Spring Contest Runner Up in Fiction: Aquanauts of Hudson Canyon

The nurse greets Leo from behind the apartment’s steel security door. Starched white uniform and too much Chanel No. 5, a paper nurse’s hat pinned to her messy, grey-streaked up-do. Leo’s no stranger to hospitals—he only just stretched the Bellevue psych ward I.D. bracelet off his wrist during the ferry ride over from lower Manhattan. But until now he’s never seen a nurse in anything but teal scrubs and a lanyard. Staten Island, always keeping it old school.

The apartment’s bigger than expected but cluttered with tidewrack. Two-tone float buoys tangled around the curtain rods like a necklace of pills. A head-sized fishbowl sick with algae and tarnished gold fish. Walls of dusty books and a framed poster of James Cameron, director of Titanic, cramped inside a deep-sea submersible.

The smell reminds Leo of a Florida tourist shop, where they sold mesh baggies full of shells, dried out starfish. Second-hand ocean. A smell Leo thought he’d escaped when he left the South with his mother, thirty-five years ago.

The nurse introduces Leo to Mr. Acosta, his new “roommate.” First thing Leo notices is the nickel-sized spot of urine on the front of the old man’s tan trousers. Mr. Acosta offers a papery hand hieroglyphic with liver spots and moles. His grip much firmer than expected.

“Cold hands,” Mr. Acosta says. “You’ve been out scuba diving, haven’t you?”

“Frank, this is your new roommate, LEO,” the nurse shouts.

“Well, that’s fine,” Mr. Acosta says, still clamping Leo’s hand. “Just remember that the canyon belongs to me. I’m the one who discovered it.”

Then Mr. Acosta slumps into himself, falls asleep. The wet spot on his pants dilating to the size of a drink coaster.

Leo’s whole body is now cold and fractured, a calving iceberg. The old man’s incontinent and incoherent and not long for this world—this seems more like a hospice situation than a long-term housing prospect. Leo feels the old compulsion to flee the apartment, take the stairs up to the roof, where there’s a ledge. Remember, though, what the 11am group therapist always said? Feelings aren’t facts.

“Was Mr. Acosta some sort of scientist?” Leo asks the nurse.

“Maintenance man,” she says, “for thirty five years.”

“He mentioned something about a canyon?”

“Oh, he’ll tell you all about it. Also, make sure not to let him put any driftwood in the microwave.”

Leo’s eastbound neighborhood trajectory in the late 1990s and early 2000s:
East Village > Williamsburg > East Williamsburg > Bushwick.

He was priced out of Brooklyn and into Queens circa 2010, where he began a long downhill slip that pretty well charted his declining success as a visual artist:



Ozone Park

Howard Beach

Far (far) Rockaway

At his last complex in the Rockaways, after his gallery dropped him—never much of a market for experimental video art—he’d taken the stairs to the roof, dangled his legs off the ledge. Leo had never met his own father, a Nebraska-born Navy officer stationed in Pensacola back in the 70s. Leo’s mother was one-quarter Venezuelan, making Leo one eighth—meaning almost 90% of him benefitted from white privilege. When you pass for white and have the force of 200 years of racist legislation and housing practices clearly benefiting you—or at least seven-eighths of you—and you still can’t even pay your own rent? A handsome fireman coaxed him off the ledge and he was subsequently evicted, after which he spent a week in Bellevue. A caseworker helped him locate the ad for the Staten Island situation, where they were seeking a live-in companion for Mr. Acosta. The old man already had a nurse. They just needed someone to keep his eye on things, maintain the apartment, call the nurse in case of emergency. In return, rent was significantly discounted.

The next morning Leo finds the old man peering out a telescope at the bay, looking comparatively hale, a jaunty red ascot knotted around his neck. Pretty well doused in the salty musk of Nautica cologne—a scent Leo previously associated with bullying white Howard Beach teenagers who teased him for wearing colorful scarves and two-inch hoop

“The Canyon is nearly a mile deep in places,” the old man says, in a voice Leo doesn’t recognize from their first encounter. “It’s comparable to the Grand Canyon,” he says, eye still fixed on the telescope.

“This is New York City,” Leo says, doing his best loud-voice-for-the-old-person.

“Not too many canyons around here, Sir.”

Ignoring Leo, the old man goes on to tell him, documentary-style, about the aquatic life that inhabit the canyon:

freckled tuna
exceptionally large lobsters
fang-toothed viper eels
scarlet scissor crabs
giant squid
electric flounders

“Entirely different world down there,” Mr. Acosta says. “Not like this cesspool. Someday I’m going back.”

