CCA Writing book 2013
The MFA Program in Writing's Writing Book is an annual publication featuring selections from student theses. These pieces, chosen by the authors, highlight the diversity in voice and aesthetics of our graduates. It also functions as a unique tome added to the collective work of our MFA in Writing community.
WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 T H E S I S S E L E C T I O N S F R O M T H E M FA P R O G R A M I N W R I T I N G G R A D UAT E S FOREWORD 7 KRISTIN ADOCHIO 8 RYAN BURESH 20 SARAH BUSHMAN 38 KATE CHIANESE 54 ARIEL COHEN 64 AUTUMN DARBROW 76 ERIN GINDER-SHAW 96 AMAL HASSAN 104 MAGGIE HEAPS 112 SAMINA CHAUDHRY HITCH 124 BILL HUGHES 130 VERNON KEEVE III 136 JIM KETTNER 144 MELISSA LOUISE KUHN 152 SUSAN L. LIN 172 JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 186 LIZ MAYORGA 204 JIM NORRENA 214 JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 228 ANNE LESLEY SELCER 246 JILL TYDOR 272 CHLOÉ VEYLIT 282 JENN VIRŠKUS 292 Foreword Writing Book 2013 contains only a sliver of the excellent work our graduating students have created during their two years with us. While the words may appear polished and sharp, we also recognize and acknowledge that they are a culmination of many hours of writing, unwriting, revising, reading, collaborating, lost hours of sleep, and midnight epiphanies. Their emerging voices bode well for the future of contemporary art and literature. They are diverse, engaging, provocative and united by their excellence and ingenuity. We are immensely proud of them Special thanks to our program manager David Morini, and to our extraordinary writing faculty: Juvenal Acosta, Faith Adiele, Opal Palmer Adisa, Steve Ajay, Anita Amirrezvani, Tom Barbash, Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Dodie Bellamy, Rebekah Bloyd, Claire Chafee, Donna De la PerriĂŠre, Cheryl Dunye, Gloria Frym, Caroline Goodwin, Matthew Iribarne, Kevin Killian, John Laskey, Joseph Lease, Anne Marino, Emily McVarish, Denise Newman, Eric Olson, Aimee Phan, Shanthi Sekaran, Judith Serin, Matthew Shears, Matt Silady, Cooley Windsor. Special thanks, too, to Al Young and Ishmael Reed, our remarkable visiting faculty. We are privileged to have Jen Burke, of Industry, designing the book this year and our own Anne Marino copyediting. These writers have done extraordinary work throughout the past two years. We thank them all for allowing us the privilege of being part of their artistic journeys. Aimee Phan Chair, MFA Program in Writing, California College of the Arts KRISTIN ADOCHIO Meatball What if I said fuck it , and just did it? He could reject me. He could push me away like the unwanted veggies on his dinner plate, a look of disgust on his El Salvadorian face. He could tell me sorry, I’m just not that into you, as if he had watched an episode or two of Sex and the City. That could count against him but it doesn’t because I like him. A lot. I hate the way I develop a crush. Like it’s an instant milkshake, just add milk to the mix and enjoy. It was like that. My heart basically shot out of my body so fast I thought it would hit him in the face. Ah, the simplicity of attraction. Something inside you shifts and the pheromones start pumping and all of a sudden you’re Cinderella at the ball except the ball is a museum café and the dress is a pair of black slacks and a checkered blue button-up that’s too big for you and little girls who come into the museum keep asking you if you’re a lady. But I see him every week in it. And every week I wait for the day I get to see him. And I know which day because I check his schedule first. I’ve even started planning my outfits based on the 67 seconds I might see him while changing in the locker room after work. I sit in my closet and calculate the amount of times he’s possibly seen me in my light blue denim button-up. Divide it by the number of days since I saw him last and I somehow come up with the 10 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 same outfit he’d seen me in approximately 7.86 times. I started to categorize myself into the things he likes. One day, he saw me in my sheer polka-dot free people top and he told me I looked really nice so I went ahead and stored that in the back of my mind. I kept that outfit mentally entombed in my shrine to his godliness. I mean it though. He took his shirt off in front of me in the locker room three times to date. The first time I stopped buttoning my shirt and just stared at him while he peeled his white Giants t-shirt off and I swear I heard Jeff Buckley’s “Halleluiah” in the background. His skin looked so smooth, like melted caramel swirls in a birthday cupcake. I could taste him on my tongue. I could feel the salvia forming in my mouth and swore that God’s tears themselves ran down in rivulets to create his glorious abdomen. I could see angels buffing his muscles. I thought time had frozen for us but he only had stopped to ask me to turn around so he could take off his pants. I blushed and muttered something about not staring at him and turned around. I made a mental note to rub one out later. He told me once that he liked my hair when it was braided to the side. So I started braiding it to the side whenever I knew I’d see him. But not all the time because you know, that’d be suspicious. It’s gotten real bad. At work I’m not even doing anything anymore. I daydream. I daydream about fainting while we’re working at the register together. And I keep watching images of myself gracefully falling down in slow motion. My arm outstretched, reaching for him, my mouth slowly speaking his name, while he drops the number stand he’s in the middle of handing a customer, so he can turn around and catch me before I hit the ground. I’d fall into his arms like a feather down pillow and he’d carry me Herculean style into the walk-in pantry and refuse to leave my side until I came to. Or I’d fantasize about “randomly” running into him outside of work. Like the time I told him I was going to see my favorite band play at The Independent. I imagine I stood in the center of the almost empty venue because the second opener act is playing and no one except the five friends they brought gives a shit and the only reason I’m standing there is because I came alone and I feel awkward doing anything but pretending to listen. And while I’m standing there, acting all interested and shit, bobbing my head and tapping my feet unnaturally KRISTIN ADOCHIO 11 to the beat, he’ll show up right next to me. Alone because, you know, no one would go with him either. And then we’d spend the time waiting for my favorite band to play that he’d be into too, talking and laughing and worrying about how we look and sound to each other, until we get pushed closer and closer together and more people show up. Then I’m pressed into that nook under his arm that I’m the perfect height for and the band walks on stage and we’re dead center screaming together. So needless to say I get pissed when a customer interrupts my dream to order a mushroom rag-out, like it’s a disease or something. And I bitchily respond with the correct pronunciation as I repeat their order and secretly chastise them for ruining my moment. I look past them to see him bent over, his tight round butt blowing kisses at me as he sweeps under the tables and I completely forget about the lady waving her credit card in my face, so I “forget” to give her utensils as another petty punishment. I spend so much time with him but it’s not real. It’s confined to a space we are obligated to be in. I never see him outside of work, never talk to him unless it’s a weak attempt to grab his attention like the time I “needed” help moving furniture or when I went to see a baseball game and I texted him just to tell him I made it on to the megatron when really I don’t give a shit about baseball and I just went because it was a friend’s birthday and you do what your friends want on their birthdays. It’s this one-way relationship built on my assumptions and fantasies harbored in a world I created for us. But I can’t let go of the fantasy, can’t move on from my crush. I won’t see anything but what I want to see. And sometimes I think that’s okay. Because the fantasy is always better than the reality. But don’t I deserve something real? Don’t we all? I’ve been thinking a lot about what if. What if I just said fuck it and sat on his face? 12 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 a piece of it It s 2012. She’s in the shower after work on a Tuesday and she’s crying. She’s not crying because she’s in the shower. She’s not in the shower because she’s crying. She just doesn’t know what else to do. It’s not like something happened. She didn’t find out she was accidentally pregnant. She didn’t have a hard day at work, no customers were asshole enough to ruin her day. Her homework is done, her mom sent her a hundred bucks in the mail, and the guy she is currently crushed on lunch bombed her on her break so she got to spend 15 delicious minutes having a conversation with him. But here she is, bawling like a baby into her moisturizing bar of Dove soap. She feels the fiberglass splinters of violation in her chest. Right in the center. Grinding. Shifting. She can barely breathe but she won’t take her face out from under the showerhead. The water pressure in her apartment is shit. It trickles out of the spout. Limp streams of water travel down her face, her sternum, between her legs and down her thighs, dropping off at the kneecaps. The water is hot. The steam is heavy and visible all around her. It clings to the lime-spotted faucet and the empty towel racks and the mirror attached to the wooden medicine cabinet. When she opens her mouth steam rolls around and it tastes like Dove. KRISTIN ADOCHIO 13 She rubs the baby pink bar between her hands and feels the suds form through her fingers. The slick scent of moisturizing agents slide up her right arm and over her shoulder heading for the arc of her back. Her fingers glide over the shoulder blade and shudder across a dip in the layer of skin. The first one. Her hand stops. The section of skin beneath it, fractured like a fault line. Without moving her hand she swings her finger back and forth and the swish-swish motion goes unnoticed by her skin. See, when doctors cut you open, in times of duress, they don’t necessarily care about breaking anything on the way in. So when the doctors sliced an opening around her right shoulder blade to tape her collapsed lung back together, they didn’t have time to care. The nerve endings are dead. She can feel the pressure of finger to skin but she can’t feel the sensation. The doctor’s used synthetic materials to patch her lung up but her body didn’t take to them. They recoiled. Refused. Rejected. She was in a coma for a week. She moves her hand from her back over her shoulder again and sweeps the suds across her chest. Her hand snags on a bump in the center. She stops soaping and looks down. She runs her finger along the 7-inch scar and winces when she hits pins two, five, and seven. The second one. There are 12 pins total. They hold her chest cavity together. The doctors broke her sternum when they had to take her heart and lungs out and pump them on a special machine to fix her trachea. Did you know the chest bone isn’t really a bone at all, it’s cartilage? She didn’t know that until the doctors told her six years after the surgery that the pins could come out if she wanted. After so many years the cartilage has welded itself back together. The pins like twist ties, no longer needed. It’s been nine years since the surgeries. Sure, she wants to take them out, flatten out the parts she can, but to re-open the whole thing, re-heal the whole thing, she doesn’t know if it’s worth it. She doesn’t know if she can wait eight months for the deep purple lines to dull. Wait years for those lines to melt until finally they become a shade lighter than the rest of her skin. Decades until they become a part of her again. The process is slow. The progress is minimal. She waits. 14 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 She’s not paying attention. The water pools in her mouth and for a moment she can’t breathe. Her hand is pressed to the center of her chest like she’s doing the pledge of allegiance. The pins stick out beneath her skin. She can feel them. The flesh is stretched so thin by her lean build her ribcage is sometimes visible. The pin that sticks out the most is right in the center of her chest where bone dips to breast, right before the scar stops. It looks like a fingernail pushing through the skin. Feels like a metal staple from the staple gun they use to keep the black and white tablecloths from blowing away at work. The nerve endings running across her chest catch and pinch when she moves. Sometimes they stick so far out her mom starts crying at the kitchen counter and her dad says “everything will be okay” while they ride an hour to the hospital where she had surgery just to find out her chest is naturally shifting and the pin is caught on her scar tissue. There’s a small piece of “normal” skin before the mystery scar, number three. It looks like one of those fizzy bath balls in the middle of dissolving. It looks like someone made an oopsy in the operating room and dropped the scalpel between calculated scrapes. Her hand moves down to her stomach. Number four. This one is four inches. The size of a mini-sharpie. Permanent. It’s her least favorite because it hurt the most to heal. The most uncomfortable place for a deep wound is the stomach. It’s the center of all movement. Laughing, eating, sitting, turning, swallowing, coughing, breathing, walking, shuffling, peeing, sneezing, hugging. Back then, she couldn’t do anything without it hurting. This scar stops a centimeter above her belly button and the bottom part is permanently puffed out because of the way muscle re-builds when it’s broken. The whole scar is like a ripped page from her marble notebook. Jagged and uneven all the way down. Some places wider than others. The texture is cinched together like ruffles. To its immediate left is another scar. Number five. This one shaped like a splintered toothpick. It used to be round and the size of a dime. The purple skin somehow darker from the shape. She had reconstructive surgery on it in 2005. Her uncle, the doctor, couldn’t stand the look on her face when he caught her staring at the wide violet markings mapping out her new anatomy in the mirror KRISTIN ADOCHIO 15 on NYE when she thought no one was watching. She couldn’t accept their apology for saving her life. Her uncle found a doctor willing to set aside four hours and 14 minutes of his time to turn the dime into a thin line, to bring the width of all nine scars in by about half an inch. He said, “give it time, you’re young, they will fade.” At 16 she thought fade meant disappear. She starts crying again. Dove soap evaporating around her. These scars. This memory. She carries it with her. Every. Day. And even when she doesn’t think about it its just there. It will always be there. Resting between her breasts, sitting on her stomach, hanging down her back. Pockmarking her ribcage. There’s no real escape. They separate her from everyone else. She’s not the same. Her body is not the same. She misses the smooth connection of skin. No fault lines to upset the foundation just smooth arcs and curves and joints all bagged together in one package. Now she’s pieces out of place. Her stomach is in a two-inch slot in her throat and wrapped around part of her right lung. The top layer of skin is dead from her right nipple to the tip of the scar in a halfmoon shape around her shoulder blade. Low-cut tops make her uncomfortable. Bathing suits make her feel like human ceviche. She longs for collarbones like a fisherman longs for his shoreline. The smooth and sensual section of skin from clavicle to chest bone. There’s nothing sexier to her and she misses being sexual. She wonders about the way men look at her. She wonders what it would be like for her crush to see her naked. Would he accept these imperfections? Would he understand? Would he eventually love her because of them or despite them? When she looks in the mirror she doesn’t feel sexy anymore. She feels hopeless. And when she stretches her arms above her head and arches her back in the middle of intimacy, for a moment she’s a goddess again. Lost in sensuality. But when she catches a glimpse of herself she recoils. She feels sullied. No longer desirable. But they mark her survival and she has to appreciate that, right? She has to appreciate the two inches of her stomach muscle that fixed her trachea so she could eat, breathe, and speak again. She has to appreciate the limp lung that still pumps oxygen every day, although a little more raggedly than before. She has to. And even when it gets so cold outside she can see her breath in the air 16 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 and she gets a little cough that pinches and twists the scar tissue behind her right nipple until it itches and she’s standing in line at the ATM rubbing her right breast like she’s massaging a hard-on, she has to appreciate, right? But she can’t help think what it would be like if she didn’t have that pinch and twist and burn. What it would be like to be whole again, from the inside out. And she does. For the most part. Appreciate. But sometimes she can’t. Sometimes it’s too hard. It’s too hard to ask her to bypass the mirror and appreciate the piece of scar tissue that doesn’t even peel from a summer burn. Then there are the moments she just lives. The days when she wakes up and loves herself, all of herself because she’s not just pieces out of place, she’s a human being. She’s a living, breathing, talking being that sometimes questions her body, her desirability, her sexuality, her normalcy. She can’t answer these though. Even she doesn’t know how she feels. Or rather, she doesn’t know how she feels right now, after work on a Tuesday, crying in the shower. KRISTIN ADOCHIO 17 Leftovers (Serves 2) INGREDIENTS ( 1 ) g i r l who has had 3 boyfriends in her life (so far) but she has never truly loved a single one. She must have a broken heart, broken by the only person she ever truly loved but who never loved her back. She must have spent years (13 preferably) dreaming, hoping, thinking of only person who ever broke her heart,* wishing he would love her back. She must have consistently tried to reconnect with said soul mate for 11 of 13 years, leaving the last two to simmer, bringing her emotions down from a boil. She must have recently broken up with her third boyfriend (15 months preferably) and been alone, excruciatingly alone and longing for love, a partner, a connection (this makes the broth juicier). She must release the guilt and the pain she harbors from her third boyfriend. She must forgive herself. She must allow herself to be human. She must move to SF when the only person who ever broke her heart moves back to New Jersey. She must have thought about the only person who ever broke her heart when she made her decision, even fantasized about random reconnection on public transportation before she ever set foot on the San Francisco Muni. She must write about relationships. Constantly. Obsessively. She must study her past and contemplate repeatedly how and why and what led her to graduate school 3,000 miles away from everything she has ever known and with an emptier heart than sheâ€™s ever felt. She must find friendship. Companionship. Purpose. She must travel home for Thanksgiving. She must read her journals from 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008 and text the only person who 18 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 ever broke her heart one last time. She must meet the only person who ever broke her heart face to face for the first time in years (2–5 preferably). She must be skeptical. She must be wary. As always, she must still be hopeful. (1) boy who has had as many girlfriends as Hugh Hefner (or at least it seems). He must have grown up breaking the heart of a single girl over and over simultaneously knowingly and unknowingly. He must have fooled around on all his girlfriends in high school with said girl.* He must have told said girl “she is the one” for years (10 preferably). He must have started taking prescription painkillers when he was 17 and he mustn’t stop until he gets out of rehab at 21 (this adds a bold and heavy flavor). He must stop talking to said girl when he gets out. He must not answer said girl calls. He must ignore said girl text messages. He must shut said girl out. He must move to San Francisco and stay in an unhealthy relationship for four years. He must barely miss a knife to the chest from this unhealthy relationship. He must move in with her parents (3 months preferably). He must move in with his parents (1 month preferably). He must break up with this girlfriend (17 months preferably). He must have thought about said girl, every day when he lived, walked, and moved through every inch of the city. He must move back to New Jersey when said girl moves to San Francisco. He must wake up before the sun every day (this balances out the bold and heavy flavor). He must face his demons. He must come to terms with the wrongs of his past. He must face the question he has always ignored. He must understand why he never stopped thinking about said girl whose heart he’s broken over and over. He must be older (25 preferably). He must want an honest connection. Unconditional love. He must be able to forgive himself. He must find the strength to believe in second chances. He must answer text message the next morning. He must find out if she is home. He must want to take her bowling the next night. He (most importantly) must go through with said meeting. COMBINE INGREDIENTS (2) of them must walk together in countless circles in the cold linking arms and holding hands. They must walk until the sidewalks become gravel and gravel becomes pavement and back again and again. They must talk of the time they’ve been apart. They must talk of her thesis and favorite professor. They must compare writing quirks and his bulletin board methods to her single sentence ap- KRISTIN ADOCHIO 19 proach. They must talk of his coffee shop and the new $10,000 espresso machine he lost to Hurricane Sandy. They must talk about his nephew (2 years preferably) he so desperately wants her to meet and she’s so equally frightened to meet. They must talk of atoms and molecules and love and souls and connections and hearts and family. They must feel the exact same way about it all. They must be timid but at ease. They must be honest. They must be holding hands when he tells her he’s felt a connection between them his whole life that he could never understand or let go. They must be standing shoulder to shoulder facing the wind when he asks why they never dated when it seemed to make perfect sense and they seemed to belong together. They must be walking slower when she answers, when she tells him she’s always felt a connection with him, one she thought meant they were soul mates but that he never seemed to reciprocate, that he always had someone else but that maybe she was never honest with him. They must come to a complete stop when he looks her in the eyes and asks her where she wants to go. The wind must whistle. The trees must tip their tops. They must walk in a circle one last time smiling brighter than the moonlight on their backs. I N S T RU C T I O N S Wait *can not be substituted RYAN BURESH The Puma and the Jellyfish N O V E L L A E XC E R P T I waited on Telegr aph for a bus to take me to a rally I was certain would be underrepresented. The traffic light chirped then changed to WALK and I strode over the pedestrian crossing, black, then white, then black, then white. My fingers kept scrolling through my phone contacts, lingering on women: a blonde from Michigan one high school summer, warm beers, and skinny-dipping. Could I still hear the sound of her voice in my ear? Had she moved to Oakland? Had it become that bad for her? Do I just start at A and call my way to Z? Did my guidance counselor finally snap? Would I find Doe like this? What about our almost acquaintance makes her worth my time? I walked along the sidewalk to the bus shelter and took a look at the monitor that told when the next bus would come through. The sign said three minutes until a 1-Telegraph passed through. A man with a salt-and-pepper beard walked past with a backpack, a trash bag full of aluminum cans, and a frantic look. He stared up at the monitor, saliva collecting at the corners of his mouth. A blonde and a brunette in heels, whose asses sway back and forth beneath trench coats, talked about the men they work for. A college kid in a University of California sweatshirt tapped his foot to music near a cosmetic advertisement. It was noon and the nannies and food truck operators swelled the bus stop, their faces muted. Their eyes prayed with anger that the bus would keep the same schedule that they did. I watched as a pair of shaven legs appeared from a hedge of rosemary and turned to face the monitor. 22 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 The bend where a slim calf met the knee and expanded to make a thigh. One minute until the 1-Telegraph got here. A bus pulled into the stop across the street and exhaled as it lowered itself to the curb. A haggard man wearing a black and white striped shirt with a cane shuffled past and asked me when the next bus is. “Where is it going?” I told him downtown Oakland. “Don’t suppose it matters anyhow, the first one in the boat has the choice of oars,” he said. I turned back to the legs and considered her buttocks hiding underneath her black skirt. There was Allison in fifth grade and the kiss behind Graffiti Point. There was Jane from the Avenue last Thursday. Nothing happened, but her voice had a gravelly tone. It seemed that any irregularities of voice were probably since they tended to imbed themselves in memory and that penetration was the only thing I had to work with. Since it was most likely that Doe saw me in the store last night, it was also likely that she targeted me specifically. It just didn’t make any other sense. It had to be someone I went the distance with. Someone I was crushed on. A carnal connection. But then again I could feel an uneasy prodding of my motives. Why did Lancelot save Guinevere? Was the trade always so clear? Can you break down a house of bricks with bricks? How sexual was my morality? Did Romeo do the only thing he could? I decided, no matter what happened today, to pick up some meat from the Safeway on my way home. I pulled the Seafood Watch out of my pocket with that ominous goldfish on the front. Was Doe a fish lover? A nautical enthusiast? She had left this for me, but for what purpose? What did this cheeky smile and glasses drawn on the front indicate? Did Doe have glasses? If she planned to throw herself off the Shattuck Overpass, would she have been a woman who smiled a lot? I put the pamphlet back into my pocket. I noticed the profile attached to the legs I had seen earlier. Her jaw curved from the floor like the base of a G to meet her thin lips that were tucked in her upper teeth as she chewed at them. Her stature stiff. Her nose roman. She tapped one foot nervously and puckered her lips before returning them to her bite like someone both nervous and aware of being viewed as nervous. When she turned to check the arrival time of the next bus I caught in her brown hair the piano riff of a nostalgic pop tune. I had seen her face before, twisted into this anxious, fretted pinch. I could hear a song playing through the RYAN BURESH 23 speakers of my pick-up called “How to Save a Life.” I could see a wet corsage staining the dashboard. I remember looking over to her—what was her name again?—and feeling sorry. Her name was Jane. It was incredible how that simmered to the surface. One moment I was there at the bus stop and the other I was ten years younger, driving a girl home. It was like getting shot through a telescope. I could see the outline of the cassette through my pants pocket as I took a few steps in her direction. “Jane? Jane Jackson? Is that you?” She widened her eyes and forced them into the sidewalk. Maybe I was being an ass, but I was beginning to feel all my memories connecting. “It’s me. Ida B. Wells? Chemistry with Ms. Cornice” “Oh. Hey. How are you?” She played with the earring on her left ear. “I am great. Doing great. Things are great. Do you live around here?” She swiveled her toe around on the sidewalk and let her bangs fall in front of her eyes. “I do. I moved over here actually, well, I’ve been in Oakland since we graduated.” The bus arrived first as a ghost of wind and swirling noise. The steel wheels scraped against the brakes and the 1-Telegraph stopped in front of Jane and me. “Are you taking this one? I am too,” she said. “Definitely. There’s a rally against self-violence. Or street violence. I’m participating.” The college kid, the frantic backpack man, the haggard cane, the two women in heels, all sorts of shiny leather shoes, iPhones and digital reading devices piled on board. A man raised his hand to push up his glasses; he was reading Crime and Punishment on his Kindle, his glasses falling off his nose. I found a place to stand near the middle, where the two sections of the bus connected like an accordion. As the doors wheezed, a few more suits slid in, coat tails flailing, the doors closed. I placed my hands in my pockets to stop from touching the next man’s crotch. Across from me was a window with a diagram: how to escape in the event of an emergency. Other people soon filed down the center aisle, and I couldn’t read anything after “Break Glass” because people were standing close enough for my nose to catch the scent of vanilla lotion on Jane who was 24 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 forced to sandwich in next to me. It was the same lotion she wore to prom when Dan left with someone else’s date. “So, like what have you been up to?” I said. I fiddle with the cassette in my pocket. Should I show it to her? Could I trust my reading of her reaction? “Nothing. Nothing really. What about you?” she asked. Her hands folding slowly over the steel bar near his hip. The bus accelerated down Telegraph, shifting passengers back in their stance. “It’s been great, you know, really great. I’m still kicking with Dan and Kyle and Ashley. They live around here too.” “Fuck Dan,” she said quickly. Some people looked up from their phones and Kindles to catch her face. The windows of the bus were streaked with the breath of everyone on board. “No. Right. He can be an ass. But like what do you do now?” I could still see her cracking her knuckles and readjusting her hands in the passenger seat of my car. That night in high school I drove her home. I thought it was the right thing to do. I thought it was the good guy thing to do. Back then, I thought good guys got rewarded. On the bus, I noticed her fingers tighten around the steel pole and I felt a slime of sweat trickle down my thighs. “I, well,” she looked again at the floor, sighed and looked me square in the face for the first time since I saw her, “I take care of my mother. She came down with severe Parkinson’s during college. She’s just got me.” She placed a hand on my shoulder to maintain balance as the bus started and stopped abruptly. “That must be tough,” I let my eyes fall to the floor. “Its tough. There are days when I just feel like” At 40th, the bus stopped. The sidewalk was jammed too, with more suits, black leather, and floppy sun hats. Streaks of tan and navy. The doors opened. The bus was so full that people already on board looked around at one another, their faces squinted, and their hands tightened on backpacks, purses, and briefcases. The people near the door shuffled in further, their eyes closed, trying to pretend that they didn’t have to touch anyone. Butts pushed up against butts and hands lowered and brushed past sensitive areas on accident. She looked dead into my eyes, “I just get tired of all of it,” and scooted RYAN BURESH 25 closer, lifting her nose at the dreadlocks on the man next to her, which encroached her personal space. I could feel the sides of her knees squeeze mine. She mouthed to me, “Is this okay?” Someone on the sidewalk yelled out, “Gotta make room, this ain’t getting’ better.” The air thickened a little. I mouthed to Jane, “I’m sorry,” but I wasn’t. She had gotten even more attractive. In her youth, it was her mousiness and anxiety about the otherness of her body that made her so. But in adulthood, with the weight of living in such a present state, that she became hot in the way that a statue is impressive because of how convincingly solid it is. Passengers stood as stiff and erect as possible to take up the least amount of space. Everyone focused more intently on his or her phones or pads or spots on of the wall. I had a canvas bag three inches from my face. The zipper was fleshy and sticking straight out toward my mouth. I felt wallets and keys, still in people’s pockets, poking at my thighs. The bus jostled on as I took a few deep breaths. I didn’t respond when she raised her hands up to her shoulders and placed her palms lightly against my chest. I gave a small smile. Legs were stretched over legs to take advantage of any available floor space on which to stand. Her lips were a mere foot from mine. I should have, I should have, I should have. “We should get a drink sometime,” I said and tried to smile. I had forgotten what she told me earlier. The pressure building at the base of my throat was shaped like goldfish. “Listen,” and she took a long blink with her eyes. The cassette vibrated in my pocket. I blew my breath out and over her so she couldn’t smell it. My stomach rose as though I had fallen asleep and missed my stop. The driver mumbled out 36th and Telegraph. But somewhere near the doors, where the handicap seats were, I heard a man scream: “THE MOMENT OF DECISION WILL REMAIN OBSCURE. ARE YOUR EMOTIONS PURE? IF YOU ARE RELEGATED TO LAST PLACE, ARE YOU BOTHERED ENOUGH TO STRUGGLE UP?” It sounded to me as if it was coming from behind me because everyone on the bus turned in my direction, even the Chinese women carrying groceries to the Sunset, and the young college kid with the headphone in. There was no 26 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 way anyone could see the voice, we were jammed in there too good. “THIS BUS IS HEADED TO BERKELEY! LET US OFF GOD DAMMIT! LET US OFF!” Someone yelled, “Shut up you crazy fool.” “Leave him alone,” a woman said back. “Why? The guy’s got a screw loose and I’m on my lunch break.” “Just get off dude.” But as suddenly as they turned toward me, they swung their heads back to the trash on the floor or the AC Transit map on the wall, anxious just to get to their stop where they could remove their hands from their pockets. “What was that?” she said looking for the answer in my face. “Just some crazy guy, high on something.” “It’s funny,” her head cocked to the side, “Seems like there’s always someone out there who thinks they can save us.” “Maybe, the Avenue. Have you ever been there? It’s got charm.” “I would love to, but I don’t want you thinking that. Well, listen,” I wasn’t listening because 36th St. was packed. Families of three and five, little girls and boys, the hands of their parents on their shoulders and ramblers with rolling carts stood outside. A brown-haired woman in a red jacket. A man with two stuffed bags of recyclables. An older woman gripped a walking stick. The tourists took a step back, shocked at how full the bus was. They leaned down to the kids and whispered that they’ll take the next one. Jane gasped and turned a little to make more room but in the process slid her left denim ass cheek into me. The man screams again. “A BOY IN BED IS TRYING TO TUNE THE AM RADIO TO THE VOICES OF THE DEAD. DO YOU FAVOR PROTECTING THE LITTLE WIDLERNESS REMAINING OR DO YOU CONCEDE THAT THERE IS SO LITTLE LEFT IT MIGHT AS WELL BE CEDED TO THE TIDE?” People did a great job ignoring him. “I can’t because I’m—” Jane started again. “THIS BUS IS HEADED TO BERKELEY! LET US OFF GOD DAMMIT! LET US OFF!” “Fuckin’ idiot, this is going downtown. Get off the bus yourself!” “Will somebody shut him up?!” “Boot him off the bus!” RYAN BURESH 27 “Get off man!” I lowered my right hand to brace Jane as the bus halted to a stop. She wouldn’t take her eyes off me. Some other people standing nearby were beginning to stare as well. The cassette buzzed. It was the same message or a new one, or the one I tried but failed to hear. I felt Doe slipping out of me, memories both inherited and invented pick-pocketed. Jane really did look great. The doors opened. One person gets out saying a bunch of excuse me’s while his bag slid and hit a few faces on the way out. “Crazy fool, get off the bus. We’re going downtown!” “DOWNTOWN BERKELEY. DOWNTOWN BERKELEY. LET US OFF! LET US OFF.” Many people got in despite the shouting. I heard groaning and uncomfortable laughs as people surrendered more personal space by getting stiffer and retreating their hands. Now arms couldn’t move. A woman near me raised her hands straight up; most people found their pockets. “How many people do they let on here?” she asked. “If you want to get on, you get on,” I said. An ad above his head showing the smiling face of a woman resembling in front of a dark green background. I like how Jane dressed her face. The doors chimed “Please Hold On” then closed. They got caught on someone’s ass. They blared and shuddered open. The driver told people to get on the next one. Nobody listened. The doors finally closed and we bused off. At 34th St. we were standing so close. There was my memory of prom and our drive home and the crawling minutes spent idling in her driveway. It was hard to separate the images from the desires and the desires themselves became more of the memory than the images. I stared down at her thinking this was a movie, a possible kiss moment, the only problem being that I couldn’t bend down to her without bumping another stranger’s head. The cassette buzzed again. Or was it my phone? At 33rd St. some of the passengers readjusted how they stood. No one wanted to face each other, so they turned and stood ass to front. I was not sure why some were bending over. Perhaps to fiddle with a bag. We were a bunched and tangled mess of forearms and legs, bare and covered. Jane was biting on her lips again. “Where do you live?” “THE ORDER OF GODS IS REFLECTED IN THE CITY OF MONSTERS! THE ENCINAL FINDS ITS FORM FROM THE DESERT IT OPPOSES! IF YOU WERE 28 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 TO CRASH FATALLY IN A SMALL PLANE, DOES IT MATTER TO YOU WHETHER YOU SHIT YOUR PANTS BEFORE OR AFTER THE CRASH?” A wave of mumbling broke out in my direction. Someone else said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Let this guy out, this shit makes no sense!” “Driver, stop the bus. This guy needs to get off.” “He’ll get off when it’s his stop.” “THE WAY TO THE ISLAND OF ESSENCES IS BEHIND US. GET US OFF! GET US OFF!” People near the door bobbed their heads back and forth but there was nowhere to move. We were all tangled together. The bus braked to a stop on 32nd St. and a few people got out but most stayed in the soup of bodies. “57th,” I told her. “57th and Shattuck.” An old man in a seat near me put down his Kindle version of Crime and Punishment and said loud enough for people to hear, “I say we throw him out.” “But he needs our help,” quaked an older woman. “Exactly. Get him off this bus.” “It’s what he wants!” said another man. “I AM THE REDWOOD. I AM THE MARSH.” The old man rolled up his sleeves. “This is nonsense,” he said and pushed his way awkwardly through the coil of legs to the deranged man in the back. People who stood in the aisle parted way by leaning into people sitting down. The old man reached the screamer. It was the man with the salt-n-pepper beard. The crazy fool. “ROTATE THE LOOKING GLASS, FRIENDS. GET US OFF!” His face was red from vocalizing so loudly. The Kindle reader grabbed the crazy man by the scruff of his collar. The man resisted and the two scuffled. The bus driver shouted at them and threatened to call the police. But it didn’t matter because three more men, older, younger, joined in restraining the crazy guy by hooking their arms around his. They began to walk him forward. The old man said, “Where I come from people are expected to act as they intend,” and led the whole group forward from the back of the bus to the double doors. The crazy man positioned his feet on the frame of the door and pushed back on the four or more people heaving him out of the bus. “THE MASKS, THEY COIL. THE MASKS COIL! I AM NOT ALONE IN THIS SENTENCE!” RYAN BURESH 29 He was out the door on his ass. His bag of aluminum cans was thrown out after him and it burst in a cascade of tin pings around him on the sidewalk. Some people rejoiced and returned to their seats. The old man shuffled back to his seat and retook his Kindle on the exact page he had left it. “Poor guy,” I said, watching the slumping man slouch in an aluminum ruin as the bus pulled away to the next stop. Over the crazy man’s head was a sign for an aquarium. An orange goldfish. I pulled the cord to get off. “57th and Shattuck? I bet it’s nice to live so close to a Safeway.” The goldfish had a big, toothy smile and a pair of round wire, frame glasses. I motioned for Jane to call me by making a phone out of my hand and putting it too my face and bounded out the bus a block from the crazy can-man. I never took the cassette out of my pocket. The street lay black and cracked between me and Poseidon’s Aquarium Rare Fishes. The square, blue sign spread out over the entrance attached to the square block building with flimsy black, steel tubing. A flounder stood on its back flipper winking behind its hornrimmed glasses. The cursive beneath him. Did she work here? It seemed a strange location for her. She was Doe, woman of the forest and the field, not Goldy. A man and his young daughter exited the door, which rang from a bell jangled against its glass. She held a plastic bag to her face looking at the orange goldfish she had picked out. Her face magnified by the shape of the plastic. I started to cross the street. But what if this had nothing to do with her? I was wasting time. I could have searched a thousand different places, tracked down names and addresses, or listened to the tape for clues. What made a good clue? I stopped, returned to the opposite sidewalk and leaned on a mailbox. How many people draw faces on the Seafood Watch? How many of those faces correspond to an aquarium on the corner of Telegraph and 25th? Of all the straws to grasp at, this one was just as plausible as her voice. The pamphlet existed in my hand, the voice in my memory. Was I a fool to think one kind equal to the other? Was memory as powerful as I gave it credit for? I had scoped out the Safeway. This was just another place. Maybe Doe was here. This aquarium shared the same cloak of normalcy as the Safeway. Did Doe pick her locations? I jaywalked with earnest. My sneakers strode over the holes and loose asphalt. To the right, the end of Telegraph, downtown Oakland, the stacks of beige towers blanketed in soot, neglect, and history. The sun hidden between their lanky 30 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 forms, a shadow on midtown for a day soon bringing the expected, dangerous darkness of night. To the left, north Oakland, Rockridge, and Berkeley. The campus campanile shining beneath the green hillsides jammed with two story homes, the sun in all their windows. The door jingled open and the bells continue to ring as it closed behind me and left me in the unsettled atmosphere of bubbling water and humming tanks. The interior was alive like a witches brew. Cauldrons of blue water lined every shelf and within them bobbed flashes of rainbow color: fish circumnavigated their manufactured world, content with the temperature of its water and the breadth of its parameters. The lights were off in the fleeting daylight. Yellow rays had weaved their way between towers filtered through the front window and refracted the blue ripples of cycled water along the ceiling like some spooky premonition of a world after the waters rise past our homes. The cash register at the front was vacant but was watched by the thousand globular eyes of fish in the tanks throughout the store. I turned down a hall marked “Tropical” and flanked on each side was three rows of wall-to-wall tanks each fizzing and gurgling and ome-ing like the depths of some aqua catacomb. In the low light, the aisles end was hard to see. The terminus clouded in waved, blue haze. In a tank at eye-level, I stopped to admire an angelfish that swam up against the glass. In its glassy eye, I could make the outline of my head and hair. Did it have consciousness? If another angelfish told him that she was jumping into the mouth of a shark, what actions could he take? What influence could his long, spindly fins have? Does he worry about sharks? Does he know none could fit in his tank? Does he dream of them regardless? “You don’t know me, but that’s okay,” said a voice. The way the angelfish’s gills moved I swore it was speaking. But then the rush of memory. The beer and tomatoes and the red mouth of the cougar under the overpass. It was Doe. That was exactly what Doe said in the Safeway. She said, “I am, well you don’t know me. And that ok.” And now, this angelfish, or the person behind me, who was really Doe, who works here, said it. She recognized my face because she had watched me in the Safeway. And I reached into my pocket as I turned to face the woman whose desperately soft voice reached my ears the night before. “Can I help you find anything?” she said dressed in a navy polo, her hair cut short to her neck. A piercing curved in and out of her nostril. RYAN BURESH 31 “Are you a big tropical enthusiast?” “What did you say before?” I asked, holding the cassette limply in my hand like it was her lost driver’s license. “I was just saying that you don’t know me, but that’s okay because I work here. My name’s Djo.” Did I hear right? Was this the Doe who had planned her dreadful fall? Who planned to smear herself across the road at the base of the overpass? Sure, the name on her nametag was spelled a little differently, but it was her all right. I watched her eye the cassette. “Cool cassette. I haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid. Are you a fan of Pomacanthidaes?” Did I see her flinch a little? Was the voice on the cassette really this guttural. I would have called it suicide. Or tragic sacrifice. Was that Latin? Was her death really some kind of ritualized cult act? What did she call it? A Pomo-canthicide? Was she bringing back her dead relative? Her tragic father? What symbol was this nose ring? Was it a marker of membership? In order to save her I had to get in with this underground group and pull her away from performing her pomo-canthicide. “Yes,” I said assuredly. “They can be really great. What’s your set up at home like?” she asked, taking a towel and wiping the condensation off the glass of a tank across the aisle. “It’s wicked. Like really dark stuff.” “Nice, that’s good, they prefer to be nocturnal.” Nocturnal, huh? Does that explain the mountain lion? Was that their pet? What other unexplained occurrences did this secret group execute? How deep in was Doe? Did she willingly join or was she forced to and was now developing Stockholm Syndrome? How much do I assume my will trumps hers? “If you’re into the dark stuff, I will show you some cool stuff in the back.” I didn’t know where this was going. But an infiltration of her seedy world would prove once and for all the kind of situation I was dealing with. It was strange how the presence of an evil underground society made saving her such a more palpable idea. It wasn’t her that was the inventor of her demise. There was a villain now. A shadow group trafficking in sordid tales of depression and desperation. I just had to tell her things could go back to the days of cassettes. Djo didn’t have to give herself to the jaws of the puma just yet. She led me down the 32 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 long aisle past hundreds of striped fishes, spotted fishes, red, green, and blue fishes. Long fish shaped like pipe cleaners, stout fish, box fish, neon fish. As we walked the overhead lights dimmed and the sun dropped below the coastal range and into the Pacific, coloring the sky outside a crimson-pink. The aisle got darker and darker, but the fish got brighter and more colorful. At the end of the hall, was a dark black curtain that had been pulled. To my right, in a tank just outside the curtain room, stood a clown fish tank. “A little spooky in here, isn’t it?” Djo said giggling a little. The orange clown fish emerged from the tentacles of a huge green anenome to watch as Djo pulled the curtain aside and I stepped into a black, marine Hades. A sign above the door frame read: The Deep Sea Abyss. For some reason, the clownfish reminded me of the Seafood Watch. And I pulled it out of my pocket. This was a harmless clue to ask her of. Besides, it lead me to where I stood: a windowless room, dark except for the black lights that illuminated the cubes of each aquarium. “Hey, you dropped something,” I said pretending to pick the pamphlet up off the ground. I held it out to her. “I did? Thanks.” She took the thing from my hand and moved closer to an aquarium to better read it in the purple glow. “A Seafood Watch. I don’t remember having one of these.” She unfolded it to take a better look at the contents for signs of her life upon the lists of endangered fisheries of the world. “Are you sure? I could have sworn you just dropped it. Check the front, maybe your names on it.” She did indeed fold the pamphlet back into place and flipped it over to see that smiling flounder with glasses. She let out a chuckle. Which was not what I was expecting. That raised eyebrow, that twitch of her nostril under the ring, where those signs of suspicion? Had I finally intercepted the correct destiny? “Nope, must have been someone else’s. I always keep a Seafood Watch in my wallet. And I don’t remember drawing the flounder on the front.” She said nonchalantly. Was she overacting? Downplaying the fact that I nailed her in only one day? Or was I not the person she was expecting? Was she even expecting someone to come? “Do you have one of these? You should take it if you don’t. It really RYAN BURESH 33 helps you make responsible choices at the sushi bar. People these days don’t know how badly we are decimating the oceans.” She handed it back to me. I played it cool. “Sure,” and I pocketed it again. This clue was definitely Doe’s, but I couldn’t be sure if it was Djo’s. There was something elusive about Djo. The way she tossed her hands around when she spoke, or her brown eyes or her piercing, or her sharp jaw that elongated in the purple air of the Abyss. “If your into tropical and Pomacanthidaes, check this out.” Was she trying to gauge my shock? Was she starting to suspect something with the Seafood Watch stunt? What kind of initiation was this, if it was at all? “This is a Spotted Handfish from Tasmania.” She knelt down and gestured with her finger on the glass. The gravel on the bottom of the tank glowed a greenish-yellow under the black light, and perched on tiny fins was the Handfish, its blue spots outlined against a neon orange body. “This little guy is endangered in the wild. He’s special because he doesn’t know how to swim.” That was striking. I understood exactly what this was: an Illuminati riddle of some kind. “Can’t swim. What kind of fish does that make him?” “That’s why they call him a Handfish. He has tiny hands instead of fins and he walks around the bottom his whole life.” On the bottom his whole life? Djo was speaking in codes. Was she asking me to meet her under the overpass tomorrow night? On the bottom? Was this how she felt her whole life? “I am sure it experiences the world above, doesn’t it? Maybe it rides another fish up to see the view?” “Nope, he’s just a bottom feeder. But look at the pattern he wears. He really is a nice addition to any aquarium.” So this was about beauty. The art of her death. To make a rose out of a bed of trash. The bottom-feeder with the amazing coat. The installation of her red flesh upon the street. What other artistic goals are more necessary than to make beauty out of the squalor of existence? “She’s really quite beautiful.” “It’s a shame they’re endangered,” she said as she stood up out of her crouch, “People don’t realize the way our urban lifestyle contribute to the pain 34 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 of the earth. These guys need very particular environments to survive and we just fuck it up the second we spit out our toothpaste or plant corn. It’s hard to stop anything when you ask people to give up basic comforts and assume responsibility. We like it much more when its one person’s fault, not everyone’s.” “I feel that very much,” I said ready to give myself to her. The way she sermonized was so comforting. She had transformed from a victim to a tragic Gaia whose death marked the end of nature and the world as we know it. “Sometimes it just makes you want to jump off the Shattuck overpass, right Djo?” I said feeling the empathy within me. She stood for a second just looking me over. I had my hand in my pocket and ran my fingers inside and out of the cassette’s holes. Then she said, “But to be honest, this little guy is pretty pricey for even the most enthusiastic tropical fans. Just one runs a clean $300.” But what about our embrace? Had I come on too strong? Was this a fight? What about the Illuminati and Tasmania? Were there really more tests to come? I was beginning to get the feeling that Djo did not want anyone to save her from jumping. Was it that determination in her voice that got me thinking I should save her? Was it not the where and why, but the how fast, or the how beautiful, that I was really motivated by? “But, if you’re just in here browsing, I’ll show you something really special.” She turned and motioned for me to follow. We passed another wall of cubed aquariums all lit by a purple black-light each filled with glowing neon coral or anemones or sponges, the fish sparkling with white light that they created themselves. Backbones and gills traced by thin green lights. A fake eye glowed on a fish tail. Lures of blue dangled in front of spiny teeth. She turned a corner and led me through a space between the shelves to a large rectangular box covered in a black blanket in the center of the room. If beauty was her obsession, what secrets hid underneath? What kind of crystal ball was this? I was expecting a scale model of the overpass. Diagrams and simulations of a thousand drafted falls, each one found inadequate for the purposes of recovering a life from the depths of ugly at the bottom of our society. “This is our little prize,” she said and pulled off the blanket to reveal another aquarium. This one was filled with white, papery jellyfish floating so slowly RYAN BURESH 35 I wondered for a second if they even moved at all. I thought of Nellie, her field trip, and whether it was possible to have unity with discontinuity. “Box jellyfish. The most dangerous thing in the ocean. We are one of only six aquariums on the west coast to have this kind. And we have five.” Like ghosts they drifted back and forth across the tank. Their bell shaped heads pumping like hearts and sending waves of movement down along their tentacles. The tank hummed in the dark. And I could just make out Djo’s eyes, the tangled mess of wispy tentacles, on the other side of the tank. Watching. Orbs of purple under the black light. “On each tentacle they have 500,000 spears where they inject venom.” Nellie was right, they touch so frequently in this aquarium. As they floated through one another, their tentacles responded to each tiny touch with a contraction and then a release. The embrace was never long enough for any one jellyfish to get stuck. “Most jellies just drift and eat whatever makes the mistake of swimming into their arms. But these are one of the only jellies that actively hunt for prey. Are you seeing how their tentacles touch one another but then let go?” Silence was as good a response as any. “The temperature of the water is key. A little colder and they will stop swimming and become one giant ball of dying, stinging jellyfish tentacles. But if the water is just a little bit warmer, those small handshakes, or kisses, turn into stings and they will start to cannibalize each other.” “That’s crazy.” “I know, so we have to keep them at a steady 70 degrees or else things get ugly fast.” “It’s beautiful.” “Sometimes when its slow in here I just watch them move.” I could see her eyes looking at me for the first time in a while. “About the overpass thing. Don’t jump.” “What?” “If you were thinking about it or anything, just don’t jump from the overpass.” “I thought it was. Don’t worry. I wasn’t planning on it.” “A friend maybe.” She said and stepped forward arms open. “Yeah, a friend.” 