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Yaron Kaver – The Troll

The Troll

He considered the phrase “last meal” and the men it brought to mind—death row inmates on the eve of their execution and Jews on the eve of their Yom Kippur fast. And Jesus, he supposed, who embodied both groups, by far the most famous Jew to eat a holiday dinner and then march to his death. Sliding a chicken into the oven, he toyed with the parallel. Enjoy your “last meal” you dirty fucking Jews, he would write in the comments sections on this Yom Kippur Eve. Hope every last one of you dies by sundown! 

His apartment filled with the scents of cooking. Following advice his mother had emailed him five years ago under the subject line “Tips for an Easy Fast”, he did not overeat. He avoided salt. He drank plenty of water and abstained from caffeine or alcohol. He focused on protein and complex carbohydrates. And, finally, he left some time to brush his teeth and rinse his mouth before the first stars appeared in the sky. The festivities behind him, he was now ready to fast. 

He sat down at the computer. A single new email glowed at the top of the screen, his father imploring him to find a way to attend the prayer services, even if this meant driving his car to and from synagogue on the Holy Day. Word for word, this was the exact same message his father had sent him the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that. Already his tongue felt swollen dry in his mouth. All the while, the rumble of passing cars rose and fell outside his window, and TV sets mumbled through the walls.

He passed the first hours of his fast composing individual emails to each and every one of his friends back home—those he had known since elementary school, those he had met in high school, those who had shared his misery in the Israeli army, and the roommates he had lived with when he first set out on his own in Tel Aviv. The bulk of the letter remained the same, copied and pasted from one to the next, describing his homesickness on this of all days, when the entire nation came to a stop, every store shuttered, every car parked. While stoplights clicked green to yellow to red, people waded in the puddles of light on the asphalt, the intersections repurposed for public congregation. Families marched down the lanes in their best attire. Children raced their bicycles down the busiest street in town. The ethereal effect of Yom Kippur, the collective effort to suspend the traffic of life, could not be transposed onto foreign soil or recreated in the privacy of one’s home. It was the one day of the year when you could have no doubt that you were living in a Jewish State. 

He erased the last few lines from his emails, knowing that his friends would have cringed at the romanticized notion of the holiday and the country. They did not live in an idea; they were born to a home on a street in a neighborhood. They spoke its language and shuffled their feet to its history, and left the marvel and blame to foreign eyes. Quickly changing the subject, he personalized each letter with questions about girlfriends and wives, babies and toddlers, hobbies and jobs. After proofreading every draft and double-checking names and occupations, he sent the emails off in swift succession. 

He knew not to wait for replies. Israel turned seven hours deeper into the night, and his friends and family were all in bed by now, nestled in the holiday stillness. It would be hours before they checked their inboxes, and even then, there was no telling what the words would yield. In the first months after he moved halfway across the world, his writing drew consistent replies. A year or two later, only a fraction of the cast of his former life remained active participants in the correspondence. Recently his letters shot into space and drifted endlessly in black. 

He felt hunger creaking through him from his throat to his belly button. He typed the word “Israel” into Google and clicked and dragged his way down to the links that would satiate him.

His favorite prefix was “death to”, his favorite suffix “has no right to exist”. YouTube links offered the most fertile ground, though he enjoyed the thoughtful sites as well, where hate masqueraded as altruism in proper grammar and punctuation, and the comments appeared as blocks of text, imparting history lessons grown in greenhouses of desperation. He created new accounts where necessary, choosing FreeThePalPeople1967 as his handle when he found that FreeThePalPeople1948 was already taken. 

He typed fast, enamored with his own occasional mistakes, the “your” for “you’re”, the “were” for “we’re”. This was about quantity, not quality. It was a numbers game. He played the classics, such as Die Zionist scumbag. Fuck you and fuck Israel. He added his new holiday favorites, including The jews can never atone for their sins. They are worse then the nazis. He struck the right tone for the more reputable news outlets with Even the briefest of history lessons should disabuse you of your illusions about the legitimacy of the Zionist apartheid state, or No amount of obfuscating can erase the moral repugnance of the racist Zionist enterprise.  

His seeds all planted, he headed out for a stroll. Restaurant row was over an hour away at a brisk pace, but he could not drive, not on Yom Kippur. This was not a matter of religion but of decency; he would not add his engine to the road on this silent night. No one in Israel, not even the most militant of atheists, would do so. The cars in this country, however, gave him no such respite, following each other like beads on a string. He wished he could walk on the road. The sidewalk was covered in fallen leaves, slippery with dew and somehow alive. 

