People, you made it really difficult for Manuel and I. A dizzying array of manuscripts throughout the week, a surge at the end, right as our eyes were bloodshot, our minds scrambled. Yeah, you made it really tough this time. And it’s for that reason that the fourth edition of Mainline breaks all the previous contest records. What does this mean? Well, it means the first-ever three-way tie. Yup. Simply no other way around it. When looking at the battleground of submissions, three manuscripts fought the good fight, always managing to be at the end of that trail of dead bodies, standing tall. Thank you, to all that took part in Mainline. I know how difficult, and stressful, it can be, putting your work on the line like this. What’s important is that you did. You had the guts to do just that. Just because you didn’t win, it doesn’t mean you won’t dominate the next. Keep that in mind and keep writing. You only lose if you stop. Three winning manuscripts. Another Mainline completed. Bloodshot eyes. Trail of dead bodies. Yeah:
Flesh of the Peach by Helen McClory
Transitory by Tobias Carroll
American Mary by Alexandra Naughton
Down in a Hole by Jesus Angel Garcia
The Hoosier by Jared Yates Sexton
A Manual for Nothing by Jessica Anne
They Don’t Know Us Here by Carolyn DeCarlo
The End of Cinnamon by Jordaan Mason
Cured Meat by Polly Trope
These United States by Russell Jaffe
Encyclopedia of Failed Filmmakers by Johnny Damm
Helen McClory’s Flesh of the Peach, Tobias Carroll’s Transitory, and Alexandra Naughton’s American Mary will be published as part of CCM’s 2016 Catalogue.
Mainline will reconvene in June.
An excerpt from Flesh of the Peach:
She stood out on the observatory of the Empire State Building in the failing light, felt delicate and underslept, and awaited something decisive to occur. Maybe she’d be there until closing. Did they close this place? Every night the top of the building glowed different colours. Beacons for the various dread causes. And maybe out of cause-kinship, every night, all through the night, they let fools gather to acknowledge their own.
Sarah’s causes? They were slimy, incriminating, broken, partial. She rummaged in her bag for a candied ginger. Sucked down on sticky fire, and squinted out across the city. I am all alone, she thought, who the fuck could aid me but me? She pulled down the sunglasses from the top of her head. That helped. You should always at least have a bit of poise. It wasn’t that she particularly cared if tourists noticed she had been crying. Just that she was fond of her projections. The kind of person who went to her solitary bed in light makeup and skimpies in order to present fierce aspect. To herself, to anything in the world that might be leering in her window.
It is strange the ease in which you can enact projections. Flip down the shades and step into another life. A gilded life. It could happen, it happened. As if on cue, camera flashes crashed against her raw skin. Longhair swish. She bared her teeth for pictures taken by strangers. The milling crowd jostled her, craning towards the skyscrapers and calling out, that’s the Hudson! Look, a helicopter! Happy enough. A Murmur glut passing through the channel of her body.
Sarah looked beyond the silver of the bars. It was beautiful. All the city in the early evening was lavender and greys of rare distinction, twenty miles worth of it touched by haze. After a while Sarah mumbled to the bars a prayer of falling. How to fall through a cage three metres high. She would have to shred herself. What a scene. People lingered waiting for dusk to flicker into night, others left quickly. She made tiny movements with her hands. She listened to voices detaching from the stream and threading away back inside. Are we doing this, then, she asked herself.
The question was vague because she herself was vague. It becomes a lyric in a city like this one. Sarah’s lover Kennedy had just severed ties. Kennedy had been everything for a while there. A streak of lightning, against an otherwise drab sky. A rooted New England New Yorker married to a man who sounded, in his calls and written messages, limply vile. And violent, now. Out of all options which were preferable – violence done by another or the violence you do to yourself? Sarah felt she was standing on that other ragged side of love, where gravity wore thin the edges of the body. You have to ask yourself the most ridiculous questions. Do you want to live. Is your living a worthwhile act. Do you want an extra shot of caramel. Are you going to be able to pick your teeth right out of your jaw. Who the hell is keeping note, at any rate.
Sarah licked her lips and the wind chilled them. Her teeth pinched her tongue. Yes she still had lips, teeth. She still had her silky black hair, her best treasure. No jumping today. Instead, I am going to leave, she thought. She unwrapped another ginger chew, slid it in her mouth and pondered this decision. Fuck it, I ruined this whole city for myself, but I have plenty more. This is a very American thing to do.
She stared out through the bars with what she assumed was an empty expression. She turned to face the crowd in the same way. Her mother was dead back home in England, that was the other thing. Finally, after a slow war with cancer. And long after their relationship had died. The idea of going back to Cornwall to help with the estate and put on a show beside the other relatives and hangers-on made her feel unsanitary. It grubbied her.
Sarah opened and closed her fists in an effort to jog her blood pressure. She felt the problem in terms of altitude sickness or else chaffed nerves, and when she wasn’t leaning on something her vision trembled. But how lucky she was, her mother had left all those millions to her. Just put it in a clean little envelope, Madam Barrister, thank you very much, like a neat towelette slipped alongside the balled-up pink knickers from last night.
