D.B. Cooper Dumps the Money
Michael Loyd Gray
It was before first light when I filled a gym bag with the money and drove east, all the way to
Biloxi, Mississippi. That seemed far enough away from New Orleans without spending the night
somewhere I didn’t know.
I rented a boat and pretended to be a tourist fisherman down for a day’s lark of fishing. At a
sporting goods store along the way to Biloxi, I bought the heaviest bowling ball they had and put it
into the bag. I piloted the boat far out into the Gulf, past Cat and Horn islands, out to where I felt I
would not be observed, and where the water was surely deep enough.
I’d also bought lighter fuel at the sporting goods store and once I was out in the Gulf away from
prying eyes, I doused the money and burned it thoroughly before tossing the bag overboard. It made
a satisfying splash and sank right away– I’d rolled a strike!
I was far out into the Gulf. Perhaps thirty miles or so. Surely nobody could ever stumble across
the bag, but if they did, perhaps in a fishing net, they’d find only a bowling ball and think it some
silly college prank to toss a bowling ball into the ocean. Fraternity boys having their fun.
Then I became a real fisherman for the day and caught several groupers before the trip back to
port. I enjoyed the fishing, the brief time on the water alone, but not lonely, and temporarily free
from the throngs of people along Frenchman Street, where I lived. I’d even taken a nice lunch of
barbecue sandwiches and fries from a dockside joint that smelled good, and a few beers in a small
Back in port, I made sure the boat’s owner saw my catch. He accepted the fish as a tip and
bought me a beer at a waterfront dive. I felt the thrill of being on the run and not living a
conventional life. Maybe what I really needed was a boat of my own for escaping when necessary.
All the way back to New Orleans, I somehow felt like a new man. Not a better man, but a
different one. Maybe it was even time for a new alias, to transition from Walter Switzer to someone
new, and even farther away from that mythical creature, D. B Cooper.
The money was now no longer money, which is a hoax anyway. Contrived value that exists only
because people agree that it does. It had never been more than merely paper to me. Because of the
serial numbers the FBI would always be watching for, it couldn’t be spent or given away or even put
in a bank. It was no more than fancy wallpaper. Wallpaper, of course, that no one could ever see.
Like a stolen painting by a famous artist. It could hang for only the thief. Exist for only the thief.
And I had now washed my hands of it. Jettisoning the money had severed the cord to my
deed—my crime. The crime was not erased, of course. But absent the money, the crime existed now
only in my mind. It also existed in the minds of a curious public, in the minds of those clever boys at
the FBI, but that was an issue for their minds, and I only had to be concerned with what was in mine.
Michael Loyd Gray is the author of six published novels. The Armageddon Two-Step, winner of a Book Excellence Award, was released in December 2019. Well Deserved won the 2008 Sol Books Prose Series Prize and Not Famous Anymore garnered a support grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation in 2009. Exile on Kalamazoo Street was released in 2013 and I have co-authored the stage version. He is the winner of the 2005 Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize and 2005 The Writers Place Award for Fiction. He was full-time lead faculty for creative writing and American/British literature at Aiken Technical College in South Carolina. His stories have appeared in Alligator Juniper, Arkansas Review, I-70 Review, Flashpoint!, Black River Syllabary, Verdad, Palooka, Hektoen International, Potomac Review, Home Planet News, Evening Street Press & Review, and Johnny America. He earned a M.F.A. in English in 1996 from Western Michigan University, where he studied with MacArthur Fellow Stuart Dybek, Writer in Residence at Northwestern University, and novelist John Smolens, former head of the MFA program at Northern Michigan University. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, where he studied with Flannery O’Connor Award winner Daniel Curley. For ten years, he was a staff writer for newspapers in Arizona and Illinois.
A Letter I’ve Been Writing to a Daughter I Don’t Have
Savannah Steele Butler
My little girl,
Sometimes I think about what your name may be. I have a list of ideas. The list was longer before I married Braden. I took a few of them off when I realized I cared enough about him to take his opinions into consideration. Stevie was at the top of my list for a long time. My dad’s first name is Steven, though he goes by Wade. My little brother’s first name is also Steven, but you’ll probably only know him as Brady. It’s also my grandpa’s name, and he actually uses it. I thought it would be fun to pass the name along, but this time a girl could wear it. It’s also a little bit Fleetwood Mac influenced, but I thought the familial legacy would be a fun backstory. But Braden doesn’t like it as much as I do. He does like Wren and Nell, both of which I love.
