Len Kuntz

Tsunami (Issue 35.)

Three Stories (Issue 26.)

Two and a Half (Issue 19.)

Eric at Peace (Issue 9.)

Tsunami (February 27, 2012. Issue 35.)

After the kissing, when you pause to yawn, I am astonished for the first time.

I can see all the way down to your throat to China, beyond that even, beyond China and the other side of the earth to a separate place where someone crafty and clever has built you a houseboat.

No, not a houseboat, but rather, a house with a moat.

How this got inside your throat I do not know. You never shared this with me, I had to discover it on my own, like bumping into a chair after a power outage, like finding a hair under a chunk of salad, like discovering a lump where flatness should be.

Thank God for timing and my sharp vision.

It's impressive, this building in your throat, this home with a waterway encircling it. Even from so far away, I can hear the sloppy sloshing of the moat water in your throat. It does not smell briny whatsoever. It smells like a baptismal bath.

If I knew how to swim I would dive down, dive in, dive inside of you. If I knew how to swim I would swim over to where you live, where you are centered and established, where your chests and drawers hold socks, sweaters, satin sheets and sheaths, secrets, more secrets, shoulder pads and shoulder duster earrings.

Let's not fool ourselves: this moment may never come again. Since I do not know how to swim and since there is no time for lessons, I would consider diving in anyway. If I did, if I did dive in, I would hope to hold my breath long enough to be able to breathe again. I'd hope for the wind to create a current that would sweep over the shivered surface, and after coming up for air I would crawl ashore like the first-legged fish on earth. This is something I would do for you without regret, without thinking twice, without even thinking at all. It would be a heart thing and I would do it. For you, I would.

I know, I know. I've made claims before. I've painted paintings with translucent paint and so now you have yourself convinced that my skin is too thin. Admit it or don't. It doesn't matter what you say. The answer is written on your lips with your own brand of invisible ink. The code is evident in the tight spiraled whistle of your pretty snores. No translator or tarot reader is necessary on this matter.

But, Darling, I learned salsa dancing years ago. I don't share everything with you either. If you don't believe me, then go ahead, yawn again and watch what happens. Just see if I don't cause a tsunami.

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Three Stories (March 20, 2011. Issue 26. The SLAM & FLASH Issue!)

The Boy with Breasts

The pool was murky and foul, but not deep enough to hide his shame.

He jumped in anyway.

His mother had demanded it, wouldn’t allow him to go swimming with his shirt on either. Her wasp’s eyes wore swirls and x’s in them when she was angry or exerting power.

“For an hour,” she shouted, as if none of the other tourists would hear. “You’ll stay in there for sixty minutes, no less, or until you make a friend.”

The boy had no idea how he’d gotten them, but his breasts were considerable, about the size of Robin’s, his rotten cousin, who was eighteen and at least a C-cup.

Under the gray water, they looked like baby seals or liquid loaves. They seemed to swim by themselves, floating so grotesque apart from his frame, yet monstrously attached to it. There were many times he imagined hacking them off with a butcher knife or chain saw, guillotining the things and then subsequently bleeding to death while his amputated breasts flipped around his feet like suffocated sea bass.

At school kids called him all sorts of names. Most thought he was a young she-male. He wasn’t allowed in restrooms. More than once, he ended up nearly being strangled by braziers other boys booby-trapped to his locker.

Fifteen was not so hard an age, he thought, for a kid with normal anatomy.

At the resort now, he stuck to the shallow end of the pool even though that’s where the dead bees and backwash collected. A swollen diaper the size and dim pallor of home plate kept bumping up against the side ladder, as if it were alive. Occasionally, a kid sputtered by wearing arm-floaties or being propelled by a parent and, though harmless enough, the boy with breasts would sink low and hold his breath and open his eyes in the bleak, streaky water, waiting until the figures passed.

