Bold

By Alison Morse

When I was a baby, peering through the plastic mesh of my playpen, I wanted to be daring, to race around the world as fast as Mighty Mouse. But walking was too scary. That split second when neither foot completely met the ground was too much for me to bear.

Then I turned three and finally learned to waddle around my neighborhood in Queens, New York. But in reoccurring dreams, I flew over the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, and solved murder mysteries involving the Flintstones and bloody zombies.

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Young Alison Dreamt of Solving Mysteries

One afternoon in first grade, soft-as-a-toy-bear Miss O’Hara stood in front of our classroom and mutated into a growling grizzly. “I will not have you doodling and fidgeting in class, talking out of turn, or going to the bathroom in your pants,” she shouted. Then she pointed to the corner by the blackboard. “Stand up there, and don’t move until I say so.”

Sweating and trembling, I walked toward the corner.

“What are you doing?” asked Henry Pita, trailing behind me.

“Alison Morse, please sit down,” ordered Miss O’Hara, her powdered face scrunched up like a dried apple. “I was talking to Henry.”

I was relieved and sorry not be the class delinquent. But I had made Miss O’Hara angry. How could I make it up to her?

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Patch of Crocuses

On the way home from school I passed yard after tiny yard of early spring flowers. The prettiest ones, a patch of gold-as-Twinkies crocuses, belonged to neighbors I didn’t know.  The next morning, I dug about a dozen out of the ground with my bare hands, bulbs and all, and brought them to Miss O’Hara. A gift.

She barely smiled. “Thank you, honey. But you really shouldn’t dig up the bulbs attached to your flowers. Now they won’t grow back.”

I had stolen and killed the neighbor’s crocuses. I was an idiot. But the hot-eared-heart-thumping-tickle-of-shame was kind of fun. I had been daring.

Over the years, I tried to improve my skills as a thief, stealing bubble gum, Snickers bars, and bags of Doritos from the local candy store. I even kept a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints instead of delivering it to a neighbor. But compared to the female Robin Hoods and super-powered goddesses that I drew all over my notebooks at school, I failed to be much of an adventurer.

My dad, a graphic designer, took me to Manhattan museums every Saturday, an event that began to make me antsy after I turned thirteen. During a Saturday visit to a Picasso show at the Museum of Modern Art, we had our usual Picasso discussion: which paintings were classically cubist; which were influenced by Matisse; and why some paintings were more “successful” than others. Afterwards, we ate our ritual sandwiches at the museum cafeteria. I wondered how to make the experience more of a surprise.

The water at our table came in a minimalist, mid-century-modern glass carafe. When my dad went to the bathroom, I poured the last of the water out of it, dried it with a napkin, and stuffed it the pocket of my down jacket. Surprise bubbled through me. I was about to get away with something big.

We passed the guards. They didn’t look up. We walked out of the museum’s revolving doors. ImageNo alarms. I followed my dad into the subway, amazed at my success.

Inside the F train, I took out the carafe to show my dad.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t you remember?” I told him.

“It’s a little small for a carafe. Maybe we can use it for a bud vase.”

He was obviously not impressed. What would I have to do, steal Meret Oppenheim’s fur cup from the permanent collection, or take Picasso’s “Young Ladies of Avignon” off the wall?  To steal a work of art, I would need much better technical skills—and a driver’s license.

While I brooded, my dad fell asleep. His snore was as loud as the subway’s rattle, as loud as his shouting voice—a voice he used during one of our first visits to the Museum of Modern Art. I was four, and fascinated by some bronze people with skinny, melting bodies, made by an artist named Giacometti. They were the Walking Dead; art zombies both bumpy and smooth when I touched their stomachs.

A loud alarm went off and two museum guards ran up to me, yelling. My father yelled at me too, almost as loudly as the alarm. The guards threw us out.

As the train chugged home to Queens, I pondered the logic behind Giacometti and the carafe. Was petty theft not as daring as touching sculpture? Did breaking rules count more when you didn’t know you were breaking them? Whatever the logic was, I was pretty sure that daring had something to do with art, and maybe theft too.

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Alison Morse‘s poetry and prose have been published in Natural Bridge,Water~StoneRhinoOpium Magazine, The Potomac, and a bunch of other journals. She won the 2012 Tiferet Fiction Prize. For twenty years she animated everything from cigarettes and glass shards to Barbie doing aerobics on the beach in Cancun. Now she teaches and runs TalkingImageConnection, an organization that brings together writers, contemporary visual artists and new audiences.

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The Devil and the FBI

By Molly Priesmeyer 

My life began at the end of a cul-de-sac.

At the edge of a road that led nowhere. A nothing in-between two somethings.

In a little green rambler that was my own suburban purgatory.

On one side was a germaphobic Christian lady who scrubbed her lawn every Wednesday after church with Palmolive soap. (If cleanliness was next to Godliness, she was going to get so close she’d smother him with her tiny chicken bone arms.)

On the other side was a minister with teeny black pin eyes and a big red beard who was a part of some whacked-out bomb-shelter religion that included hitting on my mom and using every attempt possible to place his fat fingers on the small of her back.

For nearly 16 years, that purgatory was a salve. If our property line was the difference between heaven and hell, I could always be saved. Truly saved.

Then one day, it happened. I stretched my arms far beyond my property line and into burning universes light years away. I didn’t even believe in magic or God or Jesus and had even tried to convince my religion teacher that people saw Jesus “rising” after he died because they just ate a bunch of spoiled meat and hallucinated it all.

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Molly P. Criminal

But that night with Jimmy I was sure I just enlisted for hell—an eternal service I’d be called to order to only after being hanged by the CIA or the FBI or the NSA or some other crazy super scary government organization for knowing crazy government secrets and committing the worst crime ever by a 16-year-old.