Later that afternoon, after Frank goes down for a nap, Leo follows a damp burning smell to the microwave. He opens the door to find a gnarl of charred driftwood on the rotisserie plate.

On Saturday morning, Leo stumbles into the kitchen after a fitful, medicated sleep. A little boy, maybe eleven, sits on the couch reading an illustrated book about great white sharks. The kid has a tan complexion, freckles, sun-tinted hair. Distinct smell of Coppertone.

“Why you wearing ladies pajamas?” the kid asks.

Leo ignores him and phones the nurse, who explains he’s Mr. Acosta’s grandson, Toby. That he spends every Saturday with his grandpa.

“You didn’t mention anything about a kid,” Leo says.

“Toby’s a perfectly well behaved child,” the nurse says. “Spends his time reading or at the beach. You’ll hardly notice him. Did I mention he’s highly intelligent?”

After hanging up with the nurse, Leo introduces himself.

“Did grandpapa tell you about his canyon yet?” Toby asks, hardly looking up from his book.

“He has. Any idea what he’s talking about?”

“The Hudson Canyon,” Toby says. “An underwater geological formation. It starts right off Staten Island, runs for hundreds of miles out to sea. Likely formed by glaciers. Almost as deep as the Grand Canyon in spots.”

“So it’s real?” Leo asks.

“Of course it’s real. Grandpa wrote an entire book about it.”

The kid leads Leo over to a bookcase. From the bottom shelf he extracts an old spiral bound, self-published manuscript.

On the coffee-stained cover: Hudson Canyon, by Frank L. Acosta.

That evening Leo skips around long-winded chapters of Frank’s book, along with other titles and clipped articles that mention Hudson Canyon, including a recent piece in the New York Times. In the deepest depths of the Hudson Canyon, Leo reads, unusual plants and fishes derive their energy from methane vents, rather than sunlight. The methane also created mysterious “giant pits.” Frank wasn’t the only one to label it a dark ecosystem. The Times article calls the Canyon A riot of life, fed by chemicals. Just like this housing project, or Bellevue hospital.

Sunday morning Leo finds Toby sleeping face down on the couch, clad in a pair of faded yellow swim trunks. Feet still sandy from the beach.

He calls the nurse again.

“Toby’s home life isn’t great, to tell the truth,” the nurse says, almost shouting over the sound of a TV. “His mother’s a little off her rocker.”

Off her rocker?” Leo says.

“You know, cuckoo.”

“What kind of nurse are you?”

“The kind who decides whether or not to continue your favorable living situation with Mr. Acosta,” she says.

Soon after hanging up with the nurse, Leo finds Toby snooping around in his bedroom, looking at photographic stills from his latest video art installation. For the project Leo made an elaborate sculpture from raw meat purchased at the old bodega/butcher shop where his second cousin worked and lived above, just days before he was evicted to make room for a new luxury high rise. The meat sculpture was a to-scale replica of his cousin’s building, complete with the bodega awning, more than twenty apartments, a water tower.

Leo rented a cube truck to haul it over to Staten Island—the only other time he’d set foot in the borough. A local ornithologist directed him a to a certain vacant field, where Leo left the meat house overnight, under watch of motion sensitive cameras. As hoped, he scored hours of footage of twenty or more Turkey vultures and a gang of seagulls squabbling over the model, shredding and devouring the meat with their vile beaks.

“You ever been in a museum?” Toby asks.

“I’ve been in hundreds of museums.”

“You know what I mean. Your artwork ever been in a museum?”

Leo shakes his head.

“Grandpa always wanted his book in the New York Public Library. But they won’t take it. No ISBN number. No bookstores’ll take it, either. You and I are like the only ones who’ve read it.”

“What about your mom?” Leo asks.

Toby sighs. “Mom hates reading. She wanted to be an actress once but now she just watches TV all day. That’s why I spend so much time over here.”

Lying on his single mattress, waiting for his aquamarine nail polish to dry, Leo reads a National Geographic article describing the first exploration of the Hudson Canyon, circa 1989, by a team of scientists from NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey. In a photograph, a familiar-looking man in an ascot stands with the group of shirtless scientists on the deck of an exploration ship. The caption reads: Frank L. Acosta, First Mechanic.

“Must have been an exciting trip,” Leo says to Frank later that evening, as he unloads the dishwasher.

