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Hoosier Journal Spotlight: Sycamore Review and “We Welcome All Sorts” by Heather Lefebvre

This spring, Indiana Review will be conducting interviews with other Indiana journals. We are driven by a few questions:  What does it mean to be a Midwestern or Hoosier journal? What does it mean to be a member of a literary community? What are our Hoosier neighbors up to? What do they seek for their publications?

I had the pleasure of meeting members of the Sycamore Review staff at a Writers Resist event in Bloomington, where I got to admire their gorgeous print editions. Here is our inaugural interview with Sycamore Review‘s Editor-in-Chief, Anthony Paul Sutton, with one of their favorite published stories included at the end.

*

1.  What do you consider to be the mission of Sycamore Review?

Our stated mission is the same as a lot of places: “to publish the best literature being produced today.” For me, I like to be ignorant of what “best” means, so I tend to interpret that more as “share cool things people send us.”

A de facto mission that’s also unintentionally been part of the magazine is that we’ve proven to be a really good venue to find new and emerging writers. A success story we’re particularly proud of is Allison Davis who submitted to our Wabash Poetry Contest, ended up being a finalist, and then was selected for the 2016 Best American Poetry anthology (her first collection is out at the end of February). Another is Nancy Chen Long who also has a first book coming out and recently received an NEA grant. At AWP I learned that a former Wabash Nonfiction winner, Jessica Wilbanks, recently sold her first book.

Something that is intentional, and a more recent development, is that our last two issues feature art by international artists (our most recent, Ale de la Torre, is an illustrator living in Mexico City, and the previous one, Mariano Peccinetti, lives in Argentina, and you can find one of his pieces on the cover of the new STRFKR album). This is really the work of our current art editor, Gabi Garcia, but it’s really becoming something central to what the magazine is (especially considering the immigration politics in this country right now) that we feature such amazing art by artists out in the world.

2.  As a journal publishing out of a Midwestern university, how much does a Midwestern identity factor into the conception of the journal?

I think this answer shifts a lot with who is staffing the magazine. Right now, I and a significant portion of the editorial staff are transplants to the Midwest and have no connection to here other than being at Purdue. And even for those of us from the Midwest (the majority), there seems to me to be a lot of regional differences between Illinois, Michigan, and Nebraska.

Something specific to Sycamore Review that really differentiates us from other magazines is the context of our founding. The magazine is published in memory of a graduate student, Ann Griffith Lindsey, who would have been part of the first creative writing cohort in the late 80s’ but died in a car accident and her family created an endowment that provides support for Sycamore Review to continue existing. It’s a strange thing to exist in dedication to someone. There’s an added weight to what the magazine is and can be.

3.  If you had to describe the current aesthetic of Sycamore Review in 5 or fewer words, what would they be? Why?

Lyric surrealism or genre-challenging narratives.

Something that recent visitors to Purdue’s MFA program have noted is that there is a lot of aesthetic diversity within our small program. In the poetry workshops I was in last year, every one of the 8-10 people were doing something distinct from everyone else. I think the magazine has really benefited from that aspect of the program and has kept the magazine constantly evolving (letters from previous editors even comment on it).

This is going into the next question a little, but one part of how I’ve always envisioned my role as editor-in-chief is that, whenever possible, I help the genre editors best realize their own visions. With an almost yearly turnover in genre editors, this means that we’ve moved back-and-forth between lyric and narrative extremes (and when one genre is highly narrative at least one other is highly lyric). It makes the journal a bit harder to pin-down, but it’s also exciting to be constantly shifting between those polarities.

4.  Can you tell us more about the inner workings of the journal?

The bare bones of the process is that after a piece is received in Submittable, the genre editors will assign X number of submissions to readers, who then provide suggestions to the editors and then the editors pick however many we’ll publish (in poetry we tend to average at 9-12, 3-5 in fiction, and 3-4 nonfiction). For the pieces that are selected, the managing editor will correspond with each contributor about contracts and payment, and I’ll correspond about proofing and any editorial suggestions I see worth considering.

We also have similar processes for art and translation but with slight variations. For translation, we try to also receive the source text. It’s very important to me that a translation is printed side-by-side with the original. For art, we’ll use each issue to feature an artist’s portfolio. Any interested artists can submit 10-15 pieces and/or a web portfolio at sycamart@purdue.edu.

