..:: CONTENTS ::..

..:: POETRY ::..
Sarah Trott
Christopher Eaton
  Poems for Burning Down Black Ark
Jennifer Dearinger
  the cup having not been washed of the rifle under the bed
  indian head nickels
  crystal serving plate
  wrapped in the sheets
  dirtied knees from somewhere
  unscattered ashes
  JOSEPHY BEUYS, the day gurdjieff died
  Row Under Rivers
  Avant Garde Country of Contemporary Art
Jeffrey Schrader
  Ships in Bottles
  Deconstruction of V
  From “Pittsburgh Notes”
Noah Eli Gordon
  from Jaywalking the Is
David Applegate
  [A silent]
  [I don't know]
  [You juggled]
  [Our sky]
Lynn Strongin
  MOVED TO. . .
Amy King
  Leisurama Porn Couples Dance
  How To Make a Painting
Bill Stobb
  Poem for an American Barbeque
  I Truly Believe Bill Gates is a Good Person
Jason Fraley
Friedrich Kerksieck & Aaron James McNally
M. Mara-Ann
  A Running Horse Veiled
J.D. Mitchell-Lumsden
  (on air late sunday evening)
  (the women, an intercepted letter)
  (to us)
  (fatwa ii)
Lizzie Brock
  Work that Body
Jacob Eichert
  Untitled (film/dvd)

..:: PROSE ::..
Powell Burke
Michael Chacko Daniels
  Touch me? Vaya Con Dios inbound on the 22 Fillmore!
Sandra Hunter
  Take It Away
Paul Kavanagh
Paul Silverman
  Letter To B

