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JUNE 2020

2020  •  ISBN# 9781970033113  •  228 pp  •  6" x 9" paperback

Night Picnic is a journal of literature and art. We seek to share and celebrate all that is strange, dark, jubilant, complex, confusing, scary, mystical, fantastic, multidimensional, and metaphysical.

This issue includes:

Tanner Cremeans, A Silent Home

TeaJae Glennon, The Girl in the Violet Coat

Cass Francis, From Where You Stand

Jonathan Koven, Laila

Laura L. Petersen, Sweet Susan

Hannah Melin, The First Tattoo

Eugene Voron, Smithereens

J. J. Steinfeld, A Bewildering Message & other poems

Alan Elyshevitz, Dark Eyes (Continued) & other poems

RC de Winter, last winter’s apples & other poems

Margarita Serafimova, The Magnificent Man & other micro-poems

Mark Kessinger, The Muse of Mardi Gras & other poems

Lenny DellaRocca, Cherri & other poems

Thomas Piekarski, Ballad of Lola and Lotta

This issue also includes Russian translations of the above titles.

Enjoy a selection of work from this issue below:



A   B e w i l d e r i n g   

M e s s a g e   o f   D e s i r e


On a night of winds and regret

she appears before you

an ancient mythical smile

on a face of mysterious beauty

which myth you’re not certain.


Where have I reappeared?

Would an ancient deity

even bother to embrace me?

she asks, her hands touching yours

a bewildering message of desire.


Still smiling, time dissolving,

she claims more identities than planets

can disappear and reappear

like a long, lingering kiss

that ends too soon for one

not quick enough for the other.


She aches for love

for undefined ardour

for intimacy with someone

who has memorized another’s

life story of sadness, despair,

and delicate artifice.


Trembling, defying language

yet reimagining love

you devise a new identity.

absorb the winds

and banish regret.

O n   t h e   E d g e   

o f   t h e   S u r r e a l


Morning light imprisons you in waking

(at least that’s the visceral metaphor you punch out)

and you stare into the nightmare of boredom

(an abundant morning for disastrous imagery)

curse your routine of begging for forgiveness

and a glimpse of something sanctified.


After a bitter coffee impersonating a genial poison

and, don’t forget, a melodious creaking of bones

yours and the memory of brittle loveliness

then your implausible day begins.


How to describe the next few hours

of stumbling over language and sequence

(even harder to believe, believe me)

but here is the crux of the implausibility:

accidentally learning to somersault

accidentally discovering a secret passage

accidentally touching the fingertips of ambiguity

accidentally identifying an awe-inspiring ancientness

accidentally falling into a soothing melancholy

accidentally turning into someone’s half-humorous vision

colours and sounds and the prospect of pain

a miscellany of sensation and imprecision

a muddle of mismatched biographical details

you made it, barely,

dreaming awake as a bureaucratic error.


What a day you’ve had

what a breathtaking day

tomorrow, you can only hope,

will be half as good and its goodness

doesn’t leave you in worrisome disrepair

or in the grip of an unforgiving holiness.




M o r a l   W h e r e w i t h a l


Walking to a local internet café,

strong coffee and cyberspace enticing me,

out of nowhere, geographic or otherwise,

an unrehearsed Greek chorus

from an unproduced tragedy

shouts out the words moral wherewithal

one, two, three more stentorian times —

then posing the baffling question:

Do you have the moral wherewithal?

I wonder why in the world

does a chorus, Greek or otherwise,

use such an unwieldy phrase

and I foolishly yet politely ask,

“Moral wherewithal for what?”


Do you have the moral wherewithal

to escape the gravitational pull

of memory?


Do you have the moral wherewithal

to flee from the imaginary horrors

turned real?


Do you have the moral wherewithal

to banish the playful magic

turned malevolent?


Language and meaning

scraped by the questions

and the words moral wherewithal,

I plunge into silence

and headshaking resolve.

The questioning resumes

as close to the absurd

as to the meaningful:


Do you have the moral wherewithal

to abandon your definitions

and revise your world view?


Do you have the moral wherewithal

to remove all your defences

and face the world unencumbered?                  

Do you have the moral wherewithal

to join us on stage

for a new tragedy?


I turn and run with abandon,

forgoing strong coffee and cyberspace,

looking for another sense of theatre,

different voices out of nowhere,

geographic or otherwise.


D a r k   E y e s   ( C o n t i n u e d )


Dark eyes repel the sun and its peculiar leanings.

