“Birds” by Brooke Dorn

 

“Birds”

Fiction

Brooke Dorn

I always wondered if birds felt free. What it would be like to be that free. Did they ever wonder if they were being a bird right? Were they following the right etiquette that was being a bird? I wondered if they realized they had the power to go anywhere they wanted with a few flaps of their wings. That if they up and left, no one would stop them. Nothing would hold them back. There was no reason for them not to go.

I wondered if they looked down at all of us on the ground and wondered why we weren’t up in the sky. Why we weren’t feeling the ocean breezes on our faces or warming our bodies under the sun. Did they wonder why were we bolted to the ground? Why were we never trying to fly? Why we were so left out?

I stare up at the grey sky from my spot on the beach. I’m alone. The sand nearly matches the sky in its light shade of grey, but not entirely. There are still the remnants of the once golden hue that usually covers the beach. Today is the day after a storm. Not a massive storm, but one with enough power to suck the color from the naturally blue sky. And from the grains of sand that shine a mixture of copper and bronze and gold when the sun hits it just right. And from the cerulean water that laps up onto the shore, leaving behind white foam that reminds me of clouds that seem to have never made it to the atmosphere. They just stayed down here instead. This is my favorite kind of day.

Because this is the day I come out to watch the birds. The sandpipers. The beach is empty except for me, the sand just outside our yard. People think it’s a waste of time to sit on the beach in the middle of November when there is no sun to tan your skin and there’s a chilled wind coming in off the Atlantic. I move my eyes from the blank sky down to my toes. They’re freshly painted. A light green I found in a box of my mother’s old things. This was her favorite kind of day too. Eleven years since my mother passed away. I was nine.

We spent so many afternoons on the beach after storms had passed that I’ve lost count. She’d scoop me up from playing with my dollhouse on dreary afternoons and hand me a knitted sweater to put on to block out the chill. She’d bring a dark blanket reserved especially for outings on the damp sand and a book, although she’d never read it. Maybe she went without me before I was born or if I was in school and she read then. She’d sit on the blanket, the unread pages at her side, and watch me run and chase the birds and get almost close enough to the water for it to touch my feet, and then scurry away with a bright smile on my face as if I’d just narrowly escaped.

I was seven when she got sick. Part of me wonders if sitting out in the moist sea air, shivering under a thin jacket, made it worse, but I don’t know for sure. Her oncologist said it was stage four when it was first detected. Ovarian cancer. I remember my father crying the day she came home from the doctor. They didn’t tell me what was going on: I was hiding on the stairs listening even though I wasn’t sure what they were really talking about. I’d never seen my father cry. Not even at my grandmother’s funeral. But he cried then. Blue eyes always look bluer after crying. My father’s eyes resembled sapphires for quite a long time.

But my mother never cried. She took the diagnosis in perfect stride. Like nothing was different, nothing was wrong. Not the day she found out, not after her first Chemo treatment, not even when her flaxen locks started to dull and fall out. I found hair all over the house. I always just threw it away, praying my father wouldn’t see. I cried sometimes, but tried not to let my mother see. I didn’t want her to feel bad about dying. I wanted her to remember me like I was when we’d watch the birds. When I’d run and run and run and tease the water with my presence and fall dramatically next to her onto the blanket, my chest heaving with every breath I took. I wanted her to look at her little girl and remember her with big blue eyes just like her father’s and with hair so gold it resembled the sand on a sunny day. I wanted her to remember me as vibrant and playful and so full of love that it hurt.

I blink to regain focus on my blurring green toes. I lean my head back to keep the gathering tears from spilling over the rims of my eyelids. She would have never wanted me to cry. She would have wanted me to sit on this blanket with her and color the sky and the beach and the sea with my laugh. Everyone always tells me I laugh like my mother. High and shrill when I get really tickled. And that I have her smile, too. I pull my knees up to my chest, trying to warm them with my chilly, slender fingers. Those are hers too.

“Here.” I turn to see my father. He holds a white porcelain traveler’s mug out for me to take. I wrap my hands around it and sip. Sweet, rich hot chocolate slides down my throat, sending warmth to all corners of my body. My father sits down to my right and stares out at the ocean. We’re both quiet for a few minutes, just listening to the soft rush of the water on the shore. We’ve never been close, but I guess things are different now that I’m older. I feel responsible for him now.

