Who We Are… Orange Coast Review is Orange Coast College’s literary journal, which is made possible in part by the generous support of the Associated Students.
What We Want… We want to publish poems, short stories, narrative non-fiction and art that causes a thunk in the pulse and a spark in the brain. We want works that combine intellect and emotion without pandering to either. Yeah, we don’t know what that means either. But we know that a work has to make us care about whatever is happening in that work. In short, we’re looking for something memorable.
We welcome all established and emerging writers and artists to submit work for possible publication. In the past OCR accepted submissions via email, but we had a number of technical difficulties and have since switched to the online submission’s manager, Submishmash. If you have submitted to the OCR in the past and had trouble, we hope you will submit again.
If you are an OCC student, upload your submission through the “OCC Student Writing and Art Contest.” Just click the Submission link and look for the “Contest” category
Fiction: Kim O’neil, Matthew Drucker, Rufi Cole, Patricia Neumann, Andrew Coburn, Tamara Shores, Andrew Reynolds.
Poetry: Coutney Kampa, Roy Bentley, Michael Salcman, Jenn Blair, Brian Baumgart, Chelsea Henderson, Colleen Harris, Jason Joyce, Joanne Lowery, Ken Parker, Patricia Atkins, Patty Seyburn, Lisa Dowling, Joshua Wood.
by Jenn Blair
I don’t know
if you know about ceilings
or what goes on between them.
How days fall off the loaf
like slices of bread.
I don’t know
if you know about the key
hid under the paint can
full of rusted nails
How the Great Depression lingers
through the boom times,
factory workers leaning against
a red brick wall smoking cigarettes
til they can dream up another usefulness.
I don’t know
if you know what lives accumulate
between the bookcase back and not
nailed down running board.
How filth and love
let their children correct
each other’s spelling papers
and ride the same bus
til they are old enough to kiss and hang
another crop of white crepe
paper bells in the drain.
by Patricia Fitzgerald
Any minute now, one of my brothers will come busting through the bathroom door, zipper half-way down. They tend to do so at the most inappropriate moments. Like while I’m busily burying a tampon, wrapped in a shroud of toilet paper, under the layers of used Kleenex and Stridex pads in the trash under the sink. Or staring at a small cup of my urine perched on the edge of the tub, next to a loofah sponge brittle with neglect. Which is what I’m doing now. Watching my piss that is, when I’m not watching the door knob. My father removed the lock on the bathroom last month, after catching my oldest brother smoking the remains of a joint, hardly bigger than a Tic-Tac, behind the shower curtain, which is see-through and perhaps not the most strategic place for clandestine activity.
Like I should talk. I’ve had sex in this bathroom, straddling Evan my Youth Group Leader while he sat on this very same toilet seat lid, his Dockers bunched around his creepily hairless ankles. With the door unlocked. And with my parents sitting directly below us in the TV room, watching the 700 Club. My mother claims to be Pat Robertson’s third cousin. Don’t believe a word. She’s a drunk.
It’s quiet in here. Except for the shower head which drips into a drain clogged with curlicue hairs shed from various pubescent body parts. I glance at the pink plastic stick resting in my urine, at the small window where the plus or minus sign will eventually appear. It reminds me of a cocktail swizzle, something festive that belongs in an oversized frozen margarita glass. They must be at rugby practice, my brothers, maybe at this very moment crushed under of a pile of grass-stained boys, their noses pressed into sweaty jock-strapped groins. I’ve been there. Which explains why I’m here now, muttering one Mississippi two Mississippi three.
I’m about two weeks late, I estimate. I could use this information to narrow down the field of possible candidates, but math has never been my strong point. I can tell you how many boys I’ve fucked in the last few months, can count them on my fingers: one, two, three, four, and so on. But that’s about the extent of my computing capabilities. Initial odds favor Mr. Hammerstein, my Health Ed teacher and the high school’s golf coach. He seemed to me quite virile at the time, with his middle-aged jowls and his testicles that plunked with heavy purpose into my cupped palm. Plus, he already has two children, including a daughter in my Honors English class, which seems to me procreational proof enough. Being a Health Ed instructor, and a two-time father, you think he would’ve insisted on using a condom. He must have thought I was impervious to sperm, and disease-free. People look at me that way. I suspect it has something to do with the Got Jesus? sweatshirt I wear.
Or maybe Mr. Hammerstein had undergone a vasectomy. Snip, snip. That could explain the defeated sag of his balls. Plus we only did it once, standing in the boys’ locker room shower, his cleated golf shoes scrapping against the tiled floor, leaving clear scratches in the soap scum. My dad plays golf on Sundays mornings before service, with fellow members of his Christian entrepreneurs group, CEOs for Salvation. I don’t know how the game works, but I like the vocabulary. One under par. Eagle. Handicap. Suddenly, Mr. Hammerstein’s odds don’t look so promising.
