Author: Travis Stephens

Travis Stephens is a tugboat captain who resides with his family in California. A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumni, recent credits include: Gyroscope Review, 2River, Sheila-Na-Gig, GRIFFEL, Offcourse, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Gravitas and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

Advice for the Lovelorn

Dear Loser: 

Tanya says “Get the fuck outta here!” when she means don’t

go,  don’t go anywhere. Tell me more. Tell me more as the marble eyed cats

watch without sorrow, without shame to slide along your grateful hand one 

moment & the next are leg up, licking itself.


She says “Boy Howdy!” when she means, yeah, stupid, Duh. Or else when we’re

at the Lakeside Tap and some outta state schmoe get the nerve to approach us. 

Not send over a drink, hey thanks, pal, but hoists his hairy ass off the bar stool.

Walk over like, hey youse girls need a little company. My manly presence is a 

Gift from God so one of you will be going home with me or there’s something

wrong with you. Seeing such a specimen sucking in his gut Tanya would give

Steve or Kyle or Bob or Fuckface a shiny “Boy Howdy!” It only encourages

that kind. If they got too close I would lay a wet liplock on Tanya. Run, Sonny, run.

There’s queers in here. If I cupped a tittie he’d blow his heart out—boom.

If it werent for Debbie at the bar laughing and buying us drinks we’d have long

moved on to somewhere else.


Tanya is quiet when she is sick or heartbroke. Not crying, not pouty but .38

every day carry sort of quiet. There is nothing in a medicene cabinet for it, 

maybe try the liquor cabinet. Or gun cabinet. Usually it’s just the flu. She’ll be just 

fine in a week or ten days.


My advice is to look at the stars but never the moon. The moon is a lifeless pile

of dust and space junk. The stars get drunk and fall down, sometimes go to 

re-hab and are seen pushing a grocery cart. Loaded with toilet paper, Tampax

and cheap vodka. That one’s my star, my afternoon soap. Tune in.

Stay Gold Ponyboy

Blood pooled, body doubled over,

Johnny’s back pocket indented from where the knife used to live

Where life and innocence were shed.

Stevie Wonder sings and tears spill down my face,

Students mockery, mundane middle school children.

Stay Gold like the sandy beaches on the coast

like the fairy dust and the stars

like the untarnished look of a softball trophy

Stay Gold like the flaming bronze of the Trojan Horse

and the pureness of the full moon on Halloween and

the blinding celestial bodies floating through the sky on a cloudless night

Stay Gold like smooth, molten, liquid rock

like a deep tan that only comes in the Summer and

the shimmery hair that comes along too

Stay gold like the light that reflects off of her brown eyes

like the warmth of the purest amber and

the brightness of the largest sunflower.

There’s still lots of good in the world.

Everything is Ether

Cast:

Thiago Garza – Male, 35-40, Los Angeleno, Mexican heritage, lived in the US since he was 19, but recently became a citizen. Dressed in a black new looking hoodie, tan chinos, and white K-Swiss shoes.

Abraxas Garza – Teenager 15-17, Thiago’s oldest son. Dressed in a brown t-shirt with easily recognized logo, skinny blue jeans, ballcap with tag still attached (cocked off to the side), and skater shoes.

Caton (pronounced kat-aan) Garza – Middle schooler, 10-12, Thiago’s youngest son. Dressed in a white long-sleeved button up shirt (still has creases from the package) with a slender dark blue tie, gray dress pants, and oxfords shined to a high polish that are a few sizes too big.

Zack Coolidge – Older dude, 35-40, Los Angeleno, Caucasian originally from Missouri. Dressed in fancy, expensive blue jeans, red short sleeved button-down shirt with hip design, trendy shoes, and high-end shoes and sunglasses.

Setting:

The side of a busy freeway (expressway) like “the 5” or “the 405.” Its early morning on a Saturday and LA traffic is light but building. Thiago and his sons are standing on the shoulder staring at the scrubby, littered landscape. Caton holds a moderately sized metal cross in his arms and Abraxas holds a wooden crate full of trinkets: rosary beads, gaudy jewelry, a mated stuffed dolphin, and fake flowers. Thiago’s hands are deep into his pockets and an old Dodger’s baseball cap hangs limply from his back pocket. Thiago slips between English and Spanish until Zack arrives then his English improves greatly or worsens (directors’ choice). When Abraxas uses slang Thiago, and later Zack, look confused; Caton or Abraxas translates, if necessary.

