Letter from the Editor

Dear reader, 

This is not a joyful time to be a writer in Florida. Books bans have swept the state. Marginalized folks face severe restrictions when it comes to their health and safety. And yet—yes, there is a “yet”—I’ve fallen in love with this state.

I first stepped foot in Florida to pursue writing. This strikes me as rather ironic now, but I’ve developed as a writer here all the same. In my time at the University of Miami I’ve grown to adore Florida’s rare beauty and rich culture, and I’ve also struggled to square this love away. I’m not alone in this, and indeed our contributors miraculously delivered an issue that expressed the good, the bad, and the ugly of Florida. Our poets sing the praises of Florida’s lush greenery and simmering heat in “Dracula in the Everglades,” “Camping Sonnet,” and “quiet.” Meanwhile, our South Florida-set stories banty sharp dialogue that conjures Jennine Capó Crucet’s How To Leave Hialeah. The whole of Florida is represented here in lurid color and I can’t help but think of how Lauren Groff terms the state: “an Eden of dangerous things.”

I’m also thrilled to introduce Sinking City’s next editor-in-chief, Swetha Siva. Swetha is a rising second year MFA student at the University of Miami, and already she’s received one of the program’s most prestigious awards. Our readers will truly be in excellent hands with Swetha.

Now, I’ll leave you to peruse Issue #14 which is, against all odds, joyful.

With love,

Megan Ritchie

Letter from the Editor

Dear reader, 

Welcome to the new year! 2023 has arrived, ushering in a time of transition evident even in this city of migrants (myself included) who find themselves here for a winter escape or returning home for the holidays. On the University of Miami campus, students walk with a refreshed sense of purpose, and there’s even a hint of a chill to signal the change in seasons. 

Accordingly, much of the work published in Sinking City’s thirteenth issue handles transitions. 

We can see it in Josephine Florens’ “Christmas Tree,” which brings the aesthetics of the past to the gaudy contemporary. Rita Anderson’s “Ghost Towns” and Joanna Acevedo’s “Rules of the Road” remind us of the places we leave behind and those we go toward. And our fiction, as always, is forward-looking in its exploration of our futures. 

In this busy time of transitions, let’s take a moment to look inward. I’ll borrow Roxana Cazana’s words, which are much better than mine: “Traffic lights are the opportunity to sit with yourself for one/heavy second. The opportunity to break inside yourself. To blink and gaze with one eye toward the heart.”

Thank you for sitting here with us.

With love,

Megan Ritchie

Letter from the Editor(s)

Dear reader, 

First of all, thank you for your patience as we put this issue together. It’s a time of tumult for many, and I as well as our small but mighty staff have been affected by these changing winds. I know that the pieces we’ve been lucky enough to feature for this issue will be worth the wait.

Though the South Florida summer brings sun and storms in nearly equal measure, there’s a certain promise to the season that even those of us far removed from school days of watching the clock can still feel. A summer can be anything—a summer of reunion, of rest, or of “blue cans,” as is the case in Coco Hull’s fiction story—but they rarely offer stasis. In the spirit of poet Hibah Shabkhez from this issue, “Now the abyss/Stares back, then blinks you an invitation,/And you dive right in.”Change bursts through these long, golden, abyss-like days, and it’s all we can do to jump in and hold on.

We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to engage with the varied pieces sent to us by a talented and diverse group of writers throughout this reading period. Whether drastic and far removed from our world, as is the case in Mindy Friddle’s dystopian fiction piece “The Empathies,” personal and uplifting as in Leo Williams’ nonfiction piece “Searching for Scorpio Rising,” or subtle and cyclical as the turn in Tim Moder’s poem “Loon,” changes echo through these digital pages. 

Personally, I have a complex relationship with change (despite or exacerbated by the last couple years), and I’m sure many of you can relate. I used to wonder, even during times of tooth-baring joy: how can this moment matter if the end is already in sight? Growing up in South Florida, endings buzz in the air like gnats. There are plenty of approaches to dealing with gnats—swat them, ignore them, shower to wash them off your skin—but they persist. Yet as is the nature of change, the endings I’m meeting will bring new beginnings. So I can accept that the gnats are here. And they might cloud the air, but they don’t erase it. We can still breathe, create, and revel in the strange, no matter who we are by the end. 

Speaking of change, I’ve had the pleasure over the last few months of training the next managing editor of Sinking City, Megan Ritchie, introduced below. I’m thrilled to be passing this magazine to her capable hands and so excited to see what she does with it! Thank you again for your continued dedication to and engagement with our magazine. We hope you enjoy issue 12!

With love, 

Amanda Lamadrid

Dear Reader, 

First of all: I am so excited to meet you!  

It’s a pleasure to be taking over as managing editor of Sinking City from the talented Amanda Lamadrid. And I can’t wait to see where these upcoming issues take us—in more ways than one. Many of us are back to traveling this summer and as we all cross borders, I’ve been thinking about the ways that this can serve as a balm to our cultural divide. 

As a reader, I'm always seeking work that feels international, whether it’s set in a writer's home country or written in their mother tongue. I'm interested, too, in place: where do you feel out of it? What do you identify as home? What futures do you see there? Miami is an international city, and though I’m a transplant myself, I hope Sinking City can remain true to the many universes it holds. 

I’m so looking forward to reading your work. It’s a privilege to do so. 

With gratitude, 

Megan Ritchie

Thank you for reading,

Amanda Lamadrid and Megan Ritchie

Thinking in Two Languages

by Shiksha Dheda

Screen Shot 2021-12-29 at 5.23.46 PM

Shiksha Dheda is a South African of Indian descent. She uses writing to express her OCD and depression roller-coaster ventures. Sometimes, she dabbles in photography, painting, and baking lopsided layered cakes. Her writing has been featured(on/forthcoming) in Brittle Paper, Daily Drunk Magazine, Door is a jar, Luna Luna Mag and Versification, amongst others. She is the Pushcart nominated author of Washed Away (Alien Buddha Press, 2021) She rambles annoyingly at Twitter: @ShikshaWrites. You can find (or ignore her) at

Weatherman (CW: allusion to physical violence)

by Shiksha Dheda

His                                                       face                                  rained                             today
      -much                                                     contrast to
the                     rainbow                                                                                  smile

                                                            of                                                                             yesterday

The                                               droplets                                                         began
                            uneasily                                                                and

paced                                                                                    themselves                                     to                                                                    a
rhythm-less                            tempo

They                                                                                                                                                  erupted
in                                                    a                                                         hailstorm -
                                                        complete                                         with              the heavy
                      stones      of                                          heartache

The                                  thunder                                                                                   came

                                                                         - quietly-

with                             a                                             low                         note          of               howling

Later – unexpectedly-

came                        the bolt                 of                              burning, bright                      lightning

His face returned to
the genuine colourful
burst of rainbow-
 after the insincere rainfall

Sunlight shone amiably,
whilst I held the ashy remnants of his lightning
to my cheek.




