September 1st, 2018
We know, we know. Septembers in the Hampton Roads can be confusing. Blistering hot one minute, torrential downpours the next, and occasional nice day to remind us fall is on the way. But don't let the weather confuse you. This issue of PPM is a celebration of summer dying and fall kicking the door down. Take a trip on Julia Lattimer's "Train Poems" through VA to cool down, then don't forget to check under your bed at night after reading Melynda Sorrel's "The Deciduous Dilemma", and finally, use Couri Johnson's story "The Woman the Spiders Loved" as a reminder to dust the spiders out of your house. Thanks for reading!
Table of Contents
Poetry by Alex Skousen
Flash Fiction by Couri Johnson
Poetry by Julia Lattimer
Fiction by Melynda Sorrels
Artwork by Katherine Peranio
Poetry by W. M. Faulkner
Flash Fiction by Allissa Woodson
Artwork by Edward Lagomarsino
Poetry by Timothy Hudenburg
Fiction by Jessica Simpkiss
Flash Fiction by Ann Rosenthal
by Alex Skousen
It’s July and the blacktop lots are scalding with the sun. If I
could remember where
the shadows fall on the blacktop,
I’d always park in
their path. If I could glimpse
how cold I’ll feel this winter,
I’d absorb this scorching blaze,
help myself to more ice cream,
and another minute
in the pool. If I could stop time,
like lying on the
floor of my first apartment with only a creaking oscillating fan to
dry my beaded forehead to
salt all season seems eternal,
I’d stop time, and listen
to the gentle chirping outside
my window for an age or two.
Woman the Spiders Loved
by Couri Johnson
There was a woman who the spiders fell in love with. You knew her in high school, but you
weren’t friends. She was plainish. She still is.
But that didn’t matter to the spiders. They thought she was beautiful. It was something
about her hair. It’s long. She’s never cut it, and it’s very blonde. A spider saw her waiting for the
bus one day, and it fell in love just as it was laying its eggs. When its young hatched and ate their
mother’s corpse, they also ate that love.
They lived in her house under her bed. When she slept, they would slink out from
underneath and do small things to let her know how much they loved her. No, they didn’t write
messages in webs. This is not a children’s story. They didn’t lay eggs in her skin, either, so don’t
They kissed her. With their little pincers, they nipped her skin inch after inch. She woke
up itching every morning, covered in small angry welts. Her skin was always speckled with tight
black scabs from where she scratched the bites open with her nails. When the scabs fell off the
spiders collected them. They tied them up in their silk ropes, and hung them like chandeliers
from the underside of her bed. They went on biting, and she went on scratching. The spiders
weren’t poisonous enough to kill her, but each night she got a little more numb, until she could
hardly feel anything at all.
One day she called the exterminator, and the house was filled with gas. The spiders all
died. She swept the remains out from under her bed, along with the small altars they had built
from her skin. After that, no one ever loved her like the spiders did. In fact, no one ever loved her
at all. She went on not feeling, and the spiders went on not living.
That’s just the way it is with love sometimes, I guess.
Alex Skousen is a writer and poet living in Portland, OR.
Couri Johnson is a graduate of the North Eastern Ohio Master of Fine Arts. She is currently living in Japan where she is teaching English and working on a sentimental, speculative short story collection. Find more of her work on twitter.
by Julia Lattimer
I think the melting point of a train car is something close to us right now. The metal floors and bars and window frames can stream slow down river bridges like oil. In the water they'll pool a rainbow and look even more beautiful than we will, forever encased in our sterling horror. When the metal drips onto us in the steam, we’ll uproar. Our sweating skin can withstand the heat but not each other and not the shining lava liquid Red Line rock. We are preserved in tumultuous heaps, cased in steel, erected high above our Boston.
To Forest Hills
I dance around the empty train car as if I've lived here my whole life. In the deepest underground, I perform for no one. I mumble narration to no one, occasionally flirt with my blurry self—a coy smirk, an inadequate reflection. I limbo, scratch my boots into pleather seats and try not to hit my nose. I swing down the aisle on its jungle gym hand rails and capture Empty,2017in still-life shadow-study charcoal, then confetti and snow-angel it on the unsanitized floor. All smile and breath, I lay on linoleum, and the doors will open on the right.
