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All Lit Up 

City Weekly’s Seventh Annual Literary Issue

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“Real life, at last enlightened and revealed, the only life fully lived, is literature.” So said Marcel Proust, a Frenchman who spent days at a stretch in his cork-lined room writing literature’s longest love letter to the force and delicacy of time, Remembrance of Things Past.

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Got that? Forget recreating, eating, having sex or raising a family. “Literature” is “the only life fully lived.” With a novel stretching into six volumes and thousands of words, we can forgive Proust such blatant, open bias.

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As for the rest of us, we like a good yarn, a good turn of phrase, and an expertly crafted prose diamond as much as the nearest aesthete. We just don’t have a whole lot of time. And if brevity is good enough to pass for the soul of wit, it’s good enough for this, our seventh literary issue, a collection of the best poems, short stories and essays culled from weeks’ worth of submissions from this paper’s most valuable asset'our readers.

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It’s hardly a secret that the Letters section of this paper is one of its best read. Few things bring as much joy and derision as a public forum of ideas. This issue is built around the premise that a public forum of carefully crafted narrative and verse might bring the same sort of joy, and hopefully little in the way of derision. Nothing here is as massive as Proust, just a few gems our judges found worthy enough to light your mind toward a life more fully lived, even if only in a reading chair, at a coffee shop, or a ride on TRAX. Good reading to you. 'Ben Fulton

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About the Judges:

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Poetry

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Mike White serves as poetry editor at Quarterly West, a nationally distributed literary magazine published out of the University of Utah. White has poems published or forthcoming in more than 50 North American periodicals, including Poetry, The Iowa Review, The Antioch Review, Pleiades, The Journal, and The Malahat Review. He came to Salt Lake City five years ago from Montreal, which is a long story he’ll gladly tell you some time.

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Essay

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Ben Fulton is editor of City Weekly and the recipient of several regional journalism awards, plus a few national ones. His work has appeared in other publications including Los Angeles’ Option magazine (now defunct) and New York Newsday.

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Fiction

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Andrea Malouf teaches magazine writing at the University of Utah. She has been the editor of the award-winning publications Salt Lake and Utah Style & Design magazines. She has been involved in many literary organizations and writes fiction in her spare time'which is usually after midnight.

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Jason Matthew Smith is a former newspaper editor who originally hails from Texas. He is now editor of the University of Utah’s Continuum magazine and is also a freelance writer.

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Blind

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Essay First Place

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By Karla Jay

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I’ve only recently realized that up until age 3, I’d been no more than a guest in my world, embryonically pure and protected'my surroundings, an infusion of soft pastels and fuzzy edges that I sensed rather than saw. And like a guest in another’s space, I’d missed the tiny details, such as the snag in the Sunday-only table linen or the prejudicial way in which some shadows were cast heavier than others under the oak curio table. Gray was gray until the day I got glasses.

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I liked my new glasses right away; the pink sparkles encased in the plastic frames hung there like a forever Fourth of July, a perpetual celebration of my new clear vision. I liked the way the frame sat on the bridge of my nose, weighty and certain, an immediate notification that my world was changing forever: No longer would I be the same child, who up until then had been guided around by soft hands to ward off my “clumsiness.nn

I don’t remember every discovery I made, but I do recall running around from objects to people, like a refugee feasting from a new soup kitchen at each stop, inspecting the fare, modestly at first, but then gluttonous for precision and soon bloated by visual profusion. And there were the surprises, too. Like Duke, my dad’s hunting dog, whose yap and bark previously guided me to his wiggly curly-haired rump. I found that with optical clarity, and when viewed as a whole, our dog was actually portly with lopsided ears and a bald right paw, making him look not quite as soft and squeezable as I’d believed. I learned that coloring books had a designed purpose. The mailman didn’t wear a cap, but rather a bad hairpiece. Black people were really mocha colored.