For an instant, they lens the world upside down,

then disembark at the equator. When a massif rises

within them, they become a spontaneous zealot

and show disdain for beach bunnies from coast

to coast. Dark eyes practice the viola while thinking

of buses rather than skateboards. They visit a clinic

at dusk under an assumed name and name their future

children with imaginary vowels. Sometimes admired

for infamy, they feel obliged to transport cell phone

triggers. Dark eyes estimate this night’s salvo

with uncanny prescience. I have asked them to make it

easier to read them. I have asked them to fasten

their wisdom with a magnet to a smooth, cool surface.

O b j e c t s   A r e   C l o s e r 

T h a n   T h e y   A p p e a r


Objects are closer. They appear and never disappear.

Some say it’s mirrors, I say assembly plants.

Have you not seen the molds for thermoplastics?

The convoy of Maersk on the Pacific?


In the sleep-smeared dawn of ten-million almonds

locally grown, so many items spin on spindles,

giving visible form to air. My hometown enjoys

a confetti storm. Nobody sweeps overnight.


I am a steward of squat and slender things.

I still own music in a pile of saucers.

That swivel chair reminds me of dim office work.

I like to feel cozy. The kitchen island

is a restful vacation. Nothing makes me happier

than a handy contraption for potatoes and cheese.


H a i r c u t


Tonight I dine on venison

prepared by a bullet

and a hypertensive chef


At the bar sits a woman

with a restaurant face

reflected in a spotless mirror


In direct sunlight

such a face resembles

a dietetic breakfast


She pulls her mojito

toward her

a preamble or reflex


The walls of my suite

though decorative

lack a certain agility


By now the woman

has recoiled into the novelty

of another man’s room


The sheen of her lipstick

has subsided but not

her wanderlust


The night is a slow

lava flow and black

as lava when it cools


From the lower floors

the sounds of gambling



Why am I here

and not



in a barber’s chair

doing something useful



more precisely

having something useful

done to me?




A k h m a t o v a   # 5


Anna, I prefer to watch

Your uncommon belly, your

Nude white fingers, your

Pleasure as breathless as a sneeze.


Skinned alive, your zoo

Of desires bares a thousand

Fangs of novelty in the cage

Of my low-risk eyes.


I beg to bed you in a lewd bath

Of dreams, to fathom you until

Your image is fixed and imprinted

On my perfect need.


l a s t   w i n t e r ’ s   a p p l e s


i don’t know why i dreamed of apples

especially these apples

they were old

well on the way to withering


one of them colored in a way

positively weird

dystopian rainbow shades

staining its topmost curve


they sat on a shelf looking sullen

and why not?

they’d obviously been neglected

left to age forgotten

in some old and rotting barn


the dream shifted

and the apples were my breasts


still sullen at being left

to age forgotten


a man

(i don’t know who he was

i never saw his face)

was lying underneath me as

tugging and pulling with clamped lips

he sucked my wrinkled nipples


they stretched


far past beauty

even in the dream i writhed with shame

that these withered breasts

had been revealed                                                              


some say apples are temptation

but i doubt that man was tempted

i’m sure he got no pleasure from his

determined ministrations


i think he was demonstrating

expertly so i could not forget

my fall from beauty’s grace      

D a i l y   G r i n d

A new day.

No, not really.
Not a new day, just another.
No day is new to her.

She lies on her pallet,
eyes shuttered against atomic intrusion,
unwilling to move.

She knows it's a time loop,
a rerun of a tired script,
the same performance
of a neverending play.

She will see the same faces
(if she sees any at all),
read the same clichés
(from the usual suspects),
go through the same set of motions
(her life has become automated).

There will be no new music,
no incremental change,
no great surprise,
nothing but the mundane magic
she can perform in her sleep.                                          

She forces herself
to begin the monotony waltz.
Eyes open, one leg swings over
and up she gets.

She heads for the shower,
(a fitting place for the washed-up player she is),
and there hangs her usual costume,
ready for the daily masquerade.

Looking at the limp clothing

she steps into the tub,
sighing as she pulls the curtain,
wishing to God she could
burn the cloak and the stockings,
wear comfortable shoes
and dress like the ordinary woman
she wishes she was.


T h e   M a g n i f i c e n t   M a n


Chiaroscuro of gray clouds and savannah,

and among the contrasts – black, your eyes

in the deep of the radiant.

The sky becomes you.

Why is everything solemn?

The windswept sea in glorious light –

a banner of the planet;

the radiant pines’ fragrance deep in the heart.

It is blowing.

This is the morning after the past.  





I was watching the hill, and in it, saw

something of the heavens.

