April 10, 2017

Listen

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Greg Mulcahy

A desultory replacement life partner. She had not had to call him that. That comment of hers did not help matters, and he told her. He said he assumed she was not trying to mean something. Do you think, she asked, there is no point in attempting to describe or illustrate nuanced, complex social relationships?

Cloudy outside and breezy hot. Inside, air conditioned.

Appearance was misleading.

Was she saying that for all his high capability he was low functioning?

Typical of her to borrow language as though she could throw an appropriate context at him.

Perhaps she could make a graph.

Narrate projected slides.

A warning implied some articulation. Some force. If only force of assertion.

Some, it was said, said it would come as a card or flier or broadside or notice or broadcast or by entrails or by live bird.

He was not endorsing this; he simply knew it to have been said.

No denying there was commentary there.

He would not attempt to define or characterize it. That was not his role.

He could make comments about things he knew or understood Complaints he could make as well. Physical, psychological, and apt for his profession.

And then what? Collapse? Or try to rise to something?

As though he and she, they, could wrap themselves in cleverness.

Or listen.

He wanted to leave himself out of it.

She had said she knew that.

He remembered when she had said it, he was standing in the front room looking at a bird that was on the lawn, the bird that flew away.

No remedy for that.

He asked her what she meant, exactly.

Or intended.

He doubted she listened.

In a way, after a while, he could not blame her. Nobody listened forever.

Or he stopped listening.

There were worse things.

Greg Mulcahy is the author of two story collections, Out of Work and Carbine, and two novels, Constellation and O’Hearn.

April 10, 2017

After Life

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Jen Michalski

Of the two of you, you were always more morose. In fact, you could never remember a time, exactly, when she complained about anything—her parents, her job, her friends. But she was delicate in a way, a lack of permanence, a lack of tenaciousness, but still tough, like the way celery is impossible to break apart because of all those fibrous strands, and it never, ever rots, ever, even though you’d buy it and it’d sit in your shared refrigerator for months, waiting for you to begin your diet, because you were always the chubby one, always sturdy, Eastern European dough girl, and she was the thin one, the one who people always asked whether she was a dancer, a ballerina, a model. You were more like the celery, and she was not food at all, maybe rice paper, which is technically a food, although transparent and lacking mostly in nutritional value.

She was so nice. And that’s what makes it so difficult for you to understand. Even when she broke up with you, she framed it in such a way that you didn’t feel so bad, that she wasn’t good enough for you, that you deserved better, that you should examine your options. And when you think about it, she was probably right, not because you are some great catch but because you never really knew her. You wondered if anyone ever did. You thought maybe she would let you in, that you would get to know her, but even at night, after you kissed her and ate her out and fisted her and licked her breasts and stroked her thighs, you asked her what she dreamed about, and it was always that she was in French club but realized she couldn’t speak French or that she missed the ferry back from the Vineyard and got fired.

You were looking for dirt that you could rub between your fingers, a grit that would catch under your fingernails, take days to scrub out.

She had things. She went to all the camps, French and drama and some sort of Jewish religious camp with girls who went on to become psychologists or star in cable television comedies. You always went to parties with her, ones you wouldn’t have normally been invited to because you were Polish and lower middle class and your mom signed you up for swimming lessons at the Y and the summer reading challenge at the library because there was nothing else to do in your neighborhood except get high behind the 7-11, except smoke pot and listen to hair metal bands. You’d stand by the serving spread and sample smoked trout on crackers the size of half dollars and she would be in the middle of the room, head arched back, laughing with someone she went to school with at Smith, her doubles partner from day school, god knows what she talked about and you thought these people didn’t know her either, because they were so transparent but maybe she was, too, and when you complained about them on the ride back to the apartment she’d laugh and touch your thigh and say, “they’re just friends. You’re my girlfriend.”

