Rebekah Morris

Life Expectancies

We all consist of genes trekking through our provisional carcasses like cars rambling along a freeway. The genes are like coded directions; they are the words written inside us. They are branded into us like a ranch owner brands his cattle. We live with these genes ruling us everyday, but remain blind to their jurisdiction.

Chromosome seven is inverted: you have a lobster claw-hand where a normal hand could have been, and a cleft where your ghost middle finger isn’t. Chromosome eight is rearranged: you have excessive hair on the shoulders, face, and ears. The “Werewolf Disease” has come out to play. The LMNA (Lamin AC) gene mutates, and your body grows at an alarming rate. It is called Progeria. You have about thirteen birthdays ahead of you.

In college I observed a fly lab in the biology floor of the science building, where I had never been before as an English major. The room and floor were both white, the room was smaller than I assumed it would be, and the twenty students crammed in and acted like flies themselves as they roamed from microscope to notebook to sink to cabinet to table. The fly lab’s purpose was to generate mutations through breeding. The students were supposed to find the dominant gene and multiply it. I thought the smell would dissipate after my nose inhaled the sterile formaldehyde, but every time I walked into the room my nose told me to walk back out. Every breath in was a gust of sterilization, or the maggot food necessary for amplifying genes.

Their eyes are white. The students expose the flies to X-ray machines to create this white-eye mutation. Once the students succeeded, the next assignment was to create as many white eyes as possible.

There are more than four hundred breeds of dogs in the world. It’s not enough though. We breed dogs to create mixes that will benefit just as we have evolved the iPhone from three to X. Do you want a non-shedding labrador? Maybe you want a smaller version of a Saint Bernard? Or the loyalty of a German shepherd mixed with the cuteness of a golden retriever?

We craft fashionable dogs, but at a cost. Dogs that are susceptible to eye problems are bred with dogs that are inclined to have hip dysplasia. The puppies are prone to have both. Bigger dogs are bred to be even bigger, and they lose years off their life expectancy. Golden retrievers on average live twelve years, same as the poodle. But goldendoodles live ten years.

Hybrid animals are the result of interbreeding between two animals of a different unit or taxa. Ligers are built from tigers and lions. Zorses are generated from horses and zebras. Zeedonks are fabricated from zebras and donkeys. While these animals captivate, and are even more exotic than the normal tigers, lions, and zebras, most of them don’t survive past adolescence. In the rare case that they do transcend puberty and reach adulthood, they often can’t produce their own babies.

You find out you are a carrier for cystic fibrosis, and so is your spouse. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease where thick mucus forms and affects the lungs and digestive system. There is no cure, and while many learn to live with it, the average life span is shorter than a normal human.

A dream of yours is to have a child. A cute, bundled-up, fat baby boy wearing blue to match his blue eyes, perhaps. But you and your spouse are both carriers of a hereditary disease. Are you willing to pass that gene along?

Science is used for discovery, to find developments that will benefit us. We experiment to find for x, whatever x may be. We found out bats use echolocation to navigate after cutting their eyeballs out and deafening their ears. An arthritis drug was safe for monkeys but harmful for humans. Mice, rats, bird, and reptiles are exempted from the minimal protection law under the animal welfare act. They go uncounted.

On the last day of my fly lab observation I glanced across the room and saw a lone surviving fly make its way toward the window, trying to escape to freedom. Someone walked in front of me, the fly was out of sight, and my eyes strained but I couldn’t find the buzzing black dot.

A fruit fly in the wild lives forty to fifty days. In that white room, the flies faced death on day sixteen. 


Rebekah Morris lives in the midwest. She is currently pursuing her MFA in nonfiction at Goucher College, and works for a propane company to feed her cats and sustain her library. Her work has been featured in Make MN.




Levis Keltner

Kill Yr Idols

“What will your parents say?”

I’m eighteen, writing in a notebook about hackers in a queer love triangle overthrowing an oppressive oligarchy. The story is fiction.

My best friend strokes my thigh with the backs of his fingers to comfort me or himself. We’re supposed to dorm in the fall. I won’t, and our relationship will splinter.

“I need to write,” I say. It seems simple. My life will be fiction.

 I write stories about white women, unconvincingly. I’m masking myself, someone who’s queer and polyamorous and recently married to someone who’s not. She is careful never to ask how much a story is about me.

The closest I come is about a boy fascinated by a rock star in drag. The boy buys a wig off the internet. It’s slick and black, very Pulp Fiction. For a week, he takes the wig out of the box for a laugh. He then wears it while Dad is passed out and Mom works nights. He looks homely and lumpy headed in the bathroom mirror. At one point, he paces for twenty minutes outside a FOREVER 21, debating to buy a black dress in the window and lie that it’s for a girlfriend.