A shadow of a seagull passed.





The consummate motion.

The human hand

letting go.






The future is walking slowly,

it is carrying the day.





The mountain and rays are dancing

in quantum speechlessness.

Watching is love making.




T h e   G r e a t   S e a


Green, formidable, ready for death.

You love yourself,

or with the waves you fall.


T h e   M u s e   o f   

M a r d i   G r a s


She was so relaxed.


Donning the park bench

like Penelope upon the divan.

Cowgirl boots crossed at the ankles,

seated side wise in a rodeo recline

that sparkles championship.


From the float they see her,

brim meeting grin, shades in place,

an iridescence of chosen colors

clashing in just the right pitch of festive.

So relaxed, they strain to throw strings of beads

overhand, to reach her, rewards

for someone not even asking


they adorn her, impromptu queen,

on a slat and wrought iron throne.

B o r r o w e d   

I l l u m i n a t i o n


I am in the parking lot of a dying Sears

reading by borrowed


I have two slim volumes

by a woman who took me

under the arm of her own muse


she never told me I would be this

half a century later

the one still alive                                                              


I have so many questions for her now.

Back then, we only talked about me.

She collected islands.


She had mastered the

skewed congruence

I could only recognize as fencing.


It was a fence of closets

only a longer life

could decode.


In that

we are still





p a n c a k e s ,   

w e e p i n g   s y r u p


a man looks down

and to his right

a glass of water

cold enough to bead

but nothing else


another man studies his phone.

a waitress struggles towards her table

the manager buses broken dishes as back up.

some customer studies their bill.


Across from him sits his other.

The table is wide and nearly howls

with emptiness.

The food is slow.


The phone guy looks up

the waitress chants the drink menu

the manager stands, pulls down her shirt

some customer fumbles in their wallet


the water bead just sits there

too stubborn

to fall


C h e r i


I lusted after a girl with freckles and full lips.


Dizzy with the jazz of girls,

the color of her hair


lacerated my thighs

with red whips.


She hadn’t seen my leopards

incoherently blazing


at the sound of her name,

my hand a fist of flowers


on the other side of town,

until one night stars in Virgo


recited a poem in her heart,

opened her green eyes.


In ’67 she was all bliss and fire.


I still dream of her mouth.

So young and irresistibly



V o y e u r s


I felt anxious when Anastasia said she’d pose naked.


Henry and I had to stand on the porch though it was his house.

                                                                                                                        July was summer’s tongue.


                              I wanted another coffee but had to wait.


               Through the window Henry and I looked at his Frida Kahlo prints

lining the dining room walls, Daguerreotypes from 19th century France.


                                                                           Anastasia came down the stairs in a red towel.

               Clara stood in the parlor with the video camera on her shoulder.


Henry looked away, said he was going to quit smoking, as if it worked that way,

like something he’d put on his calendar—a night of wood cuts and engravings

                                             at a local museum. He smiled. I think he smiled, it was dark.

Anastasia dropped the towel. She wasn’t pretty—pale shoulders, a bent knee—

                                                                           erotic in a strange way,


the way a mango’s scent ruins a rose.

                                                                           Clara wrapped her in cellophane, told her to roll

back and forth on the Persian rug while she pointed the lens,


                                             the red light blinking.


                                                            Afterward, she let us inside while                                                            

Anastasia went up to dress. Clara served coffee and apple pie.


Henry pulled one of his eyebrows the way an actor might when trying to steal a scene.


I was staying the night. So was Anastasia.

After we read our awful poems, we left everything on the table and went up.


Anastasia said I only like girls as she slid beside me after taking off her bra. I                                                             slept naked. Click off the ceiling fan, she said.  And so I stood on the bed pulling the  


cord watching her watch me pull it the way a girl on a hot summer night watches a man

                                                                                          when he’s alone.




L a t e   f o r    t h e   S k y


I watch my wife’s eyes the way a man watches a woman sleep

                                                                                                                        except this is breakfast

at McDonalds. We're talking about Westminster Abbey, the London Eye

                                                                                                                                       until Jackson Browne’s song

comes on and fills that part of my heart that is a hollow stump.


We'll have a picnic in Hyde Park, Marie says, watch blokes in a pub

have a row while drinking pints of dark ale.


One of them is 22 years old, his head in a cloud,

                                                                                          in love with an office girl

who curses a jammed copier, cuts his hand in the hot machine.


                                                                                          Blood on his sleeve.

My sleeve.


Marie’s smile is all about the Tate, but all I do is nod.

I’m in my old apartment the day Susan brought her laundry.

