Summer 2018 | Issue 78
Editor's Note Dear readers, Welcome to the seventy-eighth issue of Atlantis! This is not “just” another issue of our magazine, but a new beginning. This is our first summer issue since 2015—and our first ever online-only issue. I couldn’t be more excited to introduce this magazine to you. In the past, we’ve had “The Current” on our website. It held any online content, like prose and blog posts, the first post dating back to the fall of 2015. After the fiction editor and I visited the College Media Association conference in Dallas, Texas back in October 2017, I decided that online blog posts weren’t enough for our incredible, talented writers. They deserved something more: an online issue. In this issue, you will find all online content from the past three years, as well as previously unpublished prose, poetry, art, and photography the editors accepted over the past academic year. Some of these pieces were written by current staff members before they were selected to be editors for Atlantis. Some of these pieces were created by artists who are no longer students in North Carolina but were at the time of submission and original publication. This online issue is special because it represents the culmination of years of creative work, and future online issues, though equally worthy of your attention, will not be as long as Issue seventy-eight. This issue is lengthy, but I recommend you stick through it all—you won’t regret it. I hope you enjoy this issue as much as our staff does. We’re excited for you all to have it on your computers and share it with the world. Cheers, Carey Cecelia Shook
Staff Carey Cecelia Shook Editor in Chief
Katherine O'Hara Managing Editor
Logan Prochaska Layout Editor
Rebekkah Leigh LaBlue Fiction Editor
Caleb Horowitz Copy Editor
Lindy Schoenborn Photography Editor
Autumn Taylor Wilson Art Editor
Patricia Patterson Nonfiction Editor
Spencer Conn Poetry Editor
Olivia Clifton Marketing Coordinator
Summer 2018 | Issue 78
a creative magazine
We look for all types of art, photography, prose, and poetry with a unique perspective. We want our readers to experience your mood and talent through your own brush, pen, and/or camera. Show us your most creative, innovative, and personal take on the expansive world around us. To submit to Atlantis, you must currently be an undergraduate or graduate student at any public or private university or community college in North Carolina. Contributors may submit up to ten pieces of art, photography, nonfiction, fiction, or poetry. Please follow the guidelines carefully. They can be found on our website at atlantismagazine.org/submit.
Editorial Policy For each genre featured in our magazine, there is an editorial staff comprised of a qualified genre editor and several UNCW student volunteers. All submissions are anonymously coded by Submittable before being thoroughly reviewed by the student staff. The submitterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s name is not disclosed until each editorial member has made final content decisions. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views and opinions of Atlantis and its staff members.
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Thank You To...
The Student Media Center, Bill DiNome, Student Media Board, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator, our wonderful volunteers, Britton Edwards, Loganne Van Veen, Janna Coleman, Rhianna Powell, Tyler Anne Whichard, River Bondurant and the previous staff of Atlantis who helped select these pieces.
Contents Nonfiction of a Young Prostitute 07 Portrait Nikki Kroushl
Poetry does a space become a 11 how place?
Hands Caleb Horowitz
Overeaters Anonymous Megan Larson
We Were Spatial Kaitlin Hanrahan The Basement Leah Becton
Standard Practice Jude Verrill
39 47 53
And Then March Came Joanna Stotts
Quiet Midnight Paula Earnes
Confession_ 11_03am, Riverbend Elementary Playground Threa Almontaser
Inheritance Evana Bodkier
A Secret Place Gabrielle DeSopo
In the Year of Strangers Becka Jackson The Art of Learning to Stop Making Lists All the Time. Or, An Old Movie. Lizzie Bankowski
65 Smile Tayleen HIll Art 13 Untitled Andrew Alekseev
The Moments Between Ariana Ehuan
Lilies Alaina Bubeck
The Diplomat Jason Rafferty
august and september Nikki Kroushl
Rinse Cycle Nikki Kroushl
Fiction Girl in the Corner 10 The Knox Gray
I See My Wife Jonny Berrios
Untitled Shelby Powell
Framing a Sunbeam Tiffany Ernst
The Golden Triangles Jillian Spina
Octopus AlexZandria Evans
Just a Drill Jess Cohn
Copper Pot Elise Gilbert
Page 78 Marcus Reefer
Silent Roads Casey Johnson
White Lies Angela Ciarletta
The Fourth Hearseman Caleb Horowitz
Untitled Heather Jensen
Mary the Hatchet Celeste Call
First Place September Patricia Patterson
Angles Audrey Gretz
Second Place Leaded/Unleaded Annastasia Pratt
Untitled Body Xiaoyin Chin
What the Eye Can See Hannah Lewis
First Place Dorothy's Wig, Behind the Seat Evan Seay
32 36 40
Somewhere in California Mason Godwin
Second Place Communion Tyler Anne Whichard
43 46 55
Tunnel Vision River Bondurant
Purple Escape River Bondurant
Untitled Sara Izzi
Untitled Erika Alatorre Teapot Kate McDuffie
Third Place Look Both Ways Lizzie Bankowski
Third Place Emergency Contact Lizzie Bankowski
Logs at Golden Hour Maddi Bowen Logs at Golden Hour Maddi Bowen
Cover Photography Leave a Note Nikki Netzer
Photography by Heather Jensen Spring 2017
Portrait of a Young Prositute Nonfiction by Nikki Kroushl Spring 2018
Our tour of the Red Light District started at seven. It was still light out when we walked away from the tulip-lined canals bordered by colorful, tall, narrow Dutch Renaissance townhouses. Their gabled facades were placid and charming, just like the tourist website described. In Amsterdam, it doesn’t take long to duck through a row of houses and suddenly find yourself on a street with more neon-lit sex shops than tulips hung in boxes along curved bridges. At seven, none of them were out. But after our tour guide brought us into a sex theater and gave us the option to spend two minutes watching live performers from a one-euro viewing box, a couple of them had set up shop. They are freelancers, our guide told us: they set their own rates and hours, and they rent out the spaces. The spaces were street-facing windows, floor-to-ceiling—glass doors, actually, but to me they looked like magicians’ boxes, ready to be covered with a silk shroud before the disappearing act. When the girls stood within them, leaning lazy against the frames, they looked like plastic Barbie doll boxes. And the women inside did look like Barbie dolls: they were absolutely perfect, groomed and made up with well-fitting, lacy lingerie. Despite my best efforts and the cognitive dissonance, I envied their bodies. We must have looked ridiculous—a pack of moonfaced tourists, barely holding our jaws closed as we stared at the women in the boxes. But they stared straight back at us—at me—unflinching. I was always the first to look away, to avoid eye contact. Freelancers, I thought again. That’s definitely the confidence you need if you’re going to make a sale. “I’ve lost some people a couple of times,” our tour guide said. “They stop and make a deal and disappear through the windows.” As our guide talked, I glanced through the alley to see a man stop at one of the glass doors. A minute later, after our tour guide finished telling us that the going rate was about one hundred fifty euros an hour, he had disappeared with the woman through the door at the back of the display room.
Hours later, my friends and I took the train back to the fairy tale suburban neighborhood where our Airbnb sat perched on a dijk between miniature canals. We passed the goat and chickens on the small farm, trekking to the backyard with the tiny one-room house. I put on my pajamas and climbed into an alcove bed next to the boy I had spent several nights of our trip drunkenly kissing. Europe seemed to be the place to go a little wild—to check off all kinds of things I didn’t even know I had on my bucket list: that drunken hookup, some drunken pole dancing, smoking a hookah, smoking a cigarette, going to class with a hangover, day drinking on a train, and gawking at prostitutes in Amsterdam. We shut the curtains, and he fell asleep quickly next to me, his broad shoulders taking up most of the small mattress. I cast my eyes up and back to the headboard wall. The owner had decorated it with a painting: a twelve-byfourteen canvas, a background of horizontal brush strokes in varying shades of gray. Overlaying the gray, the simple, perfect, curving lines of a woman’s silhouette in hot pink: hips, breasts, shoulders, the fold of her groin, the fall of her hair. No face. Our tour guide said, “Not everyone pays them for sex. I know one man who paid hundreds of euros to sit in a cabinet and have her kick it and scream things at him. A buddy of mine paid for an hour just to sit and ask questions so he could give a better tour…at least, that’s what he said he paid for.” Laughter. I think about a man knocking softly on a glass door, and when she opens it, him asking her if he can buy her time to pose for a painting. I think about her uncertainty as she reclines against a bed, naked but untouched. I think about her feeling more exposed in an abstract painting than she ever did in the glass window: stripped of her Barbie makeup, her face, the tiny bows on her bra and panties. Her body a set of shapes which no one will ever be able to identify as her. Her face a blank mask that could belong to anyone, anyone at all.
Mary the Hatchet
Photography by Celeste Call Spring 2018
Photography by Audrey Gretz Spring 2018
The Girl in the Corner Fiction by Knox Gray Fall 2015
I never told anybody about the girl in the corner. Her head hung low and past tears stained her cheeks. I took pity on her, or maybe it was the other way around. I shuffled over from the bar and took my place on the wall beside her. We stood there, parallel, never gazing at each other, staring off into some void only she could see. I thought about striking up a conversation, but the act didn’t quite feel right. If she wanted to talk, she would in her own time. My purpose was just to act as a buffer between her and whatever distress had caused the stains on her face. In a way, our brief relationship was one-sided. I went on as before while she sulked in her corner. Nobody would notice us in the corner; everybody had their own appetite to feed. I nursed my piss-poor beer and thought about that lilac-colored skirt that my sister wore in her early years. I don’t know what brought that skirt to my mind; maybe it was how, despite all the stains that it bore, the fabric was always pure. Being the jackass I was, I would muddy that skirt with the red clay that surrounded our house. I smelled the sickly smell of a cigarette burning. The girl had one in her wiry mouth and leveraged between her two fragile fingers. With one fluid motion, the cigarette dropped below her waist. She regarded me for the first time. To my untrained eye, she looked to be sizing me up. She didn’t run, so I guess I didn’t rate as a creep, but she didn’t acknowledge me further. My attention shifted to her porcelain fingers—perhaps it was the bright orange embers of the cigarette that drew my eyes down there. She was bleeding a murky red. The blood dripped off her fingertips and onto the stained tile floor. The blood seemed to come from her shoulders and back. The hairs on my neck stood on end. Whatever wound she had was worn with pride. She didn’t regard the blood; her eyes were bloodshot from smeared mascara, yet they still held a focus on what lay ahead of her. I followed her gaze but only saw the opposite wall. My mother looked this way once. I was about fifteen.
Mom was trying for another baby. God decided that the baby belonged to Him and didn’t let him stick around for more than a few minutes. My mom stared after him for a while. Dad played with us while she healed. This girl in the corner didn’t look like my mother, though. Her jaw was defined like a knife, while her eyes were deep and searching. She wasn’t looking for something lost. Healing wasn’t on her agenda that night. I could tell by the strong arch in her back. That cigarette was a sign. She was on the hunt to hurt herself. She was looking for something to gain. The cigarette was singeing her fingertips now. She callously tossed it to the floor. “You okay?” I asked. She looked into my eyes. For a second she regarded me neutrally. She must have sensed something in me, because then she gave a genuine smile. “I have no idea,” she responded. I smiled back. My mom said I had my father’s smile, a good man’s smile. When I pressed her to explain what that meant, she told me: “A good man’s smile takes no pride in its existence; it is humble and ready to help, no matter the cost.” The girl who I shared a corner with gave one more moment to me. She then touched my shoulder and tapped it with her ring finger. “Thank you,” she whispered. Looking into her deep eyes, I saw nothing. A barren landscape where my sympathy could never take hold. I thought of trying to help her, save her, but how can you save someone from themself? A cold feeling crept up my spine. A part of me wanted to hold her, to help her feel my warmth and sow that barren landscape with love. That’s when the guilt hit. Her bleeding seemed to slow down, but I now felt responsible for her wound. Even when I tried to be my best, the baser instincts kicked in. I pushed those instincts down. I had done my job; it was time for her to go.
how does a space become a place? poetry by jesse sawyer spring 2017
how does a space become a place? “What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value.” -Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place. when the shrimp boats glide into the spot where your wristwatch used to be; when the locusts’ hissy fit fades into white noise that pacifies you at night; when the resident momma gator slinks, slow and scabrous, out of your mind and into her scummy pond; when the scream of midday heat imprints itself on your skin, making temporary tattoos; when your bare feet stumble through memorization of how the boardwalk looks to the stars.
Photography by River Bondurant Fall 2017
Art by Andrew Alekseev Spring 2017 13
Hands Nonfiction by Caleb Horowitz Fall 2016
My palms are soft, and I wash them too often. It comes with the OCD. When it gets cold, they grow red and dry on the outside. My palms are a mottled pink and white, but during the marching band season, the raw brass from my trumpet stains them a sickly green that won’t come out in a single wash. When I sketch, the right side of my hand smudges the paper—gets covered in silvery graphite that runs down the side of my pinky to the wrist. My hands are the most colorful part of my body. Beneath the pink-beige backs of my hands are two freckles in identical places, just above the wrists. But above the left-hand freckle is a big, eyebrow-shaped scar from when my mom accidentally burned me on the stove as a toddler; she still feels guilty about it, but I don’t remember it at all. It’s faded into the hairy skin now, but it used to stand out. It’s how I learned to distinguish left from right. “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” –Sir Isaac Newton Each human hand contains twenty-seven bones, twenty-nine joints, and more than one hundred ligaments. Among these is the opposable thumb, the rarest and most versatile of appendages. Opposable thumbs are unique to Old World monkeys, apes, some marsupials, and, of course, humans. This opposable thumb is what separates a hand from a paw. And that little web of flesh in the cavity between the thumb and index finger is responsible for half of human history. It held the pen that signed the Magna Carta, the chisel that carved the David, the knife that slew Caesar. I wonder if my own hands have such power. I write fast, but sloppy. I never mastered the correct pencil grip, and my hands cramp up quickly. But years of standardized testing and essay prompts have taught them to conquer blank pages—to fill the empty lines with often-useless information. After finishing paragraphs, I shake my hands, wringing them out like towels, trying to shake fresh blood back into my fingers. Human fingers have almost no muscles of their own. Tendons within the fingers link them to muscles within the arms; hands are like puppets. The exceptions are the thenar and hypothenar muscles, the muscles in the palm controlling the thumbs and
pinky fingers, the most and least useful two fingers. Sometimes my hands write too fast, the squiggly shapes of halfformed letters jumping the blue lines on my college-ruled paper. Once, a high school teacher asked me to read an essay I wrote aloud, and I found myself unable to decipher my own messy writing. My hands are more wrinkled than they should be for my age, and I have no idea why. I’ve always loved to examine the cracks and furrows and little valleys. When I was younger, they dried out every winter, cracked, and bled. One day when I was in first grade, they were so cracked that a little blob of blood rose out of my skin and congealed atop my ring finger’s knuckle, between two small cracks of skin, like lava rising from between two diverging tectonic plates. I watched it harden, then touched it, fascinated with its sticky consistency. I was amazed at the possibility that such important parts of me could be so fragile. Human fingertips have some of the densest-packed nerves endings of the body, more sensitive even than our eyes. This is why the blind read with their fingertips. Why we reach, fingers first, into dark rooms, feeling for walls to ground us. When I flick the light switch off at night, I reach into that darkness, feeling for bedpost and sheet, comforter and pillow. Pull myself into sleep. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” – Isaiah 49:16 I think hands are the most personal thing we have. In prayer, I close my hands tight like a fist. When I’m nervous or angry, they ball up just the same. When I speak, I splay my fingers to make points, gesture enthusiastically, point, shape, create. When I’m nervous, my hands shake. Sometimes my fingers twitch without any reason. I do not believe in the reading of palms—in discovering someone’s future in the crinkles of their hands. But I look at them anyway, because I believe our hands hold traces of our past. Furrows and valleys of randomly arranged, pink-and-brown identity. Scabs and wrinkles, green stains, tendons, bones, skin, and hair. I can look at my hands, from the scar to the freckles to the graphite smudge to the cramped joints and twitching fingers and say “here.”
