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FOLIO is a magazine of strange, comic, and strangely comic words and pictures published from 2006 to 2009. For back issues please contact the_folio@hotmail.com.

Issue No. 16, Models of the Universe




Issue No. 16, Models of the Universe - Physics for Perverts

by Holly Jensen

Abs0lute Zero

He calls Fun Girls USA when he can’t sleep, which is every night.

“Hey, baby,” she says. “My name’s Ella. What’s yours?”

“My name’s Van,” he says. “And that’s even the truth.”

“I’m so glad you called, baby. I was just lying in bed all by myself.”

“What do you look like?”

“Well, let’s see, I’m twenty, I love making new friends, and—”

“I’m clairvoyant,” he says. “Is that the word?”

“You think you can read my mind, baby?”

“I know I can.”

“What am I thinking right now, baby?”

“You think I’m some rabid weirdo.”

“That it, baby?”

“You want to get me all worked up and then leave me alone. I wish you were here in my room. I bet you smell nice. Do you wear perfume? Do you like it when your roots show? Do you have blue nail polish? Your voice sounds like you have soft skin.”

“I do, baby.”

“I bet that’s one of the ways you get them. They touch your skin and—oh—their little bird hearts flutter. It’s like a fairy tale, but with blue nail polish.” He sniffs and clears his throat, coughs wet. His voice is tight and he’s talking too fast. “What if you actually made me feel all right?”

“I wanna make you feel good, baby.”

“I wanted to be an astronaut,” he says. “For about a semester. I was reading that Wolfe book. But that’s how I am. If I’d been reading ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’ I’d’ve wanted to be a mongoose. What do I know?”

“I don’t know, baby.”

“I didn’t stick with anything more than a semester. I appreciate the specialization of the mind. Some people spend their entire careers studying turtle ears. And bee dances. And how the prairie grasses have sex, right? It could go on forever. It does go on forever. You know how it is.”

“Forever and ever, baby.”

“Atta girl,” he says.

“You like forever, baby?”

“There are certain things I like, yeah. Only a few. There’s only so many likeable things in the world, you know? But let me tell you what happens when things get cold.”

“You can tell me whatever you want, baby.”

“That’s right. You’re right.” He sounds surprised. “So, the unit of measurement here is degrees in Kelvin.”

“Kelvin, baby.”

“As in, room temperature is three hundred degrees Kelvin. This room, for instance. Or your room, even. And the sun? That’s five thousand degrees Kelvin. And absolute zero is zero. You follow?”

“Zero is zero, baby.”

“That’s right. As my ex would say, damnwell right. You ever heard that? I hadn’t. I thought, optimistically, that it was an affectation. But I was terribly wrong. That’s something that happens. Historically,” he says, “I am mostly wrong. Though I bet you are, too.”

“Think so, baby?”

“What if I wanted to kiss you on the mouth? Would you even like that? Hold on. I have another call.”

She hears him set down the phone, hears a clink and a long soft sound, like sighing.

He picks up the phone. “You still there?” he says. “That’s a horrible question to have to ask.”

“Yeah, baby,” she says. “That was quick.”

“Quick call, sure. Yeah. It was my neighbor, my neighbor friend. He’s says we’re going out on the town tonight, he’s gonna get me some girls. He has powers.” He laughs. “Listen to me. Cause let’s cut through the bull, right? What I really want from you is ears. You think you could handle that?”

“I could do that, baby.”

“Ah. That is so, so good-hearted of you. You know what that is? That is Christ-like. And what was I saying before?”

“You were naming the temperatures, baby.”

“As you approach absolute zero, strange things happen. You don’t even know.”

“Tell me, baby.”

“You think there’s three states of matter, that’s what they tried to teach you. And by ‘they’ I mean the school marms. Solid, gas, and liquid. But there’s a new state of matter. Named condensate. We invented it, although it wasn’t on the front pages how you’d think. ‘By the way, new state of matter created. Just thought you’d like to know.’ ”

“Something like that, baby.”

“When we get toward zero, the atoms, heretofore represented as the usual dots—the dots from science with marms—begin to cool and slow and stretch. The dots become waves. They get so stretched out they overlap. They get confused. They forget whether they are themselves or their neighbor. It’s got to be frustrating. You follow?”

“I think so, baby. They’re discombobulated.”

“That’s exactly it. You’re right. Here’s chapter two.”

“Chapter two of what, baby?”

“Technology marches on, and this scientist decides that she should shoot some light into this condensate. Can you believe it? Just like a woman,” he says. “This particular condensate was, I think, described as cigar-shaped, if that helps. This scientist wants to see what happens. Like, for fun or some other lunatic concept. None of which makes the papers. Needless to say.”

“Needless to say, baby.”

“Or at least it didn’t make The Intelligencer. Where are you right now? Never mind, I don’t want to know. Now listen to me, because the light did not stop, as it does when you shine a light at a wall. Instead, the light, shot at this brand new state of matter, slowed—and I quote—to the speed of a bicycle.”

“For real, baby?”

“Light like a bike,” he says. “I wouldn’t lie to you. Would you lie to me?”

“Never, baby.”

“You know that people used to think cold was a thing? Imagine walking around in the winter feeling burdened by all the cold. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“I understand, baby. Strange things, burdens.”

“Where are you?” he says. “Never mind. Never mind.” He coughs. “The books I read I get secondhand, like a decent human being. You know, like I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those—well, they’re not really book stores, are they? They sell cupcakes and calendars. Easy targets.”

“Gift certificates.”

“That’s right,” he says. “I buy books from places that smell like mold. You can feel the spores in your lungs. Listen to me. It feels good, it feels damnwell good. And the floors creak. You know what I mean? The books I like, somebody’s already read them. They’ve already been between somebody else’s palms. Someone’s marked them up before, someone’s beaten them up a bit. The books I like, people bracket parts and write in the margin, ‘Joke?’—question mark, question mark, question mark—underline. That kind of book.” In a soft voice, he says, “If I wanted to push you down, would that be okay?”

“That’d be okay, baby.”

“Now I feel stupid,” he says. “And you’ve got whatsit, you’ve got culpability. Listen. You know what that means?”

“What’s wrong, baby?”

“Culpability,” he says. “That’s one of them BBC words.”

“I like talking to you, baby. You know what I’d wanna do if you were here right now?”

“You talk to me like that but no one’s really here. No one, and not you, either.”

“I just wanna make you feel good, baby.”

“Well, god,” he says. “I fell for it, didn’t I?”

*

Multiverse

“Because our universe isn’t the only universe,” he says.

“Sure, baby,” she says.

“One hundred years ago this would be mad raving. Now it’s fact cosmology,” he says. “This idea of parallel worlds was silly and spooky, but it kept coming back, stranger and stranger. Like that one cousin at Thanksgiving. Know what I mean?”

“Yeah, baby,” she says. “Weird cousins.”

“When they talk about these particles existing in more than one place at a time, they use the verb flit. To flit. In and out of our world. In and out of existence.”

“Flit, baby.”

“There are infinite versions. In one, I’m in the space station, fixing space toilets. In another, we got hitched and you’re loading the dishwasher. I’m upstairs, fixing our earth toilet.”

“Sounds like fun, baby.”

“It’s the way the world is. It’s the way it might be. They think we live in a neighborhood where gravity is weak. This is true. Hold up your hand.”

“I can do that, baby.”

“Well, aren’t you sweet? They think that somebody else has the rest of our gravity. Hoarding it. The other verses in this multiverse.”

“Right, baby. Verses.”

“And if there’s life, it might be right by us, clinging to its own little membrane. Listen, you know what a stranger is. Life in the other worlds could be passing by us, this second, and we don’t know.”

“Yeah, baby?”

“We’re ghosts to one another.”

“Yeah, baby?”

“A life of theirs would be unimaginably different from ours. Even from yours. New chemistry and new laws. Maybe all we have in common is this gravity. It might be all that binds us to our branes,” he says. “Cause explain to a two-dimensional person what three dimensions are like. Go ahead. Try.”

“So what do they matter, baby?”

“Hell, explain me to you. No. Fair question. Does this have anything to do with you? We might be too stuck to our branes. We might be too, I don’t know, devoted. Is that what I mean?”

“We keep an eye out, huh, baby?”

“We hunt the hell out of it. But this other life, whatever life, it’s tricky life. Looking for it is playing badminton in the fog. We get four dimensions. Left-right, up-down, forward-backward, time. But the string theorists count ten.”

“What are they, baby?”

“It’s hard to imagine, the next step. I don’t know even what your life is made of,” he says.

“Like seeing a new color,” she says. “Right, baby?”

“Do you like to be called names? How many miles away are you? Have you ever met up with someone you talked to on here in real life?”

“What do you think, baby?”

“Um,” he says. “So, these other vicious cosmologists were arguing over whether there are ten or eleven dimensions. To them, it meant everything. The string theorists and these supergravity folks. One version of the universes versus another version of the verses.”

“It’s a real bar fight, huh, baby?”

“Now they think this eleventh dimension is really real and is a trillionth of a millimeter from every point in our world. It’s nestled against our cheek, they say. They say we’re wrapped in it.”

