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  • Shira Richman


"Post-Chastity" by ZephyrZ artwork for Lighthouse Weekly fiction story post
"Post-Chastity" by ZephyrZ

I wasn’t sure why Manoj singled me out to meet the American. From what I could tell, a perk of being the local superior was to exert his authority over me by blocking my ideas and initiatives. In retrospect, maybe sabotage is what he had in mind when he called me over to introduce me to Clem, the charming young woman from California, with short messy hair and a laugh that sounded like frantic crying—quick bursts of alarming emotion.

Sometimes, she even held up her palm while laughing, as if letting her conversational partner know she’d had enough. The first time I saw her do this, I wanted to have this effect on her, to see what it felt like to have her beg me to stop being so hilarious. Thinking about this reaction I wanted to elicit in her led me to others I couldn’t help but wonder about. I should mention now that I’m a Jesuit priest who might not interpret his vows in the way most commonly expected.

I’d been eating my lunch of dahl and rice while watching her stand awkwardly with Manoj in the doorway of the dining hall. I kept wondering when he would quit talking about himself and offer her a seat and something to drink. His self-absorption distracted him from even the simplest social graces. Eventually my curiosity got the best of me. I had to know what they were talking about that was so funny, so I made my way to the tea table near the door.

“Velvet!” he said. “In this heat?” Though Manoj was from the south of India, not far from my own village, we sounded nothing alike. He had somehow managed to cultivate a perfect British accent. Liverpolitan, an elderly English priest had tersely replied when asked if Manoj really sounded British. Then, perhaps fearing the truth—that we were all imagining organ flavored ice cream—the elderly priest had added, like a denizen of Liverpool. Though I couldn’t tell different British accents apart, I found some comfort in the derision I detected in the way the priest had said Liverpool.

“Purple,” the American added while nodding exaggeratedly. “Not insecure about his masculinity.” She raised her eyebrows as if in surprise but also perhaps in a preachy way, like we could learn a thing or two from him.

I fiddled with my tea, adding sugar and milk it didn’t need so I could hear more of the conversation. Of course, Manoj pushed things in a more serious direction. At the time I assumed he was uncomfortable with the fun he was having with the young woman, by the way her t-shirt hugged her body, by the way she made him feel. Looking back, though, I wonder if she was causing him enormous irritation. He explained to her that there were many levels of poverty in India—that, though this man who she’d caught wearing her velvet pants and Doctor Marten boots, had the fortune of having a job as a hotel clerk, he also surely struggled to find affordable clothing.

“But the kids I saw, that swarmed me. Wherever I went,” she said as if Manoj had missed the point. “Grabbed me—my sleeves, my hands. Just held. Onto me.”

“You wanted them to have the purple pants,” Manoj said, his chin slightly raised.

She laughed, perhaps acknowledging some absurdity in the proposition that wasn’t altogether untrue.

“There is dire poverty here,” he conceded. “It must be quite shocking for you to see.”

Her smile was apologetic, her head slightly bowed, like a dog that had just been reprimanded.

“Work that we can surely agree is fundamental to the survival of the human race is saving the environment,” Manoj said without looking in my direction, but his voice was louder than before.

“Well,” Clem started, “I wouldn’t exactly…”

“Ashish, for instance,” he interrupted, “is making quite an impact.”

Clem laughed with robust relief. I imagine she misheard my name as hashish. Surely this is why Manoj insists on calling me by my whole name, rather than my nickname, Ash. I stepped in, quickly taking over the conversation as much as I could, hoping to prevent further humiliation on the part of the young American who introduced herself as Clementine, you know the cute little oranges?

I enjoyed learning about the cute little oranges, along with other things about America, like the Bay Area music scene, and, especially, the national parks. Clem had never read Edward Abbey, but she had been to Arches National Park and described for me as many details as she could about the colors, dimensions, and shapes of the rock formations, along with the feelings the landscape evoked, the desolation and the comfort that offered.

