Hadiyyah Kuma

Things I Take

I take off my shirt and put it into a pool because I can’t swim. I’d rather watch my clothes swim in there with Dina. She’s looking better than she did yesterday. Yesterday she passed out from exhaustion, but tonight glistening water pins itself to all kinds of body parts. I put my shorts in next and they’re a bit heavier, but they float long enough for Dina to grab them in her teeth and shake them back and forth like a puppy. Like a dog. There are dog scars on my stomach, expect they are made from razor blades and not dogs. Dina calls them dog scars, because she’s too gentle to me and says I should treat myself the way I treat Ruby, my Labrador. 

I take out the word, “exasperated” because it appears it two of my poems and I’m unoriginal. I delete two other poems because they are stupid. I don’t think I’m a poet, but I have a poet’s mind, it’s the delivery that gets me. I’m too affected by the works of other’s and find everything I do to just be inferior. I sometimes voice this affliction to my friends and they assure me that I’m greatbband getting places babe. 

I take a splinter out of my father’s finger, using tweezers for the first time. I do it quick and don’t wait for a thank you. I place the tweezers on the sink and go downstairs to drink water. “Thanks baba,” I hear, as I’m gulping. It’s the Guyanese word for ‘baby,’ a term of endearment.  “Sure,” I call back. It’s another of way of saying I don’t care. 

I take dead skin off my mother’s back with my nails and sprinkle it over my dinner. It’s an accident, but I don’t mind. I guess the rationale is that’s the skin I’ve lived in. That’s my skin too. 

I take pieces of Quality Street candy wrapper and press them against a flashlight. I switch the flashlight on and the light is purple, then red, then green, then blue, then white again. 

I take in the skyline as Dina, Ruby and I sit on a rock at the park. There’s the CN Tower, there’s the Bank of Montreal building, there’s some more skyscrapers. There are some rocks and a bird. Dina says, “look!” It’s a cloud shaped like a horse.

I take out the word, “death,” from my entries because it’s too sweet for me. On the other hand, I’m trying to be more positive and choose “life” or “vitality” again and again. And my mother peaks at my journals, I just know it. 

I take back what I said about horses, they’re beautiful. I don’t understand why horse-face is an insult. And look at those sleek bodies, I would die to be to elegant. “Die” is different than “death.” 

I take up colouring because it’s supposed be calming, but I can’t stay inside the lines. Steady now, I tell myself, and sometimes it works. I colour cities and flowery mandalas. They’re kind of nice once they’re almost done. I like them half-coloured, as in the outer rim is coloured and the inner rim is white. It’s cleaner that way. 

I take Dina to an art show and she studies the 35-millimeter photography with her neck tilted to the left. She likes the softer images, ones of trees and hazy flowers. I like the high-flash ones of people lying on top of cars in parking lots or trash bins that have been tipped over. I like the people in showers and bathtubs with grim looks on their faces. I like their nakedness, but I don’t like to be naked. Dina lays a hand on my back. 

I take a breath. 

I take a life, not mine. A fly’s, because it kept trying to get into my nostril. I didn’t mean it, I was sorry. I did what I had to do. 

Hadiyyah Kuma is from Toronto, Ontario. Her work has been or will be featured in places like Jellyfish ReviewHart House ReviewCosmonauts Avenue, and The Rumpus. Find more of her writing at https://dedicatedrambler.wordpress.com/writing/.

Emily Rubin

WE THREE, 1983

We were something back then. To be more truthful, we were almostsomething, and that was perfectly fine most of the time. Three sisters in performance we were, who spit and growled about rampant chauvinist mores of the time with our agitprop comedy fueled by Reagan-era extravagance and pomp. We weren’t famous—simply notable, awkward, and happening, at least in our hairstylist’s eyes. We hired Louisa to tame our locks from straight to curly and all the way to and from kinky. Her magic scissors and mousse gave us a three-tiered sculptured look. My coif was modeled after a broken teacup cradling a clump of dried flowers in a forgotten still life. Framing my ‘do’ were multiple ear piercings decorated with golden rings and crystal studs that would flash in the meager stage lights focused on us when we came onstage in the nighttime-club head of multiplying adrenalin rushes. We were an after-work, late-night performance troupe, a family not related by blood, but often sharing full-moon ‟dropping” times. We were known as the Sirens of Sleaze. 

“Clever, subversive feministas,” the local press quipped and said we were “three roving magenta magic carpet gals flying on heavily kohl-lined clouds travelling the circuit of the underground scene.”  

We loved cheap red wine, cheaper champagne, and were riddled with angst for the excess of the trickle-down economic times. Writing and performing got us into the clubs gratis. The fifteen-dollar covers were an extravagance for our waitress tips and temp-job hourly earnings. 