I look down at my feet, at my toenails which are torn ragged like the edges of paper that’s been ripped into pieces. I used to bite my fingernails before my mother started painting them with clear nail polish spiked with cayenne pepper. Now I busy myself with my feet, mostly under the dinner table, my hands moving adeptly like a fishmonger peeling the skins off of shrimp. Pookie, our beagle-poodle mix, sniffs up the shreds of nail I drop on the rug.
Sitting on the toilet seat lid, I start to pick at my toes again, then notice the pregnancy-kit box on the floor. I reach down and grab it, reread the instructions on the back, which tell me to wait three full minutes for results. That’s one hundred eighty Mississippis. I wonder about the individual whose job it is to write these instructions, the reassuring no-nonsense text that absolves me of any guilt. “Shame on you,” the box should say, at least in fine print. “Repent for your sins.” But it’s just a box, after all. Just cardboard, like my soul. Like my heart.
Daddy would say I have the Devil in me. That may very well be. With so many boys coming and going, no one would have noticed the Devil lurking in a dark corner. By now, though, I bet he’s long gone. Like all the other boys and men and those somewhere in between. Voluntarily departed, leaving nothing for my father to cast out.
With Mr. Hammerstein demoted to the bottom of my list, I consider the next likely suspect. There’s Eugene, with whom I had intercourse six or was it seven times. Which gives him a statistical advantage, I suppose. I’m convinced I was his first — quite possibly last — foray into heterosexual carnality. I’m not sure which would have upset Daddy more: the fact that Eugene is gay, or that he’s Jewish. Either way, he’s by far our best baton-twirler, a three-time state champion and slickly muscular in his maroon and gray unitard, like a sea lioness that’s just pulled herself up from the icy arctic waters. I went to the football games just to watch Eugene launch his tasseled baton up into the halo of the stadium lights, perform a few handsprings before catching it again behind his back. They say talent is an aphrodisiac.
He resisted my advances at first, keeping me within baton’s length distance. I cornered him under the bleachers where he was sulking after one especially dismal game, Cougars 27 – Dragons 0 (we being the Dragons). I knew he’d be at his most vulnerable.
“You left this on the 15 yard line,” I said and held out his sequined cape. When he reached for it, I grabbed a handful of spandex and wouldn’t let go. He didn’t try very hard to get away. Sticky droplets plunked down on us from the spilled sodas abandoned on the bleachers above. I licked a bead of flat Pepsi from the tip of his nose and placed his hand under my shirt, under my bra, startling at the calluses on his palm. Oh, he was limber. He bent every which way, and had breath like cotton candy. Like a breast-fed baby.
We rendezvoused under the bleachers after football practice, for a week or so. Then Eugene stopped showing up. I found silver sequins glinting like fish scales in the dirt, and picked them up to pocket, one by one. Later that night I swallowed them, chasing them down with a generous shot of gin, the expensive brand my mother favors and my brothers regularly pilfer. I expected to be doubled over that night with stomach cramps, the sequins embedding their sharp edges into the acidic lining of my innards. I felt no pain. Nothing.
In recent days I’ve spotted Eugene eating lunch with Mac Brody, a redheaded boy who smells sweetly of manure and cedar shavings. Once I followed them down the hall, sneaking past the open door of my Physics class where Mrs. Colby sat fingering the top button of her prim blouse. A few lockers ahead of me, Eugene shivered in his tank top. Mac took of his jean jacket and draped it over Eugene’s sculpted shoulders. I stared at the Future Farmers of America insignia stitched into the back of Mac’s jacket. Then I stopped walking. I let them go on, turn the corner, disappear. The bell rang. Mrs. Colby gave me detention for being late.
Our bathroom reeks of scented candles and potpourri, which my mother positions on the back of the toilet tank in a hopeless effort to disguise the various stenches of adolescence. I stop picking at my toes, reach up to my head and pull out a strand of hair. I wrap it around my finger and watch the tip turn purple as a temper tantrum. Surely it’s been more than three minutes, but I decide to wait a bit longer before checking the stick. Give it a little more time to make up its mind. I find it hard to believe it only takes three minutes to rip my life open wide. Wider than my outstretched arms, my lips, my legs. Wider than the pitch black universe inside me, empty and starless until, possibly, now.
I imagine a tiny mass of cells clinging to the lining of my uterus, dividing and multiplying in infinite complexity, and realize what I’m picturing is more like bacteria or a virus, something that spreads maliciously rather than miraculously. I should’ve paid more attention when Mr. Hammerstein showed us The Miracle of Life, instead of watching him clean his fingernails with an unfurled paperclip. Our school is relatively progressive about sex education. The nurses keep condoms in their medicine cabinet, ready for distribution accompanied by a tentative mention of abstinence. I’ve seen the Home Ec losers walking around the hallways, clutching their raw eggs that are supposed to represent babies. I picture an egg bobbing inside my uterus, as though in a pot of boiling water, a fine crack opening along the side of its shell. White yolk leaking out, clouding the water.