..:: ETC ::..
  Contributor's Notes

..:: ARCHIVES ::..
  Volume I, Issue I
  Volume I, Issue II
  Volume II, Issue I


Take It Away
Sandra Hunter


     Frank follows the snake of tail lights stretching up the hill and longs for a single radio program that would help him forget he is on the 405.
     He glances up at the tiny train caterpillaring up to the Getty, a small, glowing filament of light. Slung above the freeway, it looks as though it's moving through a different time.
A black Mercedes pulls in front of him. He brakes and checks his rearview mirror. The car behind has already stopped. Frank is anxious about being rear-ended.
     It has been eight months since the accident, but he still feels the anxiety in his chest whenever someone follows too closely. The back of the van looked like a set from Bloodfeast.
     The hospital was furious with the supplier who vented her anger on Frank's boss who didn't care about Frank's whiplash. Let me use simple language for you, Frank: don't fuck up. Or else.
     Frank is determined not to fuck up. He is a fetch and carrier for his employer. He calls it cargo.
     The traffic fidgets over the hill where the Valley lies under a bed-fluff of smog. He takes the exit to the 101 west and enjoys a brief exhalation of speed of thirty-five mph before he catches up with the rest of them. Then it's the usual shuffling and inching forward until he can escape the freeway and make his delivery.
     He drives past Balboa Park and the evening joggers still hamstering their way around the five mile loop. Insistent honking, a roar of tires and an egg-yolk yellow Mac truck swerves past, a muscled arm with a jabbed middle finger at the window. A high-pitched scream and Frank sees something fly off the side of the truck and bounce into the curb. A child?
     Frank snatches at a four-second space between cars and lunges into the far right lane. He waits for an eighteen wheeler to grumble past in the center lane, then parks and jumps out to investigate. The cat is tucked into the curb like an old throw cushion. The body seems intact, but it cannot move. Its legs might be broken. A rosette of blood flowers around its nose.
     Its wide eyes stare around and past him. Its breathing is rapid. How can anything breathe so quickly? The cat's eyes are open; it's probably dying. He will sit with it until its eyes close.
     But its eyes stay open. He cannot spend hours sitting with a dying cat. The cargo will be damaged.
     The cat's breathing continues, fast and shallow. If it were in the street, he could back the truck up and run it over properly. But what if he runs it over and it's still not dead?
     Maybe he could just throw it into the hydrangea bushes outside the Balboa Residential Home; but maybe someone's watching from inside, ready to report him to the police.
     He sighs. "Okay, cat. We better get you to the hospital." The cat yowls quietly.
     He has never been this far north on Balboa. He passes a gas station, a 7-11, dirt fields behind wire fencing, a series of small stores - Martha's Millenium Nails, Hanson's Fish and Bait, Amos Taqueria, Sunshine Tiles. Tacked onto the end of the tile store is a small structure, like the kind of queasily tilting pre-fab offices on construction sites. Slowing down, he can make out the lettering, Alice's Animals. Is it a clinic? And who is Alice? He had hoped for a man, someone who could be decisive and say Let's put the poor bastard out of its misery.
     He hauls the cat out of the van and it swipes at his face with extended claws. A single claw catches his left eyelid. More claws attach to his hand and rip as he unhooks his eyelid. A teardrop of blood trickles into his eye. He would like to drop the cat on the doorstep and leave, but the door is slightly open.
     He pushes his way in. "You pull one more fucking move like that and I'll dump you. I don't care who sees." The cat moans.
     A short woman in a dirty green tunic and long gray gloves greets him. "Whatcha got? Road kill?"
     "Almost. Someone hit it."
     She leads him into a room that looks like a lounge - flowery curtains, two sofas, a standard lamp with pictures of Hawaiian dancers. On one side is a tall metal table with a pack of cards fanned out.
     She pushes the cards aside and eases the cat off the jacket. He is glad to see the cat swipes at her, too. The cat's claws slide off the gloves. The woman smiles at Frank. "Useful part of the uniform." She sees Frank's swelling eyelid. "Better wash that before it gets infected. They got dirty little claws." She turns back to the cat. "You are one sorry case, mister." She has a nice smile. Frank likes the way one front tooth slightly overlaps the other, a casual invitation.
     "It's a male?"
     "You can tell by the penis."
     Frank steps back as though she's about the whip the penis out.
     The cat stares up at Frank. He says, "I have to go. I got stuff for the hospital."
     "What kinda stuff?"
     "Organs. Kidneys, livers. Gotta get them into storage."
     "Yeah. Can't let that stuff lie around. What you want to do about your cat?"
     "It's not my cat."
     The woman looks up at him. "He came in with you. He's yours."
     "But I don't want a cat. I got nowhere to put a cat. My landlord doesn't allow cats." The last is not true.
     The woman ignores it. "Listen. This guy's badly injured. I'd say terminal. We could make it easy for him."
     "What's wrong with him?"
     "Busted spleen, torn liver. It's amazing he's still alive." He likes the way she says amayssing.
     "You Mexican?"
     She doesn't look up. "Costa Rica."
     He says. "I'm from Iran. My real name's Farid. Everyone calls me Frank."
     "I like Farid better. It's more real, you know? I'm Madelina." He appreciates her help and the fact that her tunic is tight over her chest. He's almost sure he can see the outline of a lace bra.
     The cat is ridiculously alert. He turns his head, following Frank.
     Frank says, "You sure we can't save him?"
     "We don't do operations. We're a shelter. But even if you took him to a hospital he probably wouldn't make it."
