Morphology & Optics

All Work by Toe Keen















Confessions of a Looter

          What some people call inspiration is only pilferage.
                                                            —Cynthia Ozick

Straitened, I started with small change,
epigraphs, respectable as doggie bags,
soon pickings too slim.  I wanted
INFLUENCE, lifted lines into place,
heavy and solid as gold bricks.
It was work.  Let me tell you,
I became a second story man,
a matter of cribbing a tale, translating it
to the tongue of a bankrupt narrator.
Too much retyping, though.
Now it’s all five-finger discount.
I climb into writers’ accounts
and carry off complete unpublished drafts.
You think it’s easy?  There is nothing
so heavy as paper.

–> Diane Kendig


 Josie Robs a Bank

Gabrielle Reid


The third time I robbed the bank, I was Asian. Now I’m blonde, ’cause Gabi worries too much. Diversity’s great and blondes are way more common than Asians ’round these parts, but Gabi was worried about accidental racism. Maybe people would think I robbed the bank because I was Asian and not, you know, just ’cause I was desperate for money. Who really gives a fuck about the colour of my hair or the shape of my eyes under the balaclava?

The first time I robbed the bank, it was just an idea. All the world was darkness ’til God thought up light. Just an idea, the way everythin’ starts, big or small.

“Josie robs a bank.”

That’s it. That’s all we knew, and nobody thought about why, back then, not even Gabi. But it was enough and so I did it – I robbed the bank.

Don’t ask me about it. Don’t ask me how much money I took, or if I heard the sirens outside, or if I held the knife steady or with sweaty fingers. Don’t ask if I saw the look of terror on the pregnant teller’s face. Don’t ask if I saw her body tense. It might have been a contraction, or maybe just a reaction. Pregnant women, they seem to be everywhere ’round here, too.

But all that stuff came later. The first time, it was simple and I didn’t have to think. I just robbed the bank.

We had this pattern down, me and Gabi. A routine, sorta. First I’d rob the bank, then I’d count the money and try not to think about the other people. You know, the ones who were there that day. I’d always end up thinkin’ about them even when I was tryin’ not to. Gabi reckons that’s a good thing – means I have a conscience, means I’m human. Anyway, I’d rob, I’d feel guilty, then I’d buy somethin’ with the money.

The first couple of times it was somethin’ I needed, you know, like rent and unpaid debts and a baby’s cot. I told you, fuckin’ pregnant women. They’re everywhere. Sometimes I’d get cigarettes, ’cause that’s an addiction and who the hell are you to judge me? You’re probably addicted to somethin’ ‘socially acceptable’: Facebook or sugar or some shit like that.

But last time it was useless stuff. Luxuries; stuff that won’t last. I wanted rooms full of floral bouquets and a thousand movie tickets and my name in one of them star registries. Josie Woods, in constellation Pyxis. Gabi had to research that. She didn’t know all that much about stars and constellations, but she does now. She sat outside with a telescope one night and looked at Pyxis, even though it’s freezing in her part of the world right now.

Josie’s star. It was meant to make you hate me. What kind of a bitch robs a bank and then buys flowers and a certificate from the fuckin’international star registry? Holds a knife in the face of a pregnant woman, knocks an old guy to the ground? Blonde, or Asian, who gives a shit anymore ’cause it’s not about need, it’s about greed. Selfishness.

Or it was meant to be.

Then somehow, without even changing what I did, I wasn’t a bitch anymore. You weren’t meant to hate me. You were meant to love judge me and relate to me all at once. (Gabi wrote “love” there, but it was an accident. Subconsciously, her mind just went ahead and connected hate to love before her fingers stopped.) You were meant to think the robbery was fuckin’ awful, but wish you’d had the guts to do it all the same.

Gabi reckons it was a statement. A statement about self-loathing and futility. About reachin’ for the sky and love that only lasts ‘til the flowers die. They say God loves everythin’ He ever made and I reckon I’d believe that, ’cause Gabi keeps trying to hate me but she can’t. We need each other and no matter what she does, she always ends up loving me instead. I’d just keep doin’ it, robbing that bloody bank over and over til we got it right, but she’d find a way to understand me anyway.

A couple of times, they caught me. I punched a cop, once. It was after I bought the flowers, you know, when you were still meant to hate me. They got me and took me down to the cop shop. They pressed my fingers into ink that didn’t feel like anythin’, ’cause Gabi just decided I don’t need to know what ink feels like.

The cop asked me why I did it and shit, there’s been so many reasons I couldn’t remember if I wanted to feed my baby, or flood my brain with nicotine, or hold life in both hands. So I told him.

“Gabi made me do it.”

And that was it. Draft five. She tore it up and wrote me this instead.

She put me in this story ’cause she was worried about people not getting it. What if they didn’t know the star registry’s meant to be a statement on beauty and the meaning of life? Damn it, Gabi, it wasn’t a statement when you first made me buy the stupid thing. Let ’em think what they think.