A girl enrolls at school with a face out of a dream. Months later, she doesn’t know he exists, though they have mutual friends. She’s goth-y and bold, sent to the Principal for wearing spiked collars and T-shirts with slogans like KILL YR IDOLS. Rumors say her parents do drugs, another suspension and she’s expelled. The boy mentions her to a buddy at lunch. “Mannish-looking weirdo, eh?” the kid says.

Before winter break, the boy decides to hang himself. Or to slip a note into her locker. He can’t remember what he wrote except: You’re just so real and I’m not. Folded on his chemistry book the next morning is a reply: Midnight at the lake.

That evening, hunting beer money, Dad discovers the wig. The man rages in tears. Is his boy a sissy? He slaps his son for an answer. The boy runs without a jacket. He wanders town, a ghost. He’ll freeze. He goes to the lake.

The girl isn’t at the benches. She’s a shadow on the ice. More afraid of never knowing, he steps out to meet her. The wind blows across the lake. He can’t feel his body, his burning face. There’s a long whistle of a passing train before he hears her speak.

I don’t have the guts to share the story but can’t delete it.

I’m 178, up from 125 from weightlifting. I cut my hair short. I shop at Banana Republic. I learn how to shave with a straight razor, how to make craft cocktails, how to respond assertively, how to talk about Infinite Jest without reading it, how to talk dirty.

I take fiction workshop at the community college and write stories about boys becoming monsters:

We’re kids, picking teams. A boy teases, and little brother cries. I run for help. Dad sticks a whiffle bat in my hands. “Never let anyone talk about your brother like that.” I wave my yellow warning on the playground. The bully cries, and little brother is smiling. I’ve helped.

My marriage fails. I regularly consider diving off a parking garage.

Like it happened to someone else, I hear myself saying to a close friend, “I’m not attracted to men anymore. Like at all.”

I workshop my stories. I collapse into me-ness. Repeat.

I meet a working-class Latinx swinger couple at a bar. The conversation is jerky. We go back to my apartment. I don’t have beer or wine but can fix old fashioneds.

“Your place is very clean,” the wife observes. “Such big books.”

“Are you sure you’re not gay?” the husband asks a second time.

Is he fearful or hoping?

“I’m very into women,” I say.

None of us are relieved.

The page is a mirror. There is a kid on the ice. There is the bully and the boy with the bat.

A snake chews its tail, vomits words sometimes.

My essay on Gabriel Conroy as cultural colonizer is rejected again. The editor comments: Your application of identity politics is a reach.

Crying makes following my first YouTube makeup tutorial pretty difficult.

My parents visit, and I mention applying to universities, as if this time writing will save me. They’re proud, relieved. I’m the son they wanted.

We’re out to breakfast on the eastside, and Dad pushes away his plate. He grimaces at a gay couple across the restaurant.

“I can’t eat and watch two men kissing,” he says.

Never let anyone talk about your brother like that.

“I’ve kissed a man like that,” I say. My words knock the wind out of him.


Levis Keltner is the editor-in-chief at Newfound and author of the novel Into That Good Night. His work has appeared in Entropy Magazine and Bull: Men’s Fiction. From Chicago, he lives in St. Louis. Find him on Instagram @leviskeltner.




Phyllis Brotherton

Methods of Accounting

There’s something comforting about inventory,
futile as it may be, the act of assessment,
itself, a form of care.

⁠—Danusha Lameris, from The God of Numbers


My mother, who worked as a bookkeeper in a men’s clothing store during my teenage years, once knocked on the door of a ramshackle house. She needed to collect payment or repossess a suit coat purchased on credit for a son’s graduation the next night. The woman who answered the door said she had no money for the payment and retrieved the coat from a back closet, handing it over still wrapped in black plastic, stamped with the store’s logo in gold. After a long pause, mother handed the coat back to the woman and said, “I’ll come back on Monday.” This story became a lesson for me in heart and numbers.

Later in college I’d learn the Accrual method of accounting, which differs from the more common and simplistic Cash method, in that one must account for not only what’s paid or collected, but also incurred and earned, owed and due. 

In this way, we look forward and back, assessing all that has been and what we know will be and write it down, account for it in the ledgers that span the years, kept in ink by the hands of my mother, and by me now with the ease of pushing a button on a computer keyboard. I can see my mother turning the thick light green pages of vertical columns and horizontal lines, carefully inking dates, descriptions, debits and credits, flipping back and forth through the ledger book, adding and subtracting, until she had reached the desired accounting state of balance.

