34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 40
HAVING TO CHOOSE MILENA PETROVIC
LONELY AT THE TOP
“They want me dead. I swear to god.” She holds her face up to the shower in front of her husband, rivers of suds between their feet. When they’ve both rinsed off, one parent will hand the two younger children, in assembly line fashion, to the other for the ritual squirming and protesting under the lukewarm water. The kids have been in the garden, and the rivers beneath their bodies turn dark and muddy. They’ve saved their fruit and vegetable seeds for a year for their summer stay at the family residence outside of Santiago, where, unlike in New York, they have a place to plant them.
After their shower, which appears to involve wrestling strategies equal in complexity to the maneuvers in the martial arts videos that Emiliano watches on his insomniac nights, Liam gets his turn while Claire brushes Anka’s teeth. Liam shouts for the soap and while his father brings it, then as an afterthought puts out fresh towels and locates the mouthwash, Tobler makes speedy egress from the apartment to the upstairs patio, down the stairs, and into the garden, seating himself comfortably again where he’d been all afternoon, filling his pail with dirt, eating some of it, rubbing a fair portion into his hair, and emptying the rest with a kindly gesture into the dog’s dish.
LONELY AT THE TOP BY DONNA DALLAS ISSUE 40
I go full force into my stories, I’m laid bare, bones and all. Lonely At The Top beckoned me to write it. It was sitting on the precipice between dreams and ink, waiting to be one with all of us. So here it is. It’s good, it’s bad, could be shocking I suppose. Think of it as a tête-à-tête between Mother Fortune and rehabilitated tragedy over the raw guts of lives we could never feel comfortable sharing space with. I’m good with it and onto the next.
We are living in traumatic times and nothing stops for us. I recently read something about an inner refuge—the place where you go when life in the real world is no longer bearable. Writing is my sacred refuge.
I write to make sense of my place in the world. I write to stay alive, to feel human. I like poetry in particular because there are no rules—the only limitations are what we impose on ourselves.
I live in Portland, Oregon, and I was born and raised by Serbian immigrants in the Cleveland, Ohio area. I have a graduate degree in sociology from Portland State University, and I’m working on publishing my first book of poems. When not writing poetry, I work as a project manager at a non-profit organization where I specialize in culturally tailored research and reducing health and income disparities among vulnerable populations.
I am fascinated by encounters—those single moments, chance meetings, by which we achieve something close to epiphany. These arbitrary moments seem to stay stamped on our memories and woven into the very fabric of our selves, they are an inscrutable but indelible part of who we are. I suppose this fascination is in part what gave rise to this story. The other part is less mystical: the uniquely repressed atmosphere of academia, and the taboo territories of pedagogy. Ellie is the lonely scholar in her self-made Ivory Tower; Fintan the young budding student, ambitious and aloof. There was a particular relish in putting these two characters in a room together and seeing what happens—or doesn’t happen.
My work has been published in Scarlet Leaf Review , New Forum, and The Exhibit. I studied English literature at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Oxford. I now live, work, and write in Southern California.
Alien Abduction is one of many poems I wrote about my dad’s dementia. It’s part of my soon to be published third chapbook called Breaking Newton’s Laws . Before he was diagnosed, my dad started doing some strange things that we didn’t understand. Once in a restaurant, he spread blue cheese dressing on his bread instead of butter. My dad spent his entire life working at a bank, the last dozen years as a corporate VP. So when he started acting strangely, the family were concerned.
Some of the first poems I wrote about his dementia were about him making up words. It seemed to me that alien abduction was the perfect metaphor for what was happening to him. I ended up randomly writing a bunch of poems using the alien metaphor. Then I expanded into the universe. I used the galaxy, constellations, and anything celestial, to get the idea across that he was gone, even though he was here.
I live on the outskirts of New York City with my family (three kids and husband). My formal background is in (academic) philosophy. Bodies and souls are kept together somewhat these days by an administrative job in financial services.
Aside from the difficulty of finding any time at all to read and write (not to mention eat, sleep, exercise, or shower), a constant torment for me is choosing between reading and writing. And by reading, I usually mean thick philosophical tomes. Since leaving graduate school at the end of the last century, I’ve continued my tome-reading bit by bit, working toward my own understanding of the “problems”, like piecing together puzzle pieces, and searching out the lost ones. The effect of this Sisyphean neurosis is to endlessly procrastinate any sort of writing. Since that will just not do, I’ve lately started taking breaks from reading (prompted by feelings of being “fed up” now and then) to run little interpretive circles around the theoretical problems, as we’ve inherited them, and at whatever handle on them I’ve managed to acquire, and my personal every-day observations and memories. The results are stabs at “creative-non-fiction-slash-fiction”.
Two pieces of advice, both heard in grad school, made perhaps the biggest impressions on me in relation to this story and as a writer in general. One was to toughen up. Rejection is a part of writing, for most writers a very large part. If you’re able to keep writing, keep revising, eventually you’ll succeed. Thank you for that, Karen Joy Fowler. The second thing, courtesy of Kate Braverman, is more craft-focused. When you come to the end of a sentence, use a comma instead of a period. Then keep writing on the same subject. When you think you’re done with that, use another comma and keep going on the same subject, and on and on. In the end you won’t use everything you write, but you may find that the best way to express yourself comes after the sixth or seventh comma as opposed to what you started with.
Although I’ve seen my share of rejection, I’ve also published 13 short stories in literary magazines, one of which, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, was included in the 2015 Write Well Award Anthology. Another, The Shortest Day of the Year, was nominated for (although didn’t win) a 2016 Pushcart Prize . I’ve also published a novel, Bear Season, via the independent Broken Bird Press (run by the editors of The Conium Review ). Bear Season is selling on Amazon and has been optioned for a motion picture.
I’m up early every day trying to get the writing done before anything else happens. I like the feeling of getting a jump on the world. It’s a sleepy illusion. But no more so than the contrived notion that an hour begins and ends, that a minute or a second actually exists, that some god labored for seven days. (Did he get up early or work straight through?) I’ve worked graveyard shifts, driven all night on freeways, and faced down plenty of pale skies after partying too long. I know people in China eat supper while I’m at breakfast.
My CV credits: I am recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts Grant, author of a novel The Aerialist (Harcourt 2001). I have published fiction and non-fiction in Alaska Quarterly Review , Arts & Letters, The Chattahoochee Review, The Cimarron Review , The Gettysburg Review , Gulf Coast, Puerto del Sol, Southern Humanities Review , and other publications. My story Leaving Venice, Florida won 1st Prize in The Mississippi Review short story contest, and was anthologized in New Stories of the South: The Year’s Best 1999. My essay Sometimes a Romantic Notion , was published in The Best American Essays 2013.