5.  What does “literary community” mean to you?

I started in literary publishing as an intern at Gulf Coast, and it really felt like a group effort to keep making each issue. So, my understanding of “literary community” is tied to what we collectively put effort to, and that doesn’t necessarily mean publishing. One of the most powerful moments in any AWP I’ve been to was this year when protestors from the conference lined up in the middle of the book fair and chanted. “Black lives matter,” “Muslim rights are human rights,” and “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.” I try to not think too much about aesthetic sensibilities or regional differences or that thing, but that the community I’m embedded in are all working towards the same goal.

6.  Anthony, I know you’re on your way out as editor-in-chief. What do you and your staff envision in the future for Sycamore Review?

I’m totally fine if the next editor throws out everything the magazine has traditionally been and radically changes everything (though the 8 x 8 format is really nice), so I wouldn’t say I have a vision for the future. However, there are a few things from my run that I hope future editors find beneficial:

-I hope that we continue representing international artists.
-I hope that we publish more translations.
-I hope that people still stop at our AWP booth simply for how eye-catching our covers are (and then learn to love us for our content).
-I hope that book reviews continue to be published online (and regularly) so that we can bring attention to more great books and keep up with the book world (that seems to be moving faster and faster).

Additionally, in my run I’ve seen work from this magazine reprinted in Best American Poetry (our third in about a decade), Best New Poets, and featured in Ploughshares’ “Best Short Story I Read In A Lit Mag This Week” (three in the course of two years), and I hope the magazine continues to get this much and more recognition, and the work that earns those distinctions.

7. Care to share a sample of your favorite work that you’ve published?

This is a story from issue 27.1 (Fall 2015), my first issue as editor. It’s more on the genre-challenging category I mentioned previously, and has always stuck with me for its pure inventiveness (in premise, in how the main character speaks). I don’t really know what to say other than I still sometimes find myself thinking about this zombie whose only real knowledge of the world comes from the internet. For realz.

*

We Welcome All Sorts

Heather Lefebvre

In my new life people ask me how I got here and I say Oh by helicopter, or Shimmied up a drainpipe or Crawled out the sewer you know, and they laugh at my cleverness and forget I did not give a real answer. That is because they do not want the real answer. But how I got here was this: I stood up from the computer until Mother said What, Thomas, what is it? And I said Mother, I am going out.

Good one, she chuckled and scratched at her skull. Some hair fell off.

No, I am going out for realz. This was a term I learned from the Internet and practiced for when I got to the real world.

Thomas, she said, don’t be silly. You know that I don’t even go out except for necessities. She meant food and makeup.

Yes, but I am 24 years old. And I am going outside. I grabbed the doorknob.

You don’t know! she said. You don’t know what they think of us!

Oh but I do, I said (even though I did not really). I read our article on Wikipedia.

They could hurt you.

Mother said it like You could hurt them. She saw I was angry because she said Take my scarf and coat with you. She did not want to say that we were monsters but that is what she was saying. She hoped I would hide my face like she did.

I do not need it! Why, my eye is looking almost white today! I said. I had checked the mirror in my room and I did not look bad, except for the gap. I had seen pictures of people on the Internet and their cheeks were perfectly hole-free. But I would not tell her that.

What about your cheek! Mother said.

It is fine!

Take my scarf, it’s probably cold out, she said. She knew she had lost.

*

She wanted me to wrap my head. Well, I was not going to. She could be ashamed of herself but I would not be. I would be like Father and maybe never go back, maybe I would feel the air on my face and have it feel so good I never walked back in our building.

But when I stepped into the front lobby (the walls so bright! so blue!) I could feel it would be cold. Plus I was not so sure about all the strings in my cheek, so I did what Mother wanted. I wrapped my head in the scarf so I could still see.

When I went outside it was bright, like at night when we turn on the lamps in the apartment, but everywhere, and I did not know where to go so I went to a building marked CVS across the street.

Hello, I am looking for some makeup, I said to the woman inside the building. She had a blue (not the same as the lobby, a darker blue) shirt on with a collar. All right, she said but looked at me funny. What do you need?

I am looking for something called Olay Regenerist.

Oh! So you’re looking for moisturizer, not makeup. Olay’s great, I use it every night.

My mother uses it so her skin will not fall off.

The lady let out a laugh, a big one that made her jaws open and show the tongue inside her mouth. It felt really hot standing there, watching her tongue. The scarf made my skin itch.