Time:

Mid 2000’s.


CATON

(He sniffles.) Are those her tire marks?

THIAGO

Si, must be. (He picks up part of a headlamp.)

CATON

How does this work?

THIAGO

No sé. Put el cruce whereever you think es bueno.

CATON

Anywhere I want? (THIAGO shrugs.)

ABRAXAS

Yo, this fucking sucks.

THIAGO

Cuida tu lenguaje!

ABRAXAS

The same goes for you. Habla English. You’re a bona fide American now, right? 

CATON

Where should we put it?

THIAGO

(The building traffic makes him frown.) Wherever you think es ventajoso.

CATON

Advantageous?

ABRAXAS

Yo, these memorials… shrines along the roads for dead people are whack.

THIAGO

Ab, Catonel necesita esto… uh, he need this. (He sets the headlight down, gently.) Maybe we all do.

ABRAXAS

A cross from a Things Remembered store placed along the stupid freeway to honor Mom is the last thing I need, no diggity.

CATON

You… (Blubbers.) you helped me pick it out.

ABRAXAS

Man, let’s get this over with, so we can Audi 5000.

THIAGO

Stop bad talk por favor… please.

CATON

He’s fronting, like he does at school.

ABRAXAS

Yo, shut it Katie.

THIAGO

That pequeno grassy patch where es skid marks end eso sería estupendo.

CATON

(Scans the shoulder in both directions.) Strange. It’s the nicest spot for a half mile each way.

ABRAXAS

Yo, the patch is living large, like it survived the drought, smog, and smut for the cause, trill.

            (THIAGO looks confused.)

CATON

Trill (He pauses in thought.) true and real… trill.

THIAGO

We could take cross back and get something else or… get burilar.

CATON

(His voice cracks.) Mom would love anything we put up for her even if it’s not engraved. 

THIAGO

Sí. It’s perfecto.

ABRAXAS

He’s looking jiggy in his best rags and I sure as hell don’t want to come back, except for an occasional drive by to keep it real. I mean, everything is everything.

CATON

Yeah, reality is reality. (Wipes away his tears and bends over to size up the spot more closely. Off stage a car swerves and comes to an abrupt stop.

THIAGO

Mierda, its…

ABRAXAS

That’s the mother fu—husband of the puta loco that ran Mom off the road.

THIAGO

Easy. Stay calmar.

CATON

Its stay calm Dad, not calmar. What does he want?

ZACK

            (Zack runs on stage and whips off his sunglasses.)

What in the fuck are you guys doing here?

THIAGO

We’re putting up a memorial, y tu? uh and you?

ZACK

Bro, you ain’t gonna believe it, but I was about to do the same thing.

ABRAXAS

Yo, it’s gonna be ether that you showed up pimping in your s class cedes on the same day as us. It’s been like two weeks since the accident. (He quotes the air when he says accident.)

ZACK

            (He glares at ABRAXAS.)

Yeah, two weeks to the day.

CATON

(Quietly to ABRAXAS.) Ether means ruthlessness… to completely dismantle an opponent in a rap battle? (They smile.)

            (Zack rushes off stage and comes back with a huge, metal Icon shaped like a heart. He struggles to manage it.)

Where do you plan on putting that?

ZACK

(He scopes the area.) Bro, that grassy area is the dopest place for a killer monument. (He points at the heart with a douchey, emphatic gesture. CATON holds his cross tighter and saddens even more.)

ABRAXAS

Whoa, step off. We were here first, and we already chose that slammin spot, trill. You don’t even sound like you’s from LA.

ZACK

Everywhere else is dead grass, powdery dirt, and trash. I moved her from Missouri like when I was twenty. I’m as LA as anyone.

THIAGO

Perdone, but my boy es correcto. (Stammers.) We get here first.

ABRAXAS

And yo, some privacy while we work would be phat. (To CATON.) Missouri, where’s that?