     Frank thinks about the vanload of organs outside; nothing shrink-to-fit, nothing you could cut in half, like a butcher, and say How about this?
     "So. He's going to die is what you're saying."
     "Pretty much."
     She looks at him, waiting for him to make a decision. It should be simple. This cat is so horribly injured it wouldn't survive surgery. But he can't say Kill it.
     The cat watches him.
     She says, "I had a friend who got a donated kidney. Or maybe it was a liver or something. She died anyway."
     "That's too bad."
     "You just never know. She was on a list for three years. I guess a heart's gotta be more expensive than, say, a kidney. But to the person waiting for a kidney, it would be worth more than a heart. Because they didn't need a heart, they needed a kidney. You know what I'm saying? I bet you could get a lot of money for a heart. I mean, if you sold it to someone."
     "They do sell them."
     "Yeah, but to other people. I bet you can get hearts on some kind of hospital e-bay, but I wouldn't trust no e-bay heart."
     The cat continues to look at Frank. Frank says, "How about you give him something for the pain?"
     "I tell you what I can do." She opens the table drawer and brings out a shrink-wrapped syringe. "I'll put him to sleep if you bring one of them organs in here so I can take a look."
     "I can't. It's against rules, you know? And everything's all locked up in boxes. Sealed. I can't just break into it like I'm getting a beer from an ice-box."
     "I just want to see. I work with all kinds of little stuff. I never see the big stuff." She touches his hand with her rough glove.
     He indicates the animal with his chin. "Give him a shot for the pain."
     She holds the syringe in front of her, pointing up like she's holding a gun. "We got these ones for putting them down. We don't got nothing for pain."
     "At least make him comfortable."
     She shrugs. "It's nothing to do with me." She takes off her gloves and touches his hand again. "How about something to make you comfortable?" She walks out.
     Is this is an invitation to have sex? Should he follow her? Is there another room with a bed? Is she going to get a condom? He hopes she doesn't want to have sex on the metal table. He can try moving her towards one of the sofas, although they don't look that inviting.
     He remembers the cat, and his cargo sitting outside. He needs to make the hospital delivery or he'll be out of a job.
     On the other hand, the brown corduroy sofa looks better than the tweed one. Maybe she'll be okay with a quick in-and-out.
     She comes back holding a small plastic baggie with familiar-looking papers and a small tin. She rolls a joint expertly, lights it and inhales the smoke deep into her lungs, then hands him the joint. He inhales, too.
     He says, "I bet I stink of cat."
     She thinks this is very funny and, after a moment, Frank realizes it is. She clutches at his shoulder and he puts his arm around her. They keep passing the joint even though he can barely smoke for laughing.
     Frank sees the cat staring at him and this is also very funny. He can hardly speak to point it out, but when the vet sees where he's pointing, she collapses against him and they slide onto the mustard and marmalade carpet. He likes the way she laughs, heeheeheehee like a cartoon. He tries to tell her, but gives up while she laughs heeheeheehee.
     She finishes the joint and holds up the roach. "You want it?" Still laughing, he shakes his head. She pinches the end, chews and swallows it. "My mother taught me not to waste anything." She kisses him, pushing her tongue into his mouth. He tries to breathe in but her face is angled across his nose. Just when he thinks he's going to have to push her off, she releases him. "Let's fuck."
     This seems a reasonable idea and he tries to open the tight tunic but he can't manage the buttons.
     He says, "You wearing lace under there?"
     She laughs her cartoon laugh and he laughs with her. Maybe she'll take the tunic off herself, but she can't manage the buttons either.
     She says, "Of all the fucks in all the world."
     Is this meant to be funny? It's not even a sentence. He stops laughing.
     She says, "Hey. Let's get a box from your truck."
     Even though he knows something is wrong with this, they go out to his van and bring in one of the silver and white metal cubes. She takes it from him and puts it on the table next to the cat.
     She admires it. "What a beautiful box."
     He is impressed that she has such an artistic eye.
     She says, "Let's open it."
     To open it would ruin its beauty. He puts a hand out, but she says, "I can do it careful. What's in here anyways?" She squints at the label. "Can you read this? I can't read this."
     She eases off the sealing tape and pries the lid open. "Fuck me. Look at this."
     Frank looks inside; a liver in a liquid-filled plastic pouch. He says, "Let's close it."
     "This thing is huge." She slips on a pair of surgical gloves and pulls out the plastic pouch. "Hey, Farid. This ain't no human liver. I don't have nothing inside me this big. This is cow liver, man." She looks up at him. "You gotta report this. Your people sending animal organs to hospitals. Maybe they do it all the time. Maybe there are people walking around with cow livers and dog kidneys inside them."
     He is nervous. "Can we put it back?"
     "I want to see what it smells like." She opens the pouch and sniffs. The cat is interested, too. She holds it for the cat to sniff. "You like that?" The cat jerks its head back. "See? Even he knows it's cow liver."
     Frank says, "Don't do that. What if cat hair gets on it?"
     She reaches inside and pulls the liver out onto the table. "Look at this fucker. This would do for ten people." The wide, rolling sweep of liver glistens on the metal. There is something heart-breaking about the color, its intricate curves and thin sliced-off edges.
     Madelina produces a small scalpel and carves off a four inch chunk.
