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STILLW ATER MAGAZINE 2019

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No. 58


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8 Lightning Bug Blues Allison Reynolds 9 dream work Jordan Gallant 11 Observation Point Kelly Auricchio 16 Morning Glories and Dandelions Kyra Skye 20 We Were Good At Surviving Katherine Langford 25 Breed Registry Alexander Massoud 32 Tres Lagrimas Suzannah Van Gelder 33 Shared Spaces Leah DeFusco 36 Manuscript Jordan Gallant 38 Isabel Elizabeth Eberhardt 40 Creature Collection Gianna Caputo 41 The Beauty of Symmetry Lisa Booth 44 Rotting Women Sophie Westergren 47 the sun is in the gender neutral bathroom Kyra Skye

written work

T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S


Ithaca College’s Literary and Arts Magazine

Erika Kuhl - Sublime

art & photography Cover Art Seventeenth Summer Carly Hough 8 Decay 1 Will Cohan 9 Decay 2 Will Cohan 10 From Equinox Mountain Andrew Phillips 13 I Think I Saw You In My Dreams Carly Hough 19 Decay 3 Will Cohan 23 Wham Erika Kuhl 24 The Perfect Parts Chris Hagenbuch 26 - 31 Party Favors Devin Kasparian 32 Last Light Carly Hough 37 The Middle of the World Chris Hagenbuch 38 Revive Olivia Long 40 Untitled Sam Fuller 43 Overgrown Nicole Brokaw

44 Red in Ruin Carly Hough 46 Golden Chameleon Nnebundo Obi


2 0 1 9 S T A F F

F Brenna O’Donnell Editor in Chief

Jackson Short Deputy Editor

Creative Director

Tara Eng

Hayley Tarleton

Brianna Pulver

Alex Durham

Anna Michnowicz

POETRY Erin Shuster Mae McDermott Jose Polanco

NONFICTION Margaret McKinnis Nikki Kramer Ryan Condo Rebecca Brutus

FICTION Lindsay Bilgram Kelly Auricchio Maya Carlson Vivian Goldstein

Lead Poetry Editor

Ash Williams

Lead Nonfiction Editor

Creative Assistant

Lead Fiction Editor

Lead Image-Text Editor

Lead Art & Photo Editor

Suzanne Tang

Sophia Hebert

IMAGE-TEXT Madison Barlow

ART & PHOTO Madeleine Bellard Zach Cercone

COPYEDITORS Anastasia Arvanites Annika Kushner Olivia Long

Jacob White Faculty Advisor

www.icstillwater.com @stillwatermagazine @icstillwatermagazine

Lead Copyeditor


FROM THE EDITOR FROMTHEEDITOR It’s hard to locate the exact moment when stories become so important to us. Somewhere between the tall tales we’re told as children and the words we find ourselves needing to hear as adults, stories come to be not only a mode of learning but of living. Writing is a carbon copy of the human consciousness. Art evokes emotion that implores us to view the world in a new light. Stillwater has always strived to give a platform to the undeniable, fierce creativity of this campus, and our 58th issue keeps that tradition. But this year, we defined our work as a departure from what we’ve always done. We asked ourselves what it means to be a literary magazine in 2019. We spent late nights in the student lounge of Smiddy Hall studying our archives, going all the way back to the first issue in 1976. We brought in copies of today’s leading publications and examined them as maps of our own potential. What we all had a hand in creating — writers, artists, and editors alike — was an anthology of artistry that branches out from our predecessors while still drawing inspiration from them. The result is this issue. Stillwater is a time capsule. Having an annual production model allows for — in fact, demands — a constant reimagining of what a college literary and arts magazine is able to do. We do not ask that submissions fit any predetermined theme in the hopes that the magazine creates an experience that stays with you after the final page. In this way, it is a reflection of our community at this cultural moment. And that moment is full of wonder, shock, inquiry, tragedy and bliss. It is a moment that empowers us to look not only within, but ahead. Thank you to everyone who submitted to Stillwater this year. The editors were absolutely blown away by the creative breadth across the student body, and getting to see it was one of the most magical parts of our publication process. Thank you to the editorial staff, whose expertise and imagination compiled this issue and who approached setbacks with grace and determination. Thank you to our amazing Faculty Advisor, Jacob White, for guiding us with a balance of principle, pragmatism, and pizza. Lastly, I want to express my utmost gratitude for Deputy Editor Jackson Short and Creative Director Tara Eng, whose visionary minds pushed this magazine into the future. We at Stillwater hope that this issue bestirs, entertains, but mostly, inspires you. Cheers to stories we bear witness to and the ones we need to hear. Here we go.

Brenna O’Donnell Editor in Chief


Lightning Bug Blues

by Allison Reynolds

Before we left New York, there were fireflies. We walked outside the house and into the damp, salty summer twilight, and there they were. They lit up the yard, their tiny, glowing bodies buzzing in the spaces between our palms. My brother and I and all the other young kids in the neighborhood would chase them across the yard between games of Red Rover, our shouts of glee echoing off the trees around the yard’s perimeter. They were fast as lightning, their twinkling lights popping around just out of reach. And we were so small then that we could barely catch three each, though we raised and waved our little, excited arms in reverence, trying so desperately to see one firefly’s light sit in our palms. Those summers were made of the fireflies, their magic grazing our shoulders and hovering over our heads, blinking at us with yellow flickers until the whole place looked like a kingdom of light. Even in the dark, the rose bushes never looked so alive. There were no fireflies in New Hampshire.

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Will Cohan - Decay 1


dream work

by Jordan Gallant

we live in a city i do not know the name of. i have parked my car. we find an open house to enter — the men inside throw us a party i kiss one of them. the rest of the dream is our love story. i am watching an actress stand in for me on our anniversary. he asks me to adopt him i refuse. later, he dies — my mother rearranges the grocery store so i do not need to see his favorite foods.