ZACK

(He faces THIAGO.) Listen, I’d be willing to pay you five Benjamins to let me place my memorial on the grassy area. Ya know, like a finder’s fee.

            (THIAGO’s eyes widen).

CATON

Dad?

ZACK

I could pay you a bit more, but I’ve only got five bills on me. I’d have to find a moolah machine to make up the rest. Watcha say ‘bout eight hundred dineros?

ABRAXAS

Man, you’re tripping.

ZACK

Your kids sure know how to play things for a higher price.

THIAGO

They es no like that.

ABRAXAS

Pop is right. It ain’t about the scrilla, brah.

            (ZACK, THIAGO, and CATON look confused.)

            (ABRAXAS acts put out.)

G’s, c-notes, dead presidents, la cumquibus, cash.

THIAGO

(Shakes his head, reluctantly) ¡no, gracias!

ZACK

            (He glances over his shoulder at Thiago’s truck.)

The lawn care business must be more lucrative than it looks. Your work truck is four bald tires away from being on blocks in a front yard back home.

ABRAXAS

Yo, maybe you should put your bling, bling and scrilla up your…

THIAGO

Abraxas, that’s suficiente.

ZACK

Look, I’ve got some influential contacts that could give your business a serious leg up—It is your business, right? I’m talking about Garza and Sons becoming more than a one-run-down-truck operation. A whole fleet of trucks and dozens of day workers.

THIAGO

We are bueno—good.

CANTON

Ab, will you help me set up the cross?

ABRAXAS

Hell’s yeah. We’ll do it like a boss. 

            (They walk to the grassy area carrying the cross and wooden crate. They continuously glance at ZACK and THIAGO who watch them set up the cross.)

ZACK

You’re passing up some serious jack and an incredible business opportunity, all so your memorial can sit on a patch of grass that’ll be yellow or dead in a few days? That’s loco.

THIAGO

We’ll be rapido… quick and then your turn. 

ZACK

Seriously dude, what’s it going to take?

THIAGO

Place el corazón—heart good distance away por favor. They both murió…died…here, but…

ZACK

Why’d you have to take it there?

THIAGO

All I’m ask es a little separation, eso es—that’s it. (He spreads his hands.)

ZACK

            (He looks like he might brawl, but the awkwardness of the heart stops him.)

Just because the five-o didn’t give your wife a ticket, doesn’t mean she was innocent.

THIAGO

(Backs up.) Your espouza too mad. Road rage no está bien… es very bad.

ZACK

Yeah, but what did your wife do to spark her off. That’s the million dólar question.

THIAGO

Let’s no fight. (Shakes his head and gestures at his boys.) Not in front of mis hijos.

ABRAXAS

(He runs over to his father’s side.) Remember, you mess with the burrito you get the whole platter, nam sayin’.

ZACK

That’s not how the saying goes.

ABRAXAS

I always keep it real and belie’e me you don’t wanna snack on this chimichanga—or the sides.

ZACK

What are you like fifteen?

ABRAXAS

Almost seventeen and you better check yo self before you wreck yo self.

ZACK

You’re lipping Ice Cube lyrics at me?

ABRAXAS

Damn, you know the song?

ZACK

Had The Predator disc since like forever.

ABRAXAS

Maybe this whitebread ain’t so bad. (Goes back to help Caton.)

THIAGO

Let’s be finished and go.

ZACK

(Seems to finally see the wreckage site.) There’s no way your wife was so innocent.

THIAGO

Sí inocente. The victim.

ZACK

No fucking way. Milly wouldn’t have gone Mad Max without being provoked. I mean, sure, she could get hot behind the wheel, but never to the point she’d do what they say she did.

CATON

Maybe she was different when you weren’t with her.

ZACK

That’s the thing, she wasn’t alone, was she?

THIAGO

No?

ZACK

            (Speaks to no one in general, still focused on the skid marks.)

What was she doing with a streetwalker in her car? One of them hermaphrodites. She was supposed to be coming home from work.

            (THIAGO is baffled, CATON blushes, and ABRAXAS stifles a snicker.)