Photography by Xiaoyin Chen Spring 2018
I See My Wife Fiction by Jonny Berrios Spring 2018
She starts at the bottom of our oak tree. The vastness of the tree takes up most of the front yard—it makes our humble, three-bedroom house look like a giant’s forgotten toy. I don’t understand how she found the coat hangers. I look at my stoic-eyed wife as she gently picks one up and places it on the lowest limb. The doctor says she needs this, so I let her be. I stand in the driveway and look at my hands, the unproductive, calloused palms. I can’t remember the last time I held hers. The October wind blows Rose’s raven-tinted hair, and I realize how lucky I am. “Honey,” I say, “it’s getting dark. Don’t you think it’s time to call it quits?” But my question is unanswered. “Rose,” I say. I walk to her and place my hand on her shoulder. But she continues her project, and my words get lost in the wind. “Let her be,” flows through my head, then “she needs this.” “Well,” I say, “I’m going inside to make some coffee.” I almost ask her if she would like a cup, but I catch myself. The next morning, the left side of the bed is cold. I feel the dread of the day, and the utterly regretful actions that brought me to it. The toothpaste-caked mirror reflects the off-color circles under my eyes. “Where’s my wife?” I say. The face in the mirror displays a relieved smile. I know where she is. The oak tree illuminates our front yard with its white-plastic glow. I see her on my ladder from my work truck. The truck hasn’t moved from the driveway. It looks frail without the ladder hooked on top.
She stretches out to each limb, embracing their bark-brown texture. I stand beside the ladder and hear the faint breaths coming from deep in her lungs. She is exhausted. I want to help, but I don’t know how. I want to tell her how close she is to falling, about three-fourths of an inch away from stepping off. I grab the cold metal of the ladder to keep it steady for my wife. She glances down, frightened, then steadies herself and keeps on. I need to let her go because she will get through this. A part of me isn’t ready. The thought leaves, and I feel nauseous at my selfishness. Sitting at the kitchen table, I hear her come in. “What—are you finally done?” I ask. She walks past me. I hear the creaking of the steps. I see the condensation of the shower blow steam into our bedroom. I walk in and see my wife sitting on the wet tile. Her knees are raised to her chest. She is crying. I want to get naked and kiss her under the water, but I leave her be and fall asleep to her sobbing. Her side is still cold when I wake—borderline freezing. I walk outside and see that all of the hangers now have clothing draping from them. My clothing. My wife gazes up at the tree. My favorite Rolling Stones T-shirt—torn and beer-stained—dangles to her knees. I want to rip it off her and make love to her under our tree. I want to feel the scent of her body and take in her warmth. I see my wife sitting under the oak tree. “Are you watching?” she says. I hear the words. Then they too get lost in the wind.
We Were Spatial (Craigslist Missed Connections) Poetry by Kaitlin Hanrahan Fall 2016
This is a long shot but……….. I cant get u out of my head. I was behind you in the self checkout line. I saw you in court. I deliver a Pizza to your door. I detected a little bit of flirting. I want you but I’m scared. I blush. im shy. I’m married. I’m trying my best to be subtle. I thought u was sexy ass hell. I can’t stop myself. I get frozen up in ways. I feel your body closing but I can rip it open. I’m the taxi driver. I will drench you in hope. I wish it was me that you loved. I’m so in love with you. You are beautiful. Yes, you were the buzz cut. You are a hot young dad. Your husband sucks. You look like William Dafoe. You are HOT. You seemed bored. You felt holy to the touch. You told me I was a great kisser. You had a gray Volvo and the body of a goddess with sunrise eyes. white thick girl with an angelical face. pony tale. eye candy. knife at your hip. yoga pants and Lil wrists. the most amazing eyelashes. god bless you honey. Your ghost is everywhere. You wore tight black jeans with the most nicest ass I ever seen. We made some eye contact. We shared an elevator. We hooked up this afternoon at Carolina Video. We were both in the locker room. We were in the light bulb section. We get to a certain point and then you get cold feet. We laughed for a little bit and then you kissed me. We will recover. We chatted about specifically almond m&ms. We chatted in the sauna. We should try to talk. We can talk about the weather.
Yes it’s in our humanities to feel sad but. Why can’t I keep you? Away from the bubble of life that held us, we were spatial. Do you know how fucking rare that is? Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Are you impressed now? Interested? Does he yell at you? Can I help you? Are you single? Are you human? Are you a scorpio? Blue is without you in my life. It is eating me alive. I will miss you for eternity my Sweetpea. Should I have stopped myself? What if?
The Moments Between Art by Ariana Ehuan
Overeaters Anonymous Nonfiction by Megan Larson Fall 2015
1. Do you eat when you're not hungry? I find myself constantly eating at work. In all honesty, I think it might be a procrastination technique. After all, I can’t be working if I’m eating, right? I work in a university campus office where food is surprisingly abundant. First there are the students coming in, selling Krispy Kreme Doughnuts for a cause or leftover bake sale items—sugar cookies, brownies, cake pops, cupcakes. Then there are the faculty members, generous in all the wrong ways. At least once a week, someone buys a breakfast item to share—coffee cake or bear claws. They also bring the unwanted items from home—a bag of flat pretzel chips, chocolate-covered ginger candies, leftover cupcakes from a weekend event. And let’s not forget the gifts—a box of mint Oreo cookies snagged as an afterthought at the grocery store, biscotti from a conference in Pittsburgh, chocolate-covered peanut brittle from a holiday in California, an entire birthday gift bag of wine, cheese, and crackers. Plus there are endless campus events. Retirements, guest speakers, department chair meetings, any excuse to serve food. After an event, the faculty snatch all of the freebies and bring them back to the office. I walked in this morning to a large aluminum table tray of homemade potato chips. To my disappointment, there was not an accompanying vat of restaurant ranch.
and how much I wanted to lose per week, and it spit out a calorie goal with a warning that women should consume at least 1,200 calories per day. My goal was 1,194. I put it on an Excel sheet so I could record my calorie intake per meal and calories burnt per workout. I also recorded my steps while at work, because the average person is supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day, and I was walking 3,000 or less. The funny thing is that most people didn’t see it as a problem. My online calorie counter congratulated me every day for keeping up with my goal. My coworkers and I exchanged low-fat snack ideas and recipes. And after seeing the changes in my body, my female friends looked up to me in admiration. After I lost twenty pounds and dropped three inches off my waist, my mom commented, “I don’t think that’s healthy.” 4. Do you eat sensibly in front of others, then make up for it when you are alone? The last time I kept tabs on my calorie intake, I brought all my food to work with me. Breakfast, healthy snack #1, lunch, healthy snack #2, and an emergency snack #3 so I could turn down the students with the doughnuts. I came home from work exhausted each day, and before I knew it, I was in the kitchen grabbing chocolate chips out of the freezer and munching on them by the handful. My shoes and purse still on.
2. Do you fantasize about how your life would be better if you were a different weight?
5. Do you have feelings of guilt or shame about the way you eat?
I was losing over five pounds a month. My main motivation? I didn’t trust my (now ex) boyfriend. I thought that as long as I was thinner, that meant I was sexier, and that meant I could trust him. There was plenty of competition to keep my motivation up. The calendar girls in his garage. My Victoria’s Secret catalogues. Hump Day on theCHIVE. Then he decided to subscribe to Playboy Magazine. I got them from the mailbox and read them. I checked out the Hometown Hotties and thought, if I lose five more pounds, I’ll be the same weight as that girl. If I lose five more pounds and get breast implants, I’ll have nothing to worry about.
I used to play a game with my ex-boyfriend. A secret game. I told him I was counting calories, trying to lose weight. I told him to help me stay motivated. Then I snuck food behind his back. He was in the living room watching TV and I was in the next room shoveling in spoonfuls of Peter Pan Honey Roast Creamy Peanut Butter. Not those small spoons, either. The larger-than-a-tablespoon type of spoons that touch the creases of your lips when you put one into your mouth. One time I bought a jar on a Friday and it was gone by Sunday. Not the typical jar, either—the supersized version. At first I felt guilty. Breaking my diet and eating in secret. But then it became a game to me. It was actually fun, being deceitful. The rush of anxiety, wondering if I would be caught in the act. Is that why some men cheat?
3. Do you drastically restrict your food intake to control your weight? I was doing a weight loss program with a calorie intake calculator. I put in my age, height, weight, sedentary lifestyle,
6. Do you go on eating binges, sometimes eating until you’re stuffed or even feel sick?
8. Are there foods you cannot stop eating after having one bite?
I absolutely love feeling full. I love packing my stomach to the brim so I couldn’t possibly fit anything else in and don’t want to until hours later. I’m like the overweight uncle at Thanksgiving. Eating four helpings of sweet potato casserole with a candied pecan topping—no marshmallows. Leaning back in my seat with my pants button undone. Food-baby belly rounding out. There is a photo of me from when I was little, maybe seven years old, at some family function. My face smeared with red and a large, round belly poking out from my small frame. I devoured the fruit table.
Does it matter if what I’m binging on is healthy? Does it disqualify me? My current boyfriend is a true Southern gentleman. He grew up in the South, surrounded by fresh produce. His family owns a farm, and when we come to town, they load up our car with free fruits and vegetables. One of the many perks of being his girlfriend. Over the summer, his mom gave us a large, ripe watermelon from her brother’s produce stand. The next weekend, my boyfriend got called into work on a Saturday, so I decided to hunker down with a romance movie and the watermelon. With some difficulty, I cut off one end and then cut two halfinch-deep circled slices. I cut those into small triangles like my mom used to do, put them on a paper plate, closed the blinds, and pressed play. Halfway through the movie, I found myself sitting crosslegged on the floor in front of the TV with a mixture of tears and red juice smeared across my cheeks. Tissues in one hand, a spoon in the other, and the entire watermelon in my lap— scooped clean.
7. Is your eating affecting the way you live your life? I plan my trips around food. Every time I fly back home to Chicago, I bring a list of all the restaurants I want to go to with my family. Steak ‘n Shake for eggnog milkshakes. Portillo’s for their Italian Beef sandwiches, with provolone cheese and hot peppers, the entire sandwich dipped in leftover meat juice. Smoke House for their giant gyros—not like Wilmington’s local Pita Delite where over half the pita is stuffed with lettuce—these monsters have slabs of morphed beef-lamb meat half an inch thick, slathered in cucumber sauce, topped with onions and tomatoes. I also bring a list of meals that I want my mom to make for me. Chop suey and lamb patties with rice. Even though the only place to get lamb patties is Inboden’s Meat Market, which requires an hour-long drive through the corn fields of DeKalb. Last time my family planned an entire day around those patties, stopping at an apple orchard for their homemade apple doughnuts and my brother’s favorite restaurant—Fatty’s Pub—for their deep-fried potato salad. Whenever I get back to Wilmington, I just have to have the Chestnut Chicken Sandwich from Copper Penny with Asian coleslaw, homemade potato chips, and a side of ranch—ASAP.
9. Have you ever used excessive exercise to try to control your weight? I wanted to enjoy Christmas without gaining weight, without feeling guilty about my gluttony. I made a Christmas Indulgence Cheat Sheet. I could eat anything I wanted as long as I completed the extra workout, on top of my 30-minute daily routine. Looking back now, I can’t believe how strict I was. My Christmas regime. So much for the holiday spirit.
10. Do you need to chew or have something in your mouth all the time? I can demolish soda cans with my mouth—mechanically while watching TV. Can that be my Miss America talent? I dent in all the sides first with my hands. So the can now has four edges and four sides. I go down each edge, biting with my front teeth. Then dig my lower canines into the rim at the top two corners of each side. I repeat this with my upper canines and the bottom of the can. Continuing with my canines, I randomly puncture holes wherever I can. I don’t do anything with my molars. My molars are useless with anything metallic because I have metal fillings. Once I started to chew on the pop tab—big mistake. Not really painful. But like a chill that starts at your tooth and straightens your neck and back as it runs through to your fingertips and toes, tightening every muscle on the way. Cringe-worthy. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I like to have things in my mouth. I’ve always attributed it to a nervous habit. Someone told me once it has something to do with sexual aggression. As a kid, I used to eat crayons. I still think wax tastes good. I loved those wax vampire fangs. I could chew on them for hours and eventually swallow them. Same with the “candy” Nik-L-Nips—the wax bottles with sugary liquid inside. Absolutely genius. In grade school it was gum, but I got over that after a few detentions and started chewing on my pens. Even after the time I chewed a little too far and ended up with a mouthful of ink. Now I drink tea. At least one cup every two hours. 11. Do you not eat when your body needs nourishment? Occasionally, I'll forget to pack a lunch and there won’t be any immediate food in the office. I tell myself I'll grab something, but the effort to find something healthy is a bit overwhelming. Plus, it is just too expensive. My boyfriend and I went on a plant-based diet for 21 days and spent over $300 a week on groceries. Did you know Australia increases the tax on fast foods so that they can reduce the price of health foods? Anyway, I skip lunch sometimes. Doesn't everyone? 12. Do your eating behaviors make you or others unhappy? If someone put a gun to my boyfriend’s head and forced him to say something negative about me, he wouldn’t, but if he did, I am pretty sure it would come back to food. That I can’t stop thinking about what’s for breakfast, dinner, lunch, dessert. Or the neurotic way that I eat. He thinks I “put food on a pedestal,” as if it takes priority. Even over him.
