What the Twitter Tells Me

By Mercedes Lawry

I listened to the sirens for a good fifteen minutes.  It must be bad, I thought. Likely fatal and a fair amount of destruction. As children, we’d been taught to say a Hail Mary when we heard a siren.  Somebody clearly needed a prayer one way or another and those words still jump into my mind though I no longer believe in the church, or God or the Blessed Mother. I did like her blue robes.

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Films Français

By Patrick O’Neil

The movie was French, promising subtitles, a scruffy looking protagonist, and skinny women with non-Hollywood implant breasts and complex dispositions. The theater was one of those art house independents that cater to the affluent. The type who want an espresso with biscotti instead of a forty-ounce soda and tortilla chips covered with a slimy orange substance commonly referred to as nacho-cheese. The popcorn looked and smelled fresh. It was actually popping in the machine as we entered the lobby. I glanced across the concession counter filled with boutique cookies and European chocolate bars and felt my stomach go queasy. It wasn’t because of the array of sweets and baked goods, although for some reason the stench of cooking oil from the popcorn wasn’t helping.

I touched my forehead, I was sweaty and my skin felt hot. I looked over at the usher standing by the door staring at his pointy shoes. He was short, in a baggy black suit, with big curly muttonchops and greasy long hair. I was reminded of a lonesome cowboy and wondered if there were ever any French Westerns. A woman wearing sunglasses that covered most of her face pushed her way in front of us. Her hand held out as though she was holding a dog’s leash. Perhaps it was just habit. Seems everywhere I go women are walking dogs and picking up shit with little plastic bags. Thoughts of whether she washed her hands slid through my mind as she shoved the ticket in the usher’s direction. He continued to look at the floor so I didn’t even try to pretend I had a ticket to show him.

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Super Happyman

By Thomas Burke

Svetlana is so efficient and organized that it’s borderline nauseating. But she’s a laugher with knockout dimples, and she wears bright, eccentric European couture, so it’s easy to like her.

She’s not the director, but I’m her subordinate. If our employer, the annual Summer Literary Seminars program in St. Petersburg, Russia, were an old car, Svetlana would be the carburetor. I, on the other hand, would be something of a backseat window that doesn’t always close all the way.

In the welcome sheet given to all the North American participants and faculty, my bio lists me as the one that can help “if you need some heavy lifting done” or if you want to know a “decent place for lunch.”

Here’s a scene: Svetlana has cell phones to both of her ears, she’s pecking something into the computer, she’s hugging to her chest seventy-five passports and two thousand dollars cash, and I grimace and say, “Can I help you with something?”

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INTERVIEW: David Licata

If you are a regular Paper Tape reader, you may know David Licata as the author of a “Other Leevilles,” short story we published in January, but David is not just an accomplished fiction writer. He’s a filmmaker, as well. His films have shown on PBS stations across the country and screened at dozens of festivals all over the world including New Directors/New Films (curated by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA) and the Tribeca Film Festival.

In this interview with Paper Tape editor Kristy Harding, we talk about David’s documentary in-progress, A Life’s Work.

PT: How would you describe A Life’s Work?

DL: A Life’s Work is a documentary about people engaged with projects they most likely won’t see completed in their lifetimes, projects that could have a profound, positive global impact. That’s the elevator pitch. I’ve been rethinking the word “documentary” because it suggests certain things that A Life’s Work is not. It’s more of a film essay about legacy, time, mortality, continuity, passion, and dedication. But I’m not exactly gung ho on the term “film essay,” either, partly because when you say it people either roll their eyes and think you’re pretentious and your film will be an unwatchable mess, or they don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

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Saint No. 64

by Benjamin Norris

They say he used to live amongst the gulls, his haunches smeared with shit and regurgitated cuttlefish, heels hardened on wave-shattered ridges. His addiction was something quite different, then. Then, his strange psalms echoed into the tides, were dragged with waves along the spits, and returned to his dry lips over and over again, every seven seconds. His song was something which could only be howled into the sea, waist-deep in matted kelp, his jutted hipbones crystallized and misshapen with grey-green salts and the memory of land.

There were days when he came inland, pulling something of the ocean at the heel of his boot. Our parents spoke of when it started. Yours probably did, too. At first, it was something infrequent, an oddity. A reminder of the sea, and our debt to it; A man from the shore, coming to town to see what might change, to see what was staying the same. As the years went by, and as shops rose and fell and rose again with a swelling ferocity, the visits became more frequent. He began to stop for hours outside the bus station, and for days in the acrid hollow of the underpass. Within time, he was seen almost constantly, sat there with bottles kicking around his feet like driftwood, and later, with other paraphernalia. He no longer whispered his psalms and verses; he muttered them to anyone who should walk past.

They soon took him inside, and cleaned him up as best they could. They spent a fortune on programs and detoxes and god knows what else, and none of them were exactly sure why. It was the right thing to do, I suppose. He came out once, and fell straight back in again, immersing himself in the comforting sterile greens of the wards, washing his weathered body for hours with hard edged bars of institutional soap. A process of attrition and erosion under chlorinated tap water, a sanding down under watchful, matronly eyes until the skin showed through.