I’m pulling for Nell. It was my great-grandmother’s middle name. We would use her first name, but Marjorie is a little too close to margarine, and we decided we can’t put a child through that. Some of my favorite memories as a child were planting poppies in her garden and laughing when she told me the snapdragons would bite my fingers. She also always had a jar full of Oreos on her kitchen counter. We were allowed to take two as soon as we were old enough to reach the jar on our own. So to live up to the name you’ll have to like Oreos. I don’t make the rules. And even though I’ve agreed not to name you Stevie, I’ll keep the name reserved for you. Feel free to use it down the road if you want to.
But Nell isn’t set in stone. I think I’ll need to see you before I can name you. I can brainstorm as much as I want, but until you’re here I don’t think I’ll really know. I hope you’re okay with not having a middle name. Sorry if you’re not. Steele became my middle name, just like Allen became my mother’s and Butler could become yours if you want it. I know Butler isn’t quite as striking as Steele. For a long time I wanted to use Steele as your middle name, until I married into the last name Butler. “______ Steele Butler” sounds like the name that C3P0 must have had in George Lucas’s first draft. I can’t do that to a child either. But you won’t have a middle name. That is a tradition that I’ve gone back and forth on participating in, but I think I’ve landed on passing it on. Your dad could go either way.
I always liked that having no middle name was something I shared with my mother. I’ve been reminded my whole life of my resemblance to her. I went to high school with many of her high school friends’ children, and their parents accidentally called me Amy all the time. I do think our eyes are the same shape, but our noses are totally different. And aside from our physical similarities, we’re pretty much opposites. I’m saddened by that fact sometimes because I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be like her, and I fall short in pretty much every category. So when considering passing along that no middle name tradition to you I started to second-guess myself. I think daughters often consider themselves a reflection of their mothers. I know I definitely have. Luckily for me I have a wonderful mother. She isn’t perfect, but she is determined and patient and resilient. And though she has never made me feel like it was expected of me, I have always tried to emulate those qualities. So in following her naming tradition I was worried that you would end up trying to emulate my qualities, which in my opinion aren’t quite as glowing as the ones I used to describe her. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that my mom doesn’t think those things about herself. She also focuses more on her negative qualities. And to be honest I don’t know if that was also passed down to her, or if that’s just part of the human condition. But then I decided that not giving you a middle name was a good way to pass something on that was equal parts tradition and opportunity.
Maybe when you grow up, if you choose to get married, you won’t take your spouse’s name. Or maybe you will, but you won’t use Butler as your middle name. Maybe you’ll choose an entirely new middle name for yourself. It’s totally up to you. And I like that. It’s feels like I would be passing on a sense of independence. And though I said my mom and I are opposites personality-wise, a sense of independence is something that we share. I hope you get some of that instinct too.
Wren is not a family name. It’s the name of a bird. And not even a bird I have an affinity for, I actually don’t even know what it looks like. But I like that it’s not tied to anything, or anyone. There would be no pressure to emulate a namesake’s character. No sitting at the kitchen table with your grandma long after dinner is over as she recounts same story about a distant relative with whom you share a name. That has never happened to me, but I’ve seen it happen to a few of my siblings. I already told you about Steven. It was passed down from my grandfather and my father to my brother. Abigail and Lurlene are a great-great-great-grandmother and a grandmother, respectively, and my little sister kept both of their names. Sawyer James is from my mom’s favorite book plus the name of her father, who got to meet Sawyer just a few weeks before he passed away. And though Max and Ruby aren’t family names, they do have meaning behind them that my parents took into consideration upon selection. Max means noble of heart, and Ruby was meant to remind her of her worth. All names with a story.
Though you may only use it when you’re upset with me or trying to get my attention, I do want to tell you about my name. It’s not necessarily unique, I know plenty of other Savannahs. My parents didn't name me after a great aunt or a brave-hearted warrior. And while my siblings’ names all have something behind them, the only definition I could find for savanna was “a dry, grassy plane”. And it’s not even spelled the same way. Growing up, it bothered me that my siblings all had a name that came from somewhere or meant something. Mine felt random until I watched a movie called Savannah Smiles. It’s about a little girl who runs away from home and sneaks into the back of a car belonging to two gas station burglars. And even though she’s only five or six, the Savannah in that movie became a sort of role model for me, and I used to tell people that’s where my name came from.
I recently asked my mom where she actually got my name. I’m not sure why I hadn’t asked before. Turns out, it’s not from the movie. It’s from a book, like your uncle Sawyer’s name. In the book, a girl named Savannah shares a close bond with her grandfather. My mom was always especially close with her dad. You never met him, but they used to talk all the time. He was an avid runner. When she was four years old she started going running with him, and it was something they did together for years. After she graduated college, from the time I was born until I was about six, she worked for him. He ran an accounting business, and while my mom worked at her desk I would wander back to his office and eat hard caramel candies out of a bowl on his desk and he would pay me ten dollars to put one stamp on an envelope, as long as I kept the corners lined up straight.