Shiksha Dheda is a South African of Indian descent. She uses writing to express her OCD and depression roller-coaster ventures. Sometimes, she dabbles in photography, painting, and baking lopsided layered cakes. Her writing has been featured(on/forthcoming) in Brittle Paper, Daily Drunk Magazine, Door is a jar, Luna Luna Mag and Versification, amongst others. She is the Pushcart nominated author of Washed Away (Alien Buddha Press, 2021) She rambles annoyingly at Twitter: @ShikshaWrites. You can find (or ignore her) at


A Conversation with Esther Vincent Xueming

 SC: With poems covering such a range of topics, the sectioning of the collection helped contextualize my reading of the poems. As a fiction writer, I found that I continually sought out an ‘arc’ to follow along. I wonder if you could speak about the intention behind each distinct section of the collection? Do you see them building and telling a story, in a way?

EVXM: Thank you for this question! This particular editorial decision was something I grappled with for some time. You’re right to say that my poems cover a wide range of topics. They also traverse expanses of geography as well as landscapes of memory and time. When I embarked on this project, I wanted to produce something like Grace Nichols’ I Have Crossed An Ocean. I was also reading and inspired by Linda Gregg’s Sacraments of Desire, Joy Harjo’s She Had Some Horses, and Li-Young Lee’s The City in Which I Love You, all of which were sectioned meaningfully into four to five parts. My working manuscript comprised four sections, but my supervisor felt that four was too disparate and that three might be better in terms of the book’s coherence. Again, I am indebted to his guidance and from there, I started to think about the three sections. I knew I had to create a section for the dream poems, and decided to title each section after a poem within the section. Dream fruit held most of my dream and meditation poems, and poems evoking sleep and the subconscious. I wanted to open the collection with Dream fruit as a way of inviting the reader into my dreams and subconscious, into a mode of dream-like envisioning.  

 The second section About love, is truncated from the first poem in that section, which writes after Boland’s “Quarantine”. I had to think about how to arrange the poems in this particular section, as they ranged from romantic, familial love to love for the land and home in which one is born into and resides upon. I have to admit that this was the most tricky section but I am satisfied with how it has materialised. “Falcon” was the last poem to join the collection and I decided to include it in About love rather than Dream fruit even though it draws from a dream too as I found that the peregrine falcon’s migratory nature would serve as the connection between this section and the next, just as how the bird in the poem connected the speaker’s home to other places, bird to self.  

The final section Pilgrims contains my travel poems, or poems about ‘elsewheres’. One of the questions posed by this section is the mobile nature of home, and whether or not we can feel at home away from home. The poems in this section are seeking poems. They search for home and belonging, to place and to Earth. They recognise their status as outsider, as transient visitor, as pilgrim. Yet, they dwell in place and establish roots through routes. I wanted to end with a grounded sense of self, and chose stone, which across many cultures signify permanence in the face of rapid industrial and urban change. “Memory stone: In fragments” pays tribute to the various places I visited in Croatia, and traces the speaker’s memory that is held within each stone. The stones also symbolise time, and reminds readers that long after the human body perishes, the stones will remain, weathering to nature’s rhythm. I intended for the final lyric in this poem “6 Ensemble” to wrap up the section and collection. This ultimate lyric is concerned with “the history of home / away from home. Collected over time”, with memory recreating an “ensemble of remembered places” and an image of “sojourn”. The temporary nature of the “traveller’s sojourn” and “drifting” is also a commentary on our fleeting time on Earth, and the final image of the “undercurrents crash / beneath, waves breaking reef ashore” can be read in many ways.  

I would love to hear what readers think, but personally I find the sound of waves crashing and the image of the broken reef so powerful and evocative, as it returns the poem, the book and reader to Earth, to water, to the sea. In all honesty, the book would not have been possible without Earth. We are not possible without Earth.  

SC: This is a broad question, but I wonder if you could speak a little about your process when it comes to poetry? Do you generally begin with an image, a line, a subject, etc or does it depend on the piece? I’m thinking specifically of “The Blue Mountains;” I keep coming back to the image of that “leaking hose.” Imagery is so strong throughout this collection, but I was occasionally more swept away by the concept of the poem itself, as in “Montenegro in Two Scenes.” What comes first for you when drafting, and what do you work to hold onto as the poem evolves? 

EVXM: Every poem is different, and so my process differs for each poem. Typically, I draw from recurring memories or dreams or experiences. This could be in the form of an image, line or emotion. If I refer to “The Blue Mountains”, the poem happened because I was reading some news about the particularly bad bushfire season in Australia sometime in June 2019 through May 2020. Australia holds a special place in my heart because my family (we grew up working class) actually had to sell our apartment to downsize from a spacious (by local definition) four-room to a much smaller three-room flat just to afford this family vacation. I was twelve, on the cusp of adolescence, and this was our first family trip outside of Southeast Asia. This was a big deal for us and as a child, everything about the place was magical. In particular, I recall how my mother loved The Blue Mountains, which offered our family a welcome respite from the city. In turn, I resolved in my childish heart to retire there one day. The place represented for me some kind of memory of familial bliss and natural beauty, and so when I read news of the bushfires destroying the land, I felt a kindred sense of grief and sorrow.  

It’s interesting how we can feel kinships to places away from home, and feel at home away from home. As a child, I felt at home and at peace in The Blue Mountains, with its invigorating mountain air and wide expanse of space. This memory helped me to empathise with the place. I think the impetus for writing the poem came in the form of the image of the charred joey, published by The Times of India in one of its articles. Local news coverage reported the numbers of lives lost on a daily basis, human and more-than-human, and my heart somehow went out to the latter, who were dying by the millions. I began this poem in grief but ended on hope. The dead joey taught me that my poem could be “brimming, undefeated, full / of life… against the raging dark” of the fires and I am humbled each time I think about the lessons nature has taught me by just being.  

Ironically, I don’t try to hold on to anything but let the poem speak through me. I see myself more as a vessel, and the poem as the voice, message or journey that needs to take place through me. That’s why my poems begin, but I never know where they lead. Each poem surprises me as I write and when I revise my work. Sometimes, when writing a draft, I know it’s still raw and unfinished when the poem is clouded by negativity, anger or bitterness. It’s important to let these emotions through though, so that the poem can gain clarity and light. The revision process is important for me in finding my way and finding out what the poem really wants to say. It’s quite an intuitive process and I know a poem is ready when it teaches me something I never knew before.  

 You mentioned “Montenegro in two scenes”. My first draft was actually a collection four lyrics, of various places in Montenegro. My supervisor read it and said I was trying to do too much without enough depth, and so I let go of two other lyrics and decided to focus on two more poignant ones. I think this was a good decision because it allowed me to take my time to get to know Perast and Cetinje again. It also meant I had to focus on these places and what they taught me: the old man’s joy immortalising the young boatman who never returned home in the former, and the stray dog’s wisdom and lack of attachment in the latter.

