Underwater Beams

By: Nancy de Guerre

I think about you sometimes, though it’s been so long. That day on the lake in the little tin boat. We had fishing rods and books and the sun beat down on us. You wore that Indiana Jones hat, and I had a big floppy one. It was like we were a couple of movie stars. The summer just after my mother died. You stuck the wriggling worms on the sharp hook, and I lay back on a life jacket and read love poems to you.

She would have liked you, my mom. He’s nice, she would have said. And funny too. Hang on to that one. I wanted to tell you about her, but I couldn’t. I can still feel the heat of the sun that day. The sparkle of it on the water, and you standing there in the gently rocking boat, casting your rod and listening to me read. The slight tilt of your head to show you understood, and that way you had of tugging the line. Almost, but not quite, cocky.

The sun was so hot that day, I burned the backs of my legs on the metal seat. I dove into the water and swam, eyes wide open, through the underwater beams of sun. I came up wet and glistening, ready to tell you, but I didn’t. I couldn’t shake the last image of her dying—the gray hair plastered to her head, her effort to sit up when I entered the room. I read to her near the end, the classics she loved, like Jane Austen and Dickens. She was wan, with machines hooked up to her arms, and she tried to laugh at the funny parts.

You had this way of jigging the line and reeling it back in when you felt a tug. Smooth and self-assured and always focused. Every once in a while you’d turn and give me that subtle smile, kind of distant, but it let me know I existed. Later, that’s what I remember most. I wondered if you could love in the way that you fished.

I wish you could have met her. He’s a riot, she would have said.

My father hated fishing, and he really wasn’t sure how to love. For the longest time he visited her regularly, bringing hot tea and her favorite sections of the daily paper. He carried a plastic grocery bag full of reminders from home and showed her often his precious album of clippings about the next trip they’d take together. You met my father, but that doesn’t mean you could know what my mother was like. The last time I saw him we sat in the kitchen where my mom used to make tea. He took two mugs from the painted cabinet and we drank instant coffee at the kitchen table, surrounded by greasy splatters and old crumbs. He sleeps a lot these days and refuses to get the surgery his eyes need.

Sometimes you reminded me of him. Sometimes when I was with you, I couldn’t breathe.

When I was little I wanted to be a ballerina. My mother took us into the city every year to watch them dance across the stage in toe shoes, fingers poised gracefully. The male dancers lifted the ballerinas over their heads so effortlessly—it was as if they were made of cardboard. Sometimes I closed my eyes tightly and imagined I was on stage, looking out to the audience. I would see me there, beside my mom, both of us smiling broadly.

You would have liked my mother. Come in, she would say, hovering at the door when I dropped by. Hesitant, yet welcoming. She was unassuming, never wanting to interfere. Am I interrupting something? she’d ask when she called on the telephone. Oh, she might say when another one of my men had gone. Ohhhh was how she said it, her voice dropping low, and I could feel the disappointment that covered the bigger thing underneath. The sadness. But he was so nice, she’d say. Oh. Sweetie.

My mom liked to eat a cheese sandwich on the couch while she watched a game show. But not with the good cushions because they were to be used only for visitors. They were gold and squishy, with dangling fringes. After dinner my father would sit in his basement study wearing headphones, swirling in his office chair while he worked. “Constantly in the darkness,” he was. My favorite line from a Joni Mitchell song. Her words, but it’s the way I feel.

Sometimes I think what I do best is cry.

After a while my father stopped bringing the plastic bag of trinkets. He made excuses at first, and then he just stopped coming. In the end, he couldn’t say goodbye.

My father never got over the death of my mom, but I did.

It rained so much that summer by the lake. The rain made everything grow, you used to tell me, even your heart. A chance to love me more than ever, you teased. But that morning the sun shone, and everything was so overgrown we could hardly see our way through the trees. The earth was rich and swarming with life, raindrops shimmering on the leaves.

On wet days my mother wore a yellow raincoat and one of those clear plastic hats that tie up under the chin. When it dried off, she could fold it back up and stash it in her purse, ready for the next time. You never know when things might shift, she’d say.

I’m not sure if she knew it was her last day when she asked me to wash her hair. She couldn’t shower, so we used a dry shampoo. I massaged her head and let her look in the mirror when it was finished. She pretended to like it and thanked me about five times. That same morning, a while later, she asked me to make sure Cookie was included in her obituary. Cookie the cat.

You never know from moment to moment what really counts. Sometimes you just have to hold your breath and pray.

It rained the day your father died. Long after our summer at the lake, months after I thought we had nothing more to say, I spotted you through my streaming windshield. I wanted to hide, but your face was contorted and wet. Be with me, was all you said. I took your hand gingerly at first and squeezed it as we rode the elevator in silence. I watched you from the metal chair in the corner of his room, holding my breath and the dripping umbrella. Your father small and unmoving, eyes fixed on the ceiling. Your shoulders shook as you reached your arm across his body. You picked up his limp hand and leaned in close, whispering words of forgiveness.