“Cozy, baby.”

“You’re only thinking about cozy. Maybe you should hold on to the kitchen counter.”

“I can do that, baby.”

“Then they said there’s another universe on another brane at the opposite end of the eleventh dimension.”

“In the back forty, baby?”

“This is where Lisa Randall comes in. She’s important, so she was born in America. She climbs rocks. She thinks about why gravity is so weak. She wears rock-climbing shorts. I either saw her or I dreamed her, and, either way,” he says, “shorts.”

“Sounds sexy, baby.”

“Gravity is leaking from this eleventh dimension. She can calculate this. By the time gravity gets to us, it’s faded. We get the drippings,” he says. “Everyone’s excited. Hawking—that bitch—said there wouldn’t be mysteries after they were done with the world.”

“He said that, baby?”

“The universes move through the eleventh dimension—this aura hung up on us—and move through it like waves, one after the other, as orderly as an ocean. Then the scientists began to wonder what would happen if two waves crashed together. And they decided that was how a universe gets born.” He sighs, says, “Once she chugged the entire bottle. We got back into it and she was sloshing around like a water balloon. This woman was an R. Crumb woman. What was I saying?”

“The big bang, baby?”

“Is when parallel worlds hit in the eleventh dimension, right. And this is true: the lumps of the universe—the stars, dirt, spoons, and you—are from the wrinkles and the ripples of the branes.”

“Wrinkles, baby?”

“We coexist. We flit together. Isn’t that everything? Kaku—he’s got a head of hair on him—said the universe is a bubble in an ocean. I’m almost positive I saw Kaku ice skating. On a show? Either way, it was remarkable,” he says. “That’s why I remarked.”

“Got it, baby.”

“You ever ice skate?”

“Not yet, baby,” she says. “But I like to try new things.”

“With frilly swimsuits and glittered tights and razor boots,” he says. “Now parallel universes are popping up in everyone’s equations. Cause who doesn’t love a winner? Listen, Duff says it best. Physics is all fads. Fickle as a little girl. No offense.”

“None, baby.”

“And nobody wants to be stuck with our four measly dimensions.”

“So, baby,” she says. “What’s the fifth dimension?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s the sixth?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s the seventh?”

“I can’t remember,” he says.

“That’s all right, baby. We can talk about anything you want.”

“What this means is that if we understood everything in the universe, we would understand only our universe.”

“Yeah, baby,” she says. “It’s a problem.”

Issue No. 16, Models of the Universe - Sketches of a Naturalist



Issue No. 16, Models of the Universe - Prism

by Keith Radke

That way lays the uniform,
Relentless, righteous white,
deaf and dumb.

This way lays fracture and colors,
each demanding a name,
a mouth to utter it.

In the middle, I am cut but
healthy only to the extent that
the idea is humane.



Issue No. 16, Models of the Universe - Intelligent Life


by Nik Garvoille

Issue No. 16, Models of the Universe - Credits

images ALEXA GARVOILLE
fiction HOLLY JENSEN
comic NIK GARVOILLE
poetry KEITH RADKE

This issue of FOLIO made possible by SUSAN GILBERT.
Thank you for reading.

Issue No. 15, Flight








Issue No. 15, Flight - Letters to Iqbal

Dearest Iqbal,

Every time I get back the automated response from you, I reread it, searching through those uniform sentences for a tone, a double meaning, a hint I may have missed in the past or that has evolved over the time you have spent out of country.

Think of the changes that have become manifest since you were last here. My middle name is still the same, and the color of the sun is pretty consistent, and 4 is still NBC, but changes that have been occurring over our lifetimes have become distinctly manifest, and that is usually the moment that matters.

In this sense we miss the boat. We mistake a hundred million grains of sand for a dune. It reminds me of Borges’s “Argumentum Ornithologicum”:


I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer—not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc—is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.


Now of course there is a slight glibness to Borges (detectable in the title and the unnecessary “ergo”). Speaking from experience I can tell you that librarians (even blind ones) have a sense of humor. But isn’t he quite right?

It reminds me of The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter 12. Luke quotes Christ as saying, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Conveniently mirrored in Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”)

Of course, suggesting that 2.5 sparrows can be had for a penny is absurd. Is Luke suggesting that Christ thought you could buy half a sparrow? I thought sparrows were chosen in this anecdote because they are small and essentially indivisible.

And then Matthew further complicates things. Are two sparrows sold for a penny? I don’t know, you tell me! If they are, then the price of 2 sparrows is one penny, which is not the same price that Luke quotes. Now if they can’t keep the price of sparrows straight, maybe they’re wrong about other stuff. Maybe Matthew meant, “Some of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your father,” or Luke, “God lost count of the hairs on your head.”

The two quotes, however absurd, do go hand in hand with the Borges piece, no? Birds are an ideal vehicle for ontological discussion. First: they often travel in flocks, which happily blur the line between independent creatures (each of which is numbered) and a collective identity being guided by a divine or all-powerful force. Second: they fly! Nothing reminds us more of the rules we must follow than seeing them broken. In fact, I’d say we can’t recognize something as a rule unless we see it broken. No?

Hope all is well!

Robert de Saint-Loup

*

Thank you for your e-mail. I am currently in Tanzania/Zanzibar doing research for the year and will have limited internet access. It will take some time for me to respond.

My new cell is: +XXX (X)XXX XXX-XXX

Have a wonderful and blessed day.

Asante (thank you),

Iqbal

From http://losttimenotfound.blogspot.com

Issue No. 15, Flight - Fragments


When Chester complained to his father about the climbing rope in gym class, Chester’s father knew just what to do. He was a pilot and could not abide a fear of heights in his children. He found a rope, nearly a mile in length, and fastened it to the end of his next flight to Cleveland. The other end was given to Chester, who was instructed to stand in the street outside their home. “Wrap it around your arm once or twice,” said Chester’s father, “maybe around your waist. But not too tightly.” So Chester stood while his classmates were climbing ropes in school. He waited the whole morning for his father to reach the airport and board the passengers. The myriad ways of connecting the rope to his person passed the time, but soon he heard the rippling of atmosphere above him and, looking up, saw Flight 1407 approaching his neighborhood. The rope brushed through the trees, scaring the birds, and on the street before Chester it picked up like fire following a line of gasoline. With a tremendous strain on his forearms and palms, Chester traveled to Cleveland. The most experienced of passengers felt a slight drag but thought nothing of it. Chester skidded across a frozen lake and, when he stood up, complained only of rope burn.

*

Morose and ill at ease, the superhero sat at home watching television. There was a blindfolded soldier on TV cleaning his gun. One channel up a blindfolded mechanic was replacing a timing belt. On the channel above that a blindfolded chef was preparing a risotto. The superhero felt insecure. Super as he was, he did his job fully sighted. Gradually though he grew inspired. “I can do this,” he said. He tugged his cape out of his collar and pulled it over his face, covering his head. It looked like an onion was bobbing between his shoulders. “I can do this!” He took a running start at his window and crushed the framed Dali print to its right.

*

The soon-to-be martyr eyed with loathing the conservatively dressed businessman at the other side of the gate. The businessman’s style of dress was exactly the one the martyr was forced to copy, and of course it was the businessman’s values he was forced to destroy. His betters thought the sockless loafers, suit jacket, and open collar would dispel the connotations of the dark pigment in his face. But it was no good. The martyr felt a fool. He saw a young man at the window. The man wore a polo shirt under a trench coat, brown corduroy pants, and suede dress shoes. The clothes suggested to the martyr an intellectual rigor, a seriousness and sense of purpose. “I should want to look like him,” he said, and pulled his loafers back under the seat.

*

Years after Flight 497 flew into the Sears Tower from Dallas, a reporter at the Tribune wrote a piece about everyone between the two cities who might have seen the plane on its way north.

“The high-flying bird and the current of its white wake,” he wrote, “entered into the daydreams of lounging Midwesterners before becoming a part of their nightmares minutes later. Men looking up from a lawn mower that wouldn’t rev up and children not reading in hammocks saw in that plane the place they wanted to be—a flight attendant handing off a cold Coke, the chance to look down at the clouds when everyone else is asleep then joining them with a pillow you find above your seat.”

The reporter told his subjects that the plane they had been gazing at was the same plane on TV. Several of the interviewees later stated they had a hard time looking at the sky again, which in the Midwest is a difficult thing to be afraid of.

*

The head librarian of the Carnegie Library enlisted all the children’s reading groups to stop reading and comb the stacks. He wanted every book thumbed so that the boarding passes left in as bookmarks could be irrevocably removed. Those passes irked him, and the closer they were to the front the more they irked him: obnoxious proof that the patrons were up to finishing their journey but not their book.

*

No aspiring oil painter can begin his working life as an oil painter, which is why, at the age of twenty-five, Louis became a flight attendant. He enjoyed the travel, the chance to meet a wide variety of people, and the time it gave him between drink services to catch up on a canvas.