Will Cohan - Decay 2

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Observation Point by Kelly Auricchio

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hen I told my parents I was going to Utah in August, they told me I had a death wish. The temperature was going to be in the hundreds. Wild fires were already popping up all over the national park areas and it was only June. Nothing I said would comfort them. We were all adults, twenty-one and over — we weren’t stupid. We would be fine. We wouldn’t go without water. We wouldn’t drive into a fire. They didn’t want me to travel in such a small group — what if something were to happen? I stared, waiting for them to remember that I had been across an ocean only a few weeks before in London. I had traveled to places like the Netherlands and Greece. I had faced pickpockets who reached into my jacket as I walked and drunk men at bars who thought Americans were “exotic.” In Scotland, two older men came up to me and a friend while we ate our dinner of fish and chips. They crouched beside us and asked why “cunt” was so offensive in America when in Europe it described a stupid person. They sang out the word a dozen times, alternating between the two of them, their faces getting closer to our own with every turn. The bartender stopped them from bothering us further, but it was too late. I was uncomfortable and made sure they didn’t follow us to our hostel that was just down the road. But even after that experience, I had spent a week by myself in London, exploring the corners of the city I hadn’t throughout the semester. I even took a

bus to the coast of England for the day just because I could. But this trip across our own country was too much? My parents’ anxiety has existed for as long as I can remember. In middle school, my sister and I weren’t allowed to leave the building even if a friend’s parent invited us to wait at their house. You could never be too careful about who you trusted or who you got in the car with. In high school, my father rode up and down the street as I waited for a friend to pick me up. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t left there. He wanted to make sure it was a girl. He wanted to make sure she was a safe driver. In college, my parents told me never to walk alone at night. Never to take an open drink at a party. I learned to fear the smallest amount of precipitation that fell onto the roads, because they made it sound like a tsunami or a blizzard. I learned to think about the worst things that could happen before I thought of the best. I learned to be predictable, solid, and safe. And I know Tyler — my person — hates this part of me sometimes. And I hate that he hates it. I hate it too. I hate that I overthink. That I live in the possible destructive future instead of the undramatic present. So I decided to go to Utah.

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he sun is beating on my calves, aggressive and unstoppable. Even when we hide ourselves in the shade of an occasional lone tree we find, I still feel its heat pricking at my skin. The back of my leg is red and I know the shower later tonight will be hard to stand, fierce droplets raining down against the same skin. The water doesn’t mean to be cruel, but with a burn as harsh as mine, it can’t do much to heal the pain. We’re chugging upward in single file on a stone path. My ponytail swings, a pendulum offering quick relief to my neck that I now leave exposed to the full blast of light rays. On our right there is a wall of rock hovering above us and jagged cliffs and alcoves, but to the left of us is open air. Below is the parking lot we left twenty minutes ago. Small specks of color dance out of cars and begin on the


Andrew Phillips - From Equinox Mountain

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same path as us and I wonder if they’ve prepared with enough sunblock. Across the canyon is more rock. Streaks of red, grey, and deep yellow are scratched in horizontal lines. Even the path under my feet seems to be cut into sections. We turn a slight corner and we’re faced with a wall, its face so smooth as if it’s been ironed by time. Strips have fallen away, revealing lighter colored stone behind it. It resembles a zebra’s body, stripes that are seemingly coordinated and strategically aligned, but that you know are not. We pass the wall and continue our trek upward, my calves humming in rebuttal. We’ll eventually reach an elevation of 2,100 feet, but we haven’t even gotten halfway and my back is soaked. My camel backpack leaked that morning and is now dripping warm water down my butt, leaving awkward stains on my light blue shorts. My white t-shirt would’ve still clung to me without the leak. Sweat makes it feel like a second skin — one I desperately want to shed. But I don’t. Do you know what’s in Utah? Some amazing, mind-quaking, heart-aching national parks with views that can stop time. But they are separated by hours and miles of nothing. Roads with speed limits of eighty-five miles per hour. After this trail, we will be going ninety on a barren road on the way to our next destination and be passed by others. I will wonder what kind of gas mileage everyone in the state must have. We’re still climbing, getting deeper into the crevices of the rocks. Tunnels have formed, or been created, we can’t be sure which, but we walk through them quickly. I’m too busy looking up, making sure I’m prepared if a senile piece of stone decides to drop on us — making sure I know it’s coming — that I lose my footing and trip. A sand-covered path rises up to my face and my knees hit the ground. But I’m safe. I’m fine. I say this again and again as I put one leg in front of the other. Jonathan is in front, leading the pack. He forgets how long his legs are, forcing Kate and I into a jog to keep up. Tyler alternates between walking in front of us and behind. He’s not concerned about Kate. I think he might be afraid I’ll fall off the edge. I’m afraid of that as well. I imagine my heavy

breathing can be heard by those already at the top of the mountain. Kate tells me in a rushed voice that the trail we were originally going to hike is closed because of unstable rocks; the trail was damaged from a severe storm in July. This is when I lose my footing over some sandstone crumbles and laugh nervously. Tyler swivels to look back at me and I want to shout at him not to be concerned. To watch himself because I know I will be alright. This, at least, is what I chant to myself.

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ngel’s Landing. That was the trail we had planned to do. Even though I feigned disappointment like the others, my insides screamed with gratitude. I had read that the trail’s most recent death was a thirteen-year-old girl last February. She had been hiking with extended family and decided to turn back before the rest. She fell on her way back down the mountain. The news said people heard the fall and her body was discovered shortly afterward. She was alone. I can’t imagine what that family went through. If maybe one of them had gone back with her. If maybe she had decided to turn back a little earlier or a little later, would the sun have been at a better angle to see? Would a rock have moved to a better location from another hiker? Would she have decided not to look at the atmosphere around her rather than her footing? I wonder if she screamed or if she was too shocked for that. I wonder if she was content just before it happened, if she had found happiness in the view. She fell alone. I wonder if I will be next. But still I climb. I climb with my head down, my eyes on the path in front. I choose to look up only when I’ve stopped


Carly Hough - I Think I Saw You In My Dreams

and feet exhausted. I start to sweat more than I was on the upward climb and when we reach sandstone again, I’m eternally grateful and so are my legs, now quivering with stress. We approach a cavern, a pit of water beside us, below the rocky path we set off on. It’s beautiful and quiet. The rocks are deep orange with swipes of red that resemble rust. I lean over slightly to look into the water, watch it flow through the rock that will be much thinner in a few decades. Then the smell hits.

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and my back leans against the safety of the rock wall beside me. Only then do I take in the view. Only then do I breathe slight relief. On our way to the top of Observation Point, we shuffle through inches of white and red sand. I don’t feel it cover my toes, but later when I prepare to shower, small piles will form on the motel room’s carpet after dumping my hiking shoes out. The sand on the path is initially soft, a small relief from the hardness of the ground. But soon, every grain of sand is a demon, making my legs drunk


A stale, dead fish aroma reaches my nose and soon I hear the grunts of my hiking mates as it hits them too. I plug my nose and see that the water doesn’t flow deeper into the canyon, but sits immobile in the pit. It reminds me of a city sewer, and I turn to Tyler and say, “I thought we had escaped this sort of thing.” Do you ever feel like that? Like an immobile, stale pit of water, stuck and wafting to those above you? No? No, I guess me neither.