ABRAXAS

Whatcha mean, like a good sam picking up a hitchhiker?

ZACK

That’s what one of the cops said, but the other one had this look, like a teenage girl whose oversized dildo is under the pillow right next to her new flirt.

THIAGO

I’m sorry. (He takes a few steps away from Zack toward the grassy patch.) I should help.

ZACK

Screw it. (He drops the Icon and it clangs.) She doesn’t deserve a goddamn roadside memorial.

THIAGO

            (He rushes over and picks up the heart.)

Sí, sí she do.

            (He holds the heart out to ZACK who turns toward the rushing traffic and steps over the white line and stops, but looks like he might continue into the fast-moving cars.)

ZACK

Damn, traffic is moving fast—is everybody in LA actually working today? Or is it some funky or fake holiday like Cinco De Mayo?

            (Offstage; the sound of a car swerving and honking. ABRAXAS runs over and grabs ZACK by the shoulder to pull him out of the car’s path at the last second.)

ABRAXAS

Whoa, that hooptie almost ended you.

THIAGO

You place el corazón next to la cruz…on la hierba…es lawn.

CATON

He said you can place your heart next to our cross on the grass.

ZACK

(Undaunted, he stands quite close to the white stripe facing away from traffic.) No, you’re right. There needs to be some separation.

CATON

After we’re finished, we can stick around for a bit if you’d like. Right Dad?

THIAGO

Sí. No problemo.

ZACK

What would you do if they’d found another person in the ashes with your wife? Someone like that?

THIAGO

No entiendo. (Holds out the heart but Zack doesn’t notice.)

ZACK

You let it fuck with your head, until you realize you’ll never know for sure if she picked up a hitchhiker which fits my angel’s MO, or if she was into she-male hookers.

THIAGO

Mi sons almost hecho, uh pleno, uh complete.

ZACK

We were trying to have kids. (Stares at Abraxas and Caton as traffic continues to whiz past behind him.) I mean, who in the hell goes slutting when you’re trying to build your future? Hell, I didn’t and believe me, I had plenty of opportunities.

THIAGO

She was encinta? (He uses his hand to indicate a large belly.)

ZACK

Nah, could you imagine my prego wife out getting laid on the side: hooking up with prostitute hermaphrodites. That’d be the fricking cherry on top of this whole shitty thing. Do you think your wife had secrets?

THIAGO

No sé. Probablemente, uh probably.

ZACK

Yeah, nothing like this I bet. But we’ve all got secrets…you can believe that amigo.

THIAGO

(To ABRAZAS and CATON.) Almost completar?  

ABRAXAS

Yeah, we’re almost done. Is Mr. Cool Cat getting tired of lampin?

THIAGO

            (He frowns at ABRAXAS.)

Please, uh forgive him. He—we no take this bueno.

CATON

(He mistakes THIAGO’s frown as confusion.) Lampin means hanging out.

ZACK

I sat in the mancave a few nights ago—in our…er my mini-estate. Even that room seemed like too much space for a single dude. What in the fuck am I supposed to do now? Keep banging around in six thousand square feet all alone.

THIAGO

Comenzar de nuevo. (He can’t seem to figure out the English translation and Zack gaps at him dumbly.)

CATON

He said we all need to start over.

ZACK

Start over? I’m on the northside of the big four-oh. My sperm count is falling faster than my libido or testosterone or whatever the fuck. Chicks in LA that are my age come with b-a-g-g-a-g-e, believe me. And the younger ones are too much to handle—party like there’s no tomorrow, which means they go clubbing three or four nights a week. I hate clubbing, I mean it was fun in my twenties, but I grew up. And don’t forget the ten to fifteen-dollar drinks—can I afford it? Sure. Do I want to? Hell no.

ABRAXAS

Damn, I thought peeps with mad scrilla never had problems.

ZACK

I got 99 problems, but… (Realizes its poor taste and stops singing.) You think every sap who’s lost someone close to them in a traffic accident puts one of these ridiculous things up?

CATON

It was my idea. (His voice quavers.) I didn’t know it was a thing.

