Three Stories and Artwork by Jim Ruland


Doesn’t need a mask to let the world know what’s on her mind.

The suit suits her and to hell with anyone who says otherwise.

The only time she doesn’t think about the thirteen hundred dollars she put on the credit card her ex-husband wasn’t supposed to know about is when she puts on the cat suit.

All for Charlie.

The black cat she put to sleep had sores for eyes and a belly stretched with tumors. Dressing for the party her mind goes completely blank.

Not happy exactly but content.

In the cat suit, she is closer to the person she would like to be.

She accepts Manhattans (even though she was always a boilermaker girl) from a man in a toga with golden chest hair brillcreamed flat.

After her fifth, shaken however the fuck she wants it, she is cut off from the roving eyeball of her dreams.

She won’t recall going to the bottom of the closet where she rummages through a shoebox filled not with plastic-wrapped toys but baby mice and squeezes the air out of every last one until they are all just pink and purple splatters, pink and purple drips running down her arms because blood belongs on the outside.

“Oh, Charlie.”

Words tumble over her rough tongue.

The carpet stirs the crooked whiskers drawn on with a dull eyebrow pencil.

“You were such a comfort to me. You were my only boy.”

[Not] [So] [Long] [Ago]

The forest is so beautiful.

It is old and the trees soar and the soil ticks with blood.

There are birds and then… something else.

It starts as a whine and grows louder and louder until the barely audible complaint transforms into a thunderous howl that shatters the silence.

[A] [      ] [      ] [      ] [train.]

In a quiet forest, you can hear them coming from a long way away.

Those who were killed here came in trains.

They volunteered their clothing to the volunteer riflemen and were tumbled into pits.

I came in a motor coach.

I stay away from the rest of the group.

I prefer to explore the memorials on my own.

Memorials are edifices of mandatory solemnity.

Some are subtle, others austere.

Municipal art for the masses.

Someone has stacked a pile of stones on one of the memorials.

Three stones, one atop the other, like bodies piled in a pit.

I want to hold one in my hand.

Round and smooth and shaped by forces beyond time.

I go into the forest and select a stone.

I measure its heft.

It feels good in my hand.

I set it down on the memorial when I notice the markings.

Someone’s name has been inscribed on the stone.

A name I can’t make out.

The stone, I realize, is a memorial.

I put the stone back where I found it, and select another.

It, too, bears a name.

And so does the next one and the one after that and the one after that.

All the stones in the forest have been named.

[Memories] [live] [inside] [compartments.]

This one has nowhere to go.

Wipeout Blues

In the song I’ll write about you, I won’t mention the wave.

It will be a pretty song, a tuneful melody about hope and beauty and the cruelty of love.

Make that fate. The cruelty of fate.

Love is never cruel.

That’s one of its rules, or ought to be.

And when I say “you” I mean “us” because we were only just beginning to get to know one another.

Truly know.

You were opening up like a flower in the night, which is good, song-worthy even.

In the song I’m writing about us, I’m not going to talk about how I didn’t follow you into the water, though I thought about it.

I pulled off my jacket and shucked it out of the way—quickly pulled and even quicklier shucked—but when I looked up you were already so far away.

I won’t put that in the song because it might confuse people.

This is not a song about confusion though I wonder about so many things.

Like why you had your passport in your pocket and why the wave took you but left me and why that guy in the kayak didn’t do something, anything, to help.

It’s hard to know what to leave in, what to take out.

Like the wave, the reason for the song when you get down to it.

Maybe I’ll start with a little guitar that builds and builds, slowly, like a wa—

No, that’s not right, even though the wave belongs in the song.

Like an undercurrent.

Never stated, only felt.

Like so many aspects of our love.

Like the hickey I left on your neck we never talked about, how you rubbed the juice of an aloe into it when you thought I wasn’t looking on the morning that was to be your happiest on earth.

You were a petal plucked too soon and I am the stem?

The branch?

Something strong like the rock we were standing on when I asked for your hand in marriage and you gave me your real hand, your eyes welling up as I rubbed the bump on your knuckle and fretted with the ring while somewhere out to sea, just off the coast, destiny was forming.

Jim Ruland is a veteran of the Navy, author of the short story collection Big Lonesome, and host of the irreverent reading series Vermin on the Mount. Giving the Finger, which he co-authored with Scott Campbell, Jr. will be published early next year. He lives and works in Southern California.