I happened to be in seat 1A on a flight between New York and Raleigh when Louis asked politely if he could paint my portrait. Since I was already locked in place, I agreed. Frankly the attention flattered me. I asked him which pose he liked best: reading, sleeping, looking out the window. He suggested something more classical, my chin on my hand, my eyes unfocused towards something in the distance. Once I was posed, Louis set about sketching.

It made the flight seem shorter, or longer. I was more, or perhaps less, aware of everything around me. The sitting put me in a mood removed from time and space, not unlike the mood you get from flying itself.

Once we landed and the Fasten Seat Belt sign was switched off, Louis turned the canvas around for me to see.

At the outset he had told me he was going for something photo-realistic, but the pockets of turbulence had made it an abstract. Either way I was flattered. I asked him if I could take a picture of it with my cell phone, but he told me it wasn’t quite finished, that the colors weren’t right. He took a picture of me with his cell phone. “For guidance,” he said, then he asked for my contact information and thanked me again.

Meanwhile, everyone had already grabbed their bags from overhead and was ready to deplane. Louis stuffed his easel into the service cubby and began his goodbyes. The pilots opened their door to give their own goodbyes and, with one look at the paint splotches all over the front of the cabin, promptly upbraided poor Louis.

At the end of that month, I received via UPS my painted portrait. He really did get the colors right. He also sent me, along with the invoice, a snapshot of the interior of his plane. Each window was covered with a finished work. On the back he wrote a note: “The pilots calmed down. You can see their portraits in the front two seats.”

Issue No. 15, Flight - Credits



cover BEN TUTTLE
drawings JILL OSTROWSKI
letter ANDREW FERRIS
fragments JONATHAN TUTTLE
design ALEXA GARVOILLE

this issue of FOLIO made possible by CHARLES PATTERSON

this is the penultimate issue of FOLIO

Issue No. 14, Piety







Issue No. 14, Piety - The Children's Mass

It was because of Penny’s, a twenty-four hour diner across the street from the rectory, that Father Ben was still asleep. He was folded comfortably in the corner of his twin bed, dressed in the same clerical get-up he fell asleep in hours prior and smelling of pie and cheddar cheese. The fresh typescript of his sermon lay on the floor, just polished at the bottom of a bottomless cup of coffee. It was the best homily of his budding career, and it would have come to rapturous applause if only he were awake enough to deliver it.

The phone rang, and, thinking it was his alarm clock, Father Ben shoved it off the nightstand. The ringing ceased, but the urgent cries of a Mexican woman began.

“Padre? Padre?”

Father Ben intoned a piece of his dream.

“Padre! Help me!”

Finally he picked the strange alarm clock up and spoke to it. “Yes…hello.”

“Padre Benjamin, help! I cannot come to mass this morning!”

“There is no mass this morning.” He sunk with the phone back into his pillows.

“Yes, ten-thirty mass.”

“No, no, today is…. What day is today?”

“Sunday.”

“What? What time is it now?”

“Ten twenty-five.”

Before Father Ben threw the phone across the room and dashed down the stairs, across the garden, and into the pulpit, the voice on the other end implored just two more minutes of his tardiness.

“Padre, you must help me.”


The procession was lined in the hall to the classrooms, every child in his or her place, when the greeter gave the cue to the usher, and the usher to the reader, and all the way down the rota until a quiet knock was given on the side doors, the bells rang, and the procession entered. Customarily, the rector’s was the first face seen, his hand on the shoulder of a preening child. But the child, in this case, entered alone.

The congregation sat back and observed the entering choristers, each head taller than the last. There were more children in the procession than there were adults in the pews. A boy in the middle paraded his faith, hoping to be seen as religious with furrowed brows and slipping glasses. A girl in the back threw her long, thick hair behind her to show off her perfectly shaped singing mouth. Distinct cliques of twos and threes passed gossip up the line. The procession flooded the aisles, and just before the youngest members left for religious education—only to return in time for the Eucharist and coffee hour—Father Ben excused his way into the sanctuary.

His hair was still under the impression a pillow was near and splayed out on one side. The ends of his oxford cloth came out of his fly. Toothpaste filled the corners of his lips. He squeezed up beside the procession leader, but she, and all the children behind her, promptly left. The congregation was riveted by his Sponge Bob slippers.



Rather than take his seat beside the altar and listen to the lessons, Father Ben stood still and gave a nervous scan over the heads. The musical director smoothed things over with a speedy launch into an old favorite, pulling everyone out of their confusion and into their hymnals. The diversion was good enough for Pat and her son Peter, who had both come in late, to settle in unnoticed–unnoticed, that is, until it became clear Father Ben was running towards them.

Peter was an intensely small boy. Though no older or younger than the children in the middle of the procession, he entered eye-level with the tops of the pews. His blond bobble looked as though a broken bowl had been used to form his hair. His bangs began normally enough on the left then jutted down in an extreme angle to the right, covering his eye. He did not object to the barber, being only dimly aware that he could. He let the scissors do what they wanted.

The greeter did not allow latecomers to enter the sanctuary until the procession was over, so Pat, proud owner of a bushy new perm, killed time brushing up on her theology, “Anglo-Catholic Real Presence,” with complimentary brochures. She stuffed them into her fanny pack as quickly as she could when Father Ben kneeled in front of her. Over the robust singing of the baritone beside him, Peter could hear none of Father Ben’s obviously grave remarks, and once the hymn came to the end of its sixteenth refrain, the rector gave a squeeze to Pat’s arm and stepped away.

The crowd took their seats, and Father Ben the pulpit. Realizing he had left on his bed what was possibly the best homily he had written since that first competitive week at Divinity, Father Ben took a swig of air and winged it for what was to be the shortest homily delivered in the history of St. Marge.

Throughout the service, Pat leaned down to Peter and attempted to explain the conversation she had with Father Ben. But there were countless interruptions, and the clatter of kneelers hitting the floor finally drowned her out completely. As Father Ben broke the bread and distributed it to the visiting clergy, Pat bit her nails. A line of sweat marched down her forehead. Any outside observer, including Peter, would have thought she had only fifteen seconds to diffuse a bomb beneath the crucifix.

“Everything will be revealed” was the cue for the first pew to file out for their bread. When they were through, the next pew followed, and so on. Soon, after everyone in front of them was reeling in the ecstasy of their one drop of wine that week, it was Pat and Peter’s turn. “Come on, go, go!” Pat said, pushing Peter down the aisle. He was confused, but not alarmed. After a lifetime of single file lines, this was merely a new flow to go with.

At the fence between congregants and clergy, they kneeled together. Father Ben mumbled the usual, though he too was sweating. He gave Pat a bit of crust as if he were offering a secret, and Pat swallowed as if she already understood. But instead of rising and rejoining the line, Pat remained, her hands clasped, staring at Peter. His bit of bread, this one from the middle of the loaf, pale and airy, with wide caves running through it, was placed in his hand. Peter put the bread in his mouth and looked up to the deacon carrying the wine. As she came forward with her own mumbles, Pat took Peter by the neck, put one hand in front of his mouth, and with the other slapped the back of his head. The bread popped out, undisturbed, onto her palm.


“Where are we going?” asked Peter.

Pat was driving with an abandon he had never seen, cutting corners, running red lights. He wondered if it was possible to be kidnapped by one’s own mother.

After “Peace be with you” Pat skipped down the steps outside the church. She led Peter to the car by the scruff of his neck and bolted out the parking lot, the bread deposited safely in her pocket. Peter eyed it as his mother careened across town.

“Where we always go,” she said.

The Taco Bell parking lot was empty and Peter wondered if it was even open. They had never been there that early.

The tables were still gleaming from last night’s wipe down. It was as cold as ever, though the dance music wasn’t on yet. The woman in the headscarf, who was usually confined to the kitchen, stood on a table trying to slide a peeling advertisement back onto the window. With a strong reach her cardigan slipped above her waist and she struggled, balancing on one foot, to cover her lower back with one hand and preserve the Ninety-Nine Cent Taco sign with the other.

Pat wound her way through the railings in front of the cash register, which would have, on a normal day, made her feel a bit ridiculous. Peter did not enter the maze, but hung back at the door, and watched.

His mother’s mysterious rush was interrupted by the absence of a cashier. Pat tapped the bulge in her pocket and looked at the menu as she waited, even considered changing her usual. She noticed the television monitor above the drive-through window. Hoping she wasn’t the only one who could see it, she waved at the security camera, then put her palms together as if in prayer. Still, no one came out and Pat contented herself to try a few quarters on the Missing Children coin game beside the register.

Peter noticed the monitor too and saw himself standing in front of the number 3’6’’ on the notched strip by the door. Peering further into the grainy image, he could just make out, on the other side of the trashcan, the shape of a child. It was sitting at a booth, and upon close inspection of the back of its head, Peter determined it was a girl. Just as he was about to creep around the trashcan to get a better look at the person capable of matching Taco Bell’s eerie silence, a small Mexican woman came running out from the walk-in refrigerator.

“I so sorry!” she said. “We have accident with toys!” A bag of Jonas Brothers was caught around her ankle. “You are Pat? Pat?”

“Yes,” said Pat. “From St. Marge. Are you Alba?”

“Sí, sí. Do you have it?”