ZACK

The other night at a party, some tweaked out Hollywood whore, high on coke or ecstasy, went off about how important it was to honor the dead in every way possible. The bitch got in my face, screaming that I was a sorry excuse for a husband because I hadn’t even thought about putting a memorial out here.

ABRAXAS

Caton had a similar diva moment—shit was off the chain.

CATON

No, I didn’t.

ZACK

Man, this kind of shit jacks with everyone. I keep my gun safe in the mancave. It wasn’t that I was loosely thinking about joining her that shook me to the core. I was trying to decide which gun I should use. One of the handguns seemed the most practical, but the idea of taking the Hemingway approach at the end of the line has some real curb appeal. That crazy ass used a fucking shotgun? What a mess.

ABRAXAS

Maybe you ought to hit the digits to a hotline or something.

ZACK

Nah, I’m just processing all this. I’m too selfish to take the chicken shit way out. (Traffic is becoming slower and thick, offstage car horns sound with more regularity.)

ABRAXAS

(Gets up from a kneeling position.) We bossed it as best we could, but the cross is flimsy. The first ghetto cruiser that comes pimping by will knock it over, no diggity.

THIAGO

Lets look in the truck cama. (He’s still holding the heart and is less sure what to do with it than before.)

CATON

The bed of the truck is a mess.

ZACK

Hey, I got the perfect thing. 

            (He rushes over to his car and comes back with a wooden stake, a mallet, and some wire then nods at the highway.) Now that’s more like LA traffic; slow and sluggish with pissed off drivers.

ABRAXAS

What’cha going to use for your bling-bling? (He points at the heart.)

ZACK

The same thing, Bro. I’ve got hundreds of stakes and rolls of wire all over the place. I’m a real-estate developer, which often means being an agent too. It feels like I’m always putting up the damn for sale signs even though it’s not my job.

ABRAXAS

That’s cool. You’re not going to charge us or something… are you?

ZACK

Nah, I write everything off on my taxes so no biggie.

CATON

Mister, would you mind showing me how to…

ZACK

Don’t you know how to use a mallet and some wire? (Caton looks sheepish.)

ABRAXAS

He’s our braniac.

ZACK

Yeah, sure, I can show you, it’s pretty easy.

            (CATON and ZACK move to the memorial.)

ABRAXAS

Dude’s more messed up about all this than I gave him credit for.

THIAGO

Sí, he’s in bad shape.

ABRAXAS

For real.

THIAGO

Gracias por ayudarlo—helping Caton.

ABRAXAS

He needs all the help he can get. (THIAGO frowns.) I still think a roadside shrine for Mom is whack.

THIAGO

No say anything to Caton.

ABRAXAS

Yo, I’m not a moron.

THIAGO

Lo sé. Did Mom habla where she was yendo, going?

ABRAXAS

No. I assumed she told you. The mall?

THIAGO

Si. (Shows relief.) Probablemente the mall.

ABRAXAS

But Fair Oaks is too flossy for her.

            (THIAGO looks confused.)

Showy.

THIAGO

Es the closest?

ABRAXAS

Truth, it’s the closest. Mom hated to go out of her way for anything.

            (They stand in silence watching CATON and ZACK work. He taps the heart.)

Why’s you still sporting that?

THIAGO

I’m not sure.

ABRAXAS

The dude’s being pretty chill. Caton would’ve probably offered him the same thing you did. He’s a softy.

THIAGO

We should all be more como el.

ABRAXAS

Be more like Caton? I guess. (Pauses.) I still don’t like the rich ass gringo. Too much flex.

THIAGO

That’s fine. Be polite.

ABRAXAS

Why be polite? His espousa offed Mom.

THIAGO

Hate is muy mal. Hating killed them.

ABRAXAS

Trill, but hating makes me feel like whoa better.

THIAGO

Not in long run.

ABRAXAS

What if I don’t have a long run—like Mámá.

THIAGO

You think about…

ABRAXAS

Chillax Pops, I’m a teenager who isn’t any more, or any less, suicidal than my homies.

THIAGO

So, entonces eres perfectamente suicida?

ABRAXAS

Jokes? Maybe you’s coming around a bit.

            (They laugh.)

THIAGO

            (To CATON and ZACK.)