In the few remaining photos, his father was only ever shown from the shoulders up. If the deformity had been hereditary, the boy would never know. He was far too ashamed to ask his Mom for details, and besides, the woman was a pathological liar.
When he popped to the surface, the boy nearly rose too high. He caught his breasts and trapped them underwater as if they were disobedient dolphins.

“Hi ya.”

He’d come face-to-face with a girl who owned a nice smile and some chin acne running like raspberry juice across her jaw.

He dumped under again, the motion a bomb of water. His heart was a small animal, yet it booted him in the chest hard so his breasts wobbled like restless jelly fish.

When he came up, she was still there.

“You sure are a water bug. Where did you learn to hold your breath like that?”

“My grandmother was a turtle,” he said. He wished he could lie as fabulously as his mother.

“That right?”

“Yeah. One of my aunts was a dyslexic mermaid with an eye tic. The other aunt gave birth to twin salmons.”

When she grinned, he spotted a purple glob of gum.

He wanted to be more interesting. Sometimes the truth was stranger than lies, so he thought he’d try that out on her. “My dad accidentally set himself on fire.”

“You’re full of it.”

“He did. Honest. It was a faulty barbeque or something.” The boy with breasts pointed across the pool to the lounge chair where his mother was sucking down another cocktail. “Mom got a settlement. She drags me here twice a year.”

“That really sucks. I mean, about your dad.”

Not as bad as having boobs, he almost said. This girl reminded him of elastic sweat bottoms and he didn’t like feeling so comfortable with her. He went under.

When he came up, she asked, “Why do you keep sinking?”

“I’m part frog.”

“You’re an odd duck.”

“Yes, I’m one eighth mallard.”

Laughing, she choked on the gum.

“If you like aquatic things, you’ll dig me.”

She took an inventory of him, scanning the parts she could see—everything from the neck up. Her eyes were like a blind person’s fingertips tracing his face. It gave him goose flesh and made him squeamish.

“Hey, wanna go down to the beach?” she asked.

Hanging over the hotel turret, the sun poked its head out and winked at him. He liked the sun. Of all the things that lived in the sky, it was his favorite.

“Thanks, but I’ve gotta get back to the room. I promised I’d babysit my little brother.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

She nibbled her lower lip. She was actually awfully cute. He hadn’t let himself realize that before. “What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Probably just be here, in the pool.”

She smiled. “Me, too.”

He watched her lift herself out of the water. She glistened, blonde and thin, with breasts smaller than his. She flipped him a wave.

He could almost make out his mother’s snoring all the way on the other side of the pool. She usually sounded like a dryer with a heavy load. He watched the rise and fall of her chest. She was a mere A-cup.

Tonight he’d develop stomach flu, blame one of those pesky Mexican parasites he’d heard about. He’d spend the rest of the week in the room. But he’d make good use of that time, like an inmate studying law.

He’d figure a way to become brave, or how to live with himself. There was still time to start again.

Layers

There are signs everywhere, and each one, in its own vernacular, proclaims that my wife is evil.

Someone pelts the car with a ball of red paint. A protestor cracks a windshield. The police escort doesn’t seem to mind.

They hate me for a different reason, because I am supporting my wife. That makes me just as bad, no different than if I’d been the one who drowned the twins and Ali.

For the first few weeks afterward, I fooled myself into thinking there was a way out of this, some chance of a reversal. The sun kept coming up, dealing out new days, and for me, sunrises had always signified hope, fresh starts, so I bizarrely believed in an escape route, some sort of time travel which would rectify the horror that had been done. Desperate men can get nutty.

Lately I have been replaying scenes in my head, dusting them off and inspecting them like an archeologist. I always come away with nothing, however, just the agonizing dread that I should have known, should have seen symptoms or elemental triggers in Meredith’s moods.

My therapist pointed me to reality. Meredith had been calm. The day it happened, she’d been planting flowers in the garden. That morning she’d started a batch of banana bread. She’d kissed me goodbye, said she loved me.