                                                                                          Jackson Browne on the turn table.


I tell Marie that clear pod 433 feet above the Thames scares me half to death,

                                                                                                         the half of me across from her


at McDonalds.


B a l l a d   o f   L o l a   a n d   L o t t a

We drooled over Marilyn, fawned Bettie Page,
Were reeled in by Gloria Vanderbilt’s glamor,
Adored Princess Diana who dodged paparazzi
And idealized Liz Taylor throughout her career.

Today in this age of digital transmission
It’s easy to forget stars who lit the stage
During centuries past, the fabulous talents
Who entertained masses around the world.

Too numerous to name, but among them two
Talented women whose fame lives in memory
Of those who would engage Gold Rush lore,
One Lola Montez, the other Lotta Crabtree.

Their fates linked by what might seem chance,
That is unless you would concur that destiny
Plays a vital part in our future realities. Herein
The story of how those two became entwined.
During 1849 a collection of shabby ruffians
Lately mustered out from Zachary Taylor’s
Army after proud victory in the Mexican War,
Sought a fresh challenge, headed to California.

Thousands of frenzied fortune seekers
Did likewise, expecting to strike it rich
In California’s incredible Mother Lode.
When one of the soldiers stubbed his toe

On an 18-pound nugget they came to a halt,
Scouted the area, discovered streams, gulches,
Ditches and riverbeds flush with gold. Quickly
They set up tents and commenced to prospect,

Collecting nuggets and dust. Word got out,
A rowdy town sprung up almost overnight
And soon the population swelled to 3000.
Its founders named the new establishment

Rough and Ready after the fabled general,
Their champion Zachary Taylor. The miners
Blended well despite innumerable conflicts,
And prospered, that is until the government

Levied a monthly tax on everyone’s claims.
The citizens, firm in common indignation,
Revolted, threw off the yoke of authority,
Thinking the tax absolute highway robbery.

The rest of this poem is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.



A   S i l e n t   H o m e

               Loneliness consumed the small house in Sulfur Springs. Life passed the seventh house on the left of Cherry Lane, not knowing the consumption of staleness beyond the faded white door. Lonesomeness crept down the hallway and into the bedroom.

               The old man sat in his rocking chair and gazed out the window at the stars. He stared at the brightest one and wondered if it were Venus, or even Jupiter. It was neither and his younger self would have known that. The stars sparkled, seeming to sing songs that bore satisfaction to the man. Each night, he digested their lyrics and their beauty. It was less of a hobby and more of a habit, similarly to that of a husband kissing his wife before they part ways for work. He liked to think that in the morning, the stars descended to Earth and would burrow beneath the dirt and rocks and wait. As evening came, they would dig their way up to the surface. By night they’d ascend to their place in the sky.

               The man always slept until he was no longer tired. Sometimes it was early, but often it was midday, occasionally even knocking on evening’s door by the time he woke. During his working days as a mortician, he left for the funeral home bright and early. People often asked him questions regarding his stomach while dealing with the deceased. The truth was, it never bothered him. The only thing that did was having to sell the funeral home because it seemed not enough people were dying. Now, he couldn’t fix himself on a schedule even if he tried, but not that he ever would want to. He would have no schedule but his own, and therefore he was up all night for the speckled lights in the sky. His wife would lay in bed, silent as he sat in his chair. The room was always silent, and he remained awake for as long as he wished.

               She woke when he woke. There was not a good morning from him, no kiss from her, not even a look, but she woke when he did. George rolled Lois from their bed and into her wheel chair and they disappeared into the bathroom. After giving Lois her daily doses of medication (he liked to call it her medication, although it lacked certain qualities to be defined as such) he pushed her into the family room. He faced her chair to the television and locked her wheels as always. He took one can of ginger ale from the pantry and placed it in the refrigerator. “Would you like a waffle?”

               The woman didn’t respond — her face was locked on the television. Six was always the channel they watched. By the time George sat Lois in the family room, the morning news was rarely on — at that point in the day it was usually a reality court show, but more often it was a bad soap opera.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.


T h e   G i r l   i n   t h e   V i o l e t   C o a t


               I walked down the dark alley, my hands in my pockets, as I listened to the sounds of the city. Tires on the wet pavement, horns blaring as one driver cut off another. Faint sounds of a couple arguing high above me in one of the rent-controlled apartments. The bass of the club reverberated through me as I walked past the alley door. The noise of the city was almost overwhelming.  I should just move upstate, I thought. It would be quieter, but it might make some aspects of my life a little more difficult. I made a mental note to talk to my realtor tomorrow night. She got me the brownstone in the city, it shouldn’t be difficult to get a small farmhouse upstate.

