by Alina Stefanescu
A Story That Foregrounds Dusk
In this story, a man leaves his dog at the gym. Which wouldn’t matter if the gym’s assistant manager had not lost his poodle-mix to what could only be called assisted-suicide. The man who left his dog at the gym left his dog at the gym. The assistant manager followed the dog around the indoor track, calling Come here Homer, thatta boy, good boy, biting his fist to keep from crying. He wanted Homer to hear him sounding happy. The man’s dog kept sniffing patches of rubber on the track. Her name was Lupe. She was a good dog though not a good boy. The germ cells of four possible puppies were happening in her belly. The man’s boyfriend died last week in what could never be called assisted suicide without mangling the word assisted to make church-going pet owners comfortable. How many words have we murdered to satisfy church-going folks that subscribe to beliefs about dog heaven? The deaths are clear. The crisp white light of the gym’s interior is clear. We don’t know if the man left his dog at the gym on purpose. We don’t know why people die and leave their dogs or why dogs die and leave people. We don’t know where Lupe will sleep tonight. Dusk is more than hips overhearing a Madonna song. Dusk is nothing pure as a poison arrow. Dusk is a man staring at a dog food bowl and saying goodbye.
Charlie Moved to Montana
Charlie moved to Montana. His father got a job as a graphic designer for a bitcoin miner. Charlie attended a school named after a mountain. The mountain had been mined. The teachers didn’t know whether the mountain still existed. The coach said the mountain was still there but in a different form. No one had seen the mountain because no one knew whether it was a mountain anymore. Charlie’s father worked late on his laptop. A neighbor came over with charcoal. She told Charlie to come look, up there, in the sky. The neighbor pointed to the thin white line dragging behind an airplane. See how it dissipates and becomes cloud cover? Charlie nodded. The neighbor hung her head. It’s not normal. After she left, Charlie locked the door and sat on the sofa. Nothing was normal. Now Charlie knew something serious was wrong.
Charlie moved to Montana. His uncle was part of a secret brigade whose purpose was secrets. As a result, no one knew what he did or where he did it. Charlie’s older brother, Flint, got a car and a reputation for politics. He learned how to tweet and issue fake-news alerts. He paid $26 to become a local Republican. Charlie went to one of the meetings that didn’t serve snacks. Flint announced Donald Trump’s recent tweet-swear to address chemtrails if elected POTUS. Charlie’s uncle shaved his head and wore a bandana with Latin letters that might have been related to the brigade. Charlie collected pebbles, heirloom seeds, rubber-bands, and shotgun shells. After Trump won, his promise was revealed as fake news tweeted by someone other than Trump. The word troll trended.
Charlie moved to Montana. Because his mother realized military aircrafts from Tucker Carlson Air Force Base were conducting geoengineering experiments, she moved to Montana and took Charlie along. He didn’t mind. He wouldn’t miss the poultry plant or the people that hated people who worked there. Charlie was a vegan for ethical reasons but Montana’s cruel wilderness diluted his empathy for animals. There’s really nothing that would keep a bear from killing me, Charlie thought. Bears didn’t care about people. But some people cared about bears. Charlie made a friend who took him fishing. Charlie caught a fish. As the fish died, Charlie remembered the rocks near the Air Force base and how they glimmered with strange silver flecks resembling fish scales. The hook connected the fish to the line that connected to Charlie that connected to silver that connected to airplanes that connected to bombs inside the airplanes connected to a patch of pale blue sky and whatever happened, whatever happened.
Charlie moved to Montana. So his mom could be closer to his pregnant sister, Harriet. He went to school in a town 23 miles away. By the time he got home, it was dark. His mom opened a laundering business. She argued with Harriet about the difference between doing laundry (which she refused to do) and laundering. Harriet said semantics. Mom was furious when Harriet talked like that. Charlie fed his sister’s horses and petted her cat. Harriet thanked him. Her husband drove trucks for an oil company. He had a security clearance. Harriet trimmed Charlie’s hair in the backyard as the sun turned mountains into triangle oranges. They talked about forest fires and spider webs. Mom kept yelling at Harriet and then saying sorry. Harriet kept hugging Mom and thanking her. Harriet did that a lot—thanking, hugging, smiling, rubbing her belly, watching the sky. Mom watched talk shows about healthy babies. A doctor on the show leaned forward: We know stress is a big suppressor of maternal behavior. So the best thing you can do is not to worry all the time about whether you’re doing the right thing. Keeping the stress level down is the most important thing next to tactile interaction. Mom asked Harriet if she heard that. Charlie said Harriet was in the basement. Mom screamed Harriet, Harriet, Harrrriet. The skin near her ears turned red.
Charlie moved to Montana. The sun there had teeth. Charlie missed the gentler sunshine of a different home, an alternate childhood. They fought global warming. Mysterious airplanes sprayed chemicals into the atmosphere to form sun-blocking artificial cloud cover. This was done in secret because the chemicals wreaked havoc on environmental and human health. The chemicals were not even legal. The chemicals caused Alzheimer’s and various cruelties including cancer. The chemicals produced PTSD in men who never served as vets. The chemicals had been known to do things and yet no one knew the chemicals. An unequal relationship bloomed between the chemicals and the people. Charlie read books that said inequality was unsustainable. Montana, on the other hand, had bison.
Charlie moved to Montana. His uncle adopted a cat named Copycat that slept curled around Charlie’s head. When no one was listening, Charlie called the cat Copyhat. Because he acted more like a hat than a cat or a person. Charlie spent lots of time chatting with old friends on Facebook. His friend Teddy had joined a special group related to science. Teddy cared about Geoengineering Awareness. He told Charlie about aerosol attacks and crazy men trying to control the weather. Just look up, Teddy told him. You’ll see what I mean. So Charlie went outside and gazed at the vast Montana skyline, its crisp blues cut from canyons. When he looked up at the sky, he noticed the lines criss-crossed. Teddy said this was confirmation of a prophecy that played out according to an algorithm he had written down and lost. Teddy sent him links about jet fuel and trilateral commissions. The sky kept crossing and uncrossing. Copyhat binged on catnip. Charlie didn’t know what he liked and if it existed.
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with four incredible mammals. Find her poems and prose in recent issues of Juked, DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT, Cloudbank, New Orleans Review Online, and others. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and will be available in May 2018. She serves as Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes and President of the Alabama State Poetry Society. More arcana online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.