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PO Box 30314,
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53
Issue 53, April-June  2014
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 53.2


Flash Fiction

Christopher Allen
We Don't Stop at Balderplatz

Phyllis A. Duncan
Descending Dragon


We Don't Stop at Balderplatz
by Christopher Allen
Followed by Q&A

Poetry

Martin Ott
Survivors' Manual to Love and War

Trevor Tingle
Piece Went Down

Survivor's Manual to Love and War
by Martin Ott
Followed by Q&A

Piece Went Down
Trevor Tingle
​Followed by Q&A

It’s been said I have drowned,
that I became entangled in rigging and drowned.
But I am here to say it isn’t so.
I am here to bear witness on my own behalf:

I found myself in the palm of a dispersing 
five fingered hand, five scrabbling 
screaming survival suits swimming away.

Then, under the unusual circumstance 
of being tossed by a wave, I came upon 
the main topmast which I knew quite well.

I observed with critical eye the odd
angle of the yards and set about 
determining what must be done if we
were ever to set things right again.

During my inspection I came upon a backstay 
which bore the familiar mark of my own work. 
Though it had lost its tune, grown 
loose in the lanyard you might say, 
the stay remained unmistakable.

We greeted each other like long lost friends
meeting inexplicably on the other side of the earth 
embracing with uncanny expressions of wonder
in that dark and shimmering place.



Trevor Tingle lives with his wife and son in New Orleans and works on the Mississippi River. He has work published or pending in Jersey Devil Press, New Laurel Review, Maple Leaf Rag 5, and Dead Flowers: a poetry rag.

Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: For two and a half years, I lived, worked and played aboard the Tallship Bounty. I met my wife there. We were settled in New Orleans when she sank in 2012, and had to face the dichotomy of feeling very close to yet completely unable to affect the situation as it unfolded. This poem was part of trying to deal with that tragedy.

We don’t stop at Balderplatz. Brakes squeal and the noble shops roll to a stop, their entranceways dark as caves. Another blackout. It doesn’t matter much. The rich have run off to Switzerland, America, or God. Mother and I remain on the streetcar three more stops where the people are many and gray, heads down—worker ants—where mother has heard there’ll be fresh vegetables today.

At the market a man in a dark brown suit touches my arm, says “Excuse me.” His smell of soap draws me closer. An accordion is slung round him. I touch the keys as he haggles for cabbage. He pays with a large, clean bill. He must be at least twenty. When I smile at him, he smiles too, and it’s the sort of tragic, yet honest, mien that reveals desperation. It apologizes for all the years he will steal from your life. All in advance.  

When the sudden fortuity of potatoes distracts Mother, I pretend to be a rich lady browsing. The man stalks me. “You have beautiful eyes,” he says, behind me. “But your shoes”—he points to my feet; I stop—“are quite old.” I blush, walk away quickly. But he follows, mumbles an apology. He says he’ll buy me new ones if I’ll marry him. I laugh; he doesn’t. I look around for my mother, but the swelling crowd has swallowed her. I ask the man if he’ll buy the shoes on Balderplatz.

***

The lights are back on. The empty shop shines slick like licked peppermint candy, clean oils and leather. I choose shoes a size too small because I’ve heard women are supposed to covet the petite. I tremble. I’ve never figured out how to keep myself small. I wonder if I’ll ever see my mother again. I wonder if she took me to the market to lose me. 

“They’re perfect for you,” says the man.

“What is your name?” I ask.

“Accordion,” he says, or that’s what I hear. I never call him anything else.

***

We don’t stop at Balderplatz. The bombs destroyed it a year later in ’45. Looters took the shoes. The evening gowns. The caviar. The square’s weighty elegance. But we survived, Accordion and I. We survive. And survive. Sixty years later, the square’s been reconstructed as if we could go back, do it all differently. But we never stop. 

Accordion hunches, asleep. Between his legs his hands hang limp, two graceless crags, age-splotched, clinging to a cliff. He snores loudly, melodically. He is a ruin impending, breakers—all thunder and madness—below. I won’t wake him. If he expires here, I’ll change trains. I’ll walk away. 

But he snores. He persists, inhaling and exhaling as the train pulls in and out of stations. He will not die. I flex my arches, curl my toes. I press the balls of my feet against the leather. I want to rip it. I try, but the noble, well-made seams are as stubborn as a just consequence. My feet swell when we sit so long, like on the train now. We ride the train all day most days. Accordion plays and sometimes I dance or sing. We look sufficiently ancient and ridiculous to loosen a few coins from passengers’ purses. It’s enough for food. It’s sometimes enough for shoes, but I don’t tell Accordion this.