I remember when we went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner with his parents. I was digging my chip around in the salsa dish, trying to get a large leaf of cilantro. I could feel him watching me. I finally got it just perfect, and in comes his chip, trying to get the salsa off of mine. I pulled away quick and the salsa with perfect cilantro leaf fell to the table. Without thinking I screeched, “Are you kidding me?” He looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said, “It’s just food, babe.” I immediately felt ashamed and avoided his and his parents’ gazes. What had they seen? I completely missed the point. It was just food, and he was giving me an out by saying that. I could have laughed it off with all of them. Instead, I used food to distance myself. I did it again. The distance thing. We were sharing a slice of turtle cheesecake for dessert. Topped with caramel, chocolate, and pecans. There was a large bite left. I was just thinking about cutting it in half for both us to share when his fork swooped in and took the top half and all its deliciousness, leaving me with the graham cracker crust. Offended, I crossed my arms across my chest, sat back in my chair, and told him “I’m never sharing dessert with you again.” I meant it then, but we laugh about it now. He asks if I’m sure I want to share dessert, grins at me when the plate is almost empty, and we play-fight with dainty dessert spoons like five-year- olds. Sometimes I intentionally put my spoon down before it’s gone, to stop myself and let him have the rest. When I do, he always takes a small spoonful and pushes the last of it towards me. This piece is adapted from a series of questions on the website for Overeaters Anonymous, or oa.org.
Art by Elise Gilbert Fall 2017
Photography by Sara Izzi Fall 2017
A Secret Place Nonfiction by Gabrielle DeSopo Spring 2018
I don’t like them without sugar, but I stick the blueberry on my tongue anyway. My nose scrunches up at the bitter taste. I squeeze another between my fingers, and it bursts open, staining my shirt and leaving my palm sticky. Even though I’ve been picking for nearly an hour, my bucket is only half full. I’m very selective, making sure to pick only the biggest and bluest-looking berries, which is one reason why it’s taking so long. But I also keep getting distracted, glancing behind me at the vacant dog cages. The sun is out, and even though it’s June, I shiver. I hug my light jacket more tightly around myself, trying to block out the slight Pennsylvania chill. I set my bucket down and run my hands along the stiff branches, catching loose berries with my fingertips. Ever since watching The Secret Garden, I’ve thought of these blueberry bushes as my own secret place. My mom told me, “Blueberries don’t grow on vines— they grow on bushes.” Only, these tall rows twining around a long wooden trellis look more like the grape vineyards I’ve seen on TV than any type of bush. I hear a rustling noise and turn, expecting to see Grandfather’s dogs, Jack and Jill, out of the corner of my eye, but it’s just a bird darting out from a tree. I look back at their joint cages: still empty. The first time I hid in the berries, my grandma yelled at me: “Filthy. Think of the bugs!” But I didn’t listen. Like now, I waited until nobody could see me, then ran back out and stood between the blue columns. I think about what Grandfather might do if Grandma tells him I’ve disobeyed. Good girls don’t disobey, and I am always supposed to be a good girl. I press my stained palm onto my chest. The bushes offer refuge—come, come, and we’ll hide you. And so the blueberries have become another one of my secrets. “I was about five or six years old,” my mother told me once, “when he murdered them in front of me.” When she was young, Mom had this beautiful Irish Setter—fur the color of a Ritz Crackers box. She called her Ritz. Grandfather kept Ritz chained up in the yard all night, and eventually stray dogs began to come around. When Ritz got pregnant, each puppy was like a personal insult to my grandfather.
He beat her. Screamed at her. And still, kept her chained up at night. When she gave birth to another litter, he turned red in the face; the vein in his temple strained forward like the only thing keeping it there was the tightness of his clenched jaw. But almost instantly, the tension left his face. He turned and walked away, returning a few moments later with a burlap sack in hand and an icy calm that was somehow so much worse. My mom and her sisters stood huddled together. They knew better than to make any noise. He grabbed each puppy by the neck and tossed them inside the bag. As the puppies were jostled and slowly scraped along the ground, they began to cry. Their whimpering grew louder and more hysterical as he placed heavy stones inside the bag with them. Grandfather dragged it down to the creek and tossed it, casually, like one might toss a piece of trash. “We weren’t allowed to look away,” she told me. “I was five years old.” I pop another berry into my mouth. It still tastes bitter. I’ve always had mixed feelings about dogs: full of energy and love, yet unpredictable. Jack and Jill are old hunting dogs, all huge, floppy ears and sad eyes—their presence a blurry constant in the back of my earliest memories. For as long as I’ve known them, they’ve never left their cages. When I was little, Grandfather told me I could stick my hand through the cage door, but then smirked as he said I might lose a finger or two. I used to have a recurring nightmare in which I enter an unfamiliar house and see my family sitting in the living room petting a dog. The golden retriever turns its glossy head toward me, and I realize it’s missing a leg. It hobbles closer and closer to me, until, finally, it rubs up against my body. Every time, I step back in fear, trying to get away. But I’m always too late and watch in horror as my own arm detaches from my shoulder and drops onto the carpet. As a child, I could tell that all Jack and Jill needed was some love. But I was always too afraid to give it to them. So like now, I played in the yard, picked some berries, and kept a close eye from a far distance. Grandma has never liked dogs. A shadow in the window, she watches us from inside, constantly buzzing around the
kitchen even though she doesn’t like to cook. When Mom was young and Grandma was mad, she used to tell them, “I could put arsenic in the food, and you would never know until you were dead.” Meals were eaten with distrust—every bite a gamble—every meal except one. Each new season, they would gather the berries for a pie. Grandma made a delicious blueberry pie. Mom still talks about how the berries tasted, and I know they were her sweet escape, too. When I found out we were visiting for Grandma’s birthday, I finally worked up the courage to face Jack and Jill and their droopy eyes. But when we arrived, I noticed the empty cages. I stare at them again—today that space seems almost sacred. The kennels are darker than usual, the bulletin board roof soggy and caving in. Inside, the bowls sit waiting, empty. I see the broad, shaded figure of my grandfather approaching me. “Where’s Jack and Jill?” I ask. Grandfather keeps walking. “Dead,” he says. “Dumbass dogs, not good enough for anything anymore.” I watch his face for a moment, trying to decipher whether or not he is telling the truth. But when he turns his narrowed eyes and clenched jaw in my direction, I quickly look away. I try to connect the memory of the man handing me Christmas presents with the man standing before me, but can’t seem to do it. All I see now is a broad back, continuing to walk farther and farther away from me. I stare at grandfather as he walks up toward the house. Jack and Jill weren’t useful anymore. My stomach twists and I feel like I might throw up. Running back into the blueberry bushes, I try to drown out all the whispered stories, but I can still hear them. I grab my bucket and start picking blueberries again. Grandma said to fill it.
What the Eye Can See
Photography by Hannah Lewis Spring 2017
Art by Alaina Bubeck Spring 2018
The Basement Poetry by Leah Becton Spring 2016
I am going to get you out of my brain Even if I have to remove it from my head and wring it out like a wet rag Until every drop of you has dripped into a murky puddle on the floor That I can jump and splash around in Kicking, and spraying, and splattering you all over my walls, like a jubilant child in the rain Then I’ll wipe you up haphazardly with a dirty kitchen towel and hang it out to dry In the sticky humid air so that you evaporate and disperse into the atmosphere No longer a collective existence, but small particles expelled from my life I am going to get you out of my brain You shacked up in the basement of my soul You moved your entire life into the damp, cold, and forgotten space where I refused to go But where you stayed like a squatter, demanding it not be forgotten From above I could hear you pacing, and rustling, and banging on the ceilings day in and day out Night after night, for over a year Begging that I come down into the darkness, bringing warmth and light to share with you Your yearning was exciting and flattering, and in a moment of impetuous glee I flung myself down into the darkness, tired of the safety and dullness of where I lived before Tired of alone I landed beside you, out of breath and shocked at myself, we lay in perfect silence You celebrated my presence with such exaggerated joy That I could not help but to stay there with you in that place That place we decorated with lamps, and rugs, and pictures we hung over the cracks and exposed pipes Until it became colorful and warm Until it became ours It wasn’t fancy or special, nothing close to what I wanted or maybe even deserved But there was something homey about it Something homey about the way you held me, about the sweet and gentle words you said to me That I then etched into the floor the same way couples draw their initials in the sand while on vacation Or into a tree in their backyard Now I lay alone on this hard dirt floor Light spilling down the stairs from the open cellar door at the top A door battered and hanging at the hinges from all the slamming Open and close, in and out, up and down the stairs I backed in and out of loving you so many times you got dizzy, and angry, and then finally bored When you left you knocked over all the lamps Tore everything off the walls The shards and shreds littering the room Every trace of you still here, just broken I wish you had taken it all with you I wish your clutter didn’t still live inside me Inside this freezing, endless place you made me open up I will reseal it, lock it, condemn it That is, if I can ever get up off this floor.
Silent Roads Fiction by Casey Johnson Spring 2017
The tires of your Toyota altered their harmony as they rolled over a bridge. A moment later, they went back to asphalt for the convenience of their speechless audience. Attempting to drown them out with the radio only led to static that made your head hurt. I, your uncomfortable passenger, baked in the heat because your air conditioner was broken, just like your marriage and everything else you neglected to fix. The taciturn tension persisted, but as rainwater hit the windshield, and pools below softly threatened to hydroplane the car (and you couldn’t be bothered to crack a window while you smoked), it dawned on me that if this car were to fill to the brim with carbon monoxide or hit the guardrail and flip over twice on the way down a hill, and I were to somehow survive, they’d ask at the funeral I would be obligated to attend what I remember about you. And I wouldn’t tell them the truth.
No, I wouldn’t say that I remember the stench of your cigarettes drifting through my bedroom window or your tall cans wrapped in brown paper bags. The unexpected appearances, how you flew down the road going ninety with me in the backseat, or the frequent speeding tickets, the approaching baldness, your voice rising up through the floorboards when you came home at two in the morning, the gray hairs in your beard, the beer belly, or the nearly empty lighters thrown around the house, and the huge smelly boots. And the questions I didn’t answer, especially not the unwanted advice, not even the awkward silences, the way I lowered my voice to whisper for you that one time, or how I could never find a way to raise it after that. Instead, I would find a half-truth to tell, some vague fragment of memory. But not even now—as the sky darkens and your solitary headlight becomes the only thing illuminating the road ahead—can I begin to think of what to say.
Somewhere in California
Photography by Mason Godwin
august and september erasure poem from the text on images in my camera roll
Poetry by Nikki Kroushl Spring 2018
When the businessman shoulder-checks me at the airport, I do not apologize Instead, I write him an elegy on the back of a receipt and tuck it in his hand as I pass through the first class cabin Like a bee, he will die after stinging me The boy says I am not marriage material and I put gravel in his pepper grinder The boy says period sex is disgusting and I slaughter a goat in his living room The boy doesn’t ask if he can choke me so I pretend to die while he is doing it My mother says this is not the meaning of unfazed When the boy says I curse too much to be pretty and I tattoo “cunt” on my inner lip my mother calls it “being very fazed” But left over from the other universe are hours and hours of waiting for him to kiss me and here they are just hours. Here, they are a bike ride across Long Island in June Here, they are arguments about God or a full night’s sleep Here, I hand an hour to the woman crying outside of the bar I leave one on my best friend’s porch Send my mother two in the mail I do not slice his tires I do not burn the photos I do not write the letter I do not beg I do not ask for forgiveness I do not hold my breath while he finishes
The man tells me he doesn’t love me and he does not love me The man tells me who he is and I listen I have so much beautiful time
@shokoyoko i want u to know that poem fucked me up
For from the greatness and beauty of created things, their original author, by analogy, is seen. WIS 13:5 Yeah lol I am the drinkers I have ever been. The WHITES are at it again Our tour guides were fantastic (Steven and Nikki). Even though there were only two families in our group, they both went out of their way to give us a great tour and provide us with tons of information. They made a wonderful impression, and we loved Crush #13872 Sydney who works at Okami, you have a beautiful voice and bomb ass eyebrows. Keep doing you girl! Writing a novel is like having sex. I thought I’d be able to do it three times in a row, but… You are learning how insurance works. Medicaid patients would pay nothing. Dad and his employer pay a lot for insurance but large deductible so still pay out of pocket for care that is not preventative. So you can see how if you have a job where you are just getting by these unexpected health care costs could be tough Yes, it would be tough. I wouldn’t say Medicaid patients are responsible for insurance and pharma companies’ desire for ever-growing profits, though, and while there are certainly abuses of that system it still helps a lot of people less fortunate than we are. I am very grateful that our family can afford out of pocket costs like this one and I will be good about the exercises. nahkauf Hier finden Sie eine grosse Auswahl regionaler Weine Gott tut uns gut
Untitled Fiction by Shelby Powell Fall 2016
While I slide into our usual booth, I try to suppress my grin as I watch my son Johnny try his hand at eavesdropping. Hands folded, his ten-year-old face pensive and serious, he stares at the table in front of him, perfectly still in the process of listening to our neighbors. Ever since he discovered his father’s collection of noir films and Sherlock Holmes books he has been convinced he was destined from birth to become the world’s greatest detective. So now, every Saturday, he puts on a 99-cent fedora and we “go listening” at this little diner downtown. It’s the classic small-town diner, the one I grew up in, with its wooden booths and maroon-painted counter. It’s the sort of diner where you’d expect a detective to get his coffee, which I suppose is why Johnny insists we come here. I’m still not sure whether I’m the dame who hired the small-time private eye or if I’m just here to validate his observations. I like to think both. So I look around at his potential targets. Directly behind him, my old high school English teacher—likely my son’s future English teacher—Mr. Lambert and his wife sit with a couple I don’t know. There’s a Spanish-speaking family at my back, but I don’t think Johnny can translate, so I rule them out. A window is on my right, so I rule out the bikers smoking at the stop sign on the corner, which leaves only one other option—a pimply teenager sitting alone at a two-person table. He’s looking around for someone I’m not confident will show up, and I’m not sure we’ll stay and listen if he starts talking to himself. So I focus on the Lamberts and their company. “And they’re sleeping,” the old codger says. “Asleep, right in the middle of the Iliad. Who do they think they are?” I roll my eyes. He’s telling a story about how he caught several sleeping students in his class a couple decades ago, and his wife’s only pretending to listen. I don’t blame her; he tells this story to anyone who will listen. I admit, it’s interesting how the number of students caught increases every time he tells the story, by now perhaps even exceeding the number of those enrolled in the school at the time. I consider listening, but I’m distracted by Mrs. Mason, the shop’s owner and occasional waitress. “Hello, Charlotte, lay it on me,” she says, preparing a notebook. “Just some coffee for now,” I say, smiling. Mrs. Mason turns to Johnny. “I suppose the usual for the good detective,” she says. He jerks to attention. For a moment he loses his focus and hard-boiled demeanor. “Oh, uh,” he says before switching to a deeper tone, “the usual.”
