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Off Track
by David Gianatasio

In the Trunk
by Jay Wexler

Every Beautiful Thing
by Bonnie Ruberg

Vacation Planner
by Miriam M. Kotzin and
Bill Turner

Floating Inside
by Laurie Seidler

photo by Tanner Woodford

They say that she was headed uptown, north on Broad Street, back home from work, but in my mind she was cruising south along the six-lane metropolitan strip, humming a popular tune she hopes will be played at the fancy social just about to start downtown, which has haunted her daydreams all afternoons, a party full of translucent punch and floating ball gowns she will never see. And dreamy beaus. And prim young ladies. Her date? Perhaps he'd meet her there. Or, maybe, she was something of a wind-blown free-spirit planning to meet a dashing stranger, though, they tell me, she was losing it even then and could never have pulled herself together long enough to walk into a dance hall alone. Still, I see her ravishing, not weary, not crazy. I see lipstick the color of coral and skin the color of foam. Her hair pulled loosely back with a ribbon. Or in a french braid. Her mother would have spent hours getting it right; she had no sisters for such a ritual. On her way out the door her brothers would have cooed at her, and told her she looked like a lady.

Predisposed. That's what they say. If they say anything at all.

If only those two had stepped out onto the streets just a few moments sooner - but isn't that how it always goes? Only if, etc., etc. A crowded street like that would never have been deserted. People must've seen, gathered around, howled, called the police; she would have been weeping and helpless, her young breasts not heaving but still, eerily still. There must've been a scene. Someone calling her murderer. But for me the streets that night were empty, barren and hollow and echoing with a slow summer heat. The lamppost on the corner: perhaps it had gone out. She was feeling the thick August air on her cheeks. And then two figures, too close to steer away. The awful *bump.* Numb, not from disbelief but from awe, she would have pulled her blue convertible to the side of the road, very slowly, perfectly parked, before shutting the door ever so gently and pacing back to the cross-walk. She would not have cried, not in my version. Her makeup would have stayed perfectly crisp while her cheeks radiated through a blur of cream, like in a black and white movie. She would have knelt down next to them and looked into their eyes. For this touching picture it is important to forget their faces would have been smashed to the ground.

Well, after that, what was she to do? Two strangers, middle-aged women, children at home waiting for them to return from the drugstore after running out for some much-needed cough syrup (or so I imagine), now broken. Was she certain right away? Did she ride in that ambulance until the bleeping monitor calmed and offered up that dreaded solid line, or did she know at that instant, from the contortions of their chests, the distance which the impact had flung their shopping bags and summer scarves, the unnatural smiles on their faces. My grandfather's sister. She couldn't have been older than seventeen. 1952. The year of her accident. A time we speak of only quietly, very quietly.

I myself, the baby and innocent of the family, would not have learned of it at all, except that one sightless night headed down in the city two figures darted out past our car. My mother was driving. No one got hurt. Then the story came out and the reality of it has stayed as solid as those shaded figures.

In my version of the story she does return to high school, but news has got around and everyone is staring. What can she say? The night was black, they wore dark clothing. But still she feels their eyes on her back in the hallway. With her own power, the force of her delicate high-heeled toe down on the rectangular gas petal, she has killed two people who once lived and breathed, she the youngest daughter, and always everyone's darling. Did their faces haunt her dreams, or the sound of their bodies against her grill? Of course, nobody came to lock her away. She hadn't been breaking some law. And she hadn't fled the scene. Really, none of it had been her fault. But there were those faces, those warm, bleeding bodies. The accusation clung to her mind and tore her down from the inside.

They will tell me no real details; I have made them on my own. I understand. They shake their heads and say she could not hold it together, because she had to go and do "that thing" which means we must erase her name from the family album, erase her swinging form from our memories, our collective overwhelming shame. They say she was always a little batty (they say, they say, they say) and here it was pushed her over the edge. I say she is the sanest of all. For twelve months after the accident she held up the walls set crumbling by those two misshapen corpses. Twelve months before she left the world behind, hoping for some peace. I say we should build a shrine, we should shout her name out loud. Twelve months is a very long time.

And only seventeen. Seventeen. Then eighteen when she died. Ages I have lived passed without the abrupt incident of flesh against American automobile but with a similar gradual decline of sanity. Not my own, of course, though perhaps she was never looney either. No, fifty years later it is my father, as he hides in shadows and watches the world like a guilty and accidental murderer yet to decide his unintentional crime. Oh, the onslaught of clinical names, of course, to be applied, and clinical pills and clinical decision. But this young girl had none of that, and neither will he. Stoics, both, and heroes. Perhaps today they could have saved her, pumped her full till her veins glowed green, until she floated in normality and contentment. To be sure, at least, she would never sit behind the wheel of a convertible with such glory.

I think of her often when pedestrians pass my purring car at stop lights.

And I have learned from her lesson, how to hold up the walls. To press out the exterior and build a world inside yourself free from everything uncertain. Some days though my arms grow tired. Perhaps I too will lose strength and let them crumble.

Yet what did she miss, what life was taken from her the moment her eyes widened and she saw tangled limbs on the pavement? Endless sunrises she would have slept through without question, the births of children she would grow to scorn, marriage to an unfaithful or unloving or undeserving or perfectly adequate husband. Every beautiful thing in life which would have been absolutely plain, throw-away, good-for-nothing, simple. Except that she died. She hung herself in the bathroom and that meek slender form which had always brought her compliments allowed her to dangle from the shower railing without her feet scraping the floor. In my mind her eyes remain open, her neck unbroken, her makeup perfect, uninterrupted by a stream of accidental tears.

Bonnie Ruberg has had works of fiction published in multiple literary venues, including Word Riot, The 2nd Hand, Juked and The Glut. She studies literature at Bard College in New York where she runs an alternative literary magazine, Verse Noire. Also, she suffers from syneasthia, and enjoys writing in combinations of color.