     "What are you doing?"
     "They won't miss this little bit. And once it's in the new owner, it'll just grow back. Liver does that."
     She deftly slips the liver back into its liquid womb and tucks it back into the box. She re-seals the box, the tape carefully realigned. No one would know. She examines her piece of liver.
     Frank snatches the box up and takes it back out to the truck. What if she wants to get the kidneys out? What would she do to those?
     He is about to get into his truck when he remembers the cat. If she can slice up a human liver, what will she do to the cat? He pushes open the door and smells something cooking. She's frying onions. As he follows his nose to the back, he glances in at the cat. The liver is no longer on the table, so she's probably thrown it away. The cat stares at him.
     He follows the smell to a small back room. "You cooking up the liver?" He's trying to make a joke, but he sees the liver slice, neatly sectioned, next to some chopped tomatoes and a pile of green onions.
     She says, "I'm starvin' like Marvin."
     "You can't do this." He can't remember the word that means eating people. "It's illegal. You can go to jail for this. You're cooking someone's liver."
     "Oh, relax." She slides the diced liver in with the green onions. The sizzle increases and the smell makes his stomach hurt. He could eat anything, a ham and pineapple pizza, a boiled pig's ear, a steaming bowl of menudo. He tells himself I'll leave, but finds he's moving closer to the hot plate where she's busy stirring.
     "Smells good, huh?" She adds the tomatoes, salt and pepper and a pinch of saffron. She leans over and inhales. "I could eat it right out of the pan, but what we'll do is I'll serve you on a plate and I'll have the bowl. It's one of the bowls we use for the cats, but I rinsed it out good."
     He doesn't want to ask what they use the plate for. He watches her divide the food between the chipped green plate and the blue plastic bowl. She hands him the plate. He stares down at the food. The liver looks pinkish-gray.
     She winks at him. "It's not illegal if it's cooked." He watches her chew and talk. He carefully puts the plate down. Even now that the liver has been sautéed, he doesn't wish to drop it on the floor.
     His thoughts spin like a slot machine; what will the hospital say, what will his boss say, can they sue him? But he can claim he knows nothing about it. He is only paid to deliver the organs, not check on whether they are complete.
     "Sorry. I can't stay." He lifts one hand. Should he say adios? "Thanks for the joint. It was fun." He nods, trying to make himself seem sincere.
     She watches him, chewing.
     He says, "Okay. So. Gotta make this delivery."
     "Well. Glad you could stop by."
     He finds his way back to the examination table. The cat has slumped to one side, its eyes barely open. At first he thinks it's dead, but it manages a feeble mew when he wraps a towel around it.
     Madelina shouts from the kitchen. "Farid, you oughta taste this, man. I cooked it well done. Is not like it's medium rare or anything."
     He takes several more towels and lifts the cat gently. The cat's eyes open wider, probably from pain. As he walks to the car he hears Madelina shout again. "You sure you don't want this? Okay. You had your chance."
     He hesitates for a second, then puts the cat on the front passenger seat on top of an old sweatshirt. The cat continues to stare at him. He says, "Look, not everything is my fault."
     He stops at the 7-11 and asks for directions to an animal hospital. There's one in Encino. He can get there in ten minutes.
     Frank drives carefully to Encino Animal Hospital where his cat is examined and given a shot. At first he is nervous, but they reassure him it's just for pain. Apparently, the cat isn't dying. It has a broken leg and several broken ribs, but the lungs aren't punctured. He asks about the torn liver and spleen, but the middle-aged woman shakes her head.
     "Lots of internal bruising, but everything's intact. He could have been a lot worse off. Still, a broken leg and ribs are no joke. You'll have to keep him quiet for a while. He'll be on antibiotics and pain meds so he'll be dopey anyway." She speaks directly to the cat. "No tomming around for you, young man. Not for some time, anyway." She looks at Frank. "He's not neutered."
     Frank shrugs one shoulder. "Guess I never got around to it."
     "He should be neutered."
     "Hasn't he been through enough?"
     "We can do it all at the same time. He'll be okay." She looks at him again. "And let me get you something for that eye."
     "Cat got me."
     "Yeah. They do that sometimes."
     Frank remembers something about neutered cats gaining weight. He thinks about the cat growing even bigger. And what if the cat blames Frank for its neutering? Do cats remember things like that? This cat looks capable of holding a grudge for a long time. But he nods anyway. The cat is still breathing fast, but at least it's closed its eyes.
     Frank sits in the waiting room. He holds the antiseptic pad to his throbbing eye. His delivery is now overdue by an hour and the operation will take another hour. He is definitely out of a job. He can't call the hospital. They will call the supplier and the supplier will call his boss. Perhaps the best thing for everyone is to make the drop off and just keep driving, him and the cat.
     He'll get rid of the van, maybe trade it for a compact, like a Toyota or a Mazda. The cat won't like the desert, so they'll have to drive straight through Nevada. Utah is supposed to be nice; a man and a cat could get comfortable in a place like Cedar City.
     The examining vet pops her head around the door. "I'm gonna pick up a couple of sandwiches for the guys. You want anything?" She sniffs. "You already had dinner?"
     He shakes his head vigorously. He is famished.
     "Someone's been in here smelling of onions. Can you smell it? I love onions. So. You want a steak sandwich with onions?"


//   Advance   //