Pat reached into her pocket and pulled out the bread.

Alba put her hand on her heart and let out an enormous sigh. “Sancta Maria!”

“I’m glad we could do this for you.”

“I never work Sundays,” she said, still tragically worked up. “I hate it. This Sunday they made me.”

Pat shook her head disapprovingly.

“I told Juliet her grandmother could take her to church. She say no, she want to stay with me. I told her I had to work. She say she wouldn’t go without me. We have big fight.”

Pat tried to remember a time she fought with Peter, but couldn’t. “Where is she?”

It looked to Peter like Alba was pointing at him. He backed up into the measuring tape.

Pat turned around and, without warning, took the bread out of her pocket and threw it to him. It was a gutsy move on Pat’s part, knowing full well that Peter had only ever heard the words “Good try!” after attempting a catch. The bread flew over the railings with all the force of his mother’s and Alba’s combined prayers that he would catch it. He did.

“Right there,” said Pat, pointing. “Give it to her!”

Peter pulled himself onto his tiptoes to get a good look over the trashcan. Failing, he stepped around it and approached the rather sizable child. Bright plastic pins decorated her long, dark braids, over which a set of headphones pumped the New Kids on the Block—a fifty-cent Good Will cassette—into her ears. The table was covered with markers spilling out of a marked-up Ziploc bag. She was exhausting the possibilities of an old coloring book.

“Give it to her!” said Pat, frustrated Peter did not already understand.

But Cher finally came on over the speakers and Peter could not comprehend his orders. He lifted the bread. “This?” he said.

“Go on!”

Alba clasped her hands and mouthed “please.”

The door opened and a handsome family of four walked in, gussied and hungry and tipsy from the wine. The post-church families had made it out of coffee hour. The mother and father stood behind Pat at the register while the son and daughter ran to the back booth, indifferent to the woman in the headscarf standing on their table, who squealed like an elephant at the sight of mice and moved a booth over.

Pat was reluctant to give up her space beside Alba. The mother and father were standing there for legitimate reasons but it was hard to imagine those were more important than hers. They would have to wait.

Peter came up to the edge of the table, bread in hand. Juliet did not appear to notice him, or if she did, she did not consider him a valid replacement for her coloring. She kept on scribbling.

Another family entered, of a different sect altogether. They had no khakis but long denim shorts and camouflage t-shirts. The children were taller than the parents and talked about ordering twice as much food.

A boy Peter’s age came in wearing a T-ball uniform, which Peter knew meant there were more to follow. Fourteen kids in stretch-pants and caps, their coaches and parents, lined behind the camouflaged teenagers at the counter, every child in his or her place.

Where Peter was confused at first he was now a bit frightened. The people behind him further separated his understanding from his mother’s wishes. He knew that he was put in front of this girl. He knew he had some bread in his hands. The only possible outcome of these two pieces of information, and the action that would bring this whole strange business to a close, was to hold out his hand. He held out his hand.

A station wagon pulled up outside the window. At first it tried to merge into the drive-thru lane, but a few honks forced it to park. Juliet did not notice the honks or the outstretched hand, which remained outstretched while Peter’s attention was diverted.

A boy hopped out of the back seat of the station wagon. He had a thick coating of freckles over his face and red, Chef Boyardee stains around his mouth. The boy was fast, and his mother cruelly slow in removing herself from the driver’s seat. He danced and jittered beside the car as if she were the burden of a full bladder set to burst. And when the locking beep finally beeped, it was his shotgun cue to bolt at the Taco Bell doors. He ran past the girls sauntering to the door in their sleepover pants and flew inside.

Peter watched him swing around the railings, playing chicken with the customers’ legs. Shoving his way to the front, he tried to push the quarter game over the counter. He shouted numbers back at the kitchen. He attempted to swipe the sour cream gun, and when someone told him to stop, he ran over to the soda fountain, licked his finger, and stuck it up the Pepsi.

Peter was transfixed, and when the ADD boy caught him staring, Peter rushed his eyes back to his hand, which was empty. Juliet was still coloring but chewing now, and when she was finished she took a swig of her soda. She did not say “Thank you,” smile, or even turn off her music. She swallowed and returned to her coloring.

Peter turned back to his mother, who was still behind the impatient crowd. She lifted a very proud thumbs-up above the other heads. Alba said a short prayer under her breath and started to work the line.

Soon Pat and Peter could slide into their own booth. Pat pulled the church brochures from her bag––the Mexican Pizza tasted best with reading material–and Peter read the jokes on the back of the sauce packets. Although he was never allowed to use them on his food (Pat forbade it, saying even Mild was Fire and Fire would make his tongue hurt) he thought they might be good on their own as play things, a little skateboard for your fingers when your tacos were gone. Peter picked up eight, seven Milds and a Fire, precisely the amount he saw the ADD boy stuff into his pockets.

“Good Gosh!” said Pat. A piece of Mexican Pizza slid out of her mouth. She pointed to the picture on her brochure of the hands holding up the wafer. “We forgot about you!”

She sat back and shifted her eyes nervously around the table. “Should we—we have to call Father Ben!” She dove into her purse for her cell phone. Peter heard the dialing on the other end and eventually Father Ben’s startled greeting.

“Father Ben!” said Pat. “You have to come and consecrate something!”

Peter smiled and closed his fingers around the Fire packet in his palm.

Issue No. 14, Piety - SOC (for cabin fever)

it’s an ailing life methinks…
The pine straw stinks of stars and alien links
to an after-life I’ll never see…
To the shining soul I’ll never be…
What has become of me, what has begun in me
that now stings at the core of abandoned hives?

The links in me brain are forging a head
with which I’m no longer familiar…
There is a bird in my vernacular I can recognize
only as vermillion…ooh as scarlet as wine-dark seas…
The trees flow ‘gainst the sky much as fire flows
through oxygen, much as flames blow through the stanchions
of mis-appropriated and bank-vacated farms…

These recent days pass by unalarmed…
Scarlet letters burn in my mailbox…
I have no votive candles to proffer
the inquisitors of my air of privacy.

Issue No. 14, Piety - Credits



cover KATIE CLAIBORNE
fiction JONATHAN TUTTLE
photography ALEXA GARVOILLE
poetry J. WILLE G.
drawing BEN TUTTLE

this issue of FOLIO made possible by BOB DRIES

FOLIO Has Been Institutionalized

This past week, a lone cataloger deep in Wilson Library has been hard at work preserving issues 1-13 of FOLIO for the North Carolina Collection. 


Issue No. 13, Secrecy

Issue No. 13, Secrecy - Who


FOLIO is produced by a group of young literati in the eighth floor janitor's closet of the university library.

Issue No. 13, Secrecy - The Arsonists

Strange pieces of information began to trickle in. We discovered the arsonists formed at a Whole Foods Café as a Meet-Up group. We found this after one of the guys googled “the arsonists.” But just before we could jot down their names the page disappeared. If you google them now all you’ll find are local news videos, coverage of the eleven apartment fires this year. They torch whole units within the complexes. Twenty-two freestanding chimneys stick out from the apartment section of town now, looming over the charred toilets and air conditioners like Greek ruins. Displaced students are washing their hair in library bathrooms, young investment bankers are crashing on friends’ sofas, and divorced fathers are spending the weekends with their children at a Four Seasons pool—then heading back to their Day’s Inn for the week.

As a small promotion, the Force assigned me to live undercover at the one apartment complex not yet touched by the arsonists. When I told my wife, she ran into the bedroom and slammed the door; her usual strategy: protesting her neglect by becoming unreachable. “Fine!” she screamed. “Go!” I told her I’d miss her and packed up my plainclothes.

The woman at the apartment office, Judy, also had a hard time understanding. “A lease?” she said. “For three weeks?”

“Yes,” I said. “And I don’t have any pets.”

After whispered calls to my boss and hers, I signed a lease and she bit her nails. “Do you really think there’s a chance?” she said. “I mean of us too?”

The prospect put a damper on our tour of the premises. “The pool is fairly large. Second rated in the county. That could put out a fire, couldn’t it? If we got a line of people and some buckets?”

The complex was complicated, a labyrinth of earth-toned pods set back in the trees. It was Fall and the dogwoods weren’t close to blooming, so I assumed the white dust on most of the cars was ash, the remains of nearby apartments. The observation pleased me. I had to keep my eyes open for work like this, and I had to see things differently. I had to keep a record. The job as I saw it, a large one, was to protect everyone in the apartment complex without drawing the attention of anyone but my superiors. It was daunting.

“And this is Mr. Clyde,” said Judy, pointing to a man in a wheelchair sitting on a second-story porch. “He’ll be your upstairs neighbor.”

“I see. Where is the elevator?”

“No elevator.”

“And he lives upstairs?”

“Yes, the one-bedroom below him is yours. It would have been Mr. Clyde’s of course, but since this is an emergency…”

“No, no, I can take the upstairs apartment, that’s not a problem.”

“I’m afraid it’s too late for that.”

“But how does Mr. Clyde even get out?”

“He doesn’t. Well, he has his porch.”

I waved, with guilt, to Mr. Clyde. He did not wave back.