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Where walking into walls didn’t signal my need for glasses, a trip to the grocery store with my mother did.

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I never saw my mother’s face that day at the market since I hadn’t been whisked off to the eye doctor yet, but the alarm in her voice was potent when we returned home.

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“She was just standing there holding that black woman’s hand,” my mother choked on the words, retelling the story to my father.

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“That big nigger’s wife from out on route 440?” My father’s voice was steady, his body a hazy outline in the murky living room chair. I knew something destructive had just happened, but I wouldn’t have a name for it until much later in life. Right then, all I wanted to do was run to my father and climb onto his lap, being allowed to nuzzle my face into his red-wool shirt, searching for the heady familiarity of Lucky Strike and Old Spice.

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“That’s the one,” my mother continued. “Grinning her white picket-fence teeth at me. I could have died when I turned around and saw her big paws all over our little girl. Nearly left the TV Guide right then and there in the rack.nn

The discussion turned to murmuring after I was planted on our nubby brown couch, being left with nothing to do except scrutinize a crocheted doily. I held it close to my face, inspecting the ivory patterns and perfect webbings, trying to understand what I’d done wrong. I wanted to explain how afraid I’d been in the checkout line at the store. Mother’s hand released mine to dig out her S&H Green Stamp book, leaving me paralyzed in the swirl of legs and skirts, experiencing fear in a blender. When her hand finally found mine again, feeling warmer and bigger than usual, I held on tight, relieved to be safe, blind to the skin color.

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Within a week, my thick spectacles were slipped over my ears, and my mother’s powdered cheeks and Perfect Peach lipstick were the first features I glimpsed. But something was wrong. Something in the way her mouth moved didn’t match the voice I’d labeled “mommy.” There was an out-of-sync-ness with what her eyes reported, like she was being held hostage, assuaging the captors, hoping for an early release.

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And for a brief moment I hate my glasses, I hate the details, the truth.

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Decades later, I find that I still fight the details, battle the exposed flaws. I squint into a setting sun, evening colors splashed across an unlimited canvas and I can’t help but miss many things from my early years.

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I miss the feeling of really being touched, that clear sensation filtering deep inside, uncorrupted by visual input. I miss the tones and scales in a voice, emotionally transparent, truant from facial expression. I miss being a guest, seeing things as new, even if they are tattered. But most of all, I miss the closeness to everything, the oneness, back when my own blurry apparition oozed into all other haziness in my world, back when the distance between us was never defined by fine edges, shades of color or sharp lines.

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Overcoming Provincialism

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Essay Second Place

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By John Rasmuson

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Residing in the Third World until recently, my wife and I viewed the United States though the wrong end of the binoculars. There, at arm’s length, the face of America is in crisp focus, but neither scar nor blemish is discernible.

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To observe America from a distance was interesting and instructive, if somewhat difficult. Where we lived, the water wasn’t potable, the traffic laws weren’t enforced, and the news media were unreliable. So our vantage point was shaped by time and distance. We subsisted on day-old bread. Reports of Princess Diana’s death in 1997 took a day or two to trickle down to our home in western Kenya, and that was big news in the former colony. News stories about hurricanes and bombings have legs, but if you want to read about the skirmishes in the so-called culture war, it’s going to take some time.

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The Internet has become our lens. News is now accessible almost anywhere we travel. If the hotel doesn’t have Internet access, there’s sure to be a cyber cafe nearby. An investment of time, patience and 75 cents will yield Tom Friedman’s column, the weather in Salt Lake City and Greenspan’s take on the housing bubble. It depends on how much pointing and clicking you can tolerate.