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uring our ten–day trip, we hike twenty trails. We drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef. We make our way to Arches National Park and Canyonlands, finally ending at the ancient civilizations of Mesa Verde. And at every park, on every trail, the four of us play a game. It’s called the Death Scale. We peer over the edge of the cliff we stand on, look through the wire fence that could be kicked down in a couple minutes, and hang on to the chain walkways that are hammered into the stone. Our bodies swing to the side of the tilted landscape we walk across. We guess how much of a death we’d experience if we fell from that spot. Our measurements don’t make sense: bruises, broken bones, slight death, medium death, “Death Death.” I join in, continuously repressing the nausea that creeps in, especially when Jonathan jokes that one of the “Death Death” spots would only result in bruising if you know how to fall correctly. There are narrow passageways on these trails, places where you have to rub your back against the rock as you shimmy to the side. Places where I have to back up and launch myself across gaping crevices between boulders because there is no other way to continue forward. Places where I put all faith into a thin tree branch I hold for balance while getting my footing. I wonder if I’ll be next on the list of accidental deaths. Another name to the list of those who aren’t labeled as unprepared or overly confident. They aren’t labeled as anything, which almost makes it worse. They are just gone — no fault attached. After I return home, I will incorporate this

death scale into my daily life. I’ll be on the highway as rain starts to pelt my car and imagine how much death I’d experience if I slammed into the guardrail. I’ll be running on the treadmill in my basement, slip, and shoot backwards into the wood dresser behind me. I’ll be skiing and fly off a trick rail I didn’t know was there, falling onto my head. I couldn’t predict that this death scale would end up influencing everyday parts of my life, but it did. And now you may be asking why, if I had so many reservations to begin with, did I decide to go to Utah? Well, first I went because of the “what ifs.” What if my reminder to pack snacks is what kept Tyler from getting dizzy on that one trail twelve hundred feet up? How could I stand by and wait every day for that text declaring he was safe? And even then, we would be separated by a three-hour time difference. His day wouldn’t be over and I would fall asleep, not knowing for sure if his safety would extend on the ninety-mileper-hour road. I could deal with all of these questions, because even in my hours of worry, I would believe I was overreacting and that he would be fine. But the one I couldn’t handle was what if something happened to him and I wasn’t there? What if I could’ve prevented it? Saved him somehow. The second reason was what would my kids say if I told them I had the chance to see some of the greatest wonders of the country, but passed it up because I was terrified of everything that could go wrong? I think they’d be disappointed in me. They would judge me. And right then and there, they would vow to never be like me: too afraid to live their lives. They would fight against my paranoia as I did against that of my own parents. Maybe then the cycle would end. Or not. I couldn’t say no because I was afraid. For the first time, it didn’t seem like a valid enough excuse. Afraid of what? Of the heat? The heights? The unknown? Yes. You see, the fear of the uncharted — the undiscovered — suffocates me. Fills me with a dread


so harsh I want to vomit. Even as I packed my luggage the day before the flight, I imagined myself tumbling down a cliff, Kate shouting at me to protect my head, Jonathan swearing into the empty air, and Tyler crouched to the ground, his hand pointlessly extended because I was already gone. My skin would blister and peel off itself while people searched for me, and my camel backpack would sprout a bigger leak than it had that one morning. Yet, I forced myself to breathe, zipped my luggage, and grabbed my car keys. Then I went to Utah.

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ometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, in the middle of a nightmare, dreaming of what could have happened. I dream that when my family and I went zip lining in Alaska, I grabbed the wire behind the pulley instead of forcing my gloved hand against the wire in front of it, severely dislocating my shoulder from the rest of my body. I dream about the helicopter ride we went on when I was about ten years old, a gift from a friend of my father’s. There were no doors and even though I was strapped in, digging my flip flops into the metal floor so they didn’t fly away, I imagine I hurl myself out of the open door. I wake up as I’m about to hit the top of the tree line. I imagine myself standing at the top of Observation Point at Zion National Park and as I peer over the edge like so many others do, I stumble and somersault into oblivion. I have to force myself to remember the top of the mountain — the view, the freedom, the magnificence of life. We reached the top of the world in three hours. And it was stunning. Don’t get me wrong, I panicked most of the time. I craved the three-hour car ride we had when we left Zion to travel to Bryce Canyon. That’s when we would be on solid ground and the only thing we’d have to worry about was running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. But when we reached the top of Observation Point, I stopped breathing. Stopped everything. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. Thick rock bundles balanced on the thinnest strands of foundation that were worn down by air

and water. One swift kick and a boulder could topple over as if it hadn’t been there for decades. A Douglas-fir mammoth of a tree sprouts up from a hidden trail. The brownish-red bark seems to shoot out from the middle of packed rock and grows upward between the openings of a cavern. Only the top fourth of the tree has leaves and branches, which point toward the sun. This was only the beginning. Later in the week, we decided to wake early enough to see the sun rise over the canyons. Dark, black earth slowly turned green, red, and orange as the light painted the landscape in quiet, sweeping strokes. Around midnight the same day, we drove back out to the middle of the park and pulled into one of the side lookouts. We turned off the car and got out, two of us standing on each side. I never understood the phrase “deafening silence” until that moment. When the weight of the velvet sky hung over us and there was nothing to make a sound. No cars, no animals, no insects it seemed. It was us, the stars, and the pounding of nothing in my ears. I have never felt so numb. So content. The sky could swallow me up and I wouldn’t care, because I’d have seen it all. I’d have felt it all. It is this moment of serenity, of fearlessness, that will allow me to return to sleep in those future dreams of panic. To return to a different kind of darkness and silence that’ll swaddle me in the night. And I do know the panic will return. The “what ifs” will quickly follow and my throat will feel like it’s closing from of all the things that may happen. Because I didn’t beat my fears or my anxieties. I simply overcame them for the circumstance, having radically — forcefully — accepted all the fearful, intrusive thoughts as theories rather than realities. Because that’s all thoughts are until proven true — theories.