The server laughs only with her eyes and gives me a nudge with her elbow. She’s in on Johnny’s little project and loves the idea, so she usually gets our orders as quick as she can and asks for updates when she brings them out. She’s the primary reason we come to this diner. She has an aversion to foul language, which is why I’m comfortable bringing my eavesdropper to her shop. Even the older veterans know to speak in church language with her around. I turn to look back at Johnny and notice his pout and furrowed brow. “Ooh,” I tease, “something really complicated must be going on to confuse the detective.” “The man said ‘those indolent teens,’” he says, “but I don’t know what ‘indolent’ means.” “Maybe he meant ‘insolent.’” Mrs. Mason comes to the rescue with coffee and an explanation. “No, he probably meant ‘indolent.’ ‘Insolent’ has an s and it means ‘rude,’” she says. “‘Indolent’ means ‘lazy’ and has a d instead.” “Oh,” Johnny says before sipping his drink. He scrunches his face in distaste and gives the mug to me. “You shouldn’t order coffee if you don’t like it,” I say. “I do,” he protests, “I’m just not thirsty.” Despite the lie, his eyes are wide and his voice is earnest. He just wants to be a detective so badly. Somewhere in California I roll my eyes and set the cup next to mine and add cream. Photography by Mason Godwin Mrs. Mason usually counts Johnny’s drink as a refill for my Fall 2017 first. In a moment Mrs. Mason comes over with a root beer float—Johnny’s true usual—and he lights up with excitement, forgetting his targets for a moment. Of course, now Mr. Lambert is only complaining about how many students fail to understand the true meaning of Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” I let him slurp for a little while, but soon remind him of his purpose. “So,” I say, “tell me what you learned.” He hums as he thinks. “The man at the table is a teacher,” he finally says. “That’s right.” My son watches me in awe, reassured of the fact that I know everything. “And,” he says, trying harder, “one of the ladies is his wife—the one that isn’t talking a lot.” “Right.” “And the other two are their in-laws,” he says, trying even harder, “and they’re here for the weekend but have to go back soon for their grandson’s piano thing.” “Oh?” I say, surprised. “How can you be sure?”
“Well, the lady who was talking keeps saying ‘sis,’ and the teacher said something about ‘your daughter’s little Timmy’ not being imolent—” “Indolent.” “Right, and then he asked about a r-re-reci—” “Recital,” I assist. “Yeah. And I know that’s a piano thing.” “Well,” I say, “it’s also a dance thing, but I think that since it’s a boy, and in this state, too, we can rule that option out.” “Yeah,” he agreed, “and also because the teacher’s wife asked if they wanted any of her old sheet music.”
“I see,” I say, surprised at how much he’s improved. He’s getting better with each session and has much more focus than I do. Although I suppose he cares more about the conversation. The waitress is back to ask our lunch order, just in time to hear his remark and see the impressed expression I’m wearing. I expect her to say something, but she just smiles at me knowingly. It’s not until I get the check that I realize she couldn’t quite resist. “Better not blink” is scribbled down next to the total. I quickly hide the receipt in my purse. Johnny wants to see how much we spent, but I don’t let him.
Photography by Erika Alatorre Spring 2017
Quiet Midnight Poetry by Paula Eames Fall 2015
We drove long to the Big Muddy, winding dark, throwing stones patterned orbs radiate; bats whisk talking memories near the old Fort I wanted to speak—you wanted to know nothing, and I watched your mouth mechanical hearts don’t beat—but I felt a little thrumming in your wrist the clock counts down, I close my eyes as mosquitoes nip my neck (like you that time) the night looked better with the lights off. Muggy pines: the fireflies flick-ered.
Standard Practice Nonfiction by Jude Verrill Spring 2018
My grandmother left us with a note and a will—sixteen years out of date. My mother flew to Texas with the belief that she was traveling to clean up her mother’s blood, but the police took care of that. The funeral was held in my grandmother’s strange, Evangelical Christian church, Cap Rock Cowboy Church. The last time I spoke to my grandmother, she spent most of our phone call telling me about how the congregation of her town’s Baptist church hadn’t been big enough, so they’d sold the building to Cap Rock Cowboy Church for only five dollars. I fed her some line about how it just goes to show how nice country folk are because I knew she’d like that. Now I wonder if she knew she’d be giving me a reason to sit in the pews of that church only three months later. At the funeral, the pastor’s face was mostly taken up by a large, blond moustache. (I was warned about this prior to entering the church.) He began the service by reading my grandmother’s obituary word-for-word from the newspaper. I am not sure if this is standard practice. The pastor told us that, if we ever wanted to see my grandmother again, we had to be saved in the name of the Lord. If we were not saved, he continued, we would be burning in Hell with Satan, and not walking in Heaven with my grandmother. Again, I am not sure if this is standard practice, but I know that my grandmother would have enjoyed it. The status of my soul was of great concern to her. As a child, she’d lectured me on the importance of letting God into my heart, and when I’d told my dad what she’d said, he had sworn at her for trying to force religion on his kids. I think that was the first time she knew I was not the granddaughter she’d hoped for. My childhood artwork still hung on the door of the bathroom where she ended her life. It felt strange to know that one of the last things she saw was a crude drawing of a face I had done when I was six. I imagine it is what I had hoped I would look like when I got older. The girl I had drawn had long brown hair and green eyes and wore a choker around her neck. I had not been able to wear a choker since I learned what my grandmother did. I couldn’t stand the feel of anything touching my throat.
My uncle’s girlfriend and I were tasked with cataloguing the items for the estate sale in the yurt that my dad and uncles built for my grandmother when I was a child. I once loved sitting inside that canvas building. My brother and I would lay out our sleeping bags across the floor and burrow in them, pretending to be moles or ferrets or whatever creature we were obsessed with at the time. Now all I could feel were the eyes of my childhood drawing staring at me from the bathroom door. I wouldn’t go into the bathroom, scared I would discover a drop of blood the police had missed. There were projects my grandmother had started but not finished, would never finish, sitting on the table. I was scared of those, too. I knew about her last note, but I had not seen it, and part of me thought that one of those handwritten notes sitting on the table held her final words to us all. I was not ready to read her admonishments of me for not sharing more of my writing with her, for not sharing more of my life. It was enough just to know it existed. I’m not sure if she knew she would become all I would write about after her death. I’m not sure if she knew I would, suddenly, not be able to stand the sight of blood, or if she knew the image of her final moments would appear in my dreams over and over. I’m not sure if she knew I would not know how to make sense of her opinion of me. How I would not be able to put together the woman who kept the same crappy drawing up for fourteen years with the woman who laced her final words to me with criticism and accusations. There is a fine line between love and hate strung across my mind, and, somehow, my grandmother is still walking it. I am not sure if this is standard practice
And Then March Came Nonfiction by Joanna Stotts Spring 2018
This continuous ache overhead reminds me that I have nothing to offer you; that I need things from you, and you need nothing from me. That I am a warm body in your bed, and when you decide you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t need that either, then I will become just a pinprick black hole, into which you watch your things fall as you wonder with frustration why your resources continue to be expended so aimlessly. But I remember October; you used to pull.You used to ache.You used to want for me in my absences.Your pull ebbed as mine grew, and now I am lost among the waves of the intensity of my feelings for you. They overwhelm you; you flinch at my existence beside youâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;never knowing when I will reach out for more of your energy, more of your waning love. To the moon and back, to the moon and, to the moon, to the next street over, to the end of the driveway.
Photography by Kate McDuffie Fall 2017
White Lies Fiction by Angela Ciarletta Spring 2018
My sister once told me that strawberry seeds were actually ant eggs. Claire was three years older than me, and I was young enough to believe in everything she said and old enough to want to be exactly like her. So I sat at the kitchen counter, gently prying each tiny seed off the surface of every strawberry before plopping them into my mouth. Just to be safe. When I finished, I cupped my pile of seeds in my hand and scattered them in the grass so we wouldn’t have ants in the house. *** Another time, Claire told me she blew a bubble so big that she floated all the way from her bedroom on the second floor, down the stairs, to the gray tile leading up to the front door. I was skeptical; I needed more information before I decided whether or not to believe her. “How’d it happen?” I asked. Claire explained how she was sitting on her bed, chewing bubble gum. She spit air into the wad until it expanded like a pink hot air balloon, lifting her into the air and down the stairs before it popped. “You’re lying,” I told her. But a little part of me thought she just might be telling the truth. “When did this happen?” I asked. I wanted to know why I wasn’t there. “It was before you were born,” she said. Somehow this made it more believable. I could understand why I wasn’t there if I hadn’t been born yet. It didn’t occur to me to think that she would’ve been, at the most, three years old. Mom didn’t let me start chewing gum until I was five. I listened to her tell this story over and over to all her friends, boasting of this achievement. “Is she telling the truth?” they asked me. I nodded. “It really happened,” I said. *** We stared out the window together sometimes, watching the birds swarm around the feeder, cawing at each other. “I can talk to animals,” she told me, cawing back. “No, you can’t,” I said. I’d never heard of anyone being able to speak with birds before; there was no way my sister possessed this talent.
“Yes, I can,” she retorted, confident in her sixth sense. “What are they saying?” I asked, watching the crows and blue jays, seeds dripping from their beaks. “They say they don’t like you,” she said. “That’s not what they’re actually saying,” I told her. “Yes, it is. I’ll ask them right now.” She imitated their calls again and then listened to their response. “I asked them if they liked you, and they said ‘no.’” “Well, I can talk to them too, and they just said that they don’t like you,” I replied. She looked at me. “You’re just making that up. That’s not what they’re saying.” She said it as if I should be ashamed of myself. *** A few years later, as I was walking up to the front steps, I noticed dark green leaves with little white flowers sprouting amidst the grass. I recognized these plants from the strawberry fields we visited every June. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of them, but then I remembered the seeds I had sprinkled there. They didn’t hatch into ants after all. Maybe Claire fabricated these tales to assert her place in the sister hierarchy, feeding me lies to make herself seem more knowledgeable, more talented, until I recognized her as the dominant one. But I didn’t hate her for this. I just stopped wanting to be like her. She was my older sister, but she was still just a person, and as I grew older, I no longer needed everything she said to be true.
Art by Marcus Reefer Fall 2017
Photography by River Bondurant Fall 2017
Confession_ 11_03am, Riverbend Elementary Playground Poetry by Threa Almontaser Fall 2015
You skinned me to the root. Veiny tongue flaps, exposed. I want to chew the cushioned handles off your scooter,so that its sundrenched metal burns your pale, tender palms. I could do the same thing to your anklebones, so that you fall on stinging concrete, crying, your pink flesh stuck between my teeth. If the whole world shifts four feet to the right, and the moonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s glow turns my black skin white, will I somehow look pretty to you?
Framing a Sunbeam Fiction by Tiffany Ernst Spring 2016
Today the wind is still blowing. I hope my dog’s wiener doesn’t get too cold. I’d have to stand out even longer, and walking him in the cold is such a bore. I realize I’m hungry but continue walking toward the living room. I tried calling to order Chinese this afternoon, but every time I reached for the phone my voice stopped existing. I’d open my mouth and it would just close again. The same happened to me once before, in the frames aisle at the craft store. There was a girl standing there, dressed in yellow like some godforsaken sunbeam among the empty frames. I knew which ones I wanted, but I pointed them out to her too. Lightweight and easy to use, I said. Wow, how stupid could I have sounded. I wanted to say more. Something about her smile—she had a great smile. But I couldn’t order the words out of my mouth, much in the same way that I couldn’t order Chinese food. She took the frames, though, hurriedly with a swish of yellow buttercup, and I was left with the frames. I grabbed a bunch, their cellophane like dish soap on my hands. I walked the other direction. I wonder if my dog is hungry. I always make sure he’s fed first because I forget to feed myself so often. I just drown myself in coffee. I used to sit in coffee shops quite often, waiting for girls like the sunbeam to walk in and sit beside me. I was always cheap, though. The girls could see that, glancing across the lids of their six-dollar macchiatos. I don’t frequent coffee shops anymore. The beans bring nothing but false heartbeats and fueled anxiety. Instead I wander craft stores, anywhere with frames, really. Sometimes I peruse art galleries, not for the art but for the frames. Other times, the long-forgotten hallways of local museums. I really like craft stores, though. The frames there don’t have to hold anything but purpose. The frames I bought that day, when I saw the girl, have still not been hung. I think about taking them out of the bag from time to time. My dog dislikes them. I think he feels them looming beside him in his sleep—four wooden walls to outline nothing. I don’t really know why I bought those frames. Something about the craft stores. They boast a variety of useless items, like museums for poor buyers. It’s getting difficult to pay the real museum entrance fees. I have nothing worth putting in the frames. Nothing worth it anymore, now that they hold the smile of the sunbeam girl. I stare blankly at the phone again. It’s getting dark outside and I really should eat something. With both hands, I hoist myself out of my obnoxiously leather recliner and take the necessary steps to the kitchen. The fridge contains remnants of a pot pie I baked the other day. I look outside and decide it’s still cold enough to eat such things. I watch the pie do small ballet circles in the microwave. My dog is at my feet, looking up at me. He’s hungry. I wonder if he ever tires of this artificial beef kibble. Maybe I should buy
him salmon… I saw the girl, in Harris Teeter, later that same day. That should have been my moment to speak with her. Instead I went to buy more dog kibble. I knew she had seen me because she smiled, like the knowing-and-understanding face she’d given me among the frames. She must have known they were lightweight and easy to use. How could I have thought less of her, those tiny arms hooked around a basket of assorted vegetables. My left hand slowly warmed a Stouffer’s lasagna. She still had a great smile. I imagine it again, and the smile seems uncomfortable. Perhaps I stood too close. I’d never smelled a sunbeam before. I’m sure she gets that a lot. The store should keep dog kibble on endcaps, perhaps perfume bottles of sunbeam. My dog throws up on the linoleum again. I no longer want the pot pie, but I’m not about to waste the time I’ve spent heating it. Clutching the plate, I walk the pie back to my recliner. I ignore the vomit for now. Flicking on the TV, I hear my dog licking it off the floor. Maybe that will help him poop later. I dread going out in the cold. It reminds me of early mornings in the spring when I lived life in the north. People there rarely smile and everything is just some variation of cold. That girl’s smile will always haunt me, I think. A genuine flash of sunshine. She seemed young; I suppose I had not thought of that. Perhaps her winters were warm. I should have asked her where she got that kind of smile. I remember that day being beautiful, a breezy afternoon at the end of summer. I was feeling good for once. I’d found five bucks in my pocket that morning and finally had the money to buy an expensive coffee. I went to the coffee shop that morning just to fool the girls. A couple of them tried to smile at me. I was playing hard to get. What an unfortunate circumstance that only once I had drained my coffee did I find myself in need of it. I imagine it would have been difficult to carry coffee and frames, though. I look down at my feet melting into the hardwood of my living room. The sun is dropping behind a rain-day haze. I should consider where to put the frames. I keep waiting for something important enough to fill them, but nothing is tangible anymore. Even the sunbeam girl is just a smile in my mind. There is dust collecting on my empty walls. I could clean those next week. I don’t bother shutting off the TV, but leave the living room with me keys. Outside it is cold. My car looks at me with sad eyes and instead I take to the sidewalk. A couple blocks and I won’t be alone. Other people walk streets, perhaps even sunbeam girls. My dog is still loose in the house and my hands are damp from the air. I decide to keep walking… Perhaps I’ll get somewhere.