SC: When it comes to ecopoetics as a genre, a characteristic attributed to it by James Englehardt is that “it is connected to the world in a way that implies responsibility.” This genre feels heavy in a way, as if it carries even more of a weight due to the present moment. In creating an entire collection within the genre of ecopoetics, how did that ‘responsibility’ manifest for you? Was it more beneficial to your craft to lean in, or was it necessary to put certain connotations aside in order to create more freely? 

EVXM: You refer here to Englehardt’s “The Language Habitat: an Ecopoetry Manifesto”, where Englehardt begins with the opening line “Ecopoetry is connection.”, and goes on to define ecopoetry’s entanglements with language, science, the non-human world, spirit, body, family, culture, society, ethics and lastly, play. I appreciate this way of thinking about ecopoetry as “responsibility”, an ethical framework through which literature engages politically with the world and our environment. In fact, one of the ways I might describe ecopoetry is as a form of eco-social activism. I like to think of Red Earth as my contribution to Earth, through poems that mourn and celebrate Earth, that seek communion with Others (places, people, cultures, more-than-human beings) while recognising our differences, that search for home at home and away from home to come to an enlarged, expanded, planetary vision of Earth as home and the self as at home on Earth. While the word “responsibility” might seem heavy, another way to look at it is through the eyes of love. We can also be responsible for a thing that we love. In this light, we can think of ecopoetry as poetry of loving attention to Earth, with an ongoing awareness of human-induced environmental damage to Earth and the fragility of ecosystems should we not act responsibly.  

For me, when I was working on the collection, I didn’t know as yet what its theme or genre would be. I was writing poems that were eco-conscious, I was writing poems about family, I was writing poems about places away from home, I was writing poems about home. I was writing poems motivated by awe, deep anger, love, grief, hope. To respond to your question more directly, I created freely under the guidance and advice of my MA supervisor, Boey Kim Cheng, who told me to write without concerning myself too much about the collection’s theme. I think this freedom enabled me to delve deep and reach out without limiting myself to any one topic, theme or genre, i.e. ecopoetics. However, it was clear that across my poems, there were similar concerns about the speaker’s place on Earth, and how the speaker related to Others and by proxy, the self. As I prepared my exegesis, my research and critical examination of my work naturally began to gain clarity in two areas: ecopoetry: place and the making of home, as well as ecofeminism. I have to thank Kim Cheng for directing me to specific poets and readings. Independently, I devoted much of my research to the study of women authors like Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Eavan Boland and Grace Nichols whose poetics spoke to me and influenced my work.  

As I mentioned earlier, I did not consciously set out to write a collection of ecopoetry. However, I found myself writing a collection of ecopoetry by engaging with issues close to my heart, in responding to places or news or policies or art or memories or objects or subjects that somehow had eco-social resonance. We live in time and in place, and so I was simply writing as someone conscious of her time and place on Earth.

Esther Vincent Xueming is the editor-in-chief and founder of The Tiger Moth Review, an independent eco journal of art and literature based in Singapore. She is co-editor of two poetry anthologies, Poetry Moves (Ethos Books, 2020) and Little Things (Ethos Books, 2013), and Making Kin, an ecofeminist anthology of personal essays by women writers in Singapore (Ethos Books). A literature educator by profession, she is passionate about the relationships between art, literature and the environment. Follow her on Twitter @EstherVincentXM. Her debut poetry collection, Red Earth, is available for purchase from Blue Cactus Press here in North America and Europe and here from our distributor in Asia and the rest of the world. In Singapore, you can get a copy of Red Earth
from any Kinokuniya store.


Tender Collections of a Shared Planet: A Review of Esther Vincent Xueming’s Red Earth

by Allen Means

When I was in elementary school, I was best friends with a little girl who loved trees. She loved them so much in fact, that she would cry when other children plucked leaves from their branches. She used to tell me that the roots of trees were their hands, buried deep in the earth. The way she described it was like their tree-ness was simply an accident of nature, and only by chance were they alive and quiet instead of alive and tumultuous (like us). At the time I didn’t understand it, especially when she would make me ask to take their flowers or lean against their trunks, but I knew I loved her kindness. I assumed I had to think of the trees like people in order to understand, imagining that the trees were once children who had pressed their fingers too far into beach sand, letting it climb up their forearms and elbows, and been fossilized just like that. Their roots and branches just limbs.  

In beginning to read Esther Vincent Xueming’s debut poetry collection, Red Earth, I could not help but imagine the speaker as my dear friend, someone with an incredible empathy and a powerful vision to share. Red Earth is an admirable account of our planet’s condition and a kind offering of hope and healing, seeking to transform not only our connection to the earth but our connections to one another.  

This collection of ecopoetry is sliced gently into three parts, Dream fruitAbout love, and Pilgrims, each dedicated to their own meditative lens, although more largely connected by a preoccupation with the vast and unknowable. In her poems, Esther Vincent Xueming embarks on a search for lost roots— familial, spiritual, and metaphysical— through reflections on family, memory, art, nature, and poetry.  

Various pieces in the collection include dedications from the poet to those (people, animals, places, poems) in her personal and artistic life, something that becomes noticeable as part of the foundation on which Red Earth was written, in its abundant practice of giving ode and acknowledgement to that which gives and inspires. These dedications come in a form that differs from poetry that often seeks to “capture a moment.” Because while Xueming has a gift for reflection and description of life’s intimate moments, these poems seem to contain no desire for ownership, but a desire to cherish and give.  

The poem, "Crossing" is a tribute, after William E. Stafford's "Travelling through the Dark," that provides a devastatingly gentle remembrance of a deer put to death. The lines "And though I never / knew her, I want to remember" express a dedication to preserving life, even of those we do not know. This collection of a memory is meant to affirm and honor a life lived and is followed by a section break and the beginning lines "Imaginary friend, let me resurrect / your broken body from the dirt and ash" (28). The speaker of these poems has a powerful sense of energy and vitality, finding and making connections to others through our shared life and shared soil. Xueming’s poems seek for a way to not only preserve, like the photograph in "Crossing," but re-document and "resurrect" the life that might otherwise be missed or forgotten. It is a deeply admirable feature of the poet in this collection, in her attempt to give and create space for that life, and provide us a mindful, loving look into what it means to reflect rather than capture or take.  

"The Blue Mountains" is another poem that gives us insight into that reflection of moment, in which the speaker recounts her past home in Australia and attempts to grapple with the news of its devastating wildfires.  


"Australia is burning, and the mountains of my memory 

are turning blue. I think how this poem 


could be a leaking hose running out of water 

to quench a dry and angry land. But I also think 


how it could be brimming, undefeated, full 

of life in its last breath before the raging dark." (57) 


There is a kindness in this reflection. In the sentiment that poetry, perhaps, may provide a testament to that which has existed or lived. And while a poem might work to amend or to advocate, it might also, in its simple extension of words, work to preserve memory of— to instill the respect and honor of attention, re-documenting the fullness of "life in its last breath."  