Es you ready for this? (He tilts the heart like a double bass or harp.)

CATON

(Sighs.) Yeah, we’re ready for his heart.

ZACK 

Hey, can one of you guys scrounge around in my trunk and get a few more stakes?

ABRAXAS

(CATON walks up to them while ZACK does some final touches to the cross. ABRAXAS to THIAGO and CATON overhears him.) We really going to let him put that monstrosity next to our…er Mom’s cross?

THIAGO

Es tremendously big. ¿no lo es?

ABRAXAS

Awful and big, no diggity.

CATON

Where do you think he got it?

ABRAXAS

Must of pimped it somewhere off of Ventura Boulevard.

THIAGO

Sí, very extraño things there.  

CATON

Saying there’re strange things on Ventura is putting it mildly.

ABRAXAS

Man, he’s got a fly ride.

            (He gets a stake out of the trunk.)

Why don’t we get some slammin burritos from a taco truck after this?

THIAGO

Suena bien, uh, sounds good.

ABRAXAS

We haven’t gone since…

CATON

She loved the one over on…

ABRAXAS

Stadium Way. The food’s okay, but eating it while staring at the Dodgers’ house is da bomb.

THIAGO

We go after this.

ABRAXAS

Coolio. I’m starving.

CATON

            (He beams at the cross as THIAGO, ABRAXAS, and CATON approach where ZACK is working.)

What do think? Looks good, right?

ZACK

            (He takes the heart from THIAGO.)

Are you guys sure you don’t mind that this is next to your cross… on the grass?

THIAGO

            (He looks at each of his boys.)

Será grandioso. Together will be good for all.

ABRAXAS

Yo, we’re going to get some phat burritos from a taco truck—you wanna hang?

ZACK

Yeah, I could use a bite. I haven’t eaten much in days. I wouldn’t be glaming on?

CATON

Nah, its coolio. After all you helped stake Mom’s memorial.

ZACK

Any of you guys ever ride in a Mercedes Benz?

CATON

For real?

ZACK

You’ll love it… that is, if your dad says it’s cool.

THIAGO

Sí. Everything is everything.

ZACK

What does that mean? (The Garzas share a look.)

ABRAXAS

Yo Pops, you’s keeping it real.

CATON

Its nada. Do you know the taco truck over on Stadium Way?

ZACK

Do I? Bro, I eat there like once a week just to be near Dodger Stadium—it’s close to my office.

            (A collective look of appreciation that only true Dodger fans have blossoms on their faces. After a long pause, they all turn to leave except Caton.)

CATON

Shouldn’t we say a little something first?

ABRAXAS

Dad said it well, but he could add some flava—Everything is ether.

            (Fade out as THIAGO hangs the Dodger’s hat on the arm of the cross while the others watch approvingly. The traffic noises create an eerie soundtrack.

Choice

CHARACTERS

WANDA 30ish Black woman, humbly dressed

HELEN Wanda’s sister, flashily dressed

SOCIAL WORKER (heard only by phone)

ASHLEY and BRITTNEY (two girls always off stage)

SETTING
Kitchen of an apartment. Present day.

(Wanda drinks coffee and reads the morning newspaper. The phone rings.)

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Hello, Miss Phillips, how are Brittany and Alicia?

WANDA

Ashley’s fine too.

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Oh, I’m sorry; I meant that. How are you?

WANDA

I’m fine. How are you?

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

I’m fine.

WANDA

Good.

SOCIAL WORKER(off stage)

Good.

(Wanda sips my coffee and glances at the end of section B, the obituary page.)

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Their mother had another, Miss Phillips. Another girl. It was born two days ago. It has all ten fingers and all ten toes.

WANDA

How did she get pregnant again? I thought she was in jail.

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

She is.

WANDA

She’s in jail and pregnant?

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

She gave birth. I really hate calling you. I hate telling you this.

WANDA

How could you let that happen?

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

I’m really the middle man.

WANDA

I can’t take on another child.

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

You don’t have to decide this minute. Why don’t I call you in a few days?

WANDA

Where is she now?

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

In jail.

WANDA

No, the baby.