Where is the Olay? I asked.

Aisle 9.

I got what Mother used and went back to the register. That all? asked the lady, smiling at me.

That is it, I said. Thank you for your help.

*

I did go home that night, because Mother would be sad if I did not.

Mother, I said at dinner, I am becoming a vegetarian.

A vegetarian? For goodness sake, Thomas, why?

I just cannot eat this anymore, Mother. That is why.

She put down her fork. What will you eat then?

Fish, I said. Chicken maybe. I went to one of those McDonald’s places today, it was pretty good. For realz.

I did not want to tell her the real reason, which was the lady at the CVS. You know how it is, no? It is all swell and good to eat a hamburger at Burger King or McDonald’s, but you go visit a farm or meatpacking business and suddenly you think Wait, that is not just something on my plate, that is a real living being in front of me. And you cannot eat beef anymore.

*

I began using the skin stuff at night and going to the McDonald’s at midday. I began to recognize the people that worked there: girl with fake yellow hair, boy with ring in his lip, fat man with moustache. Good day, I would tell them and they would nod and say What would you like today? I always ordered a French fry and a fish sandwich, because that is how I liked it. Chicken I did not like as much. It tasted familiar.

What’s with the turban? the fakehair girl asked me one day. I still wore the scarf, because it was still cold.

Why, I chortled, it is March for goodness sake!

But we’re indoors.

Alyssa, said the fat man, don’t be rude. He came to the counter where the girl was and said We welcome all sorts of religious affiliations.

Okay. But is it good if I take it off? Sometimes it makes me itch.

Of course, said the fat man. Our little secret. He winked at me. The girl hit a button on the machine to give me my paper.

I unwrapped the scarf and she looked up.

Zombie she yelled. I knew that was what we were called but I never thought it could sound so much like pebbles stuck on someone’s tongue. Zombie zombie zombie. The boy with the ring in his lip ran up holding a metal basket of fries. I heard people run into doors behind me.

The fat man made a coughing noise. Now let’s not be hasty, he said. Sirs! Madams! He ran out from behind the counter. The boy waved his basket at me.

I put my hand over the place on my cheek where the skin did not stretch. Look, I just want my food.

He did not listen. I will burn you motherfucker, said the boy. I will bring this thing so hard on your head that it caves in. You’re not eating my brain you greyskin fucker. He got on top of the counter.

Oh no, I do not eat brains anymore, I said and smiled. I am a vegetarian now.

Fish isn’t a vegetable, said the boy. He swung the basket.

I moved away and held up my hands. For realz, I do not want to eat you. I like eating fish sandwiches and also I would like it if you did not hit me.

The girl had stopped screaming and she looked at the boy with the ring in his lip. Nick, maybe leave him alone. He comes in all the time. He could’ve eaten us already.

Alyssa, said the boy, do you want to die? He jumped off the counter and hit me hard.

*

When I put my eye back I saw that the green thing I sat in was a trash box, big and square. I was angry. I cupped my face and under my hand I could not tell if the hole in my cheek was any bigger. I looked at my fingers. A lot of the skin was gone on my wrist and one of my hands, but the hole in my cheek was normal size. Still I felt like a monster.

When I climbed out of the trash box I almost went home, told Mother that I am sorry, she was right. But I decided No. I paid for that fish sandwich and fries, so I was going to get that fish sandwich and fries whether he liked it or not. Also, I left my scarf in there.

I kicked the door and yelled I paid for a sandwich and fries! Give me what I ordered.

The boy stood at the counter. He bared his teeth and I smiled at him, not a polite closed-mouth smile but an open-mouth one so he could see how he did not ruin my face, and I pointed my bony finger and he said Alyssa? Where’s that sandwich?
And fries, I said. And I am suing you for defamation you know.

*

Defamation? Mother asked me later. Where did you even hear that word?

I read, Mother.

Wikipedia?

Yes. Also I am not suing, I just wanted to scare him.

Well, Mother said, perhaps this… incident was good. You learned a lesson. She patted my wrist with a cloth. Now you know to stay where you belong.

I am still going out.

Thomas, that’s not a good idea. You’ve been through an ordeal.

Mother, I said, so has everyone.

She looked at me with her rolling eye and said You sound like your father.