*

For some reason I thought the apartment would come with furniture, or at least the Force would have pitched in for an air mattress. As it was, all I had was a folder of take-out menus from Judy and an icemaker in the freezer that sounded like two barges slowly colliding. My one-bedroom had a half-bath, a cute kitchenette, and a parking lot view. There was an obvious carpet cleaning done recently; the floors could not have been more perfectly off-white, nor the walls or ceiling for that matter. I’m sure I was to be fined if I left the apartment any more or any less off-white than I had found it. I wondered what they’d charge me if the place were burnt down.

Unsure of the rules on how often I could leave my post, I snuck out for furniture as fast as I could. I found a small couch in town and, since it looked lonely without, a TV too. I drew up a supply list once I got back. I thought about walkie-talkies; binoculars, maybe passing them off as a bird enthusiasm. I wondered if the apartment had a fire extinguisher. And did the fire alarms work? I made a note to check them once I got a chair, or at least the strength to move the couch. I also needed a place to hide my gun, because if I wanted to look out, I had to allow for people, arsonists, looking in. The only potential place was under my new cushions. I pushed the gun under and fluffed, which gave me an excuse to sit down, turn on the TV, lie down.

A twilight descended that was utterly unlike the ones we had in my neighborhood. There were things to see and so I strained to see them, but the effort made everything seem impossible. If it were night and black, I think I could have seen better. I could have the moon or a light bulb. But this was just mud. A fluorescent streetlight outside the living room window buzzed on. The dull noise was terrible.

I didn’t know the apartment came with cable, but there it was. I clicked up past the static and the game shows and the sitcoms and soon enough I was in the mid-twenties. I settled on a favorite, the Discovery Channel, and they happened to be discussing my favorite Discovery Channel subject, the universe. I like to think about infinity from my couch, like where it starts and what’s at the end of it. Seeing those Hubble Telescope pictures in my new apartment made me feel at home. And it wasn’t just me. Soon I noticed that, with a two-second delay, the same show was playing upstairs. Mr. Clyde and I were learning about strangelets.

But I could tell the cushions were taking me under. I had bought a comfortable couch. However, I vowed to stay vigilant. There were no striking matches, but I noted the sensory street lights coming on, the sliding glass doors being shut. I heard a dried leaf scrape against the pavement like a cracked and upturned dinner plate.

*

The next morning I set out for some research under the cover of a leisurely stroll through beautiful autumn weather. Although I had the look of an aged man enjoying his daily allotment of fresh air—a shaggy crew cut kept in nostalgia for the Marines, a sweatshirt over a shameful stomach—in truth, I was secretly scanning the islands of landscaping for signs of potential arson. Perhaps the arsonists had scouts, and perhaps these scouts left clues.

There were sirens rising up from the north. Hopefully not a fire, I thought, half out of genuine concern and half out of envy I couldn’t be there catching the bastards myself. I was on the other side of the complex when my wife buzzed in my pocket. I realized just before I answered that in my fatigue the night before I had forgotten to call and check in, tell her how my first day on the job went. I had never been away from my family like that, and admittedly, the etiquette escaped me.

But from the tone of her voice after I apologized, I gathered my wife did not mind the missed phone call. Without pleasantry, she told me that my daughter, Maddy, was deep in a science project and making too big a mess in the house. Since I had the space, she said, there was no reason Maddy couldn’t come over and make a mess of my place. “Saturday can be your day,” she said.

I was happy to see my daughter but worried about the amount of work left to do. My undercover jaunt had turned up nothing and there were only so many excuses I could give for picking through mulch in flowerbeds. But it was a nice walk. Surprisingly, the apartment complex was even quieter than our subdevelopment. There were no lawns to be mowed. No ice cream truck jingles. No teenagers roaring through on the Jeeps they got for Christmas. They would have been forced to a crawl like everyone else, portaging over the yellow, half-acre speed bumps that the Brits call, hideously, “sleeping policemen.”

I was shaking my head at the name, trying to get the image out, when, coming up on my apartment, I saw my daughter standing at the door. She had a camcorder and tripod in one arm, a three-part folding poster board in the other. At the exit back to the road, I saw my wife’s car pulling away.

“Hey, Roland!” Maddy called. “Nice crib!”

*

Since she was two and I decided to tell her the truth, my daughter has always called me by my first name. “Thanks for getting all the furniture out of here, Roland,” she said once inside. “We’re gonna need all the space we can get.” Maddy pushed my couch into the closet and unfolded her tripod.

“Do you want anything?” I said. “If you hold your nose the tap water’s all right.”

She was busy drawing little squares into her notebook—the one with the dolphins flying through space on the cover—then filling the squares with arrows and stick figures. It made me think I should have been doing the same, noting the measurements of apartment units, locations of the best escape routes, etc. My daughter has always had a way of making me feel less professional.

As she scouted locations, an idea began to take shape in my mind, perhaps inspired by Maddy, of an extensive fire-drill plan for everyone in the complex. I would have to pass out fliers to set up a time. Maybe the promise of a barbecue afterwards would get the job done.

“Aren’t you going to get that?” said Maddy.

I had never heard anyone use a knocker before and I guess it went unnoticed. Looking through the peephole, I found four or five mops of unkempt hair around the bottom. I opened the door.
“Maddy’s father?” said the child in front.

I recognized him, and a few behind him, from Maddy’s school plays.

Maddy pushed me out of the doorway and ushered them in. “Joseph, did you bring the chair?” she said to the short one.

He held up a collapsible wheelchair.

“Alex, did you bring your iPod?” she asked another.

His headphones fell out of his pocket.

“Benjamin, what about the sticks?”

Benjamin pulled a movie clapboard and a pack of chalk from his jacket. It seemed I wasn’t alone in wanting to work as hard as Maddy.

The knocker knocked again, and in the peephole I found another swarm of classmates.

“Get in here! You’re late!” said Maddy.

The place was quickly packed. I was in permanent danger of being toppled by Maddy’s gophers and yes-men. My only choice was to pull up a chair in the back and watch, maybe jot a few notes for my fire drill.

Maddy yelled and a kid slammed a clapboard in front of Joseph’s face. His legs were dangling over the wheelchair’s footrests and his head sat slumped into his collarbone. His hands hung over his lap, holding the iPod.

“Dr. Hawking,” said a boy sitting next to him. “Tell us: what’s at the end of the universe?”

Joseph made a few clicks on his iPod and a few tics with his lip while another boy standing over by Maddy spoke into a toy megaphone. “Space and imaginary time together,” he said, his voice now deep and electronic, “are indeed finite in extent, but without boundary. That would be like the surface of the Earth, but with two more dimensions. The surface of the Earth is finite in extent, but it doesn’t have any boundaries or edges. I have been round the world, and I didn’t fall off.”

Another question was asked and again Joseph pulled up his lip and clicked his iPod, keeping his eyes fixed ahead of him with hints of curiosity and delight. The less he moved, the more his eyes seemed interested, ambitious, wild. Maddy cast well.

“Take five!” she yelled.

Joseph jumped up and ran around the building, just to stretch.

I was impressed. It all sounded like something I could have heard on TV. “You’ll get an A plus,” I said to a student. “I’m sure of it.”

“We’ll see,” said the child. “The other group is shooting in the planetarium.”

The afternoon turned out to be as productive as the morning. Stephen Hawking himself was floating through my apartment, speaking simply and powerfully about the collapse of hydrogen giants. “That was stunning!” I said to Maddy after a take. “You have a real talent.” And she did. But I realized that the time I spent sitting in amazement of her hard work was just that: time spent sitting. The little notebook I had vowed to fill slipped from my lap, and just when I noticed, Maddy yelled, “That’s a wrap!”

A knock came at the door and the pizzas I ordered were welcomed inside. Someone hooked up the camera to my little TV and soon we were all putting back our third slice and reviewing the day’s work. The students were entranced, laughing and boasting, glued to the screen while I stole another slice.

But Maddy was doubtful of her success. “Something’s missing, something’s missing,” she would mumble, and her minions passed it on. Soon I noticed some students laying down their pizza and picking up equipment.

“What’s wrong? Do you guys want ice cream?” I said to a few.

“We’ve been dismissed,” they said.

Cell phones were brought out and parents dialed. Students were leaving in twos and threes, faster than I could say goodbye. A long line of headlights stretched outside, and I waved blindly, proving myself a responsible chaperone.

A few of the headlights suddenly switched off. I braced myself for confrontation—“Do you know how late it is?” “My Ethan should not be working this hard on a science project!”—but saw instead only college kids, slamming their doors and walking up to the apartment across the way.

The lights inside that apartment got brighter, music came on, and I could feel the bass. I began to wonder if the arsonists weren’t already embedded in an apartment just as I was. Did they have the resources for something like that? I wanted desperately to know if that beer had Whole Foods labels on it; perhaps that was the alcohol they used to spread the flames.

I rushed back to my notebook to mark every flip-flop and lower-back tattoo I saw. It felt good to finally have an idea. “Sorry, sir, my daughter was making a fascinating video” would be some excuse for the Chief.