               The girl I followed took a left out of the alley. I hung back. It wouldn’t do to let myself get spotted so early in the night. People, especially women, were far too observant in this day and age. Newspapers and websites loved to say that the new generation doesn’t pay attention anymore, but that just isn’t true. They pay more attention than you think. It’s made my life difficult.

               I turned the corner and glimpsed the girl a block or so ahead of me. Her long, violet coat stood out against the dark,dreary night. The modern world favored black so much that any sort of color caught my eye. I’ve been following her for awhile now. I bumped into her nearly a week ago as she was coming out of the library, and her books scattered across the pavement.

               “Shit!” She exclaimed.

               “I’m so sorry.” I said. I wasn’t usually so clumsy.

               I watched as she knelt to shove her books back into her bag, then I gathered up her papers for her. “It’s okay. I wasn’t paying attention either.” She stood back up, pushing her short, black hair out of her face. I handed the stack of papers back to her.  


               “My pleasure. And my apologies once more.”

               She slung the bag over her shoulder. “It’s okay, really,” she looked up at me. “Umm. Wow this is embarrassing. I totally forgot where I was going with that.” She shook her head as if to clear it.

               I smiled. “Have a good rest of your evening.”

               It was that moment I knew I had to have her. The scent of her rose perfume lingered on my jacket, on my fingertips where they had touched her papers. And that colorful coat. That’s what did her in, and she didn’t even know it yet. What brightness in a dreary world.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.


F r o m   W h e r e   Y o u   S t a n d


               It was her silent affirmations that kept her from going completely insane. Sure, she had gotten a little worked up the night before, when her neighbors were being loud, again — the canned soundtrack of a rom-com, interrupted by giggling voices whispering just low enough that you couldn’t make out the words. She had, as usual, screamed, “Shut up!” at the vent in the ceiling. And when there was no response but another burst of giggles, she beat on the adjoining wall until there was silence, and a bruise, gray like a smudge of pencil lead, appeared on the side of her fist.

               The people who were gathered outside cheered. “You tell ‘em, Brandi,” one of them shouted, hands cupped around mouth, yelling up at her wall that faced the street — the wall of glass.

               Brandi reminded herself, inwardly — I am beautiful and powerful and one with the universe. To prove her oneness with the universe, she noted her surroundings. The paint is white, the shower curtain is gray, the bed sheets are blue, deep blue like a coming storm. The desk is brown. The rug is purple. And the glass is… but glass doesn’t have a color, does it? No color except for the color of whatever was behind or in front of it, depending on where you stand.

               For a moment, Brandi stood with her fist panging at her side. She stared at the wall of glass that cut through the building, through which the crowd on the street could see into every apartment, into every room, into every life. She had agreed to live here, she reminded herself. It was an honor and a privilege. She moved on — the carpet was brown, the ceiling was white and popcorn, with little silver flecks that reflected the streetlight below.

               She needed to hold onto her sanity. It would be wrong to go mad here, to become truly unhinged. True madness, anyway, went unseen, uncelebrated. It was quiet and slick and wrapped its fingers around your wrist so it seemed like you were doing things you weren’t doing. True madness couldn’t be contained so easily, kept behind glass.

               Plus, living here was an honor and a privilege. The people had voted and she had been named one of the few that got to live in an open apartment. Less than a year ago, she had simply been a girl who worked at a department store, though she’d always been pretty and popular — and had a  way with people, her grandfather always said, and talented too. Folding clothes, doing inventory, taking crap from customers, Brandi had kept herself alive through her dreams. One day she’d be an actress, a singer, a star.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.


L a i l a


               Three days before her old eyes came out, she smoked opium for the first time. Laila sat on the edge of her bed with Hank beside her. The dense smell of cocoa and chamomile basked in her nostrils. Because Laila was blind, she breathed the smoke’s scent in, tasting enriched air collect under her tongue. She heard the flicker of the lighter twinkle off, and Hank inhaled. The bowl was then passed to her as Hank lit it for her, and she sipped in the smoke. The fragrance marinated her lungs, held captive inside her body. She wondered how long she could hold her breath. Finally, she abandoned the effort — imagining the smoke coalesce as storm clouds below her ceiling.

               High. The sensation of cooling air made a blanket around her. Imaginary cushions banked themselves atop her shoulders, against her neck — reaffirming her place. Higher, higher, sounds threw waves in her ears. They zoomed in, and then out, and then in again, as ripples through her ear canal. The noises cast themselves, opening, growing, and dwindling again.