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I used web sites to read the postmortem of last year’s election, trying to understand how George Bush had won. One the surprises was a New York Times/CBS poll averring 70 percent of the population has concerns that Hollywood is undermining the country’s moral standards. Not that that is an emergent issue: Holden Caulfield broached it in 1951, and 25 years later, one of my professors at the University of Wisconsin worried aloud that “television is sapping our strength and strengthening our saps.nn

Morality aside, I have come to worry that the television programs America exports to such Islamic republics as Pakistan do not serve the national interest. In fact, on Friday afternoons, America’s detractors'their words resonating from tinny speakers in the minarets of a mosque'cite the programs as evidence of encroaching decadence.

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The Pakistanis are not as zealous as the Saudis'who reportedly scissor objectionable pages out of newsmagazines'but they are religious about censoring incoming television programs. Even an Ozzie and Harriet kiss is blanked out. It is a country where modesty dictates that women’s ankles be covered, so jiggle programming is condemned by a conservative mindset that makes Provo seem downright liberal.

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In the late 1990s, we were among a handful of Americans living in Lahore, Pakistan, a city of 7 million mostly Muslim souls. One day, I accompanied my wife as she shopped for cloth. I waited on a bench while barefoot workers unfurled bolts of colorful cotton for her inspection. The shop’s owner sat behind the only table and eventually chatted me up with man talk of weather and cricket. Finally, he asked where I was from.

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“America,” I replied.

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A smile lit up his face. “Who’s your favorite wrestler?nn

To be honest, I would prefer someone other than Hulk Hogan to be the touchstone of American culture in the back alleys of the Asian subcontinent and the Middle East. Neither is Jerry Springer my choice for culture minister, and my guess is that 70 percent of Americans would agree with me. It troubles me that millions of people in the world judge American culture by Survivor and other television shows that pander so shamelessly.

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From where we lived, it was clear to us and our neighbors that America is the world’s most prosperous and most powerful nation. What was not so clear to the neighbors was what makes America’s culture the equal of any other, especially Islam. The reason is that America does not make its case in any systematic way, and as any Public Relations 101 text will tell you, there’s a high risk in a low profile. It seems that America fails to understand the ramifications of its preeminence. It was confident in its role as Leader of the Free World, but in the post-Cold War era, it hasn’t learned to play the part of Leader of the World with certitude.

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For decades, America engaged its ideological enemies by beaming Voice of America (VOA) radio broadcasts into Eastern Europe, eventually winning the Cold War. Why, then, do we not counter the Great Satan image propagated in the mosques and on Al Jazeera? Why cede the battle for hearts and minds to our self-proclaimed enemies?

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There’s no point trampling the First Amendment rights of Hollywood. Regulation and censorship won’t work; neither will filters, firewalls, and other technological barriers. The Soviets jammed VOA broadcasts, but it was an ineffective tactic. In Iceland, when television was introduced in a pre-cable age on the American base in Keflavik, the Icelanders would not allow installation of a transmitter. They insisted the base be cabled to safeguard their Norse culture from corruption that might steal in over the airwaves. Such a precaution seems naïve in the age of satellites and the Internet.

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What America needs is thoughtful engagement with the rest of the world, beginning with Islam. Homeland defenders in Washington should ensure that what is seen and heard by millions of Muslims complements a national strategy whose objectives include the portrayal of the best aspects of American culture. Let them make Athens the model, not Sparta. It is not a job for the Pentagon. It need not be secret. Nevertheless, as we commit our sons and daughters to the tactical battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, we ought to be savvy enough to fight the strategic battle on the television sets and computer screens in Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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Living in Pakistan taught us to see the world through the eyes of Islam and in so doing, we looked closely at America and examined its blemishes. It is paradoxical that only by leaving America behind did we really understand our country and its place in the world. Would that all Americans could do the same. The national interests would be better served by overcoming our provincialism than by spending billions on occupation and forward-deployed forces.

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The Ponies Came to Town

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Poetry First Place

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By Ali Thornton

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The ponies came to town today

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They traced my block and trampled our garden

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They took naps behind cars and drank

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From our toilets.

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They ran in herds with automobiles

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And when they lost to the cars

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They laid down in the streets.

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At night they’d play

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Hide and Go Seek in the city

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They’d hide in dumpsters and behind billboards.

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The ponies came to town today

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They ate all the Kentucky Blue grass

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And caused many droughts

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They came for one thing and did many others.

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They played coy in front of the little girls windows

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Flipping their manes in the wind.

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They took the little girls away for a long time.

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I sat and fumbled with a rock in my hand.

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I had no one to play with.

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The ponies came back to town

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The little girls didn’t look so little anymore

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They didn’t want to play games anymore

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Or make mud pies, or get dirty at all.

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They didn’t want to go outside.

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They just sat complaining

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About the pain in their stomachs.

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Eve’s Dilemma

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Poetry Second Place

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By Ava Rogers

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The garden opens upon itself like a fruit,

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bursting with the synergy of hidden suns.

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The terrace beckons, and I sway in the breeze,

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hidden like buds on barren branches.

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The path bends and I blend

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into each cobblestone like a slate-gray square.

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I have my powers.

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The scene is not pastoral,

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nor is it naked of lush tranquility.

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The green gathers itself like a pond.

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It is a green that I can see,

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a green that does not relinquish

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its garish display of strength in its shimmer.

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Only a color could hold itself so cleanly.

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I swallow my envy, proceed down the path,

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stepping upon myself until each square becomes an eye,

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each eye becomes a passageway,

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each passageway an interior

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that I can glance upon,

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hold before me like a mirror.

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The image is me to a fault,

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and I descend, wings scattered,

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in a long line of angels’ breath,

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a long line of waiting women.

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Varnak

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Poetry Honorable Mention

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By Rebecca Nickerson

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Some lightning zapping from the sky,

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a dragon breathing fire.

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The overcoming passion

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of greediness and desire.

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A forest fire burning bright,

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the trees it burns all through.

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And all the wars and bombs

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destroying the world we once knew.

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Yes, Varnak is a terrible thing,

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our life could do without it.

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But still it lives upon our Earth,

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and we can’t do a thing about it.

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The Day the Power Died

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Poetry Third Place

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By Dale McKinnon

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The storm knocked out the power

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and therefore all my toys.

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It left me bored and jaded

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and craving lights and noise.

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Without the juice to run my things

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they’re dead as they can be.

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My room became their graveyard,

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their bodies haunting me.

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So what’s this old and dusty thing

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that’s labeled “Moby Dick”?

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How do I turn the dumb thing on?

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And why is it so thick?

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Aha, it opens up like this

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A great white whale you say?

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No! Ahab leave the beast alone,

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or dearly will you pay.

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My window slowly lost its light,

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With a candle I read on.

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And when the candle reached its end,

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I read by light of dawn.

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What life there is within this thing.

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What thrills it does provide.

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What magic in its leaves I found,

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the day the power died.

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The Bath

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Short Fiction First Place

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By Larry T. Menlove

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When you get home from your late class, you see the manager hasn’t cleared the foot and a half of snow from the parking lot yet, so you park the car in the front on the plowed street and hope the police won’t drive by until after you’ve left for work at the feed store first thing in the morning. You got a ticket last week. Hopefully it won’t snow anymore tonight.

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You slop your way to the door, snow up to your knees, and your feet are freezing in your loafers. The storm has pushed off to the east, and the sky is hard blue with nightfall over the second floor roof of the old apartment house. The heat from the front room hits you and fogs your glasses. You slip off the coat you’ve been wearing every winter since you got your driver license and leave it on the couch. You drop your book bag next to the piles of wedding gifts that Bethany has spent the day cataloging, bunching them in “Keep,” Maybe” and “No Way” piles. She is at the stove mixing up some macaroni and cheese. Her brown hair is up willy-nilly in a scrunchy. You come up behind her and slide your cold hands under her purple sweatshirt and cup her warm bare breasts. She groans and collapses away from your touch, bumping her ass hard into your groin. It hurts but not enough to let her know.