“You’re like a morning glory.” Those were the words that slipped from her mouth, accompanied by thick, skunky smoke. They rang out in the quiet air. It took Carter a minute to hear it, and another to try to process it. Two minutes had gone by and he still didn’t know what she meant. “A what?” She turned to him. “Y’know. Morning glory. The flower.” Carter looked at the girl beside him, confused. He had heard her say strange things out of spontaneity before, but this one was really out there. He propped himself on his elbow, the sleeve of his flannel digging into the dirt. “You’re comparing me to a flower? You can’t be that high already.” Yarra laughed mid-exhale, the joint still wedged between her fingers. A wry smile was on her face. Her eyes, usually bright and erratic, were hazy and relaxed. “Hear me out,” she breathed before passing Carter the joint. He took it and placed it between his lips. The bright ember illuminated his face, showing off his blond scruff. “I’m listening.” Yarra’s mouth curled up into a grin as she sat up. “Okay, so,” she began, “morning glories are stunning. They’re flowers that open and close — like, the actual petals open and close depending on the by Kyra Skye time of day! How freaking cool is that?!” Carter watched the smile start to spread across Yarra’s face and knew that this was only the beginning of her tangent. She’d always get so passionate and excited about the simplest things. She’d do it when they were kids and she still did it now. Whether it was how the asteroids that make up Saturn’s rings look like giant sparkly hula hoops or that the churro is the most underrated dessert of all time, she always had a way of making everyday things seem whimsical. It was one of the many things he loved about her. “They only open in the wee, early mornings when the sun first comes up,” Yarra continued. “They look like squashed-in umbrellas when they’re all curled up, and then they start to unfurl when the sun rises, like this.” Yarra demonstrated with her hands, tightening them up into fists before slowly uncurling each finger. She extended them until her palms were flat and spread apart. Carter watched her slender fingers move and tried to imagine the petals untangling one by one in front of him.

“Alright, so, what does that have to do with me?” Carter asked as he passed the joint to her. Yarra took a long drag, letting the heat fill her lungs. She shut her eyes for a moment before exhaling and pressing the stub into the damp grass. “For starters, you are the earliest riser I have ever met,” she began. “I’m trying to sleep in until noon on the weekends and you call me at 8 a.m. as if I’m awake. Not to mention, you curl up and go to bed at like, 7 every night. The sun is still out at that point. I don’t know how you do it.” Yarra wasn’t talking directly to him; her gaze was focused on the glittering stars above them. The evening air was still humid and her brightly-colored tank top stuck to her skin. She only

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s

Morning Glories o n i l and e d Dan

encountered the Georgia heat once a year when she came to the summer camp they had been going to since she was nine. It was the one time when she got to leave the concrete jungle of New York City and free herself from its cement blockades. It was what she looked forward to every summer, counting down the days to when she could see the other campers who came from all around the country. During that in-between time, Carter’s voice kept her company. Although she complained, she rather liked when her slumber was interrupted by her cell phone’s ring and she heard Carter’s voice through the receiver. His morning greeting tasted like syrup on fluffy pancakes. It was one of the sweetest sounds she’d ever known.


vastness of space, filled with innumerable stars. So many that he would never encounter — except for the one right in front of him. Yarra smiled lightly and rolled onto her side. Her face was now inches from his, but she made no indication of backing away. The closeness made the hairs on Carter’s arms prick up. “When I first met you when we were nine, you were curled up like the morning glories. You were shy, closed off. You barely spoke to anyone,” she started. Yarra raised her hand as she spoke and placed it gently on Carter’s chest. She felt his breath hitch and his body stiffen at her touch. It was only for a moment, but she noticed it. “Look at you now,” Yarra whispered. Her fingers tapped Carter’s chest lightly. “Slowly but surely, you’ve unfurled and blossomed. Your colors are bright and shining for everyone to see. It’s always been in there, but … now it’s so much easier to see. It’s so much easier to see how beautiful of a person you are.” Yarra’s words began to trail off as she continued, her exuberance fading into a whisper. She didn’t know if it was the weed, the closeness between them, or a messy mixture of both, but it suddenly became easy to talk so candidly. She had been staring at her fingers drumming his chest lightly to avoid eye contact, but now the words were out and she couldn’t take them back. She raised her eyes to gauge his reaction. Carter’s face was flushed. He could have defended himself and said that it was the heat or the drugs, but he didn’t even bother. Having Yarra simply touch his chest was one thing, but hearing those words from her mouth was another thing entirely. Carefully, he lifted his arm and wrapped it around her, pulling her closer to him. She eased into him, resting her head on his chest. It was quiet for a while. It was warm. “You’re like a dandelion.” Yarra scrunched up her nose at his words and laughed. “What? A weed?” Carter rolled his eyes and smiled. “No! Well — I guess technically, yes, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Let me explain.” Yarra shifted against him and made herself comfortable against his chest before looking up at him. She was listening. “For starters,” Carter began, “dandelions are really beautiful. Have you seen the bright yellow of them against the grass? They’re like little rays of sunshine for the ground. They’re so exuberant and they pop out, begging to be seen. And that’s not even when they get ready to spread their seeds. Y’know, when they fuzz up and kids pull

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“When they open, they look like they have these beautiful white stars in the middle,” she continued. “You only really get to see it when they fully bloom. It’s such a stark contrast against the blues, purples, and pinks the petals usually are. You really get to see how special — how beautiful — the flower really is.” Carter watched Yarra intently, holding on to her every word. The moonlight cast its glow on her like a spotlight, il illuminating her dark skin. It was the first time either of them were out this late together. Now that they were both camp counselors instead of campers, neither of them had curfews. It was the first time they had lain together like this, inches away with only the freshly-cut grass between them. They had spent nearly every summer here together. So many days full of laughter with other campers, running around with mouths filled with sweet cream and salty popcorn underneath the sweltering sun. Now, he saw her beaming beneath the moon, the heat settled into the soil. It was quiet, except for the soft creak of the crickets. Two planets, alone together in orbit for the first time. It had never been quite like this. Not this close. “I still don’t get what that has to do with me,” Carter joked, his southern drawl a stark contrast against Yarra’s Manhattan cadence. He thought about when they first met and the way Yarra’s eyes reminded him of his mother’s daily cup of coffee, steaming from her chipped mug every morning. Now, nearly a decade later, they were lying next to each other, his sunburned arms brushing against hers. “Well, if you’d shut up and let me get to that, I think you’ll find out what it has to do with you!” Yarra laughed, making eye contact with him again. Carter felt the butterflies rise up in his stomach. Her eyes reminded him of the endless