I think of you once in a while, but not too often. A man alone in a red truck, unencumbered.  In this dream I have, I swim underwater through beams. I can hold my breath for the longest time. It’s cool and clear, and from high above, the sun pours down to make a million shades of green. Huge beams of light, branching like tentacles toward the bottom of the lake. I weave my way through them, pulling effortlessly, until finally I come up to the surface for air. I see you there, leaning over the side of the little tin boat, waiting expectantly. I tell you then about my mother. About how she lived, and how she died. I tell you everything. You tilt your head in that way of yours and reach out to touch my cheek. It’s okay, you whisper, and it is.

I don’t mind the rain so much these days. And I think that when I’m close to dying, when there’s almost no time left, I want you there. And I won’t want to let you go. I’ll be overwhelmed with love, and so much more that is hard to explain.


Nancy de Guerre is a freelance writer and editor from Toronto, Canada. Her degree in English Literature and French has taken her in many directions, but she is delighted to come back to what she loves most. Nancy enjoys writing short stories, memoir and creative non-fiction, and is eager to begin her first longer work. Her pieces have appeared in the Globe and Mail, the Indiana Voice Journal, and more. Nancy lives and writes in Hamilton, Ontario. She can be reached at nancy@wordwise.ca.

TCR Talks with Eli Ryder

By: Daniela Montes

Eli Ryder is a man as diverse as the fiction he loves. He is a professor, a father, and a writer. He goes from playing the guitar and singing around a campfire to filling you with horror when you read his prose. His story “A Quiet Street” was a Roswell Award honorable mention this year. Eli is one of the cofounders of the online literary magazine Automata, where he and his colleagues publish prose that pushes the boundaries of weird.

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Book Review: Maria Hummel’s “Still Lives”

BY D.M. Olsen

It’s the opening night of Still Lives at the Roque Museum and it’s the buzz of the art scene in Los Angeles. It’s also the wildly anticipated return of Kim Lord, who has conjured up a twelve-piece exhibit portraying the murdered bodies of famous victims including Elizabeth Short, Gwen Araujo, Chandra Levy, and Nicole Brown Simpson. The only issue is, Kim Lord never shows up.

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Book Review: Stuart Kells’s “The Library”

BY A.M. LArks

It’s hard to say that The Library by Stuart Kells is about a single library, or even the idea of a library as we have come to know it—a collection of books that the public can borrow. Stuart Kells’s library is both a historical compilation of well-researched facts that informs the public about the origins of our notion of the “library” and the examination of those assumptions.

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Poetic Statement

By: Remi Recchia

Cast of Characters:

REMI #1, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #1 should not be wearing shoes.

REMI #2, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #2 should wear a ridiculously large black beret.

REMI #3, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #3 should carry an outrageously pretentious pipe and an enormous lighter.

REMI #4, 22, male, an alcoholic writer. REMI #4 should not exist.

All four characters should wear matching nametags without numbers throughout the play. All four characters should also be holding amber bottles.

Time and Place:    Nowhere in no place. Never in the present.

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Book Review: Chuck Palahniuk’s “Adjustment Day”

By: D.M. Olsen

As a big Fight Club fan, I came to this book with high hopes for the type of enthralling narrative interspersed with social satire—often bordering on the absurd—that Chuck Palahniuk is known for. Adjustment Day seeks to deliver the same impact—as Fight Club did in the 90s—in a sort of Version 2.0 escalation of the cult concept. Palahniuk uses the novel to introduce what the title suggests, an “Adjustment Day.” A day where a group of men, who have been reading a blue black book by Talbott Reynolds, gather to take down the men in power. They know who to target based on a secret list that has been circulating on the internet and gaining votes. The ear of a person on the list will garner the person who harvested it power in the new world order that is to form after Adjustment Day.

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The Blackout


Annie rummaged in the black purse on her lap that she was relieved to recognize as her own and located a small lipstick mirror. She stared into it, moving it around the contours of her face, able to see only two rectangular inches at a time, but the pieces fit, yep, she was pretty sure that was her. She groaned. It took her a few minutes. Wish it wasn’t me. A black lump of self-hatred rose in her throat, bile.

Momentarily, she was distracted from her self-disgust by the plastic tumble of photos falling out of her wallet, the bright faces of Sara and Becky peeking out from elementary school backgrounds. She reminded herself to put some updated photos of the girls in her wallet. They were both in middle school, almost high school now. Smiling at their noses, covered in freckles, their credulous cornflower eyes, Annie slowly folded the photo holder back into the wallet and rummaged again.