36 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Perhaps Djo was right and it was all in the atmosphere. It was never perfect anymore. I wouldâ€™ve taken the hug Djo tried to give me next to the jellyfish tank but as we drifted to one another, strangers in a warm climate, the sirens started. So loud that you would have swore Oakland was going up in flames. SARAH BUSHMAN The Newest King I am the new door girl. My hair is dark and short and stubbed into two little pig tails that stick out from the side of my head. I am tired. It’s my first night of work. I stand in a booth by the door wearing a black wife beater, jeans, Converse with no socks, a studded leather belt, and red lipstick. A bunch of baby lesbians dressing as wannabe drag kings try to scurry past me. I am yelling at them to stop and pay a three dollar cover charge when Randy strolls up with his long painted sideburns and short platinum hair thrust into a faux hawk. “Three bucks please,” I slap my hand on the counter and yell over the music. “I don’t pay cover. I’m a performer,” he says as he gives me a look like, don’t you know who I am? “Oh, sorry, I just need you to sign the—” I fumble around the yellow booth for the guest list the manager gave me earlier. Out of the corner of my eye I see Tommy running across the bar, waving a clipboard in the air. “I need you guys to sign the guest list.” Tommy shoves the clipboard at me and gives Randy a handshake hug and a Hey buddy. I am waiting and watching a line grow out the door. I clear my throat. Tommy moves aside. Randy writes his name slowly. His mouth parts, he flicks his tongue ring against his teeth as he makes a circle around the A for anarchy sign. His girlfriend is staring at him, waiting for the pen. He hands it to her and I see her roll her eyes as she signs the sheet. 40 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 “Are you new?” he asks, “I haven’t seen you before.” “Tonight’s my first Wednesday night.” The girlfriend looks up from the clipboard with piercing blue eyes. I suck in my breath and snatch it back from her. “Thank you,” I say to both of them. “Sure it’s no problem,” he says. The girlfriend glares. He grabs her hand, they disappear into the dark club, and I go back to feeling robotic, remembering last summer. Last summer, I had gone to some drag shows with a girl I dated for a minute. It was a drag competition, like American Idol, called “Drag it Out.” It was in this very same bar. The San Diego Kings Club was looking for a new king. Every week the contestants were given a genre and they had to choreograph a number to a song of their choice. It was a process of elimination based on lip synching, dancing, costume, and crowd response. I never actually watched the show. I stood in the back giggling with a group of girls from the East Coast who were cooler than everyone else but I remember Randy and his electric performances. His winning act was on country night. He wore a green plaid sleeveless shirt that exposed his unfinished sleeve of tattoos, a cowboy hat, Converse, and ripped jeans. He performed a punk rendition of You Think my Tractor is Sexy. When he took his belt from his jeans and swung it over his head, the lesbians couldn’t contain themselves. They screamed and shouted and threw dollar bills onto the stage. Their reactions reminded me of the teenage girls in the 60’s swooning over the Stones or the Beatles. His energy bounded him across the floor. His legs never stopped moving. It was impossible to snap a still shot of him without a flash; he was just a blur of white or orange in the frame. This girl, Kiki, who I thought was interesting because she was into BDSM, whispered in my ear, “I wonder what he’s like in bed.” I choked on my beer as Randy climbed up on the bar and sang the lyrics to this ridiculous country song while women shoved dollar bills in his pants. He jumped off the bar over the crowd of women sitting on the floor and landed in the middle of the stage. The crowd screamed again. At the end of the show, they announced who would be eliminated. There were only two left, Randy and this other guy. The suspense was pretty intense and I felt bad for the other guy. There was no way he could top Randy. After SARAH BUSHMAN 41 about three minutes of silence, in a bar packed full of women holding their breath, the MC announced the newest king, Randy Shaft. I am scheduled to work the patio door on Sunday. Women are everywhere. Women with shaved heads, women with tattoos, with motorcycles, sporty women, business women, navy women, women, women, women. Lately, my life has been like this: I choose one, get bored, meet another one, crawl out of her window on a rainy night, then meet another, and another. I can’t settle. I am watch the women pass by me and think about the potential for one night stands, making out, and adding more notches to my lesbian belt. I am really bi-sexual but I am a little scared to say it out loud. I have slept with the same number of men as women. I don’t really want my employer to know this so I don’t talk about my ex’s. Sunday is the bar’s busiest day, mostly because of football. I hate football and I hate football lesbians. Butch football lesbians with their team jerseys, looking kind of gangster, with a femme type thing wearing big hoop earrings in tow, are the worst. The femmes and the butches stare me down as I check their ID’s. They don’t get why I am working the door. I don’t look tough and I don’t look like your typical lesbian bar bouncer. I am not small, but I am not big either. My hair isn’t long or short. They’re trying to figure out if I am butch or femme. What the fuck does it matter? All I know is that I used to play sports. I’ve taken down dudes in mosh pits. I was hired because I know how to properly restrain someone. But they don’t know that so I just check their ID’s and send them into the bar. Tommy, my back up, is standing on the other side of the door, watching the women mill around. His dad is Jackson County Sheriff and used to work security for the Raiders. Tough. A line of lesbians enter the wooden patio. Tommy emerges and lights a cigarette. He stands in front of me, the sun at his back. “So, you’re dating who?” Tommy asks. “The bartender from Baja Betty’s.” Everyone knows who she is and I feel proud saying this because, yeah, I’m working on landing the hottest bartender in town. “We go on motorcycle rides and she takes me to nice dinners.” I am trying to justify something. Tommy knows I am not intellectually stimulated. “When did you get a motorcycle?” Tommy asks. “I ride on the back.” 42 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 “Jesus Christ, woman. You trust her enough to be on the back of her bike?” “Not really.” “Then why are you doing it? You should be riding your own bike.” Tommy leans against the wooden wall. His eyes squint with fatherly judgment: wrinkled forehead, scrunched nose. He moves his glasses up to the top of his nose. His short brown hair is covered with a black beanie and at 6’1, he stands over me. A plain black shirt is tucked into his dark blue Levi’s 501s, a Serbian tattoo peeking out from under the sleeve. “Who else are you dating?” “Heather. Kind of.” “Ugh. That one’s a mess, too. You can do better. What about that one over there?” He points to Randy, who is mowing down a hamburger in the corner and chugging a one dollar beer. I slap Tommy’s hand down. “Dude. Don’t point. Isn’t that Randy Shaft?” “So?” “I don’t date Drag Kings.” “He’s not just any old Drag King. He’s a photographer. I can see you guys dorking out together.” “I don’t know Tommy, I’m dating-” “You’re dating idiots.” My eyes survey the crowd and shoot back to Randy. I check out his without the drag persona style. His skin matches his shirt and hair. He is almost one color. “That’s it. I’m going to set this up.” “Tommy, no. It’s so embarrassing. I am moving to Seattle.” “What? What the fuck is in Seattle?” “Nothing. And I’m looking forward to it.” “Well this is the first I’ve heard of this. You aren’t really moving to Seattle.” Tommy always calls me out on my bullshit, but I just got back from visiting my best friend from high school. She has a nice big studio in Capitol Hill, manages an Urban Outfitters, and her life is drama free. She is depressed because she is bored. SARAH BUSHMAN 43 I want to be bored. I want to be anywhere but San Diego. Everyone I know has gotten stuck in this town. I refuse to be a statistic. I said I would leave after I got my degree, and well, here I am. I pull out a cigarette from my sweatshirt pocket but am lighter-less. Tommy leans in and lights it for me. Oh, chivalry isn’t dead. “Doesn’t Randy have a girlfriend?” I ask. “No. They broke up.” “When did that happen?” “Wednesday night, after the show. She got pissed at him for not paying enough attention to her. They had been on the outs for a while now. He just needed a reason to do it.” My jaw drops suddenly and I look away, inhaling smoke from my cigarette. I exhale, then stomp out my cigarette on the pavement. Tommy doesn’t say anything, just walks off into the mess of patio people. Two fights and three hours later the bar begins to empty out. San Diego Chargers lose again. I am at the door watching the sun go down behind the Interstate 5 Freeway. Tommy comes back from doing a walk through downstairs. “Do me a favor?” I nod. “Go take a look at the Tomlinson jersey downstairs and let me know what you think. Should we cut her off?” I love surveying the crowd, watching drunken people, assessing how drunk they are, and then taking away all their fun. It’s with great joy that I salute him and say, “Will do, Captain.” He gives me a look; the one where he stares at me through the top of his eyelids and his face is straight. I get to where the stairs end and the hallway begins. The walls are purple in the dim light. Two bathrooms to the left of me, a ladies and men’s that are mostly used for making out and sneaky sex. The bar downstairs is the original from the 1960s. It’s lower in the middle and makes a full square around the bartender. Six Degrees is the only bar on India street that has a cabaret license. It has always been a gay club and was taken over by women in the 80s. It’s known for its history as Club Bombay. A place where men and women who were in the Navy could come when they got off the boat. It overlooks the airport and the bay where the USS Midway rests. In the early 2000s the owners changed the name from Club Bombay to Six Degrees to give it an edge with the 44 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 young lesbian crowd and to promote its claim to fame: a women’s bar owned by women. Someone is singing Karaoke. I’m pretty sure it’s the lesbian national anthem: Four Non Blondes—“What’s Up?” I head to the right side of the bar to do a lap. My shoulder hits a shoulder in passing and I bounce backwards. “Hey, it’s Helen, right?” I rub my right shoulder and look down at my feet. When I move my eyes upward, I see Randy, holding a camera in one hand, a beer in the other. She leans in for a fake hug. The kind where the person lightly hugs you because you don’t really know them yet, but you want to know them. I go stiff, and then take a couple steps back, I am on the move. I try to keep walking. She smiles at me, exposing her crooked teeth. She snaps a photo of me standing in the hallway. I smile back. “Is that a Holga?” I ask, referring to her camera. “That shot probably won’t come out, the light is too low. Do you smoke?” “I’m going out for one in a minute. Do you want to join me?” “No, do you smoke weed?” I don’t smoke weed, but because I want her to think I am cool, I say yes. “I have a medical card. You should come over sometime.” I pause. “Maybe. Monday or Tuesday. Those are my days off.” “Cool. It’s Helen right?” “With two l’s.” “What’s your number?” She takes a small black book from her pocket, a pen, places the pen cap between her teeth and writes down my number in the book, using her leg as a table. She says she will call me, but I don’t believe her, and I keep walking. SARAH BUSHMAN 45 Honeybee Canary in a window watch you shed my little backyard baby float belly up Hook pursed red lips suck wet blue eyelids pluck thirsty yellow daisies Moved through you face down red pushed through you limp body blue dig deeper deep breath gone white Green fecund thumb soft dirt grave Carved your name under my tongue white under red 46 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Last words I was laying in what was our bed but it was no longer ours just mine watching the clock tick down to waiting with the light still on wondering if she was going to come home tonight the doorbell rang as my phone rang and there she was like a photograph I opened the door sleepy in pajamas and handed her the keys to our house through a small crack in our door she stepped one foot into our foyer as to see not see boxes packed she brushed away my bangs as she came near my cheek and said kitten I havenâ€™t lost you yet. SARAH BUSHMAN 47 14 days 1. Gray is infinite where Sky and bay swallow one another Yellow where horizon isnâ€™t Push my arm through 2. Show me your bones remove skin compare skeletons Put our hands together compare sizes Put our feet together heel to heel flip them over side by side You have toes that look like little fingers. 48 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 3. Hanging on the edge a hemmed seam strings molecules releases blood vessels 4. I want lightness I want light to illuminate through me pour the fuck out of me 5. Pull the pin lose the string from the one button holding me together 6. It feels strange to wake up with someone different, but similar, to someone you’ve slept with, in a place that feels familiar, but isn’t, a place that is similar but different, to a place where you’ve woken up before. SARAH BUSHMAN 7. Silence my empty don’t let others in don’t let them know shut up empty shut up 8. I want a meal that holds the warmth of my mother’s hand 9. Hand curls inside fabric brings it to my nose detergent of home Walnut home not Oakland home 10. I had a dream last night my hair was turning blonde to black black to blonde 49 50 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 11. Itâ€™s Tuesdays that I see you, Man with the out of control black beard My story is too much It is not me yet it is 12. Sky opening upon us Soggy little animals obey a will call 13. The lady in the TV told me Encyclopedia Britannica is officially OUT OF PRINT today feels like the apocalypse 14. Little wavelets in a huge moving organism Little shoeboxes filled with caterpillars, Waiting to bloom. SARAH BUSHMAN 51 Photograph 1980 Love captured by a shadow I can hear the metal move clicking of an old Canon pull and release shutter opens shutter closes light impresses upon gelatin a young hip happy pair smiles with hope with future aged yellows bounce off bare feet toes sinking in sand baby blues baby pinks baby to come a happy accident I am only a twinkle in my motherâ€™s eye 52 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Five Acts 1 . I RU N A S C A L P E L O V E R M Y T H I G H Beige, dingy old couch. Orange Halloween lights. That’s 70’s show. Fleshy spot above the knee, she handed it to me, and said try. Out the pain that is buried deep. Here, I’ll do it for you. Her hand rests under mine as we hold the plastic baby blue scalpel from my 7th grade dissection kit. Pressure, rip. Skin opens, blood surfaces. Pain/no pain. Trust/distrust. Weeks later we move to upper arms, lower arms. I hide them under a black sweater. Scar above, scar below, scars now hidden under ink and freckles. 2. I PU T A CIGARET TE OU T ON MY HAND She is passed out from pills and booze in the front of my 64 Ford Falcon. I want to feel something. Bubble. Blister. Explode. Cheese soup gets hot and boils over, explodes when the lid is opened. Popping milky globules steam. Fire, hot, red cherry onto right hand. Skin melts. Ouch. Skin bubbles. Blisters. Explodes. 3. SLAM THE CAR DOOR ON MY HEAD She calls in the middle of the night, high, hasn’t eaten in 3 days and needs me to bring her a burrito. Saliva, groggy, Advil PM with a shot of whiskey grumble. Pajamas transform into jeans. A bra transforms my breasts to boobs. Wallet, keys, phone, cold, darkness of San Diego at 4 am only the dead people wandering around with open eyes. I turn around to grab the burrito from the backseat of the car, the door of my Ford Falcon smashes my skull into the solid frame. I walk into the orange apartment to find devices on the table, which are unfamiliar to me. SARAH BUSHMAN 53 4 . I P U T M Y E L B O W T H R O U G H A WA L L Chemically she is down, I am up. Physically, I am down. Hands restrained, metal to metal, bed frame, queen sized bed, clanking. No fuzzy handcuffs here. Permanent impressions on my wrists. Intense squirming. Pleasure/pain. Hips high. Silver cuts into my thick ankles. Toes, are you there? Upper body strength, upper body, move up, sit up, somehow get out. Right elbow thrusts, 1920’s weak plaster gives, and metal releases. 5 . I S M O K E C R AC K Lovely lady H rests on one side of the light bulb. She has gone to great lengths, carefully pushing her small fingers through the light bulb’s innards, removing its electric capacity. Deadening it’s light, she transforms a domestic normality into a ghetto utensil for a part time heroin occupation. She hands me the light bulb, and also a Bic ball point pen, with its writerly contents removed. Give it a try. That’s what your twenties are for. First time, only time. Pen, inserted into light bulb. Light under the spot where sticky substance resides, and inhale. Don’t let the bulb get too hot, she says, wait, what are you doing. You hit the wrong side of the bulb. You just smoked crack, Bushman. 8 hours. Reality becomes absurd. I can handle it, I can handle anything. KATE CHIANESE Be Loved and Loving It is t wilight in Los Angeles. On the outskirts of the city, the brown hills roll dusty through the valleys of yellow mustard and million dollar homes. If you climb Heart Attack Hill—something I have done in bare feet—you can see the Valley sprawling below you. Circular swimming pools bake blue alongside each house in Shadow Hills. Every chair in the house overtakes the patio. In a long circle sit all the women we know. Tanya sits where everyone can see her. As usual, my big sister is glowing in excitement from being surrounded by her friends. Her long brown hair is wavy, shiny, and unbrushed. A wreath of flowers sits in a nest on her head. The big white daisy is my favorite. Tanya braces show as she grins and she shifts her long dancer legs, fidgety in blue jeans. Behind her the moon rises orange above Heart Attack Hill. “Be lucky,” Angelica reads my sister a letter. Angelica’s long raven hair blazes brown in the candlelight. “Be proud to be a woman.” Before I can hear what Mom is lecturing Tanya about, I know it is not the usual reprimand. Her voice is deeply serious, as it usually is when she is lecturing my sister about something important, but tonight it is also hushed and private. I can hear them whispering together in my parents’ bedroom. “Take a hot shower,” Mom says. “Congratulations.” 56 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Tanya did something right? She is not getting yelled at? It is always something: her tank top showing her eleven year old stomach or for tickling me until I scream or for eating too much sugar in one day. As soon as Tanya hops in the shower, Mom picks up the receiver. She can gab on the phone for hours. She begins to dial our relatives. “Guess what?” I hear her say over and over again. “Tanya had her period! She’s becoming a woman! Isn’t that exciting?” I put down my colored pencils from where I am drawing my dog Nemo in our field surrounded by gophers. What did Mom just say? My big sister who reads storybooks and plays Colonial dress up with me everyday? “Lori!” Mom’s shrill voice addresses Lori Odhner, one of her closest friends and leader of our homeschooling group, the Family Centered Education of Los Angeles (FACE-LA). Lori has nine redheaded children, has sewn over a hundred quilts, and teaches many of the homeschooling classes. She is the leader of Mom and Dad’s Marriage Group and she teaches my chorus class with her husband, John, who also teaches me magic tricks. He is a real magician and works at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. “Tanya had her menses,” Mom exclaims, her voice echoing on the kitchen tile. “I want to throw her a Maiden Ceremony. Will you help me?” Cara, Lori’s eldest daughter, just had a Maiden Ceremony at Park Day. FACE-LA mothers and daughters met at dawn to celebrate together. I imagine all the climbing trees calling to me in the blue morning that’s shrouded in a mysterious layer of mist. I did not go with Mom and Tanya, though. I love Park Day and only get to go to the park twice a month to meet with other homeschoolers. I play Rats with my best friend Amanda in the tree that curves at three different angles. But I hate crowds. When it is my turn to talk I turn lobster red in front of everyone. When they returned from the gathering, Mom and Tanya’s faces were lit with a burning energy. “How was it?” Dad humored the two of them. “Amazing,” Mom said, wiping her eyes. “We had to blow out these eggs and it was really hard. You have to be super careful,” Tanya explained. “I broke one in my hand. Eww! Slimy!” “What were they for?” Dad inquired. “We stuffed them with wishes!” KATE CHIANESE 57 “It’s so Cara can crack them open when she becomes pregnant with her first child. And she can read what everyone wrote.” Mom blew her nose. While I am shading in Nemo’s black spots, Mom plans the ceremony in the dining room. “Everyone can bring a fabric square with a blessing written on it or a picture. I’ll make Tanya a maiden quilt to keep her warm and to remind her of everyone’s support. Do you think I should use a kaleidoscope or a standard pattern for that?” As soon as Tanya gets out of the shower, Mom hangs up the phone. And when Dad comes home for dinner and hears the big news, he is excited too. “Can I come to Tanya’s Maiden Ceremony?” Dad asks Mom when he helps her with the dishes. “No. It’s only women,” Mom says firmly. “Can I help set up?” “No. It’s just going to be mothers and their daughters.” “I’m just going to film a couple shots. So Tanya can remember it when she gets older.” “Hmmm,” Mom turns off the hot water. “Well, alright. But you can’t say anything.” This is no problem for Dad. He is a quiet jazz musician. Sometimes he does not say two words. I am just like Dad. Mom is on the edge of her lawn chair. Her long silver hair is held with a hair stick in a tight bun. She has been waiting for this day excitedly all week and, in a way, for most of her life. “Thank you everyone for coming to share Tanya’s new beginning.” She smiles at the circle. The moms smile back, the daughters bounce in their chairs, and the toddlers drool on warm laps. From far off, a peacock meows from the Crazy Bird House on Art Street. “My little baby is starting on her journey to becoming a woman,” Mom uses her loud clear reading voice as she addresses a letter to my sister. “I am shocked, not because of your growing up, but of how fast time has gone. My little screaming-for-my-life baby is now an inkling of a woman and I’m both sad to say farewell to your childhood and excited to watch you grow. I’m 58 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 glad you’re surrounded by girlfriends who are each rich in their unique personalities and that you’ll all share your coming teen years together. You’re such a social butterfly and I wish for you to fly. I wish for you to follow your heart in all things, good and otherwise. I wish you the power to say no when you want to say no. I wish for you to let creativity take over sometimes. I wish for you to let the wild woman in you escape sometimes, just for the fun of it. I can’t wait to hear your stories to come, your trails, your problems, your joys, and your achievements. And I wish for you to gather wisdom for the wise woman you will be.” “Tonight there are many wise women here to celebrate the start of your journey,” Mom sweeps a hand over the watching crowd. “They are here for you and will help you along the way if you need it. I hope you can feel you can go to them and learn from their own womanly wisdom. This is your village.” Mom folds the letter into the pine needle basket at her feet. It holds balls of yarn that sit on the long necks of different colored candlesticks. “The first thing we’re gonna do is make a wreath for her hair out of flowers that everybody brought,” Mom continues. “And if you like, say something that makes you feel beautiful or whatever you feel is beauty. I guess I have to start. Haha!” Mom riffles nervously in the pine needle basket. She draws out a wire halo and a roll of green tape. “I wanted to say that I feel beautiful when I put on dangly earrings and also when I’m outside in nature. That’s when I feel most beautiful.” She begins to wind tape around a pungent, tomato-red rose snipped from her rose garden, which blossoms behind where I sit next to Grandma Celeste. “Lori told me how to do this. You wrap this stuff around it. I think you stretch it a little. Is that right?” Lori leans over next to Mom. She inspects the halo and nods expertly. Allison West starts on Tanya’s left side by tying a big white daisy to the wreath of flowers. She wears a blue bandana over her long black hair. The three of us used to run around together as toddlers. Actually, Tanya and Allie ran around and I followed them everywhere. “I’m happy when I’m just myself and when I don’t have to put on an act to impress people,” Allison West says matter-of-factly. Susan Siskin helps her little daughter Molly tape a pink chrysanthemum with her fumbling baby fingers. Molly wears a black velvet dress. Her corkscrew KATE CHIANESE 59 curls reveal her high forehead. “I feel the most beautiful when I do something that I didn’t know I could do,” Susan says in her comforting mom voice. The Siskins are a very neurotic homeschooling family. Even though Susan’s husband, Bert, is 70, they recently had a baby. The eldest, Sarah, who is Tanya’s best friend, sleeps all day and stays up all night. Susan occasionally calls Tanya to ask her to be the dynamite that is Sarah’s daytime alarm clock. Grandma Celeste goes next. She brought sweet peas. I have been staring at them in her hand. They look like little doggies with bonnets on. “Well, I just want to say that I felt really beautiful listening to my daughter Erin,” Grandma begins. Her lips start to tremble beside me. Her eyes become tilted behind her pearly glasses. “And celebrating my granddaughter, Tanya.” She sniffs. “I also feel beautiful when I put on lipstick.” She bobs her head in the confession. Everyone laughs kindly. Grandma Celeste’s red mouth is still turned down. I like Grandma Celeste’s nose. It is rounded and makes her look like a fox. She has deep hollows in her cheeks. I know Mom was devastated when Grandma got a facelift, but I think she is a pretty old lady. I hope to be like her one day. The only other woman wearing lipstick here is Denise. Her frizzy hair has been blown dry into a crisp round shape. She is petite and wears leather boots. She has to say first that she is not really beautiful. The circle protests. When Denise passes the ring of flowers to her tiny daughter, Lindsay, she speaks louder than her mother, and sits straighter in her chair. Lindsay and I used to play on Rose Street together, back when we still lived in Burbank. I would always forget my shoes in Lindsay’s room, so we would mix and match, put on one sandal and one tennis shoe, and then swap. “I feel most beautiful when I’m doing art because I like art. A lot.” Lindsay says it loud and clear. She brought a purple flower. She is wearing overalls and a sunflower yellow shirt. Her ponytail is held by a big purple scrunchie that matches the poppy she twines to the wire. I wish I wore a ponytail too! My blonde hair is tied in two tight buns on the top of my head, making me look like I have mouse ears. I have not seen Lindsay since I was four. I cannot wait to show her Frisky, my pet rat. Lindsay hands the wreath to Mom. “Okay, Tanya,” Mom says, and strides across the circle, petals falling on the patio. 60 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Everyone oohs and aahs. “Gorgeous” and “Beautiful,” the circle says. “So the next thing we’re gonna do is take the piece of yarn everyone brought, and we’re gonna make one long chain,” Mom says. “If you don’t know how to crochet that’s okay, just make a knot however you want, and the next person who knows how to crochet can just chain the whole thing. “So, I thought we could each talk about our strengths, what gives us strength, or what empowers us. One thing that makes me feel strong, or empowers me, is when I try to follow one of my beliefs, or convictions, like, not wearing makeup, or growing out my hair.” We laugh at this because Mom’s hair is long and scraggily and prematurely grey. She looks like a witch sometimes, especially when she is mad. When she wears it down it shines white and brown under the desert sun. “Which I think about doing otherwise!” Mom adds, perhaps defensively, but chuckles too. “Or homeschooling. Or trying to be sustainable in this world.” Around the circle, everyone riffles for strands of yarn. Molly stretches her string over her head. Lindsay takes hers from Denise. “When I like everything about me, in what I do,” says a woman with a deep voice. She has a square jaw and wears a floral dress. She must be a friend of Mom’s because I do not know her face from the homeschooling group. “That’s what makes me strong, from the inside,” she shakes her head, “not the outside.” Oh no! All too soon it is my turn to talk. I cannot think of anything that makes me strong. I start to ramble, “When I learn a new magic trick, when I finish reading a book—that’s all!” I shrug quickly. Julia sits on my other side. She still lives on Rose Street. Julia has a trusting, creamy voice. “Everything that everyone has said I can relate to and is making me feel strong,” she says. “But one thing I was thinking about is I feel strongest sometimes when I allow myself to be weak, to step back and let somebody else make the decisions, somebody else take initiative. And sometimes that’s really hard. Not only let somebody else make the mistakes, but let somebody else get the credit too.” Everyone is in sweaters. Tanya wears a windbreaker that is pink and teal, to match the colored bands on her braces. “We’re each going to light a candle and say a blessing or wish for Tanya. KATE CHIANESE 61 Hopefully by the time we go around it’ll be dark and it’ll look really beautiful, with all the candles lit.” Mom lights Lori Odhner’s candle next to her. “My blessing for you, Tanyaaaa,” Lori draws out her name slowly. Her wick is a bulb of flame. “Is that you will be a fabulous failure.” The women laugh. “Which is something I’ve grown to really come to love and value lately. I realize if you succeed you stop looking, you stop asking questions, you stop learning, you stop growing once you got there. But if you fail,” Lori shrugs her scrawny shoulders. “It’s one of the best things you can possibly do.” A row of children glows on the wooden bench in the candlelight. “Always be satisfied with who you are,” one squeaks. “My wish for you is to always find happiness,” another little girl says. “Tanya, my wish for you is that if you do have kids, that childbirth is really easy,” says Mercy. “And that you have a strong marriage.” “My wish for you is to have a daughter!” Bethany says on Mercy’s lap. Sarah says, “My wish for you, Tanya, is for you to understand people.” Sarah’s mom Susan says, “I wish for you lots of fun, and I hope you can always keep your sense of enthusiasm.” That was a good one; no one is as enthusiastic as my sister. She sings opera in my ear and can talk to anyone. Molly pipes up, “Never forget who you are!” Celeste says, “May all your dreams come true.” Last Thanksgiving , when Grandpa Kent was drunk off wine and complaining, Mom asks her mother irritably, “Why do you stay with him?” Grandma Celeste starts to weep. “I guess I don’t want to be alone.” Sitting next to her I want to say, “You won’t be alone. You’ll come live with us!” But I do not say anything. Instead I just give Celeste a hug. The strong-sounding lady in the floral dress says to the night, “Tanya, my hope for you is to always be colorblind. Never look at people for what they are on the outside, but to always look within first.” Lunette has a small honey voice. She’s eleven years old just like my sister. “Tanya, I wish you were you, and for success, and true love.” My best friend Amanda is sitting with her mom, Gina, who rarely leaves 62 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 the house. Tonight Gina says, “I wish for you to not have to kiss too many frogs to find your prince.” Overhead, an Airplane flies to land in Burbank. The front door slams as someone gets a jacket. The candles make their way around the circle. When they reach Angelica she has a letter. She has very crooked teeth and also sews quilts. She is in the Marriage Group with her boyfriend Mario. He always kisses Mom hello on the lips. She does not like it. Mario and Angelica’s son, Yod, also has long black hair, which he wears in a braid. I love him, but he is in love with Tanya. At Park Day he wrote her a note asking her to marry him. She laughed with Mercy and Sarah. I would like to marry him. “Be lucky,” reads Angelica. “Be proud to be a woman. Be loved and loving. May your body be a blessing to you. A temple of love and pleasure. May your womb bear as few or as many children as you desire. May you always remember. May you bear many different kinds of fruit. Yours is a power to open and close a gate of life. Care for your body as you would for a sacred globe. And care for those you love. May your life be rich with many forms of love: passion, affection, devotion, compassion, humor and playfulness, wild adventures, and your heart becomes whole. May you find those who will nurture you and those who you will nurture. Remember you are unique and precious. That no one else can take your place. Make way.” She grins beautifully. A year from now, when I become a woman, I will not feel lucky. I will cry. Every month I will cry. I used to spend everyday climbing trees and running with the baby goats and taking my rat Frisky for walks in my mother’s tomato plants. My stomach, something I never pay much attention to under my big tiedye t-shirts, will pinch at the waist before rounded into hips, and I will grow five inches. I used to gaze at breasts longingly, sculpted in tank tops, but now I will have some of my own. Everyone will stare at me. And when Mom begs to throw me a Maiden Ceremony, I will feel too self conscious to have one. But tonight Tanya’s ceremony is celebrating her as much as it is celebrating us. Little girls giggle as the wicks spit. Susan rocks on the swinging bench ever so slightly with her daughter Molly. The stems of candles bend together to pass on the flame. Marcia Sarka sits next to Angelica. Tanya and I always play with Marcia’s son, Jeremy, at homeschooling co-ops and get togethers. He has long nails and KATE CHIANESE 63 likes to talk with the parents. When he is not trying to jump into adult conversation he follows Tanya everywhere. I think he is in love with her. She hates him, but always includes him in the games we are playing. A few years from now, Marcia will have her Crone Ceremony with the homeschoolers to celebrate turning 50, reaching menopause, and becoming a wise woman. Mom will help lead it. Afterwards, Marcia will blame Mom for ruining her Crone Ceremony. She will write a hate letter. She will say that Mom is a terrible mother. Mom will cry. “Ye s, that was all I wanted to say, haha!” says Marcia after Angelica is finished reading. “Except that I hope that when you come to places, choices, that you will bring the blessings and the wishes that we have for you to that choice and know that you will have the strength and creativity to make that choice that is most fulfilling to you. You don’t have to remember what we said, just that we all said it.” The candles are lit in a flaming ring. Lori pulls out her guitar and begins to strum. All the women who have had their menses hold hands and dance around the children. We all sing along to the Circle Game. “And go round and round and round in the circle game,” we sing. Mom pulls Tanya out of our group and into the wide circle of women. Lori Odhner is not beautiful. She has buckteeth and a large mole on her face. But when she sings I have never heard a voice so clear. I get goose bumps thinking about all the women in our lives. Women who are proud of their daughters. These women, who want to celebrate us for merely being ourselves. ARIEL COHEN Play by Güte E XC E R P T C H A R AC T E R S YO U N G K E L L A N R I C H T E R . German accent. Mid-late twenties. Likes the smell of fresh bread. KELLAN RICHTER. German accent. In his nineties. Frail. Hates the smell of fresh bread. REBECCA KING. Young American professional doing research for a book/newspaper article. Mid-twenties. Chestnut colored hair. Played by the same actress who plays Anna. A N NA . Jewish. German accent. Mid-late twenties. Chestnut colored hair. Played by the same actress who plays Rebecca. VIKTOR HORST. German accent. Thirties-forties. True believer. Four Actors will play multiple parts. At least one actor should be female. They will play the other Nazi soldiers, Bernard (Anna’s brother), Elsa (Kellan’s mother), SET TING World War II and the Present. Split stage. Stage left will embody different scenes from Kellan’s memories. Its start point is a gravel/dirt road with trees in the distance. Depending on the memory other set pieces are added to chance the specificity of the location. Stage right is Kellan’s Library. There should be a few shelves stuffed with books in the background and two chairs. The two chairs should look comfortable enough for someone to get lost in a book while sitting there. One should look more used than the other. This is Kellan’s chair. A coffee table sits between them with an old cracked teapot, teacups, sugar bowl etc. Center stage is open space where the two generations overlap. The floorboards of the library and the gravel road should meld into one another. Suggested Preshow Music: Adagio for Strings Op.11 Barber. 66 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 SCENE 1 Blackout. Voices fill the stage. Some are crying, speaking in prayer, some are calling out for loved ones and some harsher voices are yelling commands in German. Some people only scream. VO I C E S : Leah! Leah, where are you? Bitte ruhre mich nicht (please don’t hurt me) They are over here! Stop! Stop ich sage! Have you seen my daughter? Have you seen Leah? Let me go! Bitte ruhre mich nicht Why are you doing this? They’re coming! Stop! Stop ich sage! Bitte ruhre mich nicht! Gunshots are fired and all voices fall silent. A single spotlight falls on center stage. Young Kellan stands in the spotlight visible from the mid chest up. He is dressed in a uniform but the specifics are hidden by shadow. His face is grim and he stands as if he is posing for a portrait. K E L L A N ( O. S . ) : (Slow, deliberate) It is different when War is your neighbor. It isn’t an ocean away. It isn’t in a country that you���ve never been or will go to. It is so close that it could come over and borrow your life like a bowl of sugar. You look out your window and it is standing on the edge of your lawn. And it won’t wait there either. It will come. Knock on your door. Ask for sugar. Ask for your life. When faced with that decision you have only one choice. Survive. The spotlight on Young Kellan slowly grows. It reveals the type of uniform he is wearing, bringing to attention the swastika on his left arm. K E L L A N ( O. S . ) : There were rumors. Businesses ransacked. Families disappearing in the night. Their houses blooming with life one day and then they were gone like flower petals in the summer wind. I was a few months shy of twenty-one ARIEL COHEN 67 when Reich knocked on my door. The world had changed around me and now it was time for my world to change. Lights up stage left. Enter Anna (same actor who plays Rebecca) dressed in a dark wool coat with yellow star on her chest. She hurries across the stage with a bundle pressed against her chest. She is trying not to draw attention to herself. YO U N G K E L L A N : (Feigned authority) Fraulein! Anna freezes and looks at him. She is terrfied. K E L L A N ( O. S . ) : (Guilt ridden) She had beautiful chestnut locks that cascaded down her back and smelled of lilacs. Perhaps if I had known those precious tendrils would one day be . . . I would’ve given into my desire to twine my fingers through them. Pressed my nose into the crook of her neck and inhale the sent of her. Maybe, if I had known what I would do to her, I would’ve acted differently. A N NA : (Startled) Kellan? (Relaxes slightly) K E L L A N ( O. S . ) : You are asking yourself, why would I willingly join them? Didn’t I know what I was getting myself into? I could lie. I could lie to you right now and say that I didn’t. (Pause) But, I did. Of course I did. YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : I had to get something from my father’s office. YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : Anna. What are you doing? You aren’t supposed to be out here. I didn’t have a choice. I had to get this before they found it. YO U N G K E L L A N : That was a stupid risk. If someone saw you— He steps toward her and Anna notices Young Kellan’s uniform. Y O U N G K E L L A N C O N T. : A N NA : I am not going with you. YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : It’s not what you think. You’re with them! YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : Come on, we have to get you out of here. I’m not. Why? YO U N G K E L L A N : It’s complicated. 