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’em out of the ground to make a wish? That’s the most universal and nostalgic thing that I think everyone can relate to.” His words came out effortlessly as he gazed up at the stars. His hand trailed from Yarra’s shoulder blades to the small of her back. Yarra relaxed against him, taking in the rustic scent of his skin. “That’s all nice and dandy,” Yarra said. “But I don’t get what that has to do with me.” Carter kept his eyes fixated on the stars and bit his bottom lip. He faltered for a moment, wondering if he should tell her, if this was the right time. He felt the air in his chest tighten. If this wasn’t the right time, then there would be no other time. “Yarra … you are the light of my life.” His voice came out raspy, hitting the back of his throat. Yarra recognized the sound, having heard it over the phone when they’d talk for hours until 2 a.m. She had never heard it in person. She tensed at the vibration in his chest. “You are the ray of sunshine against the grass. You brighten even the darkest days with your energy, your passion, and your optimism. You are beautiful, yet also the strongest person I have ever known. Dandelions don’t just disappear, they’re called weeds for a reason — they are resilient. You are resilient in ways I could never fathom — whether it be taking care of all your siblings at home or finishing up your semesters at college, I’m never short of awed by your tenacity. “And just like dandelions, you continue to bloom even after you’ve shown your beauty and brightness to the world. Dandelions fuzz up and people make wishes on them. They inspire people. You inspire people. You make people dream and believe in themselves. You spread your energy, your strength, your positivity with everyone you meet. You’ve made me dream and wish for things I would have never even considered.” Carter was breathless. Words that he had held back for so long were flowing out of him. He wasn’t done yet. “Yarra, I only get to see you once a year. Once every summer; it’s been that way for so long. You live in New York, I live in Kansas — it’s not like I can just hop on a plane whenever or take a nine-hour drive to come see you. And when I do, it’s for a week at this camp. We can talk on the phone all we want; it’s great that we’re able to talk almost every day. But it’s not the same as seeing you and being here with you physically. We’ve grown up together, but we’ve also grown apart. And it’s not fair. I wish — I always fuckin’ wish that I could be growing with you instead of away from you. I wish that it could be like this, all the time, every day.” Carter was gasping at his words, all of them flooding out with no barriers to stop them. He felt the pang in his chest as he spilled what he had been holding in for so long. He still had one more thing to say.

“Yarra, every time I see a dandelion, I pick it and hold it in my hand. Everytime I make a wish, I wish for you.” His words hung in the humid air above them, thick against the cloudless sky. They were out and he couldn’t snatch them back. The gravity of his words began to sink in and he realized that Yarra hadn’t said a single word. Nervously, he looked down at her. Yarra was crying. Her eyes had begun to sting when he said she was the light of his life. Her vision became blurry as he spoke, until Carter’s shirt became damp with tears. She had longed for a moment like this, but never anticipated the heartache that would come along with it. Distance made things impossible and they both knew it, but it didn’t stop either of them from feeling the way they did about each other. Yarra looked at him. The moonlight illuminated his features that she saw shift more and more each year. A small, teary smile emerged on her face as she reached up to caress his cheek. His stubble felt like soft bristles against her fingertips. He smelt rustic, like his barn back in Kansas. Carter closed his eyes at her touch and pulled her closer to him. It felt like home. When he opened his eyes again, her face was inches from his. His hands were at the small of her back, hers still resting on his cheek. It was quiet. It was warm. Yarra leaned in and softly pressed her lips against his. It was a kiss that was long overdue. It tasted sweet. Tomorrow morning they would be heading back to their homes, Carter to Cottonwood Falls, Yarra to Manhattan. But in that moment, it didn’t matter. He was her morning glory, she was his dandelion. She watched him bloom and he wished for her.


Will Cohan - Decay 3

Stillwater - 20


WE WERE GOOD AT SURVIVING by Katherine Langford

21

Girl She’d heard that the human body could go for three weeks without food. Well, that may have been true. She hoped it was. Because it had been two and a half weeks since she’d started walking, and there hadn’t been sight or sound of water, or food. Her feet burned from the sand beneath them. Two and a half weeks ago everything had changed. She could vaguely remember the way things had been before, with real buildings and people. There had been cities with skyscrapers that touched the stars, and warm arms that had held her. Had she had a family? What was her name? She knew she’d been sixteen. How old was she now? Still, for better or for worse, everything was a desert now. The sand stretched to the horizon like a great orange sea, in contrast with the brilliant blue sky above. The girl hardly ever saw a cloud, and when she did, she prayed for rain. It never came. She remembered a great cataclysm. Some event so world-shattering it had altered the entire climate of the earth. What had it been? She wished she could remember. Her mind was still hazy. Her breath came in heavy, dry gasps. Her feet stumbled an uneasy rhythm as she moved. She adjusted her cape around her shoulders, feeling the velvety material. The landscape around her was dry and lifeless, and yet she wore a little black dress, a necklace of diamonds, and her hair adorned with feathers as dark as her locks. She’d lost

the heels the day she started walking. She felt out of place. Surely she belonged in a grand party and not here. But she gripped her cape tighter and walked. She loved that cape. Why she had it, she didn’t know. But she liked the red color of it, red as the sunset. She tied it tighter around her neck and kept on going. She didn’t know where. But surely, one day she’d end up somewhere better than here.

Arctic He looked out his window and sighed at the nothing he saw. It was always the same, every day. Sand, sand, and more sand. At least there were stars at night. By now he’d memorized several constellations. He could vaguely remember where he was and what this place used to be like, and he knew that he’d never really seen the stars. Now, of course, they were there every night. They were like a new family to him, since he didn’t have one of his own. He couldn’t remember having one, and yet he could. His life before had been warm, he thought. There was always light and laughter. He’d had parents, maybe. Yes. Maybe a sibling. Still, it was never more than a flash of a memory. He didn’t even remember his name. A few days ago, he’d decided to call himself Arctic. It was nice to have a name, even if he’d given it to himself. And he had the bakery. Arctic found it a bit amusing that he lived


in a place that now had no value. Before, he knew, this had been a shop and people had lived above it. They’d probably been happy. But now, all that the money in the register was good for was starting fires, which he did every night, and the pastries kept him alive. He’d run out eventually, and what then? He shook his head. No need to worry about that yet. He reached out with a large bronzetoned hand to the water bottle by his foot. He was a big person by nature. Like a wolf, he thought. He’d found a picture of one in a book about a week ago, though he’d never actually seen one. The book had been found at a bookstore, about half a day’s walk from here. There were hardly any buildings left after what happened, so he’d been lucky to come upon it. When he saw the picture, he smiled. He didn’t smile much these days. Arctic groaned and stood, his back aching in protest. He took another sip from the water bot bottle and mentally reminded himself to check the fridge to see if any more was left. Not that the thing worked, but at least there was water and a bit of food in there. He didn’t know what he’d do when the food ran out, but he knew he’d find something. If there was anything he was good at, it was surviving.