To Heath Street
I found Virginia on my train to Heath Street. In the fog and the brick and the upward slopes I saw my coal mining country, forgotten and apologizing for still being there. The 4 pm reflection kept me inside Boston's metal case. I knew the dewy cold outside so well it would have startled me at the first big breath. So I stayed inside and loved my gentle rhythm. I watched myself pass under cable wire webs and hoped I could go uphill. I finally missed some Blue Ridge nonsense I'd spent a lifetime swirling through.
I hadn't noticed the train drain to empty with me still inside until I was mid-pivot and seeing the city again. The Prudential's needle was visible from this far, piercing my mountain gray as if it had the right to pull me back. How long had I been on this train? The reflection was cutting me harsher into Boston now, detailing the aged makeup in the unwanted creases on my face.
Julia Lattimer is a poet from Richmond who now lives in Boston, Massachusetts. You can see what she's up to on her instagram.
A Deciduous Dilemma
by Melynda Sorrels
“We need to talk.” The Tooth Fairy said as she suddenly appeared at the Evans’ kitchen table at the tail end of breakfast.
Mrs. Evans dropped the cup of coffee she was holding and glared. “Why can’t you just use the door like everyone else?” She grabbed a dishcloth from the drawer and began sopping up the coffee.
Unfazed, The Tooth Fairy poured herself a cup and sat down at the table. “Your daughter” she said stirring a little too much sugar into her coffee, “is trying to cheat me.” She leaned forward and stared at Mr. Evans in a way that made him noticeably squirm in his chair. Mrs. Evans took a mental note.
“What are you talking about?” Ms. Evans said standing up. “Anna hasn’t lost a tooth in almost six months!”
“I know,” The Tooth Fairy took a long drink of her coffee, “but there’s been a tooth under your daughter’s pillow every night this week.”
“That’s impossible.” Mr. Evans knew The Tooth Fairy wouldn’t lie about such things, so there was really no point in feigning indignant. With an audible exhale he capitulated, “Where the heck is she getting teeth from?”
“That’s for you to figure out. I’m busy.” The Tooth Fairy stood, chugged the rest of her coffee in one gulp and slammed her cup on the table. “Oh, and here’s a hint: it’s not human.” Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, she was gone.
“What was that all about?” Mrs. Evans didn’t miss a beat in addressing the shared look between her husband.
Mr. Evans looked took a deep breath and spit out the uncomfortable truth. “I did the same thing as a kid.”
“What? Where’d you get the teeth from?”
Mr. Evans expression doubled in sheepishness, “I stole my grandmothers dentures and broke them apart.”
Mrs. Evans look vacillated between “how could you?” and “are you serious?”
“I know. I know. I thought I was clever until she told my parents about it. I was grounded for a month.”
“Ok, well, that’s good and all, but where do you suppose Anna got the teeth then, since apparently this is a genetic affliction of dental dishonesty that’s hereditary. There are no dentures in this house.” Unpleasant ideas of where the teeth may have come from began to manifest in her brain. Thoughts of neighborhood animals left unsettling images in her mind as she went to investigate their daughter’s bedroom.
A search of Anna’s room turned up nothing unusual for an eight-year-old girl. Mrs. Evans was relieved to see no signs of animal mutilation going on in the Disney Princess themed room, but this only made the answer more elusive. Sweet little Anna had always been a good girl.
When Anna came home from school, the Evans’ were waiting at the door. “Anna,” Mr. Evans said crossing his arms across his chest, “We need to talk.”
“Ok Daddy!” Anna dropped her backpack and sat down on the couch.
“We know you’ve been putting teeth under your pillow every night.” Mr. Evans knelt down to her level to look her in the eyes. Anna squirmed like she always did when she thought she might be in trouble. “Where are you getting the teeth?”
Anna looked at her feet. “I remembered Daddy telling me about how he used to use denture teeth…but we don’t have dentures…”
Mrs. Evans shot a glare right through Mr. Evans.
Anna began to wiggle her feet. “Remember that monster under my bed that used to scare me?”
Mr. and Mrs. Evans exchanged an anxious look.
“He’s not so scary anymore.”
Melynda Sorrels is an award winning freelance writer, student, reckless blogger, dreamer and an aficionado of all things funny or caffeinated.
by W. M. Faulkner
Find one dead man ascribed not the epithet
Sing him his hymn’s choral scarlet retrospect
Taught tendons flayed, aimed at brother’s disrespect
Infantry men cut brutal jeweled pirouettes
Latent rot, lush and blooming, mother’s birth debts
Memories descend through your organelles’ eject
Artwork by Katherine Peranio
She was born and adopted from Guatemala, but you wouldn’t know from her atrocious Spanish accent. She is currently studying Professional Writing at Champlain College but she wants to make a name for herself in the art world. Within her first semester, she got her artwork displayed for Accepted Students’ day and she has been recently named by Frog Hollow Art Gallery as a Vermont Emerging Artist.