68 A N NA : WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 I have to go home. YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : You can’t go there. Why not? What are you going to do Kellan? Turn me in? Are you going to call for your new friends? Let them take me away? So you can just forget about me? YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : Of course not. I can’t trust you. YO U N G K E L L A N : Yes, you can. Please, before someone finds us. I can get you out of here. A N NA : I have to get back to my family. Anna begins to exit. YO U N G K E L L A N : You’re family’s gone. Anna stops and turns to face him. Y O U N G K E L L A N C O N T. : A N NA : They took them into custody tonight. (Upset) What? YO U N G K E L L A N : I saw them drag them out of the house. I thought they took you too. A N NA : Why? What did they want with them? YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : I don’t know. Orders? That’s what you do now? Follow orders. You told me what you thought of them. Even when I started wearing this stupid star you treated me the same way you always had. You said you would never do something that you didn’t believe in. Now you are telling me that you watched them drag my family from my home. (Pause) Did you help them do it? YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : Why didn’t you stop them? YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : Anna, please. There was nothing I could do for your parents. We had you over for dinner. I cooked for you. YO U N G K E L L E N : I can’t help them! (Breath) But, if you let me I can get you out of here. Just come with me. ARIEL COHEN A N NA : 69 I wanted you to say that. I’ve been waiting for you to say that. Now, I don’t know. (Gestures to uniform) This isn’t you. YO U N G K E L L A N : I’m sorry. Shouts from offstage. Before either of them can react three Nazi Soldiers run onstage. They are between Anna and her exit. She is between the soldiers and Young Kellan . SOLDIER ONE: S OL D I E R T WO : Richter? What are you doing out here? Horst gave orders to report in. YO U N G K E L L A N: S OL D I E R T WO : Looks like you found one. Wagner, go get Horst. YO U N G K E L L A N : S OL D I E R T WO : I was (Looks at Anna) just checking the roads. There is no need to bother him. I don’t take orders from you Richter. Go get him Wagner. Exit Soldier Three. A N NA : Kellan? S OL D I E R T WO : You know her, Richter? YO U N G K E L L A N : SOLDIER ONE: S OL D I E R T WO : A N NA : She’s not worth our time gentleman. Let’s get back. What is she holding? Stolen goods no doubt. It’s nothing. Just some old clothes. SOLDIER ONE: Give it here. Anna hesitates. A N NA : No. SOLDIER ONE: No? Young Kellan intervenes before Soldier One can react. YO U N G K E L L A N : (Commanding) Fraulein, the bag. Anna hands him the bundle. He opens and finds valuables. He tries to hide them but fails. S OL D I E R T WO : A N NA : So she is a thief. Those belong to my father! SOLDIER ONE: (With venom) Du wirst stumm sein. 70 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 YO U N G K E L L A N : SOLDIER ONE: Vouch for her? YO U N G K E L L A N : S OL D I E R T WO : A N NA : She’s not a thief. I can vouch for her. Yes. Just let her go. You can vouch for this filthy little Jew? You pig! Soldiers Two backhands Anna. Young Kellan punches him and they scuffle. Anna turns to run away but the other Soldier grabs her and restrains her. Enter Horst with Soldiers. HORST: Hören Sie auf! Soldiers Three and Four separate Young Kellan and Soldier. S OL D I E R T WO : A N NA : Richter, found that Jew trying to escape with valuables. I didn’t steal anything. Those belong to my family- HORST: Shut up! (To Kellan) Stolen? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: A N NA : (Looks Anna over) Shoot her. No! HORST: YO U N G K E L L A N : A N NA : I thought our orders were to detain them? I believe I am in command here. Do you wish to challenge that? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: Sir! Is there a problem here Richter? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: I don’t know sir. N-No Sir. Then take your gun and shoot her. Please, have mercy. YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: Don’t need her? (Pause) Kellan, Do you know what my job is? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: Yes sir. Then you know that I have orders to follow. YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: Sir, we have the valuables. We don’t need her. Yes sir. I am responsible for finding threats. Horst signals and Soldier One forcefully brings Anna over to him. She struggles. Horst ARIEL COHEN 71 takes one of her hands in his. H O R S T C O N T. : I find those threats and I remove them. By any means. Horst breaks one of Anna ’s fingers. YO U N G K E L L A N : Bastard! Young Kellan lunges for Horst but the soldiers detain him. HORST: A N NA : (Unperturbed) Did she steal the valuables? I didn’t steal— Horst breaks another finger. YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: Either she stole them or she didn’t. Which is it? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: Stop it! I don’t know. But, you know her? Young Kellan doesn’t answer. He thinks he is protecting her by not admitting that he knows her. Horst breaks a third finger. YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: And you know this how? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: She didn’t steal anything! Because. Because I know her. Ah, I see. Now we’re getting somewhere. At another signal from Horst, They force her to her knees. She is crying. H O R S T C O N T. : She’s a pretty little thing, wouldn’t you agree? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: I don’t know sir. Perhaps you need a closer look. Soldiers Three and Four force Young Kellan to his knees in front of her. HORST: What do you think now? (Young Kellan doesn’t answer) Answer me. YO U N G K E L L A N : She’s beautiful. The Soldiers snicker. Horst crosses to Young Kellan and leans down so only Young Kellan (and audience) can hear him. 72 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 HORST: You can’t save her. Whether you pull the trigger or I do. She will die tonight. I promise you this. If I shoot her it will not be painless. Her kind doesn’t deserve it. And you’ll follow her. Horst takes Young Kellan ’s gun from the holster. Horst holds the gun so it is pressed against Young Kellan ’s forehead. HORST: You have a choice Kellan. Choose the bitch and you condemn yourself. Choose the Fatherland and you’ll be part of something so much greater. Live on in history as part of an immortal pantheon. Now either you are with us or you are a threat. You are not a threat Kellan . . . are you? YO U N G K E L L A N : HORST: (Defeated) No sir. Then be a good little soldier and do as your told. Horst signals the Soldiers and they release Young Kellan. Horst hands the gun to Young Kellan and moves so he isn’t between Young Kellan and Anna. Young Kellan moves closer to Anna and they look each other in the eye. Both are very emotional. He holds the gun out in front of her. A N NA : (Softly, disappointed) It’s okay. A beat. Gunshot/Blackout. SCENE 2 Lights up stage right. Kellan’s Library. Present Day. Kellan sits in the more worn of two armchairs. There is an oxygen tank on the floor and he sits with a blanket covering his lap. Across from him sits Rebecca. She is dressed in a suit skirt and nice blouse. An open briefcase sits at her feet and on her lap is a notepad. Her hand is poised above it as if she has just been writing. KELLAN: I chose. REBECCA: KELLAN: Yes. And it was my choice that put us at gunpoint. REBECCA: KELLAN: They literally had a gun to your head? Do you think someone would’ve found her anyway? Yes, and they would’ve just shot her. Outright. Being shot unknowingly would’ve been better than what she had to endure. There ARIEL COHEN 73 wouldn’t have been questions and she wouldn’t have to look her killer in the eye. She wouldn’t know them. Gunned down like an animal would’ve been kinder than killed in cold blood by a friend. REBECCA: KELLAN: What happened to her family? After the war, I looked for them on the survivors list. Only her oldest brother survived. A very intelligent young man. Very good with his hands. He’d spend hours carving detailed figures of neighbors. Animals. His family. Placing one in your hand it was almost as if you held its living counterpart. He became a renowned surgeon. Lives in Germany with his wife, children. Grandchildren even. REBECCA: KELLAN: Did he ever find out what happened? To Anna I mean? No. I don’t believe he found those answers. REBECCA: I just don’t understand, why? Why would you side with the Germans? Kellan looks to stage right. Rebecca freezes. SCENE 3 The scenery has been replaced with a small era appropriate kitchen. In the middle of the set is a farm table. Upstage a pot of water sits on a stove. Elsa, Kellan’s mother, is sitting at the table peeling potatoes. She is dressed in a wool skirt, blouse, and sweater of decent but not rich quality. She sings a German lullaby as she works. (Intend to find a song and have her sing for a minute before next character’s entrance). Enter Young Kellan dressed in trousers and nice shirt. Carries a package from Butcher’s shop and sets on opposite end of the table. He has a letter tucked into his back pocket and a novel tucked under his arm. YO U N G K E L L A N : ELSA: Mamma (Kisses cheek) Mien liebe. Young Kellan puts the package on the counter and sits down at the table. He places the book on the table and balances the letter between his hands so that the address is tilted towards both Elsa and the audience. He is putting the letter on display. He waits for Elsa to notice. Potatoes continued to get peeled. 74 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 YO U N G K E L L A N : ELSA: Mhmm. YO U N G K E L L A N : ELSA: I stopped at the post office today. There was a letter for me. Who would be writing to you? YO U N G K E L L A N : It was from the University. They’ve offered me a place there next semester. He waits. Potatoes continue to get peeled. ELSA: Did you get the Bockwurst? YO U N G K E L L A N : ELSA: What? For dinner. Elsa takes some of the peeled potatoes to the soup pot and drops them in. E L S A C O N T. : Go get your best shirt. I’ll iron it while the potatoes boil. YO U N G K E L L A N : ELSA: Mamma, d-did you hear— Now. YO U N G K E L L A N : Why do I have to wear my best shirt? They’ve offered me a scholarship. ELSA: Your father invited guests. Important men. Elsa sits at table. YO U N G K E L L A N : Listen. (Reads) Herr Richter, after an extensive look at your credentials we would like to offer you a place at our prestigious University of Berlin. You come highly recommended by your instructors and we feel that you will find our challenging curriculum will further you in your ambitions. Based on your academic merit we would also like to present you with our prestigious Johannes Adler scholarship. Our literature Scholars shall expect a decision from you by the first of the year. (Potatoes get peeled) Say something. ELSA: And whom do you expect to pay for this. Your father? Me? YO U N G K E L L A N : ELSA: Pay for it? You don’t understand. As long as I excel— Excel at what Kellan? Studying literature. You do enough reading here. (Pause) Go get your shirt. AUTUMN DARBROW Bruised The coldne s s of the dingy, low-lit studio apartment wall soaked through the skin of her back as she held the rough towel under her chin. It barely covered her fatty, bruised tits. Her nipples stood erect. She felt the tightness in her skin, and the once pink now purple points burned. He sat there, his legs stretched over the beer-stained mattress’s edge, a sheet bunched on the floor around his ankle, and slowly dragged on a joint. His eyes closed. Half a smile formed on his tanned face. His penis lay flaccid, drops leaking from the tip, the same white, sticky mess that pooled underneath her left ass-cheek. She didn’t care that he only fucked her. There were no tender kisses, no smooth, soft hands. That was okay. She didn’t cry out when he pulled her hair or pinched her nipples so hard they’d remain hard the next day. The slaps and choking made it clear there was never a traditional relationship on the horizon, but that’s not why she was with him. She liked the painful sex, the rush of being desired at such a base, animalistic level. A familiar hand around her throat, the sting of f lesh contacting with f lesh—it was thrilling. The pain he inf licted upon her didn’t bother her, and she knew he loved it by the ferocity that gradually increased during their moments together on the ratty mattress. It only bothered her that he shared that pain, her pain, with a girl from the previous night, whose blonde hair lay mixed on the ruby red pillow case next to the strands of her own brown hair. She didn’t know how many other women came and went that week, and she thought of the women who had sat in the very spot as her. She wondered 78 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 whom they were and if they were as willing as she. There were no ill feelings toward the other women, though, only curiosity. She wondered if they had boyfriends, and if he was only called for those moments where they desired something not so sweet and tender in the bedroom. There was no loving, gentle boyfriend for her. She always placed herself in darker circumstances, and it disgusted her at times. She often wondered why she went back. Yet, there she remained, sitting with the towel tucked under her chin, watching a bruise appear on the inside of her thigh. Her muscles ached and her skin prickled. A cut on top of her foot, pink as grapefruit, glowed in the dim light of the moon just peeking over the edge of the building next to them. Before closing her eyes, she looked at the overturned nightstand and the shards of a drinking glass still scattered across the floor, a result of hasty and forceful undressing. She opened her eyes again when she felt him slide off the f loored mattress. She watched him walk to the bathroom and wash his penis off in the stained sink with bar soap, the joint almost burning his lips. The scents of everything—soap, smoke, sex—wafted across her face. She gagged, and the half smile she both hated and loved appeared on his face as he watched her watching him in the mirror. “Are you staying the night?” He didn’t turn around to look at her. She looked down and pulled a strand of blonde hair off of her sweatcovered thigh. She twisted the towel tightly between her fingers but didn’t look up at him. She knew his eyes were fixed on her in the mirror, waiting for an answer as his eyes scrunched to protect from smoke burn. “I brought my work clothes, didn’t I?” He smiled, showing the jagged, uneven teeth that had made imprints on her shoulder earlier, and she returned to picking strands of blonde hair from her leg. She knew this was only the start of their night, even though the digital clock across the room read 1:49 am. AUTUMN DARBROW 79 Baby Doll M a r i a s t o od i n t h e m i d d l e of her small bedroom as her older brother, Brandon, wrenched Dora from her arms, her beloved doll named after her favorite TV show character but not because of actual likeness. She watched as Brandon hurt her Dora, the present from her paternal grandparents. He growled, took one of the doll’s legs, and wrapped his chubby hand around its neck. She stood there, horrified at the abuse her favorite doll was receiving, but she couldn’t do anything. The last time she tried, he pushed her and she fell, scraping her arm. He got in trouble, of course, but it didn’t make him stop. “I hate you and your stupid dolls. They’re so stupid, just like you. And you’re ugly, and you’ll never look like any of the stupid dolls you have!” he yelled and grunted while pulling on the plastic body and head. It took him a few seconds, but before long, the doll’s head slipped free of its socket with a hollow pop that seemed to echo around her. He took the head and threw it as hard as he could across the room, and then he chucked the body at her feet. “There’s your stupid doll now,” he said before laughing and running away. Maria wondered why he was so mean to her. He was always destroying something of hers before yelling that he hated her or that he wished she’d never been born. She often wondered if he was just angry that his dad left, but she never had the courage to ask since she’d never known the guy. This time was no different, except that he was destroying the one thing that she loved most, her 80 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 only confidante, the favorite of all her dolls, her presents, Dora. Maria loved playing with Dora’s tight, blonde ringlets and the bows on the light blue ball gown it wore. Dora went everywhere with her. She sat in her book bag at school, had dinner with her, and slept beside her in bed. Maria felt the doll was the only one who cared about her in her family. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized she looked nothing like the doll, with her straight, dark hair, tan skin, and brown eyes. She would, years later, realize that the picture of the white family she found in her mother’s room as child was her biological family. Maria looked at the pale legs lying across her dark toes. The curly head had landed a few inches from the wall with the hair strewn across the plastic blue eyes. With her best friend beheaded, she couldn’t stop the anguish from welling up and spilling over. Maria dropped to the ground and began to cry and scream at her brother. The babysitter, Janet, came running. She did her best to console the crying child and even managed to replace the doll’s head to its proper place, a display meant to show Maria that everything would be okay. The babysitter placed the doll in Maria’s lap. Maria still sobbed and sniffled, but she calmed down enough to study it, its neck, and the point of dislocation. Janet took the silence as a sign that Maria was okay, and she left her on the floor to get back to the pile of homework she was working on in the kitchen. Maria watched Janet walk away out of the corner of her eye. When she was alone, she wiped the snot running from her nose onto her hand and then wiped her hand on the carpet, her eyes never leaving Dora’s neck. When her hand was clean, she touched the neck again, the line where the head met body. She tried to smooth Dora’s curly mass of synthetic hair and readjusted the dress. Even though the doll was reassembled with no apparent damage, except for a few stray hairs, she didn’t feel the same about the doll. Two things were wrong. The head been removed and put back with no problem, and she now realized she was very different from the blue eyed, blonde haired doll that stared lifeless back at her. She grabbed a handful of the doll’s hair and wrapped her tiny fingers of the other hand around the pink neck, dark skin contrasting with lightcolored plastic. She frowned and with one swift, angry pull, popped the head out of its socket again. She raised both arms and threw with all she had the head and body at the foot of her bed where the rest of her dolls sat. She stared at the collection of dolls before moving toward them. She picked up the on one the end. It had a light pink face with rosy AUTUMN DARBROW 81 cheeks and wore a white, hooped dress with pink bows, a dress she’d never wear, a face she’d never see looking back in the mirror. Again, she wrapped her fingers around the base of the head and knotted the other hand in the doll’s dark brown hair. She pulled until there was another popping noise. That doll, too, ended up on the floor, this time wherever she dropped the two parts. Maria did this to the doll with the blue and green dress, the doll wearing a bonnet, the one with pigtail braids, and so on until all that was left was a bedroom f loor full of colorfully dressed bodies and heads with tangled hair. She didn’t clean up the mess. Instead, she climbed into bed, put her arm under her head, pulled the blankets up, and stared at the colorful war zone until she fell asleep. 82 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Cereal Bird “Why don t you ever wear color, Laura?” my little sister asks sarcastically, her blonde curls wrapping around her ears in short pigtails. She stands on the carpet of the living room, and watches as I work my way around the breakfast bar to the kitchen cabinets. “Why don’t you ever shut up?” I respond, pulling a blue ceramic bowl from the cupboard. Mint tea is already seeping in my “pessimistic” mug. Four months ago, my mom thought it’d be a great gift to give me, even without a special occasion for a gift. She said that when she saw it, she had to get it for me because it fit me so well. The mug says something like, “I’m going to start being optimistic but I know it won’t work.” I don’t think I’m pessimistic. I prefer realistic, but I like the mug because there’s an odd looking cat on the side, smiling awkwardly. “God, why do you have to be such a bitch in the morning? It’s just a question.” Even though Jessica is only nine, my parents allow her to swear. I would’ve been grounded for a week if I used that word at her age. A lot of rules get been bent or broken for Jessica. And my Mom wonders why I freak out at times. It’s unfair how she always babies her, the little brat. “Yeah, only a question. Just like my makeup was only vacationing in your room, right? Touch my stuff again and I’ll paint all your toys black.” “You wouldn’t.” “Try me.” I smile to show just how serious I am. I normally have a no- AUTUMN DARBROW 83 smile policy before 10 am, but for this threat, I make an exception. “You’re so stupid,” she says, exasperated, and she stomps away. I pour myself a bowl of Marshmallow Mateys. I half expect Tumbler, our stupid, extremely clumsy, and very excitable Mastiff, to come running in and beg for food since that’s one of the very few things he’s good at, but he doesn’t appear. I move from the kitchen counter to the small, circular kitchen table. Once, I asked my mom why we didn’t get a bigger table, one that sat three to four people instead of two, but she didn’t answer. She just shrugged her shoulders and went to feed Jessica. I set the bowl in the middle so that I can use my sketchbook, charcoal stick, and the new industrial strength glue my mom reluctantly bought me for a new sculpture I’m working on. I sit down, open my sketchbook to continue working on a two-week, detailed portrait of a monster family I’m planning on submitting for a contest, and begin eating my favorite cereal, pausing only to pick the black nail polish off my nails for inspiration. I am just getting into my art, a few bites later, when, suddenly, my arm and lap are covered in milk, marshmallows, and shapes of high fructose corn syrup. I look down to see my monster mom’s face distorted. The entire bottom right side of the page is already beginning to curl. Jessica comes into the kitchen and starts laughing while her parakeet is still bathing and hopping up and down in my cereal bowl. Drops of milk cling to my eyelashes as the bird shakes itself off and eats a green clover marshmallow. “I swear to God, if you don’t get your freak bird away from me right now, you will regret it,” I hiss through my teeth. I sit there still as a stone and glare at her as beads of milk drip off my face and soak through my jeans to my skin, giving me goose bumps. Wet pants, ruined makeup, goose bumps, and my ruined picture are a little too much to handle this early in the morning, and I have a very hard time not lunging from my chair at her. She did nothing, of course. She never took me seriously because Mom was always standing up for her, so Jessica just stood there laughing. The bird is always ruining something of mine. Yesterday, it chewed half the wood off my eyeliner. Last week, it f lew into my room and pooped on my pillow. I didn’t notice until the next morning when Jessica pointed out there was bird poop in my hair. A few days before that, it shredded my research paper. The teacher didn’t believe me, of course, and I had to hear my Mom’s disappointment speech, again. 84 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Nothing is ever done about the bird, though. “Who can be mad at a one-legged bird?” they ask me. That’s how mom and Jessica see it, and there’s no one else but the dog to side with me. Poor little bird with its one leg, its hard life, they say. Yeah, right. “You won’t do anything,” Jessica says standing there with her hand on her hip, head cocked to one side. “Besides, he needs to exercise his leg and wings. It’s not his fault your cereal bowl is placed in the spot where he always lands, and you know this.” “Are you freaking kidding me?” I yell. The bird hops to catch another floating marshmallow, spilling more milk on my picture. I try to scare it out of my bowl but end up spilling more milk down the front of my shirt instead. Now, I’m pissed. I grunt as I the push the chair away from the table and begin chasing Jessica around the kitchen. The bird starts freaking out, squawking, and flying chaotically all over the place, occasionally bumping into cabinets or cookware. “Laura! What are you doing?” my mom yells. I freeze, and Jessica breaks out the waterworks, her ticket out of anything. “What the hell is going on in this kitchen? I can hear everything upstairs, even at the back of the house,” she says as she puts in a small diamond earring. “Mom, Laura tried to hurt my bird,” she Jessica cries as the one-legged instigator flutters to her shoulder. It sits there breathing heavily while Jessica pets it. “But mom, it was the bird.” I try to explain. “I don’t care who did what. Stop instigating the bird, Laura, and get this kitchen cleaned up now or you will not be going to the Horror Fest this weekend with your friends,” my mother responds. She leaves the kitchen to continue getting ready for work. “Mom, that’s not fair. It wasn’t my fault!” I yell after her. “Life isn’t fair, Laura. Now hurry up or you’ll be late for school” she calls back over her shoulder from the living room. “Your bird is done for,” I yell angrily at Jessica and run upstairs to wipe my face clean and change, determined to exact revenge, regardless of what the consequences might be. At school, I spend my geography and math classes planning. I like to keep my word, and, in all fairness, I did warn Jessica. The next day, I walk to the cabinet, pull out a bowl, and pour the cereal and milk in it. I carry the bowl to the dining table, grab my glue and start AUTUMN DARBROW 85 squeezing the gel into the bowl. Once done, I replace the cap, sit back, smile, and wait. The bird doesn’t come in right away like I expect it to, and I start to worry that the glue will harden before the bird arrives. Then I get an idea. I lift the spoon, with some effort, from the bowl and hit it lightly on the ceramic edge a few times. That does the trick, and the bird comes fluttering in, knowing it is about to commandeer the sweet pieces while I watch. A smile spreads across my face when it lands in the exact same spot as the day before. It attempts to take a marshmallow, and then a step, but it doesn’t succeed. I point my finger at it like a child, get out of my chair, and do a little dance. “Got you now, you stupid little bird.” The bird isn’t as happy as me, though, and it starts to scream and flail about. I hadn’t thought about what I’d do after I stuck the bird to the bowl, and I start to feel really bad for what I’d done to it. I don’t know what to do except run my hands through my black hair several times, hoping that’ll help me think better. Just when I gather enough courage to spoon out the flapping bird, Tumbler comes barreling into the kitchen. Roused by all of the commotion, his hindquarters spin around the breakfast bar and slam a kitchen chair into the window beside it. I know what’s on the dog’s mind. Knew the moment he entered the kitchen, tongue hanging out and tail wagging. I dive to grab him and manage to snag his collar, but in his rush to get the screaming bird, it slips right off. Tumbler leaps through the air, lands on the table, and snatches the bird’s head in his mouth. The bowl, bird, and dog all come crashing to the floor right in front of me. I hear Jessica running to the kitchen and watch her stop short of the living room, right at the entrance to the kitchen. She stares at Tumbler. He has one paw on the bird’s body while he gnaws on the bird’s head, blood dripping down from his mouth and splashing onto the floor. The bowl had shattered in the commotion, and pieces of ceramic were strewn all across the kitchen. “Laura! What the hell happened?” my mother yells as she runs into the kitchen. “Oh my God, Tumbler, NO! Bad dog. Bad!” My mom tries to get the bird from his mouth, but he growls and scoots away, dragging the limp bird with him. I don’t say a word. I just stare at the blood streaks on the tile. They remind me of paintbrush strokes on a painting I’d done last week. Tumbler’s neon green collar hangs from my hand as I watch my mom wrestle the remainder of the bowl away from him. After their tug-of-war, Tumbler runs into another room 86 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 with the body of the bird, trailing droplets across the carpet. I watch my mom stand with the bowl in her hand, her knees caked in blood. She notices the bird’s severed leg still glued to the ceramic as she walks to the garbage can to throw it out. She takes a deep breath and turns to me. “You are grounded for the month, and you’re sure as shit not going to that horror film thing with your friends. You’ll also be the one cleaning up this mess. Right now.” Mom grabs the roll of paper towels, and throws them to me. “Carpet cleaner and Pine-Sol are under the sink.” “But mom, that’s not fair! Tumbler’s the one who killed him. I tried to stop him. See?” I hold his collar out in front of me to prove that I really did try to stop him. The bird made my life difficult, true, but I didn’t want it to die. I mean, I kind of did, but I didn’t really, I think. “I don’t know what you did to get that bird stuck to the bowl, and frankly, I don’t care at this point. I’m so fed up with you’re behavior. I really can’t believe you’d do such a thing, especially to Jessica. Get it all cleaned up now, and then go to your room. I don’t want to hear a word from you for the rest of the week, I’m that mad at you.” My mother walks out of the kitchen, Jessica within her arm, consoling her. “Mom, it wasn’t my fault! I didn’t mean for the bird to die. I swear to God!” I yell after her. “Laura, I swear, if you don’t be quiet right now, I will make sure you don’t leave your room but to go to school and come right back. Do not test me right now.” I pick up the table and chair, then kneel to clean up Tumbler’s mess. I rip a paper towel off the roll and drop it in the pooling blood. The blood takes its time settling into its new home, but when I see it’s working, I rip a few more off and throw them down. I replay the events of the last two days in my mind, over and over, while watching the blood spider through the seasonal pumpkins and leaves, and, as I think back to the happily eating bird from the day before, I realize what I did was wrong. It’s hard to get the images of all the horrible things the bird seemed to do only to me out of my mind every time I thought about it’s death. After a few minutes, the paper towels have soaked all they could. I swipe from right to left, bunching the sheets into a bloody ball, and I carry the paper towels cupped in my hand to the trash can. I step on the foot pedal and wait a few seconds for the lid to pop up before I drop it in. It’s after I’m done and AUTUMN DARBROW 87 looking away from the trashcan that I get a glimpse of my hands, stained by the bird’s blood. I walk over to the sink and flip the faucet up with my forearm, but I don’t have the desire to stick my hands under the running water. I look at the dark lines of my hand, highlighted by the blood, and my heart skips a beat. The intricate, red designs are exciting to look at. I don’t want to erase this happy feeling. So, I slowly shut the water off, pull the sleeves of my hoody over my hands, and walk out of the kitchen, a smile on my face. 88 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 The Unknown Ja m i e ’ s f e a r of darkened woods began when she was four. Her mom, dad, younger brother, and she lived on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. To reach their house, you had to drive up a long and winding stone driveway. There was a large Oak tree in the front yard her dad had tied a tire swing to, and a barn sat further down the property below the house. It wasn’t a big barn, only one floor, and had just enough room for two horse stalls, a goat pen that opened out into the yard, and a chicken coop. The tackle room could hardly be called a room. The structure was old, and there was termite damage. She remembered her father opening the front door while handing her his coffee (he allowed her to try it every morning and it tasted awful each time) and remarking on his surprise that the barn withstood another night. One early evening, as the sun was just beginning to set, her father told her to go down and check on the chickens. They were making a fuss loud enough to be heard up the hill to the house. She hurried down the hill at full speed to make sure the chickens weren’t attacking the new peeps her mom let her take care of. She ran right through the barn door and stopped herself gently on a beam in the middle of the barn, a habit she’d done frequently, despite her father’s remarks that the whole place would come crashing down from her shockwaves. The chickens were loud and hopping over one another, but she didn’t see anything wrong after peering through the wire mesh for a minute. She checked on her peeps, and they were fine, too. Everything was in order, so she turned around AUTUMN DARBROW 89 and exited the barn. She’d made it half way up the hill when she saw her father walk to the edge of the porch with a shotgun. “Jamie, run! Run now, as fast as you can, and don’t look back!” Of course, she looked back, and a wolf baring its teeth was running after her from the edge of the woods on the other side of the goat pen. She ran as fast as she could up the hill, but it wasn’t fast enough. The wolf was closing in quickly. Just as she was steps away from the front porch, her dad yelled, “Duck and cover your ears, Jamie!” She dropped and crouched down to the ground, her hands over her ears, and she heard the gun go off right above her. She didn’t move until her dad picked her up. She wrapped her little arms and hands around his neck and began to cry as he slowly walked towards the sprawled animal, gun tucked under his arm, loaded and ready to fire just in case. After a moment of inspection, her dad told her it was dead and laughed about her close call. She only cried more. Not even a year later, they moved to another farmhouse in a more populated area. As a teenager, she often got home late from work or school, and she would sit in her car a few minutes, gathering the things that needed to go inside, before making a mad dash for the front door. She never looked back in case an animal was chasing her. For the majority of her life, she grew up on the farmhouse land, which included an acre or two of woods. She was never sure of how much land they owned because she never entered the woods, day or especially night. The woods never felt right, and she spent many nights afraid to look out her window towards the black line where lawn ended and the unknown began. Her fear may have been exacerbated by her incredibly wild imagination and tendency to watch paranormal shows late into the night, but, in all honesty, she was afraid an incident like the one from the previous farmhouse would be repeated. She feared she wouldn’t escape like the first time. Jamie jolted awake at four a.m. sprawled across her bed, still in her work clothes and the TV babbling about cutlery. She rolled over and grabbed for her phone on the nightstand, but it was nowhere to be found. She sighed but was glad to be awake. Had she not awaken, she would’ve slept several hours after the start of her work shift since her phone doubled as her alarm clock, even though she didn’t start until mid-morning. Her body had a way of easily sleeping ten hours. So, she was thankful her internal workings knew something was off and woke up to let her know. She leaned over to thoroughly check the nightstand, 90 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 but, like the blind patting she’d done earlier, it wasn’t there. Her room consisted only of her bed, a dresser, a nightstand, and the lamp. She had planned to move closer to San Francisco and spent several weeks slowly packing things up so that she wasn’t rushed when the time to move came, but that time never arrived due to finances, credit, and cats. So, she stayed in the apartment she’d been living in for a year now, but nothing was where they would be normally, like her back up, duck alarm clock. Jamie checked her pockets and her bag, the only other places her pone would be, but they were not there. Then, she tried to imagine where she stuck the duck faced clock that quacked to wake her up. She rolled herself off the bed and trudged to a box she thought might have it. She picked the corner of the tape until she had enough to rip it straight across the box. The flaps popped up, and it became very clear she chose a box intended for the kitchen. Several brightly colored dishtowels rested on top of what she knew were pans. The plastic on her egg-shaped egg timer you plopped into boiling water to alert you when you had soft or hardboiled eggs flashed as the dining room’s overhead light caught it in the corner of the box. Normally, she’d close the box back up so her three cats didn’t jump in and start digging around, but she was still too groggy to be bothered. She’d deal with their box fetish later. She stood up and tried to remember where else the clock could be. Things were disorienting with everything still in boxes, and her cats were now up and chasing each other in the empty apartment. It echoed, and this disturbed her a bit. Just as she was standing up, the thought that her cell phone could be in her car hit her. She could’ve easily forgotten it in her haste to get inside to the bathroom earlier that night. Jamie went to her room and threw on some flip flips since the only thing she’d taken off were her socks and shoes. She grabbed her keys, opened the door just a crack to lock the doorknob, and stuck one leg around and out the door. In one swift movement, Jamie slid her body through the cracked doorway, fended off the curious cats with her left leg, and shut the door. It was pretty chilly for an East Bay summer night, but there was no breeze as she trudged down the walkway in front of the apartment complex, eyeing the row of large shrubbery and small trees out of habit that lined the other side of the walkway, then the set of steps around the middle of the complex that led down to the paved area of the carports. She had to concentrate on where she was walking. The lights intended to make the walkway visible were burnt out, AUTUMN DARBROW 91 and she knew they’d remain that way for at least a week since the handyman wasn’t a very prompt one. When she reached the paved parking area with two rows of four carports on each side, her flip-flops slid across the gravel and echoed slightly against the still night air. She tried walking quietly, but the rocks and the flip-flops made silence hard to manage. She made it to her car, the last one in the row furthest from the apartment complex, unlocked it, opened the door, and leaned in to check the passenger seat. After moments of digging through hair ties, a hairbrush, a multitude of pens and Chapsticks, a wad of napkins, past the mace and spare bottle of perfume, she noticed her phone had fallen to the floor and was wedged between the plastic of the car and another unpacked box she’d gotten from her storage unit. She grabbed the device, shut the door to her black Corolla as quietly as possible, locked it, and turned to head inside. Jamie took a few steps toward the apartment before stopping. Something didn’t feel right. Something, somewhere, was watching her. She looked up toward the row of apartments. The building was long and housed twelve apartments total, a row of six on the bottom and six on the top. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the crazy lady’s apartment window. Many times she’d gotten this same feeling during the day only to look up and see the woman staring down at her, her head barely peaking out from behind the curtain. Once she was seen, she’d dart away and let the curtain drop. Occasionally, she yelled out the window obscure obscenities and random words that made no sense when put together. Tonight, no one was there. She strained her eyes to peer in and behind the dark crevices of the large bushes and small fruit trees by the walkway. Jamie, at this moment, wished she’d put her glasses on before walking out the door. Things were blurry, but, nonetheless, she saw nothing moving. There wasn’t even a leaf skating across the pavement. Her breathing increased. Her heart rate followed. She turned her attention to the rows of cars on either side of her. Her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her, yet, but the lot was dimly lit. The low lighting made it harder to see than it should have been, but she determined there was nothing in front or beside her. So, she turned around to look back towards her car. Just as she was turning, a black shadow caught her eye. It had moved just around the row of bushes on the other side of her car, and she saw the ref lection of the eyes stare at her through the foliage. Jamie was frozen, and their eyes 92 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 remained locked longer than enjoyable. She knew what was to come. She began to back away slowly. The shadow followed. She turned around and forced her flip-flops to move as fast as possible without them flying off. She didn’t care how loud she was being now. She crossed the black pavement, past four cars on each side, and reached the cement steps. Jamie tried to take them two at a time, but her choice of footwear wasn’t having it. The tip of her right foot caught the edge of the cement step and split her toe open. She couldn’t see it, but she could feel the blood pooling into the foam beneath her toes. It was an unnerving feeling, and she was forced to slow her running down because her foot kept slipping. Once she reached the top of the stairs, she bent over and put her hands on her knees to try and slow her breathing. Her heart was beating so fast she felt close to fainting, and she did her best to steady herself while peering into the darkness to see if the shadow was still following her. It was. She was only two apartments away from her own and a good distance from the carports. This was an area she’d considered a safety zone since she was so close to her door, and the shadow was crossing that boundary as she watched. It was hard to get the image of the wolf from her childhood out of her mind as she stood there watching the shadow bound down the concrete towards her. She just couldn’t believe a wild animal was chasing her in a suburban setting, far from the rural woods she’d known and feared. Her imagination sprang to life. She turned from the top of the concrete steps and began running again, her flip-flops pounding the pavement and her toe pounding in pain. In her mind, images of her childhood wolf morphed into a werewolf chasing her. The shadow grew exponentially in her mind, and two arms with razor sharp claws slashed through the air. The eyes grew wide and red, and it’s teeth elongated. She pictured the massive beast reaching her, picking her up in the air, and shredding her stomach open. She could feel the claws puncture her flesh and drag from one side to the other. Then, her mind erased the image of the werewolf completely and replaced it with a vampire. It’s mouth hung unnaturally open with jagged fangs, sharp as needles, waiting to bite down on her neck, it’s arms outstretched to grab her and keep her from moving. The shadow then changed into a zombie peeling the layers of flesh from the muscle on her calf as it pulled away to chew. The images frightened her even more. She tried telling herself that these monsters were an unreasonable assumption, but at the very least, she had trouble AUTUMN DARBROW 93 removing the werewolf image from her mind. So, she pushed her body to move faster and harder than she had done in years, so hard that the momentum of her body, for a moment, was too fast for her feet, and she almost fell onto the concrete right in front of her apartment. She saved herself just in time. She made a right into the open inlet that led to the four doors of both the upstairs and downstairs apartments, and veered to the left to her front door. She fumbled with the keys before finally getting the door open, and she lunged across the threshold, slamming the door behind her and quickly locking the door and deadbolt. She took three steps back from the door, bent over, and placed her hands on her knees to keep from fainting while she dry heaved. Her cats were freaking out. Noodles had run in a wide circle in the open living room to the left of the front door, weaving between boxes, before darting to the right of the front door, back the very small hallway, and took a sliding left into the bathroom across from the bedroom. She skillfully opened the bottom drawer beside the sink, wedged herself into the drawer, and climbed over the edge to hide behind the open drawer. The other two cats had moved back the apartment a bit. Jasper stood right in the middle of the open dining room, back arched, ears back, hissing at the sliding glass door that overlooked a small patio and an even smaller garden before reaching a chest high fence enclosing the patio. The Mowry was doing the same thing, hair standing straight on end, but she stood on the kitchen counter that was to the right of the dining area. Jamie was alarmed. They couldnâ€™t possibly see anything since the blinds were closed, but she began to worry that the glass door wasnâ€™t locked. So, she pulled herself up off her knees and hurriedly walked the short distance to the middle of the room where Jasper was. She stood beside him for a moment before counting to three, running to the door, swinging the blinds back, and flipping the latch up so that the door was locked. Jamie did her best not to look outside, but she caught a glimpse of something large moving rapidly toward the glass. She let out a small yelp, turned, and ran right before there was a loud bang that came directly from where she stood. She, Jasper, and Mowry jumped and took off back to the front door before making a sharp left, down the hallway, and made a right into her bedroom, hearts pounding and cat nails sliding across the wooden floor the entire time. Noodles had already made her way into the bedroom and was wedged into a pillowcase on the bed. You could only see her butt sticking out. Even her tail was curled up inside the fabric. 