In the last section of the book, in a poem called, "Monsoon," the speaker recounts an experience during monsoon season, in which the speaker describes the relationship between the environment and the people who must both labor under its conditions. 


“The southerly winds have arrived, 

and with them, occasional showers and thunderstorms 

washing the afternoons down with the shingle of rain. 

They will stay for four months, returning again 


next June. Our plants rely on this gift of seasonal rain 

to survive. We try to care for them, inventing a way 

to collect the rain with a wooden pole and a small bucket, 

fourteen floors above the ground. In another place,…” (83) 


In this poem, the speaker spirals slowly from her account of the season into a recount of a specific memory, in which an unknown temple keeper offers her shelter from the wind and rain beneath his red-roofed temple (84). This sweet, touching narrative then plays out with a tinge of irony, in which the temple keeper kindly takes the speaker’s shoes and keeps them dry beneath a 'No Shoes' sign.  

In a book that so highlights a suffering environment at the hands of humanity, it is touching to see how Xueming approaches the world’s condition as one that is complex and multifaceted. In all its grappling with the vast and unknown, Red Earth still comforts with its attention to the sweet, humble moments of humanity where those that are connected to and by the earth can still find hope in the kindness of others.  

And although the poems in this collection still seek for roots, for peace, for belonging, for wholeness— they are grounded in moments that offer rather than take. “The Red Earth” provides and contains life, but the speaker documents, cherishes, and collects in an attempt to connect with the earth and give back. Like a dear friend who asks us to respect and honor, Esther Vincent Xueming's Red Earth is tender and thoughtful in its craft and attention, drawing connections between us through the inhale and exhale of an earth that is just as alive as we are.  



Allen Means (he/him) is a queer poet and writer from Boulder, Colorado, where he earned a degree in Creative Writing and Japanese. He currently resides in Miami, Florida, where he is pursuing an MFA in Poetry.

Cowabunga Sunset

by Ross West


The salty beach air was filled with the lazy calls of sea gulls. Crowds of people who’d come to spend the day at Cowabunga! Ocean Park were having their fun playing on the sand and in the water. I got a resupply pack from the Maintenance & Repair Shop and lugged it out to the floating wooden dock next to the kayak rental booth. After opening the pack and taking out the electronic controller, I punched in the command. A harbor seal stuck its head out of the water and with a few kicks of its powerful tail propelled itself up onto the dock next to me. Another command launched the seal into its roll-over routine that brought it to a rest propped up on one fin, underbelly exposed. I inserted the special wrench and opened the door in the seal’s chest. Out popped the old toaster-sized battery unit. I slid in its replacement, snapped the door shut, and tapped the Done button on the controller. The seal barked, scooted across the dock, and dove back into the water.

That afternoon I worked a shift at lifeguard Tower Two. When it ended, the owner of Cowabunga!, Greg Becker, was standing there waiting. He was forty-five or so, shaggy-haired and a little chunky, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of dude shorts.

“Hey man,” he said. “You’re Jacob, right? How about if you and me take a little walk.” I’d only been on the job three days—had I already messed up?

We went down to the busy waterline, past some kids building an impressive sandcastle.

“I like to meet the people who work here,” he said.


“We’ve got almost a mile of beach,” Greg said grinning and slapping his belly. “Boogieboarding, snorkeling, volleyball, pipeline surfing—you name it.”

He pointed at the dark blue sky streaked with a pair of clouds shaped like white feathers. “The Sky-Tron dome covers the whole park—gives us a completely programmable environment. Those sailboats on the horizon and those surfers out there riding the reef break, all holograms. What you feel is the artificial sun’s infrared heat.”


He laughed. “That’s just the word I like to use.” He picked up a shell and chucked it into the surf. “So why do you think all these people come here?”

I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. All I could think of was, “To have fun?”

“Exactly,” he said. “For fun and to get away from the crazy stuff outside the park. Half the world’s starting to look like freakin’ Mad Max. Drought, starvation, water wars. Even in this country, things are getting a little . . . scary. So, it’s important we give our visitors a vacation from all the doom and gloom. Make sense?”


Greg stopped walking and faced me, dead serious, looking me right in the eye. “You and the rest of the staff make that vacation happen. You are the Cowabunga! vibe.” He talked to me like an adult—very different from any of the teachers and coaches and bosses I’d ever had. “People are suffering,” he said. “This place is a hospital, the beach is our medicine. And you, my friend,” he tapped a finger against my chest, “you are Dr. Feelgood. Can you dig it?”

It was like he’d knighted me or something, like all of a sudden I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I felt ten feet tall, ready for anything. Oh yeah, Greg, I could definitely dig it.

*     *     *

In high school I had mostly played water polo and hung out with the guys on the team—guys who had girlfriends and were always telling stories. But I was shy and didn’t have much free time between practices and games, school, and two part-time jobs I worked to help Mom with the bills. The guys used to razz me pretty hard about my lack of experience in the female department. Cowabunga! changed all that.

A few days after Greg dubbed me Dr. Feelgood, I was up on lifeguard Tower Four when I looked up the beach and there she was. She was wearing a staff T-shirt and gym shorts, walking barefoot on the dry sand. Flipflops dangled from one of her hands, the other brushed aside a wavy strand of chestnut hair. Never had I seen anyone so beautiful.

I asked around. Her name was Mary. Just hired. The next week our shift supervisor assigned the two of us to pair up later that afternoon doing Special Needs Aquatic Support. I couldn’t believe my luck and bounced through my morning duties grinning, whistling, and feeling all kinds of stupid goofy happy.

Mary and I met in the parking lot just as the van arrived from the state hospital. The driver, a nurse named Roberto, had brought us one tiny and very shy little girl about five named Jeannie. The Special Needs intake form had a note in the Additional Information box. “Uses wheelchair. Eleven surgeries. Hospitalized more than half her life.”

We made our introductions and got Jeannie into a floatation jacket then wheeled her down the access ramp into the water. Her face scrunched up with fear.

We stopped, the water just lapping over her thighs. Mary bent in close, stroked one of her little stick-like arms.

“Can I tell you a secret?”

With tears about to spill out of her eyes, Jeannie gave a shaky nod and a quivering


“Jacob here is about the best swimmer in the whole wide world. Did you know that?”

Jeannie shook her head.

“See that island way way out there?” Mary pointed at the man-made atoll we called Gilligan’s Island, a quarter mile offshore. “He can swim all the way out there and back.” Mary rested her hand on my chest. It felt so good, my thinking went a little blurry. “Isn’t that right, Jacob?”

“Uh, yeah, done it a hundred times,” I said. I smiled and gave the kid’s cheek a brush with the backside of my finger, something that used to help when I babysat my cousins and they were headed for a meltdown. It didn’t work any great miracles with Jeannie, whose hands remained clamped on the armrests of her chair while we rolled her farther down the ramp. The water came up around her and the flotation jacket lifted her out of the wheelchair. Mary and I held her, one on each side, but even so Jeannie was panicky, straining her mouth upward and gulping down breaths like a hungry baby bird.

Every time she bobbed down and the water came up close to her mouth, we made sure she bobbed right back up. After a while she calmed down. She made a few tentative strokes and seemed surprised by how the water supported her, how easy it was to move her frail body. She was getting the hang of floating and paddling and kicking. It wasn’t long before she was flinging herself back and forth between Mary and me.

“I’m flying,” she squealed. She was a little motorboat, spinning around and around, slapping the water to make big splashes, giggling.

Jeannie swam and we played until Roberto honked the van’s horn and waved his arm.

“I don’t wanna go,” she cried.

We rolled her out of the water and got her all bunched up in a towel.

She pushed her fists into her cheeks. “Don’t. Wanna. Go.

“You can always come back,” Mary said.

Her face lit up. “Promise?”

I took her hand and gave it a squeeze and a little shake. “Promise,” I told her.

Roberto got Jeannie and her chair strapped into the van. She bounced happily up and down, talking to us through the glass, saying words we couldn’t hear. When the van turned out of the parking lot, she waved and blew us a kiss.

I waved back. “What a cutie.”

“Hope we see her again,” Mary said.

We just stood there in the parking lot like neither of us wanted to leave. Mary loosened the hair she had pinned up. It fell halfway down her back, and she pulled it into a ponytail.

“So how did you know I’ve been out to Gilligan’s?” I asked.

The corner of her mouth curled up in a sneaky little smile and she aimed her green-green-green eyes at me. “I’ve been watching you.”

I froze.

“See you tomorrow,” she said and walked off toward the Operations Center. I couldn’t take my eyes off her—the graceful way she moved, her swimmer’s shoulders, how her ponytail swayed.

*     *     *

When I showed up for my shift the next day, Greg was waiting for me at my locker.

“You were good with that little girl yesterday,” he said, surprising me. “I saw your whole session through a telescope from upstairs. Couldn’t hear what you said but didn’t need to.”

He was close enough that I could smell alcohol on his breath. Maybe I should have been paying attention to that—I’d heard rumors—but right then I was just happy to hear him say I’d done a good job.

“I got kind of a special project coming up. Could use a little help,” he said. “Thought you might be the guy.”

I shrugged like, sure, I’m up for it.

“Come on then, I’ll tell you about it.”

We walked along the water chitchatting like we did it all the time. Me and the big dog. Far down the beach he turned away from the water, crossed the dry sand, and took a path that sloped up through clumps of beachgrass to a small bluff. I knew it was the place he stayed at when he was in the park, but I’d never gotten a good look.

From the top of the bluff I saw a hammock slung between two stout palm trees next to a lanai shaded by a canopy of bamboo stilts covered over with palm fronds and beach grass. Under the canopy were a couple of little tables and some wicker chairs—including a big one obviously for Greg. The hut itself was like something a castaway would bang together—weathered boards and bamboo. Looked like it wouldn’t stand up to a strong wind.

We went inside—it was a regular modern apartment. Greg rattled ice into a blender, unscrewed the caps from different bottles, splashed in a couple of jiggers from each one, squeezed a lime over the top, and let it rip. When the clattering roar stopped, he reached into the cupboard to get glasses and over his shoulder said, “You and Mary Yeager seem to be hitting it off.”

My face got hot in like two seconds. He handed me a glass filled to the brim with the icy margarita.

“She seems like a real fine young lady,” he said with a wink and a smile.

I sipped the sweet, strong drink and hoped he wasn’t going to say anything more on the subject.

“So here’s the deal,” he said. “Some people are coming to look over the park in a few weeks. It’s an annual inspection—required by the bank that loaned me the construction money.”

I gave him a nod, like I knew all about borrowing a gazillion dollars.

“During their visit, I’ll want someone with me in case I need anything. Sound like something you could do?”

“No prob.”

“Alright,” he said, laughing as we bumped fists. “Welcome to the inner circle.”

“Cool,” I said.

“Today we’ve got something to celebrate.”

Greg handed me a piece of paper he said had just arrived—some news about his loan. One paragraph was circled. “I read it once, but I’d kinda like to hear it again. Would you mind reading it?”

“Out loud?”

“Yeah, I’m—” he waved his hand back and forth. “It’s a kind of dyslexia.”

“Okay, yeah, sure.” I cleared my throat and read.

The intensifying global emergency of catastrophic climate change (including the worldwide disappearance of beaches resulting from rising sea levels) is forcing governments to enact unprecedented draconian restrictions, eliminating freedoms of activity and expression. Constrained consumers are resentful of these imposed austerities; their compensatory desires thus stimulated, they crave respite and distraction as never before. One year of not only positive but accelerating revenues substantiates the value proposition offered by Cowabunga! Ocean Park.

I looked up from the paper. “Is that supposed to mean something?”

“It means,” Greg said with a big smile, “we’re making enough money to stay afloat.” He held out his glass and I clinked it with mine. “And much to my relief, it means the visit from the bankers ought to be a piece of cake.”

*     *     *

Nights were super popular at Cowabunga! We had bonfires and weenie roasts and smores, full moon surfing, couples taking romantic walks along the sand. But about a week after Mary and I worked together in Aquatics Support, the park closed early—the staff swept all guests off the beach and out the doors well before the Sky-Tron kicked into its sunset routine. A maintenance crew was coming from the wave machine company to do their quarterly check-up on the hydraulics. My job was to let them in and make sure they had whatever they needed.

With the crowd and the staff gone and the crew not yet arrived, I was the only guy in the whole huge park. Very peaceful. I went for a walk on the deserted beach and stopped at one of the concrete fire rings that held a pile of ashes and charred wood left from the previous night’s luau. I found it amazing that in the middle of a global climate train wreck we could have open fires on the beach. Outside in the real world just about anything that released even a puff of greenhouse gas was regulated seventeen different ways by six different government agencies. Not to mention the EcoGuardian vigilantes that would go after “Earth killers” by burning down their businesses, cars, and homes. But Greg wasn’t about to have a beach without campfires, so he purchased ten times more carbon offsets than were required and ended up winning a Green Hero award. Smart guy.

My phone rang. The maintenance crew leader said one of their trucks had broken down and they’d have to reschedule for another night. Before we even finished the conversation I was already thinking about Mary and working up the courage to ask her if maybe she might want to come hang out and go for a swim.

“Perfect,” she said when I called. “I’ll be right over.”

I went into the Control Room, fired up the Sky-Tron, and nudged up the intensity of the sunset routine. I paced around and looked at the clock about five times, then went back to the Sky-Tron and cranked all the inputs to the max.

When Mary arrived, we ran to the beach, laid out our towels, and dove in. Soon we were beyond the breakers, moving in the open water as easy and happy as a couple of otters. As the sun dipped lower, the western half of the dome throbbed with ever more intense neon colors—orange, red, gold, green, and purple. I told her what I had done.

“You made us a tie-dye sky,” she said, a big grin on her face. She slapped water at me and dove. I felt her gliding smoothly past my calf.

We swam back to shore and toweled off in the fading light of the greatest sunset in the history of the world. I lit a fire while Mary opened a bottle of red wine. We sat and drank and laughed, watching the flames of the crackling fire. We drank some more and got a little buzzed.

“Oh my god,” she giggled, looking at the eastern horizon, “What is that?”

The full moon I’d programmed on the Sky-Tron was rising. It wasn’t a normal full moon—no, this thing was gigantic, twenty, maybe thirty times regular size, with the Man in the Moon gazing down on us, quite pleased to be setting the mood for what was to come.

*     *     *

My big day as Greg’s gofer came, and we met the visiting bankers, Melinda Lanz and Lou Jordan, at the Operations Center. Greg introduced me as his assistant.

“We’re glad for an excuse to get out of the office,” Melinda said with a nice smile. She was about forty, kind of pasty-looking in her shorts and sandals, but in good shape.

Greg toured them through the building, showed them how everything was state-of-the-art and blah, blah, blah. They asked one very technical question after another. Greg had all the answers. When they ran out of things to ask him, he led the way to the double doors that faced west.

“Now you’ve seen the infrastructure,” he said, “but this is the real Cowabunga!” He flung open the doors, and we stepped out into the bright sunshine and the bustling scene of sunbathers, Frisbee tossers, joggers, inner-tubers, kayakers, body surfers, picnicking families, roaming clumps of kids, and an old couple with long poles fishing from the jetty.

Melinda shaded her eyes with her hand, took it all in.  “Wow,” she said, slipping out of her sandals. “Oh, the warm sand feels so good on my feet.”

Lou stared at the water where a pod of gray whales was playing near the surface, spouting and showing their flukes as they dove. The head and fins of one of the whales rose into the air and splashed back into the water. People on the beach cheered.

“Animatronic,” Greg said, clapping his hands together. “Every afternoon at three.”

“But those are real,” Lou said. He pointed at a group of surfers floating on their boards waiting for waves while two riders cut up and down the face of a perfectly formed six-foot curl. “Must be one heck of a wave machine.”

“Built by the Swiss, believe it or not,” Greg said with a chuckle. “My main contribution was developing the lattice supports that hold up the dome. Graphene nanotubes and positive air pressure—the architects and engineers went nuts.” He craned his neck from horizon to horizon smiling and shaking his head as if he could hardly believe what he had created.

“When I was a kid, I lived at the beach. Never felt more alive.” His face turned solemn. “Then a few years ago, they started talking about beaches around the world disappearing. I said to myself, hey man, this is a bigass problem. In fifty years or maybe a hundred we’ll get ocean levels under control and natural beaches will come back—that’s the hope, anyway. But in the meantime, my job, my sacred duty, is to keep the flame of the beach vibe alive.”

“Sacred is a strong word,” Melinda said.

“Global warming is just bummer after bummer after bummer. A soul killer,” Greg said. “People need a break—a way to recharge. We’re Homo ludens, man—Homo playful. We need to have fun. And we can’t afford to bum out and give up. The stakes are way too high.” He opened his arms to take in all that surrounded us. “We need surfers and slackers, parrotheads and pirates, a place where lovers can rub lotion on each other and lie in the sun, where kids can chase each other into the surf.”

He was on a roll and would probably have continued but something behind Lou caught his attention. The rest of us turned around and saw a tall white-haired man in a funeral-black suit lumbering across the sand toward us, a thick envelope in his hand. When he arrived, he adjusted the hang of his still buttoned coat and said, “Gregory Becker?”

Greg nodded.

“I’m with the Office of Cultural and Historical Disambiguation,” the man said, passing the envelope to Greg. “You have ten days to comply with this order and cease all operations.”

The undertaker turned and walked off.

Nobody moved. Greg just stared at the envelope in his hands like he was holding a dead cat. Then they all started looking at each other, even at me, as if I had any idea what the hell just happened.

Lou ran his hand through his hair. “I, uh, guess that just about wraps things up,” he said with a sympathetic shrug. Melinda patted Greg on the shoulder and said something about it being up to the lawyers now. The two of them shook hands with Greg and off they went.

He plodded down the beach in the other direction. I caught up with him and asked if he wanted me to come along. He made a grunt that could have been a yes and I followed his silent, hunched form all the way to his hut.

Once inside, he went straight for the blender and dumped in ice cubes and what seemed like a ton of booze. When he hit the button, the ice made a hellacious racket. He slopped the chunky slush into two big tumblers and handed me one. He took the other glass and the pitcher and fell heavily into a chair. I felt sorry for him and figured I’d stick around to help however I could. But nothing was happening—he just sat there brooding, staring off with a blank look on his face. Once in a while he took a sip. When he drained the pitcher, he made another batch.

The clock on my phone said 4:19. In three hours I’d be with Mary. She and I had been spending every spare minute together, and after work we were going to have a little celebration—one week since our first night together on the beach. We’d be at her apartment. Alone.

He slapped the fat envelope on his thigh, his breath suddenly faster and louder, his chest rising and falling in short, sharp spasms. He tossed the envelope at me.

“Here,” he said. “Read it.”

I opened the packet of papers and read aloud the cover sheet that explained what was inside, a list of what sounded mostly like legal documents.

“Also included for purposes of overall context is an initial assessment taken by the OCHD in response to—”

“That,” Greg said, thrusting his finger toward me. “That’s the one. Read that. Every word.”

I found the document and read it to him.

To: Office of Cultural and Historical Disambiguation
From: Delilah Mallet-Grimshaw, Assistant Director, Office of Narrative Compliance
Subject: Progress Report, Case No. 1307

In accordance with the Accuracy in Historical Representations and Communications Act (8.3.26b), I am reporting progress related to actions taken by this office.
On April 19 it was reported that a commercial enterprise—Cowabunga! Ocean Park (hereafter referred to as “the replica beach”)—was operating in violation of numerous provisions of AHRCA.
Field investigators were dispatched. Upon confirmation that the replica beach promoted and/or portrayed inaccurate historical representations, an Action Team was formed for further investigation (electronic surveillance warrants obtained). Formal analysis, assessment, and response preparation activities ensued.

Objectionable Representations
Numerous violations of Class 1 restrictions were identified including, but not limited to:
• Romanticized and unhistorical representations (as set forth in AHRCA subsection 1.1.4: “No description of an historical time, place, situation, etc., may be shown/presented inconsistent with the full and accurate context of the historical dynamics of anthropogenic geodegradation.”).
• Denial of basic tenets of science-backed consensus on mechanisms of climatic change and associated impacts.
• 103 specific infractions of the Code of Observance.