“You’re goddamn right it was,” Frank says. “I saw things you wouldn’t believe.”

“Try me,” Leo says.

“Well, first off, you have to understand that I signed a non-disclosure agreement with NOAA. So my book only touches the surface of what I saw down there, in that canyon.”

Down there?” Leo asks. “Meaning you actually went in a submarine?”

“We saw everything from that U-boat,” Frank says. “Swordfish the size of Volkswagens. Cleaver fish. We even spotted two giant squids mating—something that’s never been witnessed before or since. But that’s not even the half of it.”

Just then, the tumblers in the old metal door begin their clunky disengagement. The nurse enters, grocery bags in each hand. Before she makes it to the kitchen, Frank collapses on the sofa, clutching at his stomach and moaning in pain. The nurse opens a bag of tortilla chips.

“How are you feeling today Mr. Acosta?” she says, standing over him, crunching her Tostitos.

Frank moans louder, pointing at his stomach.

“He was just fine like two minutes ago,” Leo says. He notices the little aperture of pee expanding on Frank’s trousers again.

“I’m afraid this could be serious,” the nurse says. She puts the chips down and pulls a thermometer from her pocket. She takes Frank’s temperature, her brow knitted. “Very, very serious,” she says. “This calls for a special treatment. Did you hear that, Frank? A SPECIAL TREATMENT.” She turns to Leo, reiterates the seriousness of the situation, tells him to have Frank ready for the treatment on Thursday at 7pm.

While reading Frank’s book in bed, Leo hears a slight rustling sound. A sheaf of papers slides under his bedroom door. A boilerplate non-disclosure agreement form, with a pink sign here sticky note next to the signature block. He opens the door and finds Toby still squatting there.

“Grandpa says you need to sign this if you want to know more about the Canyon.”

“Why don’t you just tell me about it?”

“Can’t,” Toby says. “Grandpa made me sign a form too.”

“Right. You need a pillow or anything?”

Toby shakes his head, meanders back to the couch, leaving a trail of sand.

“The information I’m about to share is privileged,” Frank tells Leo over breakfast, while Toby sits spooning his cereal. “Top secret. It cannot leave this room.”

“I signed the agreement,” Leo says.

Frank gets up, hobbles over to the front door. He peers out and looks both ways, to make sure no one’s in the hallway listening.

Satisfied they’re alone, Frank looks at Leo like he has the biggest news in the world.

“Two days after we saw the giant squids mating,” he says, “we descended almost a mile into the Canyon. I want you to imagine if Yosemite was underwater, and you were the first to explore it via submarine. Picture if you can those 3,000-foot cliff walls rising up in the darkness, illuminated only by our meager spotlights. Understand, Leo, this was a destination no man has penetrated before or since. We’re talking about a place of almighty grandeur.”

Leo looks at Toby, who nods over his cereal, earnestly corroborating Frank’s tale.

“We journeyed to the very bottom of that black abyss,” Frank continues.

“And it was down there, on the canyon floor, that we made the ultimate discovery.”

“The ultimate discovery?” Leo asks.

“The ULTIMATE,” Frank says. Then he breaks into a whisper: “Down there in the very depths, in one of the darkest places on earth, we found a thriving colony of beautiful people.”

People?” Leo says.

“Half human, half aquatic,” Frank says. “The women have alabaster skin, long silken hair that barely covers their perfect breasts. The men are so skeleton-thin and pale you can actually see their hearts beating from the outside. They all live under some sort of giant glowing bubble. They’ve found a way to harvest and digest the methane-based plants. I think
maybe they can even breathe methane.”

“Tell them how they spoke to you, Grandpa,” Toby says.

“They spoke to me via telepathy. They were the gentlest people I’ve known. No use for money or private property, no concept of violence. They invited me to stay with them. I even started to fall in love with one of their women, a real beauty queen with a heart of gold. And goddamn if I didn’t try to suit up and escape the sub, to spend the rest of my life with her. Of course, the NOAA people wouldn’t let me. I’ve been trying to get back there my entire life.”

As he spoke, Leo noticed that Frank had the faint stirrings of an erection in his sweatpants.