Logs at Golden Hour
Photography by Maddi Bowen Fall 2017
In the Year of Strangers Nonfiction by Becka Jackson Spring 2018
It began on a night in January, when a semi-stranger (we’ll call him Square Chin) drove me to the beach in a small white car. I remember the view from the window, the lighted buildings on Eastwood Road. Craning up at the billowy moon, scanning for familiar arrangements of faraway light. I think that’s why I agreed to go, to be where the light is. As we skimmed past a cluster of white-planked coastal shops, a glow in a long window drew my gaze: a karate class, children who knew nothing of wanting to fill a Friday night with something other than curled-up silence. A young boy cartwheeled past the window—going the same direction as we were, headed toward the ocean, feet where his head should be, head spinning from looking at floor then sky then floor again. Past the bridge: We headed south without discussion, following the moon. Parked not twenty feet from the sand. Stepped into the glow. I couldn’t turn my feet from the water. A camera flashed somewhere behind us, in the dunes. We walked in crumbly sand. If my feet shivered in the surging water, I didn’t notice. I could have waded into the waves that night, could have stepped onto the glimmering band of water rippling past the horizon, could have reached out to touch the moon. I know this can’t happen, but my feet long to try anyway. I have to be careful. The moon makes me reckless. I shouldn’t have stayed out so late with Square Chin, definitely shouldn’t have kissed him, shouldn’t have even agreed to go with him, because I knew from the start I didn’t want him. This is when it continued: on the way back, staring out his window while he made jokes I didn’t try to understand (why am I still pretending to have fun, and does he really not notice?) I saw a semi parked on the grass by a gas station. Lighted cab. Heavy boots out the window, legs crossed at the ankles. Fingers interlocked behind the head. Wedged in a space too small for too long does strange things to the shape of a body. *** In a ninth-floor hotel room on H Street in Washington, D.C. The window is wide with a sill that I perch on to stare down at the tops of people’s heads. They don’t know me, don’t know I’m looking, will never see my face and I will never see theirs. Across the street from the hotel is an office with even larger windows that make up most of the side of the building. During workday hours, each window holds
one person, one desk, one computer, and one chair. Sometimes one plant. Each person is neatly tucked away in their own space, not like when you cross the street in D.C. and shoulders bump and hands brush as you weave through the strangerizing tide of cotton stares, leather smiles, and rain slicker faces spilling over the curbs. Around ten p.m., I pull the papery shade across my window. This is a trivial gesture—it does nothing to block the city glow or the sound of the street below, but it halfway convinces me that I am alone again. The windows across the street are still lighted, even though most have gone home hours ago. In just a few windows, Pauls or Darbys or Francines with patent-leather shoes and flouncy hair are still typing away. One man a few floors down stands at an elevated desk. I wonder if they’re looking back at me in between flights of fingers on keyboards. If the lights stay on all night, how do the people know when it’s time to leave? *** A few days after the beach: I didn’t know it then, but Square Chin will never be anything more than a stranger. I sat on my feet in a white rocking chair. He lounged beside me in a green metal chair. I don’t remember agreeing to another meet-up, but I remember the sky threatened rain. I looked across the cement at the other brick building and blocked his face with the sideways frame of my glasses, though he was saying something. His vocabulary adopted that pretentious tick again. I don’t believe that traditional comma placement is entirely necessary unless the author adopts that sort of literary or grammatical style, commas being a stylistic choice and not— Through one of the many windows I’d never noticed before on this familiar building, I saw a man sitting at a computer. A plant hung above his head. The office was yellow inside. I watched him without saying anything until Square Chin stopped talking. “Look at that man,” I said. I had no idea why I wanted Square Chin to look at the man, or why I was still looking at him, because he was just a normal man doing normal things, like sitting at a desk and typing. But it felt important. Square Chin wasn’t amused like I was and told me so. It’s creepy to spy on people. He kept on talking and I kept on not-listening until the man looked up from his computer. We looked at each other
through one windowpane, two framed lenses for a few seconds, and then he went back to his typing, and I decided I should probably start listening. I don’t remember what the man looked like. *** I grow tired of Square Chin trying to kiss me all the time. I don’t like how his hands are drawn to my leg or arm or shoulder. This was all a mistake. How did we get here? I tell him I don’t want to be romantic with anyone right now, which is a lie, and he avoids me for weeks. I go to the upstairs bathroom in the library, the one with hopeful graffiti on the stall doors, and try to cry in front of the mirror, but I can’t. I am sorry, Square Chin. *** There’s a small, clear piece of glass lying in the dirt that I’ve walked by every day this week on my way to school. I want to pick it up and take it home, but the edges look like they could be sharp. And if I did pick it up, what would I do with it? Hold it up in front of the sun, my fingers whisper. Watch the light bend. Cast it into the sea, says my elbow. How far can the tide carry it? Use it like a mirror, my eyes pray. Find a new way to see. *** One morning, we woke together in sunlight. Wolf Tattoo hated waking to the sun. He tried to hang a blanket over the window so he could sleep through the day. He complained that I should get blackout curtains like a normal person. Why don’t you like to sleep in? I lay beside him for hours, staring up at the light slipping between the plastic blinds, waiting for him to open his eyes and decide the day should begin, a stranger in my own bed. I worried about everything. Was it my fault the sun rose that morning? Why didn’t I just buy some damn blackout curtains like a normal person? I lived in fear of saying the wrong things, of saying the right things, of ruining us with one question. By the time I figured out the right words for the question—if he wants me or if he wants me—he’d left. *** Online dating lets me control how I meet boys. Already Balding wants to be a video game designer and explained the plot of Dark Souls while we walked around campus in the dark. Not my best date. Aircraft Mechanic grilled chicken thighs and corn, and we petted his dusty dogs. He showed me greasy handprints on the walls of his townhouse. Likes Reading and I talked for hours about our favorite books and authors, but when I performed my post-date ritual of picturing me and my new love interest together on a Christmas card, I couldn’t seem to put our faces in the same frame. I haven’t decided about Army Dropout yet, but as we parked beside his parents’ house in a tangle of neighborhood streets
just north of the city, my heart soared 1,500 miles back to my childhood home. Windows full of light. Swooping grassy lawn. Tall trees and jeweled sky. Peaceful driveway. I took this as a sign that we’re meant to be together. I pictured myself, two years in the future, washing dishes with his mom, laughing with his dad, hugging his cats. But anything can look like a sign from the universe if you squint hard enough. Trying to keep someone in your life after their time is up, fighting against a cosmic reasoning you will never understand—these are the quickest ways to drown under the pull of the tides. *** Sunday afternoon: I’m on the R train back to a rental apartment in Queens. Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane home, so today I watch the glazed-eye people swaying, heads bobbing, trains rocking. Autopiloting even on the weekend. I watch them avert their gazes when I look at them. I watch them pretend they’re not watching me. We read the cheesy ads overhead again and again. USE PROMO CODE NYC24 FOR $10 OFF YOUR NEXT DELIVERY. I see a man: elbows resting on knees, fingers interlaced, smiling across the train—no one sits across from him—at his own reflection in the window? An express train flashes behind his reflected grin. Next stop: 36th St. Transfers available to the M line. The man grins again, bigger this time. He shifts in his seat, scoots backward; his spine grows like a sapling. The doors open. A younger woman gets on; no one gets off. She hurries to hug the smiling man and kisses behind his ear before the train begins to move. We all are thrown sideways by the force we can only feel. She sits down across from him and they sit and smile at each other and don’t say anything at all. I read the cheesy ads again and try not to watch for too long. *** I don’t know it, but this is the last time I’ll see Wolf Tattoo: in an empty pool bar on a Wednesday night. The tables are worn green felt, a few slanted. The cue sticks are cracking and warped. An older couple perches at the bar, hanging all over each other like eighteen-year-old honeymooners. Black construction paper plasters the windows. Has the sun set yet? I beat him; he’s surprised. We play again. I beat him again. Halfway through the game, when I’m sure I’ll win but he doesn’t know it yet, someone drops a coin in the jukebox for “Free Bird.” I sing softly. I don’t think he hears me. If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? Remember the night we drove to the beach over two years ago? I remember other people walking the sand with flashlights. Wolf Tattoo said they were searching for metal, which is illegal. There was no moon. We lay on our backs. I didn’t care about getting sand in my hair. It wasn’t cold. The stars stretched out so far in all direc-
tions, but I could not find Orion, the protective hunter constellation, my guardian angel. I would learn later that during the summer months, Orion only watches over the daytime. For I must be traveling on, now. ’Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see. Wolf Tattoo is moving in a few weeks. He won’t tell me the exact date. (Is this to spare me or him?) I’m sure I’ll see him again before then, that this isn’t the end. When he does leave, three weeks later, he sends me a selfie of him and his dog and a loaded-up truck on the road to Salisbury. How long till the sight of a red truck doesn’t make my heart flip? *** Two months after I meet Army Dropout—as I’m driving him home after a kayaking trip to Masonboro Island—he will decide we don’t have enough in common and find someone else online to date. She will dump him after two months for reasons unknown. I find someone else, too, but when I show Psych Major around my apartment, he is mostly interested in seeing my bedroom. One month after Independence Day, when I met Should Have Been A Linebacker on the beaches of Oak Island, he will decide he’s still too scarred from being cheated on. I find someone else, but Fake Swagger interrupts me often and wants to talk about soccer.
Two months after I decide to stop online dating, I will discover I’m not interested in Shaggy Golden or Hippie Beard Dude. I’ll sweep up sand left by multiple pairs of man feet after nighttime trips to the beach. I’ll let their questioning texts go unanswered, let the echoes of their voices leave my memory like the reassuring silence that grows as you walk away from thrashing waters. In this year, eleven men have left my life. Eight of them I wanted gone: eight attempts at controlling what happens to me. Eleven pairs of eyes I couldn’t find my own reflection in, all of them ways to pretend this is how I want to live. *** I pick up the piece of glass on my way home. It’s the bottom of a bottle. It fits nicely in my palm. I hold it up to a streetlamp and watch my vision thicken, like when you put on someone else’s glasses, like when your body hits cold ocean water, like trying to remember faces from the subway. Like looking at the moon for too long on a clear night, trusting the tides this time to turn your feet in a new direction.
Art by Jason Rafferty Fall 2017
Inheritance Poetry by Evana Bodiker Spring 2018
In the fourth-largest American city that summer month, I ate like she did. Rolled under my tongue the idea of a mothering place. She wore fur coats, ripped stockings
in those seventy-degree winters, spreading her wings like a child in her motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s perfume-saturated closet. Hand-me-down clothes from that time, vintage then, ageless nowâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; we watch each other in the mirror as I tighten the belts, fit well in the dresses, pause at the unrelenting zippers. On those dark, quiet live oak nights, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d go out, listen for the sounds she heard, the cocaine pulse, acceleration, curated anonymity, oil-wealthy friends, waiting for pneumonia. Did she walk with me? Part of me believes she picked up mono on purpose so she could die there alone in her apartment, catalogue-model thin with a machine full of messages.
Rinse Cycle Poetry by Nikki Kroushl Spring 2018
When you cry, it’s like our house shrinks to the size of a broom closet. A belief in the power of comfort leaves us powerless, imagining a brush of fingertip to shoulder, lips to back of head— imagining, not performing. If I extend one hand to touch your cheek, you might shut the trapdoor to the attic and disappear into the upward darkness, secluding yourself from the hearth light below our coal-burnt feet. Every time I touch you, there sounds a clang as if metal-on-metal, pots tumbling from cabinets, the furnace acting up—as if I have said the exact wrong thing. I have not been trained to mop up this particular tragedy; you and everyone you know are long familiar with its mess, with its dripping, so much that the puddles on the floor are a habit, a means of community. My habits, instead, are practical things: scooping the litterbox, wiping the mildew from the shower drain, sealing chicken grease into its dedicated mason jar. I wish I could load your heart into the dishwasher: I would clean it first, rinsing it carefully in warm water, brushing the pads of my thumbs over veins. I would place your heart gently on the rack, between the coffee mugs and the sugar spoons, and I would shake fine-grit detergent into the soap tray and listen.
The Art of Learning to Stop Making Lists All the Time. Or, An Old Movie. Nonfiction by Lizzie Bankowski Spring 2018
In 2012, Cristel Antonia Russell and Sidney J. Levy did a study called “The Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption: A Phenomenological Investigation of Repeated Hedonic Experiences.” Or, why humans are more inclined to watch a movie they have already seen, listen to a song they have already heard, or visit a place they have already been rather than watch/listen to/visit one they have not. The conclusion came in the form of four reasons: 1. Simple 2. Nostalgic 3. Therapeutic 4. Existential All four reasons have to do with neurological receptors in the brain receiving some sort of comfort. But the stipulation agreed upon is that one has to do something for the first time before it can bring the brain any comfort. *** He said he would pick me up and take me out for dinner wherever I wanted to go, his treat. I liked the “his treat” part, but the rest of the proposition sounded less fun. It was July 15, and I paced around my room most of the day planning what to wear/say/do. Amy told me not to wear a dress because of something called “easy access.” Mom told me not to wear a T-shirt like I “normally do.” So I made a list of the things I could control: Tank top Shorts No dress No jewelry Not a lot of makeup “What are you wearing?” Mom asked over the phone three hours before he said he would pick me up. “A tank top and shorts with flip flops. No jewelry. Not a lot of makeup.” “Why no jewelry?” “I don’t want him getting the wrong idea.” I waited at the kitchen window, looking for his handme-down minivan that he had driven when I’d last seen him three years ago. Instead, a black Mercedes pulled up. I hesitated to open the front door because the no-more-minivan thing really threw me off. Some part of my brain expected him to be exactly the same as the version of him I knew from three years ago—
minivan included. I could control that version of him—it lived solely in faded memories covered in dust and nostalgia. But the version of him on the front porch was new and shiny and foreign. Like the Mercedes in the driveway. *** The Simple Reason. Or, Mere Exposure Effect. The pure and uncomplicated affection for something due to previous exposure. I watch High School Musical for a fifteenth time because I’ve watched it fourteen other times and those fourteen times have been successful. And if I watch it a fifteenth time, I might find something I never noticed the other fourteen times. It becomes new again. He slicked his hair back, and he smelled like the type of boys in old Taylor Swift songs. Nothing like I remembered. We got in his car, and it should be noted that he opened the door for me. It was small and maybe unnecessary, but no one had ever opened a car door for me before. The seconds between him shutting my car door and him walking around to get in the driver’s seat were the first I really breathed all day. Once his door was shut, he revealed that he had no plan. “I figured we could drive around until we find somewhere to eat that looks good,” he said, starting the car. List: No plan Chili’s would be nice New car “I like the new car,” I said. “I was expecting the minivan to pull up. And then it didn’t.” “Oh yeah,” he laughed. “No more minivan. I sold that to my uncle and got this about a month ago.” I felt better once I knew what happened to the minivan. *** The Nostalgic Reason. Or, Regressive Reconsumption. The act of watching High School Musical because it is familiar and a reminder of a lost memory. The word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain. Thus, nostalgia is created from the comforting hurt of returning to something familiar. The ten-year-old version of me watching High School Musical for the first time had nothing to decide, plan, or
control other than where/when I would meet my own Troy Bolton. It would happen at the beach or a concert, and he would know how to skateboard like the boys on my brother’s Lords of Dogtown posters. Instead, the boy on the wrestling team asked me to be his girlfriend via text message and called me a bitch six months later to his teammates at school. It was the day after I broke up with him. But when I watch High School Musical, I remember being young enough to handpick my Troy Bolton. *** We drove around northern Virginia Beach, exhausting more energy catching up on the last three years than finding a place to eat. Sounds cute, right? Very Nicholas Sparks. Very adventurous. But here’s the thing: I only knew him because he dated an old friend of mine, and they had broken up in the three years since I’d seen him. And for some superficial, nagging reason, I needed to know why they broke up. And when. And how. And who. And every other supplemental detail. And there he sat, asking me if I had been to any concerts lately, with me answering through a fine-toothed comb while avoiding asking him what happened with Sophie, and then telling him that the Chili’s two miles from my house would suffice. He handed me his auxiliary cord and told me to play whatever music I wanted, which felt better. I played music not by any bands I remembered Sophie enjoying as to avoid opening wounds on the first date—even though all I wanted was to open his wounds for my own selfish mental gain. List: Sophie 2014 Sophie Don’t ask Sophie Don’t ask *** The Therapeutic Reason. Or, Emotional Regulation. Using nostalgia as therapy. I know how the end of High School Musical will make me feel, so I watch it to feel that way. It can’t surprise me. It can’t hurt me. A new movie might make me feel good, too. But what if it disappoints me or makes me even more anxious, or Bambi’s mom dies and I’m left feeling more depressed than I was when I hit play. High School Musical won’t do that. High School Musical is emotionally efficient. High School Musical ends with the basketball team winning and Troy and Gabriella living happily ever after and lots of singing about how everything will be okay. We ended up at a place called Tupelo Honey Café, and I brought my wallet and keys into the restaurant with me because I didn’t want to say, “Do you have a secret compartment
in your new Mercedes where I can hide my wallet and keys, so I don’t have to bring them in since this is ‘your treat?’” He told me about his new job at the Mercedes dealership on Virginia Beach Boulevard and how he broke both feet on a dirt bike last November and how he lives with his grandparents and everything I needed to know expect for what happened with Sophie. I ordered a black bean burger that was mushy and unpleasant, but it kept my mouth full long enough to continue not asking. List: Take a bite Don’t ask Chew and swallow Don’t ask *** The Existential Reason. Or, Dynamic Linkages Through Reconsumption. Overlaying an old memory with a new perspective. I watch High School Musical as an adult and realize how ridiculous it is that two people stay together beyond high school. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the trilogy for you, but Troy and Gabriella go through a rough patch over the summer. By the end of senior year, she commits to Sanford, and he goes to Berkley to be closer to her. I’m 99.9% sure they make it. Still, the variables run through my brain: 41.3 miles apart The strain of difficult classes Potential new love interests 41.3 miles apart I assume they graduate college and get married and Gabriella becomes a successful lawyer and Troy becomes a basketball coach like his dad and then they have babies and sing about it. I assume it was intimidating and, at times, uncontrollable, but they did it anyway. *** He told me about Sophie that October, and I didn’t even have to ask. He just started talking about it. He made his own lists of when to tell me and how to tell me and which details to start with when he decided to tell me. There weren’t any lists after that. “I should have planned something,” he told me a year after out first date. “I should have made reservations.” But he is, to his own admission, “not a planner.” This is what they mean when they say two people “balance each other.” That one person does the thing that the other person doesn’t. All it really means is that he became an old movie. He became the thing I watch to find something new. To remember how it feels to do something for the first time. To rid myself of list-making. To feel better about being alive.
Photograhy by Madalyn Feder Spring 2018
The Fourth Hearseman Fiction by Caleb Horowitz Spring 2017
I stumbled upon the job application in the summer of 2013, lying in bed, about a week after Mary died. The job description read like a bad stand-up bit: Grimes Funerary Home Looking to drive a kick-ass hearse? Hoping to apply some postmortem makeup? Then I’ve got the job for you. We put the “fun” in funeral! You can reach us at: (919) 666-6667 I picked up the phone immediately, and was met with a voice I want to call gravelly, but can’t quite—picture a pile of gravel, but the gravel’s embarrassed for some reason. Embarrassed gravel. That’s Mr. Grimes’s voice. The voice said, “Hey, what’s up?” “Hi, I was calling about a job listing for Grimes Funerary Home?” “Cool,” Mr. Grimes said. “That’s me; I’m Mr. Grimes. It’s my funeral home.” “Yes,” I said. “I gathered.” “You can start tomorrow. Five a.m.” He hung up. I blinked. No interview, no info about the pay, not even an address for the building. I shrugged and wondered how he’d managed to get a phone number like that. I fell asleep thinking about how much I needed to get out of the house. About how much I needed to get the scent of her out of my sheets. *** Grimes Funerary Home is a sad building. A square wooden structure composed of thick and terribly uneven brown beams, it has the look of a log cabin gone wrong. Some of the wood has rotten, and, rather than replacing it, over-mortared bricks have been shoved into the stinking black cavities. One of the bricks has a sad face marker-graffitied onto it, so it looks like a goopy, sentient brick wall is trying and failing to claw its way out of a coffin. The door is the classiest part of the establishment: immense and oaken with an ornate frame. Above the doorframe is a placard depicting an emaciated white horse. I think Mr. Grimes may have blown the budget on the doorway aesthetic. The door has a classic, heavy knocker, but I knock on the wood instead. It creaks open slowly, cartoonishly. A longnailed and decidedly feminine hand grips the side of the door. The door slowly opens to reveal a tall, elegant woman
dressed all in black: black lipstick, black fingernails, poorly died black hair, and a black crop top with a graphic of a weighing scale. The lower side of the scale holds a skull, and the higher side an apple. “Surprise!” she says. “Mr. Grimes is a woman!” “Oh,” I say. She does not have the embarrassed gravel voice. Hers is more like overeager granite. All voices sound like rocks to me. “I’m just kidding,” she laughs. “I’m Clementine, driver of the black hearse.” She points to the back of the entry hall—a mostly barren room housing a single table and flowerpot— where a fat, stout man stands in anachronistic garb. He removes his top hat and bows, waddles to the door, the buttons of his tuxedo yearning to burst off. “She’s kidding,” he says. “I know. She told me.” “Yes, yes.” Mr. Grimes nods, swallows with unnatural effort. “I am the actual Mr. Grimes, owner and proprietor of Grimes Funerary Home, and this is my funerary home.” “That’s nice,” I say. “I have three hearses,” he says. “And I have two drivers now, including you. You can drive, right?” “A hearse?” “Well, anything.” “I can drive a car, though I don’t much like to,” I tell him. “I’ve never tried a hearse before.” “It’s the same as a car, only the passenger is dead.” “Well, all right. I can probably figure that out.” “Good, good. Cause we’re going to need you.” Clementine looks at me and shrugs. “I guess dead people take a lot of work.” *** “We came to you because you are cheap,” Mrs. Day says. It is true. We are very cheap. It makes me wonder how Mr. Grimes can afford to pay for all four of us to work here. He even pays the insurance on Marshall’s hearse, which he doesn’t technically own. Sometimes he buys us lunch too, but I think that’s because he’s terribly lonely. About Marshall: Marshall was the fourth guy to apply for work at Grimes Funerary Home. Unfortunately, Grimes was out of hearses at that point. Well, Marshall was pissed at first, but then he went out and bought his own hearse, bright red with flame decals, and just started showing up at the funeral home every day, and ole Grimes, being the pushover that he
is, just shrugged and took him on as an employee. He gives him a quarter of the costumers, just like the rest of us. “Yes, ma’am. Quite cheap,” I say. She nods. “And we’re willing to do whatever weird shit you like with the body too,” Mallory adds. Our newest customer frowns. “You know. If you want him dressed up like a clown or in a luchadores suit or something. One time we covered a body in hot nacho cheese, and his family dipped their Tostitos in the coffin at the service. It was pretty rad.” None of this was true. Mallory is a pathological liar and the first hearse driver—well, she was the third one to take the job, but she drives the hearse with the big number 1 on it (I know, it’s pretty confusing). She says she became a pathological liar cause nothing anyone told her was true ever ended up happening, so she just kind of snapped. “We specialize in perfectly normal services, open casket or otherwise,” I reassure her. “Our professional staff will help make this funeral a celebration of your son as he lived, and of the impact he had on your life.” “Thank you. Your creepy friend here had me worried. But we’re too poor to afford much else, Mr. Mortimer.” “You can call me Dan,” I say. “Mr. Mortimer was my father.” I have a tendency to cut dead people out of my life. “Well, you’re all we can afford, Mr. Mortimer, so please don’t screw this up. My son was important to me and a lot of other people. Had a real impact.” “Yes, of course.” As I usher Mrs. Day out the door, I hear Marshall in the corner of the dark hall whisper, “He had an impact on the concrete, that’s for sure.” *** As I was saying, Mallory was the third person to join our team. She’s short and blunt and into some strange stuff. Mr. Grimes didn’t vet any of us, so she also just walked in one day and starting driving a hearse. She does the embalming too, though. But she’s not very good at it. I think you have to go to school for embalming, get some training. She told Mr. Grimes that when she was a kid, before she started chemo, she used to hold her little brother down and put makeup on him by force. Mr. Grimes says he guesses that counts. I’m less confident in her qualifications. She and I get along the best, though, because she’s the most talkative, even if most of the things she says are lies, and I just like to listen. She likes to sneak junk food into wakes sometimes, which makes Clementine uncomfortable and annoys the families if they find out. Mallory doesn’t mind annoying families, and she revels in making Clementine uncomfortable. We sit in the pew in the back of the church eating popcorn and watching the prayer and the crying families.
“Wakes are just so goddamned boring,” she says one day. “Yeah,” I say. “But you know we don’t actually have to stay.” “Yeah, but wakes are fun.” I sigh, and she hands me the popcorn. I try to avoid looking at the cuts on her arm when I reach for the popcorn, because, in my experience, thinking about cancerous tumors makes eating less fun. “You know, wakes are the best part because it’s when people still care,” she says. “The memory is fresh. The funeral is just like school. You show up ’cause you know they’re taking attendance and you need to say you were there. The people at wakes actually give a damn.” “Yeah, but for how long?” I wonder. “Yeah, that’s the kicker. I was the only one at my mom’s wake. But I wept for seventeen hours straight.” “Your mother’s still alive,” I say. “Oh yeah. Never mind.” I accidentally bite into a kernel and wince. *** Marshall was the last to apply for the hearse job, which is the only reason Mr. Grimes initially turned him away. You see, Grimes Funerary Home only had three hearses. There used to be a fourth one, but it got totaled in some freak accident in the ’80s, leaving Mr. Grimes with hearses 1, 3, and 4. Marshall painted a big black 2 on his hearse to fill in the gap—create some false sense of closure—but he’s had shaky hands ever since the war, and the 2 looks more like a sloppy drawing of a nose. Marshall kicked open the door one day when Clementine and I were on lunch break—she was telling me how many calories she planned to eat for lunch, across all the food groups— and asked for Mr. Grimes. Marshall is a big guy, muscly and scar-faced. He was a truck driver, so he might technically be the most qualified to drive a hearse out of the four of us. He also drove a tank in the war, and he says he wanted this job because not seeing dead people every day was starting to weird him out. Well, us workers at Grimes Funerary Home are some pretty off-color folks; we’re not good people in the traditional sense of the word. But Marshall has a touch of violence lodged somewhere in his forehead that scares a man. I don’t much mind him though. He’s the kind of person who answers every question with, “Well, when I was in ’Nam…” Even questions like “Can you pass the butter?” Apparently, they didn’t have much butter in ’Nam. *** For the most part, the four of us get along. We’re like a reluctant family. Marshall gets on my nerves from time to time, but I like the guy for the most part. But Mallory and Clementine fight constantly. I once had to calm down a vomiting Clementine in the bathroom during a funeral service after Mallory called Clementine—who was unhealthily thin and
munching on baby carrots at the time— fat. Mallory’s not mean-spirited; she’s just mean sometimes. Mallory came into the bathroom, frowning. “Why are you crying?” she asked. “You called me fat, and you know I have a history,” Clementine said. “I’m a pathological liar,” said Mallory. “I make shit up. I’m sorry.” I didn’t think she was sorry, but I could tell she wanted to be. At least she’s self-aware. When Clementine left the bathroom, Mallory said, “I forget what feelings are sometimes.” I said, “Well, you should try to remember a little better.” *** I like the feel of driving the hearse. I got the pale white one labeled with the 4. Grimes says he got a discount on it cause the paint’s peeling. Mallory’s hearse is white, too, but hers still looks brand new. Mine is rusty garbage. But it drives smooth. Call me morbid, but I like the way the weight of the coffin drags me down on sharp turns, keeps me grounded. And the way the sight of my vehicle drives people away. I don’t listen to music when I drive, because I like to hear the body lightly shifting in its container as I hurtle down the streets. Mostly I like the hearse because it’s not a car, and because it knows it is a vehicle of death. Doesn’t pretend to be anything different. *** The funeral for Mrs. Day’s son is on a Tuesday, and it’s a small affair. Maybe fifty people show, and five of those are the staff of Grimes Funerary Home. I drove the hearse this time, and the others just tagged along because they had nothing better to do. The service is outside, and it’s open-casket. Mallory may not know much about embalming, but I’ll admit she did a pretty good job of making this kid’s mutilated face look like it never collided with concrete. “It is the things that we love that kill us,” Mrs. Day is saying. “And my son died doing what he loved.” “I don’t care what the fuck you love; skateboarding accident’s a shitty way to go,” Marshall says. “I’d rather shoot myself in the head.” I tell him to shut up. “I thought she said his life impacted a lot of people,” Clementine whispers in my ear. “Those guys look like his family, and they don’t even seem that torn up about it.” I shrug. Mallory leans over Clementine to tell me that her cousin died skateboarding, which I don’t think is true. Clementine laughs. “That’s bullshit, Mallory.” “You’re bullshit,” Mallory says. “Today, my son is surrounded by the people he loved most in life,” Mrs. Day is saying. Mallory and Clementine are qui-
etly arguing. Below us is a small, sad congregation. There are no children in the room, and most of the adults look bored, preoccupied. There is an elderly man playing Solitaire on his phone, a young woman shopping online for shoes. A dead boy in a casket prettied up so it doesn’t quite look like his brains spilled out of his head a few days ago. I find it all rather disenchanting. “You know what?” Mallory asks angrily. The conflict between the two has been slowly escalating in volume and intensity. “You’re just some girl who almost died from an eating disorder as a kid, and now you’re into skeletons and shitty poetry.” It’s eerily honest, as Mallory can be sometimes, despite all the lies. I see the rage building in Clementine’s face and step out of the way. Clementine growls, leaps from the pew, and grabs Mallory by the throat. “And you think you’re invincible cause the doctors keep telling you you’ll die, but you just won’t stay down.” Clementine of the black hearse pushes Mallory of the white hearse into the aisle. Heads are turning now as the conflict between my co-workers tumbles down the aisle. A murmur darts through the audience. But my eyes lock on Mrs. Day’s. She glares at me, angry as sin. Clementine is pushing Mallory down the aisle, kicking pews and spewing curses. An old lady’s purse is tossed airborne. Their fight transitions from the nave to the chancel, and then Clementine pushes Mallory, and she tumbles backward into the coffin. Mr. Grimes, breathing heavily beside me, whispers, “Well, fuck.” Marshall cackles. The shoe-shopping stops. Mrs. Day’s angry eyes meet mine. Mallory climbs out of the coffin. *** “Mr. Mortimer, I would like my money back,” Mrs. Day says, pacing around the office, hands clenched into fists. “Your co-workers ruined my poor baby’s funeral, and that’s a moment I am never getting back!” The tears in her eyes don’t look real to me. I have seen the same tears on Mallory’s face when she lies about something sad. Then again, maybe all tears are like that. Maybe I, too, can no longer tell the difference between the real and the fake. Maybe I have forgotten what feelings are. “I can’t give you your money back, ma’am,” I tell her. “I’m sorry, but we are tight on cash as a business. May I offer you a coupon for your next funeral half-off? It’s a buy one, get one deal we give to special customers.” Mrs. Day is not pleased with this offer. She storms out of the building, and I think about whether it’s all a ruse. Is she still angry when she gets to her car? When she drives home? When she goes to sleep tonight?
