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Pass Fail Music Appreciation Class

by Cat Weaver

Mr. Koenig’s assumption that Philip was lying somehow crept into Philip’s face and made him wear it like mask of shame. He could feel himself sweating, his eyes darting, his mouth twitching downward at the corner.

He had attended the stupid pointless idiotic “Baroquen-in” music concert; was able to answer some of Koenig’s questions about the pieces the Bacchanalia Orchestra played and even some tough ones about how the individual players had altered the original Bach compositions. He’d simply forgotten to pick up the damned playbill.

“But, listen, Mr. K” — Koenig allowed students this friendliness— “think about it: the students that went and remembered to pick up a playbill, they don’t have to remember a thing, do they? They just had to pick up a playbill and sit and play with their phones for an hour and a half and flash their receipt at you and they get a pass. But me? I forget to pick up a playbill and I get quizzed, and I show I paid atten—”

“You can’t even tell me what they played. You can’t even tell me what key the mass was in and it’s in the name!”

“They changed the names.”

“Not that one. Not the Mass in B Minor. Look, I told the whole class to pick up a playbill. All you had to do was attend.”

“I did.”

“It’s a pathetic thing to lie about.”

“I went. I paid as much attention as anyone. And I wasn’t expecting a quiz.”

Mr. Koenig shook his head, “Unbelievable. Philip, I’m not going to do this.”

“Look, Tedra. My girlfriend. I took her with me.”

Mr. Koenig looked at Philip from under the ridge of his giant salt and pepper eyebrows.

“Seriously, Philip.”

“This isn’t right, Mr. Koenig. This isn’t fair at all.”

Philip sat and stared, face gone beet red, ignoring Mr. Koenig’s “That’ll be all, Philip.” Because, no. That would not “be all.”


“Mr. K? What if I can get the kid who was ushering to say he seated us? He’ll remember because Tedra got her skirt caught and the kid tried to help us untangle it, but he pulled too hard and it tore. It was so awkward I’m sure he’d remember!”

Mr. Koenig put his hands in the air and burst out laughing. “Okay. This is embarrassing! Philip, I felt sure you were lying. But that usher is my son, Edgar! He told me about the skirt incident!”

Philip, laughed nervously, “S-sooo. Pass?”

Koenig stopped laughing and leaned forward, proffering the eyebrows of doom again, “Edgar said you’d cursed him out.”

“Oh. Yeah. So…”

“Pass.”

“Tell Edgar I’m sorry.”

“That’ll be all, Philip.”

The Theory of Cartoon Physics and Applied Fatherhood

By David Kaplan

Saturday morning cartoons blared in the living room as Carl Roose’s fingers struggled to open a packet of Alka Seltzer. He had the kid this weekend and he knew he shouldn’t have gone out the night before. But it was the post-conference celebration and he had to be there. It was expected of him.

So many obligations in this life. His mother had warned him when he was Charlie’s age. Charlie’s eight-years-old. He’s quiet, most of the time. Except for Saturday morning cartoons. He couldn’t tell if it were an explosion of an Acme bomb sending Wile E. Coyote or some such anthropomorphic creature to kingdom come or his throbbing head.

He finally got the Alka Seltzer open at least. The bad news was that he put it in the glass that had two fingers of beer left over from last night. And there was a stubbed out cigarette in it. How the hell did he miss that?

Fuck it, Carl half-thought. In denial, he grabbed the butt gingerly and tossed it to the other side of the table. He’d drink the damned thing anyway.

Luckily, Susanne dropped the kid off rather than have Carl pick him up from her house.

“I knew you’d be hungover—bye!” Susanne sang with a sarcastic lilt. She practically did a pirouette on the welcome mat and leaped back into her navy Toyota Corolla. Charlie pushed in and ran to turn on the TV.

Carl knew he couldn’t blame the job. He couldn’t blame Susanne. And he couldn’t blame Charlie. Still, that didn’t stop him from doing so. He reserved most of the blame for himself. He figured that would be a consolation if anyone ever decided to read his mind.