The lawyer explained that I wouldn’t have to testify. Meredith wouldn’t either. They had her confession and the evidence. I don’t know what would happen if they put me on the stand. I doubt I could form a meaningful sentence. Anymore, it’s as if I’ve had my tongue cut out.

The clerk at the hotel said, “How can you live with yourself?” He was a young punk with chin acne, but he was angry nevertheless, and a manager had to come out to finalize the transaction.

Once inside my room, I put the suitcase on the bed and walked into the bathroom. It gleamed white. The air inside was tangy with the hint of glass cleaner.

I stared at the hollowed out basin, not much different from ours except that safety anti-skid strips ran down the length. The faucet had a wide mouth. I got in and turned both knobs on full. The water slapped at my skin and my clothes stuck to me. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to be held under, to know that the hands doing it belonged to a woman who was also my mother. I tried, but could not.

On the bed in my bag was a sundries kit with a razor inside, a pair of scissors. I could have ended it right then, but I needed a different resolution.

At the courthouse I’m pulled through a mob as if I’m some stubborn mule. The cacophony of voices, some shouted from reporters, some from furious townspeople, is like a chorus of spears.

They bring her out in handcuffs and leg irons. Meredith’s hair is thin, her skin gray. Her smile when she sees me is hot shrapnel ripping through my chest. The crowd sees this and gasps.

My mind flicks. There’s my Meredith, the first time I meet her, at the book store, sipping cappuccino foam in the poetry section at Barnes and Noble. I see her at Lamaze class taking cleansing breaths. I see her reading to the twins, one bundle tucked under each arm. I hear her voice sing a shimmery, “Hush little baby don’t you cry.”

I don’t see a furious struggle. There is no water. No pounding or panting, no screams. I wish there were, I do, but all I see is the woman I fell in love with, swaddled, wearing layers and layers of forgiveness.

I Used a Capo

This is the dress I wore to prom when Ryan Hoff gave me his flask and Ty Phillips bumped me and fruit punch-mixed-with-wine spilled across my chest and shawl.

This is the mouth I eat with. Sometimes this is the mouth that sends food the other way, violently, usually on days when I need to fix something.

These are my eyes, so dry from not crying, like wooden peach pits.

Touch this spot on my neck. Isn’t it smooth? My cat, Macaroni Cheeses, always rubs his head back-and-forth, back-and-forth there.

These lips are chapped by the wind but mostly from my constant licking. 3.01 people have kissed them so far. (The decimal is for Father.)

These fingers are long and bony, with gnarled knuckles, like string beans, yet they have drawn some pretty pictures. The best of them won a prize. It was a sunrise made to look like a belly carrying a somersaulting fetus inside yellow and pink swirls.

This is my room. I keep the lights low. Even the two lava lamps seem to whisper with their radioactive gleaming. I’ve allowed them to hypnotize me before. I pretend they are Day-go goldfish and give them Swedish nicknames.

This, well, this is not a birthmark, but a scar. I’ve seen other people who have one. Mine is a long, gray dagger that runs off the page of my face to my neck. I grow my hair longer on that side so it will act as a curtain for the public, but when I’m home, I put my hair up in a pony and stare at the way nature has welded the scar tissue together so that it resembles an earth worm or chowder.

Listen up. Here is a song I wrote. I used a capo for the first time to get the high notes aligned. The song is really just a tricked-up love poem that tells the story of my life. I don’t have the ending completely worked out yet, but so far I’m pleased.

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Two and a Half (July 20, 2010. Issue 19.)

When I arrived she was out of her wheelchair and seated on a gold sofa, so old now, so brittle-looking yet giggling like a child into her fist while watching a sitcom. A clear globe of snot filled her nostril, then burst and I remembered days of summer when she and I would have a bucket of soapy dishwater, homemade slush from which to blow bubbles using for a tool an old pair of eye glasses with the lenses popped out.