“Whatcha doing?” Maddy said. The camera and tripod were again slung over her shoulder and the three-part poster board, now covered in banners and photos, was in her arm.

“Drawing a thong,” I said.

“Thanks for letting us use your place.” She walked over to the door. One more pair of headlights had come to rest behind her. They switched on to high beams and Maddy leaned in for a hug. “I don’t want her to think you’re keeping me.”

*

The lights were still bright in the apartment opposite. Their sliding porch door opened and voices—singing, laughing, shouting curses—filled the parking lot. I told myself I had no proof that they were arsonists, which helped assuage the cowardice, and retreated quickly behind my door.

Pizza crusts and plastic plates awaited my return on the living room floor, but I didn’t mind. It was a nice reminder of a nice day, what I had and the alleged maniacs across the street did not. I speed-dialed a friend. “You wouldn’t mind sending a couple of rookies out on a noise complaint, would you?” Brushing a few breadsticks into the crack between the cushions, I sat down and kept my fingers between the blinds until the uniforms came. I had a good laugh. The revelers would have to shut up and the recruits would have to suffer their abuse. But when I saw one of the college kids open the door and invite the cops in, I grew gloomy and turned up the volume on the Discovery Channel.

Again, the subject was the universe. Meteors were falling over a desert. It was a moving sight, especially coupled with the soothing rain sound effect. The light changed shape and soon the stars were water being poured into a fishbowl. A fish appeared rounding the bowl over and over and I felt a little bad for it. A deep voice came on telling me that although the fish could never leave the bowl, I shouldn’t pity it, because the line it swam was endless.

“How’s that supposed to make me feel any better?” I thought, and I might have said it out loud. “It would get so bored! And it could leave if it wanted to. Don’t some fish jump?”

“If it jumped it would die,” said the narrator.

“Well,” I reasoned, “that’s a form of leaving, isn’t it?”

The voice grew impatient. “Nevermind! You are stealing this from Mr. Clyde!”

The meteors came back. I heard the rain again, and an odd sound effect of dried leaves scuttering across pavement. A car ran over a speed bump, and, before I fell asleep, I said a short prayer for the policemen who had to sleep outside.


After I woke up I called Maddy’s cell phone but couldn’t get her. I tried her mother. “I’ve got a great idea for Maddy’s project,” I said. “Is she coming over today?”

“Just text her your idea.”

“You don’t understand, she has to be—”

My wife hung up. How’d she get so busy all of a sudden? I was the one with the job. There I was in my plainclothes underwear on the floor of an unfurnished apartment in a student’s apartment complex working my ass off. I reached for my notebook to prove it, but the spare scribbles I saw there reflected poorly on my discipline. I put on my pants. I would not waste the day.

With the notebook at my side I locked the apartment and set off into the field for inspiration. I managed to squeeze out a few half-hearted thoughts about removing the spare keys from under everyone’s mats, and a really laughable one about covering the grounds in dog crap. My idea: one squishy step and the arsonists would flee. But each thought was an embarrassment, an insult, and they quickly subsided to thoughts of Maddy’s project. Passing a dumpster, I had a strong urge to jump in and find some styrofoam I could sculpt into planets and moons, but I resisted.

The air was floral, pleasant. The revelers were passed out inside and the streets were mine. I felt flushed, warm, and as I walked further, hot. Up above the leasing office, a plume of smoke was drifting. I thought, Already? I had only begun to take notes, my phone was inside; I wasn’t prepared! But how was I to put that in the report? I jogged towards the plume, hoping the arsonists were not far behind, or at least the fire not too far gone.

At the office I saw nothing. The doors were locked, the lights out, and the smoke continued. The mini-gym was empty too, though the TV was blaring. I pounded on the doors of the the mini-laundromat, heard the pennies and buttons tossed around in the driers. I ran around the back, not having the presence of mind enough to look for footprints or lighters. The back of the laundromat was as pretty as the front, painted and landscaped. The grass grew flush with the first line of mortar in the bricks, where a pipe extended letting out hot air from the dryers, which met the cold air outside and—of course—turned thick white.

I sat down on the grass, up against the bricks, and tried to focus on that amazing floral air. At least there was no one to see me running around, I thought. In that sense a catastrophe was truly averted.

“Hey. Why don’t you keep a key under your mat?”

Maddy was standing over me. The light on the front of her camera was red.

*

I offered Maddy the leftover pizza back at the apartment. “It was a real treat to watch you work yesterday. How do you feel it went?”

“So, so,” she said, spooning the cream out of a Twinkie. “We haven’t hit it yet.”

“Hit it?”

“Hmm. Haven’t hit the core yet, the juicy bits.”

“I don’t know a lot about juicy bits, but I’m glad you brought your camera. I’ve been thinking about your film, and I wanted to introduce you to my neighbor, Mr. Clyde. I think he could add a really authentic touch. Not that Joseph isn’t any good, but why not make this a documentary?”

Maddy seemed intrigued. She consumed three more deboned Twinkies before her camera was done charging and I escorted her upstairs.

“Is it on?” I said outside Mr. Clyde’s door. “Are you ready?”

Maddy snapped her fingers in front of the camera. “Testing. One, two.” She gave me a thumbs up, looking even more professional than she did yesterday.

I looked into the little screen she switched around to face me and brushed the sleep out of my eyes. Then I knocked on the door. And I knocked again.

“Not home?” said Maddy.

“He can’t leave!” I craned my neck to peek through the windows but his blinds were closed. I turned to Maddy and sighed.

“Just push it open,” said a voice behind the door.

Maddy nodded me on.

Wheeling back slowly into the hallway was Mr. Clyde, a toy periscope in his tiny hands. “It’s how I look through the peephole,” he said.

Mr. Clyde was probably a small man even standing up. His banana peel body fell to one side of his chair. His slacks looked pressed; his shoes were tied. A piece of string wrapped around his globular head connected the ends of his glasses.

“Excuse me, Mr. Clyde,” said Maddy, the viewfinder still cupping her eye. “I’m leading a science project about Stephen Hawking.” Leave it to Maddy to ditch the small talk. “My father suggested I interview you about your similarities with Dr. Hawking.”

Mr. Clyde smiled. “I don’t know if I’ll be much help,” he said. “But come in, come in.”

Mr. Clyde gestured toward his living room arrangement and we sat down on his sofa, a shade more faded and an inch less poofy than mine. I wondered who, if anyone, had ever sat on it before. I never heard any footsteps when I was downstairs, so I don’t think he had any visitors. The sofa served a more general purpose. He could not use his legs, and yet he had them. The same was true for his sofa.

“I apologize for the spare set-up,” said Maddy. “I usually have a crew with me, lights, microphones. I’m afraid I’m as unprepared for this as you are”—she glared at me—“Could I ask you to say something for me?”

“Say something?” said Mr. Clyde.

“A little more.”

“What would you like me to say?”

“Got it.” She looked up from the rising and falling lines on her little screen. “How long have you been using a wheelchair, Mr. Clyde?”

“Since I was a teenager.”

“What were you like as a teenager?”

“Normal.”

“Were you passionate about science then too?”

“I was never any good at science.”

“Does your limited physical space give you free reign over a vast, uncharted mental space?”

“I like things quiet.”

It occurred to me I should have been more specific in describing what I knew about Mr. Clyde. But this was an awkward time to clear things up. I urged Maddy on.

“Mr. Clyde,” she continued, “do you find people discount your intellect on account of your condition? How do you cope with that?”

“People are generally very nice.”

“When did you notice you were losing your mobility?”

“After the car crash.”

“Is your family supportive of your research?”

“I have a stamp collection. Do you mean are they supportive of my stamp collection?”

Maddy turned to me, put her palm over the mic, and sighed.

I felt she was asking for my help. The camera was rolling and, subject or no subject, she needed a film. If I couldn’t find any arsonists, I could at least make a good eighth-grade science project. “All right,” I said. “Now we won’t take up too much more of your time, but I think we’re ready to delve into some juicy bits. Sound ok?”

“Ok,” said Mr. Clyde.

“In your opinion, does the universe have a boundary?”

“A boundary?”

“An edge.”

“Does it?”

“Let’s say you think it does. Now, can the universe still be infinite?”

“I’ve never thought about it.”

Maddy was turning red, and not her embarrassed shade, the angry one. I needed to prove to her that I retained at least some small part of yesterday’s work. “Well, Mr. Clyde, I know a certain Stephen Hawking who would be very disappointed in you.”

“I don’t follow classical music.”

“Stephen Hawking! He’s all over TV!”

“I don’t watch much TV.”

“Well, I wouldn’t either, but there’s nothing else to do here! And it’s free!”

“Yours is free? I pay every month.”

“Well, thank you Mr. Clyde. I think we got everything we need.” I was getting a little angry too. Mr. Clyde’s paraplegia did not affect his brain, so it wasn’t a total tragedy. The tragedy was that his brain wasn’t that great to begin with. Unlike Hawking, Mr. Clyde’s dead-fish expression had less to do with his condition than with his dead-fish thoughts.

“I hope your video comes out well,” he said, wheeling behind us to the door.