We met him properly, for the first time, in the foyer of that place. The heels of his shoes were fixed, and they no longer pulled the tides and the stink of oceans along with them. We talked at length, about many things. He mentioned the sea once, in passing, as you do. His voice was careful, precise, as if purposefully avoiding certain patterns of speech, staying well clear of rhyme and of weighted endings. He walked into town.

We saw him once more, three weeks later. It was a Sunday, and the rain was coming down hard on the English coast. He was spread-eagled across the granite cliff faces, naked and weeping and displaying a hundred thousand bleeding wounds across his back and feet. The grains of sand held in the waves took him apart, piece by piece. There was nothing left by morning except a man-sized nest, tucked behind the black stone, filled with feathers, and a diary nobody dared read.

Benjamin Norris is an author and poet from Bristol, England, whose work regularly appears in literary journals, magazines, anthologies and the suchlike on both sides of the Atlantic. He owns a language academy, and is currently working on his second novel and first poetry collection.

Living Wake

By Nate Chang

“Redwood,” his family had taken to calling him, but he really didn’t care that everyone around him jibed at his age, despite the fact that he was on record as one of the ten verifiably oldest people on the planet at 114 years. But Eugene Cravitz had reached a point in his life where he didn’t give a fuck. His parents were gone, everyone he knew growing up was gone, his children were gone, and the only people left in his life were reporters looking for a puff piece, and the odd grandchild or great grandchild looking for a handout. Everyone thought it necessary to shout around him, even though his hearing was perfectly satisfactory. His eyesight was fine if he had his glasses on, his mobility was exceptional – no wheelchair, no walker, no cane. The only thing that had dulled with his age was his taste, which he had killed with 60+ years of non-stop hot food that bordered on unsafe levels of heat, and was typically loaded with peppers, curry powder, or various other methods of awakening his aging taste buds. He had also subsisted on at least three rations of bacon a day since the day he joined the U.S. army in 1917, much to the chagrin of his doctor, who had, for the past thirty five years, attempted in vain to ascertain how someone could consume so much bacon and a) not be obese, and b) not be dead. But in his recent decades, Eugene Cravitz had made a virtual career of not giving a fuck, starting when he realized, on his 95th birthday, that he had been collecting Social Security checks for 30 years, and had probably made at least one person at the bureau quite upset that they’d had to keep writing checks to the same man, in all probability, for their entire working life at the bureau, and would retire from the bureau, still having to write him checks. But he didn’t give a fuck about anyone – not his family, who seemed only interested in his possessions and the three million dollars he had made investing fortuitously in major defense contractors – not anyone at the Social Security bureau, not his doctor, not the nurse his doctor sent round once a week to see if Old Redwood had croaked, the nurse had been given secret instructions by the doctor to pilfer anything of value should she find Redwood deceased, though throughout her twenty five-year tenure with Eugene and his doctor, had yet to enact the plan, had even developed a grudging respect for the man and, in her advancing years, had often wondered what it would be like to fuck a man as old as Eugene.

The nurse had left two hours earlier, much to Eugene’s delight. For his part, he’d often wondered what it would be like to fuck someone who hadn’t yet begun collecting Social Security, though if he were to be perfectly honest, he would’ve admitted that he found relationships distasteful, and much preferred his Sterilco-brand artificial vagina – it asked so little (or more appropriately, it asked for nothing,) and yet gave so much. Regardless, Eugene was in the mood to remove his Sterilco-brand artificial vagina from its home in his closet when another knock sounded at his front door. Two knocks on his door in one day – an incident without precedent for many, many years. Upon answering, Eugene was nearly swept to the floor in a flood of his relatives, all wearing black and ignoring him completely, fanning out into his house, and taking stock of his possessions with clipboards adorned with spreadsheets. Columns with names abutted rows with Item, Value, and Going To.

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The Fruit of a Christian

by Traci Dolan-Priestley

“The Fruit of a Christian” is from a collection in-process tentatively titled Mountain Voodoo.

My inability to keep my mouth shut started early on in my life, and most often it happened in church. My grandparents were higher ups at Tinney’s Branch Freewill Baptist Church (Amen). That there is an oxymoron, because they ain’t nothing freewillin’ about being a Baptist. I spent a lot of time sitting up straight and following along in my “Precious Child and Holy Hymns of the Baptist, and All Others Shall Rot in Hell, Especially Catholics” book which was guaranteed to force feed Christian ideologies as surely as squeezing my nose together would make me open my mouth.

Trouble was, I didn’t exactly agree with all the things my holy hymnal said. I wasn’t really sure what was wrong with Catholics, other than they were allowed to drink wine (but so had Jesus), but my Mamaw called them a bunch of drunks and made my Papaw stop drinking his Pabst Blue Ribbon. I’m still not sure if the greater sin was drinking beer, or drinking Pabst. God will have to figure that out for me.

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