In the raw sunshine, we blew and grinned. We hummed Partridge Family songs-"Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque" and "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat." We liked the same things but would never admit it because we were twins.

From the upstairs sundeck that one summer day we watched the bubbles glide windswept. Some caught on the old maple and stuck there like crystal balls. Others wobbled away, taking their sweet time before disappearing into a great skein of clouds.

Below Dad loped across our sun-scorched lawn and ambled over the curb, holding his lower back and stretching before stepping inside the white Caddie.

"I bet that lady makes him feel younger," my sis said.

Momma was inside the house and even though she couldn't hear us way up there, even though she had no idea, I punched my sister harder than I meant to. She flew back. Hit the top porch rail mid-spine. I watched her eyes crack like white lightning, never again to be so lively or disgusted.

Now she jerks when she senses my presence at the door frame, me having not knocked loud enough.

"You scared me," she says. On TV there are two men and a young boy, a laugh track. "You really scared me," she says.

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Eric at Peace (September 21, 2009. Issue 9.)

It’s not just us, though we do perspire mightily, our sweat cloudier and smellier, those icy guilt pearls dripping on the beach sand like bombs.

We sip toxic cocktails with sugar-tinged lips. We roll the Yahtzee dice because it wasn’t anybody’s fault, not really, not mine or hers or even the boy’s, certainly not the bathtub’s or the razor’s or the robotic machinery which assembled the blades, but people tell us blame may be laid on the factory owner, the president and C.E.O. Friends tell us there’s precedence for that kind of carnivore greed camouflaged as blood-stained anguish. We have slips of paper to prove it, business cards and more attorneys than there are rotting shellfish in the sea.

In the end, however, we could not get past the scars of war and what was done at 1313 Westwick Place.

So we moved to a rickety rental and, afterward, here, here of all places, where English is choppy and the sun is a festering shadow no matter where we go.

Now we play inane games and we sweat, pinned down as we are like upended beetles beneath a Mexican sky.

We wear earplugs so we don’t have to listen to each other’s crafty confessions or the squeals of delighted children playing poolside.

We are strong yet our souls are brittle.

My wife, his mother, she rolls onto her stomach and wordlessly hands me a tube and I smear her back with a noxious concoction that makes me puke demon swine into an empty drink cup, and when I’m through and I find I haven’t choked to death, I see the glass overflowed with chunky bile and regret and I notice the origami-tipped bumbershoot dyed the shade of red death. A crow swoops down and steals a French fry, shredding it into sawdust, and mercifully a fleck gets caught in my eye so I have that for an excuse when she draws down her tinted glasses and arches a brow, driving a rough hewn stake through my fragile, burnt crème heart.

We’ve been told to look forward, by her therapist and mine. So we stagger and stumble, like drunks, like ants stunned by the glaring eye of a magnifying glass. We keep going even as wisps of smoke shimmy from the seams of our skin and toe nails.

She points. Near dusk fireworks burst over the ocean, a Technicolor aneurism. Even here, heaven and hell duke it out for no other reason than bragging rights while the war rages on.

She walks ahead, a woven beach hat crumpled inside her fist. A sheer skirt covers her ass, on it an imprinted diagram articulating photosynthesis magic. I think Mendel or Darwin and all those guys who might have been fathers but were scientists and botanists first.

He was good at math and chemistry, all the tough subjects. I had him pegged for a surgeon. Once he told me I was “a good Pop,” but that memory gets murkier each day.

In another ten minutes it’ll be pitch black without lamps. Cool, thick sand squishes between my toes.

I run.

I run past my wife, past the rearview mirror island but I can’t outrun the moon or justice.

The surf sounds like Armageddon. Its arctic embrace it the truest thing I’ve felt in years. I swim until my arms are sodden planks and there’s no turning back even if I wanted to, which I don’t.

He was a good boy. He was. This certainly isn’t his fault.

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The Legendary