“We do too,” I said. “We’ll try and get you a copy when it comes out.”

“No we won’t,” Maddy whispered.

I followed her out, but stopped, remembering my own work. “You wouldn’t happen to hear anything strange outside your apartment at night, would you Mr. Clyde? Anything suspicious? Footsteps? Sort of like leaves blowing?”

“I hear leaves blowing,” he said.

“Hmm, I hear that too.”

*

Maddy wouldn’t talk to me once we got downstairs. She called her mother for a ride and waited on the sofa. I would have gladly offered to take her back home myself if I didn’t think she’d bite my head off. I wanted to apologize to Maddy in the car for ruining her project when I couldn’t save my own. And if she didn’t want to go back home, if she wanted to go to the mall, or the movies, I would have done that too.

But my wife pulled up outside and honked. Maddy walked out without a goodbye and I was alone again. I should have closed all the blinds and turned on all the lights. I should have microwaved some hot chocolate and stoked the fake fire. The twilight was still very depressing. But I did nothing. On went the television, one more window for that cheerless blue-grey light. Grainy images from the surfaces of other worlds were floating across the Discovery Channel.

Pretty soon Maddy would be home, my wife preparing dinner. My work kept me away, quite far away really. I could see the arsonists through the craters on TV. They sat at a table in the middle of a Whole Foods café just outside the universe. Though they were surrounded by people, trays of food flying over their heads, children running between their legs, they never seemed to mind. They were involved in a lively discussion, almost athletic, full of old embarrassing stories shouted across the table, whispered secrets, and snatches of song. They were white, black, Asian, Indian; but all young professionals, people who knew that the world was before them and they were invited inside.

If I stared a little harder, and concentrated, I could see a young man in black-framed glasses, something of a ringleader, conferring with a young woman beside him. He was listing numbers, addresses.

The young woman said, “Ski masks this time?”

He shook his head. “Too hot. Why bother?”

I saw an Asian girl bragging to a friend. “I’ve been pretending to read meters for three weeks and no one notices! With a few more readings, I can find a way to take out three units in a row next time!”

A shorter girl, the Tiny Tim of the group by the sympathetic smiles she garnered, sat on a bag of charcoal, permanently perfuming her adorable red pea coat. “Do you know the body is two-thirds water and it can light on fire?” she said. “The world is two-thirds water too.”

I blinked and realized I hadn’t blinked in ages. I couldn’t afford to. All this strange information was coming so fast. I wanted names, phone numbers.

But the fluorescent streetlight switched on outside and drowned the arsonists out. I listened for a moment past the buzzing, hoping they were still there. But I heard nothing. The leaves took up again outside my door, a slight wind pushing them across the porch. If I were an arsonist hiding from a policeman who was disguised as a renter, a loner, a divorcee, I would disguise myself as a leaf and tiptoe as if I were scraping along his porch.

Soothing thoughts of infinity crept in to claim me: sun spots, my daughter’s discipline, the length of my evenings, the fact that the Discovery Channel goes on discovering even while I sleep.



*

The fire started at twelve that night. When my eyelids fluttered open for a brief moment, I thought: someone’s doing laundry. It wasn’t until the fire came in through the fake fireplace and lit across the carpet that I fully woke up.

I cannot remember the order of my thoughts. I remember the TV was burning but still on. I remember appreciating the little there was to save. And I remember noticing the lack of any emergency procedure. There was no line of neighbors outside passing buckets of water up to the fire. No one stormed in and threw me over their shoulders. The notebook that detailed all of those plans was a flying fleck of ash in the kitchen.

I slid into my shoes, placed by the door for such an occasion, and ran out through the flames with my hands over my face, tired, disappointed, hot. I should have left my wallet inside; that way I would have something to complain about too. But, as it stood, I lost nothing.

From the parking lot, the building looked like a fancy wrapped gift. One long sheet of flame wrapped up from the bottom porch to the tallest chimney, coming together in a smart bow. The flames, like a candle’s flame, were not violent. There was barely any sound. The bugs had flown off the streetlight. I suppose they had something bigger in sight. I noticed also there was no late-night kegger behind me. It was a good night to be drunk somewhere else.

I took out my phone and decided to call the wife before I called the Chief. I told my answering machine I’d be coming home that night, that the job was over, and she wouldn’t have to worry anymore.

The arsonists were surely on the other side of town by then. All they had to do to admire their work was turn on the news. The TV vans were probably already on their way, the fire trucks following shortly behind.

Uninterested in seeing the roof cave in or the windows shatter, I got into my car. The flames left my rearview mirror minutes out of the complex, the smell of smoke minutes later. Soon I was back to the homes that aren’t connected to other homes. I knocked on my front door and followed the retreating nightgown into the bedroom. Without undressing, I curled behind my wife. I did not miss my couch.

*

When I went in to surprise Maddy the next morning, I found her already hard at work—of course. Several monitors were set up on her desk and bed. “Did the school let you have all that?” I asked, tapping on her headphones.

“Hey,” she said. “Did you get off work today?” She seemed to have an eye on every screen, and didn’t turn around for an answer.

I ignored her question too. “How’s it coming together, champ?”

“Just working with this guy.” She brought up the blank face of Mr. Clyde. “He’s a little tricky. A lot of the stuff he says doesn’t make any sense put together. I’d ask if we can go back for some follow-ups, but I’m not sure how much more—Are you ok?”

My face went ashen. “We have to go,” I said. “Get your things.”

“Roland, I appreciate it, but more of the same isn’t gonna give me—wait up!”

I wasn’t sure if I expected Mr. Clyde to be alive, that in an act of belated heroism I could drive over and save him, or if I was going out of morbid respect, that I had to hold some peremptory funeral. I think I went in order to deliver an apology.

We drove in silence to the complex, and found my building a blackened skeleton like all the others before it. The caution tape was up but the cops were gone; there was no one to yell at me. I told Maddy to step carefully, the embers could still be very hot and the rubble could give way.

We walked into my apartment, much as I left it only without walls, and, tragically, without ceiling. Beside the heap of my sofa sat Mr. Clyde’s wheelchair. It faced the television, Mr. Clyde a small pile on its seat. Maddy, realizing that she had made absolutely sure to return her own prop wheelchair and had not left it behind, began to cry.

“I’m sorry, Maddy,” I said. “I failed.”

On the way back home she insisted we stop at the mall. I was happy to oblige. Her friends could cheer her up better than I could. But when we pulled up to the door, she asked me to get out with her. She took my hand and made a beeline to the pet store. “I’ve been saving up,” she said. “I want to buy a fish.”

We picked out a gold one with deep red fins. Removing the wad of allowance from her back pocket, she got a bowl, some flakes, and the fish. She held it up to the window on our way home, explaining to it everything it saw. Careful the fish didn’t fly out of its bowl, I drove very slowly over the sleeping policemen.

Issue No. 13, Secrecy - Vignettes



Issue No. 13, Secrecy - Credits

art ALEXA GARVOILLE
fiction JONATHAN TUTTLE

this issue of FOLIO made possible by MUSSY CLEARFIELD

Issue No. 12, Escape




Issue No. 12, Escape - A Thief's Best Friend is His Tote Bag



The Farmer’s Market reaches its peak time at ten o’clock – for me. The best goods are dwindling but the crowd is rising, and the buzz around their heads is thick enough to disappear beneath. It’s not exactly a Middle Eastern bazaar—there are no newsprinted fish flying overhead, no shouts from rotund fruit men to escaping boys with bulging coat pockets—but these farmers have a pomp all their own. They sit back in their homemade chairs, hands in their homemade pockets, stroking their homemade moral superiority, without even considering the amoral superiority beneath them. They are no match for me.

I walked the entire length of the market before I began, weaving down the aisles from the front of the tent to the back. I made sure the vendors were where they were the week before. I checked up on their inventory, noted the items furthest from reach, the big, the small, the wrapped, the unwrapped, and came to rest at meat. The meat tables occupy the end of the line for most shoppers. Men who think that blood will trim the femininity off their aprons stand arms crossed and snug behind coolers of plastic-wrapped flesh. The coolers present a challenge unlike that of a stray head of broccoli, but it’s better to get the hardest part over with first.

A mustached man still nursing the toothpick from a sample of cheese approached the butcher. His wife was held up somewhere, probably baskets, and he was determined to get the most out of his morning. “Do you know I’ve always wondered,” said the man, “at what age a veal is no longer a veal.”

The butcher cocked his head. “A veal?”

“You know, is the year a calf’s a cow the year a veal’s not a veal? Or is a calf never a veal until it’s dead? Or does it matter? Ha! A veal’s a veal’s a meal!”

While the butcher busied himself with his affronted stare, I swept four links of his best blood sausage into my empty tote bag and walked away.

My bag says “PBS” on its side. I stole it during a fundraiser. There are many just like it all across the market, though the sausages inside them are probably wrapped in receipts. It’s important to blend in. You blend in so you can blend out. I wear cargo shorts and a beige rain hat. I wear an over-large t-shirt because I am very small.