Girl

He thought he was dreaming when he saw the girl. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, even sacrificed some precious water to splash on his face, but there she stood. He’d been looking out the window when he’d seen her, then had come the furious self-convincing that she wasn’t real, and by the time he realized she was, she was right in front of the bakery. He ran down the stairs to the entrance faster than he was sure he’d ever gone in his life. The second he got there, he slammed the door open. He regretted it as soon as he’d done it. The girl shrank back, eyes wide and hands clenched in fists curled into her chest. He looked at her for longer than he should have, not for any weird reason, but just because she was another human. She was the first one he’d seen other than himself. She had straight dark hair, messed up from the wind, and a small frame that made him think she might blow over any second. Yet she stood, and something in her bearing made him pause. He was struck with the sensation that he’d never know everything about her even if he asked questions every day until the end of the world. Which, granted, had already happened. He blinked after another moment and said in a rush, “Hey.” Really? ‘Hey’ was the best he could come up with? The first person he sees in three weeks and that’s all he can say? Well, it was better than noth nothing. He reached forward to take her hand, but she flinched back. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s … weird seeing another person, isn’t it?” She nodded. He smiled and retracted his hand to scratch the back of his neck. “Yeah. Well, uh, wanna come in?” He stepped back, indicating she could enter. She looked down, pursed her lips, and stepped inside. It was then he noticed she was barefoot. And shaking. And her lips were so, so dry. His blood turned cold as he realized she hadn’t eaten or drank anything in a long time. Weeks, maybe. Arctic ran across the room, dodging dusty tables and chairs, then vaulted behind the display case. He ran to the

Stillwater - 22

She saw the building two days later. At first, she was convinced she was seeing things. After all, this was the desert. Didn’t people start going crazy after not drinking water for a long time? But then she got closer. And closer. And closer still, until she was two feet in front of it. She stared up at it. It was three stories tall and made of stone. There were letters on it, but she couldn’t quite read what they said. Bank, maybe. No, Bakery. Yes, that must be it. Slowly, she reached a hand out to touch it, but stopped. What if this was all fake? Her brain was tricking her, probably. And yet … She put her hand on it and she smiled for the first time in three weeks. Real. It was real.

Arctic


back room and slammed open the fridge, grabbing two water bottles. In a moment he was back in the room, in front of the girl. He held the water out to her, one bottle in each hand. “Here,” he said. “For you.” She just stared at him.

Girl

23

When she saw the boy, her first thought was: I knew it. I’ve lost my mind. But then he spoke, and the sound was so vivid, so warm, that she knew it had to be real. She looked down and stepped inside. It was so much cooler in here. Could she stay here forever? She didn’t know what to say when the boy offered her the water. All she could do was stare. Here was another person, finally, another person, but she didn’t know how to react. What was she supposed to say? Did she even remember how to speak? She opened her mouth, but all that came out was a dry croak. He held out a bottle, and dumbly she took it. She thought she remembered how these worked. She started to twist the cap off, and to her surprise, she did it. With shaking hands, she tilted the bottle up to her lips. The water tasted like bliss and pain. She let it course down her throat and make an ocean inside her. She’d been so thirsty, so dry inside. Her stomach burned at the sudden sensation, but she still drank the bottle down in three gulps after the first sip. A moment later she reached for the second one, and when the boy gave it to her, she downed that one, too. She fell to her knees and watched a drop fall from her lips to the floor. For a moment she wanted to lick it up off the sand. Water was so, so wonderful. “Better?” the boy asked. She nodded. After another moment she opened her mouth, and for the first time in three weeks, she spoke. “Thank you,” she said.

Arctic “Thank you,” she said. Her voice was beautiful. Even if she sounded like a toad that had smoked too much, he could tell that her normal voice was something. He wondered if she could sing. He had a brief vision of her wandering down a forest path, singing a song to herself. Was she the type to sing to herself ? Suddenly he wanted to know. “Here. Let’s go upstairs,” he said, and held out his hand. She looked at it for a moment, then took it. She gave him a brief smile. He looked down at their hands. His were so large, and hers were so small. He hoped she wouldn’t be scared away. He led her up the stairs slowly, taking the steps one by one. She still shook, and it was clear that his assumption may well have been correct: she really might not have eaten in three weeks. At least she’d had some water. When they got to the second floor, where he usually spent his free time, what with all the bookshelves and seating, he led her over to a comfy-looking couch and sat her down. She smiled and folded her legs underneath her. She looked so small and innocent, like a child, and her red cloak brought out the sunburn in her otherwise pale skin. She reminded him of a tulip, beautiful and fragile. Though again, a look in her eyes had him second guessing that fragile part. There was so much he wanted to ask. How had she survived the cataclysm? Had she found shelter like him? If so, why did she leave? Did she like books? Had she seen the stars too? Well, of course she had, it was impossible not to. Did she know any constellations? After a moment, he decided on the simplest question he could think of. “So, uh … ” He clapped his hands together. “What’s your name?” She looked down. He tilted his head. She fiddled with her diamond necklace, and he wondered if she’d been rich before the desert had happened. After several minutes it was clear she wasn’t going to say anything, so he said carefully,


“You … don’t have one, do you?” He wasn’t surprised. She opened her mouth and spoke again. “No … not that I rem-remember,” she stammered. “Well, I’m Arctic.” When she looked up, he laughed. “Yeah, like the Arctic tundra. I uh, found it in a book. Did you know wolves live in these packs, and they rely on each other to survive? It’s amazing, and — ” “Wolves?” the girl said, brow forming a V. “Yeah,” he said, and without another word, he dashed upstairs. He stepped over to the bed and reached under the pillow, where he kept the book. He rushed down again to the girl and flipped through the pages until he found the picture. “Here,” he said. The picture was actually a drawing of a girl like her with a red cloak and a wolf standing above her. Arctic liked it; that’s why he’d taken the book, after all. The girl seemed to like it too, because her lips turned up again. Heartened, he put the book in her lap. “So, um, can I give you a name?” She blinked several times, but said nothing. “Sorry, just, um … do you want one?” He was talking

nonsense, wasn’t he? Oh, she was going to laugh at him. She nodded slowly. “Cool.” Arctic sat on the couch next to her. He took a deep breath. “Sorry,” he said with a breathy laugh. “Just never done this before.” He sat in silence for several moments before grinning. “I’ve got one.” She leaned forward. “Rouge.” She frowned. “It’s from this language, French, I think. It means red. What do you think?” “Rouge,” she said, testing the word out. “Rouge.” She said it a few more times and nodded. “Yes,” she said, and beamed. It was like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. “Thanks, Arctic.” “No problem, Rouge.”