Lesson from a high school Bookkeeping class:  What you Own – What you Owe = What you’re Worth


At fifteen, that same woman’s teenaged daughter went to work in Oklahoma City, the only seemingly viable alternative to the shunning by schoolmates after the Moore High School quarterback raped her. In her job at the Park Terrace Theater in the city many referred to as Big Town, she quickly moved from concessionaire at $.75/hour to cashier at $1.25/hour, removing the candy striper uniform in favor of street clothes she bought and paid for herself, several pieces of which one year came in the same blinding, popular shade of lime. As cashier, she became adept at rolling coins (the secret to which is first creating 5 to 10 short individual stacks for each coin type, then carefully picking up and sliding each stack down the paper tubes to a waiting inserted finger at the bottom), and binding paper money of various denominations with the Presidents’ heads all facing the same direction. She found a surprising inherited comfort and order in balancing the till. Balancing the concession stand cash drawer was complicated. Every cup, candy bar and box of frozen hot dogs had to be counted before opening (beginning inventory) and after closing (ending inventory), or at each shift change, to determine the number of each item presumably sold. Each inventory item count was then multiplied by the sale price to derive the total amount that should remain after deducting the starting till amount of say, $25.00. Any shortages had to be made up by the concession staff working that particular shift. This practice had a very strong affect in focusing the mind on charging the right amounts; adding, subtracting and multiplying accurately in your head, counting back the correct change. There were no cash registers or calculators; the only adding machine at the cashier’s desk in the manager’s office. Errors were rare. 

After the last showing of first run hits like The Sound of Music and Cool Hand Luke, the soundtracks to which she had memorized every word, she drove downtown to drop off the night deposit. At midnight, accompanied by an usher in a red uniform with gold epaulets, and holding a bank bag containing upwards of $25,000 in cash, she would pull up to the curb in front of the First National Bank, jump out, cross the sidewalk of the empty, dark street, pull open the heavy silver-gray night deposit drawer and drop the fat bag in. This ritual errand, never a quiet or clandestine one, involved much laughter, open car windows, blaring music, and frequent loud singing. Nothing bad ever happened; nothing ever went wrong.

She had a crush on her boss, Lindy, the Syrian theater manager, and in her eyes a god. She did everything for him she possibly could, including offering to clean his bachelor apartment for extra money, remembering even today his lone, curly, black pubic hair on the toilet seat, which intrigued and repulsed her at the same time. As a surprise gesture of first love, she baked a pineapple upside down cake in his unused oven, leaving it for him, fragrant and warm on his kitchen counter. Lindy eased her out of her crush by thanking her, saying that he considered her feelings for him an extreme compliment; a lesson she remembered and used later in life.

She then switched the object of her affection to another older man who frequented the theatre. One night when buying a theater ticket, he laughed and said, “Call me Pork Chop.” Pork Chop, who turned out to be Conway Twitty’s drummer, was chubby and kind, teaching her arousal to the brink of something she did not yet know. In reflecting later, she realized he always generously encouraged her to leave his apartment in time to meet her parent’s curfew, taking home with her no other burden of conscience than trembling legs. Thus began her career in Accounting. 

Beginning Inventory + Purchases – Ending Inventory = Cost of Goods Sold


She dreams of the kill floor. Remembers it as it actually was, bloody behind her eyelids, blood draining into a grate under a bovine body hanging by its hooves. It has ceased to have a hide by now, wooden plug bullet to the head. After 700 hundred head killed that day, a rubber-booted man hoses everything down.

Not just a slaughterhouse, but a feedlot of 15,000 fattening cattle, and a 6,000 acre farm of row crops in various stages of harvest and replanting. I arrive for the first time in the San Joaquin Valley with my son and his father, stateside again after three years in Iran, and stunned from my father’s sudden death in Oklahoma.  We drive up Highway 99 from Los Angeles, observing the deep expanse of fields, orchards, groves and vineyards. Hired as the Assistant Controller, the meat packing plant and farming operation is my first job in California.

On her first tour of the ranches, the owner and vice-president, from the front seat of a Town Car, point out row crops of tomatoes and cotton, especially admiring the tall stand of safflower. The owner says, “The wetbacks get in there and hide.” She has never heard this term and pictures wild boar running from hunters. “Are they dangerous?” she asks. Through uproarious guffaws, they explain they mean the illegal Mexicans running from the INS. She never lives it down, but never forgets, a seed planted to fight back.

Here I expand my knowledge in counting and measuring: heads per day slaughtered, aerial photo counts of feedlot cattle, half-carcasses sliding on hooks through a freezer in the 4 a.m. dawn, tons of manure estimated through measurement and mathematical equations. Learning new methods of taking inventory leads me to calculate yield. An employee is found guilty of embezzlement for, on instruction from his supervisor, switching out cheap cuts for prime steaks. Devising a method to determine restitution, I calculate the expected yield for certain cuts of beef, compare those numbers with actual yields, price out the difference, estimating the actual value of Cost of Goods Sold. The supervisor is never charged with a crime. The underling, who simply took orders from his boss, will spend the rest of his life paying back the multi-millionaire owner.