Nothing in her purse revealed what day it was, nor did the blue square of airplane window 

next to her. Glimpses of the grids and rectangles, the squares and geometry of a large city emerged beneath the wing and clouds. Was that New York? How the hell, she wondered, had she ended up on a plane approaching New York City?

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Book Review: Susan Henderson’s “The Flicker of Old Dreams”

BY: A.m. Larks

Isolation and ostracization feature heavily in Susan Henderson’s latest novel, The Flicker of Old Dreams. The setting is Petroleum, Montana, population 182 and decreasing, “Those who’ve heard of Petroleum are often surprised it’s still here. The town is primarily known for what it no longer has: oil.”  In a town this small, the people of Petroleum are required to be interdependent upon one another because the trains have stopped running, there is no cell service, and the winters are long and harsh. “This view of Petroleum is picaresque as the community, every single member, it seems, helps to shovel what they can.” And in part, this view of Petroleum is true: “The festival is less a celebration than a day to prepare for the upcoming snowstorms. Today neighbors will weatherproof homes, share tools, supplies, and labor.” “One of the neighbors with a snowplow attached to the front of his truck scrapes up and down the streets. This should make it easier to get to the highway.” The people who stay in Petroleum are committed to community and interdependence: “This is the life we commit to here. That we cannot rely on others. That no one can reach us so we better help ourselves.” However, in any social group, there exist dissidents. The Flickers of Old Dreams explores what happens to two such “outsiders.”

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TCR Talks with Rebecca Makkai


By: Kaia Gallagher

A masterful story-teller, Rebecca Makkai blends tragedy and humor in her recently released book, The Great Believers, a novel that tells the very human story of Chicago’s gay community as it faces the emerging AIDS epidemic during the mid-1980s.

The story revolves around a small group of gay men who find their relationships disrupted, their identities challenged and their hopes for the future dimmed as their friends fall ill and die around them.  A second narrative follows Fiona, the sister to one of the deceased, as she travels to Paris in 2015 still haunted by the shadow memories of those she lost.  Within a broader context of homophobia and government indifference, the story highlights the ephemeral nature of present time and the ways in which the past, present and future are all very much connected.

The Great Believers builds on Makkai’s illustrious writing career.  Her first novel, The Borrower was chosen as the Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection and one of Chicago Magazine‘s choices for best fiction of 2011.  Since its debut, it has been translated into seven languages. Her second novel, The Hundred-Year House won the 2015 Novel of the Year award from the Chicago Writers Association and was named a best book of 2014 by BookPage.

A prolific author, Makkai’s published work has appeared in Harper’sTin House, the Wall Street Journal, and New England Review. She has received fellowships at Yaddo and the Sewanee and Wesleyan Writers Conferences and was the recipient of an NEA literature fellowship in fiction in 2014.  She is on the faculty of MFA programs at Northwestern University and Sierra Nevada College, and is the Artistic Director at StoryStudio Chicago.

The Coachella Review was pleased to have the opportunity to interview Makkai by phone just prior to the release of The Great Believers.


The Coachella Review: Congratulations on the publication of The Great Believers.  How does your experience in writing this book compare to your other two books?

RM: Compared to my other books, The Great Believers is much more research-heavy.  I could not be writing about a real time and place and such a sensitive topic without doing a ton of one-on-one in-depth interviews and a lot of primary document research.  My other works were entirely about the creative process and only a little bit about research.  This felt like equal parts research and writing and it’s stronger for that.  It doesn’t read like non-fiction. It’s not meant too.

The research process behind this writing was really intense. I was both writing and researching for five years. It was four years of “full throttle” which is pretty fast for a novel of this length.

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Book Review: Leslie Jamison’s “The Recovering”

By: Heather Scott Partington

Leslie Jamison wasn’t a stereotypical drunk. She wasn’t a stereotypical student, either. Even at the peak of her alcoholism, Jamison held down a job, published a novel, and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Yale, and Harvard without hitting a conventional bottom. If you read Jamison’s 2014 essay collection, The Empathy Exams, you know her unique voice, her elegant syntax, her capacity for listening to another’s pain and rendering it on the page as something unnervingly fresh. The Recovering is the story of Jamison’s journey to get sober, told through the filter of her research about the lives of other artists and writers. Through the use of outside source material and interrogations of standard addiction narratives, Jamison seeks to make her memoir, The Recovering, an anti-recovery memoir, one that confronts (ahead of time, almost) the nagging voice of any reader who might challenge aspects of the author’s recovery story or, perhaps, the value of recovery stories in general. However, in addition to the author’s efforts to carve out a new type of recovery genre, Jamison’s memoir snags a little in the territory of her own exceptionalism: I am special, the author’s tone suggests over and over in her 500-plus-page memoir. The minutia of my graduate school romance was unique. I am too smart for AA. I am not like other academics. I am not like other drunks.

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