He sat and stared at the TV as he waited for the sodium bicarbonate to dissolve. Wile E. Coyote raced off a cliff and stood in midair for several seconds before his antagonist, the Road Runner, startled him back into the reality of his predicament, causing him to look down, look up again, and stare back at Carl before plummeting into a canyon with a high-pitched whistle and a muffled boom.

They’d go to the park later or something. And he’d start to look for a new job when Charlie fell asleep. But right now, Carl gave in to the freefall and sunk into the tattered easy chair, closed his eyes, and felt the headache begin to ease.

Yankee Fury Meets Old Dominion

By David Kaplan

The blue, rusted 1973 Plymouth Fury creeped up the steep motel driveway’s curved path. The car seemed to struggle up the hill. Perhaps it was just as exhausted and deflated as its four passengers were. It had been nearly eight hours since we left humid pre-dawn Brooklyn and arrived in sweltering Virginia Beach.

The smell of surf and cotton candy wafted through the car’s half-hearted and wheezing air conditioning system as we drove by a blur of souvenir shops. Rows of t-shirts on plastic hangers above storefronts all flowing in the breeze with endless versions of the tourist slogan, “Virginia is for lovers (heart)” calling out to passersby like flags.

My younger brother had slept most of the time. His slumber was interrupted by the need to throw up the stack of pancakes and bacon he whined my parents to order him at the rest stop at hour three in our journey. He managed to remain asleep as my parents spent the rest of the trip arguing over the directions.

“You missed the god damn turn – again,” my mother shouted, somehow never letting the Winston cigarette fall from her lips and into the crumpled up map on her lap.

“Shut the hell up, ya idiot! You’re no help! You’re supposed to tell me before — ya hear me!? Before! Beeeee-FAWWWWWRRRR — the turn comes up! Not 10 minutes after! Ya dummy!” my father thundered. As he shouted, his spit accumulated on the inside of windshield. When he stopped, it looked like there had been a mini-rainstorm just over the spot where my father’s line of sight was.

“Ah, drop dead!” my mother shouted back. “You’re being an asshole! Like always! This is the last trip, I swear to god!”

“Go jump in a lake!” my father huffed, his rage distracted by the Chevy the pulled in front of him, setting off paroxysms of honking.

Between the sound of my father gritting his teeth and the squeak of his sweaty palms strangling the steering wheel, my mother’s guttural sighs, my brother’s snores, and the AM radio playing Bread’s “I Want To Make It With You” for the 17th time that day, I had developed a splitting headache. I could have sworn that my twitchy eyelid was making a flicking sound that echoed throughout the car.

Finally, the unlit neon of the Bel Aire Two Motel beckoned us. My father swung the car hard right across one lane of traffic to enter the property.

He stopped the car in front of the entrance, which was covered in a tattered, narrow canopy that offered a sliver of shade. For a second, we sat frozen. It was as if we knew solace and rest were going to be dangled and cruelly ripped away before we could grasp it. After a beat, the family slid out of the car into the heavy, late afternoon heat.

We walked single file and pushed past two sets of glass doors. A man with bright blue eyes and leathery skin that looked like he had started to melt in the heat turned with a wide smile. He was wearing a deep blue shirt, white shorts and sweat socks pulled up to knees. He looked like a retired tennis player who had never made it out of the lower tours.

“Well, hellllllooooo, folks! What can Dan the Man do for y’all?”

My father, his crankiness ebbing to a slow, tired burn, handed over his AAA coupon that he had my mother give him before exiting the car. As the sole holder of a driver’s license, the official presenting of the “10 percent off one night’s stay at Virginia Beach’s famous Bel Aire 2 Motel” was a ceremonial gesture only he could perform. So be it. My mother popped a stick of Juicy Fruit in her mouth.

Dan the Man placed two keys on the glass countertop. One pentagonal fob was sky blue, the other was brick red. Both sported the motel’s name in white script.