He moved his hand to her thigh, and she let him touch her as no one had ever done.

“You sure?”

               Laila didn’t respond, but he touched her anyway. He was gentle with her, softly petting her like she was a sleeping dog. It wasn’t lovely, but she was sure he meant no harm, and she didn’t stop it.

               There was a version of death in this moment, when Laila felt a submission to time’s slow burn. There was nothing to stop the moment, no reason to try, and things happened unopposed. Falling, falling, falling, falling, and falling for five minutes as he continued — she felt desired, real, but empty.

Hank’s opium breath coated his tongue as it swirled in her mouth. She listened for the sounds of his lips, opening and then closing again — his tongue, and then his breath, passing into minutes, passing into daydreams. She took a count each time his teeth clacked against hers — nearly a dozen times — and she liked it. His panic and desperation coaxed her with action, telling her she was needed. Laila waited, unmoved but intrigued nonetheless, until his effort waned and stopped.

There was little high left in her body. It trailed off in rivulets from underneath her arms and down the small of her back. She imagined what sweat looked like. Was it blue like the water from the ocean was supposed to be? Was blue bright and majestic as she imagined it to be? Laila smiled thoughtfully, and Hank held her hand.

               “Are you afraid?”

               Laila knew he was talking about the surgery. She didn’t want to talk about that. No. She wanted to talk about the possibilities of sight. She was 18 years old and she’d never seen anything before. Since the surgery was scheduled, her father hadn’t stopped speaking about the beauties waiting for her on the other side. There was a blue sky spanning forever above their heads.

               She thought of the glory of a permanent sky. How, while it was pinned with clouds, white tufts carrying waters pilled blue. A hope for happiness squirmed in her brain. She was going to see beyond. Laila was going to be part of it all. There was something wonderful in being part of the world of sight.

               “No. I’m excited. I’m really truly excited to see.”

               “Good. I’m happy for you, Laila.” Hank slowly walked his fingers up her forearm, to the inside of her elbow, trying to tickle her. “So, what is the first thing you want to see? When you can see, what are you most interested in looking at?”

               “I want to see myself,” she said. He took his hands off of her. She assumed from his silence he wanted her to tell him she was interested in looking at him. “I want to see you right after. And I want to see the sky, and cars, and all of those things. You know what I mean?”

The rest of this story is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.


S w e e t   S u s a n


               She ran through the tall flowers. The rough ground tore into her bare feet, but nevertheless she ran. The sun was warm on her shoulders, her fine blonde hair streamed behind her, undulating like the waving field that surrounded her. She strained to keep running. Her lungs were filled with the scent of flowers — light, puffy, warm. She giggled through bursts of breath and tossed her head back behind her toward the sound.

               He trudged after her, a pickaxe dangling from one hand. The Sweet Black Eyed Susans grew as wild and high as his thighs but rather than walk between them, he walked through them, pushing them down and trampling them under his feet like baby birds fallen from their nests. He crushed each one like it didn’t need its life, like there was enough life and it was running away from him as he watched.

               She tripped, once. As she landed on her hands and knees, the scent of the crushed flowers overwhelmed her. The smell hit her nostrils and fled down her throat, choking her. She gagged. When she caught her breath, he was closer. She laughed and got to her knees. “You can’t catch me if you don’t run,” she shouted. Then she was up — her giggles thrumming through the Sweet Black Eyed Susans again.

               When she fell, his heart jumped like a fish caught in a trap. He was too heavy — everything was too heavy, to run. All of his concrete bones held him to the spot. There would be no running today. The sun glinted off everything — the yellow flowers with dark buttons for centers, their green stalks, her shiny hair, the blue sky — it all seared his eyes and glued his brain to his forehead. Would it seep out? The pickaxe became a cane, and he rested on it.

               She tugged at her dress so that it fell just below her knees. Her momma would be calling her to supper soon. She couldn’t play tag with this man for much longer. She was starting to remember she should be afraid of him — her momma had taught her to be afraid of strangers — but she felt sure in her legs and lungs, like many children at age nine or ten, that she could outrun any adult.

               He raised the pickaxe to his shoulder Paul Bunyan-like. The bright field and burning girl raged behind his eyes. She was no more than fifty yards from him. If he could bear the weight of the light, he knew he could catch her and have her. He could keep her and teach her.