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“You son-of-a-bitch!” she says with a breathy exhale. Turning in your arms, you can smell the dry mustiness of her unwashed hair and her citrusy body odor. She rolls her head back and kisses you. It is one of those long kisses where you dare each other to end it. You slide your hands down her back and beneath her sweatpants. No panties.

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“How was class?” Bethany turns back to the macaroni. She stirs it, scrapping the long wood spoon around the saucepan using her whole arm clear up her thin shoulder. You bite her there on her shoulder. You can’t help it. You’d like to bite every inch of her body. Take your time doing it. Quit school, work'everything in this pursuit.

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“It sucked,” you say.

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“Ohhhh, that’s too bad,” she says and turns into you again, spooning mac and cheese into your mouth. “How’s the instructor?nn

“He’s a task master. A real Genghis Khan'you should see the syllabus. Tell me, what does American history have to do with computer-aided drafting, anyway?nn

“Um, hum. Set the table,” she says. “There should be the dishes your Uncle Dewy gave us up on the top shelf.” She points to the top of the cabinets without looking.

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You take the time to run your hands all over her front side under her sweats as she stirs the macaroni. She giggles and squirms, tells you you’re freezing, tells you she’ll cut you off. You tell her she wouldn’t last a week without it.

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After dinner, the two of you sit at the table and pay some bills, decide what gifts to return, talk about a honeymoon when you can afford it. San Diego? Mesquite? Maui? Ha!

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“Shelley and Scott have been fighting up there all day,” Bethany says, her eyes flash up at the ceiling.

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“Oh really?nn

“Yeah, Shelley has a mouth on her you wouldn’t believe. Use the ‘F’ word like it’s nobody’s business.nn

“No fu'?” you start to say. Bethany hits you in the shoulder.

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“Don’t I can’t stand it,” she says. “I think it’s serious.nn

“Can you hear Scott yelling?nn

“Sometimes.nn

“What’s he saying?nn

“Just a bunch of crap, like go to hell and stuff. It makes me sad.nn

Bethany takes the dishes from the table to the sink and runs water over them. “They’ve only been married what, a year? I mean, how does that happen.nn

“I don’t know.” You shrug your shoulders, giver her a playful look and say, “But I know I love you.nn

“You’d better.” With one swift motion she has her sweatshirt off and is pulling the scrunchy out of her hair as she’s skipping down the hall. “You want to take a bath?nn

In the bathroom, you both have to scoot down facing each other and drape your ankles over each other’s shoulders to fit in the little tub. Bethany has poured in gardenia bubble bath. The faucet is next to your cheek and you fill the water until the bath is hot with suds and lapping over onto the linoleum floor. When you turn off the faucet, there is a shocking sudden silence save the effervescence of bursting bubbles and a faint trickle of water in the overflow drain.

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You can’t help but watch the water silently jostle against Bethany’s breasts, her nipples, the color of tea rose, exposed, covered, exposed. Bubbles cling on her chin and down her neck. Her hair pools around her shoulders and you feel the day’s soft stubble on her calves rubbing against your neck. You have an erection. Bethany notices, pretends she’s surprised and pleased and takes it in her hands.

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Then you hear a crash in the apartment above and what sounds like a slap and a crying out that stops short. And then from above you hear in a clear meek voice: “Please.” You look at the ceiling and just then feel Bethany let go of you as her thighs slide up along your chest. You look down just in time to see her close her eyes and pinch her nose as she slips fully beneath the sudsy troubled surface of the water.

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And for the moment, above and below, you both hold your breath.

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Little Women

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Short Fiction Second Place

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By Contance Crompton

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In this story, there is one shy girl, one mean dog, one stern librarian, one bullying brother and a library, of course, full of books.

