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Issue 59, July-September   2014
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 59.3


Flash Fiction

Charlie Griggs
Bubblegum and Heroin

Rachna Kulshrestha
Stranger and the Green Gloves

Anne Lindley
What She Knew


Bubblegum and Heroin
by Charlie Griggs
Followed by Q&A
Poetry

Devon Miller-Duggan
Autumn Angel

Kim Winter Mako
That Will Be All

Autumn Angel
by Devon Miller-Duggan
​followed by Q&A

That Will Be All
Kim Winter Mako
​Followed by Q&A

1 dirty bra—picked up off the floor, 2 questionable socks—will have to do
2 bags of clean laundry, immaculate squares, waiting at Laundromat
3 unreturned calls from mom, 3 angry red blinks on machine 
1 message from agent, re: audition for soap opera. Walk-on—as waitress—on Tuesday
1emphasized note from agent, “They’re looking for something different.”
2 days to practice 1 mediocre line, “Will that be all, then?”
40 minutes on the subway—1 transfer
12 versions of “Will that be all, then?” mouthed silently, riding train, facing AIDS hotline poster

    1 nod hello from bartender, 1 grunt from manager
    3 specials to memorize: 
        Breakfast Panini (fancy MacDonald’s: egg, bacon, cheddar), 
        Ahab’s Omelette (old-ish salmon chef needs to dispose of and can hide in eggs)
        Croque Monsieur (ham & cheese with a bloated sense of self)
One 1-top, four 2-tops, three 6-tops, then 7
10 squeezed in on a 6, Two 2s spread out on two 4s
12 Bloody Marys, 4 diet cokes – 1 with lime, 3 tap waters
15 tap waters: 8 with no ice, 1 eye roll
“19 pick up!”
1 rehearsal at table 19, “Whiwl that be aawl, then?” á la Cockney, wiping nose on sleeve
3 blank stares
2 mustard-yellow, 3 mustard-golden, 8 mustard-honey-dijon

    5 requests for Happy Birthday, made by lying requesters
    5 off key renditions sung by red-cheeked waiters, their eyes on their shoes
    “21, pick up!”
    4 customers calling, “Excuse me, Miss?”
    10 demands for coffee, “Now!”
    3 pots of decaf served, disguised as regular
    3 wary vegetarians, 2 entrée returns, 1 screaming child
    1 fat man’s napkin, resembling a Civil War tourniquet

1 shared cigarette in bathroom stall with coworker, to brag about audition
3 comments from coworker: “I’ve auditioned for them. The roles are precast. They’re mean.”
1 request from coworker, “Will you introduce me to your agent?”
1 poorly made up excuse
2 waitresses giggling over the fat man with the gross, Civil War-tourniquet-napkin

    “23 pick up!”
    2 illegals, filling bus tubs
    2 missing tips
    “23! CHRIST! PICK! UP!”

1 beard, collecting bits of scrambled egg
1 rehearsal with beard, 
        “Will that be…all? Then?” á la seductress, leaning cleavage into his face.
1 phone number, written on napkin speckled with egg bits

            15 Bloody Marys, 15 tap waters, 1 Betsy Ross?
            5 plates balanced on forearm
            1 burn, 1 crash, 5 apologies
            5 complimentary pumpkin cheesecakes
            “86 the pumpkin cheesecake!”
            5 complimentary apple crumb tarts
            1 rehearsal with crash victims,
                “Will! clap, clap clap, That! clap, clap clap, Be alllll then!”  á la cheerleader
            5 frowns

100 in tips, 10 paid out to bartender, 30 ketchups wiped down
3 avenues, walking east to Central Park
1 practice run with homeless woman on bench, “Will that be all, then?”
         á la nurse comforting sick child
3 dollars given to homeless woman
2 large trees on the edge of Sheep Meadow, creating a shady spot to sit
1 large hawk, swooping down, lifting unsuspecting squirrel into tree
5 crunching sounds from above, that bring to mind chocolate, malted eggs
1 rehearsal with hawk, “Will that be all then?” á la disgusted waitress to glutton

        40 minutes on the subway, 1 transfer
        12 versions of “Will that be all, then?” mouthed silently, riding the train, facing an AIDS hotline poster
        1 moment wondering if this will be all
        1 note to self—call mom
        1 note to self—pick up laundry



Kim Winter Mako’s creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Nervous Breakdown, Drowning Allison and Other Stories (Grateful Steps Publishing 2012), Ducts.org, and The Great Smokies Review. Kim grew up in New Jersey, attended Syracuse University, and lived for many years in New York City as an actor. She was a founding member of atheatrco, a non-profit theatre creating original works. She currently lives in Asheville with her husband, is in love with the mountains, and frequently contributes to Listen to This: Stories in Performance. 


Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: This piece was fun to write and was a mix of fantasy and things that I actually heard or saw. I used a list structure to go with place—the grid of the city, numbered trains—and a waiter’s multi-tasking mind—keeping track of table numbers, food item numbers on a restaurant computer, money. I’m interested in working people. A lot of my poetry and short stories are focusing on that.

When I found him, he was watching Shawshank and losing quarters to the old gumball machine his cousin Irving'd stolen from out front of the supermarket last weekend. Like the gumball machine, most of the furniture in his living room was secondhand—either stolen or a hand-me-down: sectional sofa from his Aunty Rita; an ottoman hoisted curbside from a yard sale while Irving ran interference; TV from the back of a delivery truck, bought on the cheap and reported as an inventory slip-up. Artie said he was thrifty; I said he was broke, spent too much money on shit he didn't need. Junk for needles for arms for highs for days he could waft through, hours he could forget. 

“Artie, you with me? You with me, Artie?” I asked, patting his ankles, crossed atop the ottoman. 

He pulled his legs back, swinging them onto the sofa, one tucked under, the other stretched the length of a frayed cushion. The loose white musculature of his thighs, hanging from old track shorts, advertised a time when his legs were used for dashes, hurdles, four-by-two-hundred relays. “Shur,” he said, mouth full of gray-pink bubblegum. “Awake, that's me.” 

Grabbing the remote from his hand, I muted the television, sat on the ottoman. “Artie. Buddy. Let's get out. Let's talk, grab a bite. We'll grab a bite and talk. What do you think about burritos?” 

Athletic tautness had given way to the emaciated frailty of junkies and now he wore a belt to keep his track shorts up, doubly useful as it was handy to tie around his arm when needed. I squinted across the room at the prison yard on the television and wondered why, when the rest of us used the TV to escape, Artie used it to predict his future. 

“I wanna grab some food. I wanna talk with you, Artie.” 

The binge began when Irving ODed three days prior. Artie's fix: bubblegum and heroin. 

Seated across from one another in that living room, I recalled how one day during track practice, Artie, in the middle of a relay, had swung out of his lane to where the hurdlers, myself included, were practicing. He cut me off and took my stretch, leaping each hurdle, before swerving back into his own lane to hand off the baton. Coach kept him late sweeping the track, running sprints, sweeping the track again. I waited for him in the locker room, and he showed up laughing as I pretended to throw punches at his ribs. My own form lacked; I caught the toe of my shoe on that last hurdle each time. 

Not Artie.

Now, as he removed the stretch of cracked leather from its buckle and slipped the belt around his biceps just above the elbow, he didn't say a thing, but his eyes, like that day when he intruded on my event, begged me to watch, defied me to stop him. Look what I can do, they said. Look what I can do. 


Charlie Griggs is an assistant editor for the literary journal Fiction International and currently lives in San Diego, CA. His writing has been published or is forthcoming in Black Scat Review, Blue Lake Review, Foundling Review, Floodwall Magazine, Sleipnir Magazine, and Zoom Street

Q&A

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

A: I'm much more comfortable working with long-form prose and, because of this, I tend to think of any piece of flash as just a scene, or a part of a scene, from something longer. “Bubblegum and Heroin,” however, try as I might, never allowed itself to extend further than what you see here. Any attempts to lengthen or further embellish felt inorganic. My biggest surprise, then, was how taut and inflexible the text ended up being. Nevertheless, it was, and remains, a pleasant surprise.

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

Heather Bartlett
Scavenging

Katherine Riegel
Two Essays
She sliced her skin from breastbone to hip cradle and filled the wound 
with fallen leaves. There will be more. 
Afterward she went out into the brute sun. 
There will be more. 

It was always the trees. 
The trees were always the children of angels. 
They called the sun. They called for burning. They called the frost, 
the sugar in the veins. There will be more.

Their wings will drop away and they will rise. 
The leaves winged around her head.
The weather smelled of wet wool or whiskey.
There will be more.

Wet leaves clung to her legs under her skirts.
Summer’s skin bittered under her tongue
and the hush and steam of the rain on the leaves
turned everything the grey-brown of bark.

Rain on his feathers moaned through his bones.
Afterward, she stepped into the stone chapel. 
Rain on his feathers sang through his bones like broken wolves.
A gallimaufry of leaves and wings—

Fall is a sweeperwoman, healer, digger of graves,
therefore prayer. 
Sun crystalled the sky and the ocean stirred. 
Leaves clapped together as they passed her eyes. 

Sugar refining veins, sugar distilling light.
Sugar moonshining the air. Frost in her song. 
Frost in the crickets’ calls. Frost closing her wound.
There will be more. 



Devon Miller-Duggan teaches for the Department of English at the University of Delaware. Her first book, Pinning the Bird to the Wall, appeared from Tres Chicas Books in 2008. A chapbook, Neither Prayer, Nor Bird, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013. 


Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: Nerdy, but I fell in love with the word “gallimaufry” because it sounds a bit like Dr. Who’s home planet. It also sounds like the word for a huge lace collar or 16th c. puffy pants for men. I’ve managed to use it in two poems this year. Even though the book of angel poems came out, I keep writing the darn things, though this is more fractured fairy tale than angel poem, which is a relief. 

Scavenging
Heather Bartlett
followed by Q&A

“Did you think your mother was going to die?” We’re in a small room with too white walls. I’m staring at a porcelain cat figurine on the bookshelf. The shiny brown animal is reaching for a copy of The Woman Warrior. My therapist doesn’t blink when she’s waiting for an answer.

Four years ago, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years ago, she finished radiation. Last year she had her last surgery. While I’m sitting in this room she’s likely starting a roast in her new dutch-oven or rearranging carpet remnants in the basement rec room.

“No.”

***

When I’m ready to start moving things, I turn off all the lights except the table lamp next to the old chair. The darkness has always been what allows me to see most clearly. And in this early morning dark, this quiet stillness before anyone is awake, I want to see the room from this chair. I stand on it, securing my bare feet on its rounded edges, tossing broken pencil pieces around the room. Most of them roll along the uneven floor to the baseboard edges, but some stick where they land, catching in the frayed carpet. I keep tossing until enough pieces fall together to make a full pencil—the corner across from the door. This is where the chair will start.

From here, the shape of the room seems distorted. I’m suddenly aware of uneven angles and oblong shadows. I walk from one end of the narrow room to the other, rolling yellow splinters in my fingers. I measure approximate widths and distances with footsteps, guess at color pairings in the dark, make pencil piles where furniture will go. Then I begin. For hours, I move and shift and nudge. Everything gets relocated, most things more than once. Except for the chair. 

When daylight starts to invade the room, and I can’t see anymore if this new arrangement is right, I send a picture message to my mother: “needed a change.”


***

My mother and I have always been obsessed with transformation, changing things by changing what surrounds them. An oversized blue vase is a different blue when it sits on the black end table, a small elephant statue takes on a new personality when placed in front of the largest window, a room has new purpose when the sofa is moved to the center of the floor. This is what my mother and I share. We were never much interested in getting new things; we only wanted to make things new.


***

“Why not?” My therapist wants to know where my emotions come from. I want to know how to have the right ones. I want to say something about fighting with my mother. I want to say something about the months we barely spoke—how I moved the chair away from the window because she had put it there. I want to say something about the day we made up—how I moved the chair back. I want to say something about worrying, not that she was going to die, but that we would never understand each other. 

I don’t say anything. The porcelain cat is staring at me now.

***

When I moved from Queens back to upstate New York, my mother and I went scavenging. We scoured this small town for unexpected pieces to fill the grand, empty spaces my city-sized furniture couldn’t fill. We found snap together shelves to put against a bare wall, brightly colored sheets to transform moving boxes into side tables, chipped floor vases to fill empty corners. We spend the afternoon placing and replacing, examining rooms through stretched arms and finger frames, nodding when we knew we had it right. We spent two hours trying to find an aesthetically pleasing yet functional place for an old wooden desk, thirty-five minutes on the exact corner angle of the couch. We flitted back and forth between rooms; the typewriter belongs in the office, certainly, but doesn’t it look good on this stand in the bedroom?

This is the way we’ve always made sense. We are nesters, decorators, architects. We recognize each other in these skills. I feel like my mother when I move a chair from one side of the room to another. I know that I came from her when I notice she’s switched out her entryway rugs, when the picture of my grandparents is moved closer to the window, when every room shows the evidence that she’s been there.



Heather Bartlett received her MFA in Poetry from Hunter College. Her poems have appeared recently in Barrow Street, Connotation Press, The Nervous Breakdown, Phoebe, Prime Number, and elsewhere. Currently, she teaches writing at Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland. She writes and grades papers from her small apartment in Ithaca, NY.

Stranger and the Green Gloves
by Rachna Kulshrestha
​Followed by Q&A

On a Sunday evening, when the early summer sky glittered like steel struck with light, a man came through their front gate and kissed his mom. It was a few months after his father's death. She was on her knees working in the front yard, pulling weeds from the lawn. It was a hot day. Flies were persistent and buzzing. A clean rivulet of sweat ran down her neck. She had been quite oblivious and had not noticed her teenage son. He stood near the half-curtained window with his fingers laced together over his grey t-shirt, staring at the apostrophes of little black birds. And for the same reason as she felt the need to look at her shadow from time to time, she turned around and saw the man. She moved the damp hair away from her bronzed face and stood where she was. The man took her in his arms with a strange intimacy and kissed her pale lips, sliding her gloves to the side. They talked in a hushed tone. Then he left, leaving a slight tremor in the wind and a wet cloud in her eyes. The boy looked away as if it never happened.

In days to come, she washed the gloves and kept them in a safe, cool corner. Her bare hands moved inside the mounds of dirt, synchronized to the pulse of earth as if something was sprouting within her. She worked all day and showered in the evening - her wet hair crimped in place with bobby pins and a small rose on the side. The flowers in her garden bloomed and collapsed as sacred verses in the lap of gravity; the streams of sun played Morse code in their kitchen and as days turned into a haze, she lost track of time. The boy caught her sitting next to the washing machine long after the cycle had ended. Sometimes, she stood next to the boiling milk until it stuck to the pan and turned brown. She kept the curtains drawn, the rose-bush trimmed so she could oversee the entrance. Her ears picked up every sound - when a footstep hit the patio or when a spoon dropped or a bird took flight. She rarely slept and when she did, she kept her knees close to her chest to get through the night.

The boy thought of saying something but never found the words beyond: "Mom, are you OK?" "Yes, sweetie," she said. And he held her hand, his eyes reading her face - bare and concentrated. After an uneventful summer and fall, the prismatic landscape changed to a banal grey. She spent more time by the fireplace, stuck on the same page of a romance novel, watching the snow cover her barren flower bed, the gilded grass and her hopes with an icy blanket.

When spring arrived, a heady smell of grass persisted for days. On the day, exactly a year since the stranger had appeared, she sat amidst new bags of mulch and top soil. Then as if she recalled something, she recovered the green gloves from the corner and stuffed them in a half-filled trash bag. The boy, standing not too far away, snatched the shiny, black bag and ran to the dumpster at the end of the street and emptied it over a heap of debris and circling flies. Then he climbed inside and mixed it until the gloves were out of sight. Knee-deep in filth, he looked at the sky. The sharp lines of light crisscrossed under the liquid blue canvas. Not a single cloud. Holding one of the edges of the dumpster as though it were a close friend, he wept. His voice eventually faded until he could only hear its echo in his heart. When he arrived at home, he stood at the gate for a moment, his mom, with her back towards him, kneading the lumps of soil with her hands, sang lightly as if to a bird.



Rachna Kulshrestha is an Electrical Engineer who designs integrated circuits at a Startup Company for a living. She lives in McKinney, TX with her husband and two kids. She loves to read, write and sketch. She is a private pilot and has instrument rating for single engine aircraft.


Q&A

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

A: What surprised me most was the evolution of the story. The characters grew in the process of discovering love and grief. The story started from the opening line and took a shape of its own.

Two Essays
Katherine Riegel


My Love, Everything is Risk

In the second dream, I meet your two sons, older than the daughter I know about. They are charming and have your accent, and wink at you as if to say, “Good job, Dad.” Then your ex-wife comes in with a gun, and there is running and chaos and I wake myself up trying to escape.

In the third dream, we are driving through the neighborhood of my childhood. You point at houses I’ve nearly forgotten, standing in the background, leaning so far they could almost fall over, all the windows dark. We notice them, and you take my hand, and we drive on.

In the fourth dream we are in a game that is not a game. There are pieces of torn-up paper that make up messages we don’t know whether we are supposed to decipher or discard. We get separated, and I lean against a cold mirror and fall through into your bed, only partly awake, and shivering, because you have gotten up and gone to work.

In the not-dream, you cried because you loved me. And I did not tell you that I had cried too, earlier. What I told you was that your cat, the one who had been held down as a kitten with a lighter put to her paws, climbed into my lap, purring. No, you said. She’s never done that, even to me. 

I cannot remember the first dream anymore, but I would like to believe it was simple, beginning and ending with a kiss.



Apology That You Have to Live in My World

I’m sorry for the sun half-blinding as you drive west, for the insistent, unwavering flash that stays on your eyelids when you blink, for your fear of slamming into something because you’re squinting so hard all the sunshapes look the same. Yes, that was my fault. I asked for light.

I’m sorry for the flowers not lasting long enough in their pretty vase. I wanted room for more flowers, frilly frothing hillsides of them, throats full, arms full, colors and patterns as varied as handmade quilts, and because of that, not everything could live.

I’m sorry for distances. I’m sorry for sleep. I’m sorry for icicles pulling at the gutters. I’m sorry about birth, and for what they call growing pains, that acrid ache in your legs when you were lying in your twin bed at night. I’m sorry for vacations, how they speed by like a train and leave you standing in the same place. 

I’m sorry for the way you cut yourself for love, thinking you need to feed it on drops of blood the way rescued baby squirrels are fed milk with eyedroppers. I’m sorry you’re afraid of rage. I’m sorry you want someone to hold you when you’re crying, the hard sounds coming out of your mouth and your nose dripping, but you can’t let anyone see you that way. 

I’m sorry for memory’s faulty wiring, rooms going dim just when you enter them, others lit garishly and you can’t shut the door. I’m sorry you feel responsible for everything. Most days I’m not sure what I wished for that made things turn out like this, I just know somehow it’s all my fault.



Katherine Riegel is the author of two books of poetry, What the Mouth Was Made For and Castaway. Her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Brevity, Crazyhorse, and The Rumpus. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and teaches at the University of South Florida. Visit her at katherineriegel.com.

She practiced sadness her whole life. As a kid, she wouldn’t play in the rain because of the worms, flooded and drowned. She wrote poems about birds unable to smile. She shouldered sadness, proud and tall, the queen of her own small country. 

Now her boyfriend and her new roommate explained kindly, in simple words, they wanted her to move out of the apartment they shared. They said, “We’re happy together. You understand, right?” She wasn’t surprised. 

What did surprise her was the ease, the pink contented glow that carried her sailing through the end stage: packing, settling bills. Happiness ends, she knew. When their happiness runs aground, they will stand agape and outraged, crying for someone to save them. But I have my sadness, she thought, and I always will. I can eat my sad heart and I will never go hungry. 



Anne Lindley is a writer and a librarian. Her short fiction has been published by Five Stop Story and by the Sunday magazine of the Hartford Courant newspaper. She is also a lyricist whose songs can be heard on public and SiriusXM radio. She grew up in Los Angeles but she has lived in Connecticut so long people think she invented the place.

What She Knew
by Anne Lindley