“Your shoes”—he’s awake now, head bent toward my feet—“are old.” He says he’ll buy me new ones if I’ll marry him. I say I don’t need new shoes as the train strobes along. It’s a mistake I made once but never again, I don’t say. He’s already snoring when the doors close at Balderplatz.  



Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's fiction, non-fiction, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, PANK, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, Connotation Press, and many others. A former finalist at Glimmer Train, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He lives in Germany and blogs at http://www.imustbeoff.com

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: I ride the train every morning in Munich. Trains are like sudden fiction collections. Stories enter and leave the carriage every few seconds. I’m sure I started “reading” train passengers when I moved to Germany 20 years ago. Now, it’s just something natural. I try not to stare (also natural but creepy). The inspiration for “We Don’t Stop at Balderplatz” was an elderly woman leaning her head on her sleeping partner—both apparently homeless—and the way her old ragged shoes seemed much too small for her swollen feet. Her story was about survival but also the “just consequence” of her choices. 

Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volumes 1, 2 and 3Learn more...
Flash Nonfiction

Gail Griffin
English History I

Carly Youssouf
Real Facts
Death is a loving dog
with no children or chew toys
to occupy its attention. 
It will lick you into submission,
this inevitable pack instinct,
to join the vast departed.

The standard autopsy needle 
which has a straight shank 
but a slightly curved tip 
is good for survival sewing.

Love is a dying battery
in your favorite appliance
you cannot live without.
It is impossible to conserve
this indeterminable reservoir, 
your capacity to burn through.

Don’t throw any clothes away.
Pull up your socks. Close your collar. 
Be prepared to jump overboard.
Avoid attracting or annoying sharks.

Desire is a prisoner’s final meal
with access to the greatest chefs
cooking for furlough in adjacent cells.
You are at its delicious mercy
in a buffet, bubble or bunker,
waiting to sit, to find the price.

Place your traps where the trail 
is narrow. Use entrails as bait
and the skin as a sled to drag 
the meat. Home is on your back. 

Belief is the best-dressed bully
unwilling to let you cross a chasm
in those comfortable clothes. 
There is little hope of moving
past the cul-de-sacs and suits,
the curvy hips and winding way.

Conserve sweat by soaking clothes
in the sea. Desert trails resemble 
interlacing cow paths. Sleep out 
the storm with your back to the wind.

Survival is a submerged mossy beast
hungrier than any living thing, 
a mass that roils the earth in mounds.
You cannot see the holes and hills
beyond the horizon, the tilled fields,
the uneven terrain you’ll need to surf.

Take care of the injured. Provide 
temporary shelter. Stay at the scene
of the crash unless you see land.
Try to establish contact with rescuers.

It will lick you into submissions.
It is impossible to conserve.
You are at its delicious mercy.
There is little hope of moving. 
You cannot see the holes and hills.
Do not get separated from your party.

--------------------

Italic text from Survival Training EditionDepartment of the Air Force, AF Manual 64-3.


A former U.S. Army interrogator, Martin Ott lives in Los Angeles where he writes, often about his misunderstood city. He is the author of four books of poetry: Underdays, Notre Dame University Press (2015), Captive, De Novo Prize winner, C&R Press, and Poets’ Guide to America and Yankee Broadcast Network (2014), co-written with John F. Buckley, Brooklyn Arts Press. In 2013, he published his debut novel The Interrogator’s Notebook, Story Merchant Books. His Writeliving blog - writeliving.wordpress.com - has thousands of readers in more than 100 countries. www.martinottwriter.com.

Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: “Survivor’s Manual to Love and War” is from Underdays, coming out in 2015 on Notre Dame University Press. The collection includes multiple voices throughout, collages of poems I wrote from different time periods, and the inclusion of lines from songs and books. Besides inserting lines from one of my old military manuals into the poem, I also have created a form that intentionally repeats one line from each previous stanza to create the final stanza. 


English History I
Gail Griffin
followed by Q&A

He was a famous scholar with three names, slightly greasy, but transporting in his lectures. He was full of anecdotes—Elinor of Aquitaine riding bare-breasted through the Crusader ranks, Prince Hal trying on his father’s crown, Henry the Eighth wrestling history into knots to get his tubercular son while his brilliant red-haired girl waited in the wings. Maybe history is another ironic narrative, I thought. I was an English major.