Barrel-chested bouncers at the clubs were angels in dark suits, shielding us from the hordes and ceremoniously opening the velvet ropes ensuring our safe passage through the fiery circling maze of club habitués praying for entry into the darkness where they could worship at the altar of thumping sound systems in warrens of pop culture-themed rooms. The crowds watched moonfaced up at stages with Keith Haring backdrops and backlines for the twenty or more bands that would play through the night. We three performed two- to four-minute sketches in between the bands. Never the headliners, we were paid minimal fees for our labor, usually twenty-five dollars—and more often than not, additional perks of spirited lines of cocaine. Smoothies slurped before going on, and snorts and wipes when our job was done.

We three had spiked hair dyed brashly orange to match the couches burning in the streets outside the clubs. We were obsessed with bad taste. Mimes who wouldn’t shut up and sang off-key, dancers who stumbled and belched on cue. Fun and gross, sensually tricky, challenging ourselves with a collective interior gaze. We wrote at night after work with bottles of wine and tightly rolled joints, honing our rants for the crowds of fevered “I’m Coming Out” flashbulb popping, popper inhaling clubbers. Our anger for inequality molded us, fueled by the realities that health care was for the privileged few, so we called it wealth care. We were treated at Bellevue Emergency Room for head, foot, and eye injuries. None of us had insurance and the backstage areas were often badly lit, making our entrances and exits treacherous. Ovarian cysts also popped up now and again, facilitating times in emergency rooms littered with candy-bar wrappers and run by doctors with dark circles under their eyes like eclipses of the moon in binocular lenses.

Talia was a leggy redhead, swimmer and mime from Montgomery, Alabama with a psyche formed by New Orleans’s sultry summers, Marie Laveau, and downing Pimm’s Cup at her favorite corner table at Napoleon House. She played Nancy Reagan in our sketches. Lorna was six-foot in flats, a square-jawed patrician who could do a spot-on upper-crust New England accent or a deep Southern drawl on cue as a clueless or inebriated guy. She played Ronald Reagan. I was Ron Jr. My five-foot, plump frame was a stretch, but I was a ballerina in a tutu flitting around saying, “I am the dying-son swan”. 

Backstage we were bitchy and loving in our uniform of thrift-store matching paisley jumpsuits. We wrestled with complicated whale-boned lingerie and sized up large boxy wool suits for our act. Duffel bags and suitcases exploded with costumes that we flung onto tattered couches in the graffiti-scrawled downtown club dressing rooms of Danceteria, Pyramid Club, Limbo Lounge, and 8BC. Signatures of the bands we worshipped were under layers of stratum. Butthole Surfers, The Cramps, Ramones, Blondie, and Coup d’Etat. At Danceteria there was a quote in French on the wall, untouched and surrounded by a protective neon halo. Patti Smith was the rumored scrivener of this quote from her beloved, Rimbaud. The French was obscure. Ionly had high school comment vas-tuFrench, Lorna had a beau from Bordeaux, and Talia knew Cajun français, so between the three of us we were able translate the lines that became a mantra for taking our act on the road.

In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid Cities.

We hit the road for the southern climes—from Kentucky to Alabama to Louisiana, Georgia and the Carolinas. Saw a ’gator while camping on Grand Isle, and fled with costumes flapping like young herons while the cops raided a party that hired us to perform in Kitty Hawk. We three fled like geese chased by a dog and passing the Kill Devil memorial to Orville and Wilbur Wright.

We always warmed up backstage by giving each other cheek kisses and directives before going on. 

“Plump up your ladykins!”

“You need some glitter for that décolletage.”

“Does everyone have their codpiece?” Johnny G the stage manager at 8BC asked as he gave us five-minute warnings. 

Our cassette tape cued to the right track and played by Stewie, the sound person in the booth, was our signal to burst on stage lip-synching and prancing to Dolly Parton’s “Stand By Your Man” for our cross-cross-cross-cross dress routine. We transformed from female to male, back to fem and back again to men, throwing off suit jackets, Lily Pulitzer florals, swirling paisleys, fedoras, stuffed jock straps, bustles, bras, and mustaches. We revealed merkins made of natural sponge and ended the set by presenting our most feted objet de sleaze,a giant lipstick fashioned in homage to our mothers’ Helena Rubinstein gold lipstick holders. The prop was constructed from the largest of mailing tubes and painted shiny Egyptian gold. This was the “LipDick.” Guiseppe, our prop master, fashioned it with a top that slid off to reveal a larger-than-life, bloodred wedge of lipstick. We waved the shiny phallus like a flag, and as Dolly Parton’s voice swelled, we shot off confetti guns over the audience. 

“I can feel the LipDick!” came the cry from the sweaty pit. 

“Give us more of that Lip!”

“Touching the gold costs a thousand bucks,” we would quip and accept a beer instead.

After one show Karen Finley summoned us to a drooping couch in the VIP section at the back of 8BC. We hadn’t time to change out of our sequins, boas, and sombreros. I played the saxophone back then and flung it over my back like a papoose.

“Make it messier. Sleazier. You do call yourselves the Sirens of Sleaze, isn’t that right?”

“The clubs are booking us as the Sleazebuckets. The name seems to be sticking—or maybe it’s just sticky,” I boldly said.

Finley smiled, but did not laugh. Performance art was serious. Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were passed to soothe our parched throats. As she bid us adieu Madame gave us advice.