I blamed Jimmy for everything. Because only the devil could get a thrill from stealing classified government documents and pulling over a bunch of jerks using a stolen cop siren.

——————-

I don’t know where Jimmy came from. He was older than us and went to a different school and hung out at Denny’s drinking bottomless cups of coffee and playing Mahjong with old people. But he would suddenly pop up at parties and people’s houses like one of those clowns in a funhouse maze.

The night that my body extended itself so far into hell, Jimmy just showed up in the passenger seat of my car like a specter.

I’m pretty sure Jimmy drank milk jugs of speed. He was a fast-talking ginger who had freckles on his arms that converged to make a map of the United States. In the middle of his right arm was a cluster that made a giant Florida.

Our idea of a good time was driving and driving and driving until the roads ended. REM, and U2, and Black Flag, and Pink Floyd would turn the world flat and take us to its limits. There was nowhere else to go but to the end and back.

That night, Jimmy and I drove up winding hills and through trails that turned into dirt roads, past houses with fancy columns that turned into houses that were held together by driftwood patches and dogs chained to posts.

“Keep going! Let’s go higher!” Jimmy said. We pulled down the top of my convertible and drove higher through the Missouri hills, letting our bodies evaporate into the darkness.

We got so high in the hills that night that the only lights we could see were from the cosmos.

On the way up we hadn’t passed a sign of civilization for more than an hour. But five minutes down the hill we saw a car parked on the side of the road, its wheels straddling the tiny gravel road and the world beneath.

The car was empty. There was no sign of anyone anywhere.

Jimmy got out and began rummaging through the ghost car like he owned it. I was sure he was collecting clues that would lead us to save an entire family and maybe their missing dog, too, and that we’d all wind up hugging and crying on the evening news.

When Jimmy got back to my car, he was carrying a police siren and a giant locked briefcase.

“Go,” he said.

I did.

——————————————-

Back at my house we pried open the briefcase with a screwdriver.

“Holy….Shiiiiiit,” Jimmy said, thumbing through pages inside.

He handed me a piece of paper. On it was stamped CONFIDENTIAL and U.S. ImageGOVERNMENT and CLASSIFIED and other words that I knew meant this was the craziest shit we’d ever done.

The paper shook in my hand.

I was sure the government had magic crazy sonar tools that could read my fingerprints on a piece of paper from hundreds of miles away. I imagined some fat guy in a suit staring into a wall of computers and receiving the real-time “BLEEP BLEEP!” signal from my basement where “Brass Monkey” played on repeat on my boom box.

“We have to get rid of this entire thing!” I screamed.

“Calm down,” Jimmy said.

“You are crazy and you don’t even go to my school and where did you come from anyway and why are you in my house! Let’s get out of here!”

Like everything else I ever felt shame over, I wanted to shove that stupid giant blue plastic briefcase so deep into the Dumpster it could be wiped from my brain forever.

I lugged the heavy tracking device/briefcase to the car, trying as hard as I could to not let any parts of it touch me. The further it was away from me, the further I was away from Jimmy’s crime.

We drove all the way to Manchester Road, where I could bury the shame case in a sea of gas stations and fast-food joints. I got out of the car, lifted it above my head, and chucked it as hard as I could into the Dumpster at Phillips 66.

“We just threw away the secret files of a murdered spy,” I said, staring into the neon distance.

Jimmy shook his head and laughed. He reached for his side like he was about to pull out a cigarette from his pocket. Instead, he grabbed the cop siren and stuck it to the dashboard of my red Volkswagen Rabbit convertible.

“Go.” Jimmy said.

I did.

———————————————–

It only took four or so rounds of red flashes across our faces before we pulled over our first car of perps. Then, we couldn’t stop.

That night we pulled people over in front of the Steak ‘n Shake. In front of the Walgreens. In front of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car. In front the Hostess shop. In front of the Country Kitchen. In front of the Dunkin’ Donuts. Then, just as quickly, we’d speed past to laugh at their bewildered faces.

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Cop Car.

“Beeeyeeewww! Beeeyeeww! Beeeyeeww!” we howled in unison, creating siren sounds only the walls of my little phony cop-mobile convertible could hear.

Particular targets for pulling over were silhouettes in dark cars who cast shadows much like our own: Inky shapes of people dancing, their earrings dangling, heads thrashing, long-hair bobbing.

I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I thought all these bastards had it coming to them. All these bastards who were out doing way worse things than reading super top-secret Pentagon/CIA/FBI files.

Bastards doing terrible things like drag racing or mocking their girlfriends or drinking Purple Passion or being all arrogant and rich and buying all their friends Steak ‘n Shake with mom and dad’s credit card.

ImageThe CIA, FBI, Pentagon, secret Russian forces…they all might be coming for me. But for a red-light-fueled few hours or so, I could play good cop doing the law’s true dirty work.

“Oh, man. Did you just see those idiots in the BMW?” Jimmy said, pointing up ahead.

I did.

“Beeeyeeewww! Beeeyeeww! Beeeyeeww!” we sang as I hit the gas pedal.

We drove and drove and drove that night. Pulling people over for nothing at all and for crimes we were sure they’d commit in the future.

It was, for a moment, our heaven. As all of our sins were erased by the flashing red light dancing atop my ash-dotted dashboard like a plastic Virgin Mary.

Molly Priesmeyer’s stories on everything from local arts to politics to the environment have appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, City Pages, METRO Magazine, Vita.mn, MinnPost, ArtNews, Rolling Stone, Modern Painters, and more. She is co-owner of the Good Work Group.