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**PRINT: STERNUM AS 3, by Louisville writer Jason Jordan, is No. 34.1, the latest in our mini-broadsheet series. What do you do when your best friend in high school has a peculiar ability to pull bones from a "compartment on the underside of his left forearm"? Why, built a skeletal replica of him, of course. This issue also comes with five prose pieces from Rick Henry's "Then" collection.

**PRINT: COLD WAS THE GROUND, by Chicago's Scott Stealey, is No. 34 in our broadsheet series. Gina, protagonist, a rather lonely condo dweller/office manager, strikes up a fleeting friendship with one Porgo, an Eastern European construction worker who is burying on her property what Gina takes for a time capsule. But the metaphorical fix is in -- Porgo, an ESL student, may be leading Gina in directions she canít exactly get her head all the way around. Enjoy. Chicago writer Stealey is editor of the Please Donít online mag.

JUST SAY NO Ben Tanzer
ASYMPTOTES Michael Balatico
AFTER THE FLOOD Pitchfork Battalion
from 'THEN' Rick Henry
WING & FLY: Bubbling up in Nashville, gassing it to Chicago | Todd Dills
CHARLIE's TRAIN a novella by Heather Palmer

Spencer Dew

Dew, author of our 31st broadsheet, lives and writes in Chicago. Check his magnificent short story collection Songs of Insurgency.

During the early months of her extended divorce, Melanie stayed out at the airport Hilton on the weekends and stray weeks when she wasn't away on business, her logic being, one, that Brad and his new dog and the girl from before and the girl from after whom he met of all places at his lawyer's office could all fuck themselves in the condo of which she owned a solid half because she didn't want to walk inside it again, and, two, because although the Hilton, in her terms, was skeezy, smelling like chlorine in all the corridors, she liked the maid service and the turn-downs and the mini-bar and, most of all, the real bar, where ladies drank free for happy hour, 4 to 8 p.m., 9 on Wednesdays, and pretty much perpetually if any of the folks she got to know and charmed sufficiently were on shift, including Carl and Hector and Eric and even Eliisabet, the Estonian girl with the eyeliner, who lived, along with some other primarily maintenance and janitorial staff, in one of a series of trailers out back on the Hilton grounds, and who was haunted by her dead baby, a three-month-old who, since passing, had grown teeth.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

But we didn't know about that at first. Melanie had walked in on Brad and the girl in late September, promptly moved out, etc., and in November she had a stint of training, in town, working on a new campaign, and I got in the habit of stopping by on my way out from the city at night, having a few drinks with her, taking dinner of free popcorn and gossiping about whatever thing seemed harmless and unconnected to her divorce, lawyers in general, or Depakote, which was the account she was working, Depakote and Depakote ER, Depakote Sprinkles, for the kids, with the little animated thing snaking around the logo. That's Depakotey, Mel explained. He wants you to stay happy, stay happy being a trademarked phrase on all the Depakote notepads, the miniature flashlights, pens and hi-lighters, golf tees, magnets, erasers, weird fat flat plastic paper clips, squeezy stress toys, and calculators.

Calculators? I said. When's the last time anyone had a calculator?

Texas Instrument, said Mel. This is an actual Texas Instrument calculator.

As seen in the Breakfast Club, I said.

We couldn't watch movies, growing up, she said, and since that was a segue into childhood, a subcategory of family, it was all nerve-tangled up with divorce and lawyers and death, the inconstancy of men and the impossibility of love and how we're all getting old and, well, death again, Brad's new dog, etc.

I'm his fucking wife, she'd say, I'm still his fucking wife, and his fucking wife fucking leaves him and what does he fucking do, he gets a fucking dog?

Pretty much any topic of conversation wormed back here somehow. This was still the early phase, which lasted till midsummer, after which time Mel finally rented a place downtown, lots of glass, started seeing a doctor who wrote Depakote scripts, and stopped answering her lawyer's calls when some new fact was revealed by the ongoing process of discovery. She tells me these things, Mel said, and I get charged, I get charged just for listening, for being on the phone. When they finally signed, she and Brad, it was entirely anticlimactic, over a year after the actual leaving.

Anyway, the emotional teapot aspect here really helped, I think, with rapport, with bartenders, with Carl, who was still bitter over his own divorce, and Hector, who wanted to sleep with Mel, and Eric, who was a Vanderbilt undergrad and a pretty heavy pot dealer entirely intrigued about the strategies of marketing and branding and loyalty-construction in, as he called it, the pharmaceutical industry writ large. More grassroots dealers should be in on this, he said.

Then there was the Estonian girl, with the eyeliner and the hips, whom Mel had early on picked out as a possible distraction for me, which was itself a trip-wired issue but gave her a kind of vicarious kick. She'd be good for you, she said. She doesn't look a thing like Eileen, though she usually went a little flat when she said that name.

Still, Mel would try and chat the girl up -- Eliisabet, with two Is right together, with which Mel attempted several failed puns. We'd get her to compare Estonia and Nashville, the music, the barbecue, hats, inappropriately tight pants. And at some point, talking about the architecture of the orthodox church, I used the phrase "my wife," and Eliisabet turned to Mel as if I had been talking about her.

"He's my brother-in-law. Or he was my brother-in-law. I think he's still my brother-in-law."

"I think the kinship carries over," I said

"You are divorced?" asked the Estonian girl.

"I'm getting divorced," said Melanie. "I've been getting divorced for months. Ask me next year."

"I'm not divorced," I said. "No."