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The girl is about 8 with a slight build, growing into her exaggerated feet. She is dying to grow out of her freckles and the silly nickname that shortens her grown-up one. The Dewey Decimal System holds exotic mystery for her. For fun, she plays librarian.

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The setting is a tidy neighborhood in a small western city of repetitive houses, syncopated sprinklers and slamming screen doors.

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The girl has been given a list, “Summer Reading for Exceptional Students.” She will clutch it as she heads for the elementary school library. She has no idea that she is taking a mythic journey.

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She skips down the block past the sounds of halting piano practice and backyard play. Reaching the bottom of the street, she makes a wide turn to avoid the angry black dog that sleeps on the porch. It raises its head, sees her and jumps up, hair on end, teeth bared. Quickly turning the corner, she dares not look back and sighs in relief when she hears no jangling collar.

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She reaches the front stairs of school, takes a deep breath, pushes through weighty glass doors and is overwhelmed by the sour smell of waxed linoleum. Her black and white oxfords slap the slippery floor, the sound echoes off green tile walls.

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There are more glass doors and a sign announcing, “Special Summer Hours for Young Readers.” Without the safety of 35 classmates, she enters, all alone, into the cathedral of books. The big clock ticks. The girl tiptoes toward the card catalogue. She just has to make it to the As. Then she sees the black shoes beneath the files, curled pointy toes, silky laces and the brittle ankles inside them. This is the price of paradise. Her name must be noted, Miss Page, and she presides over her domain from the check-out pulpit with a raised index finger and a stern reproach, “People … the library is a place for quiet study.” She is buttoned-up and brittle. The tight white bun pulls her spectacled eyes to a squint and she only has a scribble for a mouth. She is staring as the girl fingers index cards looking for an author on her list. The girl takes a nubby yellow pencil, her hand trembling as she copies the numbers from the card and heads for the shelves, all under the scrutiny of Miss Page.

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The girl sees the book, navy blue cloth binding, gold letters … “Little Women” and the name below … Alcott. She respectfully removes it and heads for the desk where Miss Page is waiting. Her boney fingers make one quick stamp on an inkpad then on the book which she quickly turns as she points to the due date, July 12. Not one word is spoken. The girl makes her long walk to freedom. She can’t wait to get her book home.

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Once begun, she disappears into the pages. The big brother calls her for lunch, he reminds her of chores, he demands her attention, he won’t be ignored. She doesn’t hear. Reminders become threats. When her bedroom door opens she looks defiant and the brother makes his move. One grab and he has it. There is a standoff. Stop reading! … “Give it back!” Two strong hands raise “Little Women” by the cover and rip the book in half.

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July 12 passes. Days fly off the calendar. She diligently collects miscellaneous change, from the dresser, from pockets, money meant for a movie or ice cream. She is stashing it under the bed along with the torn book. Catholics have confession but Protestants have only guilt and restitution. The sermons she remembers are those of Miss Page. “You must open a book carefully, gently run your thumb down each side of the binding. You must never break the back of a book.” The last day of summer session arrives and she must atone for the sin.

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The walk is longer this time and she prays for the dog to eat her. The big black beast never stirs. The halves of the blue book are wrapped in tissue along with al the change she has collected. She enters the front door, begins a death march down the hall and into the silent tomb of books. To the steady tick of the clock, she faces the checkout gallows. There are no black shoes. She is almost to the desk when she sees a black clothed figure shelving books in the half lit stacks. The girl tosses the package onto the counter, turns on her oxford heels and breaks all school rules. She runs, out of the library, down the hall, out the front door and all the way home. She will have to give up libraries. A bad library record must be like a bad report card and follow you all of your days.

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If this story were told by Dickens, the brother would come to no good and the sister would again rescue him. The librarian would pass into miserably blind oblivion. If it were told in the style of magical realism, the book would turn into wings and lift the girl into flight. But this is a small western city in the middle of the last century and all those stories end with the wise father tucking the girl into bed saying, honey, everything will be all right.

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