In May the frozen waves on the lake had finally dissolved and the famous wind confessed its tender moments. When the kids were shot at Kent State and campuses everywhere went on strike, a barricade made of campus detritus went up on Sheridan Road at the sharp northward curve, just where traffic fleeing Chicago for the lush northern suburbs would have to slow. Some of us ditched our books and attended serious daily meetings to discuss strategy and publicity. Some of us skirted the barricade, crumpled the flyers, and headed on to classes or sorority meetings. Some of us declared Woodstock Midwest and lay out in cutoffs and tie-dye in Deering Meadow, the expanse of grass rolling away in front of the library, Music from Big Pink blaring. I wandered through it all in my usual anxious limbo, scanning the flyers and worrying over the strafed kids in Vietnam and dead ones in Ohio and Mississippi, pondering what I owed to history.

He told us just one thing about the final exam: it would require “knowledge of dynastic succession.” On my way to my dorm, past the barricade, I chewed on this phrase. There was only one way to be safe. I had to memorize the English monarchs in order, Conquest through Glorious Revolution, all the Henrys and Edwards and the sporadic Mary. As May turned to June, while the battle against Tricky Dick and his legions raged two blocks away, I spent the hot, sweet nights on my bed with the chart I’d made, eyes closed, repeating over and over, like a Hari Krishna chant, William the Conqueror, William Second, Henry First, Stephen, Henry Second, Richard the Lionheart . . . ,” all those fathers giving way to sons who became fathers seeking sons who would usurp them, on and on toward a three-hour exam where I would write their names in order, flawlessly. 




Gail Griffin’s third book of nonfiction, The Events of October: Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus, anatomizes a crime on the campus of Kalamazoo College, where she taught writing, literature, and women’s studies for 35 years. Her poetry, essays, and flash nonfiction have appeared in venues such as Hotel Amerika, Fourth Genre, Folio, Calyx, and Passages North, and in anthologies including Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South & Women Behaving Badly and Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes. She is at work on a memoir collection about widowhood. She was born in Detroit and lives in southwestern Michigan.

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: This piece is one of a series focused on memorable undergraduate courses at Northwestern. I began the piece with no intention beyond delving into my powerful memories of the spring of Kent State, 1970, a turning point in my life. What surprised me was that the two threads in the story—the English History course and the Vietnam War politics—came so naturally together around questions of patriarchy, of the sins of the fathers repeated by the sons, of the past visited upon the present, and of my marginal and ambivalent relation to all of it as a young woman. Writing this piece was a classic experience of discovering/unearthing meaning as I wrote and rewrote.

Descending Dragon
by Phyllis A. Duncan
​Followed by Q&A

Every night I dreamt of tracer rounds lighting the sky, of mortars pounding in time with my heartbeat, and the dragon who breathed no fire. 

One Christmas, my first wife gave me a pair of black, silk pajamas. She didn’t know men in black pajamas and sampan hats stalked my dreams. She didn’t understand that I had to keep her and the baby safe in the house, that in the dark the policemen who responded to her 911 calls looked like Charlie, creeping from the jungle to cut our throats. 

In country, we took solace from whatever we could find—homemade hooch, boom-boom girls, the occasional hallucinogen. The first time I dropped acid was on the shore of Halong Bay before a patrol deep inside enemy territory. The islands rose from the water and became fiery dragons, except one—the dragon who breathed no fire. 

“Fly!” I screamed. “Breathe fire! Destroy the destroyers!” 

But it sat mute; then, as the jungle erupted with bullets, the island-dragons settled back into the water. My buddies told me later I fought like a man on fire. Somewhere, there are pictures of me, proud white hunter posing with my trophies. 

My second wife couldn’t understand why loud noises disturbed me, why I couldn’t eat in a Chinese restaurant under the scrutiny of all those almond-shaped eyes, why I couldn’t keep a job. She didn’t understand the nightmares had become day-mares, and I saw island-dragons rising from Halong Bay all the time. 

By the time I went back to ‘Nam as a tourist, there had been multiple stints in rehab, a third wife, a fourth, and a long line of girlfriends and one-night stands, none of whom could understand anything about me. If only the dragon had breathed fire. 

Halong Bay looked much the same. The island-dragons slept. The jungle was thicker. I stood on the shore, and ghosts in black pajamas and sampan hats rose from the water. I recognized every one of them. They grinned as I uncapped the can of gasoline and baptized myself. The island-dragons trembled when I held the lighter. The ghosts dipped their heads and pressed their palms together. 

The dragon breathed fire at last.