94 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Jamie slammed her bedroom door shut, scaring the cats again, and locked it. She threw herself down on the bed and scrambled up under the covers. She turned on the TV and raised the volume to try and distract her mind, and after twenty-three minutes of infomercials and silence, she managed to get her heart rate under control. She plugged in her phone and tucked herself into bed, now exhausted from the earlier event. For a moment, she considered calling her mom, but it was early morning on the weekend on the East Coast. Her family and friends werenâ€™t up, and she had no real friends in California just yet. None to confide such a tale in, at least, without sounding like a drama queen. So, she sucked it up and told no one. Instead, she bandaged her toe with the small first aid kid she happened to have out, watched a TV show, and ate some pretzels with her cats who were now calm and sleeping on the bed with her. Just as she was setting her alarm so she could go back to sleep, she heard scratching outside her bedroom wall, which was on the other side of the complex, several yards away from both the front door and the patio. The noise was heard right beside her bed that sat under the single-paned, somewhat shaky window that spanned the majority of the wall. She looked around, but all of the cats were on the bed with her curled up in their own spots, ears perked as they listened, too. Jasper and Mowry jumped onto the windowsill. Their ears flattened at the same time, and Mowry fluffed up her hair and began hissing. Noodles scurried off the bed and ran underneath. It was back. ERIN GINDER-SHAW We All Live in a Yellow Submarine I remember the first words she said to me: “Do you have an extra number two pencil?” Of course I did. It was the first week of Mr. Michael’s tenth grade geometry. Amanda sat behind me since there were no H, I, or J last names. Every day she showed up late and every day I wondered where she had been. She alternated her outfits between a tight black tank top with ripped jeans, a tight white tank top with ripped jeans, and a tight Bob Dylan t-shirt with ripped jeans. She smelled like cigarettes. She made me want to run home immediately to trash my rainbow assortment of Old Navy sweaters and collection of Third Eye Blind cassettes. One day Amanda tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew who John Lennon was. I said yes. Thankfully, my parents had only played three albums in the house when I was growing up: The soundtrack to The Birdcage, Tony Bennett Duets, and Please Please Me. That third one stuck. When Amanda heard this her eyes lit up. She leaned her unfairly large, seriously pushed up breasts across her desk. “You should totally come over after school and watch Yellow Sub with me. It’s rad.” This was the first time I had ever heard somebody my age use the word rad in casual conversation. I adopted it immediately. Nobody was home when we got to her house. Amanda threw her backpack on the couch, instructed me to do the same, pointed to the den where the 98 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 television/VCR was kept and disappeared upstairs. I sat on the bright purple bean bag chair in the center of the room. I stood up. I sat back down. I attempted to conjure every bit of Beatles trivia I’d ever heard anywhere ever. After a few minutes she returned, Yellow Submarine tape in one hand, joint in the other. “I found it!” She exclaimed, referring, of course, to the pot. “You smoke?” I nodded furiously. Probably too furiously. Amanda smiled. The truth was that the only time I’d ever even seen marijuana was in our freshman year Survival Skills textbook under the caption, “Drugs aren’t something you should do, they’re something you should don’t.” I was terrified. Luckily, after one or two full body coughing fits (which Amanda gratefully ignored) everything just sort of slowed down and Yellow Submarine became a hilarious illusion chock full of runny colors and tiny men in silly hats. We spent the entire afternoon high as hell, glued to the purple bean bag chair, watching the film on repeat. After that we were inseparable, and suddenly, I was cool. It seemed clear that hanging out with Amanda made me attractive, interesting, and desirable by association. She was dangerous and captivating all in one breath and everybody wanted to be around her, especially boys. Mostly she ignored them, as though she couldn’t be bothered by their meager affections. I ignored them too even though I didn’t want to. I watched the way they looked at her, at her soft curves and voluptuous breasts, silently hoping one of them would look at me that way, too. Amanda found this “silly.” “High school boys will always be around waiting for you to drop a pencil or lean too far over a tray of ketchup covered tater tots in the cafeteria,” she’d say as she carefully checked herself out in the locker room mirror. “It’s predictable. And annoying.” Despite my longing I believed her. She seemed to understand things I did not, and like she said, we didn’t need any emotionally stunted boys holding us back. During the school week our afternoons were full of music at full volume on her dad’s stereo, repeat viewings of Yellow Submarine, small joints, carrot sticks, low-fat peanut butter covered saltines, extensive blurry discussions of The Catcher in the Rye, and the occasional episode of The Real World. At 6:00 every day my parents would ruin it by calling to remind me that dinner was almost ready. ERIN GINDER-SHAW 99 I loathed these phone calls. Amanda found this amusing and she would giggle as she walked me to the front door. I looked forward to our routine from the moment I left her house to the moment the 3:00 bell rang each day. The time in between became irrelevant. On the weekends we would gather a small group— usually just Amanda, me, Kimberly, Danielle, Kimberly’s older brother, and his friend Charlie—grab a twenty-four pack of Coors Light (with Charlie’s fake ID), and head down to the river. We would swim, smoke, drink, and play music on Kimberly’s JVC BoomBlaster. We were bulletproof. One Friday evening Amanda said, very casually, that she’d had sex with Charlie Roberts in the back of her parent’s minivan. We were at Kimberley Myer’s house trying on dresses for Homecoming and all of the sudden I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I assumed that when it came to boys we were even—uninterested, inexperienced, and unconcerned. I’d never even seen her flirt with Charlie. Not once. I watched her in the mirror, pulling up the thin straps of a knee length navy blue dress then letting them go, turning to one side, turning to the other side, squeezing her thin waist between her thumb and pointer finger. In that moment she looked like a completely different person. “How come?” “I don’t know,” she said. “It just happened?” Amanda nodded. “He came over to drop off homework for Mrs. Wilson’s class, you know, from when I skipped last week, and I invited him in.” “Then you had sex in your parents’ minivan?” Amanda smiled. “What’s the big deal? He asked if I’d ever done it before and I said no and he said he thought I had nice ass and I got to thinking. We’re going to be fifteen next month, you know?” I stared at her, trying to imagine what it was like. Did they kiss first? Did he take off her shirt, then her bra, one by one like in the movies? Did she make noises like the kind I used to hear coming from my older brother’s bedroom whenever Stacy would come over? I wanted every detail but I couldn’t ask. “Why the minivan?” Amanda stepped away from the mirror and sat down next to me on the bed. She smiled as she pulled her long, wavy hair gently through her fingers. “Why not?” 100 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Just like that Amanda and Charlie started dating. She liked the way he made her feel, she said, showering her with compliments, buying her LPs to play on her dad’s record player when he wasn’t home, driving her around in his brother’s beat up Mustang. I’d never had a boyfriend but through Amanda Charlie was damn close. I knew everything about him from his favorite breakfast cereal (Honeycomb), to the number of tattoos he was going to get when he turned eighteen (seven), to his preferred sexual positions (I blocked this one out). After a few weeks Amanda said she couldn’t believe she had ever lived without him. She talked about moving to Los Angeles with him after graduation so he could pursue music. It didn’t make sense to me. I felt like the only one who even noticed the forceful way he pushed off her advances in public when his friends were around, or the fact that it was always her job to call him or the constant stream of tears that rushed down her cheeks whenever he broke a date, which was often. Still, for some reason I couldn’t pinpoint, I longed to be in her shoes. We had be en gorging ourselve s for hours on deep dish pizza and mint chocolate chip ice cream at Kimberly Myer’s sixteenth birthday when Amanda showed up. When she came in I practically f lew over the couch to greet her at the door. “Hey!” I chirped. Amanda stared at me with dark blue unamused eyes. I immediately wished take back my enthusiasm. She stepped inside and glanced around the living room. “I’m gonna grab a soda, you want one?” I made sure to ask like I didn’t care. “Diet Coke.” I removed two sodas from the fridge and we each pulled up a stool at the kitchen counter. Amanda looked different. Her hair was styled and curled at the tips and she wore a tight, short denim skirt and a purple tank top with a plunging neckline. She was wearing make-up and the dramatic rouge coupled with the dark, extended eyelashes changed something. It was unnatural. Amanda was one of those girls who could roll out of bed, throw on a T-shirt and jeans, and walk out the door five minutes later looking model-esque. One time I tried to copy this sexycasual look that came so easily to her. It ended with jeans ripped in all the wrong places, a tank top two sizes too small, and a blown out fuse from a hairdryer that caused the electricity to go out halfway down the block. ERIN GINDER-SHAW 101 “Is there any pizza left?” Amanda asked. “In the other room. No dinner with Charlie tonight?” She shook her head. “Something came up.” I led her into the living room where she was met by a screeching chorus of “Amanda!” I cringed. She sat down on the carpet next to the couch with the pizza box on her lap and stared. I’d seen her do this before. Amanda was always careful about what she ate, and she always ate slowly. “Mindful eating,” she called it. “Thinking about the food before you eat it helps you eat consciously. That’s why obesity is such a big problem in this country. People don’t think.” I admired this in her, this awareness. I was not so enlightened. Away from Amanda I would happily indulge in whatever pasta or meat dish my mother cooked up, and I would always return for seconds. As she sat, pondering her pizza, I waited. This routine fascinated me. After a moment, she took a bite, then another, then another. I suddenly realized there was nothing mindful about this display. She ate seven slices in twenty minutes, stood up, and cooly walked to the bathroom. Amanda often complained about her body. In the locker room before gym class she would whine that her thighs were too thick or her jeans were getting tight or she was developing love handles. None of it was true and every morning her self deprecations were met with opposing affirmations. Everyone in earshot would chime in. I could see her reflection in the mirror—long brown hair, blue eyes, long torso, thin frame—Amanda was beautiful. It scared me that the confident, sexy, smart, pot smoking, Bob Dylan t-shirt wearing girl I knew saw someone completely different when she looked in that same mirror. When she finally emerged from the bathroom I followed her outside. She lit up a cigarette. “Are you okay?” She laughed. “Yeah. Are you?” I don’t know what I would have done if she’d said no. After five months Charlie broke up with her. For three days Amanda didn’t come to school. I texted, called every day, and checked my phone constantly. She was off the grid. On the fourth day I went to her house with a pack of Camel Lights I convinced my older brother to get for me and a bottle of wine I stole 102 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 from my parent’s liquor cabinet. I stood on her doorstep and waited. After six patiently spaced knocks she pulled open the door and stared at me through the screen. Her cheeks were flushed and she had dark, puffy circles under her eyes. She was wearing loose drawstring pants and a dark green hooded sweatshirt two sizes too big. She looked like a “before” model from a makeover photo shoot. “What do you want?” she asked. “I just came to check on you,” I replied waving the wine and cigarettes at eye level. She leaned her head on the door frame, pushed opened the screen, and took the bottle. “Coming in?” Amanda wandered through the house to the kitchen, pulled a corkscrew from a drawer, popped the cork, and took a long slow sip from the bottle. Her whole body relaxed when she was done. She offered it to me. I took a long sip and tried not to cough when I was done. “Cigarette?” She asked. I nodded eagerly as I pulled the pack from my back pocket. She opened the sliding glass door that led to a small, poorly manicured backyard and we lay down on the grass, blowing smoke at the sun. We smoked two in a row before she spoke again. “Could you pass the wine please?” It was better than nothing but I was anxious. I was dying to ask her how she felt. Had she talked to Charlie? Was she eating? My guess was no. Amanda lit another cigarette. I did the same. We watched the smoke billow and fall. She rolled toward me and draped her arm over my waist. I could feel her exhale on my neck. Her breath was warm and stale. It felt strange and good and relaxing to have her so close. Almost like we were in a bubble, like if we could stay in there forever nothing bad could touch us. Amanda shifted slightly and laced her fingers through mine. I took a drag with my free hand and watched the smoke disappear. I felt grounded and light. Untouchable. “Have you ever wondered,” I whispered, “What it would be like to—” “I love you,” Amanda interrupted. Every muscle in my body tensed. She squeezed my hand. “I really do,” she said. ERIN GINDER-SHAW 103 I didnâ€™t know what to say. Of course I loved her. Iâ€™d always loved her. My throat constricted, my lips and tongue were dry. I pulled her closer and she rested her head on my shoulder. For a moment neither of us moved. Then Amanda began to cry. I could feel her hot, wet tears soaking through my thin t-shirt. Every breeze, every insect, every movement in the trees, every sound ceased. Together we were unbreakable. AMAL HASSAN The Curse of the Eclipse B O O K E XC E R P T S THE RABBIT Whoe v e r di s c ov e r e d her body at the edge of the lake must remember the smell of her hair. Every change of season, every change of weather fertilized her skin. The mountains even changed into shapes of magical hues. But sometimes, the sun will glow and light up the scars on her skin like a crown of glory. In the city she moved into the year before, people liked to tell lies and steal legends from people who were gone. It was a city of dead heroes. She was a mother with no children only a soul; a soul that was taken away. She was courageous and never gave up. She kicked the air and yelled with all her light until she lost consciousness. When she woke up, she tried to escape by planting trees and coloring the soil, hoping to create a safe haven. One summer day, far below the majestic sun, there was a reflection of a purple cloud under the oldest tree with a dew drop and a baby rabbit in its midst. During the following days, the mountains began to turn every shadow blue. The dew drop stayed but the rabbit grew. She was pulled toward it every morning. The rabbit grew. She became (was) the rabbit. 106 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 THE SPIDER I t wa s s om e t h i ng beyond poetry, something blue. A mind like hers could never rest. People couldnâ€™t see poetry, but she did. It was her superpower and she cries and laughs and peels everything. The sun was out and the breeze was free and yellow. She walked that walk every evening but that day had cast a spell on her and she was walking in her mind instead. She saw herself that day, how she was made. It was not just her parents who created her, but everyone, everything and every place she has been. The wind played tricks on her. She loved everything even if she hated it. Everything except that creature, that is. The moment he walked into her line of vision, everything became water. He was coming, a stranger with short legs. When she met his eyes, she saw nothing but a spider. A spider covered in hair and a diamond in the iris-the attraction-a magnet pulling downward. She felt the fur for the first time on her skin. As if she was naked all her life. Every line of his webs spilled white like wounded veins. Shapes hovered around him. She saw them all. She hadnâ€™t yet learn about supernatural strength, not until a month later. The trees she planted started to pull her apart, stretching memory and muscles. She felt a war raging inside. But the sun became darker each day. The comfort of knowing the end is wonderful. A spider can never eat a rabbit, let alone trap it. It became a mystery. The garden kept growing with more white threads than aging faces. The rabbit threw away the enchanted dust. Her heart turned black on the stone as it waited to be pleased, fed, and made eternal. The moon did not rise that night. It was the garden they built together that became the heavenly hell. The spider was a new experience for her. The trees were a drug. The branches grew like an arrow, placing her skin violently into the spiderâ€™s skin. The rabbit, heavy with the taste of the dust, started knotting all the lines. At each knot, a pearl appeared, illuminating the entire trap. It was the fascination of the legs. The spider looked like a star slowly climbing to the abyss above, from which all the dust spewed down. A god with no halo, a damned image of sparkling tears. Should she sacrifice the spider to save her from killing the rabbit? All she desires is to be a spider. AMAL HASSAN 107 T H E GY P SY I’m sharing this encounter with mixed emotions. It’s hard to close a life knowing that it’s not the end. I live by the seasons and move with them. One day I was travelling and happened to take refuge at the lake. I kept looking at the lake as I felt uneasiness in the wind. I searched for a while until I found the lips hidden under a bush of roses. I release the silence of those lips with my eyes and there was no movement but a murmur was heard. The only sign of a living death. As any gypsy would, I took out my book, the perfume bottle, and all the rats, and sat in the tree’s shadow looking down at those lips. As the rain came down, the lips opened and I found the soul inside. She was scared, staring up at the moon. At sunrise, birds came down the clouds. The soul shivered for the first time. The entire earth shook. I had never witnessed such power before. The conversation with the soul made me wonder if the rabbit was gone. The body stayed at the edge until it was just grass. No one came. It was a blind universe. Her body stayed as long as her soul lived. B E H I N D R O C K S : A C O N V E R S AT I O N B E T W E E N T H E G Y P S Y A N D T H E WOM A N (Vision) W: G: W: G: W: G: W: G: W: G: W: Who are you? A wandering gypsy. Can you see me? I see your full Horizon, your life in your sun. Who am I? A woman’s soul. I can’t see my sun nor my eyes. They are reflecting each other to heal you. Should I hold on? Yes, hold on sideways. Never close your eyes. But he left. 108 G: WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Your injured pride will hurt you. Don’t open your legs to the sun. Let your eyes breathe on the moon. W: G: I feel the moon like a shadow. I am scared. You are lost in the book of hunger. Let your fear be the loving sun you want to see. Tear the air from your lungs but breathe for me. Life exhales in your face. W: G: I was never told about my face. Did the lake run through it? you are a new born lover with a mind like a rose. The birds will pick the thorns from your skin. Slowly. Let them. Your mind is your beginning and your rose is your everlasting wound. W: I never told this to anyone, but the king of the moon entered my infant water. I am madness now, hidden. G: Let your body be without borders, just skin with holes. Melting is how love is, so let earth read you. Scatter yourself. The grass is already growing on your wings. He is the moon, so take the sun back from him. W: G: Can I close my window? The lips stay open. You can’t. You can see the water in the wind. It will keep smashing against the dust. Remember, it was your skin that told you shadow stories at night. W: G: How can my life have no edge? Did it break in the wind? Be careful! Don’t talk to the wind. The spider still lives there. In the name of his death, eat your history. Within poetry, welcome the moon and be ready with soft thorns. He can change your climate. Taste the sky’s tea as the moon drops. Strange morning this is in a sky that never ends. W: I arrived here to erase everything: the spider and the rabbit within. I have no idea how to leave my heart to the morning glory. G: Be careful. The sun is closer than you think. It is beautiful with full eyes and the king of the moon can rise in you. I will teach you how to sketch your own faces on rocks. You are the lover inside your voice. W: I am terrified! Can’t I leave tears behind in my footsteps? AMAL HASSAN 109 (Revelation) G: Do you want to stay where you are without a pulse? Wake up, write yourself. Put your face on your mouth. Wear your own death. I will show you how to accept it. Live in madness, name the moon and collect all its rocks. It is your choice. W: G: But who am i? You are the lake of ice. A stranger and history. Build a nest and let the dying seasons grow between your thighs. Then, let earth pass through you like water. W: G: How? I am made of tears and broken glass so I can’t surrender. You have in your lips a dying earth and sky. Worship the fire but don’t sketch illusions. Be the woman of moonless nights. Let your desire make water into fire. W: G: Clouds keep seducing my trees. I fall. How can I walk in evaporating dust? Keep walking on your footsteps until the road reaches the king of the moon. Don’t hold on to this earth. Nothing remains here, don’t forget, or you will choke on its rotten fruit. Breathe the dust that cradles you in the arms. Breathe the dust, you will see in time. W: I confess for the first time, inside this dying earth of mine, I loved the spider’s bones and mud. I drank and wished that my spine would sleep for days. Now I try to let go. I can. I never will. I was. G: The Dust will guard you from the fire. It will tie your heart to the trees. Your world will become a fertile horizon filled with roses. Kiss the earth goodbye. W: Is there anything for the birds at the edge of the lake? They stare at me hungry before the morning! How can I wake up? G: Live among every exhale. Wash away your body in the beast of your tears. You will wake up. You will scream in silence. Wait for the storm, those birds are meant to carry you, to raise and be born. Your world is pregnant with the day. Are you ready? W: G: Will I bare the sunrise? How can the birds be so calm? Write so you can let your white veins bloom. 110 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 (Eclipse) G: you are the end to penetrate the seasons! Release the wound! It is who you are. W: No! I am not. I will let love pull my needles weaving my tears with this lake in me. I will bring life to my solitude. The fog will rise in my breath creating halos. G: You shall not belong to any one. Bones don’t define lovers, let them go. The mud releases the cries of the sky. It is exile to love. Love is never born so beware, it has no name. that is why your world is a window. This is why tears have no voice. Don’t disappear! W: I will. I am able now to break my first sky. I will close the doors of autumn. My body already dangles with ecstasy like my roses. The essence of water will collapse and I must repeat the kiss as the mud changes my name. G: Remember your eyes. Don’t let the dirt in you rise. Love always forgets to imagine you. I have seen so many souls rot. You are not you so don’t try to chase the night before the day. Your wind can use itself against you. W: The king of the moon will wrap himself around my willow trees. The face of my animal will go mad, breathing the elements. I must keep my body moist with oblivion. It will purify my words. I am the seeker, I will be always. I can never stop opening my body, my face, my lips. His image is corrupting. This way I say my name under water. I will study the road and know the knowledge of the ocean. I will carry the bread for his birds. I am illuminated in his dust. I was and I want to continue. He is the glory of my spring. I will be the horizon between his silence and my poetry. Our love has no light. I will find it in time before sadness makes water a rising chest. G: No! Stop. Don’t enter your own grave. You can change. Nothing remains too soft on this earth. The wound seeks your colors in roses. You can never bloom in death. The wound can become the madness that dries your sea. W: I have no fear now. Hell is only useful if I can move silence next to the sun. my body will continue to empty on this lake until the king of the moon breathes my grass. G: It is a frozen lake! Don’t plant yourself. Belong to your depth as if you saw AMAL HASSAN 111 the face of death. Salvation is in the birds, let them carry you. Sadness is guiding you now but donâ€™t let it blind you. Life protects death to survive. Embrace the earth you are. Accept it and let the sun sleep. Let your poetry welcome the moon, let it write your childhood. W: I shall color my outside then my inside. He knows how to reach my horizon. I will let my body embody the wound. I will rest here; the sky can read me with its rain. I will write the mountain he will climb. He is the one who can see my heaven and hell in the same sky. I am the eclipse. You say I am a soul but I am not. I am a goddess that creates words under pressure. I write my own prophecy. I make my sun transparent. I am the metallic love melting in the wind. I swear, my lips will silence those birds with lead. I swear I will kiss my spilled heart. Death is my immoral rose that is weeping on this tortured earth of mine. I swear I am a lover with faces and feet. I swear I will remain a miserable poem in an unknown heart. Memories will forever infect my bread forever. I swear I will burn my lips. I am a human goddess; otherwise I am damned. I swear. MAGGIE HEAPS Prism Sentence clovered offered rendered redone oh, ranger lowly yeah lean obscene money in the mouth balloon in lieu of buffalo go on Galapago indifferent letâ€™s 114 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Careful Not to Spell here’s where I get weird and fuss like I’m debit someone always says once someone says once I bit into a noun and found a noun once this skirt said what decade is this glass two becometh the native tonguing it’s 9pm and you can’t say spooooooool what are you doing, San Francisco? I need a last line sign on god damn it glass three makes my paper Spain a little hold on I promise I promise to keep you once I won a ribbonmedalmilkforayear I verbed this girl so hard she asked forever and we’re all ears to hear about that bitch I’m just a glass deep and gnawed to the rib MAGGIE HEAPS 115 Not William teetering father heaps yarn plums connected, still teetering stacking sterling cup poker chips paper husband acrobatic still, connected husband heaps paper soap of plums 116 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 but physical of things of things connected baby physical still teetering poker chips arenâ€™t this baby still, my baby paper plums oh father MAGGIE HEAPS 117 School of wound with wool with knuckles dumb thumb I loosened avec ... sticks slow chime double-headed you incorrect use one that is usually struck strike ... I swish circular resonant struck together you toy trumpet ... 118 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 you hammer thunder thunder ... I machine rain ... prong you anvil bell or cup felt spur felt choke ... poured water you pop gun see flessatono bending steel to change to pitch I foil rattle struck bloom unusual you thumb roll I play by shaking knee rubbed closed you ring MAGGIE HEAPS of bells ... I allow teeth to rattle bloom each the tongue plucked muted you I the sound of a walking horse lit nightingale call you I hail play bloom with water and blown discernable you no vibrato only control or I open pedal see brass snare bloom pair you dampen ... 119 120 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Mysteries of Science She was he the sex is good no is important then she loves you Her needle speech paramount riddles get rid of it frays cups pillow milk in the sink He cups an ear laughter or two laughter A dog compensation MAGGIE HEAPS These moth reach for iron weeks pool these queer strong arm blue geese invade my brick this place with a roof She means these music a must Says hum and drum youâ€™re just justice? my just type touch my face 121 122 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 from Ecuador 6. day spelled lungs urban promise building ceibo trees Hotel BambĂş, not Bambusa silhouette of a scrambled egg love love she looked beautiful I could kill each of them sacrifices offered 7. out the jungle, up a mountain machete-d briefly fuck MAGGIE HEAPS the blade slipped deeply a bandana tourniquet gurney of pants and branches sterility in Gatorade frill free scarred fish for lunch 8. tequila scrawling mentioned marriage again and again too tired to pen locked out knifed a way in poker winnings sun licked sad cats and thanks 123 SAMINA CHAUDHRY HITCH Ring I took off my engagement ring and wedding band and threw them both as hard as I could into the black, toward where Ty might be—my rebellion against my own life—my hurt heart lashing out against my marriage, my maybe-family, my no-real-home. Things taken, given, lost, surrendered. I had to control something, and the ring was there, where it always was, and I did it because I knew it would hurt. It was something I would never do, so I did it. I imagine myself standing at the edge of Highway 1 tossing the ring out into the ice plant covered bluffs. It flickers past the thermal-riding birds into the Pacific, but I can’t see it when it gets to a certain point, so I never see it hit the water. Or, I am at the shore and I fling it out into the high surf of the morning’s coastal storm. And as Ty and I are driving cross-country, with my daughter and the dogs in the back seat, further and further away from where the ring might be, I imagine throwing it into the shifting landscapes: wind gales, tide pools, rice fields and almond orchards. I flick it up onto mesas, into the chalky tent rocks of the desert, where it gleams in a pile of apache tears, prey for the magpies or jays who like shiny things. I think I see it over and over glinting on the shoulders on the freeways of the southwest, in the snows of the Grand Canyon. It belongs in the Grand Canyon, in a place where no one will ever come across it, a place entirely unreachable, that’s where I would have thrown it, if I wanted to lose it. I don’t want to talk about it when Ty calls me at three in the morning while I am still driving to Bolinas to ask me if I have the diamond ring with me. 126 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Only deer are awake at three in the morning, a family of them crossing the road in Fair Oaks, and then the young buck staring at me dead-on in the winding hills of Marin. And I’m awake, driving to meet my cinematographer for my last film shoot. And Ty is awake, upending the cottage, looking for the ring. I am not thinking it might be with me, that it could have tumbled into my piles of clothes on the floor I packed into the car during the rainstorm as I hop in and out of the car at the turnouts overlooking the raging ocean. I am not imagining (like I will for many weeks afterward) that the ring’s little flaw in the setting always hooked itself onto threads and hooked itself to me. The ring is whipped around by heavy winds, clinks onto the asphalt, sinks deep into the mud of scrubby fields or when I stop to watch the Douglas Firs and Bishop Pines sway in tandem, and listen to the low and steady creak of wood under the weight of wood, the ring drops on the dried needles at my feet, soundless. My daughter wasn’t there when I lost it. The next time I see her, it’s the first thing she notices. We are in Santa Fe. Where is it? You never take that off, she says. I’ve rehearsed this already, and I say it’s in safekeeping. She’ll forget. She’s eight. If she knows I threw it, then she won’t stop thinking about it. What do I remember from when I was eight? Not my mother’s rings. It is my engagement ring. Ty spent everything he had on the ring, in the antique jewelers in Nevada City, minutes before they closed. They locked the door behind us. We picked the ring out together. It was raining, cool mountain rain, late October, maybe Halloween, maybe already November. It’s a little big but I said that’s good because when we have babies my fingers will get fat, and I want to always wear the ring. He leveraged three credit cards, and it was ours, we walked out and stopped under the pink awning, and he proposed again outside the shop in the middle of the emptied out slanted city, on his knee, in the little mountain town where we had both been before, before we knew one another. We had escaped to this place, wondered what it might be like to be from here. The day before that day, he asked me to marry him. We were at the blue kitchen table in our tiny apartment in Davis, cradling our new yerba mate gourd in his palm and my palm, his sip, my sip, he asked me and I said yes but I’m floored. He wants to marry me. No one has ever wanted to marry me. My daughter was not there when he asked me. She was four years old. When she came back, I told her we’re getting married, and the ring, she said oh the ring is beautiful can I wear it? Can I have a ring, too? Can we all get married? SAMINA CHAUDHRY HITCH 127 I don’t know how much I love the ring until it’s on my ring finger. I feel like a little girl in love with this shimmering diamond. A married girl. A wanted girl. It’s from the 1920s, a sizeable square cut diamond. White gold, a band of smaller diamonds. It catches rainbows in the right alignment of the sun, becomes a prism. It is loose enough that I can twirl the diamond around my finger. I do this to have something to do. It’s been someone’s ring before. Maybe she’s dead, maybe she lost it, maybe it’s always been in some glass case, decades of never having gone anywhere except velvet surface to velvet surface, never meaning anything at all. Ty is standing in the middle of the dismantled room, and there is no ring, it’s not here, he says, it’s okay, we’ll find it in the boxes or bags, we’ll find it someday, he says. Tell the truth, Ty says, if you threw it into the ocean, I wouldn’t care, I would still love you. I didn’t, I promise. Because if you threw it into the ocean that’s okay, it’s even romantic, but you would tell me, right? I would, I promise. And my madness begins. I stare into the little nooks beneath the stairs, where the rain pools and washes leaves and rocks into the field below us. I look through everything twice, three times, four and five times and crawl around on my knees with the flashlight, and run a bent paperclip beneath the crown molding. I shake out everything in the laundry basket, listen for the little clang of metal with each blanket whipped out over and over again. My daughter isn’t around for this. If she were, we wouldn’t tell her what we were doing. It’s the end of an era, we joke, the day the ring is lost is the last day of a Mayan epoch and everyone talks about it on the news. We are packing up to leave California, sell everything that doesn’t fit, to drive the car to Indiana. People come to buy the last things we own, and I stare at the bottoms of their shoes when they leave with our little couch, tables, mattress, futon. The room empties out and we have only boxes. I pack them, dump everything out and pack them again, and when everything is out I sweep again, check the same places again. I wait for the sound of the ring, believe that I’ll turn around and see it in the middle of the floor. I squeeze the edges of the comforter with holes in it, the one that I once pilfered stuffing from for my daughter’s hand stitched bunny. I imagine the ring is tucked inside, and I rip open the whole thing, pull out its quilting, and sand pours out from all those trips to the beach. I tell Ty I feel like crying even though I know it’s just a ring. He says he does too. I tell him about a woman on 128 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 a television show I saw when I was young, who lived in a house haunted by a ghost that would find her lost things. She would wake up in the morning to find her favorite necklace neatly laid out on her bedside table. I want a ghost, too. Ty says if someone said they’d take the dog or the ring he’d give them the ring. He says he wrecked the car last year, which was like losing a handful of rings. We stop in Santa Fe, then Atlanta, and Ty drives the car to Indiana while I fly my daughter back to California, and leave her there. I fly to Indiana. I resent the things that make it there: bobby pins and hairpins, extra buttons. I think like a lost ring, where I would fall, all the energy, displaced grief. People lose a lot of things, like memory, or the feeling in their hands when they sleep. I am losing my daughter. I remember when my mother’s rings were stretched too thin, snapped in two right at the point of hold. I have a vivid dream weeks after I lose the ring that I find it at the bottom of a trash can, beneath the plastic bag. In the news there’s a couple who finds a ring in their used car, and they spend years looking for the person who lost it, tracking title records, calling leads. A woman finds her lost wedding ring in her own garden when she pulls a carrot out of the ground, around the carrot. A man is looking for the owner of a lost ring he found along the road-shoulders of Tahoe. I am thousands of miles away from the ring, so I write up a story and post it on the internet. I want to be found, when it’s found. I call pawnshops, the gas station, the park rangers, the landlord, the oil change place, the police. I write a police report, attach photos of the ring out of focus. I can’t believe I even have a photo. Ty reminds me to concentrate on the bar exam. That’s how you’ll get back to our daughter. I write to the metal detector groups, a humble faction of the world that hunts for treasure, unites the lost with the losers. I make maps for them, arrows pointing to where we walked. I conduct them from afar, first, a young kid and his dad who go to the wrong house, and then a man who boasts he can find anything with one swoop of his most sensitive metal detector. He tries for me at the cottage, he’s confident because he once found a ring in a Safeway parking lot, another in a soccer field. My electric ghost, hovering over the area and looking for something I’ve lost in a place I couldn’t wait to leave. I check the weather in Fair Oaks: rain, and more rain, imagine the ring, if it’s there somewhere, burrowing into the earth. He messages me from the cottage after he loses the light of day and says he found no ring, but tells me about a buffalo nickel from the 1930s, SAMINA CHAUDHRY HITCH 129 asks me if I lost an antique thimble in the garden. That’s his life, finding. He says he’ll go back again, on a good day, good luck, he says, looking in those places near the ocean. I don’t say how I lost it. No one asks. It would make me undeserving. I can’t find anyone to hover detectors over the Highway 1 turnouts along the eroding bluffs. I imagine millions of rings in the underbrush. The attachment I have to unattachable things is wavering. A few weeks pass and I am used to it gone. The dog licks the wedding band on my hand, the ring that survived, and I remember how much she loves to find little things to chew on like guitar picks and sugar packets, loves to lick metal. I squeeze her roundness and tell Ty maybe it’s in her, maybe she’s our ocean. It’s lost in a place where we know it’s lost, and that’s enough. Ty says not to think about it. I don’t tell anyone else what happened, and it’s as if it never happened. It was in one room, a finite space. In safekeeping. I am packing my bags to visit my daughter. It’s the first time I go back. I’m packing slowly, I can’t concentrate and can’t study anyway. I revise this piece. I end it at “safekeeping.” I feel done. I shake clothes out as I pack them. Shower. Search out the toys my daughter requested that I bring, from a room filled with things she may or may not remember because they’ve been there for nearly a year now. I grab the bag I’ve been carrying with me for weeks, that’s been to the film shoots, been shoved around in airplanes and the foot-wells of cars, carried plane tickets, journals, books, snacks, toys. I have already checked it for the ring, probably a few dozen times. I pull out napkins and wrappers from the pockets, coins, pens, and what looks like a keychain. I don’t have my glasses on, so I hold the bag up closer to see, and the ring comes into focus. I am home alone and Ty is at work. Outside the window I can see the empty barn, and fast-moving thin clouds with the sun behind them, passing over me, rippling out like a shaken water surface. A songbird belts out a song that sounds like a siren. Mockingbird, maybe. I don’t know how to make sense of it all, the moment, when it happens feels like such a betrayal of the loss I’ve already inherited. I can’t even look at it. I slip it back on, behind the band that has always anchored it so it won’t slip off unbeknownst to me and call Ty. He says you found the ring we lost. I am humbled. I let him change the story. BILL HUGHES Melted Bell aspiration, mintsleeved and southern france saltblue hillock nachtburst, velvet tower, the dark watch eighth street moon bronze is the future a smoldering bell, to clean out my ears 132 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Among the SenseAgora Grids (seats in soft money, haunted unsewn streets [direct rule, home rule, meta rule]) i cannot stop staring at the postal worker staring at the window, the mold where edges and floors and sliding aluminum meet is melted, dripping the orange sheens of the one-eyed doorway light, drilled to the outer hull of the tram accelerating through cloud-covered empty stomach evening, pushing a small ocean wind down the man-carved subterranean (the graffiti smooth, ran like a hymn) BILL HUGHES 133 Lost in Red Algae Morphology low swirl staring at coastal lily rose of sharon cascade blood and burgundy mosaic royal flush blur painted high noon tide of april paper brushstroke what high water rushes from somewhere underneath or behind high water of the seasonal plain of the many violet tile strokes built into it swimming handmaidens their invisible hands oh sweet someone by alexandrian towerhouse light unfathomable slipstream depths the senses must fail spirals the roseblur 134 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 The Back of My Head Low and slow at night Thundercrack at dawn Cadence of coal water stream smoothing out The rocks Maddog St. Christopher Foaming in his ears Redeye silence BILL HUGHES 135 A Low Listen Wandering voice in the rain, a garden closed to a culture that watered down the color blue plastic coins, the savings bank a cannibal now two men wait either side the roughshod gate headbent, at certain hours, a park drenched, an outcast priest in the night rain VERNON KEEVE III Population: New Egypt E XC E R P T Wh e n h e saw the young slave girl walking through the market square, he jumped from his horse and followed her. She was fifteen and 1825 would soon transition to 1826. When she reached the mouth of an alley he ran to her, pulled her into seclusion, and rubbed his rough and calloused hands along her claysoftened skin. “What is your name? Who is your master?” he asked through droolsoaked lips. The young slave girl let her coal black hair fall in her face. She was the product of a Haitian mother who was taken from her native island during the Revolt de Toussaint and a young Choctaw rebel from a nearby village who had stolen her mother’s heart. The naïve native promised to slip his Haitian paramour away to the west, a west so far that the lands were untouched by white hands. But when her mother’s stomach began to grow with the life that she and the native had created, he stopped visiting, and she gave birth to a Creole girl. She called her Lillishe, a name that had sat on her tongue months prior to her daughter’s birth. “Master Zeaux.” Lillishe answered the questioning the man because his skin gave him dominance over her in her master’s absence. She whispered her name and he heard it fully, repeating it over and over like wind through a horn. When night fell Lillishe laid her head on a pillow next to that same inquiring man’s head. He purchased her well above her market assessment. He was her owner now. He liked pretty things. And from that night on Lillishe existed as 138 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Master D’Ange Déchu’s possession. She carried out all of the duties all slave women did at their master’s request. The bourgeois paid a great price to forage her not knowing that she was the medium to help build the Nouveau French Empire. Master Vallée D’Ange Déchu was a Parisian Colonial who prided himself on being a distant relative of Napoleon and found it both profitable and enjoyable to “take advantage of the youthful Americans” after they purchased the territory from his “valiant nation.” The attic in the big house became Lillishe’s Canaan and she worked as a house servant until her stomach began to grow and the Madame of the house began to wear briars on every appendage, especially her feet. She had kicked Lillishe down the stairs twice in hopes of ending her and the unborn child’s life, but Lillishe remained the a rose amongst the thorned—bruised, large, and still desired. The Madame demanded that Lillishe be sold. Master D’Ange Déchu did the best he could to keep his treasure in his chest, but her papers were drawn and she was carried away. But under the noses of everyone, even the slaves, Lillishe was taken to a nearby cabin built just for her, her child, and the passion that Vallée was addicted to. The visions and predictions that Lillishe voiced always came true. Lillishe hadn’t shared her talent with anyone before. In fact, she resented it. Her visions started the day that she watched her mother close her eyes and accept defeat after a weeklong battle with the black angel. Master Zeaux refused to brine her mother’s wounds and they festered like fallen scuppernongs. Lillishe watched as the cuts turned dark and glistened like poppy sap before they oozed a sweet, foul smelling dandelion milk. She tried her best to aid her mother, but she didn’t want her wounds touched, which never closed. They poisoned her like salted earth. Lillishe’s first vision was of Master Zeaux coming to her in the night and he did. Lillishe never found out why her mother was beaten and left to die. Lillishe resented her solitude, but it gave her the power to get what she wanted. She had to keep a straight and obstacle-free path toward it. She had a vision of the Madame giving birth to a son and the love on Vallée’s face as he held his chaste, white heir. She decided not tell him this vision. Instead, she meditated on ways to get rid of the Madame. She needed to act fast. Her own son was almost ready to greet the world. Surrounding her cabin were three hounds. At first, Lillishe thought they VERNON KEEVE III 139 were there to keep the other slaves from getting too close to her cabin and discovering her. They only allowed one hand to pet their heads. Her haven was also her prison. Vallée brought her rations, clothes, and even tidings for the baby. She could go no further than the trees and if she did she would be chased into the house or devoured amongst the fallen leaves. She had to get rid of the dogs, but first she needed to get rid of Vallée. Twilight was turning into night and Vallée would soon push open the door. The dogs bayed and she heard him say “Chiens.” That’s what he called them. She stared at the door and after some time he kicked it open with his left foot. His hands were full of sustenance, and his tall, willowy frame was hunched over as he walked through the door. “Mon coeur.” Lillishe slowly rose. She was well into her eighth month. Her body felt immobile and her steps were slight. Vallée walked to her and put his long fingers on her stomach. “Petit Prince. My boy.” He kissed her, lovingly, and she kissed him. “I saw something today,” she said and massaged her temples. “North of Lake Maurepas, is a sugar plantation. The owner up and died. His place and slaves and land go up for auction tomorrow morning.’” “So what, Lilli. I have plenty already, thanks to you. I don’t rightly need more. And, I can’t be leaving when you’re about to give me a son any day now.” He kneeled and kissed her stomach. Her mind scanned his desires. “This land was owned by a rich Spaniard. There is more than sugar in the soil. He hid his gold in the land right under his slave’s feet. From what I know, you are the only one who knows about the gold. The land is good, too.” “Gold like the doubloons you saw before?” “Yes,” she hissed. “Are you sure of the auction in the morning? How are you sure? You were never really fair with timing?” Vallée asked. Again, she looked for answers. “I saw it on paper.” “I didn’t know you could read.” He looked puzzled. “Didn’t know I could see things ’til I told ya, either. And, I’m gonna be fine. Your son ain’t coming just yet. I can feel that in my body. And even if I read it wrong you can go tomorrow and find out when it is. Some place called Springfield.” She knew the name from hearsay. 