“Not sure the name will get you an NEA grant, but why not write something about menstrual flow or the illegally backed-by-the-United States Contras in Nicaragua, or both.” 

Armed with a mission we thanked her and went backstage to change in the presence of the club’s resident beer-drinking bunny. We were a noisy family for a short, frenetic time. At the end of it all there was heartache, tears, jealousy, and divvying up of costumes as we three moved on. I don’t remember who got the LipDick, but I imagine it somewhere leaning against a wall, a reminder of a time when we thought we were and were not just perfectly fine all at the same time. 

Emily Rubin’s debut novel, Stalina (2011 HMH/Mariner Books), was a selection in the Amazon Debut Novel Award Contest. She was the first recipient of the Sarah Verdone Writer Award in 2011, a finalist in the International Literary Awards, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her fiction and essays have appeared in All the Restaurants in New York (Abrams, 2019) by John Donohue, Red Rock Review, Confrontation, NY Observer, Poets & Writers Magazine, and HAPPY. In 2005 she founded Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose, a reading and performance series that takes place in laundromats around the country. She has running The Write Treatment Workshops in New York City hospital cancer centers since 2011 and has taught fiction workshops at Bard College’s Lifetime Learning Institute and as part Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine Program. She is at work on a novel. www.emilyrubin.net

Kuzuha Makino

I Love Your Dirty Belly Button

Translated by Toshiya Kamei

By coincidence or fate, I caught a glimpse of Okabe-san's sullied belly button.

In the gray purulent morning air, I go up the stairs of the multi-tenant building with my eyes downcast. As a twenty-three-year-old temp slave I'm earning a net monthly salary of 160,000 yen. I open the door. Because I'm the first one to arrive, the lights haven't been turned on yet.

I wear a dirty white petal-like suit I bought very cheaply online. I hate myself for thinking that I can go to work in this flimsy outfit and look all proper. Admittedly, I'm cheap. My glasses are nerdy, too. Still, every day my wilted heart drinks in the presence of Okabe-san, a janitor vacuuming noisily from one corner of the office to another. A hollow-eyed man in his early fifties, he wears a tacky green uniform, cleaning dispassionately. His light brown skin and shiny bald head that reminds me of the tip of a penis turn me on.

"Good morning"

"Oh, morning," replies Okabe-san, without even looking at me. But I don't mind. I really don't want him to take a good look at me. He's a mere object of my desire. I don't need porn actors like Ittetsu and Shimiken to get me hot. And I'm quite serious about it. I'm determined to finish myself off while fantasizing about Okabe-san. That's what pure desire is all about.

I don't know what I'm fighting for, but this is a battle against myself. I want at least to boost my libido because I'm a cheap girl with no distinct personality. In thirty minutes Okabe-san will finish cleaning the building. He'll strip off his uniform to reveal a tank top underneath when he's alone and sit in a chair at the back of the smoking area, which the president usually occupies during lunch break. There he'll nimbly move his index finger and play a puzzle game while puffing on his Wakaba.

This is a miraculous moment.

Just then I come out of the restroom located opposite the smoking area.

It's a miracle that his tank top is so twisted up, fully exposing his pot belly covered with thick, bushy hair. How come out-of-shape geezers have such similar bellies? And thanks to the new glasses that have dramatically improved my vision, I spot the filth caked around his belly button.

I take a couple of deep puffs. I'm really out of it. My emotions are out of whack. I couldn't care less about making documents for today's meeting. Who cares about tables, let alonecells? There's something more fascinating than Excel or PowerPoint! A geezer's belly button lint tastes like dried squid! The more you chew it, the tastier it becomes! My heartbeat rushes into my ears. Fed up with my completely meaningless work, I let delusional thoughts flash through my mind. Now Okabe-san will make the rounds of various buildings and vacuum them. Then he'll buy himself a large can of Asahi beer on the way back to his apartment, which costs him 40,000 yen a month. Once home, he'll chuckle over a trite variety show before going to bed. What an animalistic and courageous life! Or he's married to a hissy woman who sells side dishes in a supermarket, and their son, a mono-browed junior high kid too busy jerking himself off, hates his guts. In short, his dirty belly button is what grounds him to his ordinary life. That's what well-endowed studs like Ittetsu and Shimiken will never have. So I can only embody libido by finishing myself off to what Okabe-san stands for. 

At seven in the evening I slip off my beige pumps by the front door. Anyhow, my days as a woman are numbered if I'm getting myself off to Okabe-san, I think to myself with a smile, recalling Ittetsu's Disneyland-like grin.

Born in 1993 in Hyogo, Kuzuha Makino graduated from Ritsumeikan University in 2016 with a BA in Film and New Media. A regular contributor to Hametuha, she was awarded the NovelJam 2018 Yushu-sho for her short story Yuki to Nagi no boken. Her favorite authors include Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Charles Bukowski, and Kenji Nakagami. Her short story "K" has recently appeared in Déraciné. As well as writing short stories, she has recently published the novel Setagaya kakumei zenya.