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**PRINT: THE2NDHAND’s 31st broadsheet features a short by Portland-by-way-of-Montana writer Aaron Parrett that captures the power and glory of ambivalence after, during, and prior to what the unemployed poet-protagonist comes to clearly see as, if not love, then surely "Tolerance," the story's title. Parrett is the author of The Translunar Narrative in the Western Tradition as well as numerous stories that have been featured in lit mags around the nation. No. 31 also features a piece by Kyle Beachy, author of the newly released novel The Slide, out from Dial Press, and a vanguard discount coupon and special FAQ from the herbal remedies and soap makers at The Left Hand (thelefthand.net).

**WEB: TIKI EXPRESS Pitchfork Battalion (Dills, Ballentine, Holmes)
WALLS Amy Woods Butler
ANT RANT Willie Smith

Pitchfork Battalion (Todd Dills, C.T. Ballentine, Dominique Holmes)

Ballentine, THE2NDHAND's editorial face and brain in Chicago, proposed this tri-cornered story about polynesian-themed expresses of various incarnations, happiness and mania. Do enjoy.

Morton pointed from the edge of the float's platform to a nearby member of the crowd at the edge of the street for benefit of Harry, his coconspirator in what he was calling his "gift to the economic distress-addled of the Birmingham metro population," always quick to add "and South Side" to the moniker, lest whomever he was in conversation with accuse him of forgetting about the location of the St. Patty's Day parade.

"This dude," he said to Harry, who pulled on his cigarette and then smiled to a small group of bemused children they happened to be passing. "Dude said 'Tie Kie,' like he ain't never had a drink in his life." Dude in question looked like a farmer or a trucker -- thick denim on his legs with a flannel tucked in at the waist, mesh ball cap -- Harry thought, and said as much.

"That is tee-totally insignificant," said Morton. He brought his sneaker up from the platform and rammed it back down to bring home the point. "This is supposed to be a celebration. Relief. Nothing but ignorant joes and fucking protestors out here today." A gaggle of old and a few nu-green lefties against the war held signs by the fountain in Five Points, pretty insignificant themselves, really, and though the parade route didn't go anywhere near the famously bombed abortion clinic on 18th, that didn't make the fundies any less likely to be standing out in Five Points, too, holding their signs for DEAR LIFE FOR UNBORN BABIES. "You're the mayor," Harry said. "This is your home, the public."

Known as the Mayor of 20th Street, Morton was indeed something of a South Side public man in the best of the Southern tradition of such -- a philanthropist, hedonist, and generally altruistic son of a bitch all at once. This outburst was uncharacteristic of magnanimous Morton, and he continued to stare down the fat man who'd mispronounced the name of his annual party float in the parade, the 'Tie-kie' fucking express, as the redneck would have it, his mind ran on, and probably get his dick stuck in his zipper later on after he's tied 'em all on. Which is not to say that Morton was a teetotaler by any stretch of the imagination. By the end of the route he'd have picked up all sorts of revelers and they'd drive the Polynesian-themed float, built above an ancient Pinto Morton used for no other purpose than this, to his house just off 23rd near the Garage and have an all-niter at the top and bottom of the massive rolling downhill that was his backyard.

The Tiki Express was his response to the closing of the only Tiki bar ever to have been known in the region, back in the late 90s -- he thought of it as his little gift to the depressed big town he called his home. Ten years running it had been, he thought, eyes still on the fat bystander who'd so defiled it's name, no matter how you pronounced it.

And he was happy. --Todd Dills

Like Triscuts, you know those straw crackers you can pick up at the grocery store. Everything about dude's face reminds me of Triscuts -- brittle, crumbling. Told him I hadn't signed up for this kind of shit, these kinds of hours. Where the hell, I wanted to know, was my overtime pay?

So he got all huffy and spat charcoal brown, right onto his own carpet. "Overtime, shit!" he said. "You want some overtime you can go apply at the fucking 7-11, dish out taquitos to drunk frat boys. You're either with us all the goddamn way or not at all."

Right then I knew I'd pushed it too far. Motherfucker called my bluff -- crushed me in half while his Triscut face didn't drop a crumb. He's deceptively brittle, you know? Like you think he's always just an inch away, but I swear he'll live forever, like a fucking Energizer battery. Or a cockroach.

Guess that's how I ended up here -- Siberia for the Caribbean -- and I'd thought mopping up swamp shit on the Delta was bad.

All week I've had this voice running through my head, like an announcer on one of those prison reality shows: "The worst of the worst," it says, or "Where they send them when there's nowhere left to go." I mean, Christ, that's what this boat is. I can't believe people get off on that kind of nasty shit. Rich men's perversity knows no bounds.

Wonder how they keep normal folk off this trip? The brochure just lists Tiki Express with some nondescript blurb about enjoying the native habitat. Enjoying indeed! Maybe they've got a separate cruise for the schoolmoms that sign up. Like there's a secret codeword if you intend to get down on some really sick shit.

Are the people on the islands seriously OK with this? Do they even know beforehand? I guess there's enough money flashing around so you can't really say no. Gotta keep the mouths fed.