140 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Vallée looked out the tiny window near the roof. The sky was bruising. “I can rise with the birds.” Lillishe looked down at the long brown hair that Vallée wore loose around his head. She pulled the drawstrings and loosened the fabric of her bust letting her swollen breasts fall. She bowed so they met his gaze. “And let Ol’ Mas. Zeaux have it?” Vallée growled like a beast, fell onto all fours, and crawled up Lillishe legs lifting her skirt with his mouth. When he was drunk off her sap he stood, inhaled her scent, and smiled. “I will see you tomorrow evening.” He turned to the door. “When you leavin’?” “After supper with Madame,” Vallée said as he closed the door behind him. Lillishe immediately tore through the baskets of provisions hoping for a substantial amount of meat. Wrapped in paper was a hog stomach. Lillishe walked out into the tiny clearing. Alongside her cabin was a plot where she grew essentials. It was concealed under the broad fans of collards and kale was a plant that Lillishe knew could kill if eaten. She grew them for Vallée, but his death did not benefit her future yet. She pulled the whole plant from the ground and marched into the house. She picked every red berry and placed them in the hog stomach. When only the green leaves and purple flowers of the plant remained, she mashed the berry-filled stomach with her hand. She pulled a dull knife from the cutting table and cut the purse into three parts the best she could. She had to rip and tear it for the most part. She marched to the trees and heard the dogs growl and saw their shadows dart between the trunks. She stepped on the brittle forest floor and watched as the closest beast darted toward her. She tossed a piece of the stomach and the dog descended on it. The other hounds, curious for a morsel, ran to their brethren. Lillishe threw the other two pieces their way. While the dogs devoured the stomach, Lillishe cleaned her hands and prepared herself a meal. When she was done eating she put a pot of water on the embers in the fireplace and threw the remainder of the plant into the simmering water. When most of the water evaporated, what was left was a thick, brown slurry that she poured into a jar and waited. Just as the moon was getting comfortable in the sky, the beasts began VERNON KEEVE III 141 to frantically move, breath heavily, and spew their innards from both ends. When their torture stilled them she knew it was time. They were too preoccupied with the pain to pay much attention to Lillishe. She didn’t realize how far from the plantation she was until her swollen feet felt as if they would split open. A clearing then emerged before her. There were few slaves still walking the grounds. The back entrance to the house was near the corn field and she could get to it without being seen. She had to walk the edge of the forest to the cornfield and through the cornfield to the house, an effort that grinded her pelvic bones, spasms gripped her muscles that gave her flashes of contractions. Her body wanted rest, but she had to work through it like the pregnant women in the fields. She stood at the edge of the cornfield and waited as a hand walked from the house to the slave quarters. When silence lingered she stepped from the empty husks toward the house. She slowly climbed the steps to the door and pushed it open. The house was silent. The Madame always went to bed shortly after supper and then rose and demanded a cup of tea at midnight. Lillishe hid in the dry goods pantry with the spices and jarred fruits. She started to doze off when she heard the clamor of the maid as she hurried to the cookhouse to boil water. Lillishe’s eyes landed on the sack of tea on the shelf by the pantry door and she panicked. She lifted the small sack and ran it out to the preparing table. Back inside the pantry, Lillishe kept the door cracked and attempted to make herself small, but that was difficult with her belly. After some moments of panic and sweat, Lillishe saw the shadow of the maid stumble back into the house carrying a pot of steaming water. She opened the sack and scooped tea into the water with her hand, stirred the pot, not questioning the convenience of the tea’s placement. Lillishe took the jar of pitch from her apron. How would she get it into the tea? She was so panicked that she didn’t think to put the murky gum into the empty teacup. The maid stopped stirring the decoction and looked about the prep room. She opened drawers and cabinets. Lillishe prayed that what the woman needed was not in the pantry. When there were no more cabinet doors to open, the maid turned to the pantry and Lillishe felt the maids eyes lock with her own through the crack in the door. The maid stepped toward the pantry, but turned and walked back out to the cookhouse right as her hand was about to clutch the knob. 142 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Lillishe ran out to the pot and scraped the slurry into the leafy water with her fingernails and dashed back into the pantry just as she heard the maid’s foot touch the bottom of the steps at the door. The maid returned with a strainer and strained the tea into the teapot. Steam rose and washed the maid’s face when the Madame called from upstairs. “Abbey, what’s taking you so long, gal?” “Coming up right, now, Ma’am,” the maid called out as she picked up the tray, steam still flooding her face and concealing her rolling eyes. Abbey suddenly stopped, put the tray down, and spit into the pot before she imprisoned the steam with a lid. Lillishe giggled as she eased from the pantry and out of the house. She did not bother to hide herself in the cornfield on her way home. She leisurely sauntered across the yard and disappeared into the forest. She did not see Vallée again until late the next night. He burst through her door and buried his face in Lillishe’s lap. His face was red from anger and wet with sadness. “Ettienne is dead. Ma femme est morte,” he cried into Lillishe large stomach. “Oh my, what happened?” Lillishe asked with a dawning smile that he did not see. JIM KETTNER Fortunate In the split second before impact, all Rabbit could think was: pea soup. A Volkswagen microbus was screeching through the intersection of First and Davis about to plow him into the asphalt, and all he could think was that it was the exact same shade as the pea soup that Billy had left sitting out overnight, and sadly, this was probably going to end up as his last meal. Even as his leg muscles clenched in his stirrups, and his tires hydroplaned, skid-spitting street water in a sickening attempt to stop short, Rabbit felt overcome by the certainty that this was it. It was all about to be over. Wet metal kissed him full on the lips. Brain-matter pancaked against the inside of his skull and neurons pop-popped like flashbulbs someplace deep behind his eyes, triggering a vision, a constellation of exploding stars, and for the briefest instant Rabbit felt a familiar weightlessness. He closed his eyes, relieved that at least this time he was spared the humiliation of having to watch his life flash in front of him. Rabbit (he had other names to be sure, but Rabbit fit best) had been hiding out in Portland for almost two years; it wasnâ€™t such a bad run as far as these things went. But he would often drift to sleep still feeling a little bit surprised that nobody had shown up yet to collect him or kill him. Heâ€™d stumbled into this soggy armpit of the country almost by accident and before he knew it had built something that, if you werenâ€™t looking too hard, could almost pass for a life. He could have run further, should have, he told himself, and would daydream of the 146 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 South Pole, or one of those wildlife conservation ships, left to drift in a vast anonymous ocean, stopping here or there to save the occasional blue whale. These fantasies soothed him, dissuaded him of the nagging anxiety that no place could ever be far enough. Someone, he knew, would come looking for him eventually. By the time he’d come to, a calamity of tangled limbs and wet rusty steel, Rabbit had lured a small crowd of gawkers out from the shelter of the Old Town MAX station and into the muck. They crowded over him, holding umbrellas. The storm had crescendoed into an honest to Jah, Noah’s Arky deluge. Moisture coalesced over the blacktop, turning the roadway into a viscous cloud of dirty water, grit, and exhaust. Rabbit tasted the blood and iron running between his lips. The only sounds that registered over the torrent were blurry Xeroxes of real voices, echoes from a distant planet rebroadcast through puddles. Murmurs imploring him to lie back, be still, ignore the pounding in his chest, the rushing of blood in his ears. He tried to obey but when Rabbit could discern the whine of a siren through the din of raindrops he heaved himself up and pushed through a wave of dizziness that rippled through him like an aftershock. In a moment the world resolved itself into an almost recognizable shape. His head was ringing, shaking, and remembering the last time he’d been hit that hard. The driver of the VW, some post-hippie eco-mom, soaked through in her yoga pants was hyperventilating into a cell phone. “Came out of nowhere,” she wheezed, “Oh my God what a nightmare.” “Take it easy, son,” said one of the guys in the crowd. He was holding an umbrella in one hand and a phone in the other. “Ambulance will be here soon. Just ease back there.” Rabbit took in a breath like a shiv to the lung. “Disappear,” he croaked. “What?” “Disappear,” Rabbit said again, more for himself than the citizen. This was his motto. It was his mantra. It used to be a much easier trick to pull off. The ambulance finally pushed its way through traffic. Reflected light from the siren cut a slippery red lightning bolt across the watery surface of the road and Rabbit could swear he felt the voltage. He got his feet underneath him, and somehow shot up. JIM KETTNER 147 “Sir, please,” the man with the umbrella gripped him by the shoulder and tried to steady him. The driver spotted him teetering, “Oh my God. Are you okay?” Rabbit honestly had no idea. He’d lived most of his life with a built in safety net and could count on one hand the times anything had made him bleed but that was before he had given up the life. Before he’d lost the “M” word. “I could have killed you,” said the yoga mom in an octave still too polite to be called a shout, more like a public service announcement. Just so you know. Typical Portland. Rabbit took a step, then another. Each one seemed like a fluke and he’d fall forward only to catch himself with his spindly scarecrow legs again and again until there was momentum. Hands reached out to grab him. He pushed them off and almost tripped over the mangled frame of his bicycle. Not even thinking, he snatched it up on his shoulder and without another word, broke into a flat run, pounding the puddles, letting himself be swallowed up by the storm. It had seemed like a clean getaway. Rabbit sprinted down ghost-town streets, past huddled lines of homeless alcoholics who haunted every awning and dry doorway like thirsty specters. They howled as he streaked past, to spook him or cheer him on Rabbit wasn’t sure. He turned onto Davis and almost spilled onto the cobblestones. Rabbit panted and ran toward the light. He ran toward Louie’s. HOUSE OF LOUIE was a dirt-bag restaurant tucked away in the dregs of Chinatown. Somehow, despite the mediocre food and lazy service, the overall don’t give a fuckitude of the place, it was almost impossible to not think of Louie’s in ALL CAPS. The words lighting up the stucco loomed large in your head that way. They cut through the suffocating wet blanket skies with the buzz-buzz of toxic green and that color that couldn’t make up its mind between pink and red. The façade was festooned with other tried and true signifiers of authentic Asian cuisine, right down to the chipped plaster dragon. Rabbit let the remains of his bike (he’d christened it “Dave”) clatter against his favorite rusty signpost, right under the gaze of the dragon he’d taken to calling “Larry.” Naming was an old habit. Dave was a wreck. Pretzled. The front wheel was folded over like a taco shell, which seemed appropriate, since Rabbit’s body felt like an ugly pile of ground meat. He eyed a nearby dumpster and released a long, painful breath that 148 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 seemed to bubble up out of him. Dave had been his trusty steed ever since those awful Brooklyn nights when he’d first called it quits with the big “M.” He’d ride for hours, huffing over the Williamsburg Bridge past the Hassidic women on their midnight strolls, and all the drunks too broke for cab fare. He’d ride all the way to Coney Island, or up to the Bronx, burning through all the fear and helplessness that had accompanied his latest attempt at a normal life. He’d return to his DUMBO studio well after sunrise completely exhausted and barely able to remember his own name, much less that other word. The “M” word. Rabbit had lived his entire life thinking that one word was what defined him. With the “M” word on his lips life had been exponentially bigger and brighter and more fun and dangerous. But it revealed an ugliness too, lit up his world with a force as sublime and fleeting as lightning. The brights were brilliant, yeah, but it made the darks that much darker, too. He swung back the lid of the dumpster and heaved Dave’s cracked carcass inside. It looked sad. Bent and broken, resting on a pile of hefty bags and rotting food. “So long Dave, you.” He felt suddenly awkward. He hadn’t planned to eulogize his bicycle, but Rabbit found himself flooded with the faces of old friends, also lost, also broken, and felt a tightness in the back of his throat. He let the lid slam shut. “Rest in peace, ya’ son of a bitch.” He turned to face Larry the lizard. It gaped at him stupidly, disapproval reflected off its chipped enamel pale pink eyeballs. Rabbit sneered back at it. “What the hell are you looking at, asshole?” The front bell chimed. Rabbit stamped his feet on the mat, shaking rain loose and stepped down into the chilly restaurant, empty except for his coworker. He was late. “Woah. Pak-Toi! You look like shit, man!” Kelvin was hefting a bin of silverware. He went to PSU for business or accounting or some shit like that. “I had an accident.” “No shit.” Rabbit pressed the soaking hood of his sweatshirt against his upper lip, which was beading droplets of blood. JIM KETTNER 149 “What the hell are you doing here? You should have called out!” Rabbit didn’t own a cellphone, but only shrugged, “I need the money, dude.” “No, you need a hospital.” “I’ll be okay.” “No man, I mean you’re fucked up. Have you even looked at yourself?” The phone rang. Lunchtime takeout. “Shit. Just go clean your face,“ Kelvin picked up the line. “House of Louie, can I take your order? Nah, pickup only.” Rabbit spat red into the sink of the tiny green bathroom. He did look like shit, a pasty scarecrow man with bloody teeth. The vessels in one eye had burst, giving him a lopsided horror movie stare, and a reddish brown scab seemed to cover his whole mouth. He ran his hands under the hot tap, splashing his face and trying to rub some warmth back into his skin. His stork-like frame was built with the bare minimum of padding. Everything hurt. Still, he was lucky. That lady in the Volkswagen was right; she really could have killed him. Crunch. Snap. Game Over. Despite all the trouble he had gone through to live a normal life, Rabbit still walked around like he was fucking invincible. Headphones blaring, cripes, he didn’t even own a helmet. He guessed deep down he’d always believed that if he ever really needed it, like say when his peripherals were blinded by daytime headlights and the cartoon face of the Volkswagen came speeding at him like a smiley-faced death sentence, that the “M” word would just come back to him and jostle itself free from whichever fold of grey matter he’d buried it in. The syllables would roll off his tongue like he’d never lost them, and let loose that old explosion of stars, (the 4th of July X Hayden’s Planetarium X capital “L” lightning) that would turn lead into gold, replacing him with a version of himself that was incorruptible, untouchable, unfuckwithable. But that wasn’t what happened. When it came down to it, forgetting was just another kind of vanishing act. The “M” word was gone. Magik was gone, and even when Rabbit had needed it most, it refused to reappear. He slurped from the tap and swished. Spat again, staining the porcelain. He bared his teeth at the mirror. “You’re a fucking idiot. You know that, right?” 150 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 That’s when he noticed the cut. The clotting blood had held it together, but now, where the blood had been beading under his nose, he saw that his teeth must have cut clean through his face. He took a shaky index finger to his upper lip and pressed. The flesh peeled away in two inch flap. The meat in the cross section so bright and raw, it made him think of sushi. He stared, fascinated by the cut away view that exposed his upper gums and teeth like a death’s head “What the fuck?” Maybe he did need a hospital. Billy picked up on the seventh ring. As per usual with Billy Kellogg, nothing was ever cut and dry. “Whada ya mean, can I take you to the hospital?” “Jesus, Billy. Do I stutter? Emanuel ER. Just come get me. I’ll even throw you some gas money.” “Are you, like, actually hurt?” Rabbit’s housemate somehow managed to sound more hurt than he felt. “I’m okay.” “Jesus, really? Is it bad?” The line went quiet. Rabbit waited, fingers pressed to the Band-Aid that was holding his upper lip in place. “You gonna come get me, or what?” He paused again, “Is this like code or something?” “Billy!” “Fine, I’ll leave now.” Rabbit sighed, relieved. He was about to hang up, then caught himself. “Oh, hey, Bill? One more thing. No tights.” Billy s Toyota pulled up to the curb and Rabbit lurched out from underneath the pagoda style awning toward the passenger door, but Billy was already getting out. He pulled up the hood of his second-hand Northface and jogged right past Rabbit and into the HOUSE OF LOUIE. He left the car running. “Unbelievable,” Rabbit muttered. Billy returned minutes later with a steamy plastic bag filled with Styrofoam-encased slop. Rabbit quit fiddling with the tape deck. “You ordered food?” “I was hungry. You want some?” Billy’s farm-boy face got all kinds of JIM KETTNER 151 eye-bulgy. “Dude! Your face.” Rabbit spoke carefully, aware that a wrong push of the tongue could make his face come apart at the seams. Billy was usually a motor mouth, but he looked genuinely freaked, and Rabbit took advantage of the silence. “Just drop me at the ER, you don’t even have to come in.” Billy obliged, stepping on the gas without so much as a peep. Soon HOUSE OF LOUIE was a dim glow in the rear view, but Rabbit couldn’t shake the feeling that the place wasn’t done with him yet. Even as they drove off, he could feel the eyes of that dragon boring into the back of his head. He sunk into his seat, sucking his teeth, watching the rain. Billy dug through his bag of take-out one handed as he drove. “I got you this,” he said and tossed Rabbit a fortune cookie. “Hate to break it to you, but this isn’t the ideal snack for a guy with severe facial lacerations.” “I thought maybe the fortune would cheer you up, something for the collection? You gotta stay posi, dude!” Rabbit did have a thing for fortune cookies, or the fortunes anyway, just not the ones with cheerful patter that Billy had in mind. Working at Louie’s, Rabbit built up a little collection, always setting aside the prefab divinations that strayed from the predictable forecasts of long life, good health, blah, blah, blah. Rabbit preferred talk like: “The key to happiness is lowering your expectations.” Or unlikely prognostications with staggering sociological implications like: “Maybe next century, we live on moon?” Maybe we would, Rabbit thought. Stranger things had indeed happened. But when Rabbit cracked the cookie open, shaking the fortune loose from the sugary cardboard, he found something else, something he’d been half-expecting ever since he woke on the blacktop with a broken face. He unfolded the little paper and looked at the neat red print for a long time. “Eugene, you need to call me. I need to know if you’re still in one piece. Please, call.” He turned over the little scrap of paper and found that the “lucky number” was her home phone, same as when he was a kid. As if he wouldn’t have remembered. MELISSA LOUISE KUHN z. the water suits me so i let her paint an ocean on meâ€” the blue goes on cold the blending tickles, boats bounce and scrape across me i loop myself in and out of line as stop-motion clicks and quick commands keep the waves flowing upwards the color sets under the spotlightâ€™s burn, no longer so loose and liquid and cracks begin to form across my stiffened back blue chips flaked, shirts replaced and we walk through the cold with shared complaints an intimacy formed but its boundaries unclear as my ocean falls off in the confines of your kitchen. 154 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 shell shell on a shore only thing only place i want to be. shell on a shore waves move over me cold air doesnâ€™t matter because my skin is hard, i am not really alive. shell on a shore, always warmed by the sun when it comes anyway. shell on a shore you pick up, put to your ear and i transmit the sound you should already be able to hear; i am your conduit. MELISSA LOUISE KUHN shell on a shore means i am always home always where i belong by water by salt by sky. shell on a shore means it doesnâ€™t take much, take long to be swallowed by the sea only place only thing i want to be. 155 156 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 selkie no forceâ€” i leapt freely shed my skin for you they want to see the balancing act i show you real face under whiskers, hands under flippers, pale skin under grey rubber but that shellâ€” not just armor, a bloody skinning. love the heart, but love the ribcage, too. . you look like a sad jellyfish MELISSA LOUISE KUHN 157 breath i sang your words back into your mouth, your breath fogging up my glasses cycling air, and voices noses, cheeks just shy of touch our words about the sea and knowing better 158 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 dehydrated the seagulls are shrieking i am shrieking want water want hair to fill and float want to be cupped in bubbles buoyant hands against pillow of liquid want to sit at the bottom open my eyes want to see that slight blue tint to the world want to be slick and softened relieved of all this land MELISSA LOUISE KUHN 159 roly poly secret sea creatures crawling through the dirt hard shells and little egg sacks attached to back legs all the tiny white babies i once wiped from my hand released in a flood 160 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 iridovirus 1. the bluer the better 2. “they look pretty but they are on their way to being compost” pulled in by suffering even when i can’t see 3. how do you feel about your name turning in to a disease? oh you look like a lapis bead when you die MELISSA LOUISE KUHN admired for what will kill you 4. blue in your sides and blue in the sea your legs have changed you are falling apart the color of your first home is that homesickness? 161 162 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 catastrophic molt 1. velcro fur sloughs off in slow chunks new face bleeding through can’t move i felt it coming, i gorged for weeks i gorged and now still i am still back where i was born don’t toss sand don’t touch water lie in shade puffed up body i felt it felt it growing under new face new skin bright gray under brown fading brown falling brown falling off MELISSA LOUISE KUHN 2. fur in place fur in old places that was my old face those were my old hands leave it there leave it there 3. let go roll out of it roll slow all at once too much too much for all at once slow chunks a mess a mess donâ€™t move donâ€™t 4. pieces piecemeal new in pieces look deranged look dangerous i promise you i promise i will come out clean 163 164 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 (islands) two islands trying coasts crashing too rough too rocky waves pound waves push plates below slide closer or farther? are they smashing us up into one or just wearing our edges wearing us down to nothing slam together salt water eating waves echo out vibrate feel it in everything your sand mixed with mine our animals trading sides MELISSA LOUISE KUHN even if it pulls us apart youâ€™ll be all across these shores treasure every scrape filled with you filled with what you gave what you left willingly or not even if it pulls us apart iâ€™ll send fish from my coast to tell yours every secret ships will travel and bring you news of every other attempt 165 166 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 want to be one big place full each side still its own but bridges built roots linking waves always at our sides canâ€™t stop reaching crashing not a choice not a choice but iâ€™d make it if it were one make you my choice my second shore MELISSA LOUISE KUHN 167 erode oh, that erosion something true stuck in too deep little grains too tight to separate beat against meâ€” itâ€™s the only way eat the rocks eat the thick hard rocks eat them slow rub salt into my sides hit hard hit soft, but hit even the slightest touch wears me down 168 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 tall face sheer cliff exposed exposure breaks exposure is waves wave down stroke against these open faces rub down rub down soft scrub away be patient brush and soak soak me down wash off i tell you i want gentle but gentle takes so long 169 MELISSA LOUISE KUHN static ocean wave static so clear all fuzzy but clear it fades it dims it fades sucking a truffle beeps it breathes it’s all breathing and swirling through my hair it clicks he sits we’re close not close we’ll touch if I just move but I’m stuck in this box can’t watch what they build just keep building on faith how can I even see I don’t see it’s an automatic flood click flood look up to the white the gold wrapped white tight corners keep clicking it’s all under the nails of my thumbs under thumbs so far under I forgot I was down here I’ll forget I was down here not up don’t up no up no dark screen the hum takes over the waves I hear the fan that fan that buzz instead he sighs 170 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 sea blue but gray and blue and white and gray and steel and blue and all moving all moving fold up and wave and bluegray blue change shift bluegreen blueteal turns teal with the right rocks turns teal and clear with the right sand the right sky fold up and be and bubble and salt and salt us all salt us so deep into our skin salt us so the scent stays for days get at me get at something be blue be moving be blue be bright be cold always cold only cold near me near my minerals get in deep knock tiptoes out from under pull me under blue under white bubbles gasp want to breathe blue bluegreen blueteal suck salt push out blue and gray and green and green and graygreen and seaweed push out MELISSA LOUISE KUHN 171 ice walk you ran. not fast, but you ran. it was so quiet. no birds. no movement. just crunching snow. if you were close enough to the river, you could hear the water flowing under the ice, through the cracks. the sections that never froze. you ran. you ran like something that knew this ground so well that it could. it could run without hesitation. you ran away from me. we were looking for frozen waterfalls. i asked if i should follow. you said you were going to scout ahead. you said i could if i wanted, but carefully. i had already fallen. more than once. i tried to keep stepping forward. ice. hard ice covered by snow. dust. it was sloping down. you were already so far ahead of me. i yelled, i’ll stay. and then you built up speed. you ran by the side of the river. i watched you run. i watched you run away. i had my camera out, but you disappeared. there was just enough of a hill for you to hide behind as you ran. i waited. i stuck my hands in the snow. i thought i could build a snowman. my gloves were all wrong. my fingers turned red. i couldn’t make a ball. just a lump. my gloves got wet. i stood up. it was so quiet. no sounds but the sounds i made. i stood up and looked. i couldn’t see downriver. i couldn’t see you. i couldn’t hear you. you could fall and i’d never know. you could crash through ice and you might be too far for me to hear. it might happen too quickly for you to make a sound. you could be sucked into the snow and the ice and how long would it take before i knew. i’d been staring at your shoe prints, following them carefully through the tiny stick trees and the ice and the snow. no footprints but yours and mine and the deer that we couldn’t see any other sign of. i knew what yours looked like. would i have to go for help and tell them, those. those are his. follow them for me, i can’t. i tried to inch further down the slope. so many trees. nothing but trees. dead trees. sticks. crunch. crunch. ice under ill-fitting boots. boots with the heels worn down. the hill was still in the way. it would always be in the way. i couldn’t see you. i couldn’t hear anything. i was alone. alone by a river surrounded by woods. trees and trees and trees and no sign or sound of the road. alone under a blindingly dull gray sky. cold. my fingers were red. i couldn’t see you. slip down a little further. look around. until finally something was moving behind the trees ahead. the trees above the slope. a dark figure. dark like the dead trees. you. you. you walked back slowly. not lost. not yet. SUSAN L. LIN Apertures FA D E I N : E X T. S M O O T H I E Q U E E N R E S T A U R A N T — DAY. The sun is out, the outside world reflected onto the glass windows of the restaurant. It’s impossible to see inside. A colorful sign advertises the latest must-have hybrid invention in large, bold lettering: “NEW! INTRODUCING THE MOST IMMERSIVE FROZEN BEVERAGE EXPERIENCE YOU WILL EVER HAVE! IF YOU THINK 3-D MOVIES ARE A SCIENTIFIC MARVEL, YOU HAVEN’T TRIED A SMOOVIE YET!” The front door opens, and two young teens walk out. Mia (13) wears sunglasses and holds a walking stick with a white tip. Colby (13) carries a pair of purple straws and a clear plastic cup with a domed lid, filled to the brim. The outer surface of the cup depicts a scene of two dinosaurs fighting over a single chili cheese dog, along with a title: APERTURES. Profuse condensation drips off. Without a word, they walk until they reach the row of houses right across the street. C U T T O : I N T. C O L BY ’ S H O U S E — DAY. The shades are drawn and the house is dark. The front door creaks open. Colby leads Mia inside, trying to make as little noise as possible. They pass a wide-open door that leads down to the basement. The glow from a television set in the neighboring room is apparent: a commercial is on. T V A N N O U N C E R ( O. S . ) : (at twice the speed of normal speech) . . . for the best possible Smoovie experience, please consume in a dark room, with both eyes closed for the duration of the show. Do not attempt to drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery. Please be aware that Smoothie Queen cannot be held responsible for any damage that may occur to your person as a result of drinking irresponsibly. Colby looks around the house nervously. He glances into the empty kitchen and then a nearby bathroom. He pauses at the foot of a stairwell that leads to the second floor, which looks quiet and uninhabited. Finally, he opens the door to a small closet. Inside, a collection of shoes in varying sizes is lined up neatly on the floor, from smallest to largest. Large sheets of rolled-up butcher paper stand upright in the corner, colored 174 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 yarn spilling out from the edges. Colby nudges Mia and they both step inside, closing the door behind them. C U T T O : I N T. H A L L C L O S E T — N E A R T O T A L DA R K N E S S . Colby and Mia sit on the floor, their view of the door obscured by a row of winter coats. Colby takes a deep breath and exhales. He still holds the cup, and the two straws stick out from the hole at the top of the domed lid. C O L BY : Ready? The expanse of clothing muffles Mia’s hearty laughter. MIA: Of course. C O L BY : MIA: What? Why are you laughing? Colby Keiser, so nervous about a frozen drink! It’s kind of cute, actually. C O L BY : Wait, how many of these have you had already, anyway? Mia holds up two fingers in the shape of a V. His fingers trace the valley where the two digits meet. MIA: (Softly) You shouldn’t be scared, you know. They’re harmless. C O L BY : MIA: (Defensively) I’m not scared. Don’t worry, I’ll be right here. She finds Colby’s free hand and intertwines his fingers with her own. See? Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Colby scoffs and laughs anxiously. C O L BY : I don’t need you to protect me. He scowls but doesn’t pull his hand away. They both reach for a straw and take their first sip. The camera remains on Colby. D I S S O LV E I N T O : E X T. A S T O R M Y P I N K S K Y — D U S K . T H E S C E N E , A L O N G W I T H A L L E X T E R I O R S C E N E S F O L L O W I N G I T, I S H A Z Y A N D U N F O C U S E D. A crack of lightning cuts across the sky and the rumbling thunder becomes increasingly loud. D I S S O LV E I N T O : E X T. A N AQ UA M A R I N E P O N D — M O R N I N G . SUSAN L. LIN 175 The camera pans around the pond before traveling through the tall grass that surrounds it. The blades are wet, as if it has rained recently. Birds chirp unenthusiastically in the distance. D I S S O LV E I N T O : E X T. A W I N D I N G D I R T PAT H — N I G H T. The monstrous jaw of a Tyrannosaurus Rex unhinges with a roar, revealing two rows of sharp teeth. There is a long smear on its chin in the dark yellow of mustard. D I S S O LV E I N T O : E X T. F O O D B O O T H S AT O U T D O O R F E S T I VA L — DAY. Various condiments (ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, sweet relish, sauerkraut) in bulksize containers are lined up along a folding table. All of the jars and bottles are at least three-quarters empty. Loud, indistinct conversation continues throughout, though no people ever appear on screen. B AC K T O : I N T. H A L L C L O S E T — N E A R T O T A L DA R K N E S S . In the quiet space, the sound of slurping through straws is magnified, becoming louder and more uneven as Colby and Mia reach the bottom of the cup. They stop drinking and sit back. Colby leans against an old cardboard box. On the box is a photograph of a man with a handlebar mustache who wears a light-colored suit. The unmistakable, red “AS SEEN ON TV” logo is next to his head. Finally, Colby opens his eyes. Mia is still wearing sunglasses. Colby breathes raggedly, his forehead damp with sweat. MIA: So what did you see? There is a long silence. Both sets of breathing are audible, though Mia’s is considerably more calm and controlled. C O L BY : (Shaking his head) What did you, (hesitating) what did you see? I mean? He looks at her curiously. There is another long pause. He is still holding up the empty cup. The fingers of his other hand are still intertwined with hers. MIA: Bones.(She turns her head away from his.) I saw a lot of bones. Colby licks his lips self-consciously. Mia’s statement has struck a chord. T H E F O L L O W I N G S C E N E S A R E C L E A R LY C O L BY ’ S M E M O R I E S . T H E Y A R E I N T E RC U T W I T H H I S FAC I A L E X P R E S S I O N S A S H E S I T S I N T H E C L O S E T. T H E C U T S B E C O M E I N C R E A S I N G LY Q U I C K A S E AC H S C E N E G O E S BY. I N O P P O S I T I O N T O T H E H A Z I N E S S O F T H E P R E V I O U S 176 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 EXTERIOR SHOTS, THESE SCENES ARE ALL INTERIOR AND CRISP WITH C L A R I T Y. T H E R E I S N O S O U N D AT A N Y T I M E D U R I N G T H I S S E Q U E N C E . I N T. S C I E N C E M U S E U M L O B BY — DAY. A large group of children crowd around a reconstructed dinosaur skeleton in the center of the lobby. One of the bones constructing the front leg is missing. I N T. A S C H O O L A U D I T O R I U M — DAY. A large group of slightly older children stand in rows, mouthing the words “Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around . . .” as a conductor stands with her back to the camera, waving her arms with exaggerated verve. I N T. A N E L E M E N T A RY S C H O O L C L A S S R O O M — DAY. A classmate traces the outline of a younger Colby’s body as he lies on a large sheet of butcher paper. Later, he arranges construction paper cutouts shaped like various organs inside the outline, then glues down long strands of red and blue yarn to represent arteries and veins. I N T. K I T C H E N AT C O L BY ’ S H O U S E — N I G H T. This is clearly the same kitchen as we witnessed earlier, but the tablecloth has changed. Everyone in the family saws at their respective T-bone steaks except for Colby’s older brother, Jack, who eats only an array of vegetables and a buttered dinner roll. They do not look at each other. I N T. A T E E N AG E G I R L’ S B E D R O O M — E V E N I N G . Colby’s twin sisters take turns zipping up each other’s prom dresses in front of a fulllength mirror while a young Colby watches from outside the doorway, unnoticed. One twin seems unhealthily thin, the outline of her ribs apparent through the skin on her back. I N T. A B A S E M E N T — N I G H T. Colby’s mother sobs in front of the incinerator as she dismantles an electronic gadget made up of plastic, screws, gears, circuit boards. She throws it piece by piece into the flames. A sheaf of advertisement pages, each showing a man with a handlebar mustache wearing a lavender suit, blackens at the edges. Each identical image disintegrates to ashes, one after the other. His mother’s body shudders with each toss. B AC K T O : I N T. H A L L C L O S E T — N E A R T O T A L DA R K N E S S . SUSAN L. LIN 177 Colby opens his eyes and looks over at Mia. She still doesn’t acknowledge him. He swallows a burp, the faint outline of his Adam’s apple bobbing. D I S S O LV E I N T O : E X T. A W I N D I N G D I R T PAT H — N I G H T. The large eye of a Tyrannosaurus Rex opens and closes, opens and closes, repeating on a continuous loop. Once again, the scene is hazy and unfocused. With each iteration, it also becomes more ghostly and translucent until it is barely there at all. B AC K T O : I N T. H A L L C L O S E T — N E A R T O T A L DA R K N E S S . C O L BY : (clearly rattled) I, I think I need to rinse my mouth. Is it supposed to be doing this? Mia doesn’t answer, but she untangles her fingers from his and parts the winter coats that hang like a theater curtain before them, revealing a dark and golden doorknob. Colby reaches for the knob and pushes the door open. Light streams in. FA D E T O W H I T E . ( PA R E N T H E S E S ) FA D E I N : I N T. L I V I N G R O O M — N I G H T. A young man, Colby (28), sits on the couch. His eyes are fixed to the TV where a video recorded during a cruise down the Bosphorus Strait plays. The Turkish flag billows at the ship’s stern. The eye of the camera captures a docked boat, the name DINOZORLAR painted on its side, before it strays and surveys the passengers on the other side of the ship. We zoom in on a girl wearing an unassuming hijab, Medîya (18). When her eyes meet the camera, Colby pauses the video and stares at the screen for a long time. Finally, he hits a button on the remote and the television blinks off. A bright streak remains at the center of the screen, slowly fading into the black after a few seconds. Sighing, Colby stands up. Right before he turns off the lamp, we see the dwindling stack of MISSING flyers lying on the end table, the girl’s face in the photo. Her name is written below it. I N T. H A L LWAY — C O N T I N U O U S . The doorway behind the couch leads to a short hallway. At the end of the hallway, a door is cracked open a few inches. I N T. A Y O U N G B O Y ’ S B E D R O O M — C O N T I N U O U S . Colby slips inside the darkened room. A young boy, Danny (8), sleeps on the bed. His 178 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 nightshirt has ridden up along his torso, exposing his belly button. Colby reaches over to pull down the shirt but pauses before he does so. He looks again at the boy’s face before he withdraws his hands and begins to wander around the room. While he looks at all the posters and drawings on the walls, his foot comes in contact with a plastic Easter egg. He stoops down to pick it up and shakes the egg next to his ear. Something rattles inside. He is about to pry it open, but stops. Instead, he places the egg on Danny’s desk, tries to balance it on one end but fails. He returns to Danny’s bedside. After a conflicted moment, he surrenders to temptation and kneels down next to the mattress. He presses his forehead to the boy’s stomach, looking in. C O L BY ( O . S . ) : No, no, no. It has to be here somewhere. Fuck! He sounds far away. There is a knock at the door. C U T T O : I N T. H A L LWAY I N S I D E A Y O U T H H O S T E L — N I G H T. T H E W H O L E S C E N E I S D I S T O R T E D BY A F I S H E Y E L E N S . Medîya stands in the hallway, facing the door. Her right eye is enormous. With one outstretched fist, she knocks again. The sound of a door unlocking follows. C U T T O : I N T. A S M A L L R O O M I N S I D E A Y O U T H H O S T E L — C O N T I N U O U S . The light is on. Colby (19) opens the door and finds Medîya at his doorstep. Behind him, his laptop is open on the desk, next to a camera bag and a few scattered accessories. He’s been searching for something. From the laptop screen we can see that he has been watching the exact same video as the older Colby, also paused at the same spot. C O L BY : Sorry, did you follow me or something? He pokes his head out into the hallway and looks in both directions. Medîya pulls a detached camera lens out of her bag and hands it over. It looks expensive, with a sticker that reads “Property of Colby Keiser,” along with his contact information in both English and Turkish. M E D Î YA : C O L BY : You forgot this. Oh. Thank God! I’ve been looking everywhere. I honestly thought it was long gone. Listen, I can’t thank you enough. Really. M E D Î YA : (Shrugging) That’s okay.(She pushes past him without invitation and walks into the room.) You have a nice place. SUSAN L. LIN 179 Colby’s laptop has gone to screensaver so she does not notice the video he was watching. Medîya looks around the room before sitting down at the edge of his bed. Silence. Finally, she points in the general area of his torso. M E D Î YA : C O L BY : So, can I see yours? (Barely a whisper, baffled) My what? M E D Î YA : Come here. She beckons for him to come closer. When he does, she slowly slides the hem of T-shirt up until his navel is exposed. M E D Î YA : C O L BY : (To herself) Perfect. Excuse me? She lets go and the shirt falls. M E D Î YA : C O L BY : Take off your shirt. Wait a minute, you can’t just walk in here, without my permission by the way, and say something like that. I want some answers. M E D Î YA : I said, take off your shirt, Colby Keiser. He hesitates for a few beats but finally complies. She pulls him even closer and takes his left bicep in her left hand. He looks simultaneously curious and frightened. M E D Î YA : C O L BY : You have very strong arms. Thanks, I guess. An awkward pause. (By way of explanation)Lifting heavy boxes your whole life will do that. Still, she says nothing. Colby reaches for his shirt, but Medîya pins it in place with her foot. M E D Î YA : Leave. That. There. Colby recoils. Medîya starts to lift the hem of her own shirt, which has been tucked into the waistband of her jeans. C O L BY : What are you doing? M E D Î YA : C O L BY : What does it look like I’m doing? I don’t know. I guess you’re trying to show me your. 180 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 He yelps in surprise. Two long scars curve around either side of her navel like a pair of parentheses. C O L BY : What happened there? M E D Î YA : C O L BY : What do you mean? Everybody has one. Not your belly button. Those scars. Colby reaches over and bridges the space between them. His fingers trace the open parenthesis on the left. M E D Î YA : I used to look at photos of models in lingerie catalogs and think that they were not like us. She stares straight ahead at his bare chest, avoiding his face. C O L BY : That’s because they aren’t. They’re models. They’re unnaturally skinny, with ridiculous proportions. You shouldn’t aspire to be like them. My sister did once. It nearly killed her. M E D Î YA : (Thoughtfully, ignoring him) People are strange creatures. Did you know that if you look into their navels the right way, you can see their mothers? She tilts her head up until their eyes meet. C O L BY : (Laughing nervously) The right way? What’s that supposed to mean, the right way? M E D Î YA : Details, Cheese, Man. You’re always so concerned with details. She pats him on the thigh condescendingly. Her gaze wanders around the room and finally rests on the camera that is sitting on his desk, the lens naked and uncovered. Maybe you should consider zooming out once in a while. She turns her attention back to his stomach and gestures at his belly button. May I? C O L BY : (Sighing) Sure, whatever. Knock yourself out. She laughs a little and pulls him in a little closer. M E D Î YA : Don’t worry, I don’t scratch. Up close, she stares at his belly button for a long while before she reaches out and pokes it with her index finger as if she’s ringing a doorbell. There is no discernible reaction. She presses her forehead to his stomach the same way he did with Danny: one SUSAN L. LIN 181 eye shut, the other looking in. Colby looks down at the top of her head. His eyelids close. FA D E T O : I N T. A S M A L L R O O M I N S I D E A Y O U T H H O S T E L — N I G H T. Total darkness. Off-screen, a toilet flushes. A door opens and closes. Shirtless, Colby sits up in bed, and the sliver of golden light stretches briefly across his face and upper body before it disappears once more. The room remains dimly lit. M E D Î YA : C O L BY : Oh good, you’re still awake. (Sleepily) What took you so long? Medîya doesn’t answer. She stands at the foot of the bed and rolls down her stockings until they slide off her feet. She places them neatly in an egg-shaped container and lets go; it drops to the floor with a light thud. Colby watches in silence. When she comes closer, he lifts the hem of her shirt to reveal her stomach and places a kiss to each of her scars. She lowers herself onto the bed and raises her arms above her head. The shirt comes off. He kisses a trail from her mid-section to the space between her breasts, to her sternum, her collarbone, her neck. Her hands move down his torso until her thumbs hook under the waistband of his boxers. He tilts his head to look up at her as she begins to slide the fabric down past his hips. He closes his eyes in appreciation. B AC K T O : I N T. A Y O U N G B O Y ’ S B E D R O O M — N I G H T. Colby’s eyes open. His face is all dark shadows, but we can see that the past nine years have taken their toll. He looks down. Danny remains asleep on the bed, his navel still exposed. After an extended pause, Colby reaches over and pulls the boy’s nightshirt down to meet his shorts, then lifts the bed sheet up over his son’s body. Danny doesn’t stir. With some effort, Colby stands and walks to the door. He glances at the boy one more time before he leaves the room, shutting the door behind him. FA D E T O B L AC K . T Y R A N N O S A U RU S R E X I A FA D E I N : E C U : A S H O E B O X D I O R A M A P O P U L AT E D BY T O Y D I N O S A U R S . A young child’s hands guide the dinosaurs around the scene. He gives each dinosaur a different and distinct voice. 182 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 BIG T, a blue Tyrannosaurus Rex, stands in front of a full-length mirror with his jaws hanging open in a perpetual snarl. He angles his body to one side, then the other. He lets out an exaggerated sigh. BIG T: What will it take for V-Rap to notice me? Maybe if I lose ten pounds . . . he’ll finally ask me to the prom. Stego, a bright red stegosaurus, walks in. STEGO: BIG T: (Screams like a little girl) You scared me, Stego! STEGO: BIG T: Sorry. Hey Stego, can I ask for your honest opinion? STEGO: BIG T: Morning, Big T. Sure. Do these pants make my butt look big? An awkward silence as the two dinosaurs look at each other from opposite sides of the frame. Well? STEGO: BIG T: No. No, they do not. (on the verge of tears) You’re just saying that! I’m a blimp! He turns back to the mirror, clearly distraught. Spiney, a light green Spinosaurus, walks in behind Stego. SPINEY: BIG T: Yo, how’s it hanging up in here? Spiney! Do you think these pants make me look fat? SPINEY: Um, you’re not wearing any pants. Big T looks back at the mirror and once again screams like a little girl. SPINEY: BIG T: You’re welcome! Don’t look at me! Big T runs screaming out of the frame. Stego and Spiney look at each other. Their expressions have not changed. STEGO & SPINEY: (in unison) Must be that time of the month. V-Rap, an orange velociraptor, walks in. SUSAN L. LIN V- R A P : 183 Good news, my dinosaur friends! Have you all visited IMDb lately? I’m in a new movie! SPINEY: STEGO: No you’re not. That’s the same one you’ve been yapping about for the past twenty years. V- R A P : (Scoffs) Details! A large pair of 3-D glasses drops into the scene between the camera lens and the dinosaurs. And may I say I look damn good in 3-D, too. Just look at the definition on this body: those calves, these biceps. He flexes. Off-screen, Big T lets out a loud sob. The glasses fall away. V- R A P : Hey, who’s making that awful racket? I was still talking! It was still V-Rap time! Big T sobs more loudly and openly. They all turn to look in Big T’s direction. B I G T ( O. S . ) : V- R A P : I said, don’t look at me! You know, I may be an acclaimed and award-winning actor, but I still made a point to go to school. Nursing school. They call me: Velociraptor, RN, CCRN, APRN, LSN, IBCLC. Stego and Spiney both stare at him, speechless. It’s true. I’m an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant. That’s my specialty, in fact. (to Big T) My lactation senses are buzzing now. Let me have a look. Reluctantly, Big T steps back into the frame. He is still not wearing any pants. V-Rap stares at Big T’s chest. (still to Big T)Ah-ha! BIG T: (excitedly) What are you saying? This is just post-baby flab? V- R A P : Precisely! Remember, I’m a professional! SPINEY: STEGO: But if Big T just gave birth, what happened to the baby? And how did we manage to miss the entire pregnancy? 184 V- R A P : WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Details! M O T H E R ( O. S . ) : V- R A P : Now what? Who is that? SPINEY: STEGO: Colby! Time for breakfast! Beats me. I have no clue. The dinosaurs all turn to look in the direction of the camera. C U T T O : I N T. A Y O U N G B O Y ’ S B E D R O O M — M O R N I N G . A young boy, Colby (8), kneels behind an old camera and tripod, the majority of his face obscured by the large device. The red light is on. M O T H E R ( O. S . ) : (Closer than before) Colby, did you hear me? Keep dragging those feet and you’ll be late for school again! C O L BY : Alright, alright, I’m coming! From behind the camera, Colby emerges. For the briefest of moments, his eyes meet the audience. He pushes a button and the red light blinks off. He stands and runs off. The camera lingers for another moment or two; the room is still. A poster for the 2013 3-D re-release of Jurassic Park hangs on the wall. FA D E T O B L AC K . JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT Lola P RO LO G U E I t wa s ov e r some midnight pasta that I came to remember the death of my grandmother, my Lola. I linger on the image of red sauce lining the sides of the pan, the steam obstructing my view. By choice, I tuck memories of her away; easily accessible but not often accessed. With my degree in psychology, I have a lifetime to analyze her death and to self-analyze my feelings toward it. But it wasn’t just a death one gives a moment of silence to, like in elementary school, where one by one old age takes grandparents because it’s time. Or they grow sick, and slide quickly toward an expected death. Lola’s wasn’t that kind of death. It wasn’t Lola’s time; she was 50. It wasn’t an illness; she was healthy when she died. Lola was murdered in her apartment, above the department store she owned in the Philippines. The maid who lived with her found her the next morning. Her son Jun, the middle child of the five, found her soon after. My family lived in New Zealand when we got the call. I was seven years old. This story isn’t about a murder, but how a murder moves through space and memory. We know nothing about how it happened. There was no formal investigation, no leads followed, no fingerprints taken, and no witnesses interviewed. The police team was merely a clean-up crew, mopping up the blood from her bedroom floor faster than my Dad’s siblings could call about what happened. After two years living in New Zealand, we’d already forgotten, perhaps purposely, 188 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 the state of our home country, corruption, violence. Dad somehow expected a crime drama to unfold, but what he got was a spotless apartment and a lifetime of unanswered questions. This story isn’t a historical account, but a game in memory. Fifteen years have passed and I’ve yet to ask my aunts and uncles about it, let alone my own parents. A murder isn’t something people often talk about in conversation. As a Filipino family, we have difficulty talking about anything at all. So I venture into this account as a step to break barriers, as a way to explain a detachment I feel now. A detachment, I’m sure, that my entire family is guilty of. I only knew Lola for seven years. I feel I’m grasping at straws to figure out who she was. Most of my memory is secondhand, my father predominantly curates her place in family mythology. Lola grew up on the outskirts of Gapan, a bustling Philippine city in late 1950s recovery and spent her short life working her way in. At the center of it, she was known for her unrelenting generosity. She built her department store, Baby’s Bazaar, from the ground up, from a rickety hut that sold milk and slippers, to a three-story department store that sold housewares, clothes, food, and appliances. Whatever position she found herself in, she could not and would not say no to a neighbor’s cry for help. As a Christian, a proud member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, she practiced what was preached to her. Baby’s Bazaar, and Lola’s willingness to spread her wealth, helped bring Gapan out of recovery and into progress. It was entrepreneurship like Lola’s that brought the Philippines a status of the Asian Tiger for that short time before political corruption and Martial Law pulled it back down again. But the more successful her business grew, the closer people seemed to come, the more friends she seemed to have, the more brazenly these friends would borrow. By the time Lola was murdered, she was owed to by dozens, some borrowers with amounts so high it’d warrant a motive. But without a police report, without the resources to investigate, we as a family are just left wondering. All the while those friends who surrounded her before her death, weeping rehearsed tears so convincingly at her well-attended funeral, were sighing private sighs of relief in their comfortable homes Lola had helped establish. Above all else, Lola was known for her unrelenting generosity, and despite it possibly leading to her downfall, it was the legacy she left behind. JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 189 I I was con vinced that Lola’s maid, Lira, was the murderer. From what I could deduce, being the only other person in the building meant that it could have only been her. The night Lola died, Lira was cleaning the kitchen downstairs, about to turn in for the night when it happened. I wasn’t alone in thinking this. My Aunt Lorena and Uncle Rommel found it suspicious that she didn’t hear Lola’s screams in the night as she was being stabbed to death 18 times with a blunt knife. They found it suspicious that she didn’t shed a tear for Lola, unlike all of Lola’s employees. Lira had only been Lola’s maid for a week at most before the murder. Despite these gaping holes, Lira walked unquestioned. I sat in the department store’s kitchen as Lorena and Rommel talked out their suspicions. It was two days into the wake, and I was thrilled by the mass amounts of food prepared and ready to eat. My aunt and uncle knew I was there, pushing around a plate of food, but didn’t think I had the ears for it. Lorena fought off sobs, her messy hair frizzed about her shoulders. She hadn’t been sleeping; bags drooped under eyelids. But the theorizing seemed to distract her enough from the death. Rommel was slick and well-groomed as always, the youngest of Lola’s five children. From where I sat, I could smell his cologne that he doused over his black, designer polo shirt. He listened, mostly, but agreed with everything Lorena was saying. This is how they chose to deal with the death of their mother, and even then I remember understanding that. “Did anyone see her leave?” Lorena asked. Rommel shook his head. “Have you talked to her?” she asked. Rommel shook his head again. “We should call the police,” Lorena said. “And what will they do?” Rommel asked, “They’ve done nothing so far.” “Do you think Lira’s been stealing from her this whole time?” Lorena asked, hinting desperation. After an hour, Dad appeared in the doorway, eerily silent as the conversation progressed. His temper matched his father’s, Ma would always tell me, while his authority matched his mother’s. It wasn’t a rising fury, but a slow boil of a dead expression that would snap when he felt it necessary. 