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

The facility has temporary housing for –

WANDA

That’s a sin. The baby is in custody?

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Miss Phillips, this is the way things work.

WANDA

How could you let this happen?

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Please, I almost didn’t call, but I thought you should know. Miss Phillips, I’m giving you too much at once. I’ll call you back in a few days.

WANDA (to the audience)

I work in a gray building filing papers. There, when phones ring I answer them.

We look alike, my adopted children and me. The rich mocha and cocoa hues of my skin matched theirs. They look like childhood pictures of me and my sister with our wide brimmed noses, rust colored plaits, and genetic trademarks.

Four could live as cheaply as three, right? Right? What’s another pair of school shoes, more money for milk, another college fund? I should take in that child. I have to.

I kept my hair short, but I straightened it. I wear slacks most days, not skirts because I don’t have the time to fuss with leg shaving and panty hose.

I haven’t had a date in two years, but it’s not my kids’ fault. I never dated much before them.

Brittany came addicted: underweight, about as heavy as a shadow, shaking, ashy complexioned. I sat up with her many a night trying to undo what had been done to her while she lived in someone else’s womb. I didn’t choose to have Ashley one year later. If it was up to me, I would have spaced them in a three years span. I got Ashley at two weeks and even then, she looked stunted and underdeveloped.

So, now six years later, there’s an addition.

Ashley has trouble sleeping. What would it be like with a crying baby in the house?

Babies are so easy to love. They are so small and helpless looking and have limited emotional range: they laugh and cry easily and are entertained with animal quilts and balloons and monotonous music.

(Helen enters the room.)

HELEN

Her tubes should be cut, and they should be fried.

WANDA

The child is already here.

HELEN

Then let Steven Spielberg adopt it. He likes our people. He’s a millionaire. You’re a secretary, barely making 30 a year. He has an estate. You have a lousy apartment.

(Helen sits as Wanda unpacks the groceries and sits as Wanda puts away the groceries and sits as Wanda begins making supper.)

HELEN

Stop trying to save the whole goddamn world.

WANDA

Do you have to put it like that, Helen?

HELEN

What, you want to be like everyone else? So PC that I’m not saying anything. Look, I voted in the last election. I serve on juries. I pay taxes on time. I’ve even given the Red Cross a whole freaking, fracking pint of my blood. I’m a good person.

WANDA

They aren’t the kind of girls where a lot of strangers would coo over. I don’t think Steven Spielberg is the answer.

HELEN

Why didn’t this woman have an abortion? At least with an abortion, you know it’s over. Shit, doesn’t it bother her not knowing what happened to this little girl?

WANDA

I can’t leave her there.

HELEN

Why not? She’s not yours. You keep messing around and you’re going to be like those people on 20/20. They got a
kid from each country. Shit. It’s not your problem. Have them call up one of those Scientologists. Are you crying?

WANDA

No, I’m just slicing onions.

(Helen gets up and takes the knife from Wanda’s hands. She begins chopping, without tears or remorse.)

HELEN

Do you want to hear a joke?

WANDA

Right now?

HELEN

Yep.

WANDA

No, I’m not really in the mood to laugh.

HELEN

You’ll like this one because it has a moral.

WANDA

Shoot.

HELEN

Jesus is sitting around the table with the apostles and he asks Paul, Paul, what do you bring? Paul says, Sorry, Jesus, I forgot. Then Jesus turns to John and asks John, What did you bring? And John says, I’m sorry, I didn’t bring anything. So Jesus says, Okay, apostles, you have done this to me time and time again: This is your last supper…

You see, even Jesus had His limits.

(The phone rings. Wanda goes to pick it up.)

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Miss Philips?

WANDA

You said you would give me a few days.

BRITTANY (off stage)

Mommy, who is it?

HELEN

Is it —

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Miss Phillips, I know, but I really want to move on this.

We can arrange to have you take the child –

WANDA

I’m not going to do it. Find another home for her.

BRITTANY (Off Stage)

W-w-who’s h-her, Mommy?

HELEN

Brittany, be quiet.

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

Are you sure you don’t need more time to think about it?

ASHLEY (off stage)

Who’s Mommy talking to?