On his brief excursions through the neighborhood, Leo passes construction signs detailing what’s to come in Staten Island: ten-story contemporary-minimalist condos with eco-roofs and hardwood exterior paneling. They’re going up everywhere—these angular, glassy matchboxes for young people with salaries in the quarter-million-plus range. Just like they had in Brooklyn and Queens, where every new young family, every proud homeowner was a kidney-punch reminder of his personal failure to secure a place in the world. Without which he could be pushed around from neighborhood to neighborhood, constantly squeezed out, a 120% rent raise here, an eviction notice there, tense conversations with younger roommates, mothers with strollers eyeing him—middle aged, no children, dressed in women’s pants— with increasing suspicion, until it feels like the bottom of New York harbor’s the only plausible real estate available for someone like him.

But what if a secret colony of diaphanous socialists actually exists down there? Maybe someday Leo can take a new branch of the A train into the depths, where he’ll live rent-free, surviving off scarlet scissor crab cakes and freckled tuna salad. With all the time in the world for his video art, his next project might take a turn toward the mildly optimistic. But who was he kidding? The wealthy 100% white folks would come in their fancy submersibles with built-in GPS and baby seats. They’d erect their Miami Beach-style condos encased in polystyrene bubbles. Before long the original inhabitants would be forced out, exiled to the open ocean, their fragile society on the verge of total breakdown.

Leo awakes to a loud crashing sound. Rushes out into the living room, where he finds Frank sprawled out on the old parquet floor, surrounded by some books he’d pulled off the shelves.

“Oh Christ, where am I?” Frank says, looking confused.

“You’re right here in your living room, Mr. Acosta. You had a little fall.”

As Leo gathers him up and leads him to bed, Frank begins to weep quietly. Leo helps him with his pants and socks. A difficult task with Frank’s entire body trembling, his hands like two fluttery wings.

Leo finally gets him tucked in and calmed down, placing his palm on Frank’s damp forehead and leading him through the same deep breathing exercise he learned in a Bellevue meditation class.

“Please don’t tell the nurse,” Frank says, finally settling down. “I don’t want her worrying.”

“She’s a goddamned nurse,” Leo says. “It’s her job to worry.”

“This one was for real. Promise you won’t say a word.”

On Thursday Leo finds Toby at the kitchen table again, eating his cereal.

“Thought you were only here on Saturdays,” Leo says.

“Mom says you need to entertain me,” Toby says.

“I’ve never even met your mother.”

“Of course you have. She’s the one in the cheap Halloween costume. Who’d you think she was, an actual nurse?”

After breakfast, Leo takes Toby down to the beach while Frank naps, still drowsy from some pain the meds he’d taken after his fall. Leo buys two vanilla cones from the ice cream truck. He and Toby find a spot on the sand and gaze out at the harbor while enjoying their cones in the mild breeze. A few sailboats moored nearby, the pleasant repetitive pang of lines against metal masts. A woman in a bikini admires Toby and then smiles at Leo, as if to say cute kid. Leo relishes the feeling—someone mistaking him for an actual father. And Toby is a cute kid. A cute kid with a nut job for a mother. Having spent a few weeks on the mental ward himself, nut job is not a word he uses lightly. Crunching the last bits of his sugar cone, Leo finds himself wondering if there’s a law against impersonating a medical professional. His attention drifts instead to Toby, who’s building a complex dome in the sand.

“Compelling design choices,” Leo says.

“It’s a 1:3 scale replica of the Hudson Canyon colony,” Toby says.

“Do you believe your grandfather about the underwater . . . people?”

Toby shrugs. Goes back to digging. Leo kneels down beside him, begins pushing around sun-warm sand. It feels pleasantly gritty on the backs of his hands and between his fingers, better than his store-bought exfoliant. He replicates Toby’s dome, and then together they construct a precarious, space-age bridge between the two.

After sandcastling, they go out for a swim. The water brisk, refreshing, almost the same temperature as his favorite municipal swimming pool back in Brooklyn. But once he floats out over his head, Leo’s overcome with a new and wholly irrational fear about the unseen depths beneath him—that howling, cold maw that is the Hudson Canyon. He thinks of Frank’s last fall, how feeble and ashen the old man looked on the ground. Leo certainly isn’t qualified to handle such situations. And how do you keep working for an unhinged person like Frank’s daughter? Someone who so clearly crosses your boundaries. But without this current living situation, what’s next? Maybe a couple sleepless nights on some friends’ sofas? The next stop was likely another, much longer stint in Bellevue. And then what—a halfway house? And wasn’t that just a step away from—? As he treads water, he can’t put the image of the Canyon out of his mind, stretching out for miles beneath him like a hungry mouth.

He panic-strokes back toward the shallows where Toby’s bobbing around.