Never in my life had my father sat out on the beach on a day like today. He’d stay inside the heat of our house arguing through his cell phone or dealing with deadlines for work. He was always working towards a bigger promotion. My mom didn’t have a job besides caring for my father, the house, and me. That seemed like a much bigger job than whatever my dad probably did. She was the best cook imaginable. I guess she just practiced all day while I was in school and dad was at the office.

“You’re more beautiful than she ever could have imagined,” My father finally says. I feel my cheeks flush more so than they already are from the wind and record low temperatures. I glance at him, then gaze into my cup of cocoa. “Hard to believe it’s been eleven years.” His voice cracks, making me tear up. They had never expected her to live that much longer than two months, maybe three, after the diagnosis. They clearly didn’t know my mother. She wasn’t going anywhere for a while. And she certainly wasn’t going to spend the rest of her time in a hospital bed, drugged and dependent. She wanted to be home with her family. She wanted everything to continue as it always had. She wanted to make us lunch on Sunday afternoons no matter how much it exhausted her. Or help me with my math homework even though she was no good at math. Eleven years today.

My father pulls an envelope from his jacket pocket. He holds it out for me. It has my name on it. Addressed from Yale University. I take it and stare at it in my hand. I never left for college. I applied to many places, got into most of them, but I never accepted. I didn’t know how my father would survive without me. First her and now me? I couldn’t leave him. So I stayed at home and went to the local community college. I had wanted to go to Yale. It was where my parents met. But I didn’t apply there. I didn’t want them to reject me even if I wasn’t going to accept.

I look at my dad, waiting for an explanation. He shrugs and tells me to open it. I set down my hot chocolate, trying to steady it on the rigid sand. I slide my finger under the lip, praying I don’t give myself a paper cut. I remove the letter, astonished by what it says.

“I’ve been accepted.” I look towards my father. He’s smiling at me, the close-lipped smile he always does. I guess that’s why people tell me I have my mother’s smile. She always showed every tooth in her mouth when she smiled. My father doesn’t. “But I didn’t apply…” I say, my voice so low it’s almost a whisper.

My father doesn’t reply. He just sips his cup of cocoa and stares up at the sky. A couple of birds chase each other above us. I watch them, wondering which is the male and which is the female. They hover next to each other, taking my father and I in as well as the grey sky and the damp beach, and the dull sea. My eyes hurt as I stare up at them. There may not be sun visible through the cloud-covered sky, but there’s an unimaginable brightness surrounding these two birds.

I replace the letter in the envelope and fold it, shoving it into the back pocket of my jeans. I grab my cup of cocoa and scoot closer to my father, entwining my right arm with his left before nestling my hand in the pocket on my sweater. I rest my head on his shoulder, exhaling deeply. I hear him do the same. We don’t speak. I feel him kiss the top of my blonde hair, my hair like my mother’s.

I watch the bird that I am assuming is the female remain ever so close to the male. It’s like he’s trying to push her away, on. But she doesn’t move. She has the freedom to go. To leave the beach, leave the lifeless atmosphere blanketing our town, but she doesn’t. She stays and does all the things a good bird should do if it’s being a bird right. And then she returns to their nest, hidden amongst the rocks down the beach. And they stay on this cool, muted beach because it’s home.


 

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The Pot by Krista Bennett

The Pot

Fiction

Krista Bennett

 

I knew it was time to shit or get off the pot. The feared marriage and kids talk gradually entered our conversations. We had been together three years, so I should have anticipated it, but the conversation always went the same. She was ready to be engaged. I was on the fence and couldn’t give her a good enough reason why. Maybe it was because so many marriages fail. No. That’s a copout. Maybe it was because I had been burned before. I always thought that when I found the right one it would hit me like dynamite and I had been waiting for that explosion. It was Valentine’s Day once again and I planned on getting up early to find Candace a present before she got home from work. Of course I over slept till two. I blamed it on the double shift I worked at Brewhaus the night before. I was due back to work at six, which only gave me four hours to find something for Candace and get ready for work. I knew she wanted me to get a better job, one that could support a family and had hours that were comparable to hers. I wanted to get out of the restaurant business myself, but had no idea what I wanted to do. I had grown accustom to the lifestyle that bartending brings: late nights and even later mornings. Most days I didn’t get up until one or two in the afternoon. Any other job, with the exception of factory work, I would have to flip my waking and sleeping hours and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to give up my late nights to be a shirt-and-tie yuppie.

It wasn’t until she started working at Nico’s, an upscale salon in the swanky downtown area, that I felt pressure to find a career path. We used to have a lot of fun together before she started working there. We would go hiking on the weekends up on Signal Mountain and spent our evenings off out with friends. We went to festivals during the summer and never missed Bonnaroo. I taught her how to play pool and she got pretty good at it. All that changed when she started her new job. She never came in to see me at work anymore or wanted to go get a drink with our friends because of her early mornings. She forgot how to shoot pool and she never wanted to go hiking because it made her dirty. When I was going to buy our Bonnaroo tickets after Christmas she told me she didn’t want to go this year. She said that she was getting too old to be running around a crowded field tripping ‘shrooms without a shower for four days.

Her coworkers made things even worse. They were fragrant piles of complaints, gossip, acrylic nails, and pristine hair. She was becoming one of them and I missed her fun side.

As I considered the pros and cons of marriage, I entered a small party supply store. I thought I could decorate our tiny apartment before she got home from work, just a few candles, a balloon bouquet, valentines table cloth, and some heart shaped confetti. If I was going to do this I had to move quickly because of time. I wandered up and down every small, crowded aisle looking for all this stuff.

“Running a little behind?” An older lady with a nice pantsuit and a large red hat noticed my hurried expression.

I glared at her as I continued my search. “Yes, I over slept and this was the only day this week I had time to get out and find something for my girlfriend.”

“Well good luck, boy. My husband used to make it a priority to get me something special.”

“Used to? What happened to him?” I inquired, deciding to slide past the judgment in her tone.

“We divorced a few years back. I found him running around on me with a woman from my bridge game.”

“That’s terrible.” I felt sorry for her but the unemotional expression in her eyes lessened my pity.

“Oh it’s quite alright. She left him and now he’s alone living in some shitty condo in Tampa. Serves him right, the old gink.” She smirked and shook her head at the thought of him. “So, what are you doing for your lady?”

I looked down at the few items I had collected. “I was going to decorate our apartment.”

“I see. Table cloth, confetti. Seems kind of cheesy, don’t you think? Harold always got me flowers or chocolates or jewelry and took me out for a fancy dinner. He was good to me on holidays. Guess the bastard figured that’s the only time it counted.” She let out a small chuckle and started to walk off but I needed to hear more.

“How did you know you wanted to marry him?” I implored.

She turned to entertain my question. “I wasn’t ever certain. He was a good boyfriend when we were going steady. He took me out on fancy dates, dancing and dinner. We would lie around and talk about our dreams and ambitions. He seemed like a real catch. Got himself a fancy job at a bank right before we got engaged. My parents loved him and that was very important to me. As soon as we got married though, he became lazy and indifferent. We never went out anymore. His attitude changed and I realized he thought all a wife was good for were the three C’s. You know what those are, sonny?” I nodded. Every man knew the three C’s: cooking, cleaning, and conceiving, even if they didn’t buy into it.

“So why didn’t you divorce him years ago if he made you so unhappy?”

She laughed, making her wrinkled skin redden.

“Divorce was taboo back then and our parents never would have approved. As soon as they died and I caught him cheating, you bet I kicked him to the curb.” She then looked at her watch. “I have to head home, young man, can’t miss ‘Judge Judy’, those people on there are some entertaining train wrecks. But I will give you this advice, if you decide to marry this woman, expect a change in both of you. Marriage changes everything. I wish someone had told me that.” She gave me a small squeeze on my forearm and a wink before walking away.

How much was Candace going to change? How much had she changed already? Was I ready to change? I looked at the confetti and tablecloth in my hand. This wasn’t something she was going to appreciate. I could almost hear the complaint in her voice at cleaning it up. I threw the items down on a shelf near the door and decided to go down the street to a florist shop. I’d get her a bouquet of roses and some Godiva chocolates, her favorite candy. Those and a card I would leave on the table for her to find when she walked in the door. A nice surprise and no cleanup, perfect.

I rounded the corner of 5th and Cherry when my phone rang.

“Hey, babe.”

“Hey, Jason. I’m in between clients and I thought I would call and wish you a happy Valentine’s Day since I hadn’t gotten a call from you yet.” Candace’s voice sounded lighthearted with a hint of disdain.

“Sorry, I woke up late. I didn’t get in till after four this morning.”

“Yes I know. I woke up when you laid down and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

She was a light sleeper so this was a common problem. “I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to wake you. How is your day going?”

“It’s been horrible. My first client cancelled. She was a full color, which would have been at least forty bucks commission. Then Sharon, you remember Sharon, that girl with the zebra hair that thinks it looks good? Anyway, she was on laundry duty today and didn’t show up till one so I had to do it all morning. Then the receptionist double booked me at noon with a cut and color and another cut. Both of those women were pissed and didn’t leave me but five bucks a piece.”

I entered the florist shop as she regaled me with her story. As I wandered around looking for a bouquet of roses she continued her rant. Something about Sharon’s husband having dinner with a girl he went to high school with and him being a jerk.

“What are you doing? How is your day?” She asked after her vent was over.

“I’m actually picking up your gift right now. I’ll have it waiting for you when you get home. So that’s something to be excited about.”

“Oh that is exciting. I hope it’s not flowers though. They’re just a big waste of money and they die. Roses are the worst, so cliché. Rachel’s boyfriend had roses delivered to work today and it’s just a silly thing to be excited about. But if you ask me, I think he’s trying to make up for not taking her out for her birthday last week.”

Dejected, I walked out of the store. “That’s shitty of her boyfriend. Don’t worry, it’s not flowers.” What was it? I needed a new plan and was seriously running out of time.

“Good. Oh, hon, don’t forget to clean up the apartment when you get up tomorrow. Remember we’re having that wine and cheese dinner party with Rachel and Jeff at seven.”

“I won’t forget.” She also expected us to dress up, which meant I had to wear a nice shirt and tie. I didn’t mind dressing up for occasions, but having a formal dinner party at my own apartment? I’d much rather get some Sweetwater, cook burgers on the patio, and be comfortable in my jeans, like we did with our friends in the past.

“Thank you. Well, my next client just showed up. From what I hear he frequently does drag at Allen’s on the weekends. Never would guess it though, he always looks so sophisticated in his suits when he comes in.”

“Have fun. Enjoy your day.” Drag? Who cares? I have four regulars at work that do that every weekend.

“You too. Love you.” And the phone went silent. I stood there for a few seconds staring at her picture on the background on my phone. Her blonde hair twirled past her fair skin and hung down to her waist. She had a blue bandana tied to the top of her head and no makeup on in this picture. I had taken it at our last night of Bonnaroo two years ago. I thought of how she looked now with her hair pumped full of chemicals that turned it red and black. It was short now and always teased. I missed her long hair.

I pulled myself away from the picture and started for my Honda when I ran into Ryan, my best friend in high school, whom I hadn’t seen in about five years. We were quite mischievous and partied a lot back then. We were the ones that let the pigs loose in the hallways on the last day of senior year. We were the ones that threw the biggest end-of-the-year parties.

His face lit up when he saw me. “Jason, dude, it’s been forever.” We shook hands and half hugged.

“I know, man. What are you up to?”

“Living the dream, dude. I just bought my first house last month. I got a big promotion at Edward Jones so we finally got enough money saved up to put a sizable down payment on one.” He beamed with delight.

“Wow.” It was all I could say. He was wearing a pink polo shirt tucked into a pair of pleated khaki pants. Where were the jeans? Where was the Zepplin t-shirt?

“So what are you doing these days?”

“I’m working at Brewhaus, been there about five years. It’s a pretty nice gig. You oughta come in and see me sometime.” I could see his eyes glaze over and could almost hear his thoughts: Still working at a restaurant at thirty.

He tried to sound impressed. “Hey man, that’s cool, and I’ll definitely try to do that. Where are you heading now?” He impatiently looked at his fossil watch.

“I’m actually heading over to Belk to get some jewelry. Apparently, I had the wrong idea when I thought I’d get my girlfriend flowers.” I pointed at the door just to my left.

“Right on. I have to get in here and pick up flowers for the missus.”

I couldn’t believe he was married. “When did you and Kelly tie the knot?”

“She made an honest man out of me two years ago. And I’ll tell you man, I’ve never been happier. I got my shit together, quit smoking pot and partying all the time, got a good job. She really helped give me direction. We’re thinking about trying for kids this summer.”

I was twenty-two the last time I felt the sort of love that made me want to be better, but I screwed it up. We had only dated for nine months, but all nine were perfect. They rivaled the first year I’d spent with Candace. This girl was smart and sexy. She loved to read and was into politics and conspiracy theories. I made the mistake of telling her I didn’t want to get married, possibly ever. I was young and marriage seemed so grown up. It was something that I couldn’t have imagined doing at the time. She said she didn’t want to be in a dead-end relationship so she left. I kicked myself for a long time for letting her go and always wondered what she was doing these days. I liked to think I learned from that mistake and never told Candace about my fears.

I pulled my phone out of my jeans to check the time. Candace’s blue eyes stared back at me again, beckoning me to change for her. I slid the phone back in my pocket. It was now ten after four. I said my goodbyes to Ryan and sprinted to my car. I needed to get to Belk and get Candace’s jewelry by five so I could get a shower in before work.

When first arriving at the jewelry department I met a slew of engagement rings. I knew

Candace would be expecting one of those soon but I couldn’t help a shudder as I walked by. “Good afternoon, sir. My name is Heather.” A wispy voice came from behind the counter. “Can I help you find something for your girlfriend or wife?” I turned and met the face of this voice. Heather, who I dated for nine months. Heather, who wouldn’t wait. Heather, whose heart I broke.

I cleared the nervous lump in my throat. “Hi, Heather.” My palms were instantly clammy.

Her eyes widened “Hello, Jason.” Her natural pink lips formed a smile and her olive skin flushed.

“How…” My first attempt at the word came out squeaky. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been good.” I could see her labored breath from the heavy movements of her chest. “How long have you worked here? Corporate job doesn’t seem to suit you.” I smiled and thought of her rants on corporate greed and the lower class.

She laughed; the sound was like a gentle brook. “Just a couple months. I needed a job while I’ve been waiting on the results of my vet tech exams. I’m hoping to get a job at one of the local shelters. What have you been doing?”

I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. My mind raced back to twenty-two. I couldn’t remember why I was there. Her sapphire eyes reminded me of our walks on the bridge, our talks of making a difference in the world, our trip to D.C. for the drug march.

“I, um…” For a moment I forgot how to form words. “I’m working at Brewhaus. I bartend there.”

“I’ll have to come in and see you sometime. We’ll catch up on the last few years.”

“You should. I’d like that.”

She cleared her throat and regained a put-on professional air. “So what can I help you find?”

I shook out of her trance. “I’m looking for a necklace for my girlfriend.” Each word that fell out of my mouth tasted like poison.

“I see.” Disappointment splashed across her cheeks as her smile slightly faded. She reached up and touched the diamond hanging near her heart. “The necklaces are over here.” She walked down the counter, running her fingers across the edge of the metal rim of the case.

I followed her down to the necklaces. Her backside swayed nicely in a long, tight blue skirt.

“Here we are.” She looked up at me and smiled before bending over to pick out several thin necklaces. “Are you looking for a certain style?”

“Not really. I don’t know too much about what girls like when it comes to jewelry.” A nervous chuckle escaped me.

“Well here’s a little selection that I personally like the best.” She placed six simple diamond necklaces on the counter before me.

“Are you currently seeing anyone?” I had to know.

“Well, yes. We’re thinking about moving in together.” Her lips tightened and lost their smile.

Sadness overwhelmed me. I wondered if she was as lost in her relationship as I was in mine. Surely not, she was the one that wanted to be serious.

“Congratulations.” I swallowed the golf ball that started to rise in my throat and looked down at the jewelry before me. “So what do we have here?”

She told me about each of them in her angelic voice. They were all beautiful— one with a heart and diamonds, one a circle, one with a sapphire. “What do you think of this one?” She plucked the sapphire necklace from its silky bed. Diamonds and sapphires mixed in a heart-shaped charm.

“It’s pretty.” Candace would like it. She would parade it proudly at work. Her friends would think I had done well. “Is the chain long?” Candace needed her necklaces to have long chains; it was the fashion or something.

“I could try it on for you and you could see. Here, do the clasp for me.” She turned around and pulled back her thick dark hair to reveal her long neck with two small, sexy freckles.

I managed to hook the clasp, although my hands were shaking slightly. All I could think was how comfortably unbearable this entire situation was.