Thing of it is, I would go jockey a register at 7-11. For half the pay even. Must beat the hell out of this nonsense. But that's where old Triscut face is smart, see. He'll keep you happy for a few years, then dump the shit on you bit by bit until you end up here. By then you've been with the company for half a decade at least, so what are you gonna do? Christ, can you imagine putting this on your resume? 7-11 would laugh right in your face.

I'll say this, though, it's damn fortunate we've got that no mingling with the clientele bit. All I'm living for these days is a few hours apart from those sewer rats. Used to bum me out when it was cutesy little trust fund girls, but I swear to you, I don't think I could even keep an erection for thirty seconds, not after the shit I've seen here.

My hope is that I can apologize to Triscut face ... don't think he'll accept it right away, might as well resign myself to a couple more runs on this shit fest ... but maybe eventually. Maybe eventually I'll get something nicer. Something where I can feel human again.

What scares me more than anything: what if this isn't the bottom of the barrel? What if it gets worse? --C.T. Ballentine

The termites had started on the boards over the windows and were eating their way inward. Their network of tunnels and mounds, a brown lace of weakened seams, covered the outside of the house. With an ear pressed against the wall, I heard them scurrying, chewing, advancing. Soft translucent bodies packed together, the termites worked tirelessly toward one common goal: Get inside.

My sister left when she could no longer stand the darkness. I had blocked the windows with scraps of plywood left over from the new shed. I caulked the spaces beneath the doors, and then, to be sure, I caulked the doorframes and keyholes. I sealed the pipes, covered the vents, and clogged the drains. I prayed for them to avoid the roof.

"You're not well," Meredith said.

"Pass me the hammer."

"You need to be looked after, Ruby. I don't have the training."

Her hysteria attacked in waves, distorting her voice and tugging at the corners of her mouth, untrimmed chin hairs glinting like optical fibre.

"And a couple nails. By the lamp."

"Why can't I flush the toilet?" Meredith's white hair had yellowed like old paper.

"I'm only trying to protect us."

She bent to snap her suitcase shut, utilizing the break in conversation to rid her face of all evidence of distress. Smoke bellowed from the kitchen.

"I can't let you back in once you leave. They're smart, these bugs. I once found a grasshopper in my hair."

I left her to struggle with a heavily caulked door and attempted to rescue my near cremated lunch: two eggplants charred beyond recognition. As I scraped ash into the sink, I saw the van through the peephole. It was parked at the end of the driveway, "TIKI EXPRESS" scrawled across the doors in capital letters, yellow font against green background. I saw no indication of a driver or passengers or cargo.

I listened to Meredith's slippers slapping calloused heels and slick tile on the front steps. She was struggling with the suitcase. Arthritis had gnarled her knuckles into an almost tree-like configuration. As she reached the end of the driveway, she took no discernable notice of the van and turned to her immediate left. To Verna's, I thought, to discuss me over heavily creamed tea on the veranda.

"Veranda." I sounded the word out loud.

"Verr," top teeth press into bottom lip and release, "annn," mouth opens and tongue flattens before licking roof of mouth, "da," tongue kicks roof of mouth and settles. "Meredith and Verna on the Veranda."

The phone rang.

"Hello? Ruby?"

"I'm very busy. Meredith left. I have to reseal the door."

"Ruby! I'm glad I caught you."

"Caught me?"

"Were you on your way out?"

"Who is this?"

"Dayle. How is everything? Ruby? Hello?"

"Stop shouting."

"Sorry, connection's awful. And we have workmen on the roof. Damn thing leaks every time it rains."


"They're trying to get it done before the storm."

There was something inside the phone.

"Should be all finished by the weekend. I'm sorry it's so loud, can you hear me?"

Tickling my ear.

"I wanted to call you before the storm hits in case we lose the phone lines."

I sprayed pesticide into the handset and hung up.

My dress sagged, heavy with a combination of humidity and sweat. The van did not move. I counted days, then weeks, then lost track of the earth's revolutions. The only difference between day and night was a slight change in temperature. Heat emanated from the walls and the shingled roof. The air turned to soup. Paint slouched and bubbled or else slipped off entirely; books warped on the shelves; the house popped and groaned for all its swelling. My only respite was the ground, which remained cool for its vinyl tiles.

Then, tapping. Soft at first, like a bouncing ball coming to rest. I peeled my cheek from the floor. The tapping now more determined -- a bird testing its strength against the inside of its shell; branches dueling with their reflections; beggar children wielding squeegees and bottles of dirty water, surrounding cars at traffic lights. Tapping like the first heavy raindrops, gravel pelted earthward; tapping wild and thrashing like drummers pounding sticks against pavement, fences, trees, cars, trashcans, signposts, parking meters, benches, and mailboxes. Tapping penetrating the body like deep bass bursting through speakers piled high on the side of the road. Tapping giving way to ripping, tearing, the house splitting, sky shrieking inward, darkness obliterated by white hot sunlight and a cascade of termites.

"Ma'am?" A figure stood over me, solid black against the sun. "We're about ready to leave."

"Excuse me?"

"Had some trouble with the tyre there. But we had that spare, thank heavens."

Biting. Do termites bite?

"We're all biters," I said. --Dominique Holmes


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