What privileges were bequeathed to you as girlfriend, you’re not sure. You saw her without her makeup on, sure, but was it really a terrible secret that she read Vanity Fair on the toilet? That she ate almost nothing, that jar of Nutella that she’d spoon while watching the late night talk shows, and cereal? That when she farted she laughed in apology, and it was almost too cute? There was nothing, on the surface, to suggest anything terrible, and maybe that’s why you found yourself looking through her desk, her computer, her purse, the trash, when she was on the phone or outside on the balcony, having her once-a-week cigarette. You were not looking for evidence of an affair, or bulimia, or membership to a terrorist cell, just something. You were looking for dirt that you could rub between your fingers, a grit that would catch under your fingernails, take days to scrub out. Something that would leave a mark.

She said you were too clingy, too questioning, too suspicious—not everyone had to be damaged, at least damaged in a way that rendered one non-functional. Not everyone had to be difficult or deep or mysterious. Not everyone had to be like you. But everyone had to be someone, you thought, and not like someone. Not a person on paper. A real paper, with pulp and grain, and not a Xerox. But she made you laugh, the silly songs she made up about the cat, or how her trip to the grocery store, uneventful for most, became the most-fucked-up-thing ever because she ran into that guy she used to do improv with when she graduated from college and he was buying vaginal cream for his girlfriend because she was too embarrassed and how he quizzed her on the finer points of the 3-day versus the 7-day and there was that kid in the aisle with the mom who freaked out because colon cleanses made their way into the conversation and then she left her keys, somehow, in the produce section, right by the melons, and it took her an hour to find them, isn’t that crazy, because neither of us eats fruit, right?

There was nothing to suggest she was unhappy or that she missed you.

Sometimes when she’d sleep you’d watch her, and deep in dream she would frown, or flinch, and you questioned her when she woke up but she said you were being paranoid, that she couldn’t even remember what she was dreaming about. She would then ask about your dreams and you’d had a particularly disturbing one, how you sat with your dying grandmother and she smelled, she smelled so horribly of decay, and you’d known it’d been weeks since she showered, she could barely move, but she put her head on your shoulder, and you knew she missed being touched because no one ever touched her anymore, and it wasn’t her fault, that she was so gnarled and foul-smelling and immobile, her eyes milky and weepy and you realized this woman was a child once, a girl, a woman who fucked, who loved and hated and regretted, and all she could do was put her head on her granddaughter’s shoulder while her granddaughter tried not to breathe.

She was clever that way, always turning things back to you, like a psychiatrist, and maybe you were so fucked up yourself it took you a few years to catch on, to recognize this game of deflection and to call her out on it, and why didn’t she dream, why wasn’t she ever unhappy when you could see it sometimes, in the briefest of moments when she thought you weren’t looking, the way she frowned and chewed her fingernails, then she’d freak out in the car on the way home from the birthday party because she thought she was mean to someone but she was never anything but nice to everyone, always complementing, always laughing, always caring, in such a way that no one ever thought she was fake, and if they did, they would never say it aloud because they’d look petty, a bitter sister, and it was that way, the way they felt for a minute, that you felt all the time, that she was a mirror that showed you all your faults and when you reached out for her it was your own hand coming back toward you, your own warts, your own insecurities.

You were thankful she stayed with you. It became easier—imperative—after a while, for your own sanity, to believe in her, believe she was happy, successful, beautiful—and she was beautiful and successful, of course–and that she would make you a better person by association. And you tried. You tried to iron that shit out—all your wrinkles, all your neuroses, your disappointments, your snark. You tried to be like her, but it felt like scooping everything out of yourself and tossing it into the laundry basket before you left the apartment. You felt nothing, and that didn’t make you sad, so maybe that was good. But it didn’t make you happy, either.

When she broke up with you, you took it badly. You blamed yourself. You could never rise to whatever level of Zen she had carbined herself to. You were afraid of such heights. She said you’d changed, and when you pointed out that you had, that you tried so hard to be like her, she said she liked who you had been. But you weren’t sure whether you had liked who she had been, because she’d never been anybody. And that wasn’t the point, because she dumped you, and in that equation, the dumped is always at fault.

