One of the few touching things Jennifer’s mother said about Jennifer’s father was that he hated “Amazing Grace.” She could not remember how the song had come up. Her father was always coming up in conversation: how’s that worthless piece of shit doingwho’s his whore nowis he feeding you — still that crap out of a tube probably. Jennifer did not really talk with her mother about music … or movies … or books. Anything really. She mostly sat in the passenger seat when she was picked up, mostly sat on the other end of the couch throughout the weekend, mostly sat in the passenger seat when she was driven home – listening to her mother talk, offering answers only when she truly, truly demanded an answer. Most of her questions were rhetorical. “What’s he saying about me?” Beat. “Bad stuff only, I know. I know him. I know that piece of shit bastard.”

Perhaps divine intervention. Perhaps Mary thought Jennifer’s mother was giving a bad name to the whole motherhood deal and needed a nudge in the right direction. If so, Jennifer squandered all her good will when she said, “Well, yeah, it’s a bad song.”

"Not just that," her mother said. "I remember …. It was your father’s mother’s funeral. His first big, serious funeral, and, remember, he was only … twenty … uh … that would have been ‘86 … or ‘88 … so, he would have been … twenty-four." She confirmed her dates. "Yes. It was your grandmother’s funeral, and they played ‘Amazing Grace,’ and he lost it. You’ve never seen him lose it like that. He was different after that. Changed." A full beat. "It happens. Ever since then, he can’t stand the song. Refuses to listen to it. Tenses up if he hears it."

When Jennifer’s mother came to pick her up for her next weekend, Jennifer’s father invited her in. Unprecedented. Unexpected. Jennifer already had her duffel bag over her shoulder and a bag of chips in her coat pocket.

"Let’s sit down," said her dad.

They went into the living room. Her parents on the couch – the same couch but the center cushion between them – and Jennifer in the chair. They asked her if she was suicidal.

"What?"

"If you are, you have to tell us," said her father.

"You don’t have to tell us,” said her mother.

"She most absolutely has to fucking tell us," said her father.

"What I am saying," her mother clarified, "is that we want you to be comfortable talking with us about anything, about any feelings you have, any urges or thoughts you might have been having."

Jennifer told them both that she was not suicidal.

Her father took an envelope out of his pocket and set it on the coffee table. “do not open until i’m dead” was scrawled in Jennifer’s handwriting. The jagged edge of an impatient opening ran along the top.

"Well, of course this is going to seem weird," Jennifer said, snatching up the envelope. She pulled out the papers inside. "I take it you read this?"

Her parents nodded.

"Well, yeah, this going to make me sound suicidal. That’s why you weren’t supposed to open it before I died."

"You come across an envelope with that written on it," said her father, "and tell me how long you’re going to wait to open it. Christ, Jennie."

"I just wanted to make a few notes about the type of funeral I want," said Jennifer. "You know – in case something happened. It’s called a preneed. People do it all the time."

"Old people. Terminal people," said her father. "Cancer patients. Not sixteen year olds."

"What you wrote about song selections," said her mother, "I think that was very thoughtful of you."

"That if anyone played ‘Amazing Grace’ I would come back and haunt everyone?"

"Yes."

Her father nodded.

At least she got them to agree on something.

Pierogi So Dope

Made them from scratch, apron-wearing, flour to my elbows

Dough rolled so thin you punks would tear it

Take a break with a cold, tall piwo

But it’s just me, you know

Been in Detroit so long getting treated regal

Especially Hamtramck, shout out to Under the Eagle

My recipe is old, never been sold

Taste so good, not a single one bland

Help keep us tied to, in touch with the homeland

Mrs. T can’t freeze what she can’t understand

Let me set this record straight

Just give me your plate

Oh, oh, oh,

Hey, my pierogi so dope

Hey, my pierogi so dope

Yep, we eat it, eat it

Yeah, with śmietana, śmietana

Give no fuck about your diet,

Give not a fuck about your motherfucking diet cause polack

We, we eat them all

Oh, oh, oh,

Give no fuck about your diet,

Give not a fuck about your motherfucking diet cause polack

Novel № 48

So, I Was Thinking About This The Other Day

The transcript of a stream-of-consciousness monologue. Two friends hanging out – one describing an imagined novel, the other listening. The novels events are not conveyed chronologically. Events, characters, symbols, setting, themes, possible first and last sentences and descriptions and chapter titles – everything changes throughout the monologue to align with on-the-spot developments and plot twists.

The epilogue is a short story written by the listening friend, who was inspired by the monologue and borrowed and modified parts.

An Older Brother Who Played Travel Hockey Means Family Memories All Around The Great Lakes

  • Appleton, Wisconsin, where me and another rink-rat-by-relation bought bikes at a Saint Vincent de Paul Society to peddle downtown, where we talked to a crying woman in a tie-dye shirt who had just gotten thrown out a restaurant.
  • Chicago, Illinois, where instead of sitting in a rink the whole weekend, my mom took me to the Field Museum to see the exhibit ”Kremlin Gold: 1000 years of Russian Gems and Jewels.” That made no lasting impact on me whatsoever.
  • Cleveland, Ohio, where my brother made me go down and get six spoons for Spoons and by the time I convinced the front desk clerk to look for and hand them over, everyone had decided to watch a movie instead.
  • Detroit, Michigan, where they practiced and played games, so I have seen Joe Louis filled with a dozen parents more often than a crowd for a Wings game.
  • Indianapolis, Indiana, where … uh … something probably happened there.
  • St. Paul, Minnesota, where my mom had an emotional breakdown and refused to drive to the hotel so we could check in. We were really late.
  • Toronto, Ontario, where the hotel we stayed at had two indoor water slides, so I was always down with going to Canada.

The Michigander (or Michigoose) embodies the contradiction of Midwestern Nice, at once sheepishly declaring that the State of Michigan is The Place To Be, The Place To Raise Kids, The Place Coming Back And On The Rise but without going into detail, without listing why, opting instead to list the shortcomings, banality, and lifelessness of its southern neighbor, Ohio.

excerpt from Where to Roam in Post-Prairie America: An Anthology of Amateur Ethnography and On-The-Cheap Travel, edited by Sloan Niedweidzski

Josephine Spedwick

The results were coming in from the East Coast, from the South when their station wagon entered the Central Time Zone. The Reagan Revolution was underway. “We’re not refugees,” Josephine thought, “but we kind of are.” Luke was driving. Kelsey was reading. Katherine was sleeping. Jimmy Carter was losing.

They wanted to end the day in Saint Louis, but the flatness of southern Illinois seemed interminable. “Kansas will be worse,” Josephine thought, “but then Denver comes right after.” Luke was from Saint Louis. He said his friends would let them stay the night there. They had not budgeted for motel rooms. They had blankets in the back. They had everything in the back – everything that they had decided to take, everything that they believed they would need.

“Are we going to Grandma’s?” Katherine asked. She had just woken up.

Luke was focused on the road, Josephine on the radio.

Katherine repeated her question.

“Mom,” Kelsey droned.

“Yes?”

“Katherine’s asking you a question.”

“Yes, Katherine?” Josephine hoped her question had changed. Maybe she wanted to know where they were, which highway they were on; maybe she wanted to see the map or play I-Spy. Josephine thought of a game her and her siblings had played – trying to find each letter of the alphabet in order on billboards and highway signs. Their interest had usually faded around trying to find Q, even though R-S-T-U was the easiest part of the game.

“Are we going to Grandma’s?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

Josephine looked in her side mirror and saw her daughter turn to stare out the window. “We’re in Illinois,” she told her.

“Okay.”

“We’re going to California.”

“Okay.”

Her children were wonderful, Josephine declared. She had made similar declarations before – but almost of them had come in the form of agreeing with someone else. “Your girls are darling.” “Your girls are just the sweetest little angles.” “They were such a pleasure.” “Yes.” “Yes.” “Thank you for saying so.” At that moment, though, Josephine thought how her daughters had quickly packed and calmly climbed into the car and were so accepting of their move west. California was on the other side of the country, was on another coast, the far end of the continent – and Katherine accepted that she was headed their and not her grandmother’s.

“We’re going to swim in the ocean,” Luke told Katherine.

“I’ve already swimmed in the ocean at Grandma’s,” she said.

“That wasn’t an ocean,” said Luke. “That was a lake.”

“It was big enough to be an ocean.”

“That’s why it’s called a Great Lake.”

“Okay.”

“Can you name all the Great Lakes?” Josephine asked Katherine.

“I can,” said Kelsey.

“But I’m asking your sister,” Josephine said.

“But I can name them,” Kelsey pressed. “She can’t.”

“I can, too,” Katherine protested.

“Then name them.”

“Girls,” said Luke.

“There’s Great Lake and Good Lake and Best Lake and Better Lake,” said Katherine, listing their names off on her fingers.

Josephine laughed. Luke laughed. Kelsey reminded her parents that those were not the names of the Great Lakes. She listed them off.

“You’re such a smart girl,” said Luke. He turned to Josephine. “Give her something.”

Josephine leaned toward her feet and sat up with a bag of pretzels. She handed them back to Kelsey. Katherine demanded one. Her sister dropped a broken pretzel in her hand.

“Dad,” Katherine whined, holding up her half-pretzel.

Luke turned around. “Kelsey, give you sister a whole pretzel.” He looked ahead. “And me, too.” He reached back for the bag, his hand opening and closing. “Feed me,” he chimed. “Feed me.”

Kelsey giggled and tried to hand off the bag, but Luke’s grip did not close fast enough. The bag dropped to the floor. “Goddamn it,” Luke groaned. He turned around without loosening his grip on the wheel, but even Josephine’s correction could not keep the station wagon on the road, the station wagon upright, its passengers alive.

writing that actively combats socioeconomic claustrophobia

through the use of big words and double spacing