem, Like Dog Food, Like Men
At the pet store I move slowly
down the cat food aisle, scanning
labels, locating my cats’ favorite
flavors. One by one, I drop
them into my canvas shopping bag.
“That stuff doesn’t taste as bad as
you think,” he says, cradling his
tabby cat in his arms. This is one
of those places where you can shop
with your pets if you like. But I
never do. My cats are too skittish.
His isn’t. I toss another can into
my bag. “You’re kidding, right?”
I ask and stroke the soft paw
of his cat, Hecate. She flexes it
against my palm. “I wish,” he says
and winces. “Once I opened a can
and licked my finger by mistake.
It’s not too bad, really.” Now I’m
wincing. “Looks like they’ve got
Hecate’s favorite flavor,” he
says, pointing to a row of vegetable
beef cat food. He selects a few
cans and drops them into my bag.
Hecate taps his cheek with her
wet nose. A kitty kiss. “See?”
he says. “She likes it.” I laugh.
Still, I can imagine how horrible
cat food tastes. When I was a kid
our dog’s canned food smelled
so good I licked the fork. Big
mistake. It was hideously salty,
the worst of the worst. I gulped
three glasses of water to rinse
it from my mouth. He tosses a
package of cat treats into my bag
as a huge German shepherd trots
past us, tugging on a thick nylon
leash. Its groomed coat glows
beneath the fluorescent lights of
the store, each muscle flowing
the way water glides over rock
in a stream. This is one of those
good-looking dogs, impossible
to resist. The kind that appears
in your life one day, and you
know it’s all wrong, and it’s not
going to end well because you’re
a cat person and this is a dog,
even though it’s a dog that likes
cats, even though it lives with
cats, even though cats adore it.
This isn’t going to last. It won’t.
You know it. You do. But you
open your heart anyway because
he’s just too gorgeous and friendly
and loveable and perfect to deny,
and you hope for the best, and
you hope it works out, knowing,
knowing it’s not. “Do you like
dogs?” I ask when the German
shepherd disappears down the
next aisle. He shifts Hecate in
his gorgeous arms and smiles.
“Yes,” he says. “I like them a lot.”
getting the gang together takes a desperate novelty --
gathering razors in piles that look like pillows from across the street.
a formidable e-mail is imagined and sent out, only to be corrupted
by a rebel gateway, frying all of the gang’s hard drives.
in this infinite text,
fractions of letters
are more effective
than entire cultures.
a rebel sans shatters
his sanity. a dropped
“r” shows his disguise-
the spy is hanged.
a typo cancels health
insurance, the cancer
a chemical countdown
begins, from water
to ink to acid to arsenic
to acid to ink to water.
i’m obsessed with what’s between us-
the cords that contract and relinquish.
but really there is a girdle around us,
loving us almost to death - a corset.
Riding the 147
I was riding the 147 bus to Illinois Street when my wandering eyes first settled upon her. She stood out from the tourists struggling to carry their shopping bags and over-sized cameras down Michigan Avenue.
Chicago was having its first true day of spring. The late-afternoon temperature was seventy-five degrees and sunny. In this weather, winter seemed almost like a hazy dream, ready to be tucked away in the folds of memory. Yet instead of basking in the sunlight, I was on my way to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier with my boyfriend. We planned to take a stroll down Michigan afterward, but for now we rode in a stuffy bus as it bounced and maneuvered its way downtown.
The girl that drew my attention was running. She wore athletic shorts and a loose-fitting tank top, the back of her sports bra exposed since the top was low-cut. Her hair was pulled up into a messy ponytail. Although she was immersed in the afternoon crowd, she still seemed distant from everyone else, set apart like no one could touch her even if they tried.
She had good form. I could tell because I used to be an avid runner myself. My typical after school activity once consisted of trail running with my Dad, breathing in the scent of earth and sidestepping loose rocks, filled with that strange feeling of exhilaration mixed with exhaustion. Now I run occasionally, although I promise myself every summer that I'll get back at it full-time. I always find ways to break that promise for some reason. I always have some excuse – work, sleep, friends, writing.