Erika Kuhl - Wham


25

Chris Hagenbuch - The Perfect Parts


Come and buy our little white dogs! Prepackaged puppers, potty trained from birth To only go in plastic bowls upon command, Programmed to sit, to heel, to stare with Proptosic eyes (Exotic!) at any smartphone lens, Unblinking, while festooned in PetSmart filigree Fitting any posting season: Cupid’s wings to Rudolph’s nose. Our little white dogs have a need to please That runs on all fours through their veins. They’ll relocate at your call, motor Over hardwood without leaving a scratch, Paws like soft treads that don’t leave tracks. These little white dogs, well, they’ve been Produced in this country so long that their Temperament, their status, their brand is unquestionable.

Breed Registry by Alexander Massoud

Stillwater - 26

Please ignore rumors about mutts that bark, Surging to stand above the hip, eyes proud, their fur unclean, Mixed colors spilling a beggar’s cloak over their necks Which flows in savage clumps as they make chase in tight packs. Little white dogs from these actions abstain, With their little red bows and Instagram fame.


Teeth

P A R T Y F A V O R S


DEVIN KASPARIAN

Hold


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Kiss


Kneel

Stillwater - 30


31

Look


Lone

Stillwater - 32


I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit looking into people’s windows — on nighttime walks through unfamiliar neighborhoods or from the safety of a concealed vantage point. There’s intimacy in the act of watching. Maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of a family at the dinner table or someone perusing a bookshelf in their living room. Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever the recipient of this gaze, what assumptions someone may make about my life and me. It strikes me as odd. The physical closeness of humans separated only by a couple of feet, maybe a fence or hedges or some plaster, and the sheer mystery of it still. The remnants of lives scattered in plain sight, like trash piled at the curb, housing their own secret worlds. It’s different when there’s less space separating humans, when the only thing between you and others is a stairwell, a door, a wall even. The thing about living in a duplex, or an apartment, or really any house that has been adapted to accommodate multiple families, is that you can hear the happenings of all of the lives of the inhabitants. For most of my life, I have lived in these shared spaces. My two hands are not sufficient to count the condominiums with community pools, apartments with laundry rooms for tenants, houses with designated rooms and communal spaces. I always felt safe occupying a bedroom that shared a wall with someone else, even if it was a stranger. Throughout high school I would listen to the mumblings of my neighbor Ian’s conversations with friends and girlfriends or may-

by Leah DeFusco

sounds almost free of any human error. When I first heard him, I was convinced the neighbors were listening to records featuring some sort of piano prodigy. I brush my teeth, sip my morning coffee, and sit on the toilet to the muted melodies that fill the spaces between our living space and theirs. In my fantasy, before I met him, Nolan was an old man who lived alone with a black cat slinking between rooms, purring against his varicose-veined legs and mewing for food. He wore wool sweaters and slippers, shuffling to his piano in a room dimly lit by a brass banking lamp that emitted a green halo of light that illuminated his bald head. I imagined that the room where he made music would be filled with musty, yellowing books, a sagging armchair, and his piano, of course. He would wiggle his thin, age-spot covered fingers over the ivory keys and play and play and play. Of course, I know this not to be true. I know that Nolan has shoulder-length sandy blonde hair and glasses that magnify his eyes, freezing him in a constant state of surprise. He is young, 28 or 29, and works at the local college. I see him walking or waiting for the bus sometimes, and when he happens to be exiting his home as I walk up the stairs, we may exchange hellos. He is shy, or maybe he’s just not great at making eye contact, and we haven’t conversed beyond cordial conversation, but sometimes I imagine us kissing in the doorway. And instead of his fingers playing the keys of his piano, they are caressing my face.

33

SHARED SPACES be boyfriends. That’s the thing, though: you never really know the full story of the person or people behind those walls. Still, I liked knowing that maybe he could hear me existing, too, putzing around at my desk, staying awake with Maria until 3 a.m., or attending to the persistent cries of our family cat. I also liked knowing that if someone broke in, I could scream bloody murder, rousing Ian or Roberta or Kim across the street. Or more realistically, I figured not many people would scope out apartment complexes to break into for the sheer fact that anyone living in Pondview Apartments couldn’t be making that much money. In these shared spaces, you are never alone, and while this may seem unappealing, and at times is unappealing, the evidence of another energy, another body beyond my walls, comforted me.

N

olan may start playing the piano as early as 8 a.m. He’s a classical pianist and has been playing since he was four or so. You can tell because his playing

I

n India, Juliet and I shared a king-sized bed. In actuality it was


liked to linger in these moments, steal glimpses of the humans that extended beyond the awkward small talk we shared at dinner. I hoarded these moments like secrets. When that wasn’t enough, I took to the balcony, where our own sink and bathroom were located. As I brushed my teeth, I stared into the apartment windows across the alleyway. Our apartment buildings were so close I estimated that I could easily jump onto their balcony in the event of a fire. The occupant (or occupants, I cannot be sure) had painted the walls, or possibly moved in to a pre-painted apartment, a sickly green. From my own view the apartment could only house one person, but there was no way of knowing where the other doors led. The object of my fixation was not the size of the apartment but rather a man who I guessed to be in his late twenties or early thirties. I never saw him dressed in anything other than a white tank top and denim jeans, and he never hung any other items of clothing on his laundry line. I should have felt weird peering through the window at him sprawled across the bed, sometimes with another man, a brother, maybe, or a friend or lover. It wasn’t that I hoped to catch him doing some-

thing weird or kinky; rather, I derived a voyeuristic pleasure from watching another life pan out before me. Sometimes a woman stood by the window cooking dinner, the fragrant spices seeping through the cracked window as the man watched TV. I wondered who she was and how they knew each other. Did he hire her to cook for him? Were they friends or lovers? One day when I went out to brush my teeth, the lights across the way were off. And they stayed that way for the rest of my time there, and the laundry line remained naked, and it troubled me.