Federal Inspectors stand by to resume grading. She counts, balances, reconciles. She discovers an obscure tax law by which revenue from the sale of hides can be deemed exempt. During the noon hour, she will drink two martinis with the foreman, her lover, then return to tallying the accumulation of fortune. Sometimes in a hotel bed they discuss efficiencies, how to improve yield, and decrease the cost per pound to reach kill weight.

At the corner of Fruit and Church, I am promoted to Chief Controller. I abandon any sense of self control, launching forward with another kind of abandon: a simple disposition of others’ feelings, primarily my son’s and his father’s, seeking new acquisitions and mergers, ignoring entire human ledgers, focusing only on balancing my own, convincing myself there is someone, or something else out there better; a “Cost of Goods Sold” equation out of whack.   

The cattle cease knowing in an instant, will never know a thing. Strip the hide, move the carcass along to butchery, separating, trimming, sawed down the middle, sliding it along to the next frozen chamber.

Revenue – Expense = Surplus or (Deficit), Profit or (Loss)


Over-expansion, ill-advised investments, market forces, or any number of single factors or a combination thereof, can lead to deficits or losses sufficient to call into question an entity’s “going concern” status, sometimes leading to voluntary or forced liquidation, applying equally to business or relationships. In 1992, after two divorces from men and a failed relationship with a woman, I find myself facing major liquidation. Experienced with involuntary bankruptcy (both emotionally and in the courts), not at my own hands, but imposed by the actions of a second husband, I face the biggest professional challenge of my life to date: winding down a 75-year old olive processing plant and farming cooperative. The parallels between a company’s poor management decisions over many years and some of my own heretofore poor, personal decisions fly right past me then.

Four hundred and fifty employees, warehouses of inventory and equipment, and various properties throughout California are eventually reduced to one banker’s box in my bedroom closet. All along the way I strove to protect what remained, what I had come to think of as a carcass, from those who wanted a piece of what fleshy assets remained; creditors to whom amounts, either real or imagined, accurate or inaccurate, understated or grossly inflated, are owed. Then began the adjudication process, fighting it out through the courts, the sorting of the wheat from the chaff and in the end, negotiation and settlement. 

Eventually, everything had been accounted for: anything not nailed down (and some that was) sold, raw ingredients turned into finished product, real estate offloaded, environmental contamination dealt with in a 70-year clean-up plan that will outlive everyone. 

Eventually, you come to terms with liquidation, though some actions can never be explained or recanted, and some will never be made whole. One bright spot: preserving an employee pension plan from creditors, which many assume can never be touched, but the creditors try. Needless to say, among the battles and destruction are many professionally satisfying and rewarding moments, not unlike life. In the end, you write a final check to a local charity, in too de minimis an amount to be parsed further, destroy corporate seals, and begin again.  

Assets – (Liabilities + Net Worth) = -0-


…cannot be counted, but instead must be assigned a value by means of a generally accepted accounting method or sometimes requiring mere estimation. Human resources can be counted in numbers of people, or measured in “full time equivalents,” calculated based on a forty-hour work week as a baseline, resulting in fractions of a person, such as in 1.5 FTE’s. The value of an intangible is greatly diminished in a distress situation, such as a forced sale, absent a willing buyer and willing seller. Collateral may become worthless. Collateral damage can result. 

For example, what is the value of a man who, in order to earn more for his family, picks olives with a prohibited, but less heavy metal ladder, in a tree left too tall, because topping trees is expensive and decreases yield; is electrocuted when the ladder swings too near a power line?

And, when there is only one warehouse job left, what is the value of older Union Employee No. 1, with the most seniority, who in a layoff loses his job to Union Employee, say No. 43, in a work performance test requiring extreme stamina that pits the two against each other? 

What is the value of a company President made richer by a pension settlement, when equated to hundreds of retired employees who lose their promised lifetime health insurance?

What is the value of a relationship with a son basically lost, due in no small part to your own actions or inactions, to judgments, misunderstanding, and the essential difficulty in letting go of the past and moving on?

What can be gained or lost, lessons learned or ignored, through experience and the passage of time—both intangibles?

Phyllis Brotherton, long-time financial executive, workout and crisis-management specialist, received her MFA in Creative Writing from Fresno State University. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Shark Reef, Pithead Chapel, Under the Gum Tree, Entropy, and Brevity. Her essay “Ashes and File Cabinets” was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards by Jet Fuel Review. She is currently marketing her book manuscript of personal essays, tentatively titled, Creating Artifacts for publication.