She turned around to present the necklace. She ran her fingers down the chain and took the charm in her hand. “It’s fairly long. But you can always get a different chain.” Her lips curled upwards and her eyes radiated.

My heart was beating fast; my conscience and my pants were screaming opposing ideas. “How much is it?” I pulled my wallet out of my right back pocket.

“Two-fifty, plus tax. What do you think?” I knew she wasn’t only referring to the necklace.

I looked down at my phone. The picture of Candace with her long blonde hair smiled back at me. She loved me and I knew it. She had changed, maybe for the better. She was working somewhere she could make into a career; of course she had changed. Her twenty-six year old self was more grown up than I was. I needed to do the same and had been unwilling to listen.

I turned my eyes toward Heather. The necklace was placed back in its silky bed. Her eyes beckoned ‘no sale’. I looked down at the necklace. This was the moment. Time to shit or not. I took in a large amount of air through my nostrils as I contemplated my next move. Heather’s eyes, Candace’s love. The past, the future, both standing still, waiting for my response. I had to move forward. I had to take the next step.

Exhaling slowly I said, “I’ll take it.”

Putting the necklace back in the box, her glowing smile fell.

“I’ll get this rang up for you then.” She turned and punched numbers into the register behind the counter. Her energy flared and tensed, and I could feel her disappointment palpable in the air around us. She whipped her long hair around to face me, holding out a folded piece of paper and Candace’s necklace in a gift bag.

Electricity shot through my body as our fingers touched. I held her memory close for so long and now it was fading. I was allowing it to fade.

I thanked her for her help and wished her well in her endeavors. As I walked away from the counter I could feel her eyes following me out the door. When I reached the safety of the cool winter air I opened the paper.

“595-0236. Give me a call when this goes south.”

I threw the paper in the trashcan next to the door of the department store. The past was behind me and I felt content looking at a future with Candace. Change was inevitable and all around. I intended to embrace the future and finally grow up.

On my way home, I considered what my future with Candace would be like and what kind of grown-up I wanted to be.

As I walked in the door my phone vibrated.

“We need to talk.”

It vibrated again.

“I went to the doctor yesterday. I have herpes.”

I stared slack-jawed at the screen. I hate the pot.

Doing God A Favor – Fiction

 

 

Doing God a Favor

by Anonymous 

 

            The door was slammed shut behind her by the strong wind that was whipping her face as she pulled on her red coat.

            “Phew, the wind’s really whippin today isn’t it Sadie, gal” said a deep, soft voice inside her head.

            “Yeah daddy, sure is,” she whispered softly to the memory.

            She was glad that he was with her tonight. It seemed fitting that he be present for this. She flipped up the collar of her coat to block the bite of the wind and walked to the little one car garage behind her house and hopped in her truck. Red had always been her favorite color, so of course she’d picked the brightest red car on the lot. It wasn’t exactly the most conspicuous color, but in Tennessee any sort of truck blended in just fine.

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But A Background On Which To Paint The Dreams: The Episodic Novel

Books and reading as we know it are changing and I think most contemporary readers can feel it. With the advent of eBooks, podcasts, the omnipresence of the Internet, the decline of bookstores, and, hell, even books themselves, there is a seismic shift occurring in what we’ve known as reading and literature. I believe as information and entertainment has become more and more immediate (hulu, reddit, google, facebook, netflix) readers have been less inclined to work through monster pieces of literature like War and Peace, Moby Dick, or Gravity’s Rainbow. And I’m among them; it took me almost a whole semester to get through Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree even though I obsessed and loved it. Alongside the decline of readership and reader’s attention span, or what Douglas Glover calls the rise of the “Post-Literate Age”, there has been a surge of a new form of media: the episodic television show. These shows—like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and even way back to The Sopranos—are television programs unlike all which have come before. The shows largely act as long, serialized movies that can be watched stripped of each other but work better when watched chronologically. And these are great programs, acclaimed by both critics and viewers, and have risen in popularity as streaming content from the Internet has become almost effortless.

