by Samantha Cypret
“What is Ocala like?”
“It’s like Rachelle’s backyard, only everywhere.”
There’s a comfort in each step I take. I walk across the millions of fallen pine needles to an outlet of water that remains the same temperature all year. A blow-up raft is being held still in the dreaded marsh near the shore. It’s the same green vegetation that used to lock my fishing line on week nights with my dad.
The pines stand tall and close to each other the way they do back home along the river.
When I think of my mom’s cooking, I crave it. Being away for long periods of time reminds me how much I miss it. She isn’t the greatest cook, but it’s hers, and it’s mine. I don’t get the pleasure of eating other’s home cooked meals and though I am satisfied in every way, it still isn’t my mother’s. She used to make home fries as a side dish to steak, hearty and heart clogging. Seeing them on my plate made me miss her immediately, and my dog under my feet waiting for the accidental drops of food. As I take in each lump of potato, I feel something else. My tongue knows the difference in the patient cooking hand of Rachelle, each added step made while cooking is one my mother may not have had time to take. In this spot on the couch with a dog sitting close by, I feel welcome.
After eating one thing, cooked the same way every single time, you either learn to love it or shudder at the thought. Eggs have made me cringe since I was about fourteen. My dad added eggs as a side dish to anything. He put them in burritos for breakfast, made them over-easy with steak, and scrambled and mixed them in the gravy on biscuits. The scrambled texture in my teeth makes me shut my eyes and force the weightless pieces down quickly. I meant to avoid them altogether at Rachelle’s breakfast feast, but with fear of offending her, I placed the small muffin like egg on my plate. I kept my juice nearby and full, ready to swallow it quickly with a smile on my face. I wasted that first bite. My taste buds chased the flavor down my throat and craved another bite, and another.
Ever since my arrival in Jacksonville, I’ve been digging for a reason to stay. I’ve been looking in every separate part of this city for a place that feels like Ocala, or smells like my mother’s cooking, and looks like the river behind my dad’s house. If my standards lie in Ocala, I’ll never feel at home. I’ll always be chasing the impossible.
In Rachelle’s living room, there are writers with minds similar enough to call them friends and open enough to feel the sense of family, like home.
Whore Movies and Bug Sex
by David Castleman
I was sure I’d be late, having gone to bed hardly 4 hours ago, completely hung-over, and driving all the way across town, into the heart of the north side of Jacksonville. I had never been there, and even with plenty of time my directional skills are barely above Helen Keller. However, I was the first to arrive at Rachelle’s place. We are college students after all, dragging us out of bed early on a Sunday might as well be asking a colorblind man to diffuse a bomb. But if there’s food involved, we’ll find a way. The smells of breakfast food cooking tempted my nostrils as the others found their way: First Sam, then Lenny, and finally Allison.
I couldn’t really call it breakfast; this was a meal that transcended such a concept. Perhaps a word adequate enough to describe the food had not yet been coined, and I would have to make one up. Sexfast. It’s like sex for your mouth—food sex. French toast and home fries and these little egg cup things I still can’t comprehend. And a fruit salad. Like a real fruit salad with tasty fruits, not weird shit that no one likes to eat but somehow still gets served at parties. It was a combination of flavors that beat the hell out of the Denny’s I had consumed the night before to quell my inebriation.
With my stomach full and my hangover subsiding (mostly), we all head out back to grab some fresh air and brainstorm our project. Perhaps I’m a bit twisted, but I become really excited about how cool it would be to shoot a Horror movie in Rachelle’s backyard. And we joke about how I can’t properly annunciate “horror” and it sounds like I want to make a “whore movie”. While both possibilities are equally entertaining, this yard had the makings of a horror classic. It had that comfortably creepy feel about it that the best movies know how to capture. In broad daylight among friends it felt safe, but imagine all alone in the dark, no-fucking-thank-you.
It reminded me very much of a movie I’d recently seen, “The Conjuring”. I admire James Wan for what he did with that movie, and Rachelle’s yard seemed to capture it somehow. There’s a huge tree front and center, with a large horizontal branch holding a tire swing. Sam bravely used the swing, meant for a small child, while I saw it as the tree the witch had hung herself from in the movie. To my right was a shed and an old broken down vehicle, much like the one in the movie. To my left was a tree house, and tree houses can be inherently creepy. The yard terminated in a small body of water and a dock, which could have been straight out of so many horror movies: “The Conjuring”, “Amityville Horror”, “Evil Dead”, “Cabin in the Woods”, “Friday the 13th”, I could go on and on, the point is docks are creepy. And she has dogs. Every scary movie needs dogs, even if James Wan would kill them off in the first twenty minutes.
Back inside Rachelle’s place, we relax, have conversation and admire Jennifer Aniston side-boob on the television. I love that woman.