Phyllis A. Duncan’s work has appeared in the Blue Ridge, Skyline, and 1 Photo, 50 Authors, 100 Words anthologies, as well as in eFiction Magazine. The story appearing here was a finalist in Press 53’s recent Flash Fiction Contest, and her one-act play, “Yo’ Momma,” was selected by Ampersand Arts for production in its “Bar Hopping” contest. She has degrees in history and political science and, after a career as an aviation safety official, now writes fiction in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: In the Federal Aviation Administration, I worked with many Vietnam veterans and saw bizarre behaviors resulting from what we then called “combat fatigue.” Through this story I hope people will understand PTSD is not a new phenomenon and that we do all we can to heal those suffering from it.


I felt my mother’s hard grip pulling me to our red Kia Sedona. It must have been five in the morning, and my seven-year-old body was not prepared to go anywhere that early. 

“We’re going to the Marriot, honey,” she said. 

“I want to sleep.”

“You can sleep when we get there.” 

“Why are we leaving?” 

She paused and rubbed her already red eyes. “We’re going to take a little vacation.”

I didn’t object to the impromptu holiday. She buckled me into the back seat and I curled up trying to get warm. My Snow White nightgown had worn thin from continuous wear, and was no better than a second skin. My sister scampered out of the house to the car fully dressed with snow boots and gloves. She was holding two bags, one for me, one for her. She hopped in the back seat, took a blanket out, and tucked me in.  

***

When I close my eyes to recall a memory or miscellaneous information, I envision a place, or headquarters of operation. I go to a specific venue where all consciousness and thought is stored. It looks like a waiting room. Not a hospital waiting room, eerie and stark in its whiteness. It’s more of an office or hotel foyer. There’s no carpet or pictures, just muted grey walls and four doors. Each door looks different, its appearance pertaining to its function. In the left corner of the room is a Ficus plant and on the opposite side a lush green tree. The roots sprout out through the dark linoleum and twist around the legs of a wooden park bench stationed between doors two and three. The room is relatively simple and small, but it is all mine. The image is so vivid and clear, yet I don’t remember the architect or the date of its creation. It has always existed

***

The door to my far left looks like it opens to a seedy 70s motel room. The wood is faded black and there’s a little white number 8 above a peephole. It’s my entrance to the past. It holds all long-term memories, however important or random. It’s not a place I permanently dwell but somewhere I constantly visit. When I open the door I fall into a dark abyss filled with tiny lights. They float around like little lightning bugs, each wink of light flashing a bit of memory. 

***

Music filled my ears. ‘N Sync? Maybe it was Backstreet Boys. I was in the sunflower bordered room I shared with my sister and she had just turned on the ice blue boom box to drown out the noise. She shuffled over and perched next to me on the bottom bunk. I had my Polly Pocket out and we were accessorizing. My sister smiled and kept me distracted, but every time the voices escalated downstairs she twitched. One foot coiled beneath me, the other touching the ground, I could feel the vibrations of the yelling through the floorboards. My sister and I didn’t talk, we just sat there bobbing along to the music, pretending the vibrations were from the bass.

***

The door adjacent is one of those wooden office doors. It leads to a brightly lit cubicle stocked with metal filing cabinets full of everyday information. The files are organized in order of importance and relevance. Materials range from academic information to recent memories to Snapple facts. On the left wall of the cubicle is a door adjoining rooms one and two. Sometimes some fireflies escape the darkness and fly around the cubicle, distracting me from finding the proper information. Sometimes the darkness seeps under the door, clouding the room, making me temporarily blind and incapacitated. 

***

I can’t go to IHOP anymore. I didn’t get sick or find a thumb mixed in with my home fries or any other horrific chain restaurant experience. It actually has nothing to do with the establishment. It has everything to do with the parking lot. I can’t remember what the argument was about, but I remember that there was one. I remember my parents getting out of the car and back in the car. Out. In. Out. In. Out. I remember the parking lot being full, and full-bellied-people staring as they walked to their vehicle. I remember tears. I remember being hungry. I remember being silent. 

I always make excuses like, “oh, I’m not a breakfast person” or, “I have a coupon to Denny’s?” But, sometimes there’s no way around going to IHOP on a Sunday morning. I sit there trying not to throw up my eggs, focus on the carefree voices around me, trying to match their tone. 

***

When the past starts making a mess of the present, I find myself escaping to door number three. The entrance is cozily hidden under the shade of the tree in the corner. The door is made of a deep mahogany with rounded edges and has a big brass knocker. This is my escape hatch, my yellow ring, room of requirement. Every time I pull back the sweet smelling wood I enter a new scene or new world. It is the room used most frequently. In fact, it usually stays propped open. It is the one room that doesn’t require plundering through papers or searching impenetrable darkness. I control the light and information. The foundation is not built on fact or truth, it’s built on dirt and earth and other malleable materials. It’s a place of endless felicity and possibility and a place only I can understand.