She named me after that Savannah because she wanted me and her dad to have a relationship like the characters in that book. I didn’t know that until now, but the funny part is that we did. He was fascinated by space. I think in another life he would have been an astronaut. Every afternoon when my mom would pick me up from school and bring me to the office, he had NASA’s picture of the day printed off and ready for me to hole-punch and put in a binder that he kept in his desk for me. After we moved and my mom had to quit that job, I took the binder. In sixth grade, I made a paper-mache box out of a few of those binder pages in an art class. I gave it to him for Christmas. When I was 19 and he had dementia and we were moving he and my grandmother into a new apartment I found that box in the drawer of his desk where I’m pretty sure my binder used to sit. I’ve always loved my name, but I love it even more now. I think that’s why I’m so worried about what yours will be. It might be a family name. Or maybe I’ll read a book I love and name you after my favorite character. Or maybe I’ll pick Wren and hope that having no source material will help you write a completely new narrative. But whatever it ends up being I hope that you find meaning in your name, that it’s something you’re proud of.
I am excited to pick. Getting to pick a name marks the existence of a new person. A person being brought into the world who is not me. Someone with new potential and fresh set of talents and opinions and ideas to bring along with them. I hope that for the most part, you’re not like me. I tend to be a little headstrong. I might not be the patient and gentle mom that you see at a friend’s house. And I hope you recognize that she probably isn’t the patient and gentle mom all the time, and that you wouldn’t have to be either. I won’t ever be the best example of any kind of advice or guidance that I give to you. And since it’s my job to raise you and care for you and show you how to grow up to be determined and patient and honest and kind and resilient, that scares me. So, I apologize in advance. But I hope that even when I slip up, the thought of you looking to me will be enough for me to get my act together. But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Can’t wait to love you,
Or Mom, I guess
Savannah Steele Butler
A S D F J K L ;
She was told how to place her fingers on the keyboard in business class when she was fifteen years old.
After university, she’d used a keyboard every day for thirty-four years. She worked behind beige fabric walls with stale air mixed with dust, except at lunchtime when pasta, onion, and tuna descended in some potluck olfactory overload. Later, she could block out some of the smell when she closed her office door. The corner room had a view of the river where runners, bikers, or walkers traveled along the nearby path. Not that Jetta saw them. Her blinds were always closed.
Jetta leaned back in her chair, stared at the blinking cursor, and raised her ceramic cup to her lips. It was a green dinosaur mug that Brandon bought for her on her fifty-seventh birthday, before he moved to Budapest. “It was cheap to live there,” he’d said.
Thirty-four years. Or three decades plus four years, Jetta tapped on her keyboard—and for what now?
Cursor winked at her.
Ask Cursor anything: Where to find a job? Where to rent an apartment? How much snow does Verona get in December? How much is a pedicure at Simon’s Salon?
Somewhere, she blinked at the light around her. She remembered this place: It was Vik—Vik from Iceland with black sand, wind, and rocks that jutted out of the ocean as if Odin himself had thrown them there after a fight with Thor. Jetta had worn her Parka because she’d been warned the weather there was always blustery. It was Jetta’s only protection from the rain that clawed at her skin and the North Atlantic chill that pierced through her coat.
Dots form her Dad’s smile and sandy beaches of coastline in Sicily, and then there are Brandon’s two eyes that blinked at her when he was a toddler before he whipped his sippy cup and screamed, “More juice, Momma!”
“Frieda, do you remember me?”
Just—yes. And don’t use that name. I haven’t used that name in years. But yes, I remember you: You, who made things better, and sometimes worse.
“Keeper of things and helper,” Cursor says. “That’s all I am.” Cursor pauses and watches Jetta. Jetta’s eyes are wide. Deep lines gather along her forehead and at the creases near her mouth. Her lips separate. But Jetta says nothing. “Do you remember Brandon’s first steps?” Cursor asks. Jetta crosses her arms and shakes her head. “Oh, well, that’s too bad. He was laughing and smiling—oh, and he might have drooled a little, too,” he says, pointing at one spot on the image near Brandon’s chin that shines in his chubby-cheeked face.
“Love,” Jetta whispers . . .
Cursor doesn’t say anything—it just flashes its light off and on, off and on, off and on, as if it always has more to say, more to offer, more it wants to share.
Penelope Hawtrey’s publications in literary journals include The Furious Gazelle, the Thieving Magpie, Crack the Spine and Drunk Monkeys. To find out more visit, www.penelopeshawtrey.com.