He arrived a sweaty, grimacing mess. Groomed men and women shoved food into their mouths on both sides of the street. Others chattered over plates half full, their uneaten food soon to be thrown in the trash. Pink and yellow lights glittered on their skin and jewelry. Little speakers bound to awnings blasted pop music into the night. Sections of the sidewalk were roped off, and big wooden barrels from a simpler, harder time were used as decoration. Not a single restaurant or café or bar had closed for the occasion. There was no occasion to honor. 

He was tired. Absentminded, he sat down at a table at a sidewalk café. The sun would soon rise in Israel and shine on the nation’s reverent pause. A waitress set a glass of water down before him without saying a word. He looked up to glare at the girl, but she was already gone. The cruelty of it, teasing him with this forbidden water. When the waitress returned for his order—yet another insult—he would cower and slink away. 

His phone beeped with new messages, not from his family, not from his friends, not from his long lost love, but passionate postings nonetheless. He thumbed at the touchscreen. The counterattacks made his heart swell. He scanned the replies for the telltale signs of an Israeli, the let-me-explain-to-you tone, the squared-off grammar, the Hebraicized English. It was early—or, rather, late—for the appearance of Israeli commenters, but there was always the chance he had fished one out, an insomniac or an expat like himself. An honest Israeli response this soon into the holiday would flood his throat with tears of joy.  

Many of his messages fell flat, of course, deleted by moderators or swiftly denounced by other users as provocations and summarily ignored. During his first year abroad he had taken offense at being called a Troll, but now he took it as instant intimacy; it was as if a complete stranger had divined his name by the color of his pain. As for those who reinforced his belligerency, they were but an unfortunate side effect, and he did not engage with them. He stood alone in his fight. After all, his battle was not with the existence of Israel, but with the fact that he could never get his distance from it just right. 

He wrote back to each and every one of his new cherished enemies, spurring them on with the black and white clichés of the decades-old debate. Usually he waited for Yom Kippur Day to make the switch to all caps, to bolster their love of country, but this year he felt famished, invigorated and raw, and aroused by the wealth of attention. Looking around, he put faces to the militant monikers—a chubby man was JewsForTruthNow; a tall blond woman was Xx_YahwehDestroyer_xX; an awkward teenager was IDFwinwinwin.

He marched back to his apartment building, fed and alive. He fell into his cold bed, where he lay until it warmed to him. He set his phone on the pillow beside him, hoping it might wake him in the night. This tradition of his own making was all that he had, and he pulled it over his body like a blanket and breathed it in. He could stare at a patch of ceiling and pretend he was elsewhere, he could press his pillow up to his ears and listen to his childhood like the ocean in a shell, but the air would never smell like home. 

Yom Kippur morning offered no new emails from his family or friends. The comments sections, however, were brimming with Israelis; his brothers and sisters, awakening to hatred on a lazy holiday, were compelled to stand their ground. How he loved them for this. Still in bed, he scrolled through their missives—compassionate, violent, enlightened, pessimistic, condescending and pleading. His mouth tasted like dirt and his jaw ached. Invisible scaffolding attached to his head at the points where it hurt the most.

He slipped into a submissive stupor. Though he ceased all activity, his mind depleted and his body exhausted, his comments spawned defenders and detractors around the world, creating chains within chains, pockets within pockets. Reading between the lines, he followed the story of a roomful of lonely users, their day ruined, their hearts poisoned with hatred for his tiny homeland. As the fast entered its final hour, their arguments faded along with him. 

Like every year, it was hard to believe the fast was over. Satisfied that the sun had indeed set, he sipped a glass of water and chewed a piece of pound cake slowly, followed by some crackers with sliced tomato, red onion and pickled herring. He showered and dressed and sat down at his computer. He revisited each and every site he had defiled the night before, and wrote

I’m sorry, one by one, comments section after comments section. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

Yaron Kaver

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Frankie Carter – Pushover

Pushover

When Will’s mother died, it took them a month to find his father.

Ty Stewart was a tall, broad-shouldered fellow with the same riotous coffee-colored curls as Will; he was in the wine business, he said, Married, but his wife lived in France. He looked at his son a bit warily, but he tried. He took Will out to dinner at a diner his mother worked in, sixteen years ago; Ty ordered cheeseburgers, strawberry soda, and hot apple pie. He watched every bite that went into Will’s mouth, looked relieved when he finished.

“Tell me about her, please, Ty?”

Ty didn’t remember her, not really. Will could tell, by the way he skimmed over details and stuck to the basics. 

“She was beautiful,” he said. “Had a great laugh. Really smart. We had a good time together, Will.”

Theirs had been a causal relationship; in a sense Will appreciated him not making it sound like more. Ty was better when he moved on to other things, like enrolling Will in school, getting him a car.

“It’ll be all right here, Will.”