190 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 “Patay si Nanay!” Dad said, Mother is dead! Startled, Lorena and Rommel turned to see their oldest brother, their Kuya, with eyes bloodshot and teary. As he was in charge of all the arrangements for the funeral, and had the job of greeting friends and family as they arrived for the wake, he wore a charcoal suit over a black shirt with the top button done. The suit was far too big, but being the shortest of all his siblings, only slightly taller than Ma, he had trouble finding a suit that fit in such short notice. “Walang hiya kayo!” Dad continued, you are both shameless! Their gaze could only meet his for a second, before they were forced to look down in embarrassment. Dad had this effect on all his siblings, ironic considering his height. He had the same effect on my brother, sister, and I, even after our better-fed upbringing allowed us to shoot past his height. He towered above his siblings with each admonishing, a relic of the fathering he had to give them in place of their own absent father. They owed him to listen. Dad waited for a moment, and then finally spoke again. “Stop gossiping!” he said, in English. Rommel exited the room first, staring me down as his only retort. Lorena burst into tears, now unable to distract herself with gossip. Dad breathed out a large, open sigh, as if deflating the pent up anger. He calmly walked to her, reaching out his arms, and allowed her to fall into him. I teared up, still at my plate, witnessing my family’s grief in a way only a seven-year-old could, and humbled by Dad’s resolve. With all he was expected to do, his time to grieve would have to come later. For the moment, he was what his family needed him to be. V Lola went by many name s in her short-lived life. She was born Enolita, the youngest of five children. Her parents always called her by her full name, and were known to be serious folk who lived simple, honest lives. Before her business days, Lola was a seamstress, so skilled that her father bought her a sewing machine to the disdain of her older siblings. To this day, many years past her death, her aging brothers and sisters still resent the dead, as they believed the sewing machine was the seed from which her business, Baby’s Bazaar, grew. To her children, Lola was simply Nanay, the Tagalog word for mother— even for my aunts and uncles who married into the family, who had their own mothers they grew up calling Nanay. To her grandchildren, she was Lola Baby, for JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 191 disambiguation, but just Lola when we were around her. Simply put, her position in our family reserved those terms for her alone. To her close friends, and to those that owed her at her death, she was Noli. They’d press on the name when they’d ask for money, imposing their closeness without much subtlety. In the days when Baby’s Bazaar was merely a milk hut on a street corner, Noli was merely a street name. When she rose to the top of the slums, they’d harken back to the name as a way of pulling her back down. Regardless of motives, she’d never refuse the borrowing. To her, amassing wealth was a means to not only provide for her children, but her children’s children. Had she had the chance, I’m sure she would have provided for whatever children my siblings and I eventually produce. Her humility stemmed from how this wealth was amassed, the truest form of having built something from the ground up, and a true belief in a giving God. In her excess of wealth that coincided with the city’s boom, she provided for the community, and I like to think that because of her, the city of Gapan thrived. VIII Whe n I was 5 , the apartment above Baby’s Bazaar always smelled like Sampaguita, the national flower of the Philippines. Sampaguita was strewn about the dozen or so festivals in Gapan throughout the year, but the festivals were so infrequent that the smell never lingered. It’s a white flower, a type of Jasmine only found in the Southeast that smelled sweet and musky. Lola would always keep her windows open, and the Sampaguita that grew in the upstairs terrace would waft the smell throughout the apartment. On breezy days, Dad and his siblings would have sneezing fits throughout the house, as the Sampaguita’s pollen and the dust of industry from below blew around. It was a tight space, with only two bedrooms. The bathroom was halftiled, the living room was cluttered with knick-knacks, and the dining room was lined with boxes of merchandise that could not fit in the storage rooms below. In the middle of the terrace was the building’s water tank, surrounded by potted plants to hide its unsightliness. I remember a collection of bonsai trees scattered throughout the living room, and the care Lola took to tend to them. At the end of a long workday, it was tending to these trees that seemed to ease her tension. To compliment the trees, Lola also collected an assortment of vases, the larger and glossier of which 192 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 were decorated with Vietnamese myths in white pearl, a gift from my other grandmother. They were proudly set against the feature wall of the room to signify, Dad said, the friendship between both families. My Vietnamese grandmother’s stories would often clash sharply with the sparing Tagalog she knew, and she would mistranslate myths of monsters living in vases into the stuff of my childhood nightmares. For this reason, I would avoid walking into that living room when an adult was not present. When Lola noticed this, she wasted no time in striking the nerve I was subtly trying to hide. Confronted, I confessed. “Takot ako, may multo sa vase!” I said, I’m scared, there are monsters in the vases! “Tang Ina! Walang multo dyan, Gago!” she yelled, Idiot! There are no monsters! Lola took a deep breath, tight-lipped, creased forehead, puffed chest. She grabbed me by the collar, both gently but firmly, and dragged me to one of the vases. “Tingin ka dyan!” she snapped, look inside! My fear of Lola lay in conflict with my fear of monsters. I stood and stared into the vase with quivering legs, the vase just at height level to allow me to tip-toe a peek in. “Dyan ka lang!” she commanded, now stay! As I began to cry I heard her exit the room, the slap of her slippers saying, I dare you to move. Lola returned, minutes later, as I had squeezed out the last of my tears. A soft hand on my shoulder, and I was hoisted to her, face to face. She hinted a smile and pointed her forehead toward mine. “Kita mo? Wala naman’g multo eh! ” she said, you see? There is no monster! She held me closer, and told me to never be scared again. Because I was five and she was the oldest person I knew, I listened as best I could. IX Longanisa is a Filipino pork sausage that is a staple in Filipino breakfasts. The sausage is sweet, and almost excessively garlicky, not to mention greasy. Because of the sugar in it, it’s impossible to cook without it charring and crusting the pan. The pan needs to be soaked for a day before it can be used again, but it gave us time to miss it. Our family had a separate longanisa pan that had been passed on from Lola’s mother, and ended up with Ma. She would only use it for longanisa, and would snap at the maids if they mistook it for a regular pan. JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 193 Lola cooked longanisa the way her grandmother had taught her. When my parents got married, Lola wasted no time in sizing Ma up in the kitchen. She looked down on the Vietnamese recipes that Ma had learned from her own mother. Lola made sure Ma knew that her grandchildren were to grow up Filipino. “Nasa Pilipinas ka na, Daisy. Magululto kan’g pinoy!” Lola told Ma, You’re in the Philippines now, Daisy. You will cook Filipino food! Ma knew better than to protest. Small as she was in her relative youth, she had a larger frame than Lola, and was slightly taller. Ma tied her hair neatly into a bun, hid her hands behind her back, and hadn’t the fight in her that Dad had toward Lola. Despite this being my parent’s home, it was bought for them by Lola. Everything that was in it was paid for from running their department. She owed everything to this woman, and at the least owed her respect. She nodded. The first time they cooked together, Lola brought in a live chicken. Ma guessed what she had to do, and took a small step back in fear. Ma grew up in the city of Manila; her parents would send maids to go to the markets, where the meat was already butchered. Lola always butchered her own chicken, because she knew she was the best person for the job. With the bird wildly flapping, and Lola’s arm tightly grasped around the chicken’s neck, she one-handedly snapped the neck and threw the chicken on the table. “Ayan. Linisin mo,” she said sternly, now clean it. It was a troubled day for Dad. He knew both women very well, but had no idea how it would play out. He locked himself in his room to avoid the situation. But the situation made it to him. The screams, Ma’s tears at having to butcher her first chicken, and Lola’s increasingly tough love, made a chaos that resonated throughout our house. Years on, Ma would be able to skin a chicken in under twenty minutes, but this ordeal took over two hours. At the end of it, Ma was covered in blood, sweat, feathers while Lola stood to the side, clean. “Galing. O sige, magluluto na tayo,” Lola said with a grimace; Very good, now we’ll cook it. Of all the dishes I liked to watch Lola cook, longanisa was my favorite. I would watch in amazement at how quickly Lola stuffed longanisa into sausage casings—by hand and without even looking. By the time I was allowed to watch the women cook, Ma knew already knew her role in the kitchen when Lola was around; she was already as fast as Lola, and knew what steps came next, but she’d always wait for Lola’s instructions. When Lola cooked, the maids were 194 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 not allowed to watch. They were told to go inside and clean, since the kitchen was outside. “Pamilya lang ang pweden’g manuood,” Lola told me, only family can know our recipes. I nodded in my chair, behind a bench overlooking the kitchen, and watched the maids leave gladly to fold clothes and watch daytime dramas. “Ngayon’g araw, ika’w magluluto,” she said to me, today, you will cook. Even as a five-year-old, I was given free reign in the kitchen. My brother Jadi and I would mix different sauces, powders, and other ingredients into bowls and try to feed them to our dogs. Luckily, the dogs refused to eat our concoctions. When Ma cooked, I’d jump at any chance to help out. She had me mixing pots as I stood on stools, tasting soups and bits of meat. They told Lola this, and I felt a sense of pride in the sole grunt of approval she gave. The very next day, she called me to our kitchen to watch her and Ma cook, and soon she had me helping with small tasks. “What are we cooking?” I asked in English, eager to impress. Since it was in English, Lola ignored me. “Anon’g iluluto natin?” I asked again. “Longanisa,” she said with a smile. She handed me a large stone mortar and pestle, and placed it between my legs. Haphazardly, she broke apart a bulb of garlic and threw the cloves into the mortar. “Dikdikin mo ‘to,” she said, telling me to smash the garlic. I had only learned to stir and taste at this age, so I merely pushed the bulbs around. Even then, I wondered why she had full trust in her five-year-old grandson, but at the same time I felt this the most important task in the kitchen. “Sadyain mo!” she snapped, with purpose! She motioned a thumping fist that staccatoed into the air in front of her. When she thought I had understood, she turned back to her own work. I thought for a moment, and then began savagely beating the garlic bulbs with my pestle. Skins and entire bulbs began to fly left and right, so quickly that by the time Lola turned her attention back to me, the entire mortar was empty save a few beaten garlic skins that resembled dead moths. “Ai Tarantado!” she said, shaking her head; moron! Ma stood to the side, amused, but appeared as if trying to disown me. JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 195 “Sabi ko, dikdikin, hindi itapon. Tanga!” she said, I said to smash it, not throw it away. In one sweep, Lola scooped the garlic mess around me and placed it back in the mortar. She then placed each of her hands over mine, and we smashed the bulbs together. “Dahan-dahan lang,” she said softly, slowly, steadily. We smashed the garlic, the two of us. Lola could do this blindfolded and be done in a minute, but with patience and about three times the work, the garlic became a respectable pulp. Ma watched from the corner of her eye, her heart melting at the sight. “Ngayon, alisin mo na lang yung balat,” she said, now take out the skins. Out of fear of choking, I was meticulous with the task, and didn’t stop until all the skin was gone. “Kung magluluto ka, kailangan mon’g magdahan-dahan,” she said when I was done, if you’re going to cook, you need to take your time. She looked to Ma, catching her peek. “Matuto ka sa nanay mo, alam nya yan,” she said, learn from your mother, she knows what to do. Ma blushed behind pots and pans, almost giddy in the kitchen for the rest of that day. XII On Ma’s days off , she’d never sleep in. It was her time to catch up with responsibilities fallen to the wayside, without the distraction of three kids and a husband to drag down her domestic prowess. She’d get it all out of the way and then spend the rest of the time on herself, doing what working mothers did with what little spare time they’re given. The day we found out that Lola died was no different Ma popped an antihistamine and cleaned her way from one end of the house to the other, paid bills, balanced budgets, signed permission slips, shopped for groceries, cooked dinner, and killed the laundry pile. By the time she was finished, it was already one in the afternoon. With two hours and some change to spare, she sat in the living room, accomplished. When she took the call from my uncle, she wasn’t given time to accept the news. She knew immediately what she had to do, and that she was the only one to do it. She tried only once to call Dad’s workplace, but he was in a meet- 196 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 ing and it wasn’t something she could bring herself to pass on as a message. She decided that it was up to her to get everything done, because it would be stressful enough to tell her husband that his mother had been murdered. She decided she shouldn’t keep trying to call, she was more useful out of the house and sorting out travel arrangements. In that two hours, she had to renew passports, book plane tickets, and call work to say she’d be absent for a few weeks. Fatigued but not fazed from her day’s labor, the facts of the murder still settling in her mind into something she could comprehend, she didn’t have the energy to react just yet. It was better this way, she didn’t particularly want to cry in front of travel agents and the passport office clerk. She pulled it off, and the people she encountered were oblivious to the heavy weight on her shoulders. On the phone call with her work, it was her boss that did the crying. She only needed three weeks off. Her boss refused to make a timeframe for her mourning and told her to just come back when she was ready. Ma didn’t even know where to begin to start mourning. By the time she was done, her kids were already home, her husband home shortly afterward. We didn’t think too much of her absence, and none of us had mobile phones in order to check. Her work shoes were still in the coat closet, and her long jacket still hung up. Wherever she went, she left in a rush, and as the mystery grew around her whereabouts, Dad’s curiosity was greatest. The mystery bubble burst when she walked through the front door. Without waiting to see if anyone was in a state to listen, she shot straight to Dad. “Nanay is dead,” she said. I could almost see the crack in her composure as she fell into Dad’s arms, which weren’t yet ready to take her. Together, they organically collapsed to the f loor next to the front door, and she tried to tell him about everything, my uncle’s call, the passports and plane tickets. Now that she was accepting what had happened, Dad still could not. My sister Jian began crying as soon as she saw Ma crying. She hardly even remembered who my grandmother was, brief phone conversations with an old lady she’d never met, so her grief was purely secondhand. My brother followed suit, seeing both of his parents in distress. His sharpness, and his age, allowed him to understand more than my sister and I. I was the last to cry, out of fear, or out of shock, but perhaps not wanting to be left behind. JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 197 With Ma still weeping in his arms, Dad picked up the phone nearby. “Are you sure?” he asked Ma. “Are you sure?” he asked again to my Aunt Lorena on the phone. When Lorena said that my uncle Jun, the one to discover the body, was in the hospital, Dad thought the same thing I did, that my uncle, too, had been stabbed. We learned it was for a broken hand after punching a wall in Lola’s bedroom. “Is it something I did? Is it something I said?” Dad asked, but his maniacal questions made little sense to Lorena so she ignored them. Throughout, my brother and I kept asking our own questions, directed more to Aunt Lorena than Dad. We wanted to know how it happened, and in what way, and why. Dad barely understood himself, so he had nothing to say to us. He gave a final “are you sure?” as if it was all he had left. They ended the call in silence, with Lorena having her own list of things to sort out before the funeral, and Dad not being satisfied with any answers given. Only ten minutes after Ma had burst through the door, after calls had been made and after Dad, without seeing the body himself, had accepted the death as sure we all found ourselves huddled on the floor where my parents had collapsed earlier. They were unable to speak, and their confused children only made it worse with their innocent questioning. We stayed huddled for an hour, until Ma was once again struck with a responsibility over the family. She stood, straightened her clothes, brushed off tears, and asked each of us if we were okay. The next thing we knew, she was in the kitchen, making lists of things we needed to bring on our flight. She had me cook rice, and had Jian set the dinner table. She then turned the stove on to heat up what she had made earlier, and despite Dad’s protests, that he was in no mood to eat, she dragged all of us to dinner. Stubborn and grieving, Dad ate nothing, but he had an air of appreciation for a wife that could hold a family together at a time like this. As is customary in our culture, or perhaps as is the right thing to do in the event of someone’s death, our family friends made sure we weren’t alone for the next few days. After dinner, Ma called them and only an hour later a stream of sympathetic brown faces filed in. The kitchen was suddenly filled with Filipino women cooking, not letting Ma do any of the housework. She was relieved to be free to comfort her husband, relieved that the house could go on without her running it. Dad’s favorite pastime was entertaining guests and that helped a bit that evening. I even heard him laugh a couple of times. The minister came 198 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 and played guitar instrumentals throughout, and the kids of our friends came to our rooms to help us pack. Despite the circumstances, it was a typical Filipino gathering. The crowd thinned in the early hours of morning, and my dad was left mulling over memories of his mother to his close friends. The expression in his face was worn, beaten. He still hadn’t eaten, even refusing water until Ma forced him to drink it. When the minister left, Ma brought him beer. He shrugged, inclined to refuse. But instead he took it eagerly, even surprising himself. XIV I remember a specific feeling , prophetic almost because it was the night before any of us found out. If I really thought about it, I could figure out a way to sync the murder with this feeling. It’d probably match up. My family was in our living room, eyes glued to an American show on one of the New Zealand television’s four channels. I remember Jian drawing, as she always did, and my brother Jadi buried in a thick book. As I stood up, a brief sadness, nearing pain, rushed over me, like heav y anxiety. I remember saying I felt strange. My parents told me to go to bed, but for some reason being alone in my room was the last thing I wanted. I sat back down and it was over. The same feeling came as I stood in Lola’s room, a day before the funeral in the Philippines. I wound a jewelry box that chimed “Memory” from the musical Cats. The feeling hit where the line “She is standing alone” was supposed to be. The song ended, and the feeling faded. XV Th e s c e n e at t h e wa k e mirrored the scene at my house the day we found out, the same sympathetic faces, the hordes of Filipino women cooking food enough to feed the entire city, even a minister was there with a guitar and instrumental comfort. The only difference was that a golden coffin sat in the middle of the living room as people walked around it, sometimes stopping to stare sadly, but keeping the funeral alive. As Dad put it, we didn’t worship the dead. Our religion forbid any prayer for the body, or for the soul. Iglesia Ni Cristo believes that once someone dies, they remain dead until the Day of Judgment where the dead shall rise first. I JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 199 found comfort in this notion growing up, because all was known upfront, Lola was dead, and no amount of praying could change God’s mind about her destination. Wakes and funerals, therefore, were celebrations for the living and not for the dead. Eulogies were forbidden lest members be tempted to speak to the dead with hopeful futility. During the first family meeting, Dad ordered each and every family member to touch Lola one last time before the burial. He figured it would be part of closure, to avoid any form of regret. On my turn, I was lifted up to the coffin, and I found myself peering down into a chilling display of lifelessness. The body before me was supposed to be Lola, but her skin was paler than I’d remembered, her eyebrows had been drawn on, her lips were sealed shut. They could have at least attempted to shift her face into her smirk; this wasn’t the Lola I knew her to be. I opted to touch her shirt rather than skin, and gently. I was afraid she’d wake up if I prodded. I found myself alone near the casket for a moment during the wake. The sight of my cousins, aunts, and uncles in mourning—faces almost unfamiliar now after years apart—were slightly overwhelming. Their faces filled me with a strange guilt, as though I wasn’t mourning enough. At least not how I should have been. With my head leaning against the casket, fishing among the handful of sentimental moments I had with Lola, I found tears only for everyone else’s sadness. I hadn’t yet grasped what had happened to Lola. Every reaction I had seemed forced, not genuine. Adults gently peeled me away from the casket, and into bed. People asked what was wrong, and the adults answered for me. “He’s just remembering,” they said. It was when they sealed the concrete grave shut a couple of days later that my tears turned legitimate; no longer involuntary, no longer secondhand emotions. I had a morbid hope that Lola could wake from all of this, a hope that ended abruptly when the grave workers piled liquid cement over the opening to her marble grave. Over this, they firmly slid a heavy slab of marble, on which was written her name, her date of her birth, and the date of her murder. No other words were written, our religion forbade it. By this time, I wasn’t crying just because everyone else was. I wasn’t cheating everyone around me by hoarding sympathy because it felt good. My eyes seemed to hurt unlike other times, and my heart felt heavier than a seven year old should have been able to handle. For the first time since her death, I was sad that I’d never see Lola again. 200 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 XVI In tru th, I wasn’t there for any of what surrounded the murder. What sits in memory are fragments of other peoples’ memories. What I did, how I felt, the order of events—I’m not sure what’s borrowed and what’s mine. The images are familiar, familial, and relevant. Within my attempts to piece the story together, I only attempt to bleed the last drop of a long-slaughtered animal. My delving is intrusive, my sentiments all but forced. At the end is my peace, where my perpetual discomfort can be laid to rest. At the end, I will hope to achieve a peace that the rest of my family has failed to. My Lola, the matriarch of a towering clan, is dead, lying in a pool of blood, warming the marble of her bedroom floor. Front and back, covered in stab wounds, the fabric of her silky nightgown imbedded into her freshly-bathed skin; a torso pierced open 18 times. Head to toe soaked and splattered with crusting coagulates. Her eyelids wedged open by the air of her death, staring into a distance only she can now see. From my uncle Jun’s point of view, her face was obscured. The entire scene absorbed a crimson tint. From when he walked through the door to find her here, he had delayed identifying his mother for as long as he could. For some time he stood still and for a second convinced himself that whether or not his mother is dead depended on his taking a step forward and allowed time to happen. With a step back, and with time’s failure to reverse itself, he was immediately struck with the gravity of the scene before him. This was his mother’s room. This was his mother’s house. This was his mother’s store. His mother, his Nanay, the matriarch that he loved dearly had been toppled into a mass of tissue and blood. This was his mother’s hardened corpse. He was not afraid. He touched her face and began a trickle of mourning. At once, he was upright. At once, he connected his angry fist with the room’s wallpapered walls. The intense pain of his cracking bones meeting crumbling drywall was distracting long enough to realize that he was no longer alone. It was my Aunt Lorena’s turn to muster a reaction to the mess before them. She turned, springing to a sprint, away from the musty smell of death, away from a room so saturated in red that it was all she saw for a while when her eyes were briefly closed, away from the sound of her brother’s bashing into her mother’s bedroom blood-spattered walls. But really, was it still her mother’s? Maybe, she JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT 201 thought to herself, this could all be undone. Maybe, she thought, that her immediate inclination to avoid the scene might delay the inevitable onslaught of misery to follow. The last thing she heard as she ran from the scene was the frantic and determined dialing of a rotary phone, my uncle making a call. He was further along in the process of mourning. He had never dwelled on anything too long. It was time to begin his onslaught of misery. It was time to let everyone know how to feel for the coming months. Downstairs, in the kitchen, a Visayan maid washed all the dishes that she possibly could. When she was done, she refused to be satisfied and rewashed the entire contents of her employer’s kitchen but really, was it still her employer’s? If it didn’t matter either way, she could have told herself she’d been in this kitchen all along. She could have told herself that she fell asleep after a tiring day of chores. She could have pretended she hadn’t seen, for a brief ten seconds, the butchered remains of her now former employer. Of the random seconds and entire minutes that her memory could no longer access, names of childhood friends, names of provinces in Visaya, what she had for lunch last Tuesday. She cursed her mind for the cruelty in not disposing of those brief ten seconds, for making the memory of the scene so vivid. But Lira was honest, especially to herself, and to that end she opted instead for distraction. The water was purposely scalding, each dish washed and rewashed was for her a raw-fist-to-drywall, an avoidant sprint from the room above. While she washed dishes, she forgot she was the one to find the body, the light to spark the commotion. Her simplicity was to her advantage. She grew up away from city sensibilities, thus she could not have realized that the clinking metal of the gate last night was someone breaking into the building. She assumed it was a mouse, or a cat, or a stray dog unusually begging for food at that time of night. She ignored the upstairs thuds, the slammed doors and indulged more in her simple thoughts. But the screams were not so easily masked by her reasoning; a corresponding rush of fear had its way with her as soon as she heard the first scream. It was for this reason that she kept to her task at hand, that if she continued what she was doing, she’d create a shell of busyness to fend off what trauma could have waited upstairs. And it took concentration. She fought her mind’s insistence 202 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 on imagining what the screams could have meant; what level of pain could bring each scream to cracking points; what little time lay in between each scream; what graphic detail could be gleaned of screams in quick succession. E P I LO G U E The idea of closure is funny when it comes to death. It implies an end that the bereaved can’t ever reach. Memory assures this. Much more so, then, for an unsolved murder. Closure seems a lot further. The details most important to the death are obscured, perhaps forever. It’s not enough to say Lola was generous. That term seems empty in the context of her irregular life. That’s eulogy; my religion forbade it. Eulogies are filled with blanket statements that apply to regular folk, living regular lives, that don’t deserve violent deaths. My family is left asking, what did Lola do to deserve hers? Our mythology says she did a lot. Detachment, then, is our closure. We detach ourselves from Lola’s death, perhaps from Lola herself, as a means of closure. Baby’s Bazaar wasn’t a business lesson, it was a lesson in resilience, a lesson in hard work, in accepting responsibility where your obligations most lie. Lola’s death was a lesson in unrelenting generosity, and as I said, that was the legacy she left behind. But we needn’t vow to follow in the footsteps of her legacy; we needn’t eulogize. All we need to learn from her footsteps is that she took them. So we bury the memory of Lola’s death with the memory of Lola’s life. Crystallizing her in her purest form, mythologizing her as perfect. Dad will never again need to throw dartboards toward maps, hoping to escape his mother’s shadow. Ma is free to pass on her recipes, to me, to the rest of my family. My aunts and uncles can carve out their own lives, in whatever countries they choose, in whatever pursuits suit them. My brother Jadi and I needn’t speculate whether she’d approve of us being gay. My siblings and I needn’t speculate whether she’d approve of us leaving the church we grew up in. I needn’t speculate whether the mythology is accurate. She died before she could present herself as bigoted, as overzealous, as anything other than myth. To detach from her is to be free from such speculation. In our detachment from her is our freedom to live. LIZ MAYORGA April 11, 2012 I N T RO D U C T I O N I t h a d be e n s i x y e a r s since I was in Mexico. I was sure it had changed, adapted more modern ideals. And though some aspects of Mexico did change, like the murder rate, the narcotics trade, and the seasons, my family did not. They still held on to old traditions. They still valued discreet and obedient women. I FORGOT. I got yelled at several times for showing up at family events sleeveless, for all to see the flamboyant tattoo on my arm. Scandal! It didn’t seem like a big deal to me at first, but I guess it was. Because even though I’ve never been discreet or obedient, I am often quiet. And now when I sit in silence, my tattoo challenges my relatives’ values without me speaking. The era of discrepancy and obedience has clearly come to and end. Juxtapose “el qué diran”1 with Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and you get a new perspective on female identity. You lose your fear of being called “malcriada,” “hocicona,” “malcarosa,” “resongona,” even “libertina,”2 and you start to embrace these insults as terms of affection. Only my mom would call me these things (with or without my tattoos), but even though my relatives didn’t call me 1 “El qué dirán” is the fear of what others might think and say. “Malcriada,” “hocicona,” “malcarosa,” “resongona,” and “libertina”: these are hard to translate, but they basically mean ill mannered, big mouth, rude, libertine (a.k.a. slut). 2 206 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 any names, they did treat me differently. That was unexpected. Again, I FORGET. Initially, I felt bad, but soon I saw my ink provided me with a new lens with which to observe my culture, so I embraced it as that: a way to learn something new about myself and the people around me. INKED Its wings reach up to the center of my arm and its tail wraps down towards my hand. Anyone can see it; there is nothing subtle about it. The emerald feathers that used to adorn the headdresses of Aztec and Mayan priests now cover my right arm. I didn’t place it there for others. No. It’s on my arm so I can see it. It’s there to remind me: if a quetzal3 is captured, it will die. I sit at the table, eating my lunch but I no longer hear the clicks and clangs of forks against plates, which seems odd to me. It takes me a while to register the silence and notice that my sleeve is up, exposing the long, green feather that has caught everyone off guard. “¿Y éso?4” my tío5 Federico asks. My cousin, Julia, takes my arm and pulls my sleeve up, all the way. She exposes the quetzal on my arm. Bright feathers scatter from my elbow down to my wrist, and my quetzal sticks out its crimson chest like a brave little warrior. “Is it real?” “That’s pretty, but you shouldn’t do that to yourself.” “No one’s going to hire you looking like that.” “And WHO’s going to marry you?!!” “You’ve ruined your arm,” My arm works perfectly fine, and so does the rest of my body. Air fills my lungs, there is oxygen in my blood, and it’s carried from my heart to my guts, to my limbs, and it even goes into my brain, but they don’t see that. We eat grilled nopales, frijoles pintos, and mole with handmade tortillas. My 3 A quetzal is a bird found in the south of Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. It is mostly emerald green, but also has blue, white, and black feathers, and a bright red chest. These birds are a strong symbol in Mexico and Central America. It is Guatemala’s national bird and symbolizes liberty. Its myths and legends date back to Mesoamerican history. 4 “¿Y Eso?” is to say, “What’s that all about?” 5 Tío is the Spanish word for uncle. LIZ MAYORGA 207 cousins talk as loud as they can; they tell childhood stories, mostly about being boys and scaring my tía. I’m amused. I listen to them as I indulge my food. My cousin, Chivi, grabs a tiny green chili from a plastic bag. He says an old man from his Church gave it to him as a thank you. Chivi tends to win people over quickly, if not with his sermons, with his charm. He passes the bag of chilies around. My mom eats one and her eyes water. I ask for a chili to go with my molé. My mom warns me “it’s really hot.” Chivi laughs. “Hmph. This one?” He looks at me. “It won’t do anything to her. She eats spice like nothing.” Somehow that makes me proud, like he just called me tough. Tío Federico, my dad’s brother-in-law, stops speaking to me completely. I come back to visit him (and my tía6 Meche) in the afternoon. I walk into their bedroom. My tía greets me warmly, so do my cousins Julia and Arturo, but my tío doesn’t even look at me. He is too busy watching Novelas, switching between one channel and another to avoid the commercials in between the dramas. I sit down and Julia asks where my mom is. I tell her she’s at Mass. “How about you? You didn’t go to Mass?” she says. “I didn’t,” I say. “No. Your type doesn’t go to Church, do they?” My tío Federico finally decides to speak to me. “What is that supposed to mean?” I snap. “Oh nothing. Just that your type doesn’t go to Church. Or am I wrong?” He’s right, I don’t go to Church, but he had never noticed that before. Hadn’t bothered to pay attention to my opinions or beliefs. He had assumed I was a good Catholic, just like him and the rest of the family. And that like a good Catholic, I knew better than to taint my body. In his view, my tattoo brands me as a different type of person. I wonder, “What type of person is he?” There are no marks on his body to say “liar,” “cheat,” “wife beater,” but there should be. I guess a few minutes of confession, one hour of Church every week, and a few drops of holy water are enough to cleanse him of his history. My uncle continues to give me the silent treatment. I seem to have I 6 Tía: Spanish for aunt. 208 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 aligned myself with a different class of people: gangsters, pirates, and circus freaks. But for me, there are only decent people and assholes, and now I know which one he is. I think about calling him out for being a hypocrite, but then my mom arrives and I have to pretend I’m not offended. A f t e r lu nc h , my nephews Luzito and Miguelito ask me to go for a walk. They’re both in their early 20s, positive and full of life. We circle around the Plaza, tell some jokes, and watch other young people hanging out by the gardens. They take advantage of this moment away from the older adults to ask: “How much did it cost?” “How long did it take?” “Did it hurt?” “What did your mom say?” They confess that they want their last names tattooed on them. Luzito wants it on the back of his forearm. Miguelito wants it across his back. But a few things keep them from getting it: their career uncertainties, lack of money, but most of all, they are afraid of how their parents will react, especially their dads. I tell them it isn’t something to take lightly. “Si tu papá viviera, se volvería a morir.7” That is what my mom said. I remember how much it hurt to hear her say that, but when I think about my dad in his grave, I decide my dad knows better than to care. “Your body is God’s Temple,” so the Church says. “Save yourself for a good husband,” so my mom says. My body. My temple. My amusement park. And in the end, a corpse like all the rest. Tension fills the room, but my mom’s either oblivious to it or chooses to ignore it. She sits down and starts talking about the Mass, but then quickly changes the topic to gossip and finances. In the evening, we visit the Santa Clarista convent, where the nuns serve their vocation and make rum and pastries. We go there for their tamarindo pulp, but also taste their rum. Chivi and I eat ice cream. My mom and aunt follow my cousin, Lupe, through the hallways. They 7 “If your dad were alive, he’d die all over again.” LIZ MAYORGA 209 discuss the portraits of historic priests. I try to follow their conversation, but my attention span is too short. It also doesn’t help that most priests are just average men to me. There are exceptions: Chivi is a great man, even though he’s a priest. He chose his profession because he wanted to work in Mexico’s poorest towns. He ends up working in the most remote areas, where there is little water and electricity. But slowly, he creates more resources for the town and its people. Soon enough, everyone falls in love with “El Padre Fíl.” When money comes up, my mom talks about how she plans to make a living, now that she’s older. She considers being a foster parent, but she hears from a distant relative in Fresno that it’s a tough job. I recognize the story at once and shake my head. I dread what she was going to say. “Vicki, Pancho’s ex-wife, takes care of two boys. They’re brothers from an Indian Reservation, but they were taken away because their parents are drug addicts.” Chivi and I browse through the glass shelves. We drool over the caramel cookies, empanadas, and a few sugared skulls, while we devour our ice cream cones in huge bites. We notice the bookshelf below the sugared skulls and we stop to look at it. We both pick out a biography of Archbishop Romero8 at the same time, but I let him take it. He smiles. “Do you know who he is?” he asks. “Yeah. I admire him a lot,” I say. “Me too. He’s my inspiration.” Then we start talking about the drug cartel and the Mexican government. With the climate change, the crops have not been as profitable, so many people are left without jobs. And as the crops lose their profit, the drug cartel gains theirs. More and more young men are turning to narcotics for work. More people are dying. The government does very little to stop this, if they do anything at all. Mexicans have no faith in their government, so they give whatever faith they have to God. “Those damn Indians,” says Arturo, “Don’t they just mooch off of the government and live in those reservations for free?” 8 Also known as “Monseñor Romero,” the Archbishop is Salvadoran martyr who was killed during the Civil War in the 1980s for speaking against political corruption. 210 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 My stomach turns into a tight knot. I struggle to say, “No. They have it pretty bad, actually.” But before I can go on, Arturo cuts me off. “Stupid Indians” he says. “That’s what White people say about us,” I say. Now my mom cuts me off. She continues her story, and this time I am sure she’s oblivious to me and my thoughts, my words, and feelings because she says: “Well, Vicki made the boys some enchiladas and the oldest boy asked her what they were. She told him it was Mexican food. Then he tells her, ‘I hate Mexican food. I hate Mexicans.’” “¡Pinche racista!” says Arturo. I look around to see people’s reactions. No one else seems to see anything wrong, and if they do they don’t act like it. The women in the room play with their jewelry. They tug at the medals of Crosses and Virgins that hang around their powdered necks. The gold rubs against their sweaty skin and reveals their natural skin color is two shades darker than the make up on their face. “¡Mendigos Indios cabrones!9 They’re just a bunch of lazy alcoholics who refuse to work for what they have.” I ask Chivi if things were going to get as bad as they did in El Salvador. I wonder if there will be another Civil War. “It’s heading that way,” he says, “that’s why it’s important that the people are well informed. They need to be aware of their responsibility, so they can choose the role they want to play within all this.” I can’t think of what to say besides, “You’re the racist asshole,” but if I say that, I’ll embarrass my mom, get into a heated argument, and get kicked out of the house, so I try to say something else, anything, but it feels as though there is something stuck in my throat. A whole history of racism. I don’t know where to begin and if I try to explain my understanding of injustice, they will talk over me, like they tend to do. But it bothers me that I am the only one in the room bothered by something other than my quetzal. My mom doesn’t think like them, I’m sure of it, but she she’ll never say 9 Méndigo means damned. Cabrón means asshole. This is my rough translation, but it sounds about right. LIZ MAYORGA 211 anything to stir up conflict. She likes to keep things amicable, so she just keeps on smiling and talking as if everything is okay. I struggle to resist an argument, so I leave before a single word slips out of my lips. I feel like a coward. There are times when I wish I was darker, so that I could see more traces of my ancestors, the ones without marked graves. My long, dark hair and small, dark eyes are not enough. I have light skin. I’m too White to be Brown by Mexican-American standards, but just White enough to be “pretty” by Mexican standards. If I had blonde hair I’d be called beautiful. If I had blue eyes they’d call me gorgeous. I wish I was darker, but I try not to care, because if I were darker, I’d probably want to be lighter anyway. My Abuelita10 Ticha was an Indian orphan, and she married the Whitest man in town to “purify” her blood. She was mostly successful. Six out of seven of her kids were White. My light skin takes on colored ink really well. I’m morphing myself into the image I want to see. It’s my fight against this inherited self-hatred. Our ice cream has lost its flavor. It tastes like tears. We rummage through other sweets to remove the bitter taste in our mouths, but not even the cajeta de membrillo11 is sweet enough to bring back the child-like joy we felt a moment ago. When the sugar fails us, we sit in silence. Chivi looks at my arm. He pulls my sleeve up to reveal my quetzal. “That’s my zodiac sign on the Aztec calendar,”12 he says. That makes me smile. Over the years, we’ve bonded over our love for movies, music, and laughter, and I’m happy to find yet another connection. Chivi and I might not agree on religion, but we agree on the important things, like a desire to see justice where it does not exist, and that death is only there to remind us how to live. 10 Abuelita means grandma. Cajeta de membrillo is a caramel made out of Quince fruit and is often shaped like a small box. 12 Quetzal Personality Traits: “Creators of their own destiny, they are intelligent, analytical, and generous people. They love business and art. Intuitive, very spiritual, and ambitious. Can be mystics and visionaries. Cry out for and desire everything necessary for a good life, material and spiritual.” 