***

The door to my far right remains permanently locked. The key is under the Ficus plant, slowly rusting. The door looks like your middle school principal’s office door. The bottom half is made of that hideous metal taupe and the top box is slated with frosted glass that shows blurry shadows instead of concrete images. Sometimes the clouded outlines resemble my father, sometimes my sister. However, when the images become too clarified and concrete I flee to the solace behind door three. Just below the glass is a small sign taped written in pink lipstick. I don’t know what it says, I’m usually too far to read the smeared writing. Maybe, WARNING: HOARDING MAY RESULT IN ASPHYXIATION

***

Sometimes I get the key from under the Ficus. Sometimes I find the courage. I ignore the sign and jimmy the rusty handle. The room is full, ceiling to floor, of chaotically organized objects. It feels hot and sticky and I start to sweat. I see a blue shirt with a black dog, a pink and brown paisley blouse, a hospital gown. There are two doors with fist holes, a portrait of three storm trooper heads and one broken green eye shadow case. Each item bombards me with snippets of memory. I feel nauseous, like I’m on uneven ground. Everything tilts and sways inward. The hoard looms, threatening consumption. 

***

My sister was at a basketball game three towns over. I stood alone in the center of our U-shaped driveway, mom on one side, dad on the other. I could hear their voices and see their red faces but could not understand the meaning of their words. In that moment everything melded together into one harsh pounding that beat against my eardrums.  

“Patti, it’s my damn day to have the girls. Carly come on, get in the car,” said my dad. He has that dark caramel Turkish skin which hid his flushed face, but his hands gave his anger away. His gestures became more flamboyant, more savage, more Queens. 

“You don’t have to get in the car with him when he’s like this,” my mom said, quietly. She squared her shoulders toward me. She was done talking to him. “You can stay.”

Between my dad’s chatter and mom’s buzzing, the only word I heard was choose. I wanted to run away and evaporate at the same time. I couldn’t move an inch in either direction lest one think I was deciding. My feet felt glued to the ground like I was standing in molasses. I closed my eyes. Maybe if I don’t see them they won’t see me. The voices continued to grumble, like thunder before the lightning. 

***

I can never find the memory of my parents explaining they were calling it quits. No matter how hard I search through that dark abyss of fireflies I can never find it. Whenever someone asks me I usually give some vague story of how they sat us down at the kitchen table one day after school. But honestly, I don’t know if that’s true. That memory feels different from all the others, less internally bright, more manufactured. It’s like the difference between leather and pleather. Only the organic odor reveals the imitation. I have many pleather memories, but somehow I trick myself into believing they are genuine. Maybe it’s because they’re the only memories I can find. Even though my mind is precisely ordered and organized, everything seems to seep. Everything leaks and oozes into each other. Past into present. Real into imaginary. Everything is fragmented and slippery, I can never get a firm grasp on a whole moment. It’s as though the doors are only there for show. Only there to calm my mind, rather than facilitate it. 

***

Sometimes I welcome the seeping. Sometimes I lay on the park bench separating doors two and three and let myself be enveloped by the ooze. I let the real and imaginary wash over me and picture a moment I know I have, but can’t find. For some reason, the tender memories attach and tangle with the sharp. Maybe both are afraid to be alone in the dark. I shut my eyes and absorb flecks and flashes of moments until a delicate dim moment forms. 

We are all sitting at the dinner table. It’s not a holiday or birthday or any type of occasion of forced togetherness, just a Thursday. We talk school, work, my sister’s upcoming voice recital, and my soccer tournament. My dad says he’ll get me new shin guards, and my sister a new dress if we finish our spinach. The slimy green mass glares at me from my plate, my sister will be the only one getting a present. Maybe we play twenty questions or have a competition of who can fit the most green beans in their mouth and still say “sally sells seashells at the seashore.” There’s never a winner of that game, just a lot of half chewed vegetable covering the table. Throughout the meal, my parents sit with interlaced fingers. They don’t kiss or profess their love, just hold hands. It’s effortless, involuntary, like breathing.



Carly Youssouf is an undergraduate student at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, and working on a double major in Creative Writing and Literature and minors in Journalism and Italian. While she currently resides in Summerfield FL, she is a New Jersey native and damn proud of it. 

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: I was surprised by the evolution of this essay. My initial focus was on a specific moment, but somewhere during revisions, it developed into a commentary on my mind and memory. It’s been just under ten years since my parents divorced, and I always assumed I adapted rather well to the situation. I never noticed how much I internalized. Writing this essay was surprisingly liberating. 

Real Facts
Carly Youssouf
followed by Q&A