Will nodded, but a rush of loneliness stole the thank you from his lips. Continue Reading »

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Kim Peter Kovac – Trinity

Trinity

In the name of the former and of the latter and of their holocaust. Allmen.
-James Joyce

1.  Los Alamos, New Mexico
Theologians exploring crucibles and intersections of faith light upon the fact that Trinity, where the secret gang detonated the Gadget, was likely christened after a verse by John Donne: “batter my heart, three person’d God”. Multi-armed Vishnu is present as well: “I am become death, destroyer of worlds”.

2. Hiroshima, Japan
Archeologists exploring the ruined city discover a ruined statue of a young girl holding a ruined steel origami crane over her head near images of people burned into battered concrete buildings. Words are carved in the broken stone beneath the broken girl: “This is our cry, this is our prayer – peace”.

3.  Jornado del Muerto, New Mexico
Geologists exploring the depths of the ancient tunnel in the Jornado del Muerto desert discover a cathedral carved from the heart of a deposit of salmon-tinged salt full of steel drums, all pretty and dressed in yellow and pink trefoil. They are filled with radioactive waste with a shelf-life of 10,000 years, once sealed, now shearing open from pressure of salt-shift.

Kim Peter Kovac

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Vincent Chu – Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb Pie

The walls of his cubicle are particularly low. Ruben sits at his desk, his cornmeal oxford shirt crinkled and untucked at the hips, his white crew socks showing, his coiled black hair flattened on one side, glinting with the kind of rich, human shine you only get from not showering for three or more days. Sometimes, I’m reminded of Fight Club when I look at my coworker, but I know that Ruben isn’t the leader of an underground bare-knuckle boxing society. How do I know? That’s artisanal jam on his shirt collar, not blood.

“The Stetson report, I need it before our 10am,” says Kip, finger drumming his pack of Gauloises Blondes.

“I left two copies on your desk,” says Ruben. 

“That was last week, dumb dumb. Seriously, aren’t you analysts supposed to be good at counting?”

Ruben looks away first, color in his cheeks. Kip proceeds, off toward the elevators, off toward his morning smoke, off toward his morning dump. Ruben pointed this whole routine out to me one morning last December and now I notice it even when I don’t want to. Continue Reading »

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David Gialanella – Her Own Room

Her Own Room

The man stood at the window.  The sun was melting crimson onto the tree line, but instead he pecked at his phone with furrowed brow.  

The woman sat in a chair, overaggressive springs prodding upward beneath the vinyl.  Her soles fused to the floor, tacky and gleaming with disinfectant.   She rested her arm on the bedrail and stroked the girl, who was upright and looking far away.      

“Mommy?” the girl said. 

“Yes, honey,” Sueanne said, paging through the magazine in her lap.  ‘Nine tips to a shapelier bottom.’ 

“What did the doctor say?”  

“When?” 

“Before.  Just before, when he was in the hallway with you and Daddy.” 

“Haley honey, I’ve told you, you need to rest and let the grownups worry about doctor things.  It’ll only make you feel worse to worry.” 

“But I just want to understand.” 

“You’re too young to understand.  I mean, you’re very brave but it’s just big words that don’t mean anything.” 

Haley looked at her forearm.  It was gaunt and paled to translucence, the blue veins showing through.  Her mother’s red nails sailed across in a caress.  

“Are they going to do something else to me?” the girl said.  

Sueanne closed the magazine and leveled her head with her daughter’s.  

“Honey, you really need to rest now.  I know it’s been very hard and you have been a very brave girl.  I promise we are making sure Doctor Malhotra keeps you comfy and happy.  Blaine, tell her.” 

“What’s that?” the man called over from the window. 

“I said, we’re doing everything we can, aren’t we?” 

“Of course, sweetie,” Blaine said.  “And here we got you your own room.  Just look at that view.”  He cocked his head toward the tree line without looking up from the phone. 

“See honey?” Sueanne said, reopening the magazine.  “We’re doing everything we can.” 

The girl glanced over at the white board.  Your nurse today is: Isabelle, it said—a new one.  Isabelle spelled her name with a lowercase I and made a sunflower out of the dot.  

“Are you, though?” Haley said, inspecting her mother’s hair.  Done up that afternoon.  

Sueanne closed the magazine again – ‘Eight ways to spice up date night’ – and sighed.  “Haley, of course.  We just told you.  What’s this about?” 

“I saw something on channel seven last night.”  

“Saw what?  You’re supposed to go to sleep after we leave.  Blaine, we need to talk to the supervising nurse about making sure the TV is off in here at night.” 

“What’s that?” he said. 

“Mommy, just listen.  It was about a new treatment for people with what I have.  It’s a surgical pump they put into the abdomen.”  She annunciated each syllable: sur-gic-uhl.  “They even showed it, but blurred out some of the gross parts.” 