She unwrapped another ginger. Sugar rush helped, fire helped. Working the wad against her back teeth, almost choking her. Two paths had emerged. One home across the pond, and another unseen in the American interior beckoning her. It was an easy choice, all considered.
An excerpt from Transitory:
Some Things I Botched
There was a prompt in front of me and the prompt said “write the saddest poem ever.” I read words three and four as “saddest porn.” Cue fourteen explicit pages with a subplot of dying puppies. It cost me some friends. Maybe more than some.
Before that, there might have been some good news.
There was the Dixieland jazz band that became a grindcore band. Elderly avant-jazz heads told me I was the fastest clarinetist they’d seen. I basked in this, believe you me.
Also noted: the faun I nursed back to health. He lay beside the highway one night when I drove by. Feeding him wasn’t so hard; house-training was harder. Harder still was hiding him from the hunters: that sound of hounds barking outside, the sequential knocks skipping from door to door, the horns in the hallway.
I latched on.
There had been a relationship before that. There had been a we. Then, for a month, all my pillow talk involved mascots. Then there was no we.
Contingent with the clarinet, I gave juggling a try. The band began touring. Bassist Alexi was driving when one sphere grazed his eye. My juggling gear was jettisoned on I-80. There were stern warnings given.
We would hit the road for long weekends: Chicago, Boston, Richmond. Once we linked up with a subway grindcore band called We Stop At Five Dollars. The open road and rest stops. Moonlight clarinet and exhortations to violence. Speedy exits.
The sound of a banjo gone supersonic? You could build a religion around it. Last I heard, bassist Alexi was trying exactly that.
Airfare was booked. The Czech Republic beckoned. The festival circuit loomed. We had an audience there, we were told. An eager one at that.
Three days before we were set to fly, I got a call. I’d been replaced. Someone better. Someone fitter. Someone who could also play the oboe. Someone who didn’t juggle; someone who, at least, didn’t juggle hazardously.
Six days before we were set to fly, I saw the writing prompt. I went to it. Something saddest, I read. I thought: I can manage that. I thought: there are brilliant fragments still to make.
I follow my former band’s itinerary. I feed the faun his oats; we watch the stars. The hunters haven’t shown in weeks. Cue the sound of cicadas; cue all the damage you can muster.
An excerpt from American Mary:
A beautiful stranger washed up on our shores with only death as a companion and she said this is either a horror movie or a porn, and it turned out to kinda be both.
Sunken islands. We are living on sunken islands.
Well, they feel sunken, like hungover eyes peeping only slightly because it’s straining.
Like there isn’t much space to move around in. Like the way you act when we’re in public together.
There is no green anything. I can see the Statue of Liberty from my Philly window, Manhattan’s metallic cones hundreds of stories high like quills jutting, a beastly back and head submerged like it can’t deal anymore, smack needles in sidewalk cracks. I guess I always wanted to live in the big city.
All those offices. Fuck.
It’s coming soon I think, and I touch that part of my back that doesn’t touch the bed. It’s like a pocket. It’s a space for my hand. I touch that part of my back just above my ass and feel knuckles against spine. Everyone is looking for security.
I know or I don’t. I leave.
I walk outside and join melting faces beginning a crowded commute. I don’t think I’ve ever been good at any of my jobs. I used to think it was because I’ve never been paid enough to give a shit but lately I’ve been feeling like that wouldn’t change anything. I don’t know how some people do it. How can I perform for another first.
We take a deep breath, scrape our f eet, and step inside a bus with no roof, just poles to grasp. Better for everyone, emissions, they say, but really the city is strapped. At least for us. We can complain and we do but it’s like a song. We all know the words and the right time to sing it. Right after exchanging pleasantries.
Old ladies carry shopping bags stuffed with recycling. They mostly crouch or prop themselves on the accordion panels but one standing slips and reaches out to hold my leg for stability. Almost a daily occurrence. I look down and we smile at each other.
You can get used to anything if you don’t care about anything.
Watching pink and orange clouds through an opening. They don’t float or drift, they wallow and stay with you, less like puffs or wisps and more like a neon mashed potato spread, falling heavy and clumping.
Every day is an experiment in distractions. I can’t concentrate on anything outside for too long, it just makes me remember. I try singing songs that I like in my head for comfort and familiarity. Passing where the Schuylkil was, now just a curdled puddle.
Something like a cavity, like sticking a soft spot.
From Strawberry Mansion Bridge dots wade. People with plastic up to ankles col ect cans. Trash is burning, their choking fumes enrobe. The lady curled around my calf rummages through bags for a sheet of newspaper to cover her face.
Outside the still open South street occult shop, patrons wait to grab the last of the bat’s blood. We write our regrets in letters.
We always write letters, it’s the only place we know how to hide.