*

The mistake at McDonalds kept me in for eleven days but I had to go back outside sometime, because that brightness in my eyes was too much to give up.

The lady at the CVS thought it was funny how many boxes of skin stuff and makeup I was buying. Wow, big spender, she said. She smiled like it was a joke. Big date coming up? I put a box of bandages on the counter and she said Oh in a tiny voice. I do not think I was supposed to hear her. She looked at all the boxes.

I got in a fight.

Her eyebrows went up and I knew it was the wrong thing to say. I am joking, I said. Um, a dog bit me.

Oh my God!

I got in a fight with a dog, one of those big ones, the kind that are brown and black.

The lady looked at me like she wanted to say You poor thing, Thomas, let me enfold you in my arms, but like she wanted me to hear it in my head instead of my ears. Her skin crinkled next to her eyes. How awful, she said, like she was just breathing and that is what came out. Then I felt hungry. I do not like to admit this, but I wanted to give up being a vegetarian because of how good she would taste. Except I did not want her to die, I wanted to eat her alive.

She put my stuff in bags and looked at the machine. Your subtotal is 87 45, she said. When I left, she yelled Take care!

*

I wanted to go back to the CVS but knew I could not.

Still I wanted to.

Instead I walked around my room and put a glove on my bad hand and filled a trash bag with my things. I went into Mother’s closet and stole that picture she hides, with the man standing behind a lady with their hands on her stomach, and put it in my pocket. I would use the picture to find Father and talk to him. Then I went into the living room and announced I was going on a trip.

Mother said Don’t be preposterous. Where would you go?

Away. I cannot stay here, it is not safe for me, I said. What I meant was, actually it was not safe for the CVS lady, and what if people wrote to the paper about a zombie in town?

Not safe? She walked up to me. You didn’t tell anyone about us, did you Thomas? Where we live or anything? She put her hand on my arm. You didn’t touch anyone, did you?

No, I did not. I felt like I was in a movie and added But never the less, Mother, I must leave. Do not cry, it is not good for your skin. I will keep this place a secret.

Thomas, she said. Sit down right now. You’re scaring me.

I took a credit card. But I will return someday to give it back.

Thomas! Stop kidding around! She walked backwards, leaned on the wall. I looked at her and thought There is my mother, there are those grey eyes I see every day, there is the gap in her neck that she hides from strangers, there is that face of my mother’s I will miss. So before I put the scarf on, I picked up her hand with the three fingers and kissed it very gently.

But this was a mistake, because she would not let go of my hand. Mother, you will pull my fingers off!

Better you have no fingers and stay here than go out and endanger yourself.

I am going whether I have fingers or not. I packed gloves.

And she let go to cover her face, I guess so she did not have to see me.

*

I walked the road for a long time. I do not know how long. It got less bright out, very bright again, then not. Sometimes I walked by a Burger King and ate sandwiches. (I did not go in McDonaldses anymore.) I thought about the CVS lady and wondered how she was doing. Good I hoped. I thought about Father and hoped he remembered me, because I did not remember him so good. When I tried to remember I only thought of Mother walking around, saying Where is he, what is taking so long, it has been so many hours!

A truck slowed and stopped next to me. Hey, yelled the person in the truck, you need a ride?

I guessed I did so I got in. The driver’s head made me think of a lightbulb. Name’s Dave.

I am Thomas.

Where you headed, Tom?

Anywhere, I said, liking the sound. Away from where I came.

Well, I’m headed back to my farm. I can drop you off anywhere on the way. He drove tapping his thumbs (so hard! like little sticks!) on the steering wheel, and he said You can take that scarf off you know, I have the heat going. You don’t want to look like a terrorist now. He barked like he was pretending to be a dog. I sat very still and left the scarf where it was. You’re not a terrorist, are you? he asked, his mouth full of pebbles. Then I had to do it.

No. I unwrapped the scarf. I fought a dog, I said.

Dave looked at me, slow, and he said Christ. That’s fucked up.

We sat for some time. Not zackly healing well, is it? said Dave. When did you get attacked?

I thought. Last week?

Dave made a noise in his throat and stopped talking. I thought how chewy vocal cords are and that made me hungrier, so I said Could we stop for food?

Well I have some Doritos in here if you want ‘em, said Dave.

I did not know what he meant, but did not want to say, so I said Thank you. But I do not eat those.