My father handed over his charge card. And then he looked up. There was a line of dollar bills taped to the wall over Dan’s head. Dan was bald at the top. His face was framed on the sides and back by hooks of white hair combed in a broad wave over his ears. The brightness of his locks were contrast to his deep wrinkled tan.

“What the hell’s that?” my father said, his eyes narrowing.

Dan turned around.

“Why, it’s a row of dollars, sir!” he said. His voice was hyperbolically friendly and upbeat. However, his last word seemed to carry low grade sarcasm and a hint of menace.

“No, I mean that one,” my dad said pointing at the center, his own voice turning into a growl.

In the middle of the eight faded dollar bills excessively scotch-taped to the wall was a greenback with a cartoon image of Adolph Hitler where Washington’s portrait by Gilbert Stuart would typically be situated.

“You should take that down. Now!” my father said. “What the hell kinda place is this!”

“Awww, c’mon, it’s a joke,” Dan said, leaning over blinking his eyes in faux sweetness. He enunciated the words carefully, as if he were talking to an insipid group of children.

“That’s an insult to America! That’s illegal! You can’t do that with American money! I’m gonna report ya to the triple-A, ya wise ass!”

“Sirrrrrr, you don’t have to stay here,” Dan said with a shrug. You could tell he waited once a month to get that reaction. He response felt practiced.

“C’mon, we’re getting outta this dump. I’m telling the triple-A, ya fuckin’ son of bitch! I warned ya!” My father spat when he got outside and threw himself into the car. I turned and saw Dan, his eyes staring at us as if to say, “Got ‘em again.”

Two hours later, about 8pm, we were all sitting poolside at the East Western Motel. It faced the Bel Aire Two across the highway.

My brother was in the pool splashing. My mother was asleep on a lounge chair. I was hungry. I asked my father if he wanted something from the candy machine. He was too lost in his thoughts to hear me.

“I should have punched that asshole. Maybe I’ll go back there and do it. I should. Somebody has to. Who the hell is he to do that? We’re going home tomorrow. Screw this stupid place. You know what? I came here to relax. We’re going to enjoy ourselves. We can have anything in this shitty place.”

A plan was hatching. He was brimming. He was calm now. Hopeful even. A motel manager wouldn’t be allowed to change our big vacation plans. He wouldn’t get that satisfaction. We were here to experience a vacation in all its coastal glory. We were 350 miles from home. We could do whatever we wanted here.

“Tonight, we’re going out! We’re getting pizza!”

The Slow Life of a Pine

By Cat Weaver

The day and the night were as breathing out and in
Each year a day
Spring, the morning and summer the afternoon
Fall the sweet cool evening and 
Winter was for sleeping

Slowly the tree lived 
Slowly knowing the others around her
Slowly she widened and reached toward the canopy

Owls, raccoons, possums, and ants she cradled in her giant arms
Children and neighbors, loved ones in her shade

But the fire happened in moments:
Cut a swath through her world
And filled it with death and the panic
Heat choked breathing in and it drowned breathing out 
The kind air suddenly unkind

The tree sagged as smoke rose up
Singing meloncholy through the empty spaces
And the pines’ despair vibrated through the forest
Where they held vigil amongst embers and hope — awaiting rain 

His Favorite Table

By David Kaplan

The late afternoon April sun gave the green awning over the outdoor seating a golden glow. Erik had just finished arranging the placements on table 35. It was his preferred spot to sit during breaks. He would have some coffee and a pastry and let his mind go blank. The two-hour pre-dinner setup time was so relaxed and orderly. He loved the routine. Most of his co-workers thought differently. They were restless. The manager’s thick, calloused fingers would tap out figures on a 30-year-old calculator that printed out receipts on translucent rolls of paper. The ink looked like it hadn’t been changed in 30 years either.

On this day, Erik took a small plate of pasta and a small glass of the house red and sat down at table 35. It had four seats and he took the far one and looked out at the other patio spots.

The table was situated in a corner. Erik’s back was against the planter with hedges that rose 7 feet high. It made it look like a garden in the middle of the block on two-way Karemin Street. A light breeze wove through the close-cropped brown curls that were graying at the sides.