Toby ducks underwater, then shoots back up like a dolphin. “I don’t know if I believe grandpa about the Canyon people,” he says, wiping saltwater from his eyes, “but I believe him when he says he’s going back down there on his 86th birthday.”

“When’s his birthday?” Leo asks.

Toby checks his plastic Timex. “It’s in like three hours. Didn’t mom tell you?”

Winded and still wet from their swim, Leo flings open the apartment door, where he’s immediately greeted by a terrible, acrid smell.

He shouts Frank’s name.

No answer.

He follows the smell to the microwave. Another piece of driftwood inside, its knotholes exhaling smoke. On a sticky note attached to the microwave door there’s a message written in Frank’s tremulous hand:

NOAA called. Gone diving.
—The Aquanaut

Leo dials the nurse’s number, informs her about Frank’s disappearance.

“Code Blue!” She says. “Jesus Christ, Code fucking Blue!”

“What do you mean, Code Blue? You’re not even a real nurse.”

“You weren’t supposed to let him out of the house. We need him back for his special treatment at 7pm.”

“That wasn’t part of the agreement,” Leo says. “I’m not a babysitter or a doctor. I’m a roommate who looks after the apartment.”

“Then start acting like a good goddamn roommate and go find Frank!”

Leo combs the neighborhood, sweat pooling between his shoulder blades, shouting Frank’s name through the streets and alleyways. He searches the cafes, bleach-smelling Chinese restaurants, the shitty bodega with its dusty cans of soup and dog food. Anxiety like a hot open gash splitting him from sternum to stomach.

He quicksteps back down to the beach, where dusk is setting in, all the sunbathers and swimmers long gone.

No one in the water, but way, way, way out, he spots what looks like either a glass float buoy or a single human head.

Leo strips off his clothes, wades into the orange-smeared Atlantic. Still no answer when he shouts Frank’s name. Coppery taste of panic in his mouth. He sometimes floated around at the old Brooklyn pool, but never took a swim lesson in his life. At best a shabby breaststroker, at worst a full on doggy-paddler. Not much daylight left, he wallows tits-deep, begins floundering toward the buoy/head on the gray horizon.

Out beyond the break, Leo remembers something he overheard at the pool once, that a drowning victim can easily bring a would-be rescuer down with them. He keeps swimming, the ocean growing dimmer and colder as he sputters further from shore. Saltwater abrades his eyelids, hot-sauces his esophagus. Shoulders shot after only a few yards, the middle toes of his right foot cramping up, bending out of shape. Treading water, he reaches down to re-align his toes. Something, possibly alive, brushes across his knee-pit. He kicks frantically, causing the toes on his other foot to cramp up, too. Teeth chattering now, his whole body enacting the early procedures of a full lockdown. He goes still and periscopes his head around. No sight of the head anymore, and the shore now looking impossibly distant. An image of his own bones rotting in the bottom of Hudson Canyon,
picked clean by lobsters and electric flounders.

He feels another sensation on his leg.

Then something clamps down hard on his shoulder.

Leo shrieks.

“Calm down,” Frank says, now grasping Leo from behind. “You and I we’re just going to paddle our way back to shore. We’ll let the waves do most of the work.”

They struggle their way in, Frank telling Leo to knock it off with the kicking and the scratching. Just thirty or so feet from shore, a breaker overcomes them from behind. Frank loses his grip and Leo goes under, hits the sandy bottom and hiccups in a throatful of seawater.

Leo comes to on the beach, Frank’s stubbly face and oniony breath hovering over his lips. Then Leo turns his head and vomits out saltwater.

“That’s right, just breathe, Leo,” Frank says. “You’re going to be fine.”

Leo wipes his mouth and writhes in the sand.

“What were you doing out there, Frank?” Leo asks between chattering teeth.

“What do you think I was doing? Trying to get back to my people in the Canyon.”

“Meaning you were trying to drown yourself,” Leo says.

“Talk about drowning! It was going great until you came along.”

“If you wanted to disappear, then why’d you save me?”

“My whole life, all I ever wanted was to be a marine biologist,” Frank says. “An explorer. Aquanauts do not let their compatriots go under.”

“Wish the same was true of visual artists,” Leo says, sitting up to face the old man. “Tell me the truth about the Canyon people, Frank.”

Frank shrugs.

“It’s just a story you made up for Toby, to help him understand why you threw yourself in the ocean on your 86th birthday.”