Somehow it came up in conversation with Lenny that I had become somewhat of a bug voyeur. My Entomology class requires I capture and kill insects as part of a growing collection that I have to turn in for a grade, but in this conquest, I notice so many bugs getting it on. A few days before, I had spent about ten minutes watching this bee try and get his lady into the mood—she wasn’t having it. The much smaller male kept trying to climb onto her but she kept swatting him away, she couldn’t seem to make up her mind. At first she’d let him in close, get him all excited, and then all of a sudden it’s “No, not tonight, I have a headache.” I felt bad for the poor blue-balled bumble bee. As he made the walk of shame down the stem of the flower, I captured and killed them both without mercy.
I told Lenny about dragonfly sex, which is really fucking weird and I had also recently witnessed. The males don’t even use their “penis”, but rather transfer sperm to a secondary location on their abdomen where the female retrieves it. It’s a hard thing to picture, so I tell Lenny, “It’s basically like if you jerked off onto your stomach and your girl grinded her junk on you to get it.” It’s not exactly the same concept, but I think it got the point across. On a related note, I think I just invented “dragonfly style”.
An Open Letter (or: An Indulgence in Sentimentality)
by Leonard Owens III
Most (nay, all) of my life, I haven’t been a morning person. The allure of fresh coffee and gooey pastries and people bustling their lives out into the breaking day has never infected me. Now and then, I’ve strolled down to a beach bench for sunrises over the ocean while munching Burger King breakfast, but these moments can be tallied on one hand.
In short, I hate mornings.
The distinct lack of cars joining me on this Sunday’s early morning freeway confirms I’m not the only one. But this is Jacksonville, so maybe everyone is already thumping bibles in church, soaking up the good words, utterances that also never infected me. But, though I may not see the attraction of communion, there sure are days when I crave community.
Rachelle was worried how we’d receive her house. And I can see why: it’s very much an in-process trailer-home. But I can’t poke fun or look down my nose. I still remember how the mountains of dirty clothes consumed my mother’s bedroom to the point she’d just keel over drunk on top of crumpled shirts and jeans; the last few years living at my dad’s required that I, in order to sleep, ignore the scurrying rats in the walls and ceiling; and the apartment I live in now occasionally invites in ants that I must bait out. Besides, Rachelle’s home has a warmth none of my homes had. It could be her cooking, or her welcoming smile, or the way everyone jokes about Jennifer Aniston’s cleavage as we watch reruns of Friends. Though I get the sneaking suspicion it’s something I can’t put my finger on, because it’s something I’ve never held, an object or ideal wholly apart from my life thus far. I can’t define it.
I get second servings of fresh fruit and home fries. I can’t afford fresh fruit, so I always grub down any that’s free. I can afford potatoes, but Rachelle’s home fries are, sad to admit, much better than mine, or any I’ve ever eaten for that matter.
The backyard has heaps of character. A tree house (minus the requisite nudie mags), a tire swing dangling from a creaky bough, a paintball target, a rusted machete stabbed in the ground, and a pond with ducks. I like the pond most of all. I’m a sucker for water. And ducks are groovy, too.
Castleman is hungover. We talk about HD porn, how the surgery scars look more blatant on fake titties; we talk about horror movies; we talk, we laugh, and the talking and laughing feels fine.
Samantha looks happy all the time. She’s the only one with enough guts to try the precarious tire swing. She mounts it, skids back and forth on the grass a few times, holding on tight. I don’t know her age, but in this moment she’s still a kid. It’s quite wonderful to see that. I don’t have the guts, or enough kidness, to swing after she’s done.
Allison says “Glutey Booty” a lot. The bubbly way it sounds, I chuckle inside every time. It reminds me of the way Carlin says “garbanzo beans.” Words that just sound damn fun. When I type this, I know I’ll say Glutey Booty aloud. It’s fun. Try it, don’t deny it.
Rachelle cooks for all of us. She has a good heart. She keeps throwing some ragged rope toy to the bigger dog (I’m bad at breeds), who chases it as the little one chases him. Rachelle isn’t wearing shoes on the cold grass. Somehow, of this tiny insignificance, I’m jealous. I can never walk barefoot without looking down each step.
We stand around and quip and story with each other, and I know Allison will be late for work but just can’t bring up the time: everything ends if I do.
I’ve been in ten workshops. Lately, I wonder what I get out of them all, what they’re worth to my work. I know they affect my writing positively, but I just don’t feel much anymore.
Now I know, after years in workshops, what they should be all about. Not the words: those are tangential. Workshop should be about people. Meeting them, reaching out to them, shaking hands and cracking jokes and smiling big, they should be about smiling together, one big group of grinners. Workshop should be a place where friendships are forged. Without that, what’s the fucking point?
By this logic, I’ve wasted quite a few workshops: I’m not friends with so many writers I’ve sat in class with. But I haven’t wasted this workshop, not this semester. I’ve met people, I’ve spent time in the world with them. I’m not leaving this semester with only another string of straight As on my transcript; I’m leaving with new and real friends.
Letters grouped together matter not as much as companions of flesh and heart.