He leaned against the rough the beige brick wall and took a sip of the wine. Andre, the new waiter sat down facing him without preamble. Erik didn’t look up from his pasta. It was pappardelle with short rib ragu with castelvetrano olives. It was barely warm and Erik was determined not to be distracted.

“They don’t respect us,” Andre said, lighting a cigarette. Even though it was outside, the restaurant had a no smoking policy. Andre’s round, jowly face was red and he was sweating profusely.

“Who?” Erik said, sucking in the sauce from the corners of his mouth. He didn’t look up. His eye focused on the olive that slipped off his fork.

“Everybody! The customers—” Andre turned his head to the glass doors and saw the manager was gone—“and the owners.”

“So what else is new?” Erik said, rolling the pasta around his fork and stabbing at that stray olive.

“I hate this. Every day, some smart ass sits down at this table and tries to make the small talk. Just order already! I got six other fuckin’ tables, ya stabooch! God damn it! They always ask, ‘So, are you an actor or what?’ Or what! I’m fucking waiter, just order the Caesar salad, you stupid son of a mangaroni.”

Andre seemed to just make up Italian-sounding words when he complained. He was from Jersey. He would be fired by the time the summer comes.

“I thought you were an actor. I saw your commercial last night. You were good.” Erik hated the commercial.

“That’s not the point! God, you’re so… ”

“Jaded?”

“Yeah, you’re jaded.”

Erik shrugged. Andre flicked his cigarette over the hedge and made a point of scaping the chair away from the table. He leapt out of the seat without another look and went back inside to find someone else to complain to.

Erik opened his phone slid his finger up to reveal a text from Natalie.

“Hey!!!!!!!!!!!! Guess wutttttt!!!!!!”

What, Erik typed and hit send.

“I got the part!!!! Bring home wine to celebrate!”

“Why don’t you meet me here at midnight? I have the table.”

Outside Looking In

By Cat Weaver

Aida Boswell, sitting in an Uber, thumbing her phone, tweeted out a brief update. “This sunny fall day takes me to Savannah, GA, where I will visit the home of Maeve Tubbs, a morbidly obese housebound woman who ‘feels numbers.'”

Max had warned her that these irreverent little tweets struck a negative note, but Aida assured him that her following was aware that she loved her oddball peeps: the finger painters and wire twisters, lint-savers and spell casters: all of them, very much.

“Still,” Max Poe, who knew a lot about negative press, had countered, “not every follower is a follower.”

He’d hired her for her following. She was, he’d told her, the fresh young face of Max Poe’s newest venture, the UpSoFloating gallery, featuring strictly fresh totally unschooled artists.

Staring now, at a photo of Maeve, huge on her couch in her huge house covered in fantastic scrolling numbers, Aida wondered that anyone could possibly think that anyone would fail to see the woman as anything short of miraculous.

Maeve is housebound, so obese that every normal activity is a struggle. Still, she has managed to cover nearly every inch of her kitchen, huge panels in her living room, the canvas covered couch, chairs and the lampshades with intricate markings, most of them recognizable as numbers.

Scrolling through, Aida stares at the outside, front view of the house, top to bottom covered. These markings, along with those that form mosaic designs covering the steps and the path leading to the front door, were made by Maeve when she was newly married, 40 years ago now, a healthier (though always hefty) size. Roy, her husband who used to take care of her, had passed about five years ago now. Aida scrolls to a wedding photo: the two of them, looking through the photographer and straight at Aida. She, blond haired, huge red arms and florid face beaming. He, dark, defiant, glowering – shining black hair of an astounding height. Gorgeous, thinks Aida. Just too too.

“I been scratchin’ these numbers since I’s three, four. Didn’ know my numbers, but I’d be scratchin’em anyways. Onna sideboards, the floor. Onna bedposts. An rocks. Stuff.”

Every bit as astounding in person as in the photos, Maeve motions toward a kettle near her hand. On it, an elaborate number seven is scraped into the copper along with a few rudimentary symbols and a spiraling nine: “Did that’n when I was four.”