“What on earth were you watching?  Blaine?”  

“Yes, I’ll talk to the nurse on the way out,” he said. 

“Haley, the person you saw could have had any kind of condition,” Sueanne said. 

“No, Mommy, it was the same one as me.  The problem was, it’s new and the hospital wouldn’t pay for it.  Six thousand.  Or six million, I can’t remember.  How much money do we have?” 

“Honey, this is all guessing.” 

“But what if?” 

“Haley, that’s something your father and I would have to discuss.  What if?  What if it’s unsafe?  What if it’s untested?” 

“On TV the parents said they spent five months raising money for it at church and they even borrowed some from the bank.” 

“That’s a nice story, honey, but it’s TV.  You don’t know how they edit these things.  Maybe the people from channel four paid for it.  We can’t know how realistic any of these shows are.” 

“Are you saying you wouldn’t even try?”  

Sueanne scanned the ceiling, rubbed her face with both hands.  Blaine pocketed the phone and pumped his palms full of sanitizing lotion from the wall dispenser.  A medicine cart rumbled by out in the hall. 

“Honey, what I’m saying is, after this is all over we still have to live,” Sueanne said.  

Haley lowered her eyes, onto the gown’s floral pattern, the IV taped to her arm.  She looked ashamed at first but then nodded to herself as if she’d just solved a puzzle.  

“Sweetie, I mean, it’s going to fine—you’re going to be fine,” Sueanne said.  “Daddy and I haven’t really been home in three days, and I’m just tired and all mixed up.  Do you understand?”  

Calm settled over Haley’s face, and she looked at her mother for the first time as an equal.  

“I understand,” the girl said. 

“Haley honey, we’ll talk to Doctor Malhotra again in the morning.  It’s all very complicated, really.  But we’re doing everything we can.  Aren’t we, Blaine?”

 “What’s that?” he said, phone back under his nose. 

“Damn it, Blaine.  I said, we’re doing everything we can.” 

“Of course, honey,” he said.  “Just look at this view.” 

Outside the sky was purple above the sun, a sliver of red above the tree line.

 – David Gialanella

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Will Walawender – The Bird Suicide Grounds of Jatinga, India

The Bird Suicide Grounds of Jatinga, India

Every year in the small town of Jatinga, India, birds fly in from all over the world to kill themselves and tourists come to watch. It’s been going on for a hundred years, scientists say, in the months of September and October when the ground is still moist with little brown puddles from monsoon season. High above the sinking leaves of the jujube trees and damp wooden huts of the village, people line the street like they’re waiting for a parade in the dark. They watch their wrists as time ticks forward, glancing upward until the first bird appears against gray and heavy clouds like a black dot on a dirty canvas. The bird plummets like the first rain drop of a storm before splashing on the ground in a flurry of feathers. People gasp and cheer. A few people try to sprint into the lonely street to save the bird. They hold the little thing, dead, but still alive in their hands and really, they can’t tell if the dripping sound around them is rain or not. The air gets thick with tufts of feathery down until the 200 yard strip of dirt road clears of tourists drunk with dead stink.

A tiny Indian man with thick glasses and tall rubber boots waits until they leave before walking along the path. He picks up the birds with a trash pick-stick, stabbing at their hollow bones and putting them into an oversized trash bag with broken bottles and candy wrappers.

 - Will Walawender

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Jayanthi Rangan – The Big Picture

The Big Picture

Sylvie was barely six when her mother’s hand purposely blocked her face from seeing the horrendous sight of papa being taken away by the police. Through a narrow chink between her mother’s pinky and the ring finger, Sylvie’s questions poured out silently: Where was Papa going? Will he be back to take her for a swim? Mama spoke about it again and again in later years but nothing brought comfort to the question of why Papa was victimized by Stalin. Woolen gloves and eat-treats to Siberia brought no acknowledgement. Could they no longer communicate with Papa? Had he turned into a ghost?

If Sylvie had broken loose towards him would the police have allowed a last hug? Would Papa have said, “Little princess, I will be back for you.”

Papa stayed with her like a breath – essential for her being. He enveloped her through life’s rituals of marriage, emigration to USA and Anya’s graduation.

One day Sylvie would make a cathartic visit to independent Armenia, meet with her mother and come to terms with papa’s traumatic goodbye. Alas, the urgent situations postponed the Armenia trip which came about only after mama’s death. With weighty memory luggage and burdensome questions Sylvie walked through streets that were different now.  Finally, when she visited her mother’s grave the grief-bomb burst. The deluge washed her confusion and showed her it was Mama she had missed more. Papa’s image of bringing her ribbons and trinkets were fleshed and recreated by Mama. Her voice had turned a ghost into Sylvie’s unforgettable Papa.

Jayanthi Rangan 

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