Let them hate me for pointing a shiny new knife in the face of that teller. Let them judge me for standin’ there and watchin’ her eyes get bigger as her bladder emptied down her leg. Piss just drippin’ on the carpet. (Or was that her waters breaking?)

And now Gabi’s thinkin’ too much again, about all the questions everyone might ask. Did she really sit out with a telescope? Were there really five bank robberies before this one, or did it start here?

Gabi can’t go meta, ’cause when you go meta the story folds in on itself, see. She don’t know whether I’m the same Josie she started with, or if I’ll still do what she says. She don’t know if she’s a new character herself now and not God anymore. If she’s God, them readers are the church, ’cause she made me but they’re the ones who judge me.

She’ll give me over to that writin’ group an’ when they’ve ’ad their way it’ll all change again an’ I’ll be thinkin’ ’bout somethin’ else or I’ll start speakin’ in more contractions, or not as many. It’ll get too complicated, ’cause Gabi thinks too much an’she worries too much an’ she thinks about what other people think too much.

I love Gabi, and I’d rob a hundred banks for her, but when God don’t know what else to do with someone He lets ’em die, even when He loves them.

Or maybe He reincarnates them. Go back to the start.

The third time I robbed the bank, I was Asian.

No, not there. The plan.

Josie robs a bank.

Thinks about tellers while counting money.

Buys something with the money.


Then what?


Ardent Mirrors

Grove Koger

I was dreaming about curing olives when I heard the words. Now

 Let’s say a duchess—no, make that a countess, one by marriage—is leasing a house in the Provençal countryside for the summer. Her agent has found the place, and she’s taken a quick look and it seems perfect. There’s a separate apartment in the east wing that I’m to occupy, plus rooms enough for the wave of shiftless bons vivants who are bound to turn up when word gets out. A cook and her factotum husband live in a little house across the way, and there’s a lawn with a pool at its lower end. A grocer in town will supply meat and fresh produce twice a week. The countess (perhaps she should be a contessa, but English by birth) signs the papers, gives notice at her hotel, hires a driver with a van to move her bags, etc. Now her personal maid is hanging up the contessa’s clothes and the contessa is having a more thorough look around.

I’ve never given a thought to curing olives, but here we—we?—were,

“Rather a lot of mirrors,” she says to no one in particular, although I’m standing right beside her. The contessa has offered to put me up for the summer while I finish my novel, but surely it’s incumbent upon me to be on hand during these preliminaries. As a matter of fact the novel is done but an opportunity to spend a month or two in Provence is not to be sneered at, certainly not by a first-novelist-to-be. Even a successful one, as I shall be.

soaking them in brine with herbes de Provence, naturally. Yet the words

“Rather a lot …” She’s moved to the next room, and indeed there are mirrors on every wall except for the one made up entirely of windows (French, naturally) opening onto the south terrace. “Odd,” she adds, “that one didn’t notice them the other day.” In fact one did not, and I’m more than a little puzzled at that, since one is— no, as am myself quite observant, I’m not so sure about my hostess, we’ll see.

that I heard uttered in the dream weren’t “brine” and “herbes de Provence” but “ardent mirrors.”

“And rather too, rather too—intrusive.” Ignoring me still, she’s observing herself from the side and apparently not liking what she sees. “Too ardent.” There it is! “I like a mirror,” she declares emphatically, as if quoting herself, “that knows its place!”

I lay awake thinking about ardent

“We’ll have them taken down,” she’s continuing, peering more closely at the mirrors and prying a bit at the silverish frame of one of them. “They appear to be bolted to the wall. How odd! We’ll talk to the factotum.”

mirrors and after a few minutes went to my study to

 We proceed into the kitchen, where the cook is preparing what smells like a ratatouille (and indeed is, a very good one, as I shall learn that evening). The cook goes to find her husband, and in more or less short order there ensues a scene that you’ll have to imagine in which the contessa explains in her middling French what has to be done and the poor man strives in his colloquial French to explain that non, Madame, he has express orders not to remove anything from the walls, the paint, you see, the bolt holes, etc., etc. If he had a cap he would be twisting it in his hands, and perhaps he should have one, although I’m going to have to research the subject to learn just what kind of cap a Frenchman of his station and region might wear.

write down the phrase on a piece of paper. Even

But frankly this whole situation is growing a bit out of control, and anyway, I’m rather more interested in the ratatouille, etc. The cook is too, I can tell, and we share a conspiratorial smirk. She recognizes a kindred spirit, I think, and I think too that I should make her a bit younger than I had intended at first, perhaps single. Carefree.

then I couldn’t quite go back to sleep but lay there

And while I’m at it, I’m pretty sure that the contessa is no longer so enamored of the house. She’s pulling out her phone …

 thinking about ardent mirrors and

And I—I should say wewe are no longer so enamored of her. The cook has sneaked into the pantry where (I know) she keeps a bottle of marc to pour us a couple of tots. And she’s taken the wooden lid off a big stone jar and spooned some dark, glistening olives onto a plate. Now we carry the glasses and the olives, softly closing the door behind us, to a table on the terrace, where we sit down to begin what I predict will be a very pleasant afternoon.


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