I stand up and flush the toilet, just in case someone is this very moment walking down the hallway, past the bathroom. My father come to press his nose against the door to sniff for marijuana, my mother sneaking upstairs with a slippered thwap-thwap-thwap to find her stash of booze, hidden in the hamper, buried under her family’s mound of dirty clothes. I know all the good hiding places in this house. I close the toilet seat lid and sit down again.
My first time was unintentional. Like that old joke fifth graders tell each other, punch line: that’s not my bellybutton, that’s not my finger either. I was fourteen, he was sixteen, a friend of my brother, thought which brother is less clear. Marty was his name. He sometimes spent the night at our house, usually after rugby practice. He never said much to me, or to anyone as far as I could tell, was usually hunched over a bowl of cereal or a video game console, which made him virtually indistinguishable from my brothers. One time I found him standing in my room, staring down at a pair of underwear I’d stepped out of and left crumpled on the floor. It had a picture of a Shetland pony on the front. I had just outgrown my horse phase, my posters of Black Beauty and Seabiscuit recently ripped from the walls, the thumb tacks still in place.
Marty looked up at me and scowled, as though I were the intruder here. “I like your room,” he said, and rubbed a ripe patch of pimples just under the left corner of his mouth.
“Thanks.” I walked over to him and picked up the underwear with my toes, lifted it up to my hand. I had very dexterous toes. Still do. I can even tear a match out of a match book, strike it, light it, then shake it out, using only my feet. If I ever lose my arms in a tractor accident, I guess I’m one step ahead.
I looked at my underwear, rubbed the pony’s nose with my thumb. The elastic in one leg hole was stretched out and fraying, the cotton crotch nubby with age. “Here,” I said, and handed it to him.
He hesitated for a second or two, then took the underwear and tucked it under the waistband of his rugby shorts. “See you around,” he said and left. I looked down at the spot on the carpet where my underwear used to be.
Maybe a month later, a Friday night I think, Marty came into my room. I didn’t even know he was in the house.
“What time is it?” I asked him, pretending to be groggy with sleep.
“I don’t know,” he whispered. “Two?”
I rolled over and turned on my bedside lamp. Marty squinted against the light. He was wearing a pair of my brother’s pajamas, just the bottoms, no top. They were too short on him, stopping just above his ankle bones which were fragile-looking and speckled with scabs. His chest was wide and hairless, one nipple noticeably higher than the other, which made me want to tilt my head. I propped myself up on one elbow and opened the covers.
“You can get in.”
We lay on our backs, looking up at the sparkles in the cottage cheese ceiling. He pressed a leg against mine under the sheets. I could smell his sweat and the fabric softener my mom used.
“You can touch me,” I said. His hand moved under the covers, sideways like a crab, coming to rest on my hip bone. I don’t think that’s what he was aiming for, but he kept it there.
“We could take our clothes off,” I suggested, and was surprised when he obeyed. Just like that. Naked, our pajamas pushed down to the bottom of the bed, tangled around our feet, we turned to face each other. The patch of pimples had migrated en masse from the left corner of his mouth to his right temple. I’d never really looked at his face before. It was awkwardly disproportional, with a small boy’s forehead and a man’s stubbly chin, a face caught between growth spurts. I didn’t dare touch it.
“Can you make it dark?” he asked. When I rolled away from him to turn off the lamp, he curled himself against my back, panting against my neck as though already exhausted.
“Don’t be scared,” he said into the back of my hair. “I’m not going to hurt you.” But it did hurt. A little.
When he was done, he left without saying anything, back to my brother’s room I presume, taking his pajama bottoms with him. The next morning I pulled off the covers to search the sheets for stains I’d been told would be there. I found only grass clippings.
I’m not sure what happened to Marty. After that night, I saw him in our house a few more times, usually just a quick glance as I walked past my brothers’ bedroom, Marty sitting on the edge of the bed, a lighter held up to a bong. He never looked up at me, though I’m sure he felt my presence. Never came into my room, my bed again. Then he just vanished. I think his family must have moved away.
If I am impregnated, I guess it’s my own damn fault. I’ve made my bed. Made it, mussed it up, sullied it, and washed the sheets in the wee hours of the morning before my family wakes and finds out what I’ve done. I have no excuses. Remorse, a bit. Mostly, I have fear, a recent and new sensation for me. It started with a small cluster of cells in the pit of my stomach, multiplying a little every day. Do I want this thing growing by the minute? I don’t know. It is mine, after all, tucked away where no one else can get their grubby hands on it, perhaps the only part of me that has not — cannot — be touched. I could nourish it, cherish it, keep it in this safe dark place until it swells bigger than me and my small petty life. Bigger than God Himself who has perhaps fucked me most royally of all. Created me, then left me to my own devices.
I could do this. I could.
I lean in close to my cup of piss, peer into it as though I expect to find an embryo floating around inside. Pulling the stick from the cup, I start to shake it like a thermometer then stop myself. I close my eyes and pray. I pray for mercy, for plus signs. My lips actually move, like my mother’s in church, praying I suppose for her own brand of forgiveness. Please, I say. Please. I promise not to drop the egg. Cross my heart, hope to die.