by Joseph Riippi



I WOKE EARLY; STILL black beyond the bedroom curtains. Rain dripped from the roof gutters and ricocheted across the restaurant courtyard. I rose and dressed, listened to the rain and her breathing and tried not to wake her. In the kitchen I filled a dirty wine glass with tap water. I gathered my folders and the laptop from the table, checked the clock above the stove. I hurried back to the bedroom for my sweater and tie, watched her roll to my side of the bed, clutching the pillow. The best part of this day, I knew, would be bending to kiss her goodbye and sliding the comforter up to her chin. She would smile and murmur to have a great day, good luck with your presentation, I miss you. I would whisper back something the same. I reached for the sweater pinned beneath her shoulder. The courtyard beyond the window grew silent, and dawn outlined the roof of the restaurant white against the sky. By the time I left the apartment, rain had turned to snow.





THEY DIDN'T LOOK like baby rabbits. More like pink balls of unbaked dough with caper eyes.


Can I –



My grandfather gathered up the five or six of them. Max, their shaky mother, wrinkled her nose again and again and again and again in the corner of the cage.

There’ll be rabbits everywhere, he grumbled.

From the house, my grandmother called out my name.



I stood on the toilet and watched through the open window; my grandfather was at the end of the dock tossing globs of dough into the lake. Ducks stirred the water in a rush; they thought he’d thrown bread. He wiped his big hands on the side of his jacket and watched the frantic mallards dive after the sinking somethings. Shiny green heads popped up wet, smacking their orange beaks.



I took some pieces of lettuce up to the garage and held one out into the near-empty cage.. C’mere Max, I called, and extended my hand further. We didn’t know you were a girl, I said. Mom says we should call you Maxine. Maxine wrinkled her nose again and again. I remembered the time she bit my cousin and pulled my hand back. I tossed the lettuce onto the pink towel we laid down the night before. For the babies. I wondered if we would throw that towel away.




IT'S A FEW YEARS AGO and I am drinking at El Sombrero on Ludlow with the great poet Ben Jensen when he tells me: The thing about your book is that people only read for fun nowadays. And your book, well—. My book isn’t much fun, I interject. He nods. Reading your book was like fucking a knothole, he says. He pauses, lets the comment settle. Then he takes a drink from his beer and nods again in affirmation. I feel ready to throw up, my throat thickens; but then he laughs and slaps me hard on the shoulder. I say that with a great deal of admiration, he assures me.





It would have been an amazing novella if he’d cut out all the whale-science shit.


Somebody replied:

You mean cetology.




I REMEMBER A NIGHT in college before I met my girlfriend: a friend and I drove into the district, to the bar on 14th that’s not there anymore. He wanted to introduce me to the girl he was seeing, some beautiful bartender. She was older than I expected, but with pink hair and enormous breasts, she was perfect. After an hour of talking about the high-academic music quarterly we would never start, my friend went to the bar where it was decided we would spend the night at the beautiful bartender’s apartment a few blocks away. She called her roommate. I asked if the roommate was beautiful, too. No, he said, She’s just a bitch. Does she have pink hair? I asked. A few hours later we’d drunk plenty and decided on three new features for our quarterly. The beautiful bartender announced she needed to close her till. We were the last. My friend lit a cigarette and I rose to pay what the beautiful bartender charged us, which wasn’t much. She watched as I wrote in a fifty percent tip on the credit card receipt. Thanks, she said, and smiled. Thank you, I wanted to say, but I don’t remember if I said anything. My friend walked over and offered us both cigarettes. The bartender declined, so just my friend and I smoked as she counted from a giant stack of dollar bills. She’d counted fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four, and he tapped me on the shoulder. He looked like he had something important to say. He said: I am incredibly drunk. Good, I answered. He nodded, rose from his stool, and that’s the last thing I remember, but not for lack of trying.







Do you ever feel as if you are the only ones in the world who love like you do?


Do you feel cheated knowing that can’t possibly be true? Other people fall in and out of love, don’t they?

Yes, certainly.

Do you ever write about your love?


Why not?

Because writing is for the mind and love is for the heart. Someone said that.

But don’t you love writing?



Not in the way you’re using the word. I love writing in the word sense, the love that can be italicized.

What’s the difference?



You said this: Writing is for the mind, love is for the heart.

I did?



So you don’t believe writing can touch the heart?

Writing absolutely can touch the heart. The best writing does.

Isn’t that a contradiction?

Art is defined by its contradictions.

Art is defined by its contradictions?


JOSEPH RIIPPI was born in Seattle and lives in New York City, where he writes advertising and is working towards an MFA at the City College of New York. His work has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Salamander, the Ampersand Review and elsewhere.


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