The silver cross glimmers, hanging from his neck. He says he’s got more time than all the others in here put together. He lets a little smoke come out of his mouth, and then blows the rest out of his nose. Chuck must be about thirty-five or so. He nods off into the night. We all just finished watching American Gangster. He asks what kind of stuff I’ll be teaching this semester. I tell him Poetry and he laughs, leans back in his chair.
Another kid, Richie, maybe twenty. He wears a bucket hat and high socks. He drinks orange Gatorade and picks a scab on his knee.

And then there’s my guy. He runs this place. His name is James, but everyone calls him Jimmy, except for me. He has short, spiky hair and wears basketball shorts and a tank top. He’s twenty-five, like me, and we joke that we’re halfway through our lives already. He bites his nails and smirks at me every so often to let me know everything’s all right.

“Maybe I should go back to Baltimore.” Chuck opens his eyes and lights another cigarette. “I got a buddy up there who can get me a job. My boy can hook me up for sure. If I can just get some money, I know I’ll be good then.” 

“You’ll just get doped up and die,” says James, and he motions for me to come to him, sit on his lap and give him love. But I stay in my chair, my legs sticking to the white plastic straps.

“I heard this the other day,” says Richie, sitting up straight, “and it’s really been helping me, man. It’s that if you draw near to God, He will draw near to you.”

“Man, don’t school me on church. You know, the bible also says to cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, because we’re all double-minded, and shit!”

“Whoa, dude, I'm just trying to help,” Richie goes inside the house to grab a package of sliced turkey.  He goes to his room and doesn’t come back.

“What do you think, Ms. Teacher?” He asks me.

“Don’t antagonize her, Chucky,” James says, trying to reel me in like a fish.

“It’s been a while,” Chuck says.  “Fifteen years I can’t get back.”

James looks at me and puts a finger to his lips. Chuck holds his cigarette out towards the Atlantic Ocean. He falls asleep and the cigarette stays there, pointed like a signal. I watch the smoke drift and follow it. I wonder if God still has me.

The Way to Feel in Flagstaff

With every step         I knew we weren’t going to make it to the vortex
up in Sedona, Arizona.
Coyotes and tequila, 
scorpions solidified in sugar cubes 
that go down smooth 
and taste like dust and jalapenos.
We smoked hash behind a stack of prayer rocks.
He figured out the wine opener, the path on the map,
how to find the inverted earth.
We gazed at the twisted roots.

The First Explorers

I like to be woken up in the middle of the night and taken from behind. I like the feeling of someone holding me, holding onto me and holding me down. I only know him by how he makes love to me. He likes to choke me until I can’t breathe. That’s when he always comes.
I’ve been watching videos of men climbing mountains. There is urgency in the ascent. They must get to the top.  Shots of tents folded into mountains from the wind. The men are weathered; their faces red from frost, their beards caked with snow. I think about being the most cold. I wonder if they miss their lovers. They speak into the camera about their pain, how the mountain has changed them, how reaching the peak will mean something. I watch the videos as my fingers bleed. I bite my cuticles down to a place they shouldn’t go. Out of nerves, anticipation. I wonder if they will make it. It doesn’t hurt to bleed this way. It is expected. I see it coming.
It’s always one more cigarette, then we’ll go home. Turn off the television. Come to bed. Sometimes I want to say so badly I want to be touched. I lie still and imagine hands on my legs, guiding them apart, someone giving me what I want.
When the climbers reach the peak, they celebrate. The lens pans across the white, white ground, their smiles and cheers. Everyone is excited. 
We are not these mountains.  

Brittany Ackerman is from Riverdale, New York. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University’ and teaches Critical Studies at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Hollywood, CA. She was the 2017 Nonfiction Award Winner for Red Hen Press, as well as the AWP Intro Journals Project Award Nominee in 2015. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Review, No Tokens, Hobart, Cosmonauts Ave, Fiction Southeast, and more. Her collection of essays, The Perpetual Motion Machine, is available through Red Hen Press.

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