11 212 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 E P I LO G U E O n e mon t h l at e r , I turn 30. Instead of throwing a big party, I get another piece. Casey, my tattoo artist, pauses to dab the needle into indigo and white to create the pretty florescent blue that adorns my left arm. My nerves tingle above my bones and joints, all the way down to my legs. I ask myself why I volunteer for this pain; it feels like the needle is dipping itself into my veins for ink. And when I look at all the other marks—the black, reds, pinks, yellows, blues, and greens—that have been hammered into my skin, I see that they are slowly transforming my body. The needle is like the pen in my hand, is like the brush with which I ink the many pages of prose and comic strips. The thrill is in the ink. Once it’s there, brushed against the white, there is no going back. I strike and leave a mark on a page, risking mistakes as well as saying too much. I want more ink marks in blank spaces. WO R K S C I T E D 1 “Maya Birthday Divination.” Mayan Calendar. http://mayan-calendar.com/ancientbirthdays .html 2 Pacific Islanders in Communication. “Skin Stories: The Art and Culture of Polynesian Tattoo.” PBS. Online posting 2003 http://www.pbs.org/skinstories/history/beyond.html 3 “The Quetzal, Mayan and Aztec Legends.” Web Promotion CR. April 22, 2010 http://strayreality .com/birdingquetzal3.htm JIM NORRENA Marriages for the Byrds E XC E R P T I N T RO D U C T I O N The action of Marriages for the Byrds begins in March 2004, when 4,000 same-sex couples in California were allowed to marry after then-mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to grant marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. The marriage licenses were halted one month later, and the issue of their legal merit was sent to the California Supreme Court. In August 2004, the Court ruled Mayor Newsom had overstepped his executive authority in allowing the marriage licenses to be issued, effectively voiding all 4,000 licenses. Almost a decade later, the pursuit of same-sex couples and others committed to marriage equality in California has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. It is currently widely expected the previous ruling of the U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals, which found unconstitutional prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying in California, will ultimately be upheld. The ruling is expected by June 2013. AC K N O W L E D G E M E N T S : The playwright wishes to thank the proponents of Californiaâ€™s Proposition 8, who passed this landmark piece of legislation that placed California in the unique position of becoming the first and, as yet, only state in the country to take away civil rights from a specific group of people. Without such legislation, the playwright might otherwise not have become so inspired to write this play. 216 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 AC T 1 , S C E N E V I I Several days later. Lyle and Marcus’s dining room. A celebration dinner is halfway over, with wine glasses and plates of food before each of the guests. LIGHTS UP ON: Lyle and Marcus sit on one side of the table with Andrea and Joe opposite them. Hector is at the far end of the table, with Syvia positioned at the head of the table. Sylvia taps her wine glass with her dinner knife. S Y LV I A : Just look around. Ah, yes. What a unique and robust family gathering we suddenly have. JOE: It’s truly a blessing. I already feel so welcome here. Beneath the table Joe’s foot rubs against Marcus’s leg. Marcus assumes Hector made the gesture. He smiles at Hector. Hector returns an awkward smile. ANDREA: Oh, yes, isn’t it, Mom? Having not just Lyle, but also me married in one fell swoop! It’s surprising, huh? Sylvia plays with her dinner knife, tapping it against the table. S Y LV I A : LY L E : Shocking, actually. (Beat) Let’s have a toast. (To Lyle) Would you? Oh, uh, sure. Lyle looks around the table. He raises his glass and clears his throat. LY L E ( C O N T. ) : As you all know, Marcus and I have passed a hugely significant stumbling block a few weeks ago, and while our fight is far from over, our marriage’s state-sanctioned legitimacy clearly indicates the battle is being won on many fronts. Marcus raises his glass. M A RC U S : JOE: Another hurdle for interracial legitimacy, too! (Triumphantly) Lyle, are you aware you just quoted the Bible? LY L E : Did I? I don’t think I did. JIM NORRENA JOE: 217 Stumbling blocks. “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ Matthew 16:23, if I’m not mistaken.’ Andrea pours Joe more wine, smiling. ANDREA: LY L E : JOE: Just amazing! More of a coincidence, I’d say. Didn’t mean to interrupt. Please go on. Joe again brushes his foot against Marcus’s leg. Marcus pats Hector on the shoulder. Hector leans away. LY L E : Yes, well, here’s to hoping all couples everywhere—straight or gay; of all ethnic backgrounds—have the right to marry the persons they love recognized. And may the powers that be make it so! HECTOR: I’ll drink to that! E V E RY O N E : S Y LV I A : JOE: Hear, hear! Isn’t Lyle the sweetest son a mother could ever have? You did it again! (Beat) Powers that be. “The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resayeth power resisteth the ordinance of God.” M A RC U S : Oh, Lord. Lyle whacks Marcus’s arm. S Y LV I A : JOE: Joe, dear, what exactly is your point? I just find it relevant that even those who have veered off his intended course, still. M A RC U S : Whoa! Slow down, there. What makes you think I’ve veered off any course? HECTOR: JOE: Maybe a toast from the bride is order? Oh, I didn’t mean anything by it. I promise. I’m just pointing out His presence. At this table. In our words. 218 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 M A RC U S ; (Counts) see six seats, and they’re all occupied. JOE: I meant figuratively. M A RC U S : LY L E : Yes, and I mean it literally. Let’s not. S Y LV I A : (Excited) Lyle, let them finish. HECTOR: Andrea? A toast? Andrea pours herself some more wine. ANDREA: Yes, I’d be happy to. (To Joe) I’m so honored to be your wife, and that you’ve encouraged me to accept the Lord into my life. I always felt something was (Beat) missing. S Y LV I A : Andrea! ANDREA: S Y LV I A : What? I did. Really? ANDREA: I’m convinced Joe is my calling. He’s awakened me. I want to follow him. S Y LV I A : JOE: Excuse me if I don’t celebrate the blind leading the blind. Another biblical reference! How amazing: “He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’” S Y LV I A : LY L E : Shut up, Joe. Stop it! HECTOR: Let’s call it quits on the toasts. ANDREA: Fine, but I didn’t finish mine. S Y LV I A : LY L E : You’ve both said enough. (Beat) What’s next? Confession with dessert? Hector? As the fallen Catholic among us, would you like to lead us in confession? Hector, caught off guard, reaches for his wine, and accidently knocks his glass over. The wine spills onto Marcus’s lap. JIM NORRENA 219 Marcus jumps up, steps away from the table, and starts pat drying his pants. HECTOR: Ah, shit. I’m so sorry, Marcus. Hector pats his crotch. M A RC U S : (Whispers to Hector) Wanna help? Hector laughs nervously. HECTOR: I’ll just go get a towel. M A RC U S ( C O N T. ) : It’s OK. It’s fine. No worries. Wouldn’t be a party unless someone got dirty. S Y LV I A : LY L E : And why must it always be you who gets dirty, I’m wondering. Mom! S Y LV I A : What? What did I say? M A RC U S : I’ll be right back. (To Joe) Isn’t this where you say something about a cup that spilleth over? HECTOR: (En route to the kitchen) That’s “my cup runneth over,” from a psalm in the Hebrew Bible. Hector exits to the kitchen. M A RC U S : How does he know that? Marcus exits up the stairs. S Y LV I A : LY L E : Hector never stops impressing me. At least someone does. ANDREA: What about Joe? He quoted the Bible three different times! What?! That’s impressive! JOE: It’s fine, Andie. You must accustom yourself to resistance and learn how to strike while the iron is hot. S Y LV I A : JOE: Another biblical quote? Not as far as I know—just on old proverb that refers to the making of— S Y LV I A : LY L E : Got it. Thanks. I’m going to check on dessert. Lyle exits to the kitchen. 220 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Joe and Sylvia sit in silence. ANDREA: JOE: Was your father a religious man? S Y LV I A : Ha! ANDREA: S Y LV I A : S Y LV I A : Dad prayed? Prayed he wouldn’t get caught running around with all those women! ANDREA: S Y LV I A : Mom? Ed prayed every day. ANDREA: JOE: (To Joe) We didn’t have a lot of religion growing up. OK, Joe doesn’t need to hear about Dad’s shortcomings! He asked. I’m sure he was a good man. S Y LV I A : (To herself) Yes, well he had his strengths as well as his weaknesses. Joe finishes his glass of wine all at once. S Y LV I A : JOE: What about your folks? Great people. Simple in many ways—but there’s nothing wrong with simple, right? (Beat) I know they’re going to just love Andie. Joe leans over and kisses Andrea on the cheek. S Y LV I A : JOE: They’re OK not having met her? OK? They’re just thrilled. They want grandchildren as quickly as possible. (To Andrea) And we’re gonna make some fine ones together, aren’t we? Andrea giggles. S Y LV I A : She’s not cattle stock. ANDREA: JOE: Of course not! Did I say that? ANDREA: S Y LV I A : JOE: Mom! No! Not in so many words. It’s just that, well, you see, My father’s father—my grandfather—won’t relinquish his estate. He’s got a fair-sized apple farm, but unless my father secures the proper family lineage, the inheritance won’t be passed along. JIM NORRENA S Y LV I A : 221 So, let me see if I got this right: You marry my daughter with the expectation of her giving you children, so that your father can secure his inheritance from his father who simply wants to keep the property within the family? ANDREA: JOE: Actually, that’s pretty much the case. S Y LV I A : Why not just hire a surrogate and call it a day? ANDREA: JOE: And using my daughter to churn out children is? I’m not using her! ANDREA: S Y LV I A : JOE: A surrogate?! That’s not God’s vision. S Y LV I A : JOE: Who doesn’t want grandchildren? He’s not using me! What exactly, then, are you doing with her? I’m saving her. S Y LV I A : (Angrily) Just what the Hell do you think she needs saving from, anyway? Joe motions with his hands. JOE: From this. (Beat) From all this. Joe stands and steps away from the table. J O E ( C O N T. ) : S Y LV I A : (Points to the stairs) All this, huh? ANDREA: S Y LV I A : If you’ll excuse me. I need to use the toilet. It’s the second door on the right. Should have a light on. Yes, just head toward the light so you don’t lose your way. Joe exists up the stairs. ANDREA: S Y LV I A : He’s upset me. Now we’re even. ANDREA: S Y LV I A : Mom, you’ve upset him! Oh, Mom! I just want everyone to be happy. Oh, Andrea, for the love of God, wake up and smell the Bible! L I G H T S O U T. 222 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 AC T 1 , S C E N E V I I I Same evening. Kitchen. Hector helps Lyle cut slices of cake and put them onto dishes. LY L E : What a mess, huh? HECTOR: LY L E : Not to worry. We’ll get the tablecloth soaking after. No, I mean, tonight, everything. What a colossal failure. HECTOR: It’s a family dinner. What did you expect? Lyle places the last piece of cake onto a plate. He checks the coffee-maker, then begins removing cups from the cupboard. LY L E : Is every family this bad? Is yours? HECTOR: Every family has its problems, man. (Beat) Yours just likes to have them all at the same time. LY L E : (Laughs) I hear that. What does she see in that guy, anyway? He’s textbook crazy. HECTOR: Nah, man. He just hasn’t gotten out from under his parents, that’s all. We’re all victims of our parents’ expectations. LY L E : Yeah? How are you a victim? HECTOR: I tried for years to get my parents to accept Jaime not just to accept him as part of the family, which they never did, but to accept him as the person I chose to be with. LY L E : Never? Not even when you were taking care of him? HECTOR: (Sighs) Especially then. The old man, he never once, not even once, did he even acknowledge Jaime. (Pause) Never even said his name. LY L E : Jesus. What about your mom? HECTOR: She cried a lot. She knew how much pain I was in. I think deep down she wanted to do something for me, you know, but she just couldn’t accept it. (Pause) After Jaime died, it was like both my folks thought everything would get back the way it had been, you know, the way they had always imagined it to be so I knew then that I had to get out. It wasn’t ever going to change for me. LY L E : I can’t imagine. (Beat) I mean, as fucked up as it can get with Sylvia and JIM NORRENA 223 Marcus, there’s something kind of, I don’t know, gratifying knowing she’s acknowledging who he is to me at least, right? HECTOR: (Laughs) Yeah, in a fucked-up kind of way, yours is just one big American stereotype of a family! LY L E : All in the Family meets Will & Grace, right? HECTOR: Sure, something like that. (Pause) Let’s just get you through this night, OK? Here, let me help carry. Hector goes to Lyle and removes the two plates Lyle holds in his hands and sets them down on the counter. Hector places both hands on Lyle’s face and kisses him long and slow. Lyle resists slightly, at first, but is overcome with the intensity of the kiss. Lyle keeps his arms outstretched, but slowly raises them and rests them on Hector’s back. L I G H T S O U T. AC T I , S C E N E I X Living room. Same evening. Andrea distractedly picks up dishes from the table. Sylvia watches her intently. S Y LV I A : You’re going to break something if you’re not more careful. ANDREA: I’ve got it just fine, mother. (Pause) I just think the sooner we clean up, the sooner Joe and I can be on our way. S Y LV I A : Yes, on his way, salvation indeed. (Beat) Did I raise you to be this naive? ANDREA: I’m open-minded, not naive. You might try a little more open- mindedness yourself, you know. S Y LV I A : What good is an open mind if you can’t shut out things you disagree with? ANDREA: But if you never allow yourself to open up, even just a little, how can you ever change? S Y LV I A : I never said I wanted to change. ANDREA: S Y LV I A : Well I do! Fine. But change because you want to, not because Joe tells you to. 224 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 ANDREA: Can’t it be both? Can’t Joe represent something I decide I want to try? S Y LV I A : Yes, I suppose, if you’re talking about herbal teas. ANDREA: S Y LV I A : You’re impossible! I love you too much not to say these things. Andrea abruptly turns away and exits to the kitchen. She immediately reenters still holding the same dishes. She is visibly distressed. S Y LV I A ( C O N T. ) : What’s the matter? You look like you’re going to come unglued. ANDREA: S Y LV I A : What? What is it? ANDREA: S Y LV I A : (Whispers) Oh my God! Lyle and Hector. (Gleefully) Lyle and Hector, what? Lyle and Hector emerge from the kitchen, each carrying dessert plates, which they set down on the table. Lyle gently extends a dessert plate toward Andrea, which she refuses. They stare at one another briefly. LY L E : Andrea, c’mon. ANDREA: LY L E : (Saddened) No. I’ve had enough. I think we’ll be heading out. I don’t think I’ve seen you this upset since I ruined all your Barbie’s clothes that time I let Ken cross-dress. Andrea smiles meekly at the recollection. ANDREA: (Calls upstairs) Joe, please come down here. Andrea goes upstairs. Lyle and Hector sit at the table. Sylvia leans forward and rests her chin on her folded hands. S Y LV I A : (Smiling at Hector and Lyle) So, how’s dessert? H E C T O R A N D LY L E : (Together) Delicious. JIM NORRENA S Y LV I A : 225 Music to my ears! Indiscernible arguing is heard upstairs coming from Joe and Andrea. Andrea reemerges, even more visibly distressed, and Joe follows behind. Andrea grabs her coat and exits the front door. S Y LV I A : JOE: What the hell? Andrea? Where are you going? It’s fine. She’s fine. There’s nothing to be alarmed about. Just a minor misunderstanding, really, is all. (Beat) I’ll go get her. Joe retrieves his coat and exits. S Y LV I A : Hmmm. I’m familiar with that look. I dare say he won’t be bringing her back anytime soon. (Beat) This night just keeps getting better by the minute! Sylvia winks at Hector, and raises her glass. Hector eats his dessert triumphantly. LY L E : (Shouting) Marcus! What’s going on up there? S Y LV I A : Stop yelling. It’s so rude. Besides, we don’t want to wake him if he’s fallen asleep. Marcus enters at the top of the stairs, buttoning his shirt. M A RC U S : (Nervously) What’s up? (Beat) I was just changin’, is all. Lyle goes to Marcus. LY L E : What just happened with Andrea and Joe? M A RC U S : LY L E : Andrea and Joe? What? She left, totally upset. M A RC U S : S Y LV I A : Him too? Yes, what’s-his-nuts, too. Maybe Marcus could go look for them. M A RC U S : No, that’s ridiculous. They’ll be back. Marcus descends the stairs and returns to the table and resumes eating. M A RC U S ( C O N T. ) : (To Sylvia) I’m a little surprised you want him back.What a nut-job, right? LY L E : Don’t. HECTOR: For someone’s who’s supposed to help people find their way, he sure 226 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 seems to have taken a wrong turn somewhere. LY L E : Right? M A RC U S : S Y LV I A : He’s a religious bigot and a homophobic zealot. That was redundant, dear. Just eat. (To Hector) Hector, do you want Marcus’s dessert? He doesn’t eat dessert. M A RC U S : Hey, I eat dessert! HECTOR: Sounds good! LY L E (To Marcus): Relax, there’s tons more in the kitchen. Lyle passes Marcus’s dessert to Hector. They smile at one another. S Y LV I A : Oh, yes, lots more goodies in the kitchen! M A RC U S : I’ll tell you, the sooner that marriage is dissolved, the better for everyone. That’s all I’m sayin’. S Y LV I A : Here’s to annulments! Sylvia raises her glass toward Marcus. Marcus reciprocates the gesture. Lyle and Marcus clink their glasses. L I G H T S O U T. E N D O F AC T I . JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS Thanks for Visiting Dandruff covered Pillow Your stink etched Into the Couch 230 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting Empty streets Yell Into the Night And we howl Hidden In alleys Lying to the world JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 231 Thanks for Visiting Your cryptic Tongues Get stolen In pitchers Of warm Beer 232 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting Half the time we end up in a place we donâ€™t belong. Times when we slept in parks sleeping off a drunk in parks and woke to the sky misting on our foreheads and the birds singing songs we had never imagined. walking home and parting ways after thinking we had hung out for too many hours JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 233 Thanks for Visiting Howl to The sun Scare the Morning Beg for The darkness Purple moons Under your Eyes 234 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting Half the time we end up in a place we don’t belong. In dive bars that hang the smell of smoke on your eyes and they water and I can’t know if it’s the smoke or your thinking of a memory that I have never heard. JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 235 Thanks for Visiting You say “You’re really getting it.” I say I understand 236 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting Bare feet in Wet earth JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 237 Thanks for Visiting Boots strapped Around fatigues In hot Sand Wind Sand And Weathered Sole Full of Soul 238 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting Busload of Burned Faces Camouflage Covering Arms Fatigued Eyes Thanks for JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 239 Thanks for Visiting The sound The moon The street The silence The sound The silence 240 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting Half the time we end up in place we donâ€™t belong. Hidden in the bathtub, sleeping in the bathtub, curled up in the bathtub, the cool of the porcelain comforting and controlling my nerves that the acid was going to kill me, my battlefield a hallucination of memories attacking and you hidden in a bunker back to back with another soldier back to another man armed with ammunition and ready to attack and back to back and this is an image from a movie and itâ€™s from the wrong war. JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 241 Thanks for Visiting End up In a place You werenâ€™t Supposed To A place You were Signed Up for A park bench You stole 242 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting And when you ask questions I’m afraid to answer you and I hope that you’ll just change the subject because I need to escape the things I’ve seen and I don’t think you could ever understand or give me anything more than sympathy and I have enough of that for my lifetime and I want you to know that I’d rather talk about everything else and for us to end to up in a place we don’t belong. JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 243 Thanks for Visiting I’ll see you Again And end Up in a place We weren’t Supposed To And strip The uniform And Lost The smell on My couch And Boots And strip The soul And drink And the sand I’ll see you again 244 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Thanks for Visiting Heads down Rifles high JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS 245 Thanks for Visiting To sit in the park with a New Orleans jazz band playing to a wedding procession, in front of the bench we were sitting on. Saw the bride had tears in her eyes and held the hand of her child and we couldnâ€™t help but wonder if they had been married before. And the sun was setting, and when she threw the bouquet it was caught by the photographer who was hired for the occasion and she had to throw it again. ANNE LESLEY SELCER The book of this The book of this is dark and compact. It has an ornate cover which is thick, embossed, or encrusted. The book of this has yellowed pages with writing so small it is nearly illegible. The book of this repels its reader. It is physically hard to open, like a weapon. The book of this book is so very private. This book looks like reversal. This book has a beauty thatâ€™s ruined when itâ€™s read. This book coordinates each condition of being out of relation. 248 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 A mother makes a book of every dream she has for a week and mails each book to her child, whose been dreaming of her. From the ritual paper money she is forbidden to touch, a Chinese woman makes 100 books. She takes the stack to washing day; she meticulously lauders each. A woman bears her fruit, then becomes an actual tree. A pile of sewn books out in the jail yard, sprayed with water by the guard. ANNE LESLEY SELCER Letâ€™s not write a metaphor. Five women in masks. Three women behind glass. The facts can be known, but the order of the facts, only written. The power that drives transformation also drives mystification. The words of this book press together, are illegible. 249 250 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Inside a lacquered and gold box, a word, shiny, toothy, bright. Below the word is a leaf which grows from a stem at the bottom of the box. ANNE LESLEY SELCER The emporium and circuslike, the moon and rollerskates, the heartbeat and twinkle. Tumbling, purples, sleeps. My love purples on crooked pillows. The playthings and instruments, addition and mouths, my love purples and chimes. Hang star, give instruments. The love and crooked, interrupting, bending. 251 252 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Fortune Sequence (for Two Voices) Burnished, wooden, earthen, shadow, shining, blued, a shadow, a book, a suntanned pair of hands. Brightening, lit; time is stitched, opalescent, pink, creased. A blackbird flies backwards; a line across the page, silver and clicking, aesthetic. Burnished, shadow, shining, shadow, a suntanned pair of hands. Brightening, stitched. A blackbird flies backwards, silver and clicking, brightening and lit. Burnished, wooden, earthen shadow, shining, blued, pink, creased, a line across the page, a shadow, a blackbird, a book. ANNE LESLEY SELCER Imagine a column of fire was born into this fire was female, was male needing to do the shopping before returning home. Needed god again and wished for god again. Imagine a column of flames was interrupted every few minutes. Was rebroadcasting images which surrounded him. Was rebroadcasting, she was. The flames caught with noise. It grew from other elements. Imagine a female alone in a clearing. Where is her noise? Imagine a person alone in a clearing. Where are the images? Noise illuminates noise. Female and male, a fire beginning. Mouths wide open, meaning pictures. Circle of clearing, wild flames. 253 254 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Enclosure Thatched, shingled, sloped, fixed, patched. Dirt, concrete, hardwood, lino, washed, scrubbed. North, South, East, West, cluttered, bare, papered, painted, knocked out, put up. A-frame, flat. Moss-covered, bricked, tiled, painted, creaking, buckled, “floating” or “suspended.” Skiened, silk, paper, disappearing. Skylights, parties, gardens, landing strips. Someone else’s ceiling, false foundation. I cannot believe you lied. Creped skin, pipe smoke, citadel. Trampled leaves, black dirt, winding path. I dress this way because I want to. Sloped, snowcapped. When it comes down to it, we’re talking about money. Culture is my skin. At one time I loved him but I believe in him no more. Checkerboard, parquet, laminate. Changeable, of questionable consequence. Philosophy is paramount. You’ve taken so much shit. Insulated, riddled with holes, temporary. ANNE LESLEY SELCER 255 My mother was a secret house, a new round of enclosures. Adriatic, Galia, Algerian, Atago. Magic seemed a refusal of work. Bella Heart, Betty Anne, Bergamont, Black, Black Amber, Black Beauty, Black Globe, Black Pearl. The world had to be disenchanted, Angel, Aprium, Arkansas Black, Athena, Baldwin, Apricot, sexual activity transformed into work, Black Current, Black Rochelle, Baby Bear, Catalina, Cherimoya, Crimson Red, Crab Apple, Clemintina, Crimson Glow, complicity and repulsion, negation and exorcism, Red Delicious, Dancy, Dâ€™Anjou Red, Ellendale, Crimson, Crimson Sweet, a daily labor of autopoiesis, birth out of wedlock, rejection of marriage, medicines reformulated into perfumes. In this large and most beautiful house, Elephant Heart, Barhi, Black Raspberry, Black Sugarcane, Canaydria, Canary. Cardinal, Concorde, Crimson Forelle, Bartlett, Babcock, Blackberries, Calimyrna, Cello Blood. Ariran, Athena, Amagaki, my mother was a feral house. Ambrosia, Apple Pear. 256 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Before we were filled with content, we sought to be filled with sensation beauty is a particular unit of duration a day, a palace, an hour, a room is a form of sadness is a deferral of the movement of time evening dawning on the housetops the sky an impossible screen is circular, complete decorated with silver embossed leaves is an object an hour of the eyes moves out of a warm, general indisputability into a contraction which is form exists as a cold, hard public specificity, a positive presence in a market of exchange is posterior to perception silver to gold is the inferior or the primary currency the king has this alchemical ability there are one hundred ways to ornament a note. ANNE LESLEY SELCER 257 The eye must be sunlight Ice caked, falling water, compression, clarity if colors are the deeds and sins of light, this is light caught sleeping green abases to gold, red deepens to rouge a hillside becomes painterly, its grass turns ochre, expires into solidity a postcard series: the sky painted blue, the grass painted green cold and colorful, the work is a machinery of distancing and contact conceptually based sequences, shot North, West, Northwest, Southeast ice caked, falling water, compression, clarity red deepens to rouge, gold abases to green a machinery of distancing and contact the mirror is the brightest color, the mirror strikes light. 258 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 What proliferates in absence, distance and is behind every word, what sounded like lions but were rips, splices, the invisible straining toward convexity, how heaven and death are concurrent and beauty is a way to appear. In a system of ons and offs. In the silent language of lighthouses. In an inconsequential, feminine swarm. ANNE LESLEY SELCER 259 Beauty is languaged in the domain of the father Fronding and intricate, ruined with color, if property creates meaning, a landlord is a baroque and overgenerative thing. Pigment stacked into tall rows, permanence and significance, terrestrial plentitude and distribution, color slung into rings. Ownership is abstraction’s embrace. This dynamic female form, pink washed at the bottom, green escaping its line: the terms of the social are the limits of the social, is it beauty before it’s privatized? The world of abstraction is a world of surfaces, they are its only sociality. As for correspondences, “The administration said send two, which we refused. I said we should all go.” 260 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 The assortive versus the alethetic gaze Illumination exhales light, then shadow inhales it. A picture of a populous, projected back onto the populous. Kim Phuc says, â€œToo hot;â€? her body reverberates as a monument. If you see a man in his voice, what picture does that sound make? ANNE LESLEY SELCER 261 Beauty as a rhythm of the senses cutouts, opulence, piling, pooling at the bottom heaven is a negative place a holographic poem, a list strung on fishing line, of irregularly cut shapes when you say pleasure, it refers back to the subject/ beauty is private, the origin of beauty is private an open umbrella rising up through sound when you say sensation, it refers back to the object a picture has no skin 262 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 at the Hunting Lodge at Amaliensburg The windows projected the outdoor scene onto indoor mirrors, thus multiplying both settings. The mirrors were decorated with silver embossed leaves. When the king arrived, the windows were opened and the sun tinted them into a golden glitter. This symbolized the kingâ€™s alchemical ability to turn silver into gold. ANNE LESLEY SELCER The aesthetic is additive. Although it flattens, it is an enunciation born of imitation, its fact affirms its original object. It is an act of love; like love, itâ€™s stupid. At bus stops we imitate the poor in chic high boots and fringe haircuts, absorptive and infinite, looking on with wet eyes. 263 264 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 There was a beautiful fight scene. The father was shirtless and so was the son. They were outdoors in sun of a dying day. It was green and late summer. His jaw is opened. “There is blood on your hands.” The father stops to slick a strand of hair from the son’s eyes. This action is a production of what. The world, foreshortened into a moment. History, telescoped: Garlic, onion, a big boat of human smells, a deed, a property, a beautiful girl, a city, a governor, a business booming. The son could win by ducking and dancing were not the father the mother’s lover. When I was the beautiful girl the fireflies signified: ANNE LESLEY SELCER I was trapped in amber. In a sudden Midwest rain. I sat on the curb with kids. In rips and scuffs. Eyes shining, a collection of commodities. Holding fast like an Indian in a box of dead differences. â€œThe things you wear for protection are subject to reidentification, prepared for sale.â€? Stunned still. A moth, caught in a jar. The ethics of the I ignored. When I was a beautiful girl, in a system of ons and offs, in the silent language of lighthouses, in an inconsequential, feminine swarm, the fireflies signified: 265 266 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 . . . one unrolling bolt of icecream silk . . . grape sized globes of lapis lazuli and goldvein grouped and reposing in the corners . . . a fountain or a chandelier . . . a set of gold combs scalloped in black pearl . . . a stretched suede book with a knock as soft as a little girlâ€™s . . . hautly arched whalebone stilettos . . . fat, well behaved chairs . . . paintings on every inch of ceiling . . . tiny crystal pots containing notions of mashed lime, birdbath water, temporin and pearl . . . a leather cup of heron quills . . . two rocaille tiaras . . . a Zouave jacket woven from crushed leaves and gold . . . the extended family of an orchid . . . a bracelet made of tombstone . . . a wig culled from ReykvĂkingur towheads . . . a lunar astrolabe . . . a millefiori flower bed . . . a set of handwritten encyclopedias . . . a comprehensive book of cloud typology . . . a slice of wedding cake crystallized into chalcedony . . . a Cherry Plum, Clematis and Honeysuckle cure . . . the finest and smallest typewriter . . . porcelain nails in a bell china box . . . flowers floating in a cabinet vivarium . . . a perfume of Fiji nectars . . . a box of San Franciscos . . . ANNE LESLEY SELCER 267 An unaccountable beauty, fecund but not sacred, walks alone along a street in New York City past a pile of commodity, Italianate, reproductive, rotting, past a gallery of caryatids, past girls manipulating the nobs of a cathartic art, past canephora bearing transactions in their baskets, past a vanishing metaphysical realm, the bird, the vase, the book, unable now to justify or account for the weight of their own beauty, past machines blowing bubbles in a room walled in mirrors, past day ladies speaking of their travels, the light kindly buoying the undersides of their public play, past a chamber of chaste girls encased in silver, and looking through mirrors of crysolite, carbuncle, sapphire, and emerault, past a million images of the self, venerated, fed back to the self, past the notion of photographic absence, then the real disappeared, past Walt Whitman’s pile of limbs, past buildings falling, caryatids with broken necks, past a mass of metal, a tract of land, a number of slaves, a pile of stones, a human body of certain lineaments, past a solid wall of caryatids, an army— “Oh the young girl, that receptacle of shameful secrets sealed in her own beauty!” 268 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Sasha Gray: an essay on subjectivity It was to be an essay on subjectivity. It kept breaking into disorganized notations in thin black notebooks which I often lost on busses and trains as I took my daughter around the city. It was an anti-confessional. It triangulated various writers. It would solve the problem of several assignments. “By sitting down to do the writing, I’ve already shown up. I’m already there,” said L. “Some people cannot afford to lose their ‘I’,” A. explained in a radio interview. I wanted to tell her that maternity is counter to the rationalization of the body. That as a site, it perhaps is the only place which is, and if inverted, the whole system could with go it. My essay was to be pamphlet length and experimental. A section of horse jumps would bleed into the names of Japanese street fashions. I would incorporate Celeste Oliquiagua’s theories on the early presentation of the commodity in the Parisian Glass Palace. “What’s watching you in the Young-Girl’s eyes is the spectacle,” writes the T. collective, and in light of their theory, I was considering the possibility that my life had been a series of aesthetic corrections to my mother’s. I’d been reconsidering feminist performance art. That the concept of an ‘I,’ was invented as a marketing tool. My essay was to start, “I hate subjectivity. All I wanted my whole life was to be considered public.” ANNE LESLEY SELCER 269 A private beach A private meeting A private room; a private patient A very private person a deliberate system of a mixed economy developed incrementally became dominant gradually spread variants of include privately private private property rights. private property rules defining private property “set apart, belonging to oneself ” “to separate, deprive,” “one’s own, individual,” “before.” “not open to the public” “not holding public office” “one below the rank of a non-commissioned officer” is from 1570s is from 1785 first recorded 1844 is from 1952. One’s private feelings. 270 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Sasha Gray Meaning is sex. There is no other. I was born in Sacramento, CA. I never allowed myself to become a negative product of that environment. These peaches and other food today have no taste. I began college in 2005, balancing school and work seven days a week. Around this time I began thinking about pornography as a career opportunity. The disappearance of Aphroditeâ€™s peach is a double absence. It reveals how the senses are entangled with history. I was not sexually abused. I am not on drugs. The acts I perform are always consensual. I am a woman who strongly believes in what she does. By providing the mark where society starts, my personal limits make collective meaning. I hope to inspire people from all walks of life. And to collaborate with innovative individuals (bohemians welcome). A mark stands in for an absent value. It is a disenfranchised, lower-to-middle class neighborhood. This is not what I preach or believe. JILL TYDOR angel falls We worship at the banks of the parakupá vená, which means “to fall from the highest point.” But, the men who come in khaki pants that stop just before the top of their kneecaps call it Angel Falls—the tallest waterfall in the world. They stare upward toward the heavens with mouths open, hands shielding faces from the glare of the sun, hearing nothing but the roar of the water that beats against the rocks in a beautiful violence. They take pictures of it, of us, with tiny plastic cameras that click and grind like the buzzing of an insect. I want to dive into the depths of the Rio Gauya and tack these photos along the rocky bottom. I want to slowly let the cold water seep in through the corner of my mouth, fill up my lungs, weigh me down until I am nothing but a memory. The ghost of me will continue to worship in the shadow of the Angel, letting the spray blanket me in white. Noely, my older cousin on mama’s side, who just turned sixteen, she does not wait for the men to take her picture. Instead, while our palms are against the cool ground beneath the falls, our heads pressed into the dirt, where I can smell the beginning of the world; she is on her knees at the vista point, easing down the waistbands of khaki pants, humming the hymns, tasting the salt of the sea. She tells me it is the best way to make money and money is the only true currency. I look at Noely and wonder if she has ever been in love with any of these men. Sometimes I think she is in love with all of them, with every person that comes to the falls to take a piece of it away with them. They do not pray like we do, every morning as the water trickles down our backs, seeping from the base of our skulls, under arms, through the canals between knuckles. It saturates me and I can feel the tide inside swell. The men, they are not really looking at the falls, they see only the projection of lines across space filling the void of their imaginations. They stand there snapping pictures before moving further downstream, on to the next miracle. 274 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 processing What if we used razors? And cut up wrists or the tops of thighs, where it is meatiest and the flesh quickly parts and the blood coagulates in shiny, trembling bubbles. Before the scars form like fresh graves. Or took needles to veins, the skeleton spine, the invertebrate attachment pulsing in chemical compounds that we cooked over tin foil pulled from leftover sandwiches found in the back of the fridge. That fills us with a yellow pain that echoes through the lungs. Or slipped ropes around necks, feeling the tiny plies tickling our throats, the all-encompassing blackness and the stars prickling and moving into a burgeoning universe, as blood vessels burst and our brains begin the slow atrophy toward anonymity. Or drank amber cocktails, chilled in small glasses that burn our throats, hollow out that space in the middle of the chest, fill it with rage and ambition and audacity. Itâ€™s a slow death this one, that keeps the belly warm, but the mind weak. And all we can do is sustain the momentum. Or chose fingers. Two little digits crammed down throats, setting the wheels in motion, until the bile erodes our tooth enamel, scars the trachea like an impressionistic landscape, and deprives the body of its most essential need like a mother withholding milk. What if we treated ourselves this way: harboring our grief, turning it inward on itself in a quest for answers or control or an escape. What if we existed on a diet of loathing, born of depravation, or maybe excess, but nothing granted when we needed it, when we were lost in the wilderness, when denial was our lifeline keeping things afloat. JILL TYDOR 275 Baton Rouge, 2008 They found his body by the levee. He lay there where the wild grasses sloped into mud that ran ankle deep, thick like clay, a maelstrom of broken dragonfly wings, rusted bicycle spokes, bits of glass and lost pocket change. He lay there where the run-off water from the drainage pipe fifty yards away collected under the weight of his limbs, beneath the small of his back, dampening the hair at the base of his skull, seeping slowly into his ear canals. Below his eyes were dark, purple half moons where the blood had pooled, giving the illusion of a fitful night’s sleep. His chest was stained a violent red; the circles of blood had grown in size and scope, creating rings of different hues, the color disintegrating slowly as it faded into the background with each heartbeat. The investigators at the Baton Rouge police department counted four bullet holes. Three to the chest, scattered like buckshot, puncturing skin and a myriad of internal organs, but erratic in hypothesized intent and scope. A final gunshot wound to the head was fired off at enough of a distance to keep the brain largely intact. Perhaps it was a hurried move or last-minute show of mercy, but that was not for the technicians to decide. The investigators took their photographs, capturing every angle, trying to decipher range and culpability between each f lash. They filled notebooks with inky drawings, plotting points of impact with geometric precision, calculating time of death, time of discovery, rate of decomposition, body temperature, and internal decay. But math never led to motive. The police surmised that the man who shot him was probably long gone. He likely had driven across state lines in a stolen cream-colored Cadillac, filling up on gas and dehydrated cheese products at a pay n’ pump off the freeway, or pawning gold rings or guitars or VCR’s at shops buried in industrial parks where the men behind the counter never asked for last names or registration papers. Where wads of cash could be traded for cold beers, hot sandwiches and cheap blow. For him, Baton Rouge was probably no more than a stopping point on the way to Little Rock or Dallas or even Las Vegas. Bigger cities with more money, more people, less time to notice the things that weren’t real. 276 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Either way, the brilliant violence of his death lit everyone up like candles, burning hot and white. Th e l a s t v e s tige s of Indian summer washed New Orleans in a hazy glow. I absentmindedly pulled at the bits of peeling paint on the edge of my chair as I sunned my legs in the late afternoon light. The humidity had caused the paint to bubble and stretch elastically and I fidgeted with it while slowly turning the pages of the New Orleans Times Picayune. When I eventually learned of his murder, buried on page B3 under an ad for Dyson vacuum cleaners, I shut my eyes tight, trying to block out the light, feeling the weight that darkness holds. I let my palms rest flat against the newsprint; beneath them the metal ovals of the patio table looped over and over again. The sun warmed my neck and I felt the heat with a new kind of intensity. It can’t be true, I thought. I closed my eyes again and began to grab hold of the image of his face in my mind. I thought about his eyes, the shape of his nose. Every detail seemed just out of reach and I pulled at the memory hoping for things to come into focus. I then thought about the things that I knew were true. I was the older of two girls born to Scott and Rachel Benson, who had lived in the white house at the end of Beverly Road. They planted the magnolia tree three days after moving in, when they were still in love. Rachel for as long as I could remember belonged to Anna Rae and Mr. Danny, and in return Anna Rae and Mr. Danny belonged to us. The origin of my parents’ relationship to these two figures was unknown to me, pre-dating my birth by many years. I had always seen them as an organic part of my existence. Where my mother left off, Anna Rae began. It wasn’t until the year I turned six that I fell madly in love with Mr. Danny. We were sprawled on the living room carpet, propped up on elbows when he picked up a pencil and began to teach me to draw. He said art was about seeing the world in extraordinary shapes and colors. He told me to close my eyes and dream about things bigger than myself. I watched the way his hand slid across the page. My heart began to beat wildly as my own fingers mimicked his movements. Mr. Danny liked me because I was a quiet child, drinking everything in with my eyes. He said he was a quiet child too, taking refuge in the beauty of the world around him. And because I was in love, I began to tell him my JILL TYDOR 277 secrets. I whispered in his ear the daily scandals of my playthings and Mr. Danny would listen, offering a solemn nod from time to time. He would tell me stories of his lonely childhood up north, a place I only could imagine in shades of blue. This was the genesis of our relationship, when I loved Mr. Danny and Mr. Danny loved me. Whe n I fell in love with Mr. Danny it was 1986. Baton Rouge was like a fruit set out to ripen in the afternoon sun. A growing petrochemical industry had brought new, young business-minded transplants to the area, plucking recent grads from Louisiana State University before they even had paper diplomas in hand, luring real estate developers and McDonaldâ€™s franchises to swell the outskirts of the city with possibilities. Amid all this burgeoning potential, however were the sleepy settlers of the Old South. Generation after generation, we sat on our back porches, drinking sweet tea, watching the sun set, thinking only of the moment we inhabited and how right it was. Our children filled schools and sidewalks with happy chatter, snake coil fireworks, big wads of pink bubblegum stuffed between cheeks, sticky fingers and watermelon seeds. We dragged home blue coolers full of red crawfish from the corner stand, steaming and slick with salt and file seasoning, to be poured over newspaper on kitchen tables, piled high with new potatoes and hunks of corn on the cob and the occasional artichoke turned a grayish brown from the big metal pot, but still meaty with flavor, ready to be scraped between teeth, to be stripped bare. We went to festivals with crinoline banners celebrating oysters or strawberries or full moons or Louis Armstrong. We drove in caravans to New Orleans to catch thick strands of plastic beads in the street, drink long cocktails with bits of fruit wedges, and drink to Bacchus or the Voo Doo Queen or the end of the summer. We bought porcelain masks and long, silk dresses for elaborate masquerade balls, masks that would later collect dust in the attic or shed flakes of white plaster down the long hallway in the back of the house. We had watched the Red Stick city from sunrise to sunset, watched the rains come and flood the streets, choked full of water that jumped curbs, saturating lawns, creating miniature lakes under the shade of century old oak trees. We had watched the sun leech grass dry, turning first a sandy blonde, then brown like summer skin, brittle and crisp to the touch. 278 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Once in recent memory, we had seen it snow. A soft flutter of flakes that fell like a veil upon the grass. School was cancelled despite the fact that no more than an inch or two was predicted to fall and the weather remained relatively mild. The children who had never seen snow before, plied their hands with mismatched socks and scraped eagerly at the frozen earth, hoping to pelt one another with tennis ball-sized weapons of frozen slush. A rather diminutive snowman perched on an isolated stretch of Perkins Road, waved greedily at passersby until his carrot nose was eaten by birds and his features eventually eroded. Two days after they found his body by the levee, the gray rotary phone hummed with electricity on the countertop. I had purchased it in a moment of nostalgia three weeks earlier and had yet to master the easy rhythm of spinning the dial. At the time it had seemed nice, the idea of slowly linking all these arbitrary numbers together with a few clockwise strokes, much less aggressive than punching, but now it seemed foolish—that desire to cull up history, to romanticize the past. He was dead in the now and yet my head was swimming with so much yesterday that it began to ache. I wound the cord of the phone around my index finger until it blanched and then purpled. There was a faint tingling sensation in the tip and I began to wonder if he had suffered. I wondered if he even had the time to register what was happening. I thought about the time I was in a car wreck in college. It was raining and very dark and my friend lost control of her car on the interstate. We watched transfixed as it veered off the exit ramp, down a short slope and into a large metal highway sign. Everything felt in slow motion then, even my heart. I could feel it contract, tight then looser, tight then looser, as my brain registered the spider-webbed window, the wet grass outside, the car coming to a stop, the ragged breathing of all of us inside. I wondered if Mr. Danny had felt that way when he was shot. If he could hear his heart beat and then stop, beat and then stop. I thought about calling my mother. We hadn’t really talked in a couple of weeks and I hadn’t entirely missed the flatness of our conversations. “Hey, hon,” she answered on the third ring. “I was just wondering when I would hear from you.” “Well, I guess it is now,” I replied, scooting my coffee cup closer. JILL TYDOR 279 “Have you talked to your sister by the way? I think she is in…California,” she let the last part of nia drown out, exhausted by the effort of loading so much intention into one word. “Yes, she is. She’s visiting dad.” “Oh, right, it’s for his birthday or something…” “Mom,” I began. “Did you know Mr. Danny is dead?” She was silent for a long time. I listened to the sound of her breathing as I cradled the phone receiver in the crook of my neck. When she spoke again, her voice sounded small and metallic. “How did it happen?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I began. “The newspaper said he was shot. A hiker found him by one of the lakes. He’d been there a day or two, they think.” I heard the grinding of a chair against the floor and I imagined my mother sitting down at her kitchen table. I had only been to visit her once or twice since she had moved to Virginia after the divorce. She had planted a dogwood tree just outside her kitchen window so that the sweet blossoms diffused the afternoon light. In this moment I could see her and the tree so clearly, both stooped inward, lost in thought. “Mom,” I whispered. “When was the last time you spoke to him?” “A couple years ago,” she said. “It was just, it just…things were different you know. He never did tell me what happened between the two of you. And I know you never wanted to talk about it. But, in a way it felt a little like we fell apart. We all fell apart.” “I know,” I said softly. It was hard to breathe and I gripped the coffee cup tighter as if to steady myself. “In a way it felt like I started another kind of life that night, you know. And after awhile I just didn’t know where to begin again with him. And now, now he’s dead. And all I can think about is sitting next to him on that white porch, swinging in the swing and humming The Saints Go Marching In. Isn’t that insane? He’s dead, he’s really gone, not just the kind of gone that time creates, he’s gone. And all I can think about is humming that goddamn song.” My mother laughed. I rested my hip against the counter and closed my eyes. “Oh, he had such a heart you know,” she said and I could hear the watery tonality of her voice. 