Home Stories Issue 77 –

Issue 77 –


Featuring new stories by Magogodi oaMphela Makhene, Ben Mauk, Joyce Carol Oates, Laura van den Berg, Ada Zhang, Hilary Bell, and Emily Hunt Kivel.

Magogodi oaMphela Makhene, “Dr. Basters”

He’s probably licking an ice-cream cone somewhere, Eugene Alexander de Kock. Out. Walking, petting his dog. Whites love their dogs. Part of the family, as they say. Chocolate chip mint, I bet. A man as fastidious getting dirty work done as de Kock was stripping, strangling, sjambokking, wetbagging, striking, stroking, smacking, fingering, finishing, basting, burning, and braaing Black bodies—that man is definitely a man who enjoys chocolate chip mint ice cream. On a cone. Bright green cream bleeding softly, the way mucus slinks down. His hands fisting the pasty wafer. Chocolate flecks melting in his mouth. A cool numbness coating each lick. And his pink tongue: in and out.

Ben Mauk, “Wiesbaden”

They go for a walk. He complains that Wiesbaden is unchanged in the two years since their last visit. The same café and casino, the same rosy elbows jutting over the same windowsills, in many cases even the same servants and waiters in the cafés, the same children kicking sticks into the gutter or pulling at dogs, though the children are larger and contain more of their lives within them. The same stinking linden trees, bobbing their branches to the music of the same sleepy Rhine. Here is the real story of Europe, he says, one wandering hand dusting a window’s worth of asphodels: nothing changes. While Russia rebirths itself every decade, Europe plods along improbably, only with more or fewer freedoms, more or fewer Jews and gypsies in the marketplace, more war or peace.

Joyce Carol Oates, “Sparrows”

To be born is to step through a doorway. Blind and trusting, the child steps inside, the door is shut to protect the child. But when the parents die, the door is opened. There is no shutting the door a second time.

Laura van den Berg, “Catskill Avenue”

That winter, I lived in a one-room artist’s studio on Catskill Avenue in an industrial building across the street from a twenty-four-hour laundromat called the Big Bubble. I arrived late one night in January, in a light flurry of snow. I steered my car—the backseat packed tight with all my worldly possessions—into the large, unlit parking area. When I got out and started to walk around to the trunk, I was hit by the feeling that I was on the precipice of a vast pit. I stuck one foot out, felt a brief stutter in space and time. I took a step back and switched on the tiny flashlight attached to my key chain and found that I was standing on the edge of a large crater, the surface as dark and smooth as an oil slick.

Ada Zhang, “The Subject”

I would like to tell myself now that I was interested in Granny Tan for who she was. She was compelling to me, and the paintings and interviews were a way for me to get to know her, that was what I’d thought, but what ended up happening tells a different story. The portraits I did imitate three of the most well-known portraits in the world: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Vermeer, Kahlo’s Las Dos Fridas, and of course, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo DaVinci. I painted in acrylic. The integrity of the replications was in the positioning of the subject and nothing else, no frills or tricks, I didn’t try emulating the artists’ styles. We recreated the poses at night in the living room with all the curtains drawn, using a single naked bulb for light.

“Like this?” Granny said, twisting her neck to face me.

“Perfect,” I said, and snapped a photo. “Just like that.”

Hilary Bell, “The Drummer”

It wasn’t only jazz. Freddie gave me my first copy of Safe As Milk. He taught the boys and me about Ghostface and Big L. Tommy Wright III too, whom he’d hung out with once. He could find a thread between Gram Parsons and Maggot Brain and the progression of post punk to new wave. He gave me notebooks filled with manic essays on Talking Heads, The Fall, Pere Ubu, and Television. Once, he rented a DVD of Stop Making Sense from the library, and we watched it together on an overstuffed bean bag, my head on his shoulder, our knees pulled to touch like small magnets. When I saw David Byrne dance in a suit, when I heard the first song kick on, the back of my neck buzzed. My sensory reactions were always strong, pre-freighted with volts. I had been non-ambulatory until I was five. Like Freddie, I learned to use doors that were open to me and burn down the rest. Immobility gave music strange dimensions, oxygenated my slowed blood with a pulse. From the outside, I was a slight kid confined to beds and hospitals, all scrawny legs and bangs. Inside, I turned my heart over, carved it into songs. What Freddie and I both understood, above all else, was that when half the house in your head was cobwebbed and dark, one small room absorbs the light.

Emily Hunt Kivel, “The Sea Captain”

Marge told me to meet her in the lobby of the Marina Del Rey Captain’s Club. I dressed that morning with special care. What is a woman supposed to wear for her first time on a boat, in the presence of a rich seventeen-year-old who is being duped into stewarding her? It had not been a lie when I told Marge that it was years since I’d been on the water. In fact, it had been my entire life. For someone who grew up near the ocean, my family was always firmly landlocked. Our experience with the waves was limited to body surfing and boogie boarding. The only kind of helms we steered were figurative.

ASF Issue 77 Cover Art by Siennie Lee.


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