The entire kitchen space is etched with these numbers, mostly 7s. There are filler-markings too, recognizable as perhaps as numbers but not necessarily. Maeve calls these “omens” and has some tattooed up her right arm: claims they direct her gestures when she makes her drawings.

Aida takes Maeve’s hand, and holds the arm outward, taking a picture with her phone.
“Maeve, they are so beautiful. Who inked them for you?”

“Me,” she sniffs, looks over her shoulder, turns back to Aida.“Me an’ Roy,” she adds, then looks over her shoulder again, nods, and clarifies, “I drew’em. HE inked ‘em.” Aida stares over Maeve’s shoulder. There’s no one there, no object or animal either.

Maeve suddenly throws a rumpled sketch pad toward a small boy crouching near the doorway.

“Morris, You git offa that cat! “

The missile flutters wide of its mark. Young Morris was playing with a cat when I entered. It seems now that he’s hog tied the poor animal and is prying it’s eyes open.

“Bart! Bart you git down here an look after your brother.”

As the cat struggles, A stunningly beautiful boy appears on the stairwell.

“What about Morris?” He asks, peering down between the rails.

The cat escapes.

“Nothin’. Just. You look after your brother, goddammit. He’s a psycho torturin that cat again.”

Bart silently returns upstairs.

Looking again at Maeve, Aida notes now, the same beauty in her face. The broad cheekbones, huge window-wide eyes. Her hair blond in youth is now brilliant white. This family. They look unworldly.

“He been at that cat for a week now, tryn ya see into iz eyes.”

Hippies Wouldn’t Hang That

By David Kaplan

The diver stood at the edge of the pool. His body was tan and taut. Maybe he was an Olympian. Brightness reflected off his white trunks and matching swimming cap like a mirror, almost blinding the viewer. His back was arched. His knees were bent. The water splashing over the pool’s edge, tapping his first two toes. The sky was cloudless azure. The water in ripples and small rounded waves was dark royal.

“It’s wrong, it’s all completely wrong,” Susan said. “They’d hate it. They wouldn’t know what to do with it. It’ll clash with their precious ikat couch. It makes me sick just imagining it.”

“You think they think everything has to match the couch – they might look at it differently,” Robert said, staring at the painting. He really liked it.

The gallery was a single room in a storefront on Essex St. Three walls with a door leading to the back. Or it could have been leading to a bathroom.

The receptionist, a brown-haired woman in pumps, looked like she’d walked out of mail order catalogue for serious graduate students. Even though it was a humid July day, she was wearing a long-sleeve black mock turtleneck and a paisley skirt. On her desk was a pile of 12 desultory placed brochures, a paperback copy of Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, and an empty bottle of water, its plastic ribs crushed inward as if to remind her she was done. (Secretly, this model gallerista stared out the wall-size glass window at the street and wished the couple would leave so she could fart in peace and close up.)

“Look at the price – it’s only $480. We can afford that. It might be worth something someday,” Robert said.

The receptionist huffed, but only Susan seemed to hear her.

“This is the first thing we looked at, there are three other places we should visit first,” Susan said. “You just don’t want to do this.”

“Oh, I think I said that yesterday. I think I said: ‘I don’t want to do this.’ You can’t buy them art. They don’t have taste. And you should know, you can’t just hand people taste and change their lives, let alone their living room.”

“I hate their living room. I can’t go and look at their blank walls with just a dream catcher. It makes me sick. I’m serious, Robert. I get visual bulimia when we go over there.”

Robert stared back at the painting. He wanted to leave. But he really liked it. Still, did he want to spend $480 on it? Maybe he could negotiate for $400. Would they really make a big deal about $80?

Susan was getting claustrophobic. The air in this closet of a gallery was starting to get foul. She held her breath a bit and exhaled.

“C’mon, let’s just get a drink,” she said. She knew that would get him to move.

Robert sniffed and shook his head as he turned toward the door.

“Yeah, the hippies wouldn’t hang that. ”