W. M. Faulkner
In poetry, Faulkner has have found a space of unlimited autonomous choice. His words can be placed and spread to communicate the deepest wells of himself or jumbled to the point of complete incomprehensibility. He is an artist in the Hudson Valley, New York. You can follow him on Twitter.
Try and Dream of Me, Ada
We have been calling each other Ruby and Ada for years, even though I never fully processed Cold Mountain. Did you mean to say that we are two women who don’t need anyone else? I would agree. And maybe I did convince you of that or at least sway your opinion, the way Ruby gradually helps Ada believe that she is capable. And you were part of convincing me life isn’t so heavy.
My aunt calls me and says I shouldn’t be so serious. Think light thoughts.
Light as coffee at Waffle House, the night after a party. I held your hair as you puked. We spent hours in the bathroom falling on the floor, laughing and moaning. It was a privilege forcing water and dry bread down your throat.
I have seen your scars and you have seen mine.
I know Ruby was illiterate, but she was intelligent in other ways. The women in your family all say they’ve seen visions. Last night I dreamt that I wrote a poem in gold on a page of my notebook. Is this the same poem?
Nearly everyone from the party was at Waffle House the next morning. We didn’t arrange it that way, it just happened. What strange form of intelligence.
I pull Death as my fourth in a virtual deck of tarot cards. The internet says it’s time for new beginnings and right now I am The Fool. Would I believe more in a certain future if I could have felt the cards in my hand? Try and dream of me, Ada.
Ada’s intelligence was more educated, crafted. I don’t know any bible verses. When we look at the world, I see soft patterns. I imagine you see more solidly.
I spent a lot of my time lying on your bed, observing and commenting on our daily lives, how they were separate and how they entwined. I watched you clean out your closet. I watched you choose what you would wear, I listened to you read lines for the upcoming play. I love to just lie around and listen to your stories. It’s cathartic speaking to a friend. You were what I had. Thank you for that. I know life feels hard more often than it feels easy.
You have become the screen on my phone that lights up with great or terrible things. We love our phones, because they become the faces of people we love.
In ways there are distances between us and in ways there are not. We know each other’s happiness and each other’s grief. When it is too heavy we carry it together.
But what the wisdom of the ages says is that we do well not to grieve on and on… You’re left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it’s knowing you carry your scars with you.
-Ada, Cold Mountain
Allissa Woodson is an MFA candidate at Regis University. She received a BFA in Creative Writing and BA in Speech-Theater from Arkansas Tech University. She is a reader for Inverted Syntax, which will release its first issue in the Fall of 2018. Her works appear in Progenitor and Literary Review-East.
by Timothy Hudenburg
We have become
watchful as the sky
silent seeing signs anguish
Rachel bereft, stumbles seeking her children
only to find another lost child
albeit one not her own
Artwork by Edward Lagomarsino
T. M. Hudenburg is a poet who resides in Northern Virginia.
Lagomarsino's artwork, Digital art. 7-25-18 Mrs. Swaney, is a painting of a beautiful moment between his best friend and his best friend's mother.
Bone in the Blood
by Jessica Simpkiss
No one believed me, when I was little and told them that they had buried the babies together in a room in the cellar. They’d say, Edith, you’re young and dumb, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.
I remember the soundof the nun’s footsteps clicking down the hall late at night, when the rest of us children, still alive, laid awake in our beds and cribs wondering if we would make it another day. There were so many of us it was hard to tell when one died, but we knew that another one was gone when we heard the footsteps at night. But what did I know? I was young and dumb.
Sometimes at night, even in my early twenties, I’d wake in the dead of night to the sound of faint footsteps. I lived alone in a second-story flat. The neighbors were noisy, but I knew their sounds, and the steps did not belong to them. They were heavy with sin, two-fold because they’d sworn an allegiance to God to protect the unprotected and here they were, discarding the starved and sickly bodies of children not meant for this world.