Greg snorted. He tried to rise out of his chair, stumbled, caught himself. He went to the kitchen and got ice from the freezer.

“Continue with the execution,” he called out, slurring the words while he emptied a bottle of booze into the pitcher.

I read on.

Action Plan
Sole proprietor of replica beach, Gregory L. Becker, to be served with a Letter of Finding enumerating violations of the AHRCA and demanding cessation of operations. Letter will inform recipient that failure to comply will render the proprietor subject to the full extent of the Act’s punitive remedies (17.1–67).
Replica beach operations to be suspended. Historical Reconciliation improvements to begin under auspices of the Office of Cultural and Historical Disambiguation, Office of Narrative Compliance.

Anticipated Outcomes
Successful removal/remediation of offensive, unhistorical, and dangerous misrepresentations of significant natural and cultural activity associated with ecological dynamics/degradation/dysfunction.

The blender screamed like it was mixing gravel. Standing right next to it, Greg didn’t seem to notice. His forehead was shiny with sweat, his eyes twitched from side to side.

When the noise stopped, I said, “You got a nice-looking hammock outside—mind if I give it a try?”

This caught him off guard and he was too drunk to notice my little strategy to get him out into the fresh air. Glass in one hand, pitcher in the other, he wove his way to the door. I followed close behind, ready to grab hold if he started to fall.

Once in the hammock, I made a big show of rocking back and forth. “This is awesome,” I said.

But he wasn’t listening. He thrashed around the lanai, mad, mumbling. “Pissy little pissant bureaucrats . . . addicted to their pissant power.” He scowled and kicked over one of the little tables, then thrust his flushed face close to mine and growled, “Beware the man”—he paused, burped—“who knows only one book.”

He went on raging, but it wasn’t aimed at me. I figured he needed somebody to be there, to vent to, so I just swayed in the hammock and listened to him rant about people being blind and stupid, about there being many paths to the top of the mountain. Eventually the booze caught up with him. He settled into his chair and passed out.

Something big was up—definitely—but I didn’t really grasp what all it meant. And anyway, in a couple of hours I’d be with Mary in her bed—next to that, what else could possibly matter.

*     *     *

When the government lowered the boom, everything went down the crapper fast. Greg fought with every ounce of his strength, his lawyers made appeal after appeal—and struck out every time. He showed up at the Operations Center less and less, mostly he spent his time alone in his hut drinking and smoking weed.

I was among the people who were lucky enough to keep their jobs. Over the next eleven months we watched as Cowabunga! got completely overhauled and changed into the Beach Museum—the BM, as we called it. The transformation was slow and painful, like watching a beautiful animal die. It was without doubt the worst year of my life.

I had the most seniority of anybody left on the staff and one of my jobs was to break in the new hires. This kept me pretty busy—morale was so bad we had a hard time keeping people on the payroll.

My latest trainee was Randall, a chubby baby-faced guy just a couple of years younger than me. Like almost all the hires since the swimming requirement had been eliminated, he wasn’t half as physically fit as staff members used to be. I took him to the employee dressing rooms and got him squared away with a locker and a set of work clothes to match the ones I already had on.

He awkwardly wiggled into his pea-green rubberized rain suit and the knee-high rubber boots. The bosses said this gear was designed to protect us from contact toxins and environmental pathogens—what it was really good for was making us sweat like pigs.

I unscrewed the cap from a tube of white zinc oxide cream and squeezed a thick gob onto my finger.

“Really?” Randall said, narrowing his eyes.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “it’s just sunblock with an SPF of like ten thousand.” I applied the white goo to his nose, cheekbones, and forehead in kind of a starburst pattern. “The dome filters out all the UV radiation, but the Narrative Control Team decided this stuff emphasizes the E.D.N.’s section on the resurgent ozone hole and skin cancer.”

“What’s the E.D.N.?”

“Environmental Degradation Narrative,” I said, looking in the dressing room mirror and applying the white stuff to my own face. “It’s our bible, the document that controls everything we do.” I wiped the excess cream on a paper towel. “Time for the tour.”

I led him down to the beach, which the E.D.N. had staged with a soiled diaper, cigarette butts, random plastic crap, crude oil and beach tar, dead fish, rotting bird carcasses, and a condom. Not far offshore, a one-tenth-scale cruise ship was anchored in a vast gyre of floating plastic trash—from a bilge pipe in its stern plopped chunky gray-brown sludge.

Randall’s face pinched with repulsion.

“Right over there used to be our number-one surfing area,” I said, bobbing my chin toward a patch of flat water.

He squinted to see through the smoke (non-greenhouse) rising from a pile of (simulated) burning tires. “Surfers? Here? Are you kidding?”

“The wave machine’s still out there—it’s just turned off. The accountants say it saves a ton of money. And why not? With the E.D.N., the water’s so filthy it would be like surfing in a toilet.”

Randall ran his wrist across his sweating forehead.

“A little warm, huh?”

He fanned his face with his hand.

“The temperature is set for 93 degrees with 95 percent humidity under an always-overcast sky. The only break is every day at four when we get a Category 1 hurricane—the air-movers make a godawful howl. Keep your peepers peeled for flying debris.”

He looked like he’d just taken a mouthful of sour milk. “Didn’t this place used to be like a resort?”

I told him how the government brought in the Narrative Compliance people to transform the place—Artistic Director, Experience Designers, code writers, a crew of construction workers, and the main man, the Story Czar who, with his one droopy eye, oversaw the whole project.

The Czar, I said, was big on living-history dioramas—his vision was for schoolkids on field trips to have the experience of learning about global warming by talking to real (fake) people: a boatful of climate refugees, island people whose village was half-submerged, an environmental scientist in a lab coat, a UN delegate working on global policies.

“Do the kids go for it?” Randall asked.

I laughed. Some of the laid-off Cowabunga! staff got rehired to put on costumes and be actors in these dioramas, I said, but they got laid off again when the Czar replaced most of the living dioramas with holograms—much more cost-effective.

“So what we do now,” I said, “is march kids through the museum’s fourteen Info Stations. At each one a hologram lectures them about another glacier melted, another forest burned, another species gone extinct.”

I picked up the pace and we made our way onto a tongue of beach that jutted out into the sea. “Just out here is something pretty cool,” I told him. We arrived at a child-sized body lying face down on the sand, wavelets lapping around its lifeless form.

“The Experience Designers went through a bunch of different models before they settled on this one. The first version was too stiff—like a mannequin. Then there were a few that were too loosey-goosey, sort of jiggly like water balloons. Technically this guy is the CMBC-6, the sixth version of the Climate Migrant Beach Corpse. We call him Ricky.”

“My god,” Randall said. “That’s disgusting.”

“Narrative Compliance says it really hammers home the tragedy. The schoolkids are totally grossed out, but it’s the only thing in the park they actually pay attention to.”

Randall looked at me, trying hard, as I hoped he would, to understand what the Beach Museum was really all about.