So what do these shows mean for reading and books? First of all, people will always love reading and that will likely never go away, while the form and classic structure of the books and novels might change. It’s my belief that has readers’ attention spans shorten and the demand for intense, segmented narratives rises in popular, novels will become more episodic in scope. Or should I say, will once again be episodic, as fragmented novels are no strangers in American literature. Sherwood Anderson’s classic Winesburg, Ohio is one of the most lauded novels of the early twentieth century and is essentially a collection of self-contained, linked stories about a character named George Willard as he grows up, gets a job, falls in love a few times, then eventually leaves the fictional Winesberg. Subsequently, the stories collected in the book read like a segmented narrative of George Willard’s upbringing rather than a linear, rising action based narrative. And Winesberg, Ohio is not alone in the cannon, as William Faulkner’s Light In August, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and, again, Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree are all composed of tense, short narratives that build on each other for a final effect.

With Junot Díaz receiving the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and a Nation Book Award nod for his most recent story collection This Is How You Lose Her, it could be said that the reemergence of the episodic novel is already upon us. When I purchased Díaz’s new book, I honestly had no idea it was even a short story collection, as it wasn’t indicated on the cover. Before buying the book, I had only briefly glanced over some reviews and figured I’d give the book a try, considering the acclaim. Maybe I read too passively, but it wasn’t until I reached the midpoint of the book that I realized the book was indeed a short story collection and not a novel. I had no idea. Each story flowed so well and chronologically into the next that I thought the novel was just experimental and nonlinear, as almost all the stories are based on the same family and the upbringing of their two sons. Now, after having read the whole thing, I am still not convinced that Díaz didn’t intend it to be a novel. The pieces are obviously linked and each story adds an aspect to the ongoing narrative and the eventual ending that reading the stories apart wouldn’t make much sense and might seem half full. It be like trying to jump into Sons of Anarchy half way through season two, it just wouldn’t work as the viewer might be able to infer what’s incurring in a scene, but has no idea why any of the action is occurring. With all that said, I think This Is How You Lose Her is an amazing book, but am still bent on the idea that it’s more of a novel than story collection.

Some writers might balk at the idea of conforming their art for their readership, but I think the episodic novel would be a cool form to come into popularity, as the writer must appeal to the reader in both the short and long forms. Instead of idealizing the past, maybe we as readers should think that maybe we’re just now doing this whole novel thing correctly and that in fact Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice are too long and cumbersome. I am in full favor of writers making the fewest amount of words go the furthest and trying to make each scene powerful and concise, as the episodic novel often demands.

Winter Is Coming: A Review of A Game Of Thrones

In the epic series A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin creates a world of noteworthy political intrigue and drama with complex plot lines and dozens of characters and even more supporting characters to keep the reader thoroughly interested from start to finish. The first book in the series, A Game Of Thrones, introduces the reader to a time when kings rule the land and dragons and direwolves, enormous canines, are as common as deer. In this beautifully crafted fantasy, summers span years, winters last for decades, and winter is coming (figuratively and literally) as two pivotal families pit against each other for the race to rule the kingdom. As the tension rises, sacrifices are made on both sides. These incidences lead to a rising war for the throne. The knights and strongholds of the seven kingdoms are forced to choose sides and everyone is out for blood. After all, “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

When George R. R. Martin first came up with the idea of A Song Of Ice And Fire in 1991, he had envisioned the story being a detailed trilogy, but nothing more. After the first installment, A Game Of Thrones, which was released in 1996, he says that he had to rethink his strategy as more characters began to develop and plot lines grew thicker. Many critics of Martin suggested that he had gotten in over his head with the immense detail and the overwhelming number of characters that the reader is introduced to in the first book. Martin insists, however, that while he may have made it “too big,” he is still determined to see the story through and he promises to not disappoint his readers.

With all of the characters being so spread apart at the end of A Game Of Thrones, now also an award-winning television show on HBO, the reader is left to wonder how they will ever find their way back to each other and where the story will continue from here. Fortunately, Martin states that it has “always been [his] intent, as with The Lord Of The Rings, that eventually it would curve around and they would start moving back together.” Although the project has certainly expanded beyond the original trilogy limitation—the series currently consists of five books but is predicted to have as many as eight—Martin assures readers that “if [he] can pull it all off the way [he] want[s] hopefully it will be great.” The first book in the series is proof enough that George R. R. Martin is a skilled fantasy writer and definitely possesses the talent to be able to wrap up the story the way he wants to do so. In the end, I am quite confident that he will have “something huge and epic, with a cast of thousands and many different settings” as he set out to have when he originally began The Song Of Ice And Fire series over a decade ago.