You don’t eat Doritos? He stopped the truck at a red light.

I am a vegetarian.

One of those weird ones, eh? Vegans? Dave made a bark again. He turned his head and said Look, I can tell when someone’s got nowhere to go. With a face like that, spesh’ly for a runaway, you’re fucked. You look like a friggen zombie.

Okay, I said. I put my hand in the pocket of my coat and felt the picture between my fingers.

How old are you, anyway? I bet you don’t even have cash on you.

The light was green but the truck stayed still. I looked at my knee and said I am going to find some body.

Dave said Dammit, I can’t let you go. I got a nephew your age and I’d kill him if he pulled some Kerooack shit like this. Then he asked how strong would I say I was?

I guessed pretty strong.

Thought so. Well, look. You say you don’t know where you’re going, and I could use someone on the farm. So how’d you like to work for me? There’s an awful lot of vegetables on my farm.

I stared at Dave’s head. You are not scared?

The car behind us beeped. Dave barked. Pal, I been picking up hitchhikers for a long time, and you’re bout as scary as a kitten.

*

So I worked for Dave on his farm. I liked it. His neighbors lived far away so in the fields I could let the sun graze my face. And when I went to feed the chickens they grouped around and cried Begok begok like they missed me and wanted to scold me for leaving, except they could not do it properly because they were chickens.

Sometimes though, life at Dave’s was not great. When he called me Tombie, which secretly I did not like. Also one time Dave took me to a movie (my first movie!) about a man who turned large and green when he was angry, so he tried hard not to be angry about things, but the government got him anyway. I thought He is like me, that monster man, except I do not change color.

That was a bad day.

When Dave walked me to the barn (that was where I stayed at night) he said You want to talk? And I said About what?

Never mind, Dave said. He went in the house.

I could not sleep because I do not sleep, and I was angry. Dave was nice but he took me to that horrible movie and fed me plants from the farm every day, like radishes and stuff. Dave gave me a lot of radishes that did not make me any less hungry. I sat on a hay bale and looked at the picture of Mother and Father. How could I find Father if I was here, if I stayed Dave’s Tombie? I felt so hungry.

At dawn when Dave came in, he made a popped-balloon noise. Damn Tombie, that’s no way to eat a cow. And he said I’m disappointed in you.

*

Dave locked me in the barn and came back with a long gun. What happened to you? Dave asked. He pointed the gun at my face.

I do not know, I said, I cannot remember not being like this. Because that was true, I could not, and Mother said never to tell anyone what happened to us even if I did. When I was very small I found under her pillow that picture I stole, and I said Mother, who are these people?

Your father and I, she said. Before.

Mother, those tears are not good for your skin!

If I knew, if we’d known about the infection before you were born… She looked at the picture, her fingers on the belly. I would have used formula, she said.

But I did not tell Dave any of this because Mother pretended we never had that talk. Also, I did not want to. For realz, I have been like this my whole life, I said. Do not judge me for what I am but on the quality of my character.

Dave said Quality of character? Where the hell did you hear that?

After we buried Betsy I could not stay in the barn, so I had to sit in the shed while Dave locked it from the outside. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but you know.

*

I’m going to the gas station, Dave said another day. I was working in the field.

Okay, I said. When his truck drove away I wrapped the scarf around my head and packed a bag full of skin stuff and money. Then I wrote a note that said this: Dave I am sorry but I took your money. Not all of it just some. Also the bag that says ADIDAS on it. Thank you, Thomas. When the note was taped to a kitchen cabinet I went to the chicken coop and put one of those in the bag too, white with black and brown ruffles on its tail. Chicken, I said, you are coming with me on an adventure.

Begok, said the chicken. This time it sounded like a bad thing. I did not zip the bag all the way, so I could see the chicken when we talked.

We walked past the farm and into the trees. Sometimes the bird begokked and ruffled its feathers but mainly it looked at me with tiny black eyes. Chicken, be nice, I said. But I decided No—Chicken was not a good name. So I called the chicken Jane after Mother, because both of them had to deal with me when they did not want to. Jane, I said, what do you think of your name? I think it is a good one. But Jane watched me and did not answer.

We stopped looking for a place to live when we reached the woods. I carried Jane all the way through them so we could explore: there was a blue house at the edge of the trees. You are not allowed past the trees, I told her. We walked back and found a tiny river. You are only allowed to go out to here.

Jane begokked at me.

*

I missed Mother and Dave and the CVS lady, and I could tell Jane missed the other chickens because she cried in the night. She was supposed to sleep at night. I knew she was angry on the third day when she started pecking. Augh! I yelled. Jane, that is my elbow! That is not food. But Jane kept at it. Great, that will not be obvious to any body. Keep pecking, Jane, I hope you choke on those bones!!

I guess I was too loud, because then we heard leaves crunching and a girl showed up. She had brown hair and black lines around her eyes. Are you hurt? she said. I heard screams.

I am Thomas, I said. I picked up Jane and petted her like she did not chew half my arm. This is Jane.

The girl’s eyes looked at my elbow bones, slowly moved to my hands and face. Oh my god. Oh my god. You’re a… a zombie?

It did not sound like when the boy at McDonald’s said it or even the fat man and fake-hair girl. It made me think of the CVS lady, how she talked by breathing out words.

That is not a nice thing to call some body.

Oh, she said like her voice was trying to run out her throat. Well, I’m glad you’re not hurt. She walked backwards.

No, I said. Please talk to me. Jane will not talk to me. Also I will not eat you.

The leaves stopped crunching. She looked at the ground.

What is your name? I said. Jane started to flap so I let her go.

Rebecca.

Oh. Okay. So do you like chickens? Rebecca did not answer so I said Me and Jane are on the run. For realz, it is boring.

You’re a monster. You’re not real.

Of course I am real! You are the monster, Rebecca! I took the scarf from the ground and threw it at her but it fell back in the dirt. Jane walked over to the scarf and pecked. Take that, I said. But Rebecca was gone.

The scarf had grass and wet dirt on it and looked sad. I picked it up and put it around my head and said There, there you go. I took out the picture of Mother and Father. They were smiling, still regular. Nobody would run from them then.

My stomach made a noise. I would need food soon.

I thought of going to the CVS and showing my face to the lady in Aisle 9. Would she run from me? If I washed my scarf in the brook and gave it to her, would she still run?

I looked at Jane. I wanted to go home. But I did not know how to get there so it did not even matter. Jane, I said, if you want to go home also, tell me.

Jane said Begok?

I knew Jane did not belong with me then.

The next day I collected grass. I grabbed a squirrel earlier but Jane was hungry now. Jane! Lunch! I said. The gap in my bad hand made a little bowl.

I heard leaves crunching and looked up. Rebecca stepped onto a stump near us. She looked at the grass in my hand and turned her head away, and her head jerked out and in.

What, I said. I dumped the grass and put on my glove.

I’m sorry, she said. She did not look at me.

I thought you were Rebecca.

She said that because I did not kill her yesterday and her mom says to be openminded and stuff, and because she knows how it feels to be a freak because of that bitch Emily, she felt bad. After she said all this I did not know how to answer, so I said Okay.

Why are you on the lam? You and your… chicken.

Jane is my colleague, I said. We used to work on a farm. But the farmer did not trust me so I left.

Rebecca’s face wrinkled. Oh.

He did not trust me because I ate his cow. One of his cows. When I spoke Jane begokked in mourning. I cannot afford to leave the woods, I said. But Jane is getting restless.

Rebecca sat on the stump. Her hands hugged each other. I know a place you could work, she said.

Ha ha. Rebecca, you are funny.

No, really! My boss would love you.

Even with this? I pointed at my cheek.

Definitely with that, she said.

*

That is how I went to work at the shopping mall.

After school Rebecca picked me up by the woods. I was excited, because I had read shopping malls were full of people. If I could not find Father there, where else could he be? But I was also scared because of how many would be there, and I wanted to wear the scarf but Rebecca would not let me. No external facial coverings, she said. Corporate’s rule. We’ll put makeup on you, like Edward Scissorhands. And bandage you up. Put a safety pin in your cheek! No one’ll care.

I did not believe her and told Jane how worried I felt. I decided Jane was not very sensitive to other people’s worries.

Never the less, I went to work at a loud, angry store in the mall. I mean I hit buttons on a machine and moved money. And the makeup worked! People stopped being scared of me after Rebecca painted my face black and white. Sometimes customers would look at me when buying their Master of Puppets shirts and say Dude, you are HARD CORE! Other times customers, usually boys but not always, would slide their eyes at Rebecca for a long time and I would have to yell HAVE A GOOD DAY to get them to leave.