WANDA

I can’t, I told the lady. Helen, could you take the girls into the next room?

HELEN

You’re doing the right thing.

SOCIAL WORKER (off stage)

You can name this one. Miss Phillips —

(Wanda hangs up the phone.)

To My Cousin Josh with Nothing

I didn’t look under the hood the way you would have.

An old Ford hardtop wedged between two trees 

in a cornfield as if it was parked there before 

the trees took root. The backdoor jimmied open. 

The steering wheel in place, but the pedals gone. 

I was walking a shortcut to the hospital 

because you were dying again. You’d been dying 

for so long it was hard to say from what. 

Ten years ago it was liquor, which led to diabetes. 

Now add cancer. Now pneumonia. The first drops 

of rain nickel-and-dimed the windshield but lacked 

the body to run the glass. They sat like solo climbers 

bivouacked at night on a bald granite face.

I stretched out on what was left of the backseat, 

the springs squealing at the pressure points 

as if to complain of the various weights of me. 

Meanwhile you were adding up to less and less. 

Forget about muscle––your skin waxed down 

to a windowpane, your limbs thickest at the joints. 

And as I lay in that totaled car waiting out the storm, 

all I could think about was how you waterskied 

at the family cabin years ago, how you slalomed 

with a natural’s ease, held the towrope one-handed, 

carved walls outside the wake, threw eight-foot sprays. 

And after a few days in the emergency wing 

getting half your liver removed, followed by 

that short stint in rehab, I remember the last time 

you tried––the same old life vest so oversized 

you had to switch it for a kid’s one. The easy 

bruises on your shins. The towrope assuming 

from your hands like a loon before you could lift 

above the wake. What happened to that athlete? 

That engineer? What slipped from your hands

and skidded across the lake and sank? I couldn’t sleep. 

The wind picked up. Raindrops veined into each other 

and pooled, sluicing down in chutes to the hood. 

And honestly Josh, I wish I could say the surgery 

failed, or the cancer spread, or the pneumonia found 

a foothold. I wish I could tell you I never made it 

to the hospital to see you. That in the end it rained all night 

and bad luck struck one or the other of the trees 

I was under. I wish I could believe the reasons 

the preacher gave at the funeral, or the mumbles 

of our mothers under the motor-drone on the drive home. 

But the truth is, you lived on for years. Thinned 

your six-foot-four frame to ninety-five pounds 

fully dressed and wet. You didn’t lose a fight. 

Nothing was after you. You moved up to the family cabin 

to avoid paying rent, smoked Camels 

with the curtains drawn and the television on, 

though you didn’t watch it, and one day you were gone.




Reprinted from The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee. Copyright (c) 2019 by Anders Carlson-Wee. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 

The Low Passions

The Lord came down because God wasn’t enough. 

He lies on sodden cardboard behind bushes 

in the churchyard. Wrapped in faded red. A sleeping bag

he found or traded for. Dark stains like clouds 

before a downpour. The stone wall beside him rising, 

always rising, the edges of stone going blunt 

where the choirboy climbs. He opens his mouth,

but nothing goes in and nothing comes out.

Like the sideshow man who long ago lost

his right testicle to the crossbar of a Huffy.

He peddles the leftover pain. The stitches clipped 

a week later by his father, the fiberglass bathtub 

running with color, the puffy new scar,

the crooked look of the pitted half-sack.  

He tells me you only need one nut, and I want 

to believe him. I want to believe he can still

get it up. I want to believe he has daughters, sons, 

a grandchild on the way, a wife at home 

in a blue apron baking. But why this day-old bread 

from the dumpster, this stash of hollow bottles

in the buckthorn, this wrinkled can of Pabst?

The Lord came down because God wasn’t enough.

Because the childless man draws the bathwater

and cries. Because the choirboy never sings 

as he climbs. Because the bread has all molded

and the mouths are all open. Open to the clotting air.

Homeless, anything helps. Anything. Anything you can 

spare. God bless you, God bless you, God bless. God, 

Lord God, God God, good God, good Lord very good God.




Reprinted from The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee. Copyright (c) 2019 by Anders Carlson-Wee. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN