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IN MEMORIA INFRACTUS FATUM

a novella by

Anthony Barnhart


in memoria: infractus fatum

Anthony Barnhart

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in memoria: infractus fatum

this novella is dedicated to my good and loyal friend,

Kyle Arnold

Anthony Barnhart

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in memoria: infractus fatum

Anthony Barnhart

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in memoria: infractus fatum

LACRIMA QUOD CRUOR He stands and watches her walk away, her arms around the one who told him, “Everything will be okay. God has a plan.” He watches the streetlights shine, the light dancing through her beautiful hair “It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. Where did I go wrong?” He watches her walk away, and with her everything he always wanted leaves him, and he falls upon the ground, broken and beaten, the life streaming from his heart. She disappears into the shadows, but he can still hear her laugh, can still feel her breath, can still see her eyes as they peer into his and speak: “I want to be with you forever.” A quiet rain begins to fall, the water running between his shaking fingers, washing away all his hopes and dreams, carrying away everything he always longed for. The rain grows harder, soaking his clothes, and the thunder crackles, but all he can hear is her sweet voice: “I like you and I feel like I always will. Let’s make memories together.” The tears mix with the rain, and his breaking heart finds its resonance in the booming thunder “It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. Where did I go wrong?” He does not want answers. He does not want comfort. He does not want your theology, nor your philosophy. He wants one thing, the thing that haunts him. He wants her back. He wants to hold her, comfort her, tell her he loves her and that he always will. “I love her,” he weeps in the middle of the street. “I love her. I want her. I just want her.” He wants to run his fingers through her hair, wants to kiss her and cherish her and

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in memoria: infractus fatum give her the world. He wants her to know that real love exists. But she has left him. She has taken his heart and wrenched it in two. “I didn’t want to,” she said. “I didn’t want to hurt you.” But you still hurt me. You took my dreams and stomped them underfoot. His heart burns. It aches. He loved her. He loves her. He will always love her. All he wants is her. Now she runs off with his best companion. Now he has taken that which he loved the most. All the quiet laughs, the gentle moments, all are lost into the hands of betrayal. The evening has turned to night. The rain falls. “It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. What did I do wrong?” His hands unfurl and he holds it in his palm. The blade glints in the dim glow of the streetlights; the water runs down the serrated edges and the steel sparkles with the flashes of lightning. “It wasn’t supposed to end up like this. What did I do wrong?” His life has fallen apart. His love has abandoned him. His friend—the only one there for him—has betrayed him. His god has seemingly turned his back on him. “My future is darkness, despair, hopelessness, resignation. For what purpose do I exist, but to suffer with each passing moment?” He takes the hilt in his hands, twists the blade towards his heart. His heart has already been broken; it lies in pieces behind his ribs. What harm can a mere physical blade do? Her words have pierced him like a thousand burning arrows. To some, death is bitter, an enemy, a gall. To others it is the sweet song of life, a deliverance, a gift. The blade drips with water; it will be easy to pierce the clothes. He looks up to see if she may return, daring beyond all logic that she may come back, fall upon her knees, and say what she said just last night: “I want to be with you forever.” But no one comes. He is utterly alone. He closes his eyes. He sees all their memories rushing him at once, a mosaic of life and love and happiness—

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in memoria: infractus fatum a forgotten existence. He sees her hair blowing in the wind on that fall trip to the park; sees her dimples when she smiles at his innocent jokes; sees the way her cheeks sparkle in the evening sun; sees the quiet dances of her eyes sending messages of adoration. He feels her fingers wrapping around his own, feels the warmth of her embrace; feels her breath tingling against his neck; feels her dove-soft hair tickling his cheek. One thrust, and it will all be over. One thrust and the memories will be gone. One thrust, and all the suffering, the pain, the agony, the despair, all the hopelessness, the futility, the resignation will be gone… vanquished as his blood runs between the cobblestones and disappears in the rain. His arms are shaking. Excitement? Anxiety? Fear? He has no other desire in the world, but to plunge the knife deep down into his heart, to break the cycle of his life, a life of heartache, heartbreak, of constantly and always never being good-enough, cool-enough, good-looking-enough, never talented enough, cute enough, never smart enough, never wonderful enough, never tall and dark and handsome. This is an end to all the inadequacies that scar his own reality. His fingers wrap tight around the hilt; the blade sings sweetly in his ears. “I can’t go on,” he weeps. “I can’t go on. I can’t go on…” He just wants to love and be loved, to cherish and be cherished, to understand and be understood, to comfort and be comforted, to be there and have her be there for him. Not anyone will do; she is the one, the only one. She made his heart quicken, his pulse jump, his muscles go limp. Now she has made his heart fall to pieces, his pulse shall die, and now she has made the muscles poise for the only refuge he can fathom. He looks towards heaven, into the flashing lightning and the thunder. He cries out for deliverance, but there is no answer. The angels have shut their mouths. Even God has turned His back on him. His cheeks are pale with the pallor of dejection, and his eyes see a future of bleak shadows and whispered regrets. His cries come from the deep wells

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in memoria: infractus fatum of a broken heart engraved forever with the deep stains of long-lost love: “I want her. All I want is her. I just want to be with her.� He would do anything for a second chance. It will not come. He wants to be with her badly. But she turned her back on him. She left him in the cold, naked and shivering, exposed to all the mockeries of romance. She took his heart, crumbled it in her fingers, and spit upon the remnants. He would have given her the world: but she took the world away from him. He takes a deep breath, the raindrops in the air filling his lungs, and the world spins to a halt: the raindrops hang suspended, reflecting the streetlights, a panorama of diamonds; the lightning bolts across the sky hover, their electricity spinning webs in the clouds; his heart holds to its last beat, the meaningless blood in his veins drawing their last breaths. A deep serenity embraces him, promising him the only security he has ever tasted. With a single wrench of the muscles, the blade pierces his shirt and enters his flesh, the serrated edges chewing flakes of bones from his ribs before the heart is torn in inexorable agony. He pitches forward, limbs suddenly weak, and he stares at the ground, the puddles reflecting the grotesque mask upon his face: a mask of disenchantment, a mask of resolution, a mask of the only hope he knows. He falls onto his back and finds himself sprawled in the middle of the street, the blood soaking his shirt and mixing with the rain. The raindrops feel cool upon his burning face. His fingertips tingle; his face goes pale. He closes his eyes and lets the strength drip from his soul. All he can think about is how the knife does not cause him as much pain

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in memoria: infractus fatum as the words she spoke to him: “I don’t love you anymore. I don’t want to be with you. I want to be with your best friend.” He closes his eyes, and he embraces the quietness, the darkness, and the serenity. All the memories, the pains, and the weeping is forgotten as he shuts down. He lies on the street: broken, bloodied, marred, and maimed. But now he is truly alive.

Anthony Barnhart

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in memoria: infractus fatum

Anthony Barnhart

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in memoria: infractus fatum

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CONSILIUM The city of Cincinnati lied spread out before him, the Ohio River twisting and turning in its sluggish windings. Barges and ferries moved up and down the river in the murky evening light, and the tops of the skyscrapers were hidden in a musty fog. Lights twinkled in the hills of the Kentucky shoreline, and he heard a car rumbling behind him. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw a couple watching him from a green Jeep; they looked away and drove off. Mt. Echo, they called that place, and he had visited it many times. Memories were forged on the paths in the woods, the great amphitheater rising like a monument from ancient Greece, and the lookout itself—a cement walkway with railings overlooking the city, the earth dropping down seventy feet below into a hoard of weeds and branches of trees. A single flagpole stood surrounded by potted bushes, and birds chirped atop its mast; the flag battered mindlessly in the cool fall breeze. He closed his eyes, and he felt his heart throb. He wrapped his fingers around the railing, felt the wind ruffling through his air. His soul wept, and a heightened sense of his surroundings overcame him. He opened his eyes again, saw the twinkling lights of the city, dark storm-clouds moving overhead, casting shadows through the failing evening light. How had he come here? He couldn’t remember. All he could see was her gentle smile, her deafening whispers—“I love you and want to grow old with you.” This is all he knew. It had been a painful resolution, but it was the only one that could save him. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but a certain irony saturated his life. Promising himself never to do this, he had resigned to a life of cynicism and heartbreak. Yet such a life provided nothing but restless nights and dreary days, and though the sun shined and the birds sang, his heart was a wasteland of twisted barbed wire and blood-filled trenches and skeletons in ragged clothing being pecked apart by the vultures of fate. She was the first girl he ever loved. Sure, he had dated others… But none quite so mesmerizing as her. Hope Blossom. Quite the unusual name, but fitting: for his heart blossomed in her presence as a rose blossoms with the first spring rains, and she had brought a hope that could be tasted and touched, a hope that, like the rose, flowered into something beautiful; but like the rose, its beauty would be offset with thorns crawling up its stalk. Their romance had been rich, fantastic, wonderful. Over spring break they had jumped in her car and had driven to Florida with several of their friends. He would always remember how his heart leapt and sang in contentment as the two of them walked hand-in-hand down the sandy beaches, with the palm trees hanging overhead and the sun sinking behind them. They had sat on the beach, with the sand between their toes; he had wrapped his arm around her, and she snuggled close, her eyes twinkling in the dying light as she whispered words he would never forget: “I love you, and I want to grow old with you.”

