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Kyle Hemmings 

Substitute for Love

You should pack those boxes of high school love letters meticulously written with backward strokes, those old Apricot and Huckleberry Pie dolls with Hopaslot, dirty suede hat, missing one original pair of socks, So Cute! embroidered fruit that needs re-gluing, dented tin box of twine and bobby pins and JUST WALK OUT. Like in that old Paul Simon song. Something about setting yourself free. Jim or Jane or Sam. Why be the dirt under his fingernails? Why feed a Trojan who keeps killing the eternally wounded? Why stay in debt when you could go outside and treat yourself to a raspberry tart or a lemon ice-pop? Oh, Shy Violet with those falling down doll tendencies. Oh, Wishnik if only you could twist a wrist and turn everything into a flitter bit butterfly! So what if your mutter couldn't pass the butter. So what if your father hated your favorite hamster.

Or will you always be the ill-legit daughter stepping in front of red oncoming cars at rush hour?


We lived in the middle of a long block of modest colonials and silent dogs. As a kid wearing paper tissues under those dreaded starched collars for school, or with ear glued to a transistor blaring "Baby Love," hands cutting the outlines of paper heroes, I thought the sun and the moon revolved around our house. Nobody dies in this home; nobody flies away. My mother, who loved Maria Callas and Brigadoon, bought two parakeets because she thought a house is not a nest without birds. I became overly attached to the shy one because he reminded me of myself in classrooms, of being stuck for answers. One day in a fit of rage, my father opened the cage and chased the birds out the window. I ran after them because the world was too big for the two of them, especially the one who didn't chirp much. I didn't see the car coming. The world was too big for the three of us. So now, I'm holding the world in my hand. It's made of glass and it's really very small after you've grown beyond it. I spin it around and around in my palm. Inside, I can see a small boy chasing two birds because they mean life and death to him. They keep running all around the world until they catch up. But the birds will always fly away and the boy is growing too tall and too starry-eyed for a life of glass and pain. So I make a fist and crushed this world.


We met at this party on Avenue B. You looked so glam with your black crepe top and Flapperstyle beads. I must have met you in a thousand subways while killing time. You joked about being drunk sideways, then turned grim when you mentioned dropping acid once and spending months under psychiatrists with tiny convulsing lights in their eyes. You aborted old delusions and became a paralegal.

The house guest was playing some old Trance and some shit by Buffalo Daughter. I lied about being a bass player in a band called Wyona's Wisteria. Later, I got a nosebleed. I always do with high altitude hope. I wanted to stencil across the walls: Let's fall in love for a night. I wanted to steal your pale blue eyes. Later, we fucked until something cracked and escaped.

We met in cafes and in underground rooms where the borsht was free. You did a version of an Irish Jig on Delaney Street with too much free arm. You almost got run over. But I saved you. We did more shots of Hennessy and threw up specks of vampire blood. When we sobered up, you said you were married. I asked What does that mean?

You shrugged, gave that innocent schoolgirl look, so wide-eyed and blushing.

You said This was it.

I said I wanted to keep something from you. I wanted your pale blue eyes. I wanted to sleep with your ghost inside me and maybe levitate from this life.

You said How?

I said Let's make a baby. Right here. I said making a baby is easy. People do it all the time especially when they're afraid they're going to lose a part of themselves.

You sneered and said This is fucked.

Exactly, I said.


I said nothing really ends. It just gets different.

We made a baby of sorts, groping, needy. The baby had pale blue eyes. I decided it was a she. I didn't name her because that would kill all mystery, give me a false sense of power. I took the baby everywhereâon subways, on shuttles, in 3: a.m. taxis. Everybody pretended they couldn't see my baby. They all had one of their own and their babies had colorless eyes. But mine had pale blue. I slept with the baby snuggled under my sheets. With the window open to 2nd Avenue, there was a distant wail. I dreamt of empty milk bottles.

Then our baby became sick. I feared the formulas I fed her were made of nothingness.

The doctors said there was little they could do. She had a phantom body, a tetralogy of twisted loves . But her eyes were beautiful.

I wrapped the baby in a monochrome dress, the same one you once wore, and threw her from the window. She floated under a sky of pale blue.

The next day, no one remembered my name. I called to tell you of our baby's death. I called to tell you that our baby was a lie.

You texted a condolence.

Kyle Hemmings
is the author of several chapbooks of poetry and prose: Avenue C, Cat People, and Anime Junkie (Scars Publications), and Tokyo Girls in Science Fiction (NAP). His latest e-books are You Never Die in Wholes from Good Story Press and The Truth about Onions from Good Samaritan. His latest collection of prose/poetry is Void & Sky from Outskirt Press. He has been published in Wigleaf, Storyglossia, Elimae, Match Book, This Zine Will Save Your Life, and elsewhere. Kyle lives and writes in New Jersey.