*** In sleep, I remember my wife. It always begins with the car crash, but if I get lucky, and I sleep through that, sometimes it goes back farther, into the little pieces of happiness I once held. A face half obscured by a wedding veil, a kiss, a hand on my knee, a fireplace. A long list of domestic clichés. I wonder if I was ever happy, or I am just projecting happiness onto the unobtainable past. I wonder if it is possible to be happy. I wonder if that was our old fireplace or one I saw in a magazine somewhere, if the blurry face behind the veil was Mary’s, if she ever really put her hand on my knee, or if everything I have ever known I have merely invented in some far-off fever dream. *** Mr. Grimes is pacing, muttering something about vetting his customers better. I ask him if he’s called 9-1-1, and I think that I should have known this would happen. He nods and can’t seem to stop the nodding once he’s started. The whole damn building glows orange. Fire skitters out of windowpanes and hopscotches down the sidewalk. Various wooden beams crash down at uneven intervals. The sickly horse above the door cracks and peels, drops chips of itself into the flames. Marshall looks in to the blaze and says, “Just like ’Nam.” I tell him to shut up about Vietnam. Clementine stumbles out of the building, gray with ash, coughs up smoke. I ask her if she’s okay. She nods and keeps coughing. We stand outside Grimes Funerary Home and watch it burn. “Mr. Grimes?” I say, putting a hand on his shoulder. He stops pacing, and I can see the streams of sweat racing each other down his face. I have the sudden, bizarre need to know something. “Why did you start a funeral home?” “Now’s not the time, son,” he tells me. “Now is not the time.” “I think Mrs. Day may have done this,” I tell him. Mr. Grimes nods. There are sirens and there is heat, and then there are men in uniforms and flashing car lights. Mr. Grimes and Clementine and Marshall and I wait for Mallory to emerge from the building. We wait as men jump out of firetrucks and smoke rises from our crumbling mess of a building, and men enter and leave, search and search, emerge with Mallory’s body. *** I cannot wash the smell of smoke out of my sheets. I dream about the night Mary died in the car crash. And then I dream about a conversation I had with Mallory once, in the pews at the funeral of an old lady who’d OD’d on heroin. “You curious about the scars?” she asks. “Yeah,” I admit. “A little.” We are the only people below the age of seventy in the room, so we don’t exactly have to whisper. “I’ve had three different kinds of cancer over the past
twenty years. I’ve had tumors removed five times. For years, every time I went to the doctor, they said I would die within the month. But I kept not dying. Eventually they shrugged and said I was in remission. Can you believe that? Days away from death for decades, and then it just doesn’t happen? I don’t trust anyone about anything anymore. Lots of worrying for no goddamn reason. I’m fucking invincible!” She shouts that last bit a bit too loud, annoying the one lady in the deceased’s mahjong club who can still hear anything. “It doesn’t seem so weird to me,” I tell her. “Death is the weird part. We go to these funerals every day, but I still don’t think dying is normal. Every time, it seems like a cosmic mistake.” Mallory laughs. “Want a chip? Don’t eat the green ones. I hear they give you cancer.” *** Mallory’s funeral is the last one Grimes Funerary Home will oversee. We all saw the body, but none of us believes it. “I thought we were past that,” Clementine says. The overeager granite of her voice has settled into scratchy sandstone. I think she looks paler now than she used to, like the ashes are still a part of her skin, but that’s probably not true. The four of us are sitting on the steps outside the burnt remains of the old funeral home, right in front of the frowning brick, dressed in our nicest clothes as we prepare for the service. “Past what?” I say. “The whole death thing. I thought we’d gotten past that.” I nod, pick up a rock and toss it. There was an unspoken rule that none of the hearsemen were supposed to die—least of all Mallory. “Seen plenty enough death in ’Nam already, thank you very much,” Marshall says. “I thought you wanted to see more of it,” I tell him. “Isn’t that why you work here?” “Oh, I don’t know what I want,” he growls. “People just say stuff.” I nod again. After a long silence, the conversation shifts back to Grimes, the one guy none of us understands. “So why did start this place, anyway?” Clementine asks him. “What’s your fixation with dead people?” Mr. Grimes shrugs. “Have to make a living somehow, right?” We all look at him dubiously. But he owes us no explanation. “What about the phone number?” I ask him. “What?” “Is it a joke? You know, number of the beast and all that?” Mr. Grimes shrugs again. “It’s just a number. I regret the line about ‘putting the fun in funeral’ though. In retrospect, it seems in bad taste.”
“Why’d you hire the four of us?” I ask him. “We’re terrible at our jobs.” “I didn’t have any other applicants,” Mr. Grimes says. “And I found your emotional ineptitude endearing.” I think I get what he means. I think all four of us worked here because we had the wrong reactions to death—not sadness or anger, but something like sentimentality. “Come on,” Marshall says. “Let’s go get ready to tell Mallory our last goodbyes.” *** Mrs. Day admitted to starting the fire. Said she couldn’t stand to see her poor, well-loved, impactful gem of a son defaced like that at his own goddamned funeral, so she took some gasoline and some matches and burned Grimes Funerary Home to the ground. She admitted it all to the cops when they questioned her, and it occurs to me that we are all a little bit responsible, except maybe Marshall. I thought Mrs. Day’s anger was disingenuous, so I did nothing. Clementine picked a fight at a bad time. Mr. Grimes hired incompetent workers. Clementine is furious, says she wants to kill that sick bitch, Mrs. Day. I tell her to calm down, and that death is a complicated thing. She says, “It’s all my fault.” It might be, but I tell her it’s no one’s fault. I am not angry with her, or with Mrs. Day, or with anyone. I am disappointed, and I think I am starting to remember how to be sad. I have become disenchanted with death, and I go home frustrated.
*** A fragment of a story from a long-ago high school history class comes back to me. When Oppenheimer built the atom bomb, he quoted the Bhagavad Gita, said “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” But I think he gave himself too much credit. Everyone is always dying, and you can never really trace the process back to anyone. The man who hit Mary was drunk. The man who started the beer company he got drunk off of makes no such narcissistic claim as Oppenheimer. Mrs. Day started the fire that killed Mallory because we did a shitty job at holding a funeral, and that only happened because her stupid kid died skateboarding. Death is no lofty thing, but a series of dull thuds, gentle dents in the universe—mistakes. The fire made me think about burning my house down. Doing the insurance money thing, starting over somewhere far away. I don’t think I’ll actually do it, though. I’m not the kind of person who follows through on things. Besides, I think that at this point, arson would be in poor taste. Mr. Grimes said I could keep the hearse, and I’m thinking of driving that around, ignoring my bills and my taxes. I could live in the back like an RV. Put a bed where the coffin’s supposed to go. Park my hearse in foreign parking lots and open fields. Carry death around like a bag full of rocks strung over my back.
The Golden Triangles
Art by Jillian Spina Fall62 2017
Art by AlexZandria Evans Spring 2018
Smile Nonfiction by Tayleen Hill Spring 2018
Read the screen three orders ahead. Sandwiches go at the bottom, fries on the top, napkins on top of that; don’t forget the sauces, but not too many. Don’t waste and don’t spill. Move quickly, but don’t rush. Don’t forget to bump the order off the screen. Pass the bag to the guest. Don’t forget the drinks with straws. Don’t let anyone see you tap your toes while you wait for guests to count the change. Make sure you always smile. Keep smiling at the guests. *** A chime. I pull my cell out of my pocket. The words seem to jump off the tiny screen in my hand. I hear that words are powerful things. I didn’t know they could punch you in the stomach like this. The shock shoots through my chest like an arrow. The pain, sharp at first, ebbs to a dull throb. It carries the heat back to my cheeks. It just can’t be true. I saw her so recently. I start to fit the pieces together. She seemed smaller than before. Her hair. Her health problems. Cancer. I become a shell of myself. The words I never thought I’d hear begin to ricochet through the hollow spaces within me. *** Use the proper language. Say, “Yes ma’am” and, “No sir.” Run the order. Keep eye contact. Make small talk, but not for too long because you must remember there are other people waiting. Remember to smile. Keep smiling. *** I shuffle into work grouchy. I am not a morning person. I grunt my answers and work in silence until I have to greet a guest. My mornings used to feel so much better than this. I try to remember why. My mind slips into the memory of mornings when I was in high school. I walk into the library like I do every morning, and I’m greeted by a hug from Reiko, who is only tall enough for her arms to reach around my waist. Reiko always gives me a hug when she sees me. She must sense that I need the validation that those hugs give me. I sit down with my normal morning crowd, and we laugh quietly about work drama and what we plan on doing in art class today. Reiko is eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Breakfast of champions. Her long hair trails down to her waist. I pull my hair to the side like hers, but it doesn’t have the same effect. When the bell rings, I get one more hug before I run off to class.
*** If a guest is inside, run the order out. Call their name loudly, but do it nicely. Make eye contact and small talk, but not for too long because others are waiting. Time is money. If you’re leaning, you’re cleaning; if you’re talking, you’re stocking. Smile. *** I finish packing a bag to hand out the window. I double-check the sauces. I hand it over and glance around the store. I assess any potential issues that may need to be addressed: someone waiting for a drink refill or an employee with a shirt untucked. I’m looking at the line of people when I see a familiar face. “Reiko!” I exclaim. It’s been at least two years since I last saw her. I grab another employee to fill my position and run to her. She seems surprised, but happy as her arms wrap around my waist just like they always used to—she’s so tiny, but she seems even smaller now than before. Maybe I’m just taller or bigger; that’s what happens when you work fast food. “What are you doing home?” I ask. I think about all the things she must be doing with her life: finishing up college, going on mission trips for her church to foreign countries, maybe even working on some illustrations for a big company. I notice her hair looks a little different too. It’s shorter and thinner. I hear a timer go off in the kitchen. Orders are filling up the screen. They’re turning red. *** When orders are red, it means the guests are waiting too long; time is ticking, and time is money. Call for the food. Check the times. Read the labels. Don’t put the wrong food on the tray. Don’t forget the sauces. Listen to the headset so we can call you if we need you. Keep smiling at the guests. *** I ask if she will be going back to school and try to return my focus to her. “I was having some health problems,” she says, “so I’m going to stay here for a little while.” I wonder if I should ask, but I also need to get back. She seems to sense my surprise, but also sees the glance to the screen and smiles sympathetically. I can sense the conversation is ending.
“I really hope you get well soon,” I respond. “And hey, I was going to try and get the old gang back together so we can do lunch before I leave for school!” “That would be fun,” she says. “See you later!” I say, and she nods with that same smile. A smile that almost seems sad. I realize how much I miss her. I remember those hugs every morning, and I miss those too. Something begs me to ignore the red screens and the voices behind the counter calling me back. I want to tune them out and talk just a few minutes more. But I don’t. I already said goodbye, and prolonging goodbyes is awkward. I wonder if I still have her phone number. Back to work, back to work. Move quickly, but don’t rush. *** Say, “My pleasure.” Don’t let the screens turn red. Keep busy. Move your hands, not your mouth. Make sure the order is correct: sauces, napkins, drinks with straws all on the tray. Keep smiling. *** I wonder what I can do. Is there anything I can do? I wish I had written her a letter or sent a text. I wish I could have told her what it meant to me: those hugs in the morning. I wish I could have told her how much fun I had in art class with her and all of our friends. I remember those endless days vividly: The air smells like canvas and paint and pastels, poster paper, magic markers, and dust. Reiko pulls out a piece of paper and starts scribbling. I grab a marker and join in. Our teacher looks over with a raised eyebrow. She doesn’t stop us. I draw a face with a fat nose and wide lips. She draws a smile with sharp teeth and a furrowed brow. Reiko is a fantastic artist. I think her drawing is pretty terrifying. I pull out my camera from my bag and snap a picture of her holding her creation. I laugh. We keep drawing. I remember those monsters we drew, not yet knowing that real monsters are so much scarier and all-consuming. Monsters are coming to tear out her hair and scratch at her stomach and suck her life away. *** Read about the traditions of the Seonghwa before you go. Set clothes out for tomorrow—all white. Find the address to the funeral home. Set the alarm. Cancel any previous plans. Find shoes for white clothes. Message friends and family. Don’t cry. *** “It’s going to be a Seonghwa ceremony. I’ll send you a link so you know what to wear and what some of the things are that will be different from a normal funeral, okay?” There is a voice on the phone talking to me. I only catch bits and pieces. I think I agree before I hang up.