You moved to this city, where you are now. It folded around you like your grandmother, and it was something you got used to. Its scents, its dirt. It was you. What you knew. But you stayed friends with her on Facebook, and she stayed in that city, and had those friends, that cat. There was nothing to suggest she was unhappy or that she missed you. And no one told you that she did it, you just found out because of the Facebook posts people left on her page. Hundreds of them. In hysteria, in shock. But why she did it—no one ever asked you. If they thought you were the reason why she did it, you would never know. They never spoke to you after the breakup. It wasn’t mean or spiteful; they just receded, like waves, back into their massive, glittery, transparent ocean in which you, of heft, of gravity, always flailed, always felt like you were drowning.

How could you live with her for so long—four years—and make her come, watch her sleep, buy groceries together, how could you not know she would do something like that? How could you not see she was unhappy? And if you were with her for so long, how could she not tell you? How could you not know someone at all? Why did you stop digging, weren’t you supposed to find all the poop the dog had left in the long grass in the yard, before you step in it, before someone else did?

You are not responsible. You know this. But you lie awake at night and think about the dreams in which she had forgotten how to speak French, got stranded in the fucking Vineyard—would have been out of bounds to suggest she speak to someone, take something, go on a journey of self-discovery, on such flimsy evidence? And what did she want in you—did she want to live vicariously through your faults, your moods, your failures, her head on your shoulder, with her hair that smelled like Paul Mitchell, her breath that always smelled like gum?

There are things that you keep in your apartment in your new city—they were of no great importance to your relationship, exactly, just some things you have kept after your life with her. A CD she made you of French chanteuses that she gave you after your second date. A rubber bat she hung on the mirror of your car one Halloween morning. A necklace she always wore but never told you its origin—a broken crystal in a handmade wire setting. Had someone made it for her? Had she made it herself, in summer camp? You took it thinking she would contact you, ask you if you had stolen it, demand you give it back. It was important to her, and she could not live without it. She never did. You stopped wearing it after a few weeks because the crystal dug at your breastbone, left a little red welt. The little wire scraped your flesh. You tried to remember whether it had agitated her skin like it had yours. Had she never taken it off, even to shower, to sleep? Did she move it from one side to the other, trying to find where it irritated her the least? And if it bothered her so much, and how could it not, with its impossible craftsmanship, why didn’t she take it off?

You thought about returning it after you found out what had happened, maybe sending it to her mother, her sister, even though you’d only met them once. She said she was on good terms with her family, adored them, but you never visited them, nor them you, and they never called, to your knowledge. You had always just assumed it was because they didn’t like you. You still thought it should be returned to her, wherever it was she wound up—but those details were never offered to you. A few weeks after it happened, someone deleted her Facebook and her Instagram. Or you were deleted. Does it matter which one it was?

The necklace, at least, is still yours, although it never was. It’s all you have and you can’t get rid of it. Not because you want to keep it, but because everything needs a word, an answer. When your new girlfriend moves in, it hangs in your bedroom window. You never offer its origin. Most of the time it’s just there, like a crack, a nick on the dresser, that you are aware of but somehow stop seeing. Although sometimes the sun catches the crystal, refracts the light, and spreads little rainbows on the wall. They are always changing their places. You never know, where things will be, from moment to moment.

Jen Michalski is the author of the novels The Summer She Was Under Water and The Tide King, a couplet of novellas, Could You Be with Her Now and two collections of fiction, Close Encounters and From Here. She is the host of the reading series Starts Here! and editor of the journal jmww.
January 23, 2017

Slush

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It’s been a couple thousand submissions since we last blogged. Guess we’ve been taking care of priorities first—which means reading all the stories, poems and essays writers have been sending our way.  One can get wonderfully lost in the slush pile. We recently accepted a poem by an unpublished Brooklyn poet. That was a good day here at LitMag.