Anthony Barnhart


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Those words seared him like a hot brand. Had she meant it? He didn’t know. But from birth he had been a hopeless romantic, with his heart broken often and always seeking fulfillment in his greatest dream: to be a husband and a father, to be a family-man who would build snowmen with his children and who would cuddle with his wife under a quilt with hot chocolate and a roaring fireplace keeping their exposed toes warm. These were the dreams that kept him moving in his darkest hours, when the hopelessness invaded like a slowly-advancing, mercilessly-killing, chronic disease. And when those words came out of her mouth, they rooted themselves deep within his heart. He looked back into her eyes, and he whispered, “I love you, too.” They closed their eyes, they kissed, and they became lost in the sensual embrace, the only sound that of distant laughter from the bars and the frothing of the waves upon the beach. Fireworks blossomed above them, a prophetic display of the blossoming of true love—but the blossoming of love would not be between them. He went to bed content that night, lying in a hammock under the stars. “It’s happening,” he said to himself with a smile he had never smiled. “My dreams… they’re happening.” That was the last time he ever smiled. The breeze picked up, coming up from the river. The birds atop the flagpole took flight. All he could hear were her words, and all he could remember was the way they had ignited something within him: completion. Until that point, his life had been a jigsaw puzzle thrown about in a tin can, none of it making sense and threatening never to come together. But with her words, it all came together, and a wonderful panorama was born. Everything made sense. Every heartbreak, every dead-end, every night spent wide awake and unable to sleep, every tear shed in his loneliest moments: all of these took him down a dark and winding path, straight to Hope. And when Hope came upon the horizon, the darkness fled, the road went straight and smooth, and in the distance he could see the palace of his dreams: nearly touchable! His dreams, he dared to hope—foolishly!—would become a reality. The week following their moment under the blossoming fireworks, he and Hope were planning to go across the river to Newport for coffee at Starbucks and to share in electrifying conversation. She called and told him she would be late. He decided to waste some time by going to what he called “The Lookout,” a small patch of earth in the middle of a storage complex that sported a beautiful view of the city. He drove his Prizm up Knob Hill, and upon reaching the spot, he saw a car sitting in the parking lot. He sighed and began to turn around, but his lights flashed over the back of the car, and he could see a prominent decal on the back windshield, a decal belonging only to Hope’s car. He had made it himself and had given it to her as a gift on her birthday. Puzzled and fighting off trepidations, he pulled the car into the street and parked on the other side of the building. Stepping out, he didn’t bother to lock his car door. He cautiously walked around the building, his heart hammering in his chest, until her car came into view: two figures were inside. He approached, his legs carrying him forward, a new fervor spilling through his veins. Suddenly the door opened and a boy jumped out, a boy he knew so well: Adrian, his roommate. He wore no shirt, and his shorts were unzipped. Adrian began protesting as the boy moved on him quickly. The other door opened and Hope stepped

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out, her jet-black black hair falling in front of her eyes; she was in her panties and bra. His mind reeled, and he wanted to vomit. Adrian was shouting, words the poor boy could not understand. All he remembers is driving his fist into Adrian’s gut, sending him buckling over onto the pavement. Hope grabbed at him, screaming; he turned and threw her off of himself in rage; he didn’t see Adrian stand, and when he turned, he felt his face split in lightning-agony as Adrian drilled his fist forward. The boy doubled back, landing hard on the pavement, blood coursing down his face from a gash above the eye. Adrian began moving towards him, so the boy scrambled over the concrete; Hope leapt in front of Adrian, shouting. He pushed her to the side and delivered a kick to the boy’s ribs; the boy rolled over and coughed blood. The boy tried to stand but could not. Hearing two doors slam, he turned to see Hope’s car pulling out and driving away. He lied broken and bleeding on the pavement, staring at the stars above. Everything fell apart in that moment. The next couple weeks were a blur to him. He spent most of my time in his dorm room, skipping class. Adrian moved out of the room, being cautious not to be present when the boy was there. The boy didn’t see much of him anymore, nor of Hope. She continued going to school at U.C., and because of his grades, the boy dropped out. Did he care? No, not really. His dreams were broken. He had nothing left. A few days after he was given news of being dropped from his studies, Hope called. He answered his cell phone: “Hello?” “Hi.” He recognized the voice, didn’t say anything. An awkward pause. “Hello?” He spoke dryly: “Why are you calling me?” “I just… you should know…” “Are you calling to apologize?” he asked. “Don’t. I don’t care. Keep your damn apologies.” “No,” she said. Then, resolutely, “I’m pregnant. Adrian and I are getting married.” He flipped the phone shut. He was shocked. Stunned. Immovable. His eyes glazed over. He wanted to be the father of her children. But that, like everything, was taken from him. These thoughts swarmed over him, and he felt unable to move, unable to breathe. What else did he have? What point was there in moving on? All he could see was the girl he loved in Adrian’s arms, her sighs and gasps in their sexual embrace. His mouth became dry as stale parchment, and his knees threatened to give way in the psychological earthquake. If he opened his eyes, he saw nothing but her. And he saw her with a knife in her hand, a crooked smile, and he saw her driving it into his heart, deep past the ribs, and he felt her twisting the blade to exert as much agony as possible. He could still feel the cold steel of that blade in his heart, a fragment of shattered hopes that would never leave him. Everything had been taken from him. Everything except his own life. That would be up to him.

Anthony Barnhart


in memoria: infractus fatum

Anthony Barnhart

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in memoria: infractus fatum

15

INCEPTUM The diner is quiet tonight. It is 1:27 in the morning. I sit in the yellow booth with its fading paint and I drink a cup of cold coffee. I don’t like coffee black: half-and-half and sugar gives it the right tone, the right texture, the right taste. “I like my coffee like I like my women: silky and smooth and sweet.” Her skin was as soft as silk and her voice as smooth as honey and her laugh as sweet as fresh nectar. I drink my coffee, and it reminds me of her. The coffee itself is cold, and that too reminds me of her; perhaps not of her, but of what we had. The most glorious of romances begin with magnificent heat, and this is to be praised; but the most heated romances must fizzle out and die, and they must become as cold as the backside of the moon, and they become as frozen as the ice on Pluto. Our romance was like a volcano: erupting without warning, brilliant and beautiful and full of lights and explosions, but it could only last so long; and the flowing lava became stone, and the volcano’s eruption became a mere fizzle of steam, and then there was nothing but the remains of what had at one time been a spectacular event. My romance with Hope had been a spectacular event, and I was a fool for believing it would last. The most beautiful things are always the most short-lived. I am going to set this pen down and drink some more coffee, and I am going to think of her, and I am going to bathe in my pity, because that is the only thing I can do anymore. The waitress came by. “More coffee?” “Yes,” I said, and I scooted the mug to the edge of the table. She poured the black coffee from the coffeepot. “What are you writing?” she asked. I knew she didn’t care. She was just trying to be polite. Trying to earn a tip. “I’m just writing down my thoughts,” I said. “Good thoughts?” she asked. “Is there such a thing?” She shrugged and gave me a few more packets of cream and left. I sit again and I drink my coffee and I watch an older man sit down on the other side of the room. He is alone, and he sits in the booth facing me, but he doesn’t acknowledge my presence. I don’t want him to: I don’t want to meet his eyes with mine. There is something cryptic in his slow and painful movements, in the wiry beard stretched across his face, in those eyes sunken into those sockets: eyes filled with great sorrow and regret and emptiness. His lips are curved into a scowl, etched into his façade by a long life of pain. I don’t know what he has suffered. I don’t want to. I don’t care. But I see that man and I see myself. I see myself fifty years from now, crawling into this very diner, sitting down in this very booth, drinking the same kind of coffee, adding the same cream and sugar, and I see myself lonely and going home and sitting on the edge of my bed and drinking shots of bourbon to escape the memories that have never left me. And I see that the bourbon doesn’t work, and I drink until I can drink no more, until the world

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begins to shift and shudder, and I drink until I am passed out in my clothes—because I cannot fall asleep on my own accord, for her face is still engraved into my dreams. It is 2:13 in the morning. I haven’t left. I’m onto another cup of coffee. More people are coming into the diner. They always come in this late: the bars up and down the street close at 2:00 a.m., and they have nowhere to go or need to sober up, so they come to this diner and sit down and order some food and lots of coffee, and they are always loud and obnoxious. I try not to let it bother me. I just want the quiet. The waitress will ask me to leave unless I order something to eat; they need the space. So I order a little cheeseburger and sit and continue drinking my coffee. I can feel the caffeine in my heart, the valves fluttering, and I can feel its energy in my veins, but the energy can only be released through the pen stretching its mark across the paper. I carry this black journal with me wherever I go. A moleskin. The same used by Picasso and Hemingway. And it’s what I’m writing in now. I can flip through the pages and go back to when we were together. I do that often. I don’t know why. The memories are already so painful; why must I continue to walk in their courtyards, to scale their towers, to explore their dark and twisting halls? We are drawn to suffering. It is perhaps the strangest thing about Homo sapien: as a dog returns to its own vomit, so we continue to dwell upon and relive those moments that, at one time, brought us so much happiness but now bring us nothing but salt-laden tears and heavy hearts. The cheeseburger is here. I went to Mount Echo this afternoon. I don’t know why I go there. I hate it. I hate everything about it. I hate the amphitheater, the overlook, the trails, the wooden bridge in the woods that spans the bubbling creek with its polished rocks. I used to love going there, but she ruined it for me. No. She made it something even more beautiful that it had ever been. We would sit on the steps at the amphitheater and talk for hours, about everything and about nothing. We would talk about our hopes (what an oxymoron!) and about our dreams (what ridiculous fantasies!). We would stand at the overlook and we would hold hands, and she would bury her face into my chest and look up at me with those gorgeous and widening eyes, and she would squeeze my hand and tell me how thankful she was to be with me. And we would stand on the bridge over the creek, and we carved our initials into the wooden railing on the bridge. I sometimes go back to that bridge and stand and smoke and look at where our initials are carved, and between our initials is a single heart: I have long since taken the end of a knife and carved a lopsided X through it. It seemed like the only reasonable thing to do, and I thought it would help. It didn’t. It is almost 3:00 a.m. I have work in the morning. I don’t care. I don’t want to go back into the cold outside: my heart is already cold enough; why must I subject to myself to even more? Why has the world been created in such a way that heat is nearly always followed by cold? Perhaps it is an echo of the human condition. The tropics provide an escape from what the rest of the world declares to be true, and the Antarctic with its ice caps and blizzards is a testament to the greatest reality of all: that life is nothing but coldness interspersed with momentary glimpses of heat. The seasons, too, echo what I know to be true. The beauties of summer are soon submitted to decay, and the decay paves the way to the deadness of winter. The trees once resplendent with violently green leaves become nothing but skeletons with fingers sprawled upwards,

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grasping at nothing, reaching for nothing. Hope and I used to walk down those trails, and the trees were so green and so full of life, and sometimes we would see deer, and we would walk along the rocks of the creek and we would catch crayfish and I would pick her wildflowers. She would take the flowers and put them in a little book and weld them into place forever with wax paper and an iron. I thought those days would never end, and this too is a testament to the naivety with which we human creatures live our lives: we are ignorant of the way the world really works, and we live in a fairytale realm of princes and princesses and slain dragons and great castles hewn out of wood and sparkling with inset gemstones and jewels. There is no such reality. Reality is a cold-hearted bitch, and fate mocks us in our naivety, bitch-slapping us across the face. I was naïve, I was ignorant, and I have been bitch-slapped; and my cheek still stings. It is 3:30 a.m. My coffee is almost out. The crowds are getting thicker. The waitress asked me how much longer I would be. “I’m leaving soon,” I told her. She said, “Good.” I’ll finish up this coffee and leave. There’s only a little bit left. I keep going back the journal entries I wrote when our relationship began. She had told me her favorite flower was the lily. I thought that was wonderful, so I went and bought her a lily the next day; when the sun rose and fell and rose again, the flower was dead and its petals wilted and frayed and hued a chocolate brown. I should have known. There are some flowers, like the lily, and like the hibiscus and evening primrose, whose flowers only last for a day. And yet they are the most splendid of flowers, holding such magnificence and scent that lovers are wooed. It is like my time with Hope: magnificent, sweet, and wooing; but doomed to die from the moment it blossomed. I will read over our time together tonight, and I will remember what it was like to meet her and fall in love with her, and I will fall asleep with tears in my eyes… And thus I will do nothing new. ∑Ω∑ He and Nick had sat in one of the faded yellow-painted booths at the diner. He had ordered a hamburger, and Nick ordered a steak. The boy smoked his cigarettes and Nick smoked a marble pipe he’d picked up from a cigar shop in Newport. He filled it with a special northern blend and tamped it down and lit it with a Zippo and puffed several times until the smoke rose like incense, curling over itself and then spreading against the ceiling like the spread and feathery wings of an Alaskan eagle. They didn’t talk much. They didn’t need to. Nick asked, “How are things going with that girl you were telling me about?” “Hope?” the boy asked. “Yeah. Is that her name?” “Yes. It’s her name. And things are going well.” “Good.” “I like her.” “I know.” “I didn’t think I’d told you that.” “I can tell when you like someone.” “You could tell with Hope?” “Your eyes sparkle whenever you say her name.”

Anthony Barnhart


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“They are empty sparklings. She’s too good for me.” “Shut up. Can I have a fry?” He had met Hope through a friend. It had been in the winter, late January, and they had gone to a place on the other side of the city, a hill crowned with storage complexes and an abandoned slushy factory. Knob Hill. It rose up like a sentinel out of the earth, and the slopes descended at nearly ninety-degree angles before slanting outwards and splashing into briars and thorns and weeds, their stalks and branches and vines draped in ice and hanging low, barely hiding the hides of the deer that tramped in the thickets. He and his friends and Hope had gone to the hill and went sledding, and they had found a mattress along the side of the abandoned building and decided to go down on it together, and his friend’s girlfriend split her ankle and they had to go to the hospital. Only his friend was allowed in to see her, so he and Hope sat alone in the waiting room, reading copies of Watchtower and people-watching. One poor soul came in with blood spouting like a geyser from his neck, and he had been immediately rushed into the E.R. A woman complained that he got instant access to the emergency room while she was stuck with a tapeworm eating out her insides. Both he and Hope found that hilarious, and they had to leave the waiting room because of their laughter, and they went outside and stood under an overhang and then followed a weathered stone path down into a courtyard surrounded by towering hospital windows on all sides, and they sat on a bench underneath the naked remnants of what would be a cherry tree in the spring, and they smoked cigarettes despite a No Smoking sign, and she told him about her life, and he was surprised at her openness and honesty: she had been molested as a child, raped by a stranger in the streets of Chicago, abused by her parents till the very day she left for college at age seventeen. She was quiet, and he didn’t know what to say, and she asked him what he was thinking, and he smoked his cigarette in the cold and felt his heart throbbing at her story, and he said, “I’m thinking that this shocks me… It shocks me that you’ve had to go through all this. And it amazes me that you’re still holding onto hope that real love exists, even if it seems like a hoax.” He told her she deserved a prince, someone to show her what real love is all about. “You need a redeemer, and I think that there’s such a thing out there for you.” Certain “certitudes” bind me, and under their spells I become a slave, bending over and gritting my teeth with their lacerating lashings. I am chained by my past, unable to breathe and unable to feel, thinking that all that has ever been is all that will ever be. I am given the opportunity to take off the iron shackles, but yet I continue to turn my face from freedom. What is it that frightens me? It is the fear that freedom is hopeless, that where lies freedom, therein lies suffering. I am afraid to risk, for every time I have risked, I have been hurt. I am afraid to place my dreams before others, afraid to go forward in the face of overwhelming odds, afraid to reach out for others, afraid to expose my feelings, afraid to love. I am afraid of this because there is the great chasm of risk that must be leapt. A part of me screams to leap that chasm and see what happens; maybe my fears will die and my “certitudes” will be crushed to powder. Another part of me whispers, “Every time you have leapt, you’ve just been more bloodied, beaten, and marred than before. You’re just going to get hurt.” So I can either leap the chasm, embracing

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either pain in defeat or joy in victory… or I can remain among those quiet, timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. They began spending their days together. They would often walk down the streets of Clifton, passing Arabic and Mexican restaurants, and they would go into cheap bookstores and browse through the 25-cent romance novels, mocking the covers and the titles, and they would go into Rohs Street Café and sit and listen to jazz, and they would go across the river to Newport on the Levee and walk along the cobbled pathways, and they would bundle up tightly in the cold and stand on the Purple People walking bridge and wait for the warmth of spring to touch the earth with its golden kiss. They laughed and they told stories and they shared their hopes and dreams and fears. She dreamed of becoming a wife and a mother, and he dreamed of becoming a husband and a father. He told Nick that night at the diner, “It’s like we’re pieces of a puzzle. Isn’t that what romance is like? You’re this awkward, disjointed creature who is incomplete, searching for completion, searching for that matching puzzle piece, and then when you kiss the pieces align, and you realize that it’s something beautiful and majestic, and what was weird and strange and disfigured becomes, when conjoined with its perfect opposite, a spectacular sight to behold, like the Great Wall of China or the Grand Canyon or the pyramids in Egypt.” For months I lived a life of numbness, vacancy, hopelessness and despair. But as soon as it felt like things would never change, my life completely turned around. I finally feel alive, I finally laugh and feel free and experience the beauties of existence. But is this all a mirage? Is this all hopeful wishing? I look at myself in the mirror and shake my head. I am not that kind of boy. I am afraid I might be letting myself be suckered into delusions and fantasies, allowing my mind to take my emotions captive and funneling them through dead-end streets. I want this to be real. I want this to be one of the reasons I am existing on this earth. But yet I am so terrified: “What if this is just another dead-end road? What if this goes nowhere? What if I’m deceiving myself?” I always let myself fall into gaping holes when I least expect it, where everything is supposed to be smooth and polished. Right when I stop watching my steps, I fall—and while I hope it is a beautiful collision, most of the time it just turns out to be another crevice which I have to pull myself free of. However, whatever happens, it’s nothing extraordinary: if it is a dead-end, as I fear, I shall exit the street and continue on. I’ve done it a thousand times before. His friend’s girlfriend was in a cast, but she was able to move around again. Nearly two weeks had passed since she strained her ankle sledding down on the mattress. The four of them joined together and went to a tattoo parlor in Price Hill, and Hope got a tattoo on her wrist that said παρεπιδηµος. “Is that Latin?” he’d asked her. “No. It’s Greek. It means ‘Sojourner.’” “Oh.” “I got it because it gives me hope. I’m just a wanderer and a pilgrim here. My sufferings are only temporary. I have Heaven to look forward to.” He believed Heaven to be an intoxicating drink to those too tightly-wound to indulge the bottle. “Good.”

Anthony Barnhart


in memoria: infractus fatum

20

Why am I so afraid? I know of so many boys who are not frightened like me. I think it’s because of the accumulation of past events and emotional trauma due to mental disorders that have brought out such a stigma against myself that fear has become my most intimate ally. I refuse to believe that I am lovable. I am ashamed of my looks, ashamed of my past, ashamed of who I am. I realize I have not made the same mistakes others have made, mistakes that are apparent to all who might inquire, but my own mistakes and errors and pitfalls are deeper: they find their home in my heart. I have such shame that I feel like I can never be the good boyfriend, the good husband, nor the good father whom I so strongly desire to be. I find myself dreaming of a future of being a good husband and a good father, and instead of excitement I experience dread: This is the life you so desperately seek, a voice whispers to me, but you’ll never taste it. You’ll never be good enough. First and foremost, the voice tells me, I will never be good enough, attractive enough, funny enough, or cool enough for a girl to ever find her eye upon me—and without that first step, how shall I ever become the “family man” I so earnestly wish to become? All of these doubts and uncertainties plague me. The next day was cold, but they stood on that bridge and looked out over the churning waters, and the wind whipped up and cut through them, and they leaned against one another, an awkward lean, their arms touching, both wanting more, both refusing to acknowledge the sparks alighting in their hearts. “I really like hanging out with you,” she said, “and I think you’re a really great guy. Guys like you aren’t easy to find.” Then, “I feel like I don’t deserve a good guy. That’s why I always go for guys who just want to use me.” He spoke, turning and facing her. “You’re beautiful, and you’re wonderful. Your past means nothing. Whoever ends up with you will be extremely lucky.” She said nothing, just turned away. She refused to believe him. “We should go,” she said. “It’s cold.” “Okay.” Hope and I were sitting on the stone wall outside her dorm, and she said, “I guess I’m just seeing where life is taking me.” While she didn’t mean it (so far as I remember) in the way that I now use it, that’s what I feel like I must do: just sit back and let life take me where it will. Sit back and see what happens. Don’t dream, don’t hope, don’t desire… because dreaming, hoping, and desiring all ends in disappointment. Better to resign than to hope in a resolution that will never come. Sometimes it feels like months go without the scent of change wafting in the air, without any reason to dream that things could be better… and then in a moment, everything changes. In two weeks, everything has changed. I’m hoping and praying that this change will be a lasting change, that it is not an ill-founded hope that shall be shattered on the rocks like so many of the changes I’ve gone through in the past. I’m hoping that I stand at the threshold of a different existence, where things start to come together and life begins to make just a little bit of sense. I’m frightened, though, because it seems like every time change does make its appearance, it is an illusion—and when one tastes the sweet nectar of deliverance, only to have it taken away in a

Anthony Barnhart


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heartbeat, it is the most excruciating pain imaginable. It feels as if your heart ventricles are filled with battery acid, smothered in gasoline, and then lit on fire and left to burn in the wastelands of the vacuums of space. Perhaps I am exaggerating; yes, I do believe I am. All I know is that the last two weeks have been wonderful. I have felt at peace, been joyful, and in coming to know Hope I have come to know hope. The breeze was cool and delicate, rising off the lapping waves of the Ohio River. A barge passed underneath the bridge as the two of them sat on the bench, staring at the sun setting to the west, bleeding ribbons of light over the dull brown river, reflecting off the steel of the skyscrapers. She held the cup of Starbucks coffee in her hands. “Every boy I’ve dated has turned out to be a real jerk. They use and abuse me. I just keep holding out hope that some boy will fall for me who won’t be a jerk like that. A boy who will treat me like a princess.” “You deserve to be treated like a princess.” He considered wrapping his arm around her. No. He didn’t want to look like another boy trying to get into her pants. “Sometimes I wonder if I really do deserve that. No one has treated me like a princess.” “That’s because you haven’t met the right guy yet.” Should I put my arm around her? The war waged in his head. No. She is just a good friend. She doesn’t want you to put your arm around her. “I don’t know.” She cradled the Styrofoam cup. “When the right guy comes along…” His voice trailed off. “I just want a kiss to mean something, you know?” “Yeah,” he said. “I want my next kiss to mean something. I don’t want to kiss just to kiss.” “I know.” She put her hand on his knee, tenderly, gently. Her touch felt so good. Put your arm around her. No. She’s just a good friend. She put her hand on your knee. She just feels close to me. Yeah. But not close as a friend. She’s sending you a message. She stroked his knee with her finger. His heart pounded. Do it. Then, No. Again: Do it. No! He reached out, placed his arm around her. She scooted in closer. The two of them looked out over the river. The barge was bending around a curve, the Kentucky banks obscuring the front of the vessel. Black smoke rose in plumes from its smokestacks hidden behind the distant trees. He bit his lip. “What are you thinking?” She looked at him, a cute smile. “I don’t know. What are you thinking?” “Maybe you found the right guy?” She grinned widely. “Maybe. Maybe. Just… Maybe.” Why am I so frightened? I’ve always been so brave when it comes to these things. But now I find myself literally scared. Is it because there’s so much to lose? Is it because I’ve been hurt

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so many times in the past? Is it because I just think I am too unlovable, too revolting, too despicable? I can’t really tell you why. All I know is that I find myself between a rock and a hard place: dreaming of a tangible future, but wondering if it will ever be a reality or if it’s just destined to be a dream forever. They sat on the bench at the PURPLE PEOPLE BRIDGE, watching the sun set over the hills beyond the twisting Ohio River, the last rays of sunlight dancing over the western faces of the Cincinnati skyline. They sat close to one another on the bench, just watching the sun set in its pure simplicity. Not much was said. Slowly, cautiously, he wrapped his arm around her. She leaned in and stroked his knee with her finger. They didn’t say anything. No words needed to be said. They both knew the affection that was shared—all mystery was blown to shreds—but both of them were afraid to admit it. For the longest time they sat there, just admiring the sunset, feeding off one another’s warmth. He leaned over, whispered in her ear, “What are you thinking?” And then, so gently and tenderly, yet in a way that meant everything: She kissed him.

Anthony Barnhart


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IUNCTIO I didn’t sleep at all last night. I sit out on the patio of my apartment. The apartments are on a hill overlooking the city, and this morning the city is wrapped in fog. The leaves are beginning to fall from the trees on the other side of the river, and the rising hills of Kentucky are drenched with a myriad of colors: browns and oranges and yellows and reds. The colors of death and decay. I am drinking more coffee. I drink more coffee now than I ever have. This time I drink it black. I hate the taste, but cream and sugar would dilute the caffeine. I drink my coffee and I hate the taste and I smoke a Marlboro Red and feel the smoke filling my lungs. I close my eyes and let the smoke simmer in my lungs and then I exhale, and the smoke catches with the stiff breeze and is carried upwards and drifts away, becoming nothing, dissolving and wasting away. Why is it that everything reminds me of her and of what we had? Even the smoke, trailing into nothingness and becoming subsequently nothing, is a metaphor and a shadow and an image of what happened to us. Our first kiss had been so special—“Did it mean something?” I had asked; she had said, “Finally—Yes.”—but that cruel fate is so true: that which goes up must come down. Our love had reached up even into the Pleiades and to Orion, but it had shattered and fallen and now lies crumbled upon the rocks of the Gates of Hell. “Have you decided what you’re going to wear?” my boss asked at work today. “What?” I asked. “What you’re going to wear to the wedding,” he said. “Oh. I don’t know.” “Are you going to go to the wedding?” “I don’t know.” “Do you know anything?” “I don’t know. I wish I did.” Mom called me this evening. “How are you doing?” she asked. I know she cares. But I don’t want to be honest. It bothers her. “I’m good,” I said. “Are you taking your medicine?” she asked. I fondled the bottle of Abilifi sitting on the kitchen counter. Unopened. “Yeah.” “Is it helping you? Are you feeling happy?” “Yeah,” I lied. “That’s what normal people feel like.” That is another thing I wish I knew: what normal people feel like. “You know we love you,” my mom said. “You know I love you, too.”

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Mom says normal people are happy. I don’t think so. The only ones who can face this world and see it for what it is are the only ones who do not know happiness. Those who are happy are ignorant. They are naïve. They believe the world to be something it is not. They have been indoctrinated by Disney and story-books and magical stories of faraway places. They have been brainwashed, and they have allowed their perceptions of the world to be skewed and disoriented through the lens of fairytales. The real world is ugly, it is bitter, it is filled with suffering. This is what the real world looks like: “What you want, you can’t have; what you have, you can’t keep; and that which you love will be taken from you.” I want Hope, but I cannot have her. I had Hope, but I could not keep her. I loved Hope, and she was taken from me. ∑Ω∑ They sat on the polished bleachers in Ludlow, Kentucky, on the banks of the Ohio River. Little children played on the playground, mothers watching them. Several kids in a Little League baseball team practiced on the dirt ball field: throwing baseballs, swinging metal bats, eating sunflower seeds and spitting in the dugout to look cool. He sat there with his arm around her. The warm spring breeze ruffled their hair. The first warm-front had come through, and everyone, it seemed, was taking advantage of it, leaving their houses and apartments and dorms and condominiums, walking the streets and taking dogs to the park and breathing deep the sacred air, refusing to believe the weather report that it was but a phantom to recede like a glacier back into the ice-carved mountains. “What are you thinking?” he asked. “I’m thinking my dreams might be coming true.” “Oh? And what dreams are those?” “Fall in love. Have a family. Be a mom and a wife.” “My dreams are coming true, too.” “And what are those?” “Fall in love. Have a family. Be a dad and a husband.” She squeezed his hand, kissed him on the cheek. “You’re wonderful.” “You’re wonderful, too.” He meant it. He meant it more than he had ever meant it before. As they drove away, she kept smiling. “Why are you smiling?” he asked. “I don’t know. I just feel like smiling.” “There’s no reason?” She piped, “I’m just smiling cause I’m happy.” He returned the smile. “I’m happy, too.”

Anthony Barnhart


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He had picked her up at her dorm. Rain-clouds had been building all evening, and as he stood in the lobby, waiting for her, the rain began to fall. She came down the steps from her floor, and he had been absolutely mesmerized. The yellow dress wrapped around her slender waist, and it was low-cut, revealing her small breasts. She bit her lip as she descended, and when she reached him, she took his hands in hers. He had spent two hundred dollars on his tuxedo, but faced with her beauty, he suddenly as if he were dressed in rags. She’s so beautiful. She leaned forward and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Are you ready?” she asked. “It’s raining,” he said. “I didn’t… I didn’t bring an umbrella.” “It’s all right. We’ll just have to run to the car.” He pointed at her feet. “Can you run in high-heels?” “Probably not,” she said. She bent down, took them off, handed them to him. “On the count of three?” he asked, opening the door. “One, two, three!” she shouted, giggling, and raced out the door. He chased her to the car, fumbled for his keys in the rain, opened the door, helped her inside. He ran over to his side and got in, shut the door. The rain tapped delicately on the roof. Hope shook her head back and forth, droplets of water spinning through the air. He laughed: “You look like a dog.” She gasped, playfully slapped him. “I meant by how you were shaking your head!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t mean…” She squeezed his arm. “I know. But you’d better watch what you say. If you call me a dog in front of your friends at the dance, then I’ll probably have to kick your ass. You wouldn’t like that.” “Not as much as you would,” he said with a wink. They drove three miles to the ballroom at the theater in Eden Park. There were limousines parked in front of the one-way entrance. He looked over at her. “I couldn’t afford a limousine.” “It’s fine,” she said. “I’ll bet most of those guys are jocks who had their rich parents pay for their ride. They spend their money on alcohol and tennis shoes and sports cars. You’re far more of a man than any of them are.” He parked the car as close to the entrance as he could. “Wait here,” he said. She undid her seatbelt. “Where are you going?” “To get an umbrella.” He left and returned with one he borrowed from someone inside. He opened the door, extended his hand. She grabbed his hand and swung her leg out, stood. RIP. The sound seemed extraordinarily loud. Hope looked down, saw a great rip in the swell of her dress. “Shit!” she exclaimed. His heart broke; she looked as if she were about to cry.

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She whined, “I can’t go to the prom like this! Everyone will make fun of me. And this dress was fucking expensive.” “It’s all right,” he said. “No one will say anything.” “Take me home,” she said. “Hope…” “I don’t want to be embarrassed!” she shouted at him. “All right,” he said. “Okay.” He shut the door, leaving her in the car, and he returned into the building. The dance was just beginning, a disco ball showering its light over the dance floor. Couples held hands and started dancing. Fruit punch was being offered in the corner. He had been looking forward to this for days, and now it all came crashing down. He handed the umbrella back to the lender, and he returned outside, tried to calm down his nerves, got inside the car, started the engine. Hope was in tears, running her fingers over the rip. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s not your fault.” “I’m still sorry.” They made their way towards her house in silence. Suddenly he took another road, heading out of town. She eyed him. “Where are we going? My house is back that way.” “I know,” he said. “But…” “It’s a surprise. Okay?” Something sparkled in her eyes. Excitement. “I like surprises.” “I’m hoping you’ll like this one.” “I’m going to beg you to tell me, but you’d better not.” “I won’t.” “Promise?” “I promise.” “Pinky swear?” He offered her his pinky. “Pinky swear.” She took it, wrapped hers around his, released. “So…” “Don’t ask.” “What is it? What’s the surprise?” He shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you.” “But,” she cooed, “I’m begging you!” He grinned, was resolute. “Nope.” “Please…” “I said ‘No’, Hope. ‘No’ means ‘No’.” She crossed her arms, scowled. “You’re a jackass.”

Anthony Barnhart


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They crossed the Brent Spence Bridge and entered Kentucky. They drove down the highway for a while, the sprawl of northern Kentucky turning into rolling wooded hills on either side. The rain became more intense, and lightning fought in the skies above, locked in epic yet ephemeral battles. He took the exit towards Big Bone Lick State Park, and after navigating the narrow and winding road for a while, he pulled into a gravel drive. An old graveyard next to a decrepit and abandoned Primitive Baptist Church. “Wait a minute,” she said, looking around. “This is a graveyard.” “I know,” he said. “This isn’t Halloween. There could be creepers out here.” “It’s raining. No one’s out here.” “What about zombies?” “Zombies aren’t real. You know that.” “They could be one day.” He laughed. “You think what you want to, okay, Sweetie?” He leaned forward in his seat, twisted the knob on the radio, turned up the music. She recognized the lyrics: “Our Song” by Taylor Swift. “Is this our song?” she asked. “It could be,” he answered. “If you wanted it to be.” “I didn’t say that,” she said. “Okay.” They listened to the song together. He opened the door, stepped out into the rain. Hope shouted at him: “It’s raining!” He didn’t answer her. He moved around to her side of the car, opened the door. She shook her head. “No. I’m not getting out.” “Come on.” “I said, ‘No’.” “Your dress is already ruined.” “You’re going to get your suit wet.” “It’s already wet. Come on.” She said, mocking him: “‘No’ means ‘No’.” He grabbed her hand, pulled her out. She stumbled out of the car, and he held her in the rain. She didn’t protest. They began to dance, the rain falling around them, the tombstones silent. She almost complained once, but she didn’t even finish her sentence. The song continued to play, muffled through the speakers, and with the lightning dancing overhead, they looked into one another’s eyes, raindrops crawling down their cheeks. Their lips graced each other’s, and they kissed in the rain, clothes soaked. She was totally lost in the moment, and she knew nothing except him holding her, and she knew that the dance in the rain, in the middle of the graveyard, was far better than anything she could have experienced in the ornate ballroom of Eden Park. The ruined yellow dress was well-worth every minute of it.

Anthony Barnhart


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∑Ω∑ My little sister came over this afternoon. She goes to school at U.C. This fall semester is her first semester there. She had knocked at the front door, but I was outside so I didn’t hear it, so she went around the back of the apartment complex and found me on my patio outside. I was smoking a cigarette. She doesn’t like it when I do this. I kept smoking the cigarette, then held it up in-between two fingers: “Is this okay?” “What?” she asked. “Yeah. It’s fine. I’m not going to harass you about it.” “Okay,” I said, still smoking. She took a seat in one of the fold-out lawn-chairs. “Mom’s worried about you.” “I know. She called me yesterday. She only calls when she is worried.” My little sister was quiet for a moment. “You’ll find ‘The One.’” I didn’t say anything, then, “Do you like Disney movies?” She seemed surprised. “Sure. I mean, yeah. Some of them.” “Hope loved ‘Beauty & the Beast’. We always said that she was the Beauty and I was the Beast.” I looked over at her. “What’s your favorite?” “‘Cinderella’,” she told me. “Mom and I used to watch it together all the time.” I took another hit off the cigarette, ashed it down at my feet, said, “I used to think ‘The Little Mermaid’ was real. But then I learned it was just a fairy-tale. And now I wonder how I ever believed the story was real. That’s like life, you know?” I smothered the cigarette against my jeans and then put the butt in my pocket. “Fairy-tales never leave us. Maybe they morph into something different, or take on a new face, make themselves out to look more realistic… but they’re always there. We’re drawn to these fairy-tales. Hope draws us to them, I think. I mean, all fairy-tales have the essence of hope, hope that a bad world can be good, and that a good world can be better; this hope ignites something deep down inside of us, and we hold onto these fairy-tales as if they were lifebelts. When we learn that our Mother Goose fairy-tales weren’t real, we replaced them with different fairy-tales, fairy-tales that seem more possible and even more profitable. We begin to believe these fairy-tales and fail to differentiate between fact and fantasy.” She fidgeted her fingers. “I don’t really know what you’re saying.” “I believed in a fairy-tale,” I told her, looking into her dark chocolate eyes. “I believed in a fairy-tale that goes something like this: ‘There was a lonely man who longed for the perfect woman, the woman he was meant to be with, and one day she walked into his life, sparks flew, love ignited, they got married, and they lived happily ever after.’ I was a fool to place hope in this being real for my own life. I’ve spent days and months and years wasting my time waiting for this ‘one true love.’ Sure, some people get lucky and find it. But for most of us—and especially for me—this idealized fantasy never actually becomes a reality. And while this fantasy might bring hope, it also brings with it disillusionment. When that woman doesn’t show up when we round age 20, or age 30, or age 40, we exclaim, ‘My princess has not come! Where can she be?’ And so we just keep waiting longer and longer, and our life drips from us, and we die one day realizing that everyone who lives will someday die, and die alone. And this also plagues us when we date. There is someone with a great personality and great charm, but the person isn’t the model of attraction; so we say, ‘No, this isn’t the one for me, because my future

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spouse is going to be marvelously attractive!’ And we get lured into that false belief and give good guys the boot.” I lit up another cigarette and continued: “And as the days go by, we become more and more disillusioned, until finally we succumb to either rationalization or desperation. We get married, have kids, and when difficulties come—and they will by necessity of the essence of marriage and raising a family—, and when some of the feelings fade, when there are things about our spouse we’d like to change, we have the idea that we somehow messed up or missed out on the one whom we were meant to be with. We missed the prince for the pauper, I guess you could say. And so comes a whole host of emotions. Resignation. Futility. Stoicism. We become numb to love because it never matched our fantasy’s description of what it means to love and be loved.” My little sister is gone. She has a party to go to. So I am alone again. I sit at the dining room table and look out the large bay window but see only my reflection enshrouded in the darkness beyond. Night is drawing earlier now. I look at my reflection and I see someone else. I see my eyes sunken, my lips etched into a scowl, my brow wrinkled, lines drawn like fishing nets across my weathered cheeks. I am already that man in the diner. I am already living that life. And I will continue living it forever. There is no such thing as dreams come true. I was an idiot for ever putting stock in such a lie, in such a fairytale, in such an illusion. I sit and I look at my reflection and I wonder what Hope is doing right now. I wonder if she is with Adrian, if they are sitting in a restaurant somewhere, sharing glasses of wine; I wonder if they are standing in their new townhouse, their shadows draped over the crib decorated with dinosaur sheets and the toys clipped to the wooden bars; I wonder if they are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and I wonder if he is pressing his hand against her round tummy, and I wonder if their child is kicking in her womb. ∑Ω∑ The city of Cincinnati was spread out before them. The trees ripe with spring leaves swayed back and forth in the calm breeze, and the moon smiled upon their infatuation. He held her in his arms as they sat upon the blanket. She rested her head on his shoulder, and he stroked her hair. She turned, looked at him, eyes seductive and yet reassuring: “You are safe with me,” she seemed to say. They began to kiss. Quietly. Gently. And then more passionate. Their lips danced and entwined. He sucked on her lip, then moved to her neck, wonderfully nibbling. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight. She pulled away, pressed her forehead against his, their noses touching, her eyes sparkling. “No one’s around. We can do it, if you want.” Her offer, so tempting. “I don’t want you to think that I’m like the other boys.” “I don’t think that,” she said. “You’ve already proven you’re not like all the others.” They continued to kiss. She begged him. “Please? I can show you so much.” His mouth went dry at the idea. “I want to… I really do… But I don’t want you to hurt.” She ran a finger across her cheek. “I know you’re not like the others.”

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He grinned, kissed her. She began to rub his groin. He could feel her hand through his pants. The pleasure… He could not control himself. The desire… Too great. He rubbed her slender legs. She squeezed her legs tight around his hand. It felt so warm between her legs. The rough jean fabric sent shivers through his hand. She lied down, and he crawled up beside her, kissing her sweetly on the lips. His fingers danced around the belt of her pants, and he tried to reach down inside, but it was too tight. She smiled and kissed him back, flattening herself out. He could get his fingers through the loose belt of her pants. He felt the strap of her panties, and he slid his fingers underneath. He felt the hair along the crest of her vagina, soft and warm. His fingers continued to crawl, and he felt the crevice. He reached inside, probing, and then he found it: his finger slid in, and he felt the warmth and the wetness. He slid his fingers in and out, felt her clit, tickled it with his finger. She gasped, and they continued to kiss. Her back arched, and she groaned in pleasure. He felt his fingers inside her, and his heart sprinted a marathon behind his ribs. She pressed her face into his cheek, her hair dappling around her face. Her chest quivered with each breath and with each heartbeat. “God,” she breathed. “I love you so much…” He kissed her. “I love you, too.” She took several deep breaths of air. He laid down next to her on the blanket. The stars twinkled above Cincinnati. She was not satisfied. “Do you want to?” she asked, kissing his neck. He stroked her bare stomach under her punk t-shirt. Her skin was so smooth, so delicate, and he felt her bellybutton rising and falling with her every succulent breath. “We can’t…” He wanted to. He wanted it more than anything. But he couldn’t… He couldn’t… “Please,” she pleaded. “I can make you feel so good…” He was breaking. He thought, Why must she pressure me so much? Her words were so tempting. “Please…” His insides churned. He wanted it so badly. “Maybe we can just lie naked together…” “Okay,” she said, sounding a little defeated. They moved off into the bushes, laying out the blanket. He sat down and pulled off his shirt. He began working on his pants and she began to undress. He found himself absolutely stunned at her beauty. She pulled off her shirt, revealing slender bare arms, her wonderful neck, the stomach that spoke volumes of temptations. Her breasts unfolded as she unsnapped the bra and laid it aside. She lied down next to him as he shimmied off his pants, revealing his bare legs. He began pulling down his boxers, finding his penis hard, and she undid the latch on her belt and kicked off her jeans. He could see the rise of her vagina underneath her panties as she pulled those off, sliding them from her legs. She crawled up next to him, and they lied naked together. He held her close, feeling her warmth, her breath on his neck.

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She wrapped her leg around him. Her breasts pushed into his chest. Their bodies brushed against one another. She bit her lip. “So… Now what?” They began to kiss once more, bodies falling into the rhythm. She saddled him. He laid back, his hands upon her bare waist. “Are you ready?” she asked. He looked deep into her eyes. Their souls connected. “I’m ready if you are.” She positioned herself, taking his penis into her hands, and slid it inside her. The warmth and wetness sent pleasure streaking through him. The greatest thing he had ever felt. Her lips trembled as she began to move atop of him. Her breasts swayed back and forth as she rode him. She pressed her hands against his chest, squeezed, head back, spine arching. She whispers his name. He thrusts as well. His one hand strokes her bare arm, and with his other hand he strokes her cheek with his finger. She moved faster. She hung her head down, staring at him, lips hung open, eyes wide in pleasure. She groaned and squeezed her legs tight against his waist. PLEASURE screamed in his ear. She let out a cry and lied down on top of him, breathing hard. “Did you go?” he asked. She nodded, continued to move. He wrapped her arm around her back, felt her spine. Her stomach lied on his, and her breasts fell upon his chest. She pressed her face against his, and he could feel her sharp breathing. Their heartbeats whispered in synch. He was now on top of her. She ran her fingers across the side of his stomach. Her breasts jiggled with each thrust. He would slide out slowly, then thrust in hard, and each time her back would arch, she would let out a faint cry, her eyelids would flutter. He lied down on top of her, propped up by his elbows, his fingers running through her chocolate hair. He kissed her lips tenderly, and their lips collided as she opened her mouth with yet another orgasm, thrusting her vagina harder and harder against him. They experienced orgasm at the same time. He let out a cry and lied down on top of her, feeling her sweat, tasting her sweat as he kissed between her breasts—the most delicious taste. He lied his head upon her breasts and took several deep lung-fulls of air. She stroked the curves of his back and kissed her forehead. He felt dizzy, lightheaded, void of all energy. He just wanted to lie there, to fall asleep naked in her magnificent arms. “Did you like it?” she whispered in his ear. He brought his head up, smiled at her. “Yes. Did you?” “Yeah,” she said, biting her lip once more. “I did.”

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They kissed once more. She rubbed her fingers along his upper arm. “You’re amazing. Have I told you that before?” “You’re so beautiful. It doesn’t matter how many times I say it. It never changes.” They lied naked under the stars, wrapped in one another’s gentle embrace. She leaned onto her side, stroked his stomach. “Do you think we’ll be together forever?” He ran his fingers through her hair. “I hope so. Or what the hell is this life all about?”

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IGNEUS Do you know what I’m afraid of? I’m so afraid. I never thought I would say this to you: I am afraid of being alone. This fear haunts me, eats me, and consumes me, day in and day out, judging and liquidating my every move. I fear, so badly, never having anyone. I fear growing old, cold, and alone, never tasting love, and dying alone and forgotten in a decrepit hospice, those whitewashed tombs. I am so afraid I will never taste the kiss of a girl or feel the warmth of her body close; I am so afraid I will never be the focus of sparkling eyes and a tender touch and shy smiles. I fear never being loved, only watching others parade in fashion, hungering and thirsting and crying in my own silence. I can’t rationalize my fear away; you can’t rationalize the fear of snakes or spiders, and my life’s history gives no alternate meaning: “No one wants you, and all who might want you will be taken from you.” I am left alone, unwanted, watching my friends and their girls, watching the object of my passion for so long taken by a best friend—and he forgets me For so long I’ve lain alone at home in bed as my friends went out with all those who shared affection. I don’t want sex or making out. I want someone to talk with, someone to hold close, a girl who doesn’t shiver at my sight but draws near, finding comfort and refuge in my arms. When she cries, I want to hold her. When I cry, I want her to hold me. I am a romantic shunned, looking around and seeing sex-mongers cheating the romance out of girls, leaving them hollow, sluttish shells—the rape of all good and true. I want a girl so badly, a genuine and authentic, loving and cherished, a beautiful and captivating girl to find a hiding place in my love, to cry no more. I want to go to candlelit dinners, to hold her by a fire, to feed off her warmth under the stars, to whisper in her ear, “I love you. It will be okay.” Everyone has dreams. Dreams are a virus, and all are susceptible to its infection. Most of my friends from High School dreamt of one day being in a famous band. Another planned on acting her way onto Broadway. My dream, while sounding to be the simplest, seemed to me to be the most difficult. All I’ve ever wanted—what I’ve always wanted to accomplish in my life—is to become a good husband and a good father. This dream has always had a tendency to elude me, however, for I have not been blessed with incredibly good looks, a witty sense of humor, nor a remarkable charm. All throughout High School I was just your average kid with a weird personality who read dinosaur textbooks in study hall. I was often teased, but it never bothered me. I had bigger dreams than the potheads who would throw pencils at me. I would be able to keep my head high, pushing forward with joy towards this dream, but at times it ate me away to the point of my near entire intoxication. Is it not strange that something so simple would provoke so much pain and suffering? Is it not strange that such a simple dream could be so hard to catch, like a sunfish writhing in the palm of your hand and then eluding the grasp of your fingers and splashing into the water and

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disappearing into the depths amidst the watermilfoil and pondweed? All I’ve ever wanted is a simple life. I desire laughter and friendship and love. I desire a girl who loves me, a girl whom I love, to spend the rest of my life with. I desire an end to the quiet “Hellos” instead of hugs, an end to being ignored instead of greeted, an end to being met with cold stares and empty hearts. I used to believe that because I desired it, it would come to fruition. I was enslaved by a fairytale. I have died, I have resurrected, and I face the world with new light and wisdom: “There is no such beast as a dream come true.” ∑Ω∑ Relationship, Part III (Florida) ∑Ω∑ The white sand beaches and the crabs crawling along the surf at night and the steady drum of the waves breaking and cresting, these are the sights and sounds that barrage me in my every waking and sleeping moment. I cannot truly and adequately put into words what I felt as we sat on that beach with the sand between our toes and the fireworks blossoming overhead; it was a feeling quite unlike anything I’ve experienced, the exact polar opposite of what runs through my veins now. I had felt peace, joy, contentment, satisfaction, hope. “What do I have now?” Nothing but restless nights, an aching hole in my heart, an empty futility underscoring my every word and thought and action, and above all: hopelessness and despair. I used to believe in a thing called hope, and I believed it with a belief as strong as the love I had for Hope—no, the love I have—for Hope. But my worldview was shattered: I have come to the castle of knowledge, and the ivory tower gives me a vantage point over reality that I had not, at the time, had. Hope is a lie. And Hope was a bitch. But I still love her. Mom called me as I was getting ready for bed. “How are you doing?” she asked. “I’m fine,” I told her, standing before the bathroom mirror, looking into my own reflection. “The wedding is this Saturday,” she told me. It felt as if a knife were thrust into my gut and twisted up into my throat. “Yeah.” “Maybe you shouldn’t go.” “She wants me to be there.” “She told you that?” “She sent me an invitation.” “She’s probably just being nice.” “I don’t know.” “Maybe you could come up to our house for the weekend.” “I have to work Friday night and Sunday morning.” “Maybe you could just come up for the day.” “You don’t want me to go to the wedding?” “You haven’t seen her for nearly six months.” “I know.”

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“You’re doing so well…” She had no idea. “…And I don’t want this to be a setback for you.” “I don’t think it will change anything.” “At least you’re being optimistic.” She obviously didn’t understand what I meant. I saw her every day in my mind, and every night in my dreams. How would seeing her in person be any different than the memories that are so real? It is Tuesday night. I am sitting here in the dining room, my left arm wrapped in bandages, clutching a Marlboro Red in my fingers. I am tired. Exhausted. Drained: physically and emotionally. She came into the café today. She didn’t know I worked there; if she did, she wouldn’t have come. They came through the front doors and I looked up while making a latte, hearing the bell in the door chime, and I saw them standing there, looking for a place to sit. The world grew dark and dim, and all noise dissipated, and the shot of espresso went bad in the bottom of the paper cup. I just stared at them—“The perfect couple!”—and felt as if some sort of poison had rushed through my veins and entered my heart and then spread to my brain, rotting away at the brain stem and turning me into a vegetable who could only look and stare. Their eyes swept around the coffee shop and came to me. Both of them seemed startled. Adrian went and found a table, sending Hope up to deal with me. I turned and went back to the espresso machine and fixed another shot and finished the latte, and when I turned around to take her order, I tried not to notice the bulge in her tummy. The child growing in our womb. I remembered when we had discussed what we would name our baby; “Let’s name her Kira, if she’s a girl,” I had said; Hope told me, “And if it’s a boy, let’s name him Tristan.” She stood before the counter, and her face flushed red, and the blush was met with my own warming face. I asked her what she wanted. She spoke. I remembered that voice, a voice present up to that point only in memories and dreams; now the voice came again, as sweet as ever, though laced with an arsenic of apprehension. She wanted a café mocha, and he wanted an iced caramel macchiato. I took her money and rang her out and told her I’d get it ready for her. I fixed the drinks, and she waited at the counter, not saying anything. When I delivered the drinks, she spoke. “Are you coming to the wedding?” I didn’t know what to say. I looked down at my feet. I tried not to cry. “We both want you to be there,” she said. I looked up. “I don’t know. I may have to work.” My boss came by. “When? Saturday? You asked off, remember?” I hung my head again. Hope nodded. “Okay,” she said, and she took her drinks and left.

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PATER PATRIS The phone call had awakened him. He groped blindly about the room until he found the phone. He hit the ANSWER button and lifted it to his ear. “Hello?” He could hear her heavy breathing. She said his name. He propped himself up on one elbow. “Hope? What’s wrong?” He heard a sniffle. “I’m sorry…” “Hope,” he said, suddenly awake. “Is everything okay? Are you hurt? Where are you?” “I’m okay,” she said. “I’m fine.” “Well. What’s wrong? You don’t sound like everything’s fine. Did something happen?” “Yeah.” “Okay,” he said. “What happened?” Silence. “You can talk to me, Hope, okay? You can talk to me.” In a few moments, her words, dark and cutting: “I’m pregnant.” Time became suspended. Her words echoed like an incessant cymbal in his mind. He suddenly felt nauseas as the terror of what had happened rustled through him. A million thoughts sprinted through his head, the most poignant being, Why in the hell did you have to ejaculate inside of her?! He talked to Hope for several hours over the phone until he drove over to her house in the morning. She opened the front door for him, and they were quiet as she fixed macaroni and cheese with BLTs. He kept looking at her slender stomach, imagining the result of their procreation growing within her; he averted his gaze whenever she looked towards him. They ate quietly at the table. Birds sang outside in the spring air. He didn’t have much of an appetite, but he ate all his food anyway. “We need to talk about this,” Hope said. Bags hung under her eyes. “I know,” he said. “What do you think I should do?” He didn’t answer for a few moments, spinning his fork among the cheesy crescents. “Do you think I should get an—” He looked up, glared at her. “Don’t even talk about that.” She bit her lip. “Okay.” More silence as they ate. “Want to watch a movie?” she asked. “We need to have this baby,” he said finally, setting down his fork. “Have the baby?” Hope repeated. “You really want to have the baby?” “Yes.” “We can’t afford it. We’ve only been dating for a few months.”

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“It’s the right thing to do.” “I don’t know…” “It’s the right thing to do, Hope. And you know it.” The initial shock and subsequent fear of the realization evolved into excitement. He and Hope began making preparations. His current job wouldn’t gather enough income for them to start a family, and Hope didn’t have a job, so the balancing of finances fell upon her shoulders. They grew closer over the next few weeks, and she began to bulge. Not extremely, only slightly; “My mom didn’t even get big when she was pregnant with me,” Hope informed her worried boyfriend. He brought up the concept of marriage, but she quickly pushed him away: “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” He was content with having the baby without marriage, but he constantly wondered what his parents would have thought. He had grown up believing in Heaven, indoctrinated by a small Baptist church on Lehman Avenue. Somewhere along the lines he had stopped caring about religion. But he knew his parents would shake their heads in disappointment the moment they found out. He met Hope one morning outside her house. He went to the door and found her dressed up and pampered, looking stunning and professional for a flurry of job interviews. Her face glowed, and the smile that traced across her lips was contagious: he found himself smiling, too, despite having to wake early on his only day off. “I dreamed we had a baby girl,” she told him. “And it made me so happy!” Her words began a transformation within him. The nervousness and stress were replaced with a brimming excitement. He would be a Daddy! He began reading books on parenting, reading magazine articles on how to be a good dad. He would go the Barnes & Noble on Interstate 71, on the east side of Cincinnati, and read such books for hours while sitting in the overstuffed chairs. His heart leapt at the sound of Hope’s voice and the sight of her slightlyround tummy. He wanted to get married, but he knew Hope didn’t want it. He knew why: her father had married her mother at an early age, and after having a couple children, had abandoned all of them. He imagined she figured he’d do the same, and maybe she hoped that not getting married would make it easier to bear. He decided to go along with her, and he would show her—with marriage, or without—what true dedication meant. He would show the girl who believed “love is a hoax” that “love is completely real… so forget anything that you have heard.” Hope asked him one evening at MCDONALD’S, “Are you going to tell your little sister?” “What?” he asked, dipping a nugget in Sweet & Sour sauce. “Of course I’m going to tell her.” “What will she think?” “She’ll be excited.” He sipped from his Diet Coke. Hope chewed on some fries. “When are you going to tell her?” “Soon,” he promised.

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They had gone out to Mt. Echo the next night. Some young boys were playing basketball on the hoops, and he and Hope, hand-in-hand, were returning to their car beside the basketball court just as dusk began to fall. The crickets and cicadas came alive in the late spring, and the sun’s last bursts of radiant light painted a canvas of reds and oranges and yellows across the cloudstreaked sky. They were nearing his car when the kid with the basketball jumped in front of them. He guessed he was around fifteen or sixteen years old. His eyes were bloodshot and his blood sterile. Drugs. He laughed hysterically, shouted, “Catch!”, and hurled the basketball right at Hope. She didn’t have time to react as the basketball punched her in the stomach; she buckled over and fell onto the pavement, dragging his arm down with her. He began stepping towards the boy, his veins running thick with anger, but the first scream tore him on his heels. His eyes went wide and his face ashen to see Hope lying on the pavement, hands wrapped tight around her stomach, her mouth opened in a venomous scream. The other basketball players began to gather around, and the one who had thrown the basketball continued laughing, tears of joy sliding down his cheeks. The boyfriend fell down next to Hope, ran a hand through her hair. “What’s wrong?” he demanded. “Hope. What’s wrong?” She continued screaming Bloody Mary. “I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong…” One of her hands had slid underneath her pants, and she withdrew it. Blood sparkled on her fingertips. He suddenly understood. The world slowed, and all he could hear were Hope’s screams and his own savage heartbeat. He could only be informed by the police—who let him go, seeing the trauma that had been induced by the drug-stricken boy—of what he did next. He couldn’t remember. Something within him snapped, and he lurched from the pavement, and in a few moments had reached the hysterical boy. The boy protested with his hands, but he fought through them; he grabbed the boy by the collar of the shirt and swung him into the side of the car. The boy shouted as he pulled him back and thrust his head into the glass window: the window shattered, and the boy screamed, and he kicked him in the groin before pushing him away. The dying sunlight reflected off the shards of glass embedded in his face, the blood running down his chin and neck, and his screams blended like a wicked symphony with Hope’s wails. Some of the other boys moved forward to defend their friend. Tears streamed down his face as he sobbed, “You killed our baby…” The boys paused, stared at one another with ashen faces. None moved forward. He knelt down beside Hope, pulled her into his arms. He held her shaking body tight against his, her chest heaving with broken sobs. Through his own salt-burning tears, he didn’t turn his gaze from the boys. The druggie tried to apologize, but the boy only flicked him off. The boys stood in a regretful half-circle around him and the girl; none moved forward, none backed away. The moment was suspended in time. Ravens cried out in the distance. ∑Ω∑ I decided to come to the diner. I paced around in my apartment and emptied the rest of my cognac and then drank coffee and sobered up. I left the apartment complex and went down the road to the viaduct and got on Route 50 East, and when I reached the Brent-Spence Bridge

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spanning the river, I drove across it and got off at 12 th Street and drove east until the road curved around a car-body detailing shop to intersect with Main Street and the diner. I parked my car and went inside and sat down at the booth and ordered a coffee. Now I am writing, and it is 10:45 at night. I have tomorrow off work, so I think I may just stay here all night and write. It doesn’t matter anyways: no one will ever read this journal, and it will eventually become frayed and the binding will loosen and the pages will scatter and carry up with the wind and be distributed to the four corners of the world. Perhaps they will land in the park, along the trails, and maybe someone will come across a single page caught in a crack in the wooden boards of the bridge, and they will read this book and wonder who I am and wonder what ever came of me. They may like to believe, perhaps in their fairytale world, that things got better: that I smiled again and laughed again and loved again. But these are just fairytale thoughts, little fantasies we concoct in our minds to escape the pain of reality. So I sit here and I write and my fingers hurt and my other arm hurts, and the bandages underneath my long-sleeved flannel shirt are sticky with blood. I don’t care. I write with my other hand, and so it doesn’t bother me much. It doesn’t bother me at all: it is a wonderful feeling: it makes me remember that I am alive. Father’s Day following the events at Mount Echo, when Hope and I lost our baby, was solemnly traumatic. I went to church with my parents and sister, and my dad told me how proud he was of his son. I just sat there and nodded. He thought I was a good little church boy; I haven’t been a Christian in years. I sat in the pew and watched babies being dedicated at the front of the church, and I had to get up and leave. I went into the bathroom and washed my face and looked at my own reflection, my empty eyes meeting even emptier eyes. I wanted to share that moment with Hope; not the moment in the bathroom, but standing before the congregation, side-by-side, holding hands, cradling our newborn infant in our arms. I would become a Christian if such were guaranteed; but nothing is guaranteed. Kira. Tristan. I stood in the bathroom and heard someone flush in one of the stalls, and he came out and washed his hands beside me and said hello and left before I could return the polite favor. I walked out of the bathroom and went outside and pulled out a pack of Basic 100s and began to smoke one. The flowers had budded and were spreading their petals, and so the earth denied what I knew to be so real: there is no such beauty in life. I walked to the side of the church and leaned against a car and smoked, and then the church bells rang and people began filing out, so I dropped my cigarette onto the curb and stomped it out and waited for Mom, Dad, and my little sister to come out. We went out to eat; I didn’t talk much. I often wonder: “What would have happened had we had our child? What would have happened had we not gone to Mount Echo that evening? What would have happened had my dreams come true?” We would have gotten married. Eventually. She would wear that wedding dress, and we would stand together, and our hands would be clasped, and soon our lips would be clasped, and there would be cheers and fireworks—fireworks just like there were on that sandy beach—and then we would run down the aisle and jump into a car and drive off to our