               When he stopped to lean on the pickaxe, she thought she’d won. Though she’d have to circle back behind him to reach the house, she was certain he still wouldn’t catch her. She was known as a fast runner. The best runner at her school, in her grade, and even two more grades ahead of her. The boys couldn’t catch her. “I beat you!” She laughed at the grownup who couldn’t keep up, and then she stopped short.

               Her taunt brought his power back. He could see how easily in reach she was. The wind picked up, carrying a coolness with it that stretched across his face. Relief. Now he could do his work. He wiped his brow with his free hand, the pickaxe still balanced on his shoulder. Now he could finish this and move on to other work.

               Momma called her by her middle name (a family tradition), though she liked her first name better because when shortened it was the name of her favorite flowers growing in the field across from her house. Plus, Susan was easier to spell and fit her personality better than Suzanna Ophelia. She looked over her shoulder as the man took huge strides toward her, crushing her beloved Sweet Susans.

               She wouldn’t get away like the others. If she tripped again, he’d be on her. He’d not let a second opportunity go by. He swung his legs in front of him, killing flowers, insects, worms, dirt. He marched now, determined to reach her.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.


T h e   F i r s t   T a t t o o

               "No, I graduated last year —  are you still in college?”

Eric Lancaster nodded with faux enthusiasm as he watched the redheaded girl’s lips move. Her response was lost over the noise over the venue. He tried to keep eye contact as four more women pushed past him to the tightly packed bar. He grinned and nodded at the redhead. Her mouth moved again and she looked over her shoulder towards the stage. Eric leaned in, yelling into her ear.

               “Do you come here a lot?”

               The girl responded with a four or five-word sentence, some kind of explanation Eric couldn’t hear over the song’s bassline. She looked back to the stage and Eric followed her gaze. They were a half-decent collection of musicians about his own age, ripped jean-types who Eric knew would finish their night in the bed of a girl whose last name they’d never know. This downtown basement venue was far from Eric’s usual scene, but Prayna had asked him to tag along. She’d hugged him outside the doors and Eric found himself lingering on the smell of her mint shampoo before Jackson, her newest boyfriend, interrupted to ask if she wanted him to hold her jacket

               Eric had taken Prayna here before. He’d never been fond of downtown Cleveland, but she loved the current of crowds in a way he’d never been able to feel. He spent most weekends fighting traffic down I-90 just to let her hop through the waves of people.

               The redhead shouldered her way back to the edge of the bar. She gave Eric an apologetic grimace and sipped the drink he’d bought her. He read the tour dates on the back of her shirt as she turned her attention away from him. The band would be spending the next two weeks in Ohio. Eric wasn’t sure why Prayna insisted on going tonight — they had four more shows lined up for the city. Making a tour shirt for a three-state tour seemed overly optimistic.

               Eric let his smile drop as he scanned the crowd for Prayna. He spotted Jackson first, as he stood nearly a foot above Prayna’s petite frame. Prayna was bobbing along to the percussive-heavy pop music and Jackson put his hand on the small of her back, his fingers spreading wide enough to nearly stretch from hip to hip. Eric had a flash of what his own fingers looked like when they wrapped around Prayna’s back, the way she liked him to hold on to her hips when she rode him, before he found out she liked men with wider hands and stronger grips to hold on to her that way too. Eric downed the last of his rum and coke before turning back to the bar. The redhead had disappeared. He ordered another drink.



He woke up bleary-eyed to the smell of copper and tin on the mattress. The late morning sunlight heated up the room in a way that made his stomach flip over its remnants of bar food. His bedroom felt claustrophobic on a good day, but with the kicked-over piles of laundry and twisted-up bedsheets at the foot of his bed, the space closed in on Eric. There was a full-length mirror his mother had placed on the wall across from his bed (“to make the space feel bigger, Eric,”) but it only served to redirect a slight beam of sunlight into Eric’s eyes.

               There was an inkblot smear of ruddy brown on his worn blue pillowcase, run through with a railroad map of black lines. As Eric sat up to look closer, the bee-sting heat from his left arm struck him. He twisted his arm slowly, palms facing up, to look at the heat source on the inside of his bicep.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.


О с к о л к и

               Я всегда боялся смерти, того, что будет после — неизвестности. Кто знает, что там, по ту сторону жизни? Я боялся быть поглощённым тьмой, перестать быть собой. Когда воображал, что меня вдруг не станет, что я просто возьму и исчезну, становилось обидно. Ведь я столько мог бы успеть сделать, узнать, сказать близким слова, которые до сих пор не осмеливался выговорить. Сейчас, лёжа на земле и наблюдая за тем, как безликие твари поедают мои разорванные кровоточащие внутренности, я не боюсь. Я хочу покоя. Воспоминания сочатся по извилинам умирающего мозга.