Oh, about slush. We just read somewhere something by an editor from one of the other journals, perhaps in one of the reviews named after a state, but don’t hold us to it, something about the need to stop calling it slush. Something about slush being that ugly dirty concoction of impure snow on the streets of northern states long after the storm has passed.  But slush isn’t a dirty word at all.  It just depends how you tend to it.  We can’t say how others tend to theirs. But we dive in, and we do our best to respond within two months, and we dance ourselves silly when we find something we didn’t know we were looking for and it makes our heads spin. Guess we think of slush more the way kids think of snow. You just want to get your hands in it, lie in it, bring some of it home. (more…)

September 21, 2016

Good Wishes

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We had to get this in, our last blog post of the summer, on the last day of summer, where here in NYC it hit 85 degrees. We have been very busy reading submissions (well, more than very busy). And we’ve been reading more than just your submissions. We’ve also been receiving expressions of excitement about LitMag as well as good wishes.

Good wishes go a long way with editors who are reading tirelessly. And we want to thank all of you who’ve been taking the time to cheer us on as we do our labors.  Good wishes make us feel good.

Here’s one example: “Thanks for doing what you do – thanks for making author compensation a priority, thanks for not charging submission fees. I’m looking forward to the first issue!” (more…)

July 13, 2016

Our Submitters

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We started accepting submissions only eight weeks ago. And since then we’ve been receiving many and wonderful submissions.

We dedicated ourselves to making LitMag a meaningful addition to the literary landscape, and to do this we need writers who can make it meaningful. And you have, and you are.

We dedicated ourselves to charging no fee for submissions to our print and online journals. We dedicated ourselves to paying our writers, and paying them well (and fast), in the belief that fine writing deserves remuneration. We dedicated ourselves to the hard work and splendor of the slush pile (which we think of as a grand opportunity with no negative connotations). Every day, in many journals, unknown writers are found. But we believe we are making a special effort with our slush pile. It has been only eight weeks, and you – our submitters, our community – have responded in the way we had hoped when we launched. (more…)

July 2, 2016

As you ponder liberty

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As you ponder liberty and independence this long weekend, and perhaps think of liberty in some relation to your ability to read, and perhaps to write, we recommend to you highly these two fine interviews on reading and writing and the strictures and freedoms of the writing life.

Here’s a snippet from Gary Shteyngart’s interview of Sam Lipsyte in 2011:

 Sam Lipsyte
People no longer have to fake reading books the way they used to. There’s no basic assumption from which to work from anyway. So, very urbane, literate people talk about video games at cocktail parties. That’s the new Dickens — it’s Halo. Dickens—it’s Halo.”

(more…)

June 14, 2016

Where the Poetry Is

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We received a submission recently in which the writer, in his cover letter, remarked that he was from a town of 900 people, a town in America’s northwest. The writer wrote that one of the people he grew up with became a US senator, and another became a founding member of a well-known rock band. The other 898 people, he wrote, did not amount to much. (more…)

June 10, 2016

Variations on a Submission from Romania

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The submissions keep coming in. We hope you’ll keep them coming in. We’ll keep reading. It’s what we’re here for. To read. This is a partnership. You send, we read. So later on our readers can read.

A recent submitter from Romania wrote in the cover letter: “I can’t believe you actually pay people, but I guess that means established writers will submit to you and the chances of new writers winning a spot are infinitesimal, but oh well, let’s get on to it!” (more…)

June 7, 2016

Today Marks Two Weeks

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Today marks two weeks that LitMag has been open for submissions. And we’ve been receiving submissions. We’ve been reading, and reading. We love reading.

We’ve accepted a couple stellar pieces — and we’re ready for more.

If you’re compelled to write, if you’re a writer who thinks writing is a wondrous disease, submit. There’s no fee. We pay well.

Come shine with us.

Send us your best stuff. What we think of as your gems.