No, this is not okay. This is not real. I’ve never even heard of a Seonghwa ceremony. Why did I wait to send a letter or message her? I chastise myself. I waited because it was too hard, too soon, too fast, too awful. My sister tries to comfort me. Friends try to tell me that I couldn’t have known. She was trying to keep it a secret. She didn’t want people to worry about her. But I did know. I did. How could I not know? In the same way she could always sense I needed a hug, I knew that there was more than what she was saying. I knew it when she said “health problems,” but the orders on the screen were red. *** Take the flower and stand in line. Bow to the dead and leave the flower as an offering. Stand and bow. Sing the song. Shout “Eog-Mansei” and raise your arms. Do it again. And again. Don’t be sad or her spirit won’t be lifted up. Send good energy. Send her away. Say amen. *** I hug my friends and remember her hug. I talk to them, and they are smiling. How? I try, but it fades again. I look at the program in my lap and see her face. I close it and try to pay attention to the ceremony. I have no good energy to raise her up. I am sad. Don’t tell me not to be. Please, someone distract me with red screens and napkins and bumping orders and noise in my ear and moving hands, not moving mouths, but don’t ask me to Smile. I see her family in the front row. Her mother’s shoulders are shaking, and she folds in on herself. No one is holding her hand or trying to comfort her. I notice who’s speaking and who isn’t. Her best friend— her adopted sister, really—is sitting quietly, not moving. She hasn’t spoken, and I realize she isn’t going to. I realize that I’m not the only one who can’t pretend anymore. Her shoulders droop, her head bowed behind long hair that blocks her eyes from looking at the pictures or the speakers or the casket or the flowers. She blocks out everything that pretends to be happy and folds in on herself too. Distractions can’t help me now. I have to feel this. The red screens and the “my pleasures” and the flowers and the bowing and the “amens” that fill my brain are eradicated by the tears that flow and the tissues that will not be sufficient. While everyone else proceeds in a line to the cemetery, I sit in my car and watch them all pass by. There will be no more ceremony for me today. I let the tears flow and remember how her sweet smile brightened the art room. My energy is sorrow and heart break. Regret and anger spill over until I can’t feel anything at all.
Just a Drill Fiction by Jess Cohn Fall 2017
The GasMask 2100 sold out within three days. It had all the latest technology and even glowed in the dark. There were suction cups that allowed you to wear the mask without a strap, and the filter only had to be changed once a day. There was an option to turn down the humming it made as it filtered, and if you bought three at the same time, they threw in a smaller one for your pet. You could bedazzle it if the four different color choices didn’t go with your personality. Mine was purple. It was kind of fun walking down Center Avenue, seeing what colors everyone chose. Mr. Williams had a red one. It matched his scarf and Scottie’s leash. Of course Jenny had pink (she always wore pink). Franklin had the blue one. Even Mom and Dad admired the color choices, though they hated that they had to use the masks in the first place. “So absurd,” Dad would say. “And disgraceful,” Mom would agree. I, on the other hand, happened to like the masks. They were pretty, and with the newer version, I could sleep with mine on so I didn’t have to be hooked up to the oxygen machine in my bedroom. Mom and Dad didn’t like that machine either. They would tell stories at the dinner table about the good ole days when only Asia was seriously affected by air pollution. Hearing Mom sigh about getting to play outside in the summer air and stargaze at night almost made me dislike the masks. Almost. At school, Jenny and I would compare notes on how long our masks could go without the filter being changed. “I’m at twenty-one hours,” she would boast. “Twenty-three,” I’d say, and she’d give me half her sandwich when I won. We had air pollutant drills at school every day for a year after the new masks came out. The alarm would sound and our teacher, Ms. Harper, would lead our class down to the basement with all the other classes, and we’d all huddle, hands over knees and head tucked in, next to the emergency oxygen tank. With the GasMask 2100, we didn’t have to hook up to the tank—we just had to be near it in case the country we were at war with decided to suck the oxygen out of the room. If that happened, our masks wouldn’t help us: only the tank would. Last year, with the old, clunky masks, a few kids passed out because they couldn’t hook up to the tank fast enough. Someone even told me that at their dad’s office, a guy died because he couldn’t get enough oxygen during their own drill.
No one really believed that a country would stoop so low as to suck the oxygen out of our atmosphere when there was already so little left. Mom and Dad kept saying how it was like the Cold War, but that was way before their time, and they didn’t know too much about it. “It’s a scare tactic,” Dad would say. “Hardly something to worry about,” Mom would agree. I, however, never minded the drills. It got us out of class, and Jenny and I got to thumb wrestle for a whole thirty minutes. Sometimes, we would even bring sparkles with us so we could bedazzle our masks. But, on the second to last day of fourth grade, the drill alarm rang. Ms. Harper rushed us down to the basement, a little more frantically than usual. We were all sitting near the tank when it started getting hard to breathe. It was like we weren’t even wearing the masks! “Lilly, I’m scared,” Jenny whispered. Ms. Harper made everyone take off their masks and suck on the oxygen tank tubes. It helped. “Keep breathing, Lilly,” Dad would say. “It’s just a drill,” Mom would agree. But it didn’t feel like a drill this time. The teachers kept exchanging worried glances when they thought we weren’t looking. A few of the girls started crying, and then Franklin and some of the boys joined in. Ms. Harper tried to calm everyone down by saying, “You use more oxygen if you don’t slow your breathing.” It didn’t work. An older girl from one of the other classes started hyperventilating and passed out. She didn’t wake up, though Ms. Harper and the other teacher tried. When the drill alarms stopped and the room felt breathable again, the teachers took us all back upstairs. Parents started arriving within minutes. I waited with Jenny until I spotted Mom and Dad. They said something about the masks’ technology malfunctioning during an air attack by the enemy country. Anyone who wasn’t near an oxygen tank was either oxygen-deprived or gone. I didn’t really listen to the details because the ambulance came and took the older girl away with a cloth draped over her. Mom and Dad hugged me, and I remember thinking that I really wished we had the old masks back.
2017 Microfiction Contest Winners Stories are living, breathing entities—products not only of the writer, but of the cultures in which they are created. It is therefore important to recognize that fiction is an ever-evolving craft. As a creative magazine, it falls on our staff to uphold these ideas by showcasing work that challenges known artistic boundaries—in turn fostering evolution within ourselves and the greater literary community. Last year, Atlantis debuted its first ever microfiction contest, in which contributors were asked to submit pieces under 250 words, following the theme of “first times.” Our fiction staff, with the assistance of faculty and graduate student judges, selected three winning works that best utilized experimental form in conjunction with this theme. Those stories are viewable below. In their own ways, they are each living, breathing entities.
September First Place, Patricia Patterson It’s September thirteenth: a flock of goldfinches swarm the cork tree in our front yard. This is how I idealize the world outside our windowpane. 213 West Alemany Boulevard transforms into a massive front yard with paint-chipped mailboxes, overly fertilized grass, and creatures with floppy ears, buckteeth. On September thirteenth, my father is not a father yet. He drinks black coffee from a whitewashed mug. No “World’s Greatest Dad.” No stains from years of use or chips from bumbling toddler hands. He gawks at the cork tree, flocked with birds, and whispers, “Finches? In September?” He calls my mother. She wobbles over to his side, her eyes wide in disbelief. My fa-
ther takes her by the hand and kneels to kiss her growing stomach. “Hi, baby,” he whispers. I kick him in the head so he doesn’t get any closer to her. She’s my mother. I hear distant noises: my parents laughing or mumbling something unintelligible. I can’t hear them properly from inside the dark cave. My father speaks to me from the outside. I know this because he calls me baby and says things like, “How’s it going in there, baby?” and “Can you hear me all right, baby?” He doesn’t do this for me; he does this for my mother, freshly swollen and labored by the haul of baby weight. I forgive my father, not yet father, because I don’t know him. And I can’t open my eyes to see it all for myself.
Leaded/Unleaded Second Place, Annastasia Pratt Java. The churning cream just beneath the glossy surface reminds you of an oil slick. Dark browns and soft whites swirl into a rainbow; purples and yellows melt together. It looks like the bruises beneath your grandfather’s eyes in the fluorescent lights of the nursing home. They trudge along the skin on the back of his hands and down his weathered legs. “Were they kind to you today?” you ask. He stares forward, and his eyes are as vacant as the top layer of coffee, the first sip mostly composed of water with a tease of flavor. The sip before the rocket fuel hits you. Liquid energy. Your grandfather used to ooze it from his pores.
His enthusiasm gleamed before he became a lump among other lumps. You try to fight for him, fight against the nurses when they grip him and shove him beneath the blankets.You try to fight, but he no longer fights. His eyes dim with every first sip you take. You lift the brew to your mouth and brace yourself for the second sip, and you cringe when the harsh liquid pours over your tongue.Your grandfather does not answer you. He is lost in his mind or his former memories, or maybe he’s not lost at all. His life was the preparation, the first sip of joe. This moment is the second. He endures the assault of bitter liquid, of all that his body can give. You return for your third taste of dirt.
Look Both Ways Third Place, Lizzie Bankowski Through the trees behind my apartment I saw Mrs. Robichek, the nosy landlady, perched on her front steps. So I ducked behind the Dumpsters to avoid getting caught in her questions. I crossed the street with tentative looks left and right, because I thought it might be a beautiful day to get hit by a car. At the women’s clinic a block over, I snatched the clipboard from the receptionist and hurried to check the applicable boxes and sign the dotted lines. I returned the clipboard and didn’t say thank you when she said to have a seat. A woman plopped next to me with a baby in her lap, whose little hands worked through a child-safe cup of Cheerios with microscopic intensity. I imagined the woman teaching the baby to look
both ways before crossing the street. The baby dropped her cup between my chair and the woman’s. Maybe it was my moment of redemption for not looking both ways. My hand shook when I returned the cup to the baby. The woman said, “Thank you,” and smiled. The nurse called my name before I could smile back or say you’re welcome. The plan was to ask the nurse how her day was, and when this was over, I would smile at people and generally be better, less reckless. But my feet guided me toward the glowing, red exit sign instead. It’s okay, I told myself. Most women don’t go through with termination on their first appointment.
2018 Microfiction Contest Winners For the second installment of the Atlantis Microfiction Contest, we sought work that dissects the nuance of “autonomy.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as “self-containedness,” “the capacity of reason for moral self-determination,” and “free from dependence upon or regulation by other organisms,” to note a few; this salt-sprinkling covers a wide range of disciplines, as we hoped for a wide range of stories. Individuality is deeply fickle, but every lifetime contains fleeting moments in which one's sense of self feels inexplicably clear. The following stories ask the hard questions of themselves—who are we when no one is watching?—by examining whether or not true autonomy is achievable—or if it is even something worth seeking.
Dorothy’s Wig, Behind the Seat First Place, Evan Seay Dorothy Bettars was the first person I watched die. I borrowed my brother’s old El Camino so that her last days here on Earth would be spent driving the country with the windows down. Her wig blew off and fell behind the seat, the wind whipping around her bald head and forcing her mouth open into a broad smile. I held her hands as she fell asleep that night, her words echoing in my head: “Thank you for today. We should do it again tomorrow.” We went to the river, and she waded out into the current, pulling her jeans up around her calves. The water wasn’t deep, and she laughed as the rivulets of water tickled her feet. “Take a picture,” she said, and handed me her phone. I walked up the bank to get the shot, and she posed.
She told me to drive and not to stop unless she said to. She sang with the radio. She made me turn into a roadside fruit stand where she bought a watermelon, a bushel of peaches, and a pound of peanuts with my credit card, and we ate as we drove. We stopped at a small fair and went on all the rides. We spent the night in a hotel room off the interstate. She slept while I held her hand. I called her family and the police the next morning. I took the El Camino back to my brother and pulled Dorothy’s wig from behind the seat.
Communion Second Place, Tyler Anne Whichard My god is quiet, which is to say I am quiet. The light in his room is muted fuchsia, set low with the mood he lifts to me in offering. I strip myself bare without the help of his hands and allow him to worship me as I please. He raises his voice in praises. I absorb them. In the softness between, he seeks a place to rest his weary feet, but I do not die to save. His Baptist pastor told him in younger years that faith which is given is faith received, but when he prays, there are no answers. His god is quiet, which is to say I am quiet. I feel his doubt burrow down and bloom. I see him strive to pay it no mind. He clings to Sundays in small hometowns, a time before
he realized the god he looked to the sky for lies in bed with him each night as the girl he asks to stay. I stay. He holds to ancient teachings: god is loving and just and kind. God finds the broken-hearted and, if they’re lucky, heals them. But his new god is my god, and my god hovers too far above these pleasant things, just outside the atmosphere and reach of sound. When he prays, there are no answers. My god is lost, which is to say.
Emergency Contact Third Place, Lizzie Bankowski “How long has she been unconscious?” he says into the phone as we pass each other on the sidewalk. “I’ll be right there.” He slips on a motorcycle helmet and sprints toward the parking lot. What a terrible blessing to be someone’s emergency contact. By instinct, I pray for the unconscious “she.” I pray he will get through whatever happens to “her.” In the elevator, I wonder if praying is enough. It sounded like losing “her” might break motorcycle helmet man, like he could use the prayers. But I lost my faith in the act after 2011, never had much to begin with. Nana died being prayed for. The prayers didn’t stop the Great Brain Aneurism of 2011, though. Or the car veering into the guard-
rail. But I pray for motorcycle helmet man because that’s what she taught me. I carried in the wine at Nana’s funeral. The chalice felt heavy, but on a day without a Catholic funeral, it may have been more manageable. I imagine “her” funeral. Motorcycle helmet man sits in the front pew, unable to sing the hymns. I design the tattoo he would add to his forearm in tribute: a cursive rendering of a name I’ll never know. I’m still in the elevator when it occurs to me that I don’t know who Nana’s emergency contact was.
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