Michael J. Brien
I sat by the hospital bed watching through the smudged glass as the sparrows darted about, cirrus clouds stretching thousands of feet behind the flock.
The housekeeper poked her head in the room, looked at me and left, pulling the door closed behind her. Seconds later, the door opened slightly. No fingers curling over the jamb this time, no face appearing.
Later, a young nurse walked in. She nodded her head and smiled at me. Mel was pretending sleep. The nurse went over to the bed, smoothed the wrinkled sheet and tucked it in over Mel’s toes. She lifted the clipboard off the bed-stand and saw that Mel hadn’t signed it. She put it down, the tips of her fingers reaching out and settling for a moment on my wrist.
I watched her lips part then glanced at the bed.
She whispered, “She’ll be OK. Give her time.” She closed the door behind her.
I got up and removed the clipboard. Mel opened her eyes. She looked tired. Her brown bangs hung ragged on her forehead. I pointed at the place that required her signature.
“Bobby,” she whispered hoarsely, her tongue wiping her lips clean. Hesitating, she reached for the clipboard with her right arm, the intravenous tube stretched taut.
I put the clipboard down on the bed-table and moved the table top over her belly still swollen with fluid, the continuing blood flow to the uterus, hormones exploding.
She elbowed her pillows and sat up, touching at the empty line where the name of the baby would have gone.
Slowly her pointer finger slid down on the page and drew it closer.
I held out the pen.
She signed where her name needed to go then peered up at me, her face like a swimmer’s pushing through the surface of cold water. The first tear taut against her cheek. She muffled her sobs in my sweater. The scream of her No tickling against my belly.
In the window, a stratus cloud passed in front of the sun, sparrows darting left and right, up and down.
As a boy, I once held fast to a dead sparrow.
I had stopped mowing the side yard, to watch the flock dart in the cloudless blue sky above me, flicking shards of shadow in my eyes. I witnessed the flock’s spirited flight and then one sparrow’s sudden turn and more sudden splat against the kitchen window. Its neck and finger-nailed beak bent back. Its seeming bloated belly sliding slowly down the pane of glass, bumping off the window sill, and falling to the concrete that bordered the house.
I had run to catch it, but couldn’t. I bent down to lift its barely-weighted body, still warm, in the palm of my hand.
Michael J. Brien is a graduate of the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop. He is the author of over 90 published children and adult short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction pieces, and is a recipient of grants from the Iowa, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire State Arts Councils. He is a member of the New Hampshire Writer's Project, and an adjunct member of Southern New Hampshire University.
As I start to gain a sense of consciousness, I open my eyes and immediately grab my phone on my nightstand, which is cluttered with romance novels and crumpled tissues from my late-night cry. Lately, I haven’t been setting an alarm because my body wakes me up at around 9-9:30am, which is great because there is nothing more that I hate in this world than the treacherous iPhone alarm sound. I start to scroll through my notifications to see if anything needs my immediate attention, but all I am left with is monotonous emails from clothing stores and texts from my family group chat. There is a rush of anxiety and guilt that goes through my mind, but I shove those thoughts away and I walk over to the kitchen to get some water.
I absolutely despise coffee and I am not that enthusiastic about tea, so the only beverage that satiates my thirst in the morning is water. As I drink my cup of water, I continuously scroll through my monthly Spotify playlist to see which song fits my designated mood. In the morning, I normally gravitate towards Radiohead, Fiona Apple, or Mitski, despite them being “sad artists” because 95 percent of the time there is no point in trying to better my mood. I open my fridge and get my rose quartz facial roller, so I can reduce the swelling under my eyes and pretend like I am doing something beneficial for myself. Around this time in the morning, I tend to contemplate my horrible life decisions while trying not to scream, which is just lovely. Why did I leave my friend on delivered for three months? Do I have a serious addiction with TikTok? Is there a reason why I push people away? Before I let the remorse invade my mind, I go to my bedroom to pick out an outfit.
Even though I have a deep love for high-fashion and idolizes fashion icons like Bella Hadid and Sienna Miller, my everyday outfits clearly don’t reflect that adoration. My outfits normally consist of a pair of high-waisted baggy jeans, an old crewneck that most definitely has tear stains on the sleeves, a Brandy Melville tank top underneath, and a pair of black Converse high tops. I don’t have the ability to come up with an effortless outfit, but then again college isn’t meant to be a fashion show, unless you consider it to be one, which in that case you do you. I normally put on a tv show or a movie that I’ve seen countless times to distract myself from not having a single destructive thought. My top choices for tv shows are Succession, Killing Eve, and The Big Bang Theory and for movies, my top choices are Bend It Like Beckham, The Big Sick, and The Princess Diaries. Currently, I’m on my 12th Normal People rewatch and it’s still as painful as the first time I watched it last year. As I brush my teeth, I let the noise from the show consume me and I try to immerse myself into the plot. Will I ever find a love like Connell and Marianne? Why can’t they communicate like actual human beings? Should I book a flight to Ireland?