“You know you are insignificant there,” she said with her signature enthusiasm, “so all you have to worry about is living. Basically, drink water, look at the beauty, and don’t forget the way to your car.” She knew that appreciating beauty was right up there with drinking water in terms of basic survival. I knew I had something to learn from her.

I was open with her from the very beginning about several key facts: that I was polyamorous, that she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and that my work was my life. Still she seemed surprised by each of them at various times in our relationship.

When I say, “the very beginning,” I suppose I don’t mean the first moment we started working together. At first we were on more tentative terms. She agreed to do some volunteer work for the student environmental organization I led. I didn’t know how well she’d adjust to life in Patna, which was less developed than many Indian cities. I took things step by step: made arrangements for her to stay with two nuns who also worked for my organization, asked two students to take her shopping to buy some Indian dress (no one could get any work done when she was wearing those thin t-shirts), got her going on some basic improvements of our website, and, eventually, gave her a key to her apartment and to our office. She didn’t have prescribed hours and began coming more and more often to work, until it got to the point that she would be there at seven in the morning, only going home in the evening when she was too hungry to concentrate.

When I say, the very beginning, I mean the Sunday she couldn’t keep away. Likely assuming I wouldn’t be in my office on the day of rest, she wandered to our chapel. My colleague found her in our sanctuary sitting on the floor at the feet of a statue of Mary and fetched me right away. I recognized her symptoms—the fever of one in sexual withdrawal. I’d seen it in some of the nuns I, shall we say, treated with love.

There are many topics I could have talked about while walking Clem down the long corridor to the courtyard where the guest quarters were found. Since some of my fellow priests frown upon working on the sabbath, I didn’t want to talk about work. Nor did I want to draw attention to her condition, which I feared could too easily be recognized for what it was—a touch-starved body. I couldn’t trust Clem in her current state to stick to an appropriate topic with a neutral tone. She feigned exhaustion, but I feared she was about to burst . I admittedly was not thinking clearly, though, as I tried for a safe topic and ended up absurdly narrating Clem’s life story to her.

“So your mother is named, Connie, which is not short for anything more distinguished. No, I don’t mean that but. Nor is it related to the word con. Of course not. And she did not become close to your previous. Friend. But neither were they estranged, though now they must be since you are. I mean, not from her but. From him, I suppose I could say. Though, perhaps that is too strong. Could be he’ll come around.” That’s when I must have planted the idea in my mind that I could inspire God to bring Clem’s ex-boyfriend, Ted, here to rediscover and reclaim his true love, sweet, ripe Clementine.

I showed her to the bed and when I asked if she wanted a massage, she paused before saying, “Okay.” Perhaps my graceful and gradual approach surprised her. The Americans are an insatiable people. I sometimes wonder what I have to do to live a future life there.

As she relaxed, I moved my hands under her clothes and her skin was so soft, so warm, so inviting. I moved from her back to her legs to her front. I had to touch every centimeter. A few times she jumped as if startled but this was followed by deep, quickening breaths. My hands kept pace. When they neared her breasts, she covered my hands with hers and held them. Later she would claim she wanted to stop me from going further, but at the time I took it to mean she wanted me there.

She did not touch me, did not offer. I did not ask her to, nor did I tend to myself. You see, it was all about her, her needs, her happiness. In her delicious, delirious, afterward state, I lay down clothed, beside her, trying not to stare at this milky skinned apparition, proud to have done whatever I had to deserve her.

When she finally opened her eyes, as if her way of returning to earth, she asked, “Do you offer this service to all of your parishioners?”

“Luckily not everyone wants this service,” I said.

“How do you know?” she asked as if she thought everyone would want my hands on them.

“You’re one of the first to ask for it,” I said, trying to match her attitude.

“I didn’t ask for it,” she said. She pulled the sheet around her. “What did I ask for?”

I countered that her body had seemed very inviting.