People dress their Saturday worst for the Market. Their least-favorite shoes wade in the mud between stalls. Any other day and they’d be whining, but today they gladly stride, sucking in the mess of global thoughts and local acts, even taking their dogs along with them to churn and contribute to the slush. I pet one.

There were a few leaves of chard left on the center vegetable table and the crowd politely danced around them, waiting to strike while pretending they were interested in kale. The vendor was chewing a honeycomb lent from the seller behind him. He moved slowly with his chores, opening rolls of pennies in his battered tin cash box, licking his finger to open a paper bag; all giving the impression he was a humble man who enjoyed life’s sweet simplicities, that we were guests on his front porch. But after he got his finger into the bag, he would smile and flick it downward so fast the air popped in like a gunshot, waking everyone up from their courtesy and moving them closer to the chard.

I buzzed in and out of the circle, trying to find the best position, stretching my hand out over the leaves only when the vendor smacked a bag open. With each smack I got a little closer, the crowd got a little more confused, and on a smack so hard it blew the bottom of the bag out, I touched the chard.


“Mon-ey chan-gers!”

The cry from the middle of the tent was loud and drawn-out, the anger in it mounting syllable by syllable. Just as everyone turned to see who had screamed, I wrapped my hand around the chard like it was a Golden Ticket and went giggling, really giggling, out of the circle.

I looked for my benefactor but saw that only Jesus had arrived, that is, the homeless man who calls himself “Jesus.” It was a bit late for him, and he looked more frazzled than usual. He cut right into the middle of the market and paced barefoot up and down the aisles. His typical blue bathrobe was dragging in the mud. His Speedo was lost in the hair of his thighs and stomach. The beard, as one would suspect, was grown to effect––less so the fingernails.

I am always happy to see him. As someone who is paid very little attention at the Farmer’s Market, and always hopes to be paid a little less, it helped that Jesus was around. I would have tried to be crucified next to the real one too.

“Out! Out! Money changers!” It plainly came from Jesus. Usually, his mumbles were low and undirected. This was strangely coherent.

A few disapproving glances were sent in his direction. He was finally making a commotion too loud not to glance at. Was this a performance piece? the shoppers were sure to think. Do farmers perform “pieces”? Was this a shouting schizophrenic they had heard on the street before? If so, which one?

“My house shall be called a house of prayer and you scum are making this a robber’s den!”

Jesus took his raving down the aisle, so that’s where I took my tote. I stayed behind and three shoppers to his right. Appropriately enough, a pair of Philistines was selling hummus at his next stop. Jesus dragged the tip of his finger through their sample cup, as if he were writing in the sand, and smeared a line of the Roasted Red Pepper over his mustache. Jesus was an intimidating figure even without the menacing gestures: six foot something with a football player’s build. Understandably, perhaps expecting a slingshot to come out of his bathrobe, the Palestinians pulled back in fear, and just enough for them not to notice my collection of their pastries.

Beside them, the community’s favorite married couple was operating a children’s puppet stand. Their show concerned climate change, I think. There was a sun and an ailing dragon. Jesus was transfixed. Landing on the lap of a less-than-transfixed girl in the front row, he kept his eyes on the bare wrists below the sock puppets.

Before long, it was apparent Jesus’ attention was out of disgust, not admiration. “Where is your farm?” he said to the wrists. “What land do you till?”

The puppet couple was unused to audience participation. The show went on until the screams of children brought their heads above the curtain.

Jesus had taken his swimsuit off. He pulled the dragon sock from the husband’s hand and slid it over the offending organ. “What seeds do you plant?” he shouted at the puppeteers. “What fruit do you pluck?”

While parents and children were covering their eyes, I took the tote of an outraged mother and pushed it into my own.

I was thrilled. My tote was fuller than it had been in weeks. Jesus and I were truly working as a team. I’m at the mercy of the nearest diversion in my job, and with Jesus, there could not have been a greater mercy. I wanted to pull his sleeve along with me so we could skip together to the next farmer. But I couldn’t risk anyone thinking this marvelous accident was somehow planned. I ran to baskets and only prayed he ran along with me.

The baskets were typically impossible to fit into my tote, but with Jesus still screaming, I felt the impossible was ready to be tried. I looked for the small ones, the widely woven ones that could be easily collapsed. The seller, a shy tee-totaller with a beer belly, was watching all the commotion at the puppet stand, and when I saw her eyes widen and her lips separate, I knew backup was on the way.

“Silly ass!” Jesus shouted at the basket weaver. “Liar! Hypocrite! Money changer! From what tree did you pick these twigs? Are you a farmer or a demon in a silly ass’s clothing?”

He took her credit card slider, pressed it against her head—“Out demon! Leave this ass behind!”—and ran the slide over her white curls. “Out!”

He was angrier than I thought. I was concerned, but had no time to ask the woman if she was all right. My tote was heavy and begging for more. I stopped searching for the easiest basket, just grabbed the nearest handful of reeds.

More and more people from the corners of the market were coming inwards to spectate. Looks of concern dotted the crowd. As everyone had left their cell phone at home to more fully experience the authenticity of the market, no one could call the police. The bored son of a butter churner, his Tonkas having run the gamut of possibility, came back in from his trucks and wriggled his way to the front. His face was glowing. He was entertained. Saturday had finally lived up to its name.

Ducking under arms and purchases, I found the soy table next door and, just as I wished, Jesus found it too. He picked the teenager who was manning the table up by the collar and shook him furiously. I hid behind a barrel of soybeans.

“Do you know who I am?” Jesus spat in his face. “Do you know who I am?”

“Who are you?” said the teenager.

I was reaching my hand up into the barrel when Jesus suddenly pulled it away from me. He raised it over the teenager’s head, beans pouring over their shoulders, and let it drop. The barrel had a false bottom two inches down. The poor boy’s head cracked straight through and he teetered around, seeing stars where there were supposed to be soybeans.

This must have been some kind of last straw. A group of thirty-something male musicians, all shaggy beards and plaid shirts, closed in on Jesus with chivalrous frowns. Some tackled his legs, others his arms, flying up in squid-like fury.

“Sell everything you own!” Jesus shrieked, the musicians having forgetten to cover his mouth. Perhaps it was his awful smell, but once they had throttled his chest, they backed off a little and Jesus wriggled free.

“Sell everything you own, not everything you make!” He toppled the next five stands, pulling out tablecloths like a bad magician and flipping over tables. I had to run ahead of him so he wouldn’t wreck the items I had my eyes on (I once had to take a head of lettuce from the ground and was very disappointed). I ran backwards, holding my tote out under the tables as Jesus filled them up.

Unfortunately the plaids conquered their senses and mustered the strength to bring the schizo down. I could do nothing to help him, just stepped back and watched. It was a horrible sight, like the tent of a three-ring circus falling in on an elephant. They dragged him back to meat, his ankles bobbing through the mud, his beard stuffed into his mouth.

“—everything you own” was the last I heard him say, and I was almost certain the first word was “steal.”

The vendors quickly relit their pipes and blew the sweet smoke over the crowd, anxious to get their audience back. They opened a few more jars of dijon or chutney or dijon-chutney, the tops shooting like champagne corks into the silence.

My shoulder was aching from the weight of the tote, and I thought, sans companion, maybe I should just go home. My spoils were plenty. My shoulder needed icing. However, the pretzel sticks left out for the taking sent a strong reminder of the task at hand. Duty first, I breathed deep, pulled my hat back over my eyes, and wrapped my arms around the pyramid of mustard jars. With or without the perfect diversion, I had to finish what was already the best day at the Farmer’s Market I ever had.

I wondered, scooping roasted walnuts from their buckets, whether Jesus ever noticed my darting around beneath him and if he realized how much he was helping. I would have loved to thank him. Alas, we could have never met, since I can never be noticed.

“Hello there,” said the florist. “You’re carrying quite the load.”

Flowers were my last stop, the farthest point possible from meat. The florist set up her stand outside the tent, where there was grass instead of mud, and where she could greet the families walking in. They were all carrying heavy loads, so I ignored the florist and kept on for her daffodils.

“Did you see Jane Eyre last night?” she said. “Excuse me, Jane Eyre?”

The petals in the front were a little peaked, so I rifled through to the back. I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Was it all you hoped it would be?”

“What?” This may have been my first spoken word at the Farmer’s Market. It hurt my throat.

Jane Eyre. Masterpiece Theatre.” She pointed to my tote.

“Yes, PBS, it’s—”

“All you really need, isn’t it?”

So she wouldn’t be able to inspect anything past its insignia, I shifted the tote around to my back.

“Do you have something specific in mind?”

“Specific?”

“A flower.”

“Yes, a flower. I have a flower in mind.”

“Is it for someone special?”

“No...”

“I think this one sets your hair off nicely.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes.”

I reached into my back pocket, again a first, and pulled out the change I had taken from the Leave A Penny, Take A Penny.

“Please, please, it’s on the house,” she said.

Obviously, she wasn’t like my other Farmer’s Market companion. But although she smiled and Jesus frowned, both expressions carried vast generosity. I nearly melted under hers.

I took the flower. “For me?”

“Put it in your tote, Tote-man.”

I put it in my hair.