Heading back toward the parking lot we saw a grimy yellow school bus pulling to a stop, the noise of high-spirited kids pouring from its open windows.

Randall’s face brightened. “I’m planning to become a teacher. The ad for the job said I’d get to work with kids. Good for my resume, you know.”

I nodded like I cared, and for a second I wanted to tell him how, by Info Station 4, the squirmy kids from this bus would be turned into yawning, glassy-eyed zombies. Just then I remembered Jeannie, the little girl in the wheelchair—how I had promised her we’d always be here for her. How we weren’t. How it must have broken her heart.

I wiped the sweat from my face. “Class field trips now make up ninety-six percent of our visitors. That’s the business model,” I said, my voice sounding as flat as one of the holograms. “We don’t make squat on gate receipts anymore. Everything’s subsidized by the government.”

Next to the bus, the teachers herded the boisterous kids into a line.

We came to lifeguard Tower One, the place where I’d last seen Mary. She too had kept her job during the transition to the BM, but it hadn’t taken her long to see where things were headed. She was smart that way, a lot smarter than me. We were standing right by the tower in our knee boots and our dorky rubber rain suits. “This place is the shits,” she said. Staying was crushing her spirit. We both knew she had to go. She said she wanted to find somewhere that was more like what Cowabunga! used to be.

“You could come with me,” she said, but not with much hope. We’d talked about going off together and she knew my answer, at least for now.

“I need to do this,” she said, apologizing. “It’s not about you, it’s all my stuff. Do you understand?”

“I do, totally.” The guilt was tearing her up and

I didn’t need to make it any harder on her than it already was.

“When I find a good place, I’ll call,” she said, brushing a tear from my cheek. “Maybe Greg will be okay, maybe then you could come be with me.”

“Every time my phone rings,” I said, “I’ll be praying it’s you.”

She gave me her warmest, twinkliest smile, then took my head in her hands, looked into my eyes for a long time like she wanted to remember, then kissed me soft and slow.

“Be brave,” she said.

She turned and walked down the beach. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. I felt everything all at once and felt nothing but numb. I watched her get smaller and smaller and then she was gone.

Randall said something I didn’t hear. “Sorry, what?”

“Is that the end of the tour?” he repeated.

“Yeah,” I said. “That pretty much gets you up to speed.”

*     *     *

After I got off work that night, I walked up the beach to see Greg at his hut. I found him on the lanai, slumped in his big chair, looking to be in even worse shape than he’d been the night before. His squinty face bloated, his skin so red it looked sunburned, the beard he’d grown, matted and wet with spilled drinks. He waved the half-full pitcher at me. I nodded. He poured me a tall one then collapsed back into the chair, exhausted from the effort.

“Should I get the book?” I asked.

He raised a finger, let it fall.

I found the fat biography of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. We were at the part where the creepy manipulating psychiatrist had taken control of every aspect of Brian’s drugged-out life. I knew the story, knew Brian was about to escape and get his life back, and I thought maybe it would give Greg some hope. I read for only a few minutes before I heard raspy rhythmic breathing. His eyes were closed. Gone for the night. I wondered how long he’d last. Another week? Probably not a month. I covered him up with a beach towel.

It was a moonless black night. The lanai was softly lit in by a couple of strands of little Christmas lights strung in lazy arcs. They gave off a friendly warm glow, like a campfire in a dark wilderness. I sat, sipped my drink, and thought of Mary. I imagined, like I imagined a hundred times every day, she was off the grid someplace in Peru or Thailand or maybe New Zealand, doing whatever it was she needed to do. She hadn’t called yet, but she would. I was sure of that. She’d call and tell me she’d found a place. And I’d go to her, wherever she was, anywhere on earth, and everything would be like it was before.

#     #     #


Ross West has placed fiction, essays, journalism, and poetry in publications from Orion to the Journal of Recreational Linguistics. His work has been anthologized in Best Essays Northwest, Best of Dark Horse Presents and elsewhere. He served as senior managing editor of Oregon Quarterly magazine and as text editor for the Atlas of Oregon and Atlas of Yellowstone.

What Really Happened That Night in Bedford Falls (after It’s a Wonderful Life)

by Kevin Grauke

The angel, flightless as a penguin, shows him a world where his brother died beneath skate-scored ice and his wife, a virgin married to books, desiccates in a library: a gray world with no hero to save them from their horrid fates. Standing on the snow-muffled bridge a second time, bleeding from his lip yet again, he is meant to see that life is wonderful, but wait, isn’t his uncle still a yarn-fingered old fool? And isn’t the money still gone? Yes. And yes.

Such old news, this. Yesterday’s hero: today’s failure. Why? Because this land was made for you and me and What have you done for me lately? There above the icy water, he knows nothing of the basket of money making its slow way to save the day; he knows only that Christmas brought nothing but bankruptcy with its guiding light, and prison too, not peace and joy; he knows only that he’s worth less breathing than not, and so, no, he does not run through that snow-globe town joyously screaming—no, he jumps and he drowns, freezing another tiny bell’s clapper before it can swing. Family and friends will cry and say goodbye at his funeral and then mourn into the next year’s second month, but by March they’ll return fully to their own pressing troubles—house payments, food missing from the forks of their children—all the while thinking of him less and less and still less, until one green Monday in May they’ll notice having not thought of the man in weeks, the man who has lain cold in the town cemetery since just after Christmas, the man in whose pocket his daughter’s flower petals have long since disintegrated.



Kevin Grauke is the author of Shadows of Men (Queen's Ferry Press), winner of the Steven Turner Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared (or are forthcoming) in journals such as The Threepenny Review, Bayou, The Southern Review, Fiction, Quarterly West, and Columbia Journal. He’s a Contributing Editor at Story, and he teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Twitter: @kevingrauke

Bahía Solano

by Benjamin Faro

isn't the only thing
that        separates          us.
Sometimes it is dancing.
Sometimes, like when we
were playing dominoes by
the ocean, listening to Ozuna
among French tourists on coke
and colorful amphibians, as the
whole equator listened in, understanding
everything that was said and left unsaid,
you joke with locals and decide                            not
to let me in.

Perhaps it is                   unconscious.

You forget                       who I am,

becoming driftwood while
the water leans a little closer. The
jungle eavesdrops, just devouring your words,
this carnal opera; and when you direct the melody,
the world happily takes part, and for just a moment, I
see it in your eye—that wishing that I could keep up, that
my ears were ripe for harmony,                    or maybe                 that
you could stay here when I leave,                 having found your home,
or at least for the next six months, sitting in the sand waiting for the whales’
migration, when they come singing in July.




Benjamin Faro is a green-thumbed writer and educator living in Asunción, Paraguay, on stolen Guaraní lands. He is currently pursuing his MFA at Queens University of Charlotte, and his prose and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in EcoTheo, Portland Review, Atlanta Review, Invisible City, and elsewhere.