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honeymoon. We would lie in one another’s arms, our naked bodies entwined, and she would tell me, “I never want to leave,” and she would mean it, and it would be realized. We would go on walks and share in candlelit dinners and lie in bed at night and stare at the stars and just talk about life and how in love we are. We would go to parties and barbecues and retreats with friends and family. We would grow old together, and we would spend our retirement fishing, swimming, walking through the woods, gazing upon the sunrise and sunset, enjoying each new day, each new season, fresh and alive. We would live a simple life, a life of love and romance, a life of laughter and joy, the antithesis to what I now know to be true and authentic. We would watch our children grow older and bud families of their own, and I would spin stories for my grandchildren and fix them pancakes in the morning and let them taste coffee. I found in one of the pages of my black journal a poem she wrote for me. It has been taped inside, and the edges of the tape are frayed and worn. I’ll need to tape it back down. Here it is: Ever since I met you, life has not been the same; I know no longer the sorrows, tears, and shame. You have redeemed me from my darkest fears, Set me free from the chains that held me from love. But here I stand in your arms, feeling the warmth of your quaint Embrace, wondering how in the world I ever missed you In all those dark hours of searching for love. All this time you were right in front of me, And somehow I was blinded from the beauty you offered. What gift in the world is as precious as your affection, Your devotion, your splendor, your love? I trekked every ravine and climbed every canyon To find someone like you, and the moment I had given up On finding someone as wonderful as you, I learned that sometimes our dreams do come true. I am sitting in the diner and reading this over and over and trying not to cry. I remember when she gave it to me. How her eyes had sparkled and how her cheeks blushed as I read it. We had stood out on the street outside a coffee shop called Rohs Street, and soft jazz music floated out and tingled in my ears. I had finished reading the poem, and I looked up, and our eyes met, and she bit her lip, and I folded the poem and put it in my pocket and moved forward and reached out and pulled her close, and we kissed and the jazz music played, and that kiss was as electrifying as the electric eels that dwell in the coral reefs. I can remember that kiss so vibrantly now, as if it just happened—no, as if it is happening—and the sweetest memory becomes one of the most bitter. She had written me that poem, had handed it to me, had told me it was all true. It had been a lie. The next night she would be with Adrian, in his car. The next night would be the night I would find them.

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EFFUGIO It had once been an escape for him, after his little brother been killed, and it had become an escape for him once more. It distracted him from the deep and insufferable pain that consumed his heart: he felt as if his heart were bleeding, life dripping from his veins, and he found himself numb. This was the only way to feel alive once more: seeing his own blood, feeling it trickle down his arm, experiencing the pain as the razor cut deeply and easily; it brought a vibrance and energy that completely overcame him. Hope was gone, and for all purposes, the boy was gone, nothing but a hollow shell with no emotion save for that which haunted him. So the boy sat in the bathroom, the door locked, sprawled out in the tub, staring at the whitewashed ceiling with the green shower curtain cocooning him in his own little realm. He drew the razor against his upper arm, felt the flesh withering, and the warm blood inched down his arm, splattering in pools on the bottom of the porcelain tub. “What’s the point of living, when you’re living among the dead?” The blood was warm, and it chewed away at his coldness as the razor chewed away at his flesh. He took several deep breaths of air and clenched his teeth. He watched with wide eyes, unable to tear away from the beautiful yet grotesque sight: a mutilated arm. Each gentle caress of the blade in shaking fingers brought more pain and more pleasure. Hope become only a weak memory, a haunting specter visiting him in his weakest hours. “So many of these questions pounding in my head: Life brings Death, and Death brings Life.” He did not yet have the courage to embrace that final resolution, but this temporary solvent— the ointment of his own blood on dry and parched skin—was enough to keep him alive, if only by the skin of his teeth. He hung onto life by a few meager threads, and the resolution that seemed so distant drew closer with each flick of the blade. He closed his eyes and leaned back in the tub. He felt the blood snaking down his arm. Electrifying, brilliantly-red blood. Life flowing from his veins. He didn’t mind. His life had already left him: it abandoned him when his love had fallen into the hands of the back-stabber and betrayer; and any semblance of life had escaped him when he watched her get into his car and drive off by his side; and any hope of a dream come true, any hope of a perfect ending, was shattered with the brutal reality of existence: he would be at her wedding, but she would not be marrying him; she would be having a beautiful child, but it would not be his own.

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“As I stand here with a knife, the blade shaking in my palm, I beg of you: Give me one reason to live life on.” What else did he have? The answer is simple: all he had was the razor and the stillborn heart beating rebelliously behind his ribs. There is no rhythm, no reason, no rhyme to life. There is no destiny, and there is no fate. There is only chance. Mankind is a machine, a concoction of animal impulses delivered by biochemical reactions in the brain. There is no spark of divinity within the human creature; there is only its base animal instincts, and a “morality” programmed by society’s rules and regulations. The world came into being randomly, without reason, and by chance life developed, and evolved, and reached its “pinnacle” in mankind. But is mankind such a unique creature? How is he different than the others? Is he different because of emotions? But what are emotions? Fluctuations of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Is he different because he has the capability of love? Love is a farce, a manipulative force guided by selfishness and greed. One loves that which caters to him, that which answers his bidding and calling, and delivers the fulfillment of his needs. Tears streamed down the boy’s cheeks. The razor drove itself deeper and deeper. Beautiful, excruciating pain. The animal mutilated itself, finally understanding that his only duty was to survive—and when survival becomes tougher than resignation, it is his selfishness and greed that draws him to bring the blade to his wrist. “Through my wrist the knife goes, blood seeping down and covering my clothes. Through my death I find new life, and in death I escape the night.” He cut slowly at first, his pulse quickening. His palm was outstretched, fingers curled upwards like the legs of a dead spider. The blood ran down his wrist and pooled in his palm. A murky puddle reflecting the mask of what had once been an ambitious boy with hopes and dreams and aspirations; a boy who had selflessly given himself over to Hope; a boy who had been driven by the desire to love and be loved, a desire which became nothing but ash running between his fingers like sand in a sieve. “Slowly I get weaker, releasing all the thoughts in my head. But only one remains: ‘What’s the point of living, when you’re living among the dead?’” The razor dropped from his fingers. He took several deep breaths, feeling the blood flow. Something inside him snapped, a great and hovering fear. He clambered from the bathtub; his blood stained the green shower curtain red. He drew several thick swabs of toilet paper and wrapped his wrist. He sat upon the toilet, terror engulfing him. That great void of death, having

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seemed so distant and now seeming so close, filled him with great dread. He sat upon the toilet, feeling his heartbeat with his finger. For twenty minutes he sat there. His heartbeat grew weaker, then stronger. An hour passed. He slowly unwrapped the bloodstained toilet paper. Flicks of tissue stick to the deep cuts. He took a deep breath: he had not cut deep enough. He threw the bloody toilet paper into the trashcan and wrapped his bleeding wrist anew. The wounds were already beginning to clot. He left the bathroom and went into the kitchen, and he poured a drink of cognac and lit a cigarette. The bloodied razor blade sat abandoned in the tub.

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CALAMITAS Let me tell you how the world works. Let me enlighten you. I have made it my goal, my greatest desire, to shatter your precious little world where dreams come true and hopes are realized and destiny is a beautiful thing. This world we live in, this world that bathes in suffering and betrayal, is a world where dreams are shattered, where hopes are empty illusions, and where destiny—no, fate—is nothing but a cold-hearted bitch. This world does not cater to us; no, it seduces us, it beats us, and it rapes us. It leaves us broken and mauled and weeping and bleeding upon the pavement, in the rain, and the rain mixes with our wounds and our salty tears mix with the rain and we can do nothing but curl into a fetal position and hope to be found. But no one is looking for us. There is no such thing as a “Good Samaritan.” Not in this world. Not in reality. I had been fooled, I had been duped, I had been seduced. I believed that Hope and I were something beautiful—and we were—and I hoped that we would become something even more beautiful—this would never happen. Fate had other plans. The upward climb, where I seemed so closer and closer to my heavenly dreams and desires, became a spiraling free-fall, and I continue to fall, farther and farther from my hoped-for destination, deeper and deeper into impenetrable darkness, farther and farther down into a cold and sterile world of hewn stone and monolithic testaments to despair, decay, and death. Let me tell how relationships work. I am not talking necessarily about romantic relationships, but any type of relationships—romantic and platonic. JOURNAL ENTRY We are naïve if we believe that friendships last forever; they don’t. We are naïve if we think romantic relationships last forever; they don’t. Fate permits no such phenomenon. I believed, once upon a time, living in my fairytale world, that I would meet a great girl and fall in love. Well. I right. I did meet a great girl, and I did fall in love—but that love was taken from me. When it comes to romantic relationships, the name of the game is physical attraction. It’s how the game is played. I’ve seen great girls go for shitty, deuschbag men because they are goodlooking. And good guys—such as me—are ignored. The lyrics of the “Romance Sonnet” are Character, Personality, Virtues, Values. But the melody is Physical Attraction. If you’re not physically attractive, not gifted with a genetic melting-pot of admirable physical traits, then you can be one hell of a great guy and still be ignored. I hear girls complaining, “I just want to find a good guy, but they can’t be found!”, and I subsequently want to bitch-slap them (no pun intended) across the face, and I want to shout, “You’re surrounded by good guys, but you’re so shallow and so driven by your vagina that you ignore them!” Sometimes I just want women to shut up—but only the shallow ones. I’m no male chauvinist. Ultimately, I am just enraged at the way dating and romance works. I have always treated women right. I treated Hope right. But I’m misshapen, chubby, suffering from acne and red skin. So it doesn’t matter. I didn’t live up to her expectations—and you can tell me that it’s not true, but guess what? It is—and my

Anthony Barnhart


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roommate, that backstabber and betrayer, apparently did. Hope left me because I was not attractive enough, not funny enough, not charming enough, not handsome enough, not darkskinned enough, not skinny enough. She left me because I have been cursed with genes that disable me from being the kind of guy that girls are attracted to. I loved her. I cherished her. I dedicated and devoted myself to her. I served her with sacrifice and selflessness. I committed myself to her. But none of that mattered. Because I wasn’t the kind of man she could fall in love with. If anything, I was just a play-toy, manipulated into a sex-toy. To her, I was just another lousy fuck.

Anthony Barnhart


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VICTUS ABYSSUS Let me tell you how the world works. Let me enlighten you. I have made it my goal, my greatest desire, to shatter your precious little world where dreams come true and hopes are realized and

Anthony Barnhart


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