I often wondered why I never remembered the sound of their cries, but I didn’t. Us older ones knew what cries in the night got you, but the babies, they were just babies; hungry or cold or wet, unable to make sense of the hand the world had dealt them. They couldn’t be blamed, not like we could. But maybe even as babies, they knew, following our lead perhaps to keep it inside and pray that they’d make it out alive.
I have few memories, outside of the sound of the nun’s shoes clicking in the hallways at night doing the home’s dirty work. But there are some. Those that I managed to hang on to were vivid images painted on the underside of my eyelids; holes in the soles of my shoes, thin sheets on the beds in winter, the long walk to and from the local school where the legitimate children of the world teased as for being home babies. To them, we were a different species, dogs scavenging in the streets, and they treated us thusly.
I knew nothing of my mother, other than she’d arrived at the home after becoming pregnant outside of marriage. I’d seen a copy of the register. I knew her name. She was at least five months gone by the time she arrived. She’d hidden me away under thick sweaters and loose house coats until there was no questioning her conditioning anymore. I’ve lived with the guilt of knowing that I’d given her secret away.
It was just what happened. Girls who found themselves with child and no husband were harlots, temptresses who’d gotten what they deserved for their societal and ungodly immortality. They were ushered away to the mother and baby home after the yellow glow of city streets lights faded, giving their impropriety the cover of darkness. Their families would say that the girl had gotten a job as a domestic or had been sent off to learn a trade, like weaving. The lie perpetuated when, or better, if they returned home, belly-less and baby-less and life continued as if new life had not been created. When I’d tried to find my mother the first time, I learned little else about her than that.
There was a woman, a mother of one of the home babies, that had been forced to leave without her child like all of them had been. She would walk by the home twice a day, on her way to and from work, and every day, she would climb the stone entrance steps and beat her fists against the arched doorway. She would scream, loud enough that her voice carried away down the halls and into our rooms as we played as best we knew how. She yelled for the nuns, begging them to give her back her child. At night, I would pretend she was my mother, come back to claim me as her own. I suspected most of the home babies had the same dream.
At seven, I was adopted by a childless couple who’d been unable to have children of their own thus far. Having nothing to compare them to other than the loveless nuns that had been both mother and father to me, I revered them as the kindest and loving people in the world. But a year in, my mother found herself pregnant contrary to everything the doctors had told her. I must have been the good luck charm.
When Charlotte was born, I almost begged to be sent back to the home even though I knew it was an impossibility. There must have been a no return clause in the adoption paperwork because no one ever came back. Watching her come into this world showed me what real love looked like and made me a fool for thinking that I had ever been the recipient of it. I was young and dumb then.
It was late March. Winter was beginning to relent and give way to the milder temperatures of early spring. April was always a difficult month, bringing with it my birthday and reminders of my interloper status within my adopted family. Charlotte had already texted me a handful of times to ask what my plans were instead of offering to make them for me and telling me that we should get together soon for lunch or coffee. I was sure we’d end up at the same awkward family dinner, where the three of them talked like I might not even exist.
I always found myself on trains I didn’t belong on, but somehow in my daily travels in and out of Limerick, I’d find myself in a window seat staring at the bleak countryside spinning by the window. There was no conscious plan to do it, but as my birthday neared, it always happened. I’d never made it as far as Tuam, always detraining after recognizing the mistake I knew it to be. Nothing good would come of it, I told myself. Nothing good had come from it.
Charlotte’s text became incessant, asking for my participation in a long overdue lunch date between two sisters who might as well be strangers. I ignored them all, some without even reading the messages entirely. Her need to feel like she was a good sister could not have mattered less to me.
At home, late at night, I sit on the floor next to my bed and pull from the nightstand the only thing of my mother’s I have. It’s a copy of her name in the register. I trace the letters of her name as if she’d written them herself and not the intake nurse at the home. In the beginning, I told myself it was her handwriting, convinced myself that it must be hers, so I could have a piece of her. As I aged, I realized the possibility of it being her name being written in her own hand was unlikely. But I still trace the letters like they might be.
Days fell away, and Charlotte’s incessant texting continued. Her unavoidable insertion into my life only made me feel more alone, more out of place, knowing that she only reached out to me because she felt obligated to do so out of guilt. She knew the strain that her unexpected existence had put on my own. She tried to make up for it with niceties and pleasantries, but they did little in the way of making up for the love I’d been promised, found, and then lost again. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t her fault. She hadn’t asked to be born to her parents any more than I had asked to be born to my unwed mother. The least she could do was believe me when I told her about the other babies, but she couldn’t even be bothered to do that.