She was wearing ear buds, the cords connected to her iPod disappearing into the folds of her clothes. I wondered how loud she played her music as she ran. Loud music, to the point where I could hear nothing else, always set me on edge, made me worry that I would miss something important. And obscuring loud city noises with different noises didn't make much sense to me. I didn’t see the appeal. I always ran in silence, my breathing and the crunch of earth beneath my feet the only sounds I needed to hear.
We remained in sync for several blocks, her running on the sidewalk and me riding uncomfortably in a bus where the air was stagnant and stifling. At each red stoplight, I waited patiently while she jogged in place. Her face was red and blotchy and she was breathing heavily through her mouth, but she never stopped moving. I knew how tempting it was to take a break during a run. Just rest for a moment. It’s okay. You’ll keep going. It’s just one small break. You’re fine. You deserve it. Sometimes, resisting temptation was harder than the run itself.
She never once gave in. I silently cheered her on during each stop and felt the rush of relief each time the walk sign appeared, indicating that she could continue forward. While my bus jerked and messily changed lanes, she weaved through sidewalk traffic flawlessly. I envied her precision and grace. The bus ride was making my neck ache and my stomach churn. I’ve always had difficulties with public transportation, but since I started living in the city I’ve grown inexplicably attached.
Sometimes the bus moved faster than her, but she always caught up. I started to realize how ridiculous this was, wasting my time traveling on something designed for speed and convenience that couldn’t even outpace a teenage girl on foot. Frustration swelled within in me – no doubt the overwhelming heat was contributing to this reaction. My skin was sweaty and my throat was dry. My body felt tense and anxious.
And then she passed us completely, disappearing into the crowd like a ghost.
Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. The running girl was in control. She decided where she moved and when and how fast and why, while I was at the mercy of some enormous machine that carted hundreds and hundreds of people around each day and dropped them off like cargo. She didn’t have to stop at every street to release passengers and pick up more; her only concern was for her own two feet.
I ached for that kind of control and the spirit of independence only running could bring. I needed to feel the rush of air in my lungs and the wild thumping of my heart. I yearned to hear my shoes smacking against the pavement. I wanted my arms and legs pumping. I wanted to run.
In one swift movement I reached up and yanked on the cord above my head, alerting the bus driver that a stop had been requested. I slung my purse over my shoulder and abruptly stood up, placing a slick hand on the window in an attempt to balance myself.
“What are you doing?” my boyfriend asked. “We still have a few blocks to go.”
I shook my head and clumsily moved past him without a word. The bus shook to a stop, the doors opened, and I was out. I didn’t look back to make sure he was following. I couldn’t risk being trapped on the bus for another minute.
I wasn’t dressed like the girl. I wore a summer dress and brown sandals with no backs, but still I ran. I clutched the strap of my purse and I ran down Michigan Avenue like a madwoman, giddy with freedom and burdened by my inexperience. I nearly bumped into a dozen people, tripped on curbs, lost my sandals. I didn’t have her grace, but I had her speed and her determination, and it was enough to keep me on my feet.
Fleetingly, I imagined catching up to the girl after a few blocks, imagined running in sync with her, two bodies in control – but I reached Illinois Street before I could find her. I stopped and leaned against a storefront, dizzy and panting and teeming with joy. My feet were sore in places I knew blisters would form overnight. My cotton dress felt plastered to my body. My hair was windblown and tangled, but I felt beautiful.
My boyfriend found me there moments later. He stared at me for a few tense seconds and then finally asked, “What was that about? You scared the hell out of me.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, even though I wasn’t. “I just felt like running.”
He wanted to be angry with me; I could tell by the way he tried to fight his approaching grin. But his smile won out in the end, and he shook his head slowly. “Come on,” he said, holding out his hand, “the movie starts in twenty minutes. We can run if you want.”
I looked sideways down the street, searching for the girl and wondering if her run was over or just beginning. My own desire to move was gone, but I wasn’t disappointed or ashamed. The need to run would always linger beneath the surface, waiting for a moment, a moment like the one I experienced on the 147 bus to Illinois Street.
I turned back to my boyfriend. “No, that’s all right. I’m done for the day,” I told him. I took his hand and led him across the street toward the theater, leaving Michigan Avenue behind but taking the girl with me.