I wash my face with the Youth to the People Superfood Cleanser. Then I use the Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream to moisturize my skin and I put the Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen on top of the moisturizer. Throughout my thirteen years of having acne, I have learned that the simpler your skincare routine is, the better it is for your skin. I’ve tried every single product in the book and the consistent use of harsh chemicals was detrimental for my acne, which is why I’m terrified of branching out and trying new products. The amount of people who tell me to wash my face is astronomical because I truly do keep up with it and I’m not lazy when it comes to skincare. I guess having acne automatically makes me unhygienic, but I’ve gotten used to it over the years because I know that I practice self care and that I’m the only person who is in control of my well-being.
When it comes to makeup, I try to say less is more, but who cares at this point. I absolutely adore a dramatic eye look and the blue eyeshadow that’s in my makeup bag tempts me. I start with putting my NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer on my acne scars and my dark circles. Most days, I don’t even put on concealer because everyone has seen my bare face at this point, but there are times where I want to look like I have good complexion. Then I prime my eyes with the Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion so my eyeshadow doesn’t crease throughout the day. Admittedly, I go through so many phases with makeup it’s absurd, but then again, every single person has their embarrassing moments that they wish had never happened, so I can’t be that penitent. When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with warm tones and red lipstick and when I was in high school, I was into cool tones and glittery eyeshadow. Nowadays, I am in my “Mia Goth in X” era where I only wear light blue eyeshadow and pink tinted lip balm. As I apply a small amount of Stila Suede Shade Liquid Eye Shadow in Something Blue on my eyelids, I feel a sudden rush of confidence, which is incredibly rare for me. My self deprecating mindset doesn’t allow me to feel any sort of assurance, so those short-lived moments of poise are greatly cherished.
I curl my straight eyelashes and I use the LE VOLUME DE CHANEL Mascara. No matter how many different mascaras I try, my lashes never stayed curled, which annoys me but there are more serious issues in life to be concerned about. I use the Glossier Haloscope to highlight the high points of my cheeks. If there is any opportunity to look like a glazed donut, I will happily accept it and load up on the glitter. Then I set my makeup with Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Setting Spray, which I always get in my eyes and I end up cursing profusely due to the burning sensation. Those few seconds where I look in the mirror after I complete my makeup are the worst seconds of my day. Despite the layers of products that I put on my face, I can still see my flawed self so clearly. I’m aware of the fact that I try to put on this façade of affection and benevolence, but sometimes I just want to scream on the top of my lungs and rip every strand of my long black hair. Why do I have to try so hard to become a version of myself that is completely disparate from who I really am? When can I just exist and not worry about my true purpose in life? Is it easier to not look forward to the future or do I hold onto those romanticized aspirations that I have for myself?
As I look at the time and realize that I have three minutes left before I have to drive to campus, I quickly grab my pearl earrings and the silver necklace that I got at the Vatican during spring break. I get my Marc Jacobs Daisy Dream perfume and spray it on my neck and my wrists. As the sweetness of the perfume invades my senses, memories of my trip to Venice and Rome instantly come to my mind and the longing I have for homemade pasta and an Aperol Spritz is immense. In a perfect world, I would move out of Bellingham the second I graduate and go straight to Italy so I can be the sun kissed and graceful woman that I’ve always envisioned myself to be. However, I am aware that that would never become a reality for me because I don’t have a six-figure job and my severe social anxiety restricts me from doing anything remotely invigorating. With only a minute to spare, I get my Dior Lip Glow Oil and smother my lips with the gloss and I hurriedly put on my pair of black Converse high tops without falling over. I check the stove to make sure it’s off and I check to see if all the lights are turned off, which are habits that I’ve adopted due to my anxiety. Finally, I take a couple deep breaths and I exit the front door while suppressing any sense of fear that enters my mind.
Maya Yeo is a twenty-one year old writer from Bothell, Washington. She is a senior at Western Washington University who is majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Film Studies. Her work focuses on femininity, mental illness, loneliness, and self-awareness. "Morning Routine" takes a spin on the infamous Patrick Bateman morning routine scene from the film "American Psycho" and emphasizes feminine rage, cynicism, and the monotonous nature of a routine.