A week to go until my birthday, until I was granted relief from my sorted past for another year. I knew it was all self-inflicted torture, but it was uncontrollable. My therapist, two therapists ago, had suggested that I embrace the pain, live in it, relish it, and grow from it. The one before her only seemed interested in the insecurities my adoptive status left me with and only for his own betterment and agenda. Broken girls must make for easy bedding, I thought one time, as I watched his hand slide up the skin of my thigh and under the plaid skirt I’d worn that day.
We sat at the table, pretending to be a family of four. Knives and forks tinkered away on the china plates and the small television in the corner of the living room hummed at a low volume. The man I hated calling my father because he wasn’t and had almost never even tried to be, insisted that it be left on during meals, even during my birthday dinner. He said it gave him comfort, like he wasn’t alone in the room. I had to laugh. He was such a thoughtless man.
Charlotte droned on between bird sized bites about the things in her life that had gone right; her new job and loving boyfriend who she was sure would propose any day, garden flat in the most desirable part of town. I tried to remind myself that it wasn’t her fault, but that only made me blame her mother more.
“Oh, dear, I forgot to tell you,” she interrupted, wiping the remains of chicken pot pie from the corner of her mouth. “Tuam was in the news this morning. Did you see?”
I’d seen enough of Tuan for a lifetime, I wanted to say, but bit my tongue instead. I didn’t want to be rude.
“Turns out someone found a mass grave in the septic system under where the old home used to be.”
She spoke as if she were relaying a message about a sale on socks at the Tesco down the road.
“Who knew?” she continued in the same, uncaring, unapologetic tone.
I did, I almost said, but didn’t. I might still just be young and dumb.
I laid in bed that night, reading the article online about the discovery at Tuam. After the building was demolished, the city erected low-income housing and a community playground in its place in some type of conscious-cleansing gesture, but they’d forgotten to get rid of the evidence.
There were pictures of disenfranchised children standing at the gate, hands woven through the mesh, sad faces, waiting to be let in so they could play, the ghosts of those buried and left behind, playing quietly alongside them.
Jessica Simpkiss lives and works in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and daughter. She studied Art History at George Mason University. She is currently an associate editor with the literary magazine 1932 Quarterly. Her work has most recently been published or is forthcoming in the Hartskill Review, Zimbell House Anthologies, The Write Launch, amongst others. Find more of her work by visiting her website.
by Ann Rosenthal
She comes from Hampton Roads, Virginia, and that doesn’t matter at all, until the day she breaks down in class, trying to read aloud a piece about home. She has written a poem, and all the words are jumbled up and running together, the same way, we grasp, that she sees the city falling into the sea. Hampton Roads, her dad works at the port which is busy because it never freezes there, a natural harbour she tells us, the words rise warm and vivid from a place we’ve never seen.
We are working year-round too, trying to become writers, no winter freezing allowed on the Creative Writing course. We labour hard. Daily we unload our pasts and presents, struggling with the weight at times, learning to manoeuvre the imagination like a dangerous crane we may only use with careful supervision. That day the cable snaps. She crumples up like a first draft thrown in the classroom bin.
There is a place she used to visit, when she needed to be alone. It is a beautiful place, like the State of Virginia. She is too upset to read more so we never find out where it is. We thought the words were meant to be jumbled to represent the place but no, it is that she was choking up and trying to finish the reading before she became too sad to speak.
Now the endless sentences stop. Short sobs instead. Her homesickness rocks us all. We watch the winter waves that shake the ships in port.
We want to hear the end, but she has finished early. Her tears melt the town away and leave us at sea. We sail on politely, head out to the next destination. The port recedes until it is a distant fleck on the horizon. Then it is just a spot on the map, an untraveled blank page.
Ann Rosenthal is winner of the International Student Playscript Competition and her narrative memoir and flash fiction has been published in multiple places including the London Times. Full publication list on request.
We were so excited to work on this edition, especially because it marks the birth of PPM, with our first edition published last year on this very day. Since then, we've learned a lot here about curating these excellent stories and providing a home for the work to live on. Thanks to all our writers, poets, and artists for contributing to this special 4th issue. Thanks for creating, and being your own weird selves. Thank you also to our readers and our social media expert. And also, Happy birthday, PPM!
The Editors of Penultimate Peanut Magazine