But no one looked like Father in that picture. I was surprised. I missed him.

*

When I came back from work Jane would be waddling in circles, like she wanted to leave except she did not know where to go. Begok, she cried, but it was a cry of You brought me here and not You left me. She went back to pecking at my elbows and feet. You are lucky I wear shoes, I said. You are lucky no one will see that.

I told Jane also that she should be happy in the woods. Try making some friends. Play with the other animals, for goodness sake! But she would not. She just waddled and begokked and flapped her wings.

I was washing my clothes in the brook one night when I heard her crying different than usual. A Thomas I am scared sort of crying. I left my clothes on the rocks and found her all bloody, half under an animal, which I grabbed and threw off. GET AWAY! The trees rustled. Get AWAY! The fox (which I had read about online, in the old days) did not need telling a third time.

I did not know what to do. I picked up Jane and walked until we found a small apartment built on a tree. I stepped up the ladder and put Jane inside. On the wood floor she looked red and scared. I needed to get my clothes, but Jane looked so red that I decided to get them in the morning. Instead I curled myself around her to keep the blood in. So she would not try to fly away I petted her, because I would not blame her if she did. Here I brought her to find Father but I had not found him, even at the mall! Father would not look now like he did in the picture. Why did I think he would?
When the sun rose I had to go get my clothes. It was my second Saturday, and on Saturdays Rebecca and I had to open up the store. Slowly I wrapped my scarf around Jane’s body to keep her warm. You will be okay, I told her. I will get medicine.

On my break I bought Jane some bandages at the drugstore next to the food court. The man behind the counter looked at me like he did not want to. I got attacked by a dog, I said.

That day I received what is called a paycheck. A paycheck! What would I do with such a thing? Rebecca said she put hers in the bank.

Why?

If you put your paycheck in the bank you can get to it later.

I thought about this and it was a good idea. If I could use my paycheck later I could take Jane to the doctor next time she needed it. And maybe get a real apartment! Like Mother had! I wondered how Mother was doing, if her jowls were still jowly. Probably. I wondered if she thought about me.

When I came back to the tree, Jane did not begok. Jane, I am home! I said this like I was not worried at all but instead very pleased to get there. Did you hear me? But Jane was quiet. I wished she would cry or even peck at me, because I knew what no pecking meant. When I unwrapped her she flopped in my hands. I could see stringy muscle where her wings attached to her body. I did not know what to do.

So (I am ashamed to admit such a bad thing but) I ate her. I had not eaten a real chicken before, and I piled the feathers respectfully to the side first.

Afterward I buried her. I sprinkled her feathers onto her bones in the ground and sang Jane a song Mother used to sing, quiet-like, when I was very small. Gimme gimme gimme a man of the midnight, won’t somebody help me chase the shadows away? But then I thought, I was the shadow. I dug out one feather and put it in my pocket.

I wished I had not eaten Jane. I decided to never eat chicken again.

I thought about Mother in her own apartment, sitting on our couch. It was not fair that Mother had to hide. I picked up a rock from the ground and threw it. We should not have to hide, I said to the trees. But Mother hid because she ate people like Rebecca and Dave. That was not fair either! And it was not fair I ate people like Jane. Nothing was right and the ground was covered in brown leaves. Too brown. I hated all the brown. Why did I live here? I deserved an apartment like everyone else. From now on I would not hide. In my apartment I would eat only radishes and apples.

I thought of Mother and Dave and Rebecca and the CVS lady. Was the lady ringing up bandages and lipstick? Smiling at a customer? I stood up next to Jane’s grave. I will not hide, I said again. I would be like Father that way. I would put my paychecks in the bank. Buy a nice apartment! Father could find me if he wanted, I was tired of looking and not finding. I would go to the CVS across from Mother’s building and find the lady working in Aisle 9 and say You seem very nice ma’am, but you scare me. Your laugh is like butterflies and it makes me afraid. And when she asked where I came from I would say Crawled out a sewer or Shimmied up a drainpipe, and she would laugh like so many insects.

 

One Response to “Hoosier Journal Spotlight: Sycamore Review and “We Welcome All Sorts” by Heather Lefebvre”

  1. Kathy Carr

    This is the very best short story I have read in a long, long time. Such a talent in Ms. Lefebvre !

    Reply

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