“That is your interpretation,” she said. She got out of bed and started putting her clothes on while still covering her body with the sheet.

“How should I interpret your way of appearing here today?” I asked.

She didn’t answer at first and her eyes glistened. “I was feeling. Sick. I came here to cool down, rest, rehydrate.”

I said I was glad she came, happy to have her and that I wanted nothing more than to please her.

“But don’t you have other things you’re supposed to do?”’

“I still manage to get a few other things done,” I said. “I offered mass this morning, made a friend or two laugh, called my mother on the phone…”

“Didn’t you take vows?” Fully clothed by now, she leaned against the dresser.

I listed my vows: poverty, obedience, and love.

“What do you mean by love?”

I explained that the need for chastity was to ensure that one did not become too wrapped up in the needs of one person, one partner. My vow to love put me at equal service to those in need of this particular type of love.

“Maybe you should come with a warning, then,” she said. “How are we supposed to know?”

I didn’t want her to leave angry. Especially since I had already made arrangements with her roommates, Sisters Padma and Rupa, to bring Chinese take-out to their apartment that evening. I walked to the door and stood in front of it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think you would be surprised by such a thing. You’re so worldly.”

“I’m worldly? I don’t know. I don’t even know what that means to you. What I can tell you is, I have been part of someone else’s divided love before. But my love? It’s indivisible.”

I reached out to her and pulled her to me. Her hair smelled like the sun, sweat, dust, and skin. Her skin. I breathed it in thinking I would like to have her in my arms for the rest of my life. And a fleeting image flicked by, just a flash—of her hand pulling me out by the root.

I couldn’t shake her from my thoughts. I suppose I was becoming obsessed. Even when I prayed, she was there, a phrase, her scent, the certain way she glanced or touched or kissed. She was everywhere. I knew both that God had sent her to me and that I was being tested. The test was to see what God meant me to do for her and if I could do it—all while keeping a hold on the rest of the life entrusted to me. Various nuns expected my attention, often more than I realistically had to offer. Each of them knew they were not the only one and still most hoped to feel as if they were. I tried to keep in steady contact with all of them. After all, equal opportunity love was the true meaning of my vow. God does work in mysterious ways, though. He offered me a break from my sexual obligations just when I needed it—through Manoj of all people. For a period of a week or so, I ran into Manoj at seemingly every turn. It was almost as if he was stalking me.

Once I carelessly opened the door of my friend Shanti’s bedroom before hearing her invitation to come in. She was standing at her window talking to someone who stood outside. It was Manoj. Shanti managed to glare at me while saying in a sweet, pious voice, “Welcome, Father Ash. It must be three o’clock.” Then, she smoothly returned to her conversation with Manoj through the open window, “I do have a special relationship with Ash. He picks me up each week for our silent walks in the garden.” In any case, it gave me the peace of mind to let my intimates know it was a good time to lie low. Additionally, I made sure Manoj didn’t see Clem and me together too often. That’s why when she asked if she could join me for hot lunches in the dining hall, I lied and said it was not allowed. I felt bad about it. She said she didn’t know what to bring for lunch, and I suspected she’d resorted to skipping the meal altogether. Her curves were gradually diminishing. I had a feeling, though, that if I was seen with Clem in non-work activities—like eating and socializing—it could give suspicious people like Manoj the wrong idea. Or the right idea for which their ideas were all wrong.

Despite losing some control of my thoughts and becoming swept up in the ecstasy of Clem’s ecstasy, I kept my work in sight. I had largely invited her to join my team because I knew her presence added an international dimension to the environmental work I was doing. I had hopes that she could help me connect with others in the Bay Area, not an unimportant region for my type of work.

Although she was clearly conflicted about our intimacies, I knew I was the only one keeping her from being subsumed by estrangement and, therefore, loneliness. The nuns and the students couldn’t even begin to understand her life before arriving here in India. They often said things that made her feel like she was revolting, as she put it. The students said things like, I could never marry someone who had been with another man, or Please hand me the pen with your right hand. The nuns treated her alternately like a servant and a child. They sent her out to run their errands, and, when they accompanied her, they micromanaged her actions to the point of telling her where to make each step, as if she would step in cow dung if they didn’t constantly warn her otherwise. Her closest friend besides me was Sister Shanti, but even Shanti was so sheltered she couldn’t help but say alienating things to Clem, alternatively pressuring her to join the sisterhood or return home and move on with her life. “Time spent here increases fear,” she’d said once, and Clem said it haunted her like an evil mantra.

Clem was clearly disoriented. Even when she was happy to see me, she insisted that our relationship made her uncomfortable. I sometimes wondered if she was aware that her love was not indivisible, after all. She was coming to love me while still having feelings for her ex-boyfriend. She often talked about him, and even confessed that she’d told him about me, hoping to make him jealous. I pressed her to know what parts made him most jealous—simply that she was with another man or was it something about me? She didn’t want to tell me at first, but finally admitted that Ted wished he had been able to tap into a world so unlike theirs, the way she had. The word “exoticism” kept lurking around the edges of our conversation, though neither of us acknowledged it. She and Ted were artists, prowling the world for extreme experiences, she in India, he in Morocco.

Ironically, the day I started to lose her is the day she lost Ted. I found her staring at the computer screen, her hands folded in her lap. “He isn’t coming,” she said, not looking at me when I walked into the office. It was only six-thirty in the morning. Her face was dripping with tears. I kneeled beside her and wrapped her in my arms, held her together as she shuddered with sobs. Luckily she never lost her sense of humor—when she realized she’d gotten snot all over the front of my shirt, she laughed and excused herself to clean up. While she was in the water closet, I looked quickly at the correspondence between her and her ex-boyfriend.

Isabel wants to come.

Who’s that?

My girlfriend.

You didn’t tell me you had a girlfriend.

I’m not supposed to date while you’re fucking a priest?

We hardly fuck.

That would be too much work for you, wouldn’t it.

His full name was Ted Anderson. When I looked him up, I saw he was publishing what he called a serial novel online, but it seemed to be a pretty exact account of my relationship with Clem. After all, he was a journalist. His bio mentioned that he was working as a stringer in Marrakesh for a major news organization. The truth was his muse, as he put it. That night, I stayed up for hours reading all the installments up until that point. While I could recognize myself in the priest—exact things I had said and done were included in the story—Ted’s interpretation of the priest’s motivations was not accurate. Father Akash (he’d only changed a few letters of my name) went from regretting his choice of becoming a priest to using his role as a spiritual leader to lure unsuspecting women into his sex ring. In Ted’s story, I had either lost my faith or had never had it to begin with. My actual life, on the other hand, was carefully dictated by the Lord. Despite these unflattering discrepancies, other deviances from the truth pleased me. In the story, my hair was a “thick curly bristle of black and gray” and my physique was “lanky like a man who often forgot to eat.” I couldn’t help but wonder if Clem had made me sound more handsome than I am or if Ted had taken it upon himself to ensure the protagonist—I really was the focus of the story—was sufficiently handsome.

For several weeks after Clem found out about Isabel, there weren’t any new installments on Ted’s serial novel. I suppose he and Clem were out of touch and that he couldn’t write without hearing her updates on how the story proceeded. I wanted to see how the story developed. Maybe seeing my own story from a distance would let me gain perspective on my life and actions. Or maybe it would help me appreciate the beauty of God’s acts through my humble hands.

In the meantime, Clem had become both more attached to me and more irritable. I kept trying to find ways to keep her busy. I borrowed a bicycle for her to use so she could see other people more easily and a guitar so she could play songs for me that she’d written (maybe even write one for me). I gave her a key to the roof of the building so she could jog there since she didn’t like the attention she drew when she ran on the streets of Patna. Normally I invited Clem along on my business trips—it was always impressive to have an international representative in meetings and presentations. But I needed a break from her, so when my trip to Delhi came along, I went alone.

While I was away, I became bored in the evenings. I only had one special friend in the area, and Sister Preethi was not an every-night-kind-of-friend. I wondered if—hoped that?—Clem would turn to Ted in her loneliness while I was away. She had once told me her login information for our website while my account was temporarily locked. I was pleased to see that the same login details let me into her messaging program, where I was able to see her correspondence with Ted. To my disappointment, however, they’d hardly been in touch since the information about Isabel was shared. There were just a couple of terse messages from several weeks earlier: Sorry, I missed your call, and Actually, maybe it’s better if we don’t talk for now.

I needed Clem to be okay. Her unhappiness made me restless and interfered with my concentration. I had run out of things I could think of to do to help her. God was being seemingly quiet on the topic. I prayed, asking Him if I should write to Ted. His response was similar to the one I often received, If you are doing it for the good of others.

So, I wrote from Clem’s account, pretending to be her, I really think I’ve fallen for him, Ted.

Ted, who hadn’t been online, suddenly was. His response came quickly. Facetime?

No, here, I wrote.

Okay. What happened?

I created a story that I hoped would hook Ted, but maybe I went too far. I wrote wild ideas as they came to me—that I (or “the priest,” as I described myself from her point of view) had tried to convince Clem that we should get married and move to Oakland together, but she had decided, instead, that she wanted to stay in India and continue our relationship as it was. In order to simplify the arrangement, she was considering joining the sisterhood.

Let’s talk, he wrote. I want all the details.

Wouldn’t it be easier in person? I wrote.

Without Isabel?

I don’t even care anymore, I wrote, hoping Clem’s change of attitude would make him want to come alone, perhaps ignite his desire to get her back. She could be his best access to a truly foreign world. And he could relieve me of responsibility for Clem. It was worth a try. I gave him a different account to write to, letting him know that Clem and I were now sharing our messaging outlets and that I would be deleting this thread. After all, I didn’t want Clem to see my correspondence with Ted. He and I made plans to check in the next day after he’d had a chance to look into plane tickets to India.

The next day, his blog had a brief update: Sorry for the hiatus. Don’t worry, though! More of Cleo and Father Akash’s story will be available soon, where you can see how they manage their forbidden, transcultural love. Sign up here to receive a notification when the next installment is available. I had hoped he might include the part of the story I’d told him, but maybe I hadn’t offered the level of detail Clem had given him in the past, the level of detail he needed in order to imagine our emotions, settings, and dialogues. Apparently, I’d have to wait to read the next portions of my story until he heard the rest of it from Clem. Unless I decided to text him more details, myself. But then he might lose interest in visiting. The withholding of information seemed to be the carrot to get him to India, where Clem was. It occurred to me that when Ted and Clem were reunited and she told him the next parts of the story, they would both realize I’d interfered and lied. I asked God if I should stop Ted from visiting, after all. But I was told that sometimes what was required of me was to sacrifice my own relationships for the good of others. Let them bond together in an alliance against you. It was a more direct message than I usually received and darker, too. I realized

I had to put their reunification first.

Later that day, Ted wrote to me saying he’d found a reasonable ticket a month out and asked if there was somewhere he could crash. I invited him to stay in our guest quarters and let him know that if he sent his flight details, someone would pick him up at the airport.

When I returned to Patna, Clem was in a far worse state of mind than when I left. She was fuller in the cheeks and seemed distracted when I tried to talk to her about work.

“You didn’t even tell Shanti you were leaving, did you?” she asked from the doorway of our office. I was aware that anyone walking by would see her agitated shifting from one leg to the other.

“It’s possible. I don’t usually. I guess I don’t assume people are so interested in my moves.”

I smiled, hoping she would see the charm of my modesty. Shanti was one of my closest friends and had also been very welcoming of Clem. Initially, at least.

“She called here. Several times,” Clem continued, her eyes trained on my face as if looking for evidence to hold against me. “Each time I answered the phone, she hung up.”

“That couldn’t have been Shanti,” I assured her. I tried to remember which bears needed to be stared down and which saw sustained eye contact as a challenge. If only I know which sort Clem was.

“I know her voice,” she said. “And she, apparently, knows mine.” She waited, still staring me down. “Clearly she did not want to talk to me.”

“What are you talking about? She’s your biggest fan,” I said.

“She did not sound good,” she continued, not distracted by my attempt at lightening the mood through flattery.

“What you’re doing here,” she said with a pause, as if the silence would explain what I was doing. “It’s not working.” She put on her giant headphones and stationed herself in front of the computer. I left her alone the rest of the day, finding plenty of work to do outside of the office.

The next day, I found a note from her letting me know she was planning to return to Oakland soon and that she wanted to see Nepal before she left the area. I worked from the office that day, hoping not to miss her when she came through. By the afternoon, though, when she still hadn’t come to work, I caught a rickshaw to her apartment. No one answered the door, so I let myself in. Not only was no one home, but Clem’s things were not there anymore. Her bed had been converted back into a couch and her bright green backpack, which had always stood in the corner of the living room, was gone.

That evening before heading to dinner, I saw that Ted had forwarded his flight details. He would be arriving in just under four weeks. His flight included several layovers, probably in order to save some money, and there was no indication of a return flight.

While I was in the dinner line, Manoj leaned in and said, “Save me a seat.” He knew if he didn’t reserve a place next to me, there wouldn’t be one. Even the most pious priests knew the value of a laugh, which meant the seats near me were always the first to go.

“Sorry, it’s got Manoj’s name on it,” I told each of my colleagues who tried to sit next to me.

When he took his place, Manoj didn’t waste any time. “So, how are things with the American?” He scooped as many chickpeas as he could fit in his large spoon, as if he weren’t so interested in my reply, as if he hadn’t gone out of his way to sit next to me and ask about Clem.

“Great. She’s really been helpful in elevating our organizational stature.” I almost choked on what I was saying. It was a phrase I’d heard somewhere and apparently packed in with my emergency supplies.

“Really,” he said, pausing to chew. He often exerted his power by making people wait. He didn’t continue until my eyes met his. “I heard she,” he cleared his throat, “moved on.”

Who would even know this at this point besides Clem’s roommates, Padma and Rupa? Why would they be talking to Manoj, unless they actually sought him out, or he them? “Not at all,” I replied. I didn’t make him wait until I was done chewing. It seemed less calculated, more casual to talk while eating. Granted I kept my bites small. “She’s gone on to Nepal. To continue her environmental research.” I sipped some tea. “Looking into collecting seeds of plants that were native to this region back when it was one of the most biodiverse corners of the world.” Of course, I didn’t know this was true. But I didn’t know it wasn’t true, either.

“Hm,” Manoj said, moving his tongue around his mouth, cleaning the bits of food from his back teeth, thoughtfully. “I hadn’t heard any updates for some time, began to wonder about your milestones progress.” He narrowed his eyes, as if reading the secrets of my face.

“Just you wait,” I said with a broad grin. “I trust you’ll be pleased with the resources being directed our way.” Then in a voice loud enough for others at our table to hear, I asked Manoj how his recent regional meeting had gone. There was no way he could resist sharing the highlights of his performance at this important gathering. But first he added, just loudly enough for me to hear, “These are not my only eyes.”

I made my way to the airport at the appointed time and stood in the arrivals section with a sign that said “Ted Anderson.”

“My god! Ashish!” I heard from a tall, slender man with a head of bristly blonde hair that needed to be brushed out of his face from time to time. He wore a snug pair of jeans and a tight Metallica t-shirt, looking surprisingly fresh. “The Clemster here?”

“Pardon,” I said before I realized he was asking about Clem. “Oh, she wasn’t able to make it.” I smiled apologetically.

“Thanks for coming. It’s cool to have my name on a sign. Never had that before.”

I put the sign down and reached out to shake his hand. He looked like a rock star. I could hardly look away from his blue eyes. No wonder Clem had been so taken with him. I asked how he knew who I was.

“Clemmy’s pretty good at describing people. Sometimes I wonder why she doesn’t want to be a writer. She’d probably be better at it than me.” He laughed and I tried to, too, but it sounded more like I had gotten something stuck in my throat. It was easy to make conversation with him. On our way to the cloister, he told me funny details about his flight—having a glass of water spilled on him by a flight attendant, sprinting to catch a connection, crying while watching a movie he thought I would know but that I’d never heard of.

After showing him to his room and giving him some time to get situated, I picked him up and brought him to the bioreserve. I wanted to talk to him where we had some privacy, and we could wander the vast fields where we were planting ancient plants without the risk of running into anyone who spoke English.

He took the news that Clem had disappeared better than I expected him to. Naturally, he wanted to know where she was, if she was okay, why she left. I didn’t have answers to any of these queries. Being a reporter, though, he didn’t run out of questions. Soon he was asking me about myself, my work, the story of my calling, and about my communication with God. I imagined the topic of my vows would be around the corner, and I wondered if talking to him might help me find new ways of making sense of my views on love. I also had some other ideas about how he could be useful to me.

He seemed to have some ideas about how I could be useful to him, too. When I mentioned that Clem had told me he was writing a novel, he nodded with a strangely peaceful smile. It was an expression I don’t see often and when I have, it has been on those who are on their own path, who know that what they are doing at that moment is just what they want to be doing. For most of us, even when we do find our way to the path that we love most and that is undeniably ours, it doesn’t take long before we lose it again. One misstep sets a new direction, and it often takes some time to realize that we are off track again. But at that moment and for some months after, Ted was living in a state of contented purposefulness.

“Yeah,” he said, his eyes glazing over as he seemed to retreat to his other world. “It began as a serial novel, you know, published online as I wrote each part. But I was told it was too damn good for that.” He laughed to indicate that he didn’t take the claim too seriously, which was apparently made by an agent who didn’t want it published online. “She says I can’t give it away for free anymore,” he explained. “Seems to think it’s got value. I mean monetary value.” He shrugged his shoulders, as if it was all beyond him. He was just following orders.

“I can’t wait to read it,” I said.

“Of course, man,” he said, with a rocking nod that continued as if he were grooving to some music I just couldn’t hear. “For sure.”

In the meantime, as he worked on his novel each evening, he was interested in writing our newsletter, traveling with me to spread the word about our cause, revamping the website, and increasing our social media presence. He seemed perfectly suited for the job. By this time, I’d gotten used to his piercing blue eyes, and it was—dare I say, a Godsend—to have an international colleague whose body didn’t distract me from the work at hand.


Shira Richman's stories have been published in Timber, The Los Angeles

Review, Monkeybicycle, and Prick of the Spindle. She has published

poems in various journals in addition to two chapbooks, Eden Was Here

(dancing girl press) and Test Tube with a View (Finishing Line Press).

She is from Seattle, Washington and lives in Nuremberg, Germany, where she

works in communications at the adidas global headquarters. More of her work

is available on her website:


ZephyrZ is a computer programmer from Kearns, Utah, and a self-taught artist who uses code and a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) to create modern art. Since artificial intelligence is already used to generate faces, music, and even poetry, his artistic endeavors continuously explore how machine intuition and program splicing can not only emulate human-created art, but push the boundaries into something original, too. The end result is an ever-evolving process of creation and destruction. Each workpiece is unique, with its own story and personality. You can commission original pieces on his website:

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