280 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 While she was talking, I thought back to being eighteen and hiking through the woods around Fontainebleau State Park. I had come to a white rock overlooking a small inlet and the impulse to jump came over me in a wave. And for a split second I could feel my heels rock up off the soft earth below. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, although that would be inevitable, but it was the few seconds adrift that fascinated me. How easy it seemed to just do it. I turned quickly then and continued down the trail, but the idea of that leap, that desire to propel forward still catches me unaware at times. And I felt guilty for a moment for having that thought, for having a choice. My mother and I talked for an hour, until the afternoon sun cut through the living room blinds like thousands of tiny whiskers. She told me the creation stories, of how she had met Mr. Danny and Anna Rae. “They had this faculty mixer before the school year started. I was so young. It was my first real job and I kept wandering around the school like a lost child. That was when Anna Rae and Danny rescued me. They just embraced me right there in the middle of the hallway, her arm around one side of me, his arm around the other. They said come with us and that was that. I had never met anyone like that before. Sometimes you just find yourself in a place where you connect with people you never expected, and you don’t question it, you don’t pass judgment. You just take it all in. You just let them take you in.” I wondered what it must have been like to be friends with my mother. For most of my childhood I had watched her. I had watched her interact with these people, love and laugh with these people, but I had never thought about how she felt to be with them. “I miss him,” I said. It seemed blunt, a little obvious I knew, in the context of our conversation, but it was true. “I know, honey,” she replied. “I do, too.” CHLOÉ VEYLIT gough cough – philip roth – a mortality – play on the street, men – in masks playing master – mistress and – she swallowed – sweet temperance dancing pennies – the dog on my chest – knees as good as rose hips – the towering woman bends at the waist – mother of pearl reflects the eyes, cultures the mouth – no call – bird-flight in divination – wrote – i’m trying to say – longshots, frog bellies – i miss you – toy houses, paper fire – mycological understanding of time – the ipad – brimstone mouth – portents whizzing diamonds, shrapnel – bursting stars – my sister is the flower on the branch – congratulations apology – the ring of a cup – 2012, ear of the apocalypse – just sounded right – all us survivors – huddled – water – please press three – more options 284 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Poem for Saturday Night eyes so tired objects ebb and flow breathe what was that line? it was poetry earlier tonight tracy said let’s imagine sex differently I said differently. she didn’t. I said let’s imagine but I wasn’t talking about sex, per se, I was talking about something like how in the car we were talking about death and dying and how when a sound moves through the void is that energy too? but we sipped on small frustrations we were all shy eyed and half smiles in the bathroom I thought I was drunk but really it was last call and then there was formica tables and carpet and stone men waving arms to music capturing chess pieces I guess what I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t any night at all and I’m sitting here cross-legged creeping around the still closed doors sleep in pools rolling in under the bed frame all I want to do is tell people I love them all I want to do is acknowledge this awake CHLOĂ‰ VEYLIT 285 witch sister our scented sigils crowd us in the aisles of the halal market you daughter your first lamb drop handkerchiefs in the trees the men will not touch them they are too bundled it is cold oh, sister, that you knew the smell of earth on my shoulders that we may lay a suit of skin at the bedside, polish our hips to clams, purge our bodies, sister, when I open my throat it is full of singing vertebrae ribs delicate as fingernails 286 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 27B-6 many fingered bureaucracy strangling and suffocating fine fingers lapping at throats slow waving anemone on this april no last april or the april the year your sister first dated that jerk (which led to a line of jerks and now your sister’s eyes go baggy and you hear them on the phone inhaling and exhaling like cats) and heavens, you’ve filled out the wrong form, we asked for your dreams, in the general sense, and see, you’ve written, “at night the black tar comes up from the shoreline into [your] bedroom on the second floor, wading fruit trees, the black tar matching [your] knuckles, [your] throat, [your] ears.” triple-threat, what is, beige carpet ceiling, counting out the numbers to jeopardy in your pinked stuffed giraffe, complete with tiny pill body accompaniments, slinging mom’s new needles into the black leather sofa, while you wait for the doctor to pinch off another toe, which jumps up immediately to recite Hamlet, the Constitution, and sing you to sleep with Albanian lullabies (bullets) you’ve known so well CHLOÉ VEYLIT 287 cinematic seconds / no soap, and it floats! / what a butthole, / long tradition of new faces / trick’s not to show it / America knows how to create a show business culture / greasepaint hangs the moon / thing is truth’s a slippery bastard top hat / wearing long legs / with a dose of patriotic shuffling / who knew reading hallucinogenic moss could be so thrilling among the Lutherans? / this bowing brigade, / we’re donning bowlers now, / ball joint at the waist / it’s sinister, sinister / and that final memory; / a green lit pool / eyes in mine shafts / a swan / where else would we have gone, / our moment of inception ever / interfering? 288 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 the marsh king’s daughter sovereign this distance: lotus flower soul face in the marsh all blue all bent over we are all magic unsteady as a house if he’s black stay if he’s white leave. voice like drizzle inconsistent fast and slow. selfsatisfaction in the throat he asked me he said do you he said do you know him and I said no I lied and I said no I’m saying no CHLOÉ VEYLIT 289 ramirez, write more poetry don’t be sick all the time you drink too much ramirez, get up earlier stop spending so much time asleep you know what arms are for ramierz come here and kiss me climb up my avalanche and find me ramirez look under the banks of snow, under ramirez! sharpen your teeth, ramirez, wrap your wolf robe closer ramirez like the taste of strawberries become more like cucumber water, ramirez, fight mint for slow jams ramirez put your hands here no here ramirez on my neck not my waist one is more delicate than the other call me ramirez oh stop ramirez don’t look at me don’t hold my hand sit here next to me and look away look at the distance between your old sneaker and my red boot and discern our toes from the shedding black suede believe me ramirez that I only want the best for you ramirez I’m telling you now be- lieve me when I tell you ramirez you must do this now you must listen to me ramirez believe me it breaks my heart when you don’t ramirez are you listening ramirez this is the truth ramirez believe me ramirez 290 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 We are all tigers â€”no, goats; today, we are all goats, all fantastic, chewing on our masterâ€™s yellow scraps. in the bodegas, the men are whispering, buying bottles of pastis, pouring things into glasses. they are playing boules and measuring with sticks. they are on their hands and knees while their wives picnic behind them. the wives are buttering crumpets they are holding knives. look how happy we all are! the city is but a dream; here we have a lake. we have built ourselves a lake. we have built ourselves a lake, a park, a parking structure. we are fishing for cans in the lake. we are sitting on benches. we are seducing pigeons. we have eliminated the rats. we have improved the community. we have gates. we have so many gates! we have white fleur-de-lis gates, we have wooden gates with levers, we have woven ribbon into chain link. we crochet gates! in our houses, we macramĂŠ gates out of jaw bones. we knit crime dramas, we argue green beans. we order egg-white omelettes and ask about senior discounts. our grandmothers pull their own weeds. they grow tall and round like rosemary bushes. we are stringing lights from palm trees. we are tripping over upheaved sidewalk, we are watching the neighbors. we have new appliances and soon new carpeting. we shop at ikea now, we enjoy swedish meatballs and lingonberry jam. we have southwest style but no southwest. we have home improvement, we have do it yourself, we have chickens roosting in all our pots. JENN VIRŠKUS There Is Only One Way Home P RO LO G U E R A Š Y S I V I S Ą I S T O R I J Ą ( Y O U ’ L L W R I T E T H E W H O L E S T O RY ) My gr andmother screens her calls. I listen to the phone ring five times before I hear her voice. I could never call her in an emergency from an unknown number; she wouldn’t answer the phone. “Hello?” “Labas, Grandma,” I say, stretching the long cord of the telephone across my dorm room to sit down at my desk. “Oh, labas!” She draws out the Lithuanian word for hello, like it’s a huge surprise to hear my voice on the other end. Not only do I know she recognizes my phone number (she answered didn’t she?), but I call her every week at exactly the same time: Wednesday morning at ten, my time. “I’m making my breakfast,” she says. I know this already. She is two hours ahead in Florida, but she sleeps late, and eats breakfast at noon. “I’m eating my breakfast too,” I say. “What you having?” She always wants to know. “Granola and yogurt.” As if this is something great to consider. And then she tells me what she’s eating (black bread, piece of salmon, and a leaf of romaine lettuce); why she was up so late (watching a movie on the Catholic channel about a Polish 294 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 priest who rescues two young women); about all of her aches and pains (gall bladder, pancreas, left knee, bunion on right foot); and the latest mean thing Teta Marija has said to her (that Teta’s kidneys are in worse shape than her gall bladder). I listen while I eat my granola and flip through a magazine, occasionally muttering, “Uh, huh; Oh, yeah, really?” I’ve heard it all before. When she pauses for a moment, I seize the opportunity. “Grandma, I have to write a paper about World War II. Can you tell me about Dresden?” “Oh, yeah?” she asks. “What you wanna know?” “I need to know what it was like to be caught in the bombing. And about Algimantas.” “Yeah, sure,” she says. As if I had asked for the recipe for babka, the sweet raisin bread she always sends us at Easter, not relive what I can only imagine was one of the worst episodes of her life. Actually, I’ve asked for her babka recipe. She won’t give it to me over the phone. “Just wait a minute.” She sets down the phone. I hear something hard sliding on the counter, the clink of silver against porcelain, pill bottles rattling as she opens them and shakes out her pills, the ump of water pouring into a glass from the ever-present pitcher of boiled water on the counter, her slippered feet shuffling across linoleum, a chair being pulled out, and, “Okay. I tell you how it was.” I’ve got a pen in my hand and my notebook is already open in front of me. My grandmother likes to talk. One question can get her going for hours. “Dresden was the most beautiful city in Europe. I dreamed a long time about visiting it.” The phone slips from between my shoulder and my ear as I reach for another tissue to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. “What’s the matter? You sick?” my grandmother asks. I didn’t realize how much of the story I haven’t heard before. How much I still don’t know. “No, I’m not sick.” It’s after one o’clock. I’ve already missed two classes. My grandmother has been talking for almost three hours, about the train, and the bombing, and the baby. “Anyway,” she says, “you see how much I told you? Now you know the whole story.” It’s hardly the whole story, I think. She hasn’t even told me how they JENN VIRŠKUS 295 decided to leave Lithuania, or why they went to Tübingen, where my dad was born. But I don’t know how much more I can stand to hear at one time. “Yeah, Grandma,” I say. “Thanks. I should have enough for my paper.” “Well, that’s how it was. The most important thing is that you know. You’re the only one that I’m talking with, and you’re the only one who knows everything. I know you’ll do the most with it.” I look at my notes. I wrote almost ten pages while she was talking. “I’ll send you a copy of my paper when it’s done,” I offer. “Sure! I put it in the album.” That’s where everything goes, in “the album.” She has an album for each of us, all eight cousins. “You send Grandma a copy of everything.” “I don’t think I know everything yet, Grandma.” “You will,” she says. “And then someday, vaikelė, you can write a book. How we ran from those Communists.” “Okay, Grandma. Maybe,” I say. “I better go. I have to go to class.” I pull out another tissue. “Okay. Bye, bye. Myliu tave.” “I love you, too, Grandma.” As I hang up the phone, I begin to sob uncontrollably. I crawl up into my top bunk, and bury my tears in my pillow, my body shaking, until I fall asleep. L i t t l e of t h e i n form ation my grandmother gave me was new, but it was the way she told the story so matter-of-factly, as if she were talking about the weather. Instead of raindrops falling, they were bombs, and they didn’t make puddles, they made fires. She told her story with little emotion as if there’s no pain left but great detail. The picture she painted in my mind horrifies me. I cry off and on for three days. I wander in and out of my classes, absentmindedly taking notes, drinking coffee, meeting friends, going through the motions of being a college student, because the moment I don’t, the moment I allow myself to think about what my grandmother told me, I begin to cry again. The deadline for my paper is looming, but I avoid sitting down to work on it. When I can’t avoid it any longer, I take a stack of books and my notes to the library. I try to focus on the analytic side of the history. Dates, facts, strategy. I sprinkle in a few quotes (the assignment is to interview an actual participant or 296 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 survivor) here and there, but I stay away from the horror the civilians on the ground experienced, which is what my grandmother told me about. I title the paper, “What the History Books Don’t Tell You,” although what I’ve written has mostly come out of books. I can’t separate myself from my grandmother’s personal story. Everything she told me feels too real to write. PA R T I , C H A P T E R 1 Ž E M U O G I Ų VA S A R A ( W I L D S T R AW B E R RY S U M M E R ) My gr andmother —my father’s mother—was prone to profound statements in ordinary situations. I spent a significant part of my childhood with her, and this much I know is true. When I was about nine years old, I was helping her water the flowers. Without looking at me she said, “You know, vaikelė, without work, you’ll never do anything.” Vaikelė means kid. That’s what she called everyone. Her words stuck in my mind. I carried them with me through high school and college and as I started my career. But now sometimes I wonder, if she hadn’t been talking to herself. I also believe she exaggerated truths and twisted facts to suit her position though there is no one left to either corroborate or refute her stories. And stories she had. What I remember now is not so much what the stories were about, but the occasions on which she told them. My parents worked, and she often took care of my brothers and me. Sometimes at her house, the house my father spent his teenage years in, a house she was so very proud of, and sometimes at ours. That was in Michigan, in the early eighties. When we children, fitting in was important to us; we wanted to be like everyone else. But as I grew up, I gradually became aware that unlike my mother’s side of the family, who had been in the Midwest for generations, my father’s side of the family was not like everyone else. They used a different language and ate strange food and the things and places they talked about were very far away. I gradually began to realize, that they struggled to fit in too, in a very different way. We thought of Grandma Klara as the “fun” grandma. On the surface our world wasn’t very different from hers. She adapted well to new things, often with a childlike enthusiasm that matched our own. She played games with us and made ice cream and let us stay up late when our parents were away. It wasn’t until many years later that I had any understanding of how much all that “adapting” wasn’t JENN VIRŠKUS 297 in her nature. She actually didn’t like change, which became more and more apparent as she, and we, got older. But the events of her life have required it. I remember when my brothers got a Nintendo game box for Christmas. Grandma was right behind them, carefully making her way down the stairs to our basement to set it up. She sat quietly, a smile on her face, as Joey and Jason negotiated the various levels and worlds of Super Mario Bros. When they succeeded in dodging Bowser’s fireballs to rescue Princess Toadstool, she told them, “There’s Grandma‘s little gentlemen.” What I know now, is that my grandmother was very good at feigning interest in whatever we were doing. She didn’t understand any of it. The happy look on her face, the close-lipped smile, the shine in her eyes, was not because she cared about the game. She was happy because she was there, with us. Of course as children, we did not understand what a miracle that was. Just like she was happy to be with us, we were happy to be at Grandma’s house. Stories of wild strawberries, wolf-dogs, and trains in the night were among the fairy tales of my childhood, no different than A Wrinkle in Time, or Cross Country Cat. My grandmother has always claimed that she was shy, but there is nothing shy about the way she has survived. H e r s tory was never easy to follow. Dates and places ran into each other, acronyms that no longer seem to stand for anything were mentioned over and over, names and nicknames of distant relatives were casually dropped into conversation, begging the questions, “Who?” and “When was that?” Different aunts and cousins recollected wildly different versions of events and every one of them was sure that their version was right. As a girl, none of these inconsistencies bothered me. I remembered and retold the stories I liked the best, and ignored the rest of them. After all, I was an American. I went to gymnastics, read Nancy Drew books, and played with the children that lived across the street. Whether my grandfather had wanted to move to Argentina or America was little more than dinner-table fodder. It began to matter more, the older I got. The black and white faces in my grandmother’s photo albums that at one time all looked the same, began to take on their own personalities. I recognized the difference in the uniforms my uncles and grandfathers wore, and noted the various time periods they represented. I saw the family resemblance. If it weren’t for the balalaika in one, a picture of 298 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 my grandfather could have been my father. Another, a sepia-toned portrait of my three-year-old father, could have easily been my Brother Joey’s kinder kare picture, that is, if children at kinder kare wore lederhosen. But the more I began to understand, the more questions I had. Why did Diedukas go to Siberia and how did Bobutė get there? What did Grandpa Joe do for the underground? Why was Uncle Viktor on the Nazi ship that sank? And most importantly, how did the little girl with the pageboy haircut who hid from the camera, become my blond bouffant, petal-pusher wearing, do it my way grandmother? The more questions I asked, the more I understood that the story did not start with her or even with my great grandfather. It began with the revival of nationalism, not only in Lithuania but also throughout central Europe, long before the Russian revolution and World War I. That is what brought people back to Lithuania during the interwar years and sustained them throughout World War II. Long into the soviet occupation there was the sense of nationalism in my grandmother that is still so important to her, even after living some three quarters of her life in the United States. As my grandmother aged she began to doze off in the afternoons. After the kitchen was cleaned up, the flowers on her patio were pruned, and her grandchildren, if we were visiting, were sent off to the beach or the pool, she sat on the stuffed-animal covered loveseat in her living room with her newspaper. She reads the newspaper cover to cover, but inevitably fell asleep at least during the process. This is how I know she talks in her sleep. The first time I heard her, I didn’t speak Lithuanian. I was young and she still lived in Michigan. My brothers and I were playing in the backyard. It was a hot day and I came in to refill our lemonade glasses. As I crossed through the kitchen, I saw my grandmother, head resting in the crook of an easy chair, mumbling something in Lithuanian. I thought she was on the phone, maybe talking to my father, but as I moved closer, I saw that she was asleep. One hand gently twitched in time with her speech, the way a sleeping cat sometimes softly moans and moves its paws, perhaps chasing a dream mouse. As I grew up and learned more and more of the language, I came to understand that the moments she described during her daydreams were some of the stories she often repeated while awake—stories that must have had made an impression on her while young, because they were the stories I heard over and over. JENN VIRŠKUS 299 Y O U C A N ’ T L O V E E V E RY O N E T H E S A M E 1983 Jenny sits with Grandma Klara at the kitchen table, watching in wonder as she scratches away at an egg. Grandma Klara calls them margučiai, Easter eggs, but it isn’t Easter. Grandma Klara says that Jenny is old enough to learn how to do them. She looks down at her egg. It’s bigger than her hand and just as pink. At the other end of the table are cups with different colors in them. Jenny helped Grandma Klara to boil the dyes. They had to make the colors themselves. Grandma Klara doesn’t like the ones from the box. They used chamomile leaves to make green, red cabbage and blueberries to make shades of blue and purple, onion skins to make yellow, and oak galls to make a black so black and sticky Grandma says Jenny has to wear gloves to use it. Jenny doesn’t like the black though and she puts all her eggs in the red beet dye. Grandma Klara uses tongs to get her eggs out, but they are too big for Jenny, so when her grandma isn’t looking, she picks them out with her fingers. Grandma Klara’s egg is blue. In her right hand she holds a sharp tool that looks like the one the dentist uses to scrape stuff off your teeth. But she is carving dozens of delicate little flowers in perfectly even lines around and around her egg. The house is quiet, except for the ticking of the fake gold-rimmed clock on the wall, its face a pale yellow, like weak tea. Grandma Klara works quickly, her scratches in time with the clock. Tick, scratch, scratch. Tick, scratch, scratch. Jenny tries to imitate her movements. She can’t work as quickly as her grandma does. Tick, tick, scratch. “Oh, vaikelė,” Grandma Klara talks while she scratches, “There comes a time when you think, that life was good. We’re lucky to have kids, and my kids get along, and all of you grandkids. Some love some more than others, but it’s okay, you can’t love everyone the same. And that’s the end of life.” She does not look up. Jenny’s egg only has one big flower. She wants to make a daisy, like the daisies they picked in the yard. Grandma Klara calls them saulutės, little sunshines. They are sitting in a vase in the living room. Grandma Klara loves flowers. My fingers struggle to hold on to the tool. Grandma Klara says you have to press hard, but not too hard, or you’ll break your egg. Jenny works on her last petal. Tick, tick, scratch, crack. She feels a tear well up in her eye. Her face is hot. Jenny doesn’t want to cry, but she does anyway. 300 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 “Oh, vaikelė!” Grandma Klara takes the egg from Jenny, patting her on the back, “There, there, it’s only a little crack. You made a beautiful flower for Grandma. I just love it.” She places the egg on the plate in the middle of the table with all of the other finished eggs, at the top of the pile, and pulls out her chair. “Come on, let’s take a break.” Grandma Klara takes Jenny’s hand and leads her into the living room. The house smells musty after the humid summer. The walls are covered with picture frames. Jenny picks up one from the end table, a picture of a little blond girl in a white dress hugging a young man, and climbs up onto the sofa. “Grandma, did you always live here?” Grandma Klara sits down next to her and looks at the picture. “No, vaikelė, when I was a little girl I lived far, far away. It was a long journey.” “What was it like when you were a little girl?” “Oh, Lithuania was very beautiful when I was growing up. It was a beautiful time.” “Do you miss your home?” She puts her arm around Jenny. Her skin is warm, dry, and scratchy. She has a small frame, not much bigger than Jenny, but her hands are thick and strong. She pats Jenny’s bare arm. “Yeah, vaikelė, you know, sometimes I do.” I was born in 1923, on the fifteenth of December, in Šiauliai, a city in the north of Lithuania, a small country on the Baltic Sea. There is a river that runs through the city, some small hills, and a lot of yellow fields. They named me Klara. Klara Viktorija Ponėlytė. I hated it, but what can you do. When I came to the US, I always had to say, “Klara with K.” I had a pageboy haircut. I always had a pageboy, from the time I was very small. When I started school, I had to cut my hair. I did it myself. There wasn’t any special style. I do the same thing now before going to bed. I look, and if something’s wrong, out of place, snip, snip, snip. But in primary school, however your hair fell, it was good. A pageboy was the easiest to style. We started school every day at eight o’clock. We had breakfast before we left the house, sandwiches and some tea. The classes were 45 minutes long, until two o’clock. At noon, a man came with hot dogs that were boiled, no bun, just some sauce. I don’t know what kind of sauce it was, something like ketchup, JENN VIRŠKUS 301 but it wasn’t ketchup. They cost 25 cents. Mama gave me a coin every morning, so we ate those. After school, we talked with our friends a little, and went home. Time goes by fast. If there was an exam we had to study. There was no time for eating. That’s how it was. There was also sport, and singing, and art one time per week. Religion, I don’t know how many days per week, but we had religion. It was very well organized. Someone told me it was hard. It wasn’t hard when you got used to it. When I got home at two o’clock, I sat down and did my homework. Especially mathematics. I read everything. I didn’t go anywhere, so there was a lot of time. I never thought it was hard. When my children started to go to school, I said, “Oh my god! What kind of a school is this?” There was nothing at all. Everything was clear as day. I could learn at the same time! I learned English from helping my kids with their lessons. But in Lithuania, that was the system. I loved to learn, but I didn’t ask a lot of questions. I just listened to what the teachers said and I wrote it down. I’m a good listener. I never forget. My father was Pranciškas Ponėlis. He had a beautiful name, but in America they called him Frank. There is a picture with my papa, your diedukas, your great-grandfather, in my white dress after church. Oh, I loved that dress, but I was only allowed to wear it on Sunday. My mama was Barbora Parokaitė, your bobutė. She was a really good woman. Very beautiful. She had chestnut hair. She made that dress for me, she made all my clothes. And Diedukas bought a ribbon. Whenever he came home from a long trip, he always had a new ribbon for me. Diedukas’s mother was Uršulė. Uršulė Ponėlytė. She was never married. She was still working when I was very young. She was an excellent cook, the best in Šiauliai. She worked for rich people. She never cooked for us because she was always cooking for someone else. But sometimes she came to visit and she brought me a cake. That cream! I can still taste it. Uršulė had four brothers. Aleksandras was the oldest of them all, and then there was Paulius. But we don’t know what happened to them. Petras was a year younger than Uršulė and Jurgis was the youngest. Diedukas went to Siberia to stay with my great uncle Jurgis, to a small city named Chita. That year, I think it was 1904, just before the start of the Russian Revolution, Dėdė Jurgis went there to find land. There was no free land in 302 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 Lithuania during the bad drought. In the Far East, there was the Russo-Japanese war. But in Siberia it was still the time of the tsars and it was a good life for everyone. Rich. There was work and many natural resources like timber, gold, and uranium. Everyone went to Siberia, even those who didn’t want to. Lithuania was a part of Russia then, and many of our educated people lived in exile there. Uršulė was poor and she couldn’t feed my father, so she put him on a train alone to Siberia. The trip took almost two weeks in those days. My papa told me Uršulė sent him off with a loaf of bread and a bag of apples. He traveled in a freight car and only carried one small sack with a few clothes, a pencil, and a bit of paper to draw. He was just 12 years old. Dėdė Jurgis wasn’t very good to his wife. He drank, you know how some men can be drunks, and when some men drink too much, they become violent, and little by little he began to hit his wife. My father stood up to him. He said, “You don’t do that any more. Don’t push her.” Dėdė Jurgis got mad and said, “You get out of here. You’re not my child.” And Diedukas left. Diedukas found a job with a wealthy landowner. I don’t know his name. That man took him in and gave him different things to do. He dusted a lot. Every time my papa dusted, he would find a kopeka on the table. It was a test and my papa always passed. He wasn’t a thief. That old landowner liked my father, and he took good care of him. He sent him to school, to high school, and then to mechanical school. My p a p a was a train engineer. He drove the Express. He finished mechanical school in Irkutsk, five hundred miles west of Chita, near Lake Baikal. You had to be a machinist to be a train engineer because if the train broke down, you had to fix it. That’s the kind of engineer you had to be. To graduate he had to build two cylinders that were so tightly fitted they could hold oil. He kept those and later he showed them to me. That’s what he had to do and that’s what he did. He graduated and became one of the first train engineers on the Trans-Siberian railroad. When I was a little girl he would be gone for many weeks at a time. But when he came home he told me fairytales. They were real, but I thought they were fairytales about driving the trains through Siberia, through the snow for days and days. From somewhere, maybe from Germany, he brought oranges, a whole huge bag of oranges. They were so hard to get in Lithuania then. Of course, my sister Marija took them all. JENN VIRŠKUS 303 There’s a railroad line from Irkutsk to Shanghai. When Diedukas crossed the border into China he would pay the guy in opium. I don’t know where he got it, probably his company gave it to him or something. There was a guy that shoveled the coal in China. My papa paid him in opium. There were a lot of Lithuanians in Siberia. It was a strong community. And later when they went back to Lithuania, they all became powerful people. Diedukas transported presidents, generals, high-ranking officers. It was his job. When the Express train carried the president or a general it became a “special” train. And you know what? They would come to Diedukas and thank him for bringing them so safely. He had a very good career. He worked hard. My papa was an intelligent man. An old intelligent man. C H A P T E R T WO Si be r i a wa s a lway s a part of the narrative during my childhood. Everyone told stories about Siberia, starting with my great-grandfather. And my grandmother and my father retold his stories to us. Siberia was a part of their childhood, too. Diedukas, we only ever called him that, was a slim man, but even in old age he was all muscle. That’s how I remember him, but his stories come from when he was young and wild. He could jump nine barrels at once. He wrestled thieves. He hiked around Lake Baikal in the summer and skated across it in the winter. He was good on the rings and was a natural gymnast. He saw my greatgrandmother in church and followed her home. His first assessment of her was that she had a beautiful chest. He stayed at our house in the summers. He wore brown, slightly loose fitting trousers, and a white button-up shirt. He had a brown cap and coke-bottle glasses and walked with a cane. Every morning, he sat alone at the breakfast bar and ate a bologna sandwich. For lunch he ate a bowl of Apple Jacks. Diedukas loved to work. He mowed our lawn and drove happily and methodically around our large yard on my father’s red lawn mower. When he wasn’t mowing the lawn, he was chopping wood behind the garage for kindling. I have no idea where the wood came from, but he chopped and chopped, tying perfectly round bundles that he stacked in our basement under the stairs. He was chopping wood the day my father took him to the hospital. Diedukas died that day, but his supply of kindling lasted for nearly ten years. 304 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 I don’t remember his voice. He never spoke much to us, but he communicated in other ways. When we, as little kids, scampered through the kitchen, on our way outside, or maybe down to our playroom, he patted us on the head as we passed. I can still feel the weight of his weathered hand on my head when I close my eyes. My favorite picture shows Diedukas from the waist up wearing a black suit, hair already white, eyes hidden behind the glare on his glasses. His cheeks were pulled tight, his teeth showed, and he was holding up his right hand, his middle and ring fingers squeezed tightly together. He is taking the oath of American citizenship. The images in my mind of Diedukas are so clear that it was a surprise to me when I learned as an adult that he died when I was only four. F rom t h e l at e 1 8 0 0 s to the start of 1918 Lithuania saw persistent drought. Though there was a renewed interest in the traditions of pre-commonwealth Lithuania, many were forced to seek work elsewhere, either in the United States or Russia. For those who could brave the winters, Siberia was closer to home. During World War I much of Lithuania and southwestern Latvia were occupied by Germany. As German and Austrian troops advanced further into Russian territory, hundreds of thousands of Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Jews fled deep into the Russian interior. That was how Bobutė, my great-grandmother, then a teenager, ended up in Siberia with her family. Shortly before the war began, she, her parents, two brothers, and two sisters traveled to Irkutsk. Her older brother, Dėdė Mykolas, finished university there while Bobutė and her younger brother Julijus were still in school. For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of crossing that vast expanse of land by train during the time of the tsars, in a fur cap and gloves, like a Chekhov story. Unlike the cold, harsh land it is, I imagined Siberia as a place of peaceful prosperity. From stories told by my grandparents I knew of the dense taiga and the abundance of exotic game. I knew of the silence of Lake Baikal, broken only by a pair of cranes flying low along the frozen shore. I could hear the coal-powered engines, chugging across the unspoiled wilderness, the “Tsar’s Train” carrying important passengers, driven by my great-grandfather. As I grew up, my interest in Siberia intensified. I studied Slavic history and learned the Cyrillic alphabet. I read Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Solzhenitsyn. I read biographies of the tsars, studied Russian art, and listened to Tchaikovsky. JENN VIRŠKUS 305 I even took a class in college called “Ideals and Values in Modern Russia,” anything that might shed a clue as to what Russia was all about. I was obsessed with the drama and the misery of it all, but what really drove me, was that no matter what I studied or read, I have never found my great-grandfather’s Siberia. TIRPSTA BURNOJE 1928 K l a r a g oe s f or a wa l k with Papa in the apple orchard. It is very nice weather, good for walking. The air smells sweet and the fruit is almost ripe. The grass is very high and sometimes it is hard for her to walk. Papa lifts her up and over the tall grass. They come home and Papa says he has some work to do, but if she will be a good girl, Klara can sit on the front step by herself and wait for Grandma Uršulė to come. Klara takes her doll and sits on the step. She sits very carefully so that she won’t get her dress dirty. She sits and she waits and she hugs her doll. She closes her eyes to the bright sunshine. It feels good on her skin. Warm. She listens to the birds sing. She smells lavender and sweet grass in the air. Papa says she is a little lady because she always sits so patiently and properly. Klara hears footsteps coming up the gravel road. They are small and de- liberate. Grandma Uršulė’s steps. They are like Klara’s because she is small like Klara. Klara opens her eyes and sees Grandma Uršulė standing before her. She wears a brown dress to her knees and a black scarf over her hair. She is still young, but she dresses old. She is carrying a small paper sack. Klara knows it is for her. It is always for her. Močiutė.” She walks to Klara, who stands up and says politely, formally, “Laba diena, “Laba diena, vaikelė,” she says and touches Klara’s cheek. Her hand is thick and rough. “Have you been a good girl today?” “Yes, Močiutė,” Klara says and clasps her hands behind her back. She wants to see what is in the sack so badly. “Would you like some tea?” Mama says. Guests must always be offered something to eat or drink. “No, vaikelė. Grandma is tired. But I brought you a little treat.” She places the little sack in Klara’s hands. 306 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 “Don’t spoil your dinner now.” “I won’t Močiutė, I promise.” “There’s a good girl.” Klara gives Grandma Uršulė a hug, who then turns and slowly walks away. Klara sits back down with her doll and carefully opens the paper. Inside is a perfect little cake with layers of custard and cream. She takes a bite. The custard is tangy and the cake is soft. But the cream, tirpsta burnoje, melts in her mouth. My p a r e n t s m e t in Irkutsk. My mama was with her whole Parokas family. Everyone was there. Gražuliai were there, too, Marija’s husband’s family, but we didn’t know them yet. It was the start of the Great War, in 1914, and they wanted to escape Germany. The Germans were occupying Lithuania. So where could they go? They went to Siberia. My papa was in the tsar’s army, after he finished mechanical school. He traveled a lot of places and served on the Western Front. His unit was trapped in the mustard gas and he was wounded. He went to Nagasaki. I don’t know why. I think he won a trip and when he got there a man was waiting with a rickshaw. My papa couldn’t let another man carry him, so he said, “I’ll put my bags in your rickshaw, but I’ll walk along side.” Diedukas was an honorable man. He had a girl before mama. A Polish girl. She was very wealthy. Dėdė Jurgis, his uncle, didn’t like my mother because he wanted my father to marry that Polish girl. Dėdė Jurgis wasn’t a nationalist like we are and he didn’t like my mother because she wasn’t rich. But Diedukas met my mother and married her. He liked her because she was very beautiful and from a good family. Not rich, but good and Lithuanian. They lived very beautifully the whole time. They got married in 1917 or 1918. Papa was 26 and mama only 16. My sister, Marija, was born in Siberia in 1919. Diedukas wanted to go back to Lithuania, but it was after the Bolshevik Revolution. I’ll tell you how it was: the Bolsheviks, they overthrew the tsars and they took over the government. That was when the Soviet Union began. To go to Lithuania they needed travel papers. Diedukas worked on the railroad and he was able to get a travel pass to Moscow, for “vacation.” He and mama packed a sack of bread and smoked meat to eat. Marytė was still drinking mama’s milk. The journey from Irkutsk to Moscow took almost a week. They traveled in third class and the three of them shared one bunk. In Moscow he got JENN VIRŠKUS 307 forged passports and travel papers so they could return to Lithuania. Marytė was only a little baby when my parents brought her back to Šiauliai. We were four kids, but really we were two. Two by two. After Marytė, there was Viktoras, and then me, and then Alfonas. Viktoras was very domineering, just like Marytė. They were just the same and they did what they wanted. Al- fonas and I were calm. We didn’t pay attention. I played with my lėlės, my dolls. Alfonas had a couple of friends. Those boys sure did like to run around! Alfa was always outside. Mama went with the neighbors to pick cranberries and you had to dry them out. So in the attic Diedukas made a floor so you could walk there. We took those cranberries upstairs and laid them out on paper. Oh, they were so delicious. We put them on paper so that they would dry faster. On wood they wouldn’t dry. I was up there all the time. On the stairs there was a platform where I could play with my dolls. Diedukas hired a carpenter to build me a beautiful dollhouse! It was green, just like our house, and it had an upstairs and a downstairs. There was a bed, a table, chairs, and a buffet. The sofa I made myself. I nailed the frame together and I covered it with fabric. I always had an imagination. And it was goodsized. My doll could lay down in the bed. In winter, I had a little sled. It was cold outside, so I sewed a winter outfit for my doll, something warm. I went all over with that sled and our dog came with me. People said, “How beautiful!” It was so nice. I played alone because there was no one to play with. But Viktoras would always come by and take everything apart. I tried to keep quiet, to stay out of the way, but Viktoras always found me. He had a laugh, more like a cackle, and I knew what would come. He hit me all the time. I didn’t do nothing, but he hit me. For him, maybe it was a game. He said it was a game. For fun, he said. I don’t know what it is for fun when I fell down. It wasn’t fun for me. Viktoras wasn’t as bad as some hooligan or something, no. Not like that. Just a kid. He wasn’t bad, he had a good heart, but he didn’t listen. Diedukas said to do one thing, he did the other. He was always the opposite. He hit me, but what are you going to do? He needed someone to hit! It hurt though. He hit me many times. Another time, I was playing in the garden and our pig was there. I was 308 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 eight and he was 11 but already big like a horse. I liked to play with the potatoes and my dolls. My father had a beautiful garden. He had big apples, pears, plums, and he planted potatoes. And those potatoes had beautiful flowers. They were purple and yellow inside. I took my dolls out there and made a soup for them. That was my game. Viktoras found me, pulled me up, then hit me down again. He punched me in the stomach and knocked me out! When I woke up the pig was nuzzling me and my chest hurt something awful. Viktoras was gone. Viktoras and Marytė had exactly the same character. They were always tough. Anyway, I didn’t say anything; not to mama, not to papa. I didn’t want them to punish him. I felt sorry for him. No, I didn’t interfere. It was a friendly time in our country. There were many, many Jews and we didn’t care. Nobody thought about it. They had all the businesses. All of the clothing and shoes stores were Jewish. Many were doctors and had important positions in medicine. There were a lot of Turks in Lithuania that were running from the tsars. The tsars were getting rid of them all. They were farmers, mostly, and they had to find somewhere else. They had to leave everything like later when we had to leave everything. So they went where life was better and for them, then, that was Lithuania. That’s how it was. I know. I was a girl but I was already in school and I remember how everything was. And we took them! They left everything and they came to Lithuania. It was a very good life then. The best chocolates are from Šiauliai. There is a factory called Rūta. It’s very old. In the shop they sold the chocolates. The Jewish shop next door to our home was so tiny and only half a room. There were piles of chocolates. All kinds. The wrappers were shiny: red, blue, silver, and gold. Squares and rounds and rectangles. And the flavors! Dark chocolate with caramel cream, light chocolate with strawberry syrup, and wafers with pineapple. Pineapple! Can you believe it? I’d never tasted a pineapple, but I tasted that chocolate wafer candy. Oh boy, was it good. But my favorite was with nuts. Chocolate with nuts. Dark chocolate that was black and so creamy. I had quite a sweet tooth and I stopped by often. When I wanted a candy and I didn’t have even five cents, I went there and said, “I’d like some candy, please.” The shopkeeper, Mr. Polūkaitis, was a Jew. He gave me the candy and said, “Okay, you can pay when your father gives you a coin.” JENN VIRŠKUS 309 He never refused me. Sometimes he wrote it down on the card how much I owed and the next time I would bring it. I always paid what I owed. Everyone always paid. Of course I had to cry to Diedukas to give me that five cents! That was another story, but he always gave it to me and I took it back to Mr. Polūkaitis who was so nice. The Jews lived in Šiauliai and also in Kaunas and they were very good. We didn’t think about it. We never fought with the Jewish people. It was just fine. They were smart and good people. The economy was all in the Jewish hands. And education and the army and everything else, well, that was in ours. I never got terribly sick but I had pleurisy. I caught a cold and got an infection. My doctor gave me medicine, and after a couple weeks, I got better. It was caught early, which is good because my lungs could have gotten inflamed. But, you know, I keep on going. That’s it. I was a good girl. I never did anything wrong and papa never hit me and never even yelled at me. Except once. After I was sick with pleurisy I wanted to go out to my friend’s house. Diedukas told me to put on my winter coat. I didn’t want to because it was hot outside. I was dressed so pretty and I didn’t want to wear a coat. But because of the pleurisy he didn’t want me to catch cold. I went to the neighbors next door and asked them if I could leave my coat at their house. And that neighbor woman took it and told my papa. When I went home, Diedukas said, “Where’s your coat? Did you take it off?” I said, “I was hot.” He told me if I didn’t want to wear it, I wouldn’t go to school. He said I would go to clean Jewish people’s houses. Oh, how I cried! But that’s it. That’s the one time Diedukas ever yelled at me. He told me later that when I was very small, only five months old, I had been very sick with a lung infection. He bought a little white coffin for me. They thought for sure I would die. And God saved me. How much stuff I’ve survived and I’m still on my feet. I understood then why my papa was so afraid for my health. He was good to us, he paid for everything, he dressed us well, and he bought me that beautiful coat. I just didn’t want to wear it on such a hot day. Diedukas always wanted what was best for his kids, but he was demanding, too. He was the hardest on Marytė. He wanted her to skip a grade. He 310 WRITING BOOK 2 O 13 tried to have Viktoras skip two grades. Viktoras failed twice and wound up in the same place. Alfa and I were smart, but he never asked that we skip a grade. There was no need. We studied hard and we learned. But Diedukas was a very strict disciplinarian. That’s how he was raised! He did the best he could. He never had a father, only that Russian landowner, and Diedukas had to work hard for him. Marytė and Viktoras didn’t want to be disciplined so they rebelled. This volume is published by the MFA Program in Writing at California College of the Arts on the occasion of the graduation of the class of 2013. Copy Editor: Anne Marino Designer: Jennifer Burke, Industry Printer: McNaughton & Gunn Writing Book 2013 features the Aries family of typefaces, designed by Eric Gill in 1932. It is complemented by the typeface Futura Extra Bold, designed by Edwin W. Shaar in 1952 to extend Paul Rennerâ€™s Futura family of the 1930s. ÂŠ 2013 by California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco CA 94107-2247. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission. KRISTIN ADOCHIO RYAN BURESH SARAH BUSHMAN KATE CHIANESE ARIEL COHEN AUTUMN DARBROW ERIN GINDER-SHAW AMAL HASSAN MAGGIE HEAPS SAMINA CHAUDHRY HITCH BILL HUGHES VERNON KEEVE III JIM KETTNER MELISSA LOUISE KUHN SUSAN L. LIN JAYO MIKO MACASAQUIT LIZ MAYORGA JIM NORRENA JORDAN RICE-SARANTIS ANNE LESLEY SELCER JILL TYDOR CHLOÉ VEYLIT JENN VIRŠKUS