"Oh," said Melanie. "His wife died. My sister." And that was about it for Melanie. She was a quiet crier. She just sort of hunched up, like she was staring at something in her lap, then she was bobbing up and down, more or less silent except for some sniffles and then the various rustling of the Hilton Garden Inn Nashville Airport cocktail lounge napkins, wadded and unwadded and pressed against her runny nose, blown into, etc.

That's when the Estonian girl told us her name, and that she had a dead baby. At the time it just sounded like funny Estonian locution, like she meant to say that she had once had a baby and that that baby had died. But, it turns out, she had a dead baby. He lived in her trailer, most of the time, but traveled a little through the hotel. He was a biter. He got my hand once, left a deep crescent on the outside of my right palm. That was the night I got Eliisabet naked, for reasons other than the investigative, though her calves and knees and thighs, her ankles and her belly, her breasts -- especially her breasts -- these were all scarred or scabbed, too.

This is a problem, I told her over complimentary breakfast the next morning. There were plastic-wrapped sweet rolls and a crock pot full of hardboiled eggs. Mel was so happy to see me. You should stay here every night. You could stay in my room if it wouldn't be weird. But this is better, obviously, better for everyone. Mel was positively giddy. I really like you, Elizabeth, she said, because that's as close as she got to pronouncing Estonian names.

So after work I drove over to the Marketplace Coop and bought all the black lava salt they had, enduring some speech about detoxification and the value of colonics, plus a bag of dried buckthorne and some hibiscus blossoms because the counter guy, who was so into colon cleansing, was nice enough to look up varieties of mallow and assured me that whatever the recipe was this would work in it, which is pretty much the worry Mel expressed, glaring at me over her fourth souvenir parrot-shaped plastic mug. It was Fiesta Night at the Hilton Garden Inn Nashville Airport. Muchos Grande Margaritas. The last time something like this happened... she said.

It won't be like that, I said. This one is real easy.

Just don't skip stuff, don't substitute.

That's what you do, Mel. It's like baking. A pinch of this, a pinch of that.

You're going to mention the cat now.

It calls for a cat. Nobody uses a cat. Nobody's used a cat since, like, the 13th century. It's cruel, I said, inhumane. I'm not using a cat.

God, what happened to your hand?

Sometimes he traveled through the airshafts, in and out of these big vents at the back of the main building, so he'd move, somehow, from the trailers to those vents and there, for about 20 yards, he was in open space, and that open space had to be, I figured, his place of weakness, so I hauled out everything Eliisabet still had -- some photographs and a bottle, a pacifier, one bib and one onesie and the hospital bracelet -- and I filled the bottle with black salt and cast a circle and tied off the herbs and hibiscus blossoms with mint floss because Eliisabet, living in a small trailer community of repairmen and maids, couldn't manage to find any twine.

Are you sure? Eliisabet kept asking. Are you sure? This is OK?

I'm sure. This is nothing, I said. Basic stuff.

You've done it before?

I've helped. I used to know someone who did this sort of thing all of the time.

She looked at Mel. And you, are you sure?

I used to know her, too, said Mel. It always worked until it didn't.

"So it didn't completely work," I said. It was WINE TASTING NIGHT, all in capitals, and the Hilton Garden Inn Nashville Airport had brought in boxes of very thin pizza. Mel was back from a week in Milwaukee, was done with Depakote and now in training for the Synthroid campaign. She gave me a tiny retractable measuring tape. Be yourself again, it said. Synthroid should not be taken for weight loss, she told me. But if you need to lose weight fast, Synthroid's just the thing. This is one of the paradoxes of the pharmaceutical business. It's like, well, to use a cat or not to use a cat.

Eliisabet had gotten a job at one of the downtown restaurants. Last we'd seen her, she'd toned down the eyeliner, was sleeping through the night. I am free, she said, and demonstrated it by not leaving a forwarding number.

It did the trick, right? I said. I mean, the baby is out of the trailer. The girl is no longer haunted.

Mel had found out from a former mutual friend that Brad's new job, consulting, earned him $100,000 a year more than he'd been making before, and she was a mix on this, bitter about his success and vindictive over the fact that, since he was the one using his lawyer to stall, to delay, she'd now be able to try and take part of this, too. Not that it's worth it, not that I even care, not about the money, I just want it done.

So it was sort of a down WINE TASTING NIGHT at first. The pizza was like a layer of cellophane on a layer of wet cardboard. Hector was working, and he kept bringing us more plastic shot glasses of wine, trying to stare down Mel's shirt, trying to talk to us about the pool. They're talking about closing it, he said. It's apparently a chemical thing, some imbalance, because the girl today, God, it looked like piranhas.

Cheers, said Melanie, but she laughed about it, eventually, and eventually she fake-flirted with Hector to distract him and I slipped a bottle of metallic Chianti under my jacket and we went up to her room, drunk, giggling like children, telling stories from her childhood, my marriage. It was the most like Mel that I'd seen Mel in a long time, the most like Eileen I'd seen anyone since, well, Eileen.

The pool, she said. The vents to the fucking pool. She laughed and snorted and laughed about snorting and burned her nose with wine from snorting, then poured more and insisted we do a fake wine tasting: This is from the Reynold's Wrap Vinveyard, next year's vintage.

Swirl it like a dentist, she said, making the words into a little song.

It was such a nice time, so far away from everything else.

The pool. Blood in the water. Oh, you know, that's so Eileen. That's exactly the kind of clusterfuck my sister would have managed.

I miss her, I said. I miss her every fucking minute.

She smiled at me, crying a little, somehow, already, silently. You should get a cat, she said. All of this is a sign. All of this points to a cat. You totally need a cat in your life.


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