Frank looks out at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, overdosed with traffic.

“That I can neither confirm nor deny,” he says. “What I can say is that I no longer have control of my bladder. My memory is for shit and I keep falling down.”

“I thought the incontinence was an act for your daughter,” Leo asks.

“For the answer to that, I’ll need you to sign another non-disclosure agreement.”

“But that last episode was real,” Leo says.

Frank looks down at his trembling hands. The gnarled pink knuckles like swollenshut eyes. Grotesque thumbnails yellowed with age, triangles of rasberried skin between thumbs and index fingers. Old hands that had grasped twice the life Leo’s had, yet still strong enough to drag all 143 pounds of him from the Atlantic.

“At least you have a family,” Leo says, keenly aware now of the warmth returning to his own hands and feet, heat-lamping his core organs.

“You mean my fruit loops daughter?” Frank says.

“I mean Toby. He’s an ok kid. And you have a place to live.”

We have a place to live,” Frank says. “Without me, Toby would be stuck watching General Hospital reruns all day. And you’d be out on the streets, hawking photos of those weird beef condos.”

Leo considers Frank’s deeply lined face, his bright eyes, the Pepto sky reflecting off his wristwatch like an odd pink beacon. Kneading them in the sand, the soles of his feet now humming with sensation. Evening light imbues the beach with an otherworldly shimmer, making him wish he had his camera.

Wait, was this some sort of near-death thing? Jesus, he hopes not.

“To be honest, Frank, I think I’ve exhausted raw meat as a medium.”

When Frank and Leo shuffle into the darkened apartment, the lights flick on and twenty or so revelers, mostly south-Asian and Puerto Rican neighbors and their children, leap out from their hiding places. When they see Frank and Leo—dripping wet, shivering and red-eyed— the surprisers become the surprised. Still in her nursing outfit, Frank’s daughter brings them into the bathroom and helps them towel off.

Leo puts on fresh clothes, re-applies some eyeliner, fetches his hand-held recorder—first time he’s laid hands on it since moving in with Frank. He returns to the living room, where he films the nurse administering single M&Ms to the children from little paper medication cups.

Toby runs up and hams for the camera.

“Why didn’t you tell me about your mom sooner?” Leo asks.

“You dress sort of like a girl,” Toby says. “I thought you were just playing along.”

Leo hangs back in the kitchen, where there’s a store-bought birthday cake and a pot of fish stew bubbling on the stove, augmenting the apartment’s wharfy smell. He focuses again on the nurse as she lifts the lid and stirs the heavy, pungent broth. “My name’s Celeste, by the way,” she tells Leo. “Sorry if I misled you.”

“Kind of shitty thing to do,” Leo says.

Celeste places her spoon gently on the countertop and considers Leo’s comment.

“What about you, with your eyeliner and nail polish and frilly scarves?”

“Careful,” Leo says.

“Look, you want to be an artist, right?” she asks.

“More like wanted,” he says, moving in for a closer shot.

“And Frank wanted to be a marine biologist,” she says. “All I ever wanted was to be an actress.”

“You’re honestly pretty good at it,” Leo says.

“I appeared in a couple commercials. Co-starred in a NYU film student’s final project. What I really hoped for was a recurring role in a soap opera. Then I had Toby and my father started going downhill.”

“I might have a project for you,” Leo says. “Consider this your on-screen test.”

“Will I play a nurse?”

“Haven’t you been typecast enough? This is more of a documentary thing.”

She considers this for a moment, then slowly unpins her paper nurse’s hat and, reaching both arms up and around the camera lens, fastens it carefully to the crown of Leo’s head.

With liberated silver tresses reaching past her clavicles, a naked look breaks across Celeste’s face. Lips parted, brown eyes open wide, the skin on her neck blooming pink as she stares into the camera lens—the portal through which she’s imagined escaping all these years. Amid the clutter of bodies and noise surrounding them—all the mayhem and fleeting joys of domestic life—Leo lingers on her unsettled expression.

About the author

Justin Hocking is the author of The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir (Graywolf Press), winner of the Oregon Book Award for creative nonfiction and a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award. In late 2019 Two Plum Press released his first poetry chapbook, entitled PS: The Wolves. His essays and short stories have appeared in Poets & Writers, Orion, The Normal School, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is the former Executive Director of the Independent Publishing Resource Center, and currently teaches nonfiction and publishing in the BFA and MFA programs in creative writing at Portland State University. You can reach him at justinhocking.net.

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