Caleb Ludwick: A Grassroots Writer

A few months ago I watched Caleb Ludwick read his story “Swim” at Chattanooga’s Hart Gallery on the Southside, for a local monthly reading series called Fusebox—just another thing solidifying Chatt’s burgeoning arts and lit scene. Another thing solidifying that scene: Ludwick’s self-published short story collection The First Time She Fell. Attuned with Chattanooga’s love of the Graphic Design culture, his book was designed, story-to-story, by ten of Ludwick’s buddies in the field. And these folks aren’t just coming from Chattanooga. Some are from Boston and New York, and that’s a testament to Chattanooga’s national notoriety as a “progressive” town—our arts culture isn’t quite as insular as you might think. Ten stories, ten designers. And not only is this unique from a publishing standpoint, it’s encouragement for us youngster writers who live with that deep fear of never being able to squeeze our work into the cutthroat, mainstream publishing industry. Chattanooga embraces grassroots entrepreneurship, locally sourced food, etcetera, and now: grassroots publishing is possible here, and with very positive results.

Ludwick had a chance to read at this semester’s Meacham Writers’ Conference, a conference that typically houses seasoned writers, accomplished in the publishing field—this year: Georgia Review’s chief editor Richard Corey, and author Rebecca Makkai, whose stories are frequently anthologized in Best American Short Stories; in past years: the late, acclaimed master of Southern letters William Gay, poet Philip Levine, and The Things They Carried author Tim O’Brien. So it’s an honorable gig, and I had a chance to talk with Caleb before his reading, and he’s as humble as you can be, just happy to be able to write, with a little recognition on the side.

Caleb says he was a late bloomer—and I like late bloomers, I’m one—though he’d always had that love of words, being an English major in college. He took a year off after college, and began reading constantly, being fueled more and more by each subsequent influence. “You come out strong with an influence with one writer, but then another,” he said. “I read all of Faulkner, then Hemingway as an antidote. Raymond Carver.” Caleb pursued an MA in Theology, and aspired to get his PhD in England, but he dropped it—what he ended up doing was going to France to study Southern Literature. During this time he and his wife had a baby, and after his studies he moved back to Chattanooga. But he quit writing for eight years. His new interest in Marketing and Copywriting took most of his personal time. His company 26 Tools—“like the 26 letters of the alphabet,” he says—deals with Creative Direction and Copywriting for companies like Rock Creek Outfitters, Easy Bistro, Chattanooga’s Create Here, as well as big national names like American Apparel and The Food Network. But this kept him ensconced in the field of creativity, and eventually Caleb began using some of his downtime crafting stories, which culminated in The First Time She Fell. Ludwick received a Make-Work Grant for his efforts, and then, he said, “the rest is just printing.”

He describes his collection as more of an art project than a typical short story collection. And if you leaf through The First Time She Fell, you’ll see why. Even the fonts, and their colors, are different for each story; the placement of words—some pages require you to turn the book horizontally to read it. Sometimes upside-down. So it sounds like Caleb just had a lot of fun putting this art project together, and that should be encouraging for young writers. The fun has paid off—it was cited as some of the best art in the Southeast by Print magazine.

Not to mention Meacham, which has thrilled and at the same time humbled Mr. Ludwick. “The outcome [of my work] is I’m here, teaching workshops with incredible people…being around people who love words has been encouraging.” Caleb and I talked about Chattanooga, how the arts and culture scene here is growing. “There’s a temptation to move away from Chatt,” he says. “People think to be an artist you have to move out to a big city. But there’s a lot to be done here in Chattanooga.” And I get the impression Caleb wants to be part of that growth, and really, he already is. I get the feeling he’s here to stay, which is good. Because how is the scene going to progress if every artist who finds achievement here then says “Well. Alright. Time to pack up and move to NYC, LA, Chicago, even Austin, Texas.” Caleb seems alright here, regardless of whether or not he gains notoriety. “My motivation was never to get published,” he said. “My motivation is to write…seeing things through others’ eyes, empathy, is why you write stories.” Caleb cares more about the craft of writing—“It’s all about the craft. No matter how good the story, the craft is what gets the point across”—than the idea of fame, the idea of getting out. He’s already found success. Writing and creativity has always been good to him.

So Caleb is here to stay, to lend his vision, his writing, and his flair for publishing innovation to a town that just keeps on glowing, brighter and brighter. And we’re damn glad to have him here.