               Родители. Комната, обставленная бесхитростной советской мебелью, ещё источающая запах тех времён. Мне около десяти лет.

               Всё началось в обычный семейный вечер. Родители приготовили ужин, включили старенький телевизор. Я их перестал видеть и слышать — мир для меня сузился до небольшого экрана. Из него на меня смотрели безликие существа. Я помню шипение и помехи изображения, словно антенна опять покосилась, и нужно было её поправить. Размеренный разговор родителей затих, когда из коридора послышался удар в дверь.

               И я не увидел, а как-то почувствовал всем своим существом, как их глаза наполнились ужасом. Странно. Я не помню выражения их лиц, но вот энергия эмоций крепко отпечаталась в памяти. Экран погас сам. Родители выбежали из комнаты, а я отполз за небольшую ширму в углу. Молча сидел, обхватив руками свои острые ободранные коленки. Я будто оглох. Мой взгляд был занят рассматриванием незамысловатого цветочного узора на жёлтой ткани. И тогда пришли «они». Я не решился высунуться из укрытия. Существа гудя, словно рой пчёл, бродили по комнате в поисках чего-то или кого-то. Вот-вот они найдут его. Но «они» не заглянули за ширму. Монотонный гул стих — ушли. Не помню, сколько я там просидел. Может быть, полчаса, а может, целый день. Желудок сжался, требуя пищи. Это, наконец, вынудило меня выползти и осмотреться. Комната была пуста. Какое-то время я питался остатками еды со стола, за которым мы собирались есть с родителями. Пища портилась и неприятно пахла, но мне было всё равно.

               Через месяц я опустошил холодильник. С кружащейся от бессилия головой бродил по квартире, выискивая, что бы ещё съесть. Когда я сидел перед выбитой дверью в прихожей и облизывал случайно найденный крошечный кусочек заплесневелого хлеба, вбежала большая костлявая крыса. Раньше я бы, конечно, испугался. Но сейчас мной двигало лишь чувство голода. Я подпустил грызуна поближе, дождался, когда крыса начнёт вгрызаться в мою босую ступню, и кинулся на зверька всем телом. Она надрывно пискнула, послышался тихий хруст её костей. Я слез с тушки, осматривая содеянное. Небольшая багровая лужица расползлась вокруг расплющенного тельца. Приник к полу, жадно слизывая кровь, ощущая её солоноватый вкус во рту. Но этого было мало. Я подобрал крысу и с силой вгрызся зубами в мёртвое тело. Мясо было жилистое и горькое. В моём затуманенном мозгу промелькнула мысль, что стоит оставить немного на потом. Бросил недоеденного зверька прямо в коридоре. Поднялся, почти не ощущая боли в прокушенной ноге, и шатаясь пошёл на кухню — посмотреть в окно. Там всё было по-прежнему. Стальное небо в грязных разводах облаков, опустевшие улицы, многоэтажки с чёрными глазницами выбитых окон. Я боялся выйти туда. Лучше умереть здесь, в родном доме. Я закашлял, сплёвывая кровь. Свою или крысы? Силы оставили меня, и я уснул прямо там, на полу.

               Меня разбудило знакомое тянущее чувство в животе. Вспомнил про оставленную в коридоре крысу. С трудом поднявшись на ноги, дошёл до прихожей. Трупик был там, но он шевелился, словно грызун ожил. Я опустился на колени, ткнул его пальцем и вздрогнул — из рваной раны в боку крысы выполз жирный червь. Я осмелел и перевернул трупик — из него вывалился целый комок желтоватых опарышей. Они сожрали мою крысу, моё последнее мясо. Я сглотнул слюну — кто знает, когда ещё сюда придёт что-то живое? Рукой зачерпнул опарышей, ощущая их шевеление на ладони. Зажмурился и пихнул комок в рот. Их тела лопались, когда я сжимал зубы. Сладковатый сок заливался мне в глотку. Из глаз брызнули слезы, я глотал, брал в руки ещё и ещё, жевал и тихо рыдал. Когда черви кончились, я отполз в сторону и лёг на пол. К горлу подступал комок тошноты, и я, как мог, пытался оставить внутри себя подобие еды, но организм не выдержал. Через секунду я уже лежал в луже своей рвоты. Прикрыл глаза и втянул в себя воздух. Пить... Но сил дотянуться до неё уже не было.

The rest of this story is available in Volume 3, Issue 2 of Night Picnic.

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