I

f you take a left off of South Main Street before you reach Pop’s Pizza and turn onto Willow Street, you will find the house that I lived in from second to fifth grade. It is a sagging white duplex with a carport attached to the side and two shabby porches, one on top and another on the bottom. The pool in the back probably hadn’t been swum in since the eighties, and instead of clear chlorinated water, murky algae kept a family of ducks afloat. We used to joke that the pool and surrounding soil were radioactive from all the chemicals emitted from the abandoned button factory that sat decaying next door. The lawn was home to grasses and weeds that grew without fear of being sliced by the blades of a lawnmower because Lou, our landlord, never came in time to mow it. So we ran through the almost foot-tall grass barefoot, throwing pregnant water balloons in the summer and setting up lemonade stands where lawn met road. Spot, our adored

Stillwater - 34

two rock-hard mattresses smushed together. We lay side by side under the thick blankets our homestay mother gave us, often too dazed from exhaustion to talk. I constantly had a sheet of sweat coating my face but stubbornly baked under the blanket to quell the ravenous mosquitos that sucked at my ankles and feet. The apartment was modest, with a cramped kitchen and a living room situated between the two bedrooms. In the mornings we sat on the brown sofas, smearing peanut butter on toast and sipping on hot chai in glass mugs that our mother prepared for us before we woke up. A thick curtain hung in the doorway of the other bedroom, slivers of light peeking out from the gaps between the fabric and doorframe, revealing flashes of movement, the existence of bodies stirring in early morning. They must have shared a room, too — our mother, father, and brother. The few times I caught glimpses of their room was when I had to shuffle through to the washing machine that resided in their bathroom. Their room was identical to ours with a large bed occupying the space, which I imagined them in together at night. Did they talk? Did Kartik, my brother, sleep with them, or on the floor? With the exception of the altar adorned with flowers and candles in the corner, our rooms were essentially arranged in the same fashion. Other more personal belongings marked their presence in the space, too, like Kartik’s black baseball cap strewn across the dresser or the hair clips and makeup scattered about that I assumed belonged to my mother. I


35

black cat who always had a fat bottom lip and alopecia, rolled around in those grasses and sunbathed on the asphalt driveway. In the side yard, a dogwood tree would bloom pretty pink flowers in the spring that my sister would take her prom photos beneath. And on the top balcony, the current tenant would sit, smoking a cigarette, swigging a beer, or chatting with the neighbors across the street. Three different people would occupy that porch while we lived there: Scott, Todd, and, the most infamous in our family stories, Sheri. Frankie Valli’s song still plays in my ears whenever I think of her. We used to sing those lyrics at the top of our lungs in the living room so she could surely hear, even after we knew we weren’t supposed to engage with her. Sherrryyyy, sherry baby. I have no mental image of her anymore. She has dissipated into the corners of my memory and is better remembered in fragments rather than a cohesive whole. What remains is a misshapen puzzle of a person in my mind. Her long straightened hair and thin frame with tanning-booth-orange skin. Where her face should be is a blurry blob that I don’t think will ever come into focus. Despite this erosion of finer details, she still lives in my temporal lobe. So do her two shih tzu’s that clicked against our ceiling, moving excitedly from room to room as I played teacher in the living room that also doubled as my bedroom. I think she would let us play with them sometimes, but I never remember seeing her take them outside. If she did, they must have run around in that overgrown

S

backyard with the ducks and radioactive pool water. There’s no way they could still be alive now. Thanks to my sister, who has filled in the holes that my eightyear-old brain failed to solidify, I know that Sheri made her way to 31 Willow Street from Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She held catering jobs but never had a steady career, which didn’t completely explain the red convertible BMW she sped down the street in. On the few occasions that we ventured into her apartment, a large portrait of her late husband stared us down from the dining room. His death was the reason she popped pain pills and at times acted erratically. Like the time she ushered us into her apartment screaming that a bat was trapped beneath her bed. When we peeked our heads beneath the mangled sheets, there was no bat to be found but instead a limp, black bra mangled in the center of the floor. We didn’t go upstairs again after that. From time to time I still catch myself thinking about her. I wonder if she’s still alive, and if she is, what she looks like now. I wonder how much of her life was contrived, a story that she told us, and if any of it was really true. I wonder if she thinks about us, too.

he stands in front of the window, the walls of her bedroom radiating white light in the winter darkness. Her mouth moves as if she is talking to someone in the room or pondering something aloud to herself. She moves around the room, occasionally disappearing from view to an obscured corner or to fetch a glass of water or to go to the bathroom. When she returns, she is picking up things from the floor, folding a pair of denim jeans, and hanging a sweater on a black hanger. She swivels her hips as she does so. Is she listening to music? Someone else enters the room and sprawls across the bed. Only their legs are visible, ankles twitching from side to side. She opens her mouth and cocks her head back, eyes squinting closed. A cat appears, lifting its paw to bat at something invisible, something I cannot see. She scoops it from its sitting place and rocks the ball of fur in her arms, nuzzling her nose into its neck. More people enter and linger and they all open their mouths and cock their heads back and squint their eyes closed. Laughter. It permeates the plaster and drywall. It transcends the space between us. When everyone has left, she sheds her day clothes and remains in her underwear and socks. Maybe she will water a plant, light a candle, read a book, or call her mother. Whatever comes next I cannot be sure of. She closes the blinds and turns off the lights.


Carly Hough - Last Light

' Tres Lagrimas

by Suzannah Van Gelder

Stillwater - 36

the air in paradise tastes the same but is easier to inhale. where the sun and su propio reflección bend over the countryside i am there too. clumsy and unsure my tongue stumbles over the old stone streets of a language that i borrow i pass through with child’s skill and childlike wonder as the heart drums a beat of longing and belonging that the mind cannot follow. plazas que están llenados con personas cathedrals occupied by tourists and fools and worshippers alike bones of a colonizer exalted by the insensible (and insensitive) where outside las fuentes offer water to cleanse our sins. La Giralda only spins in place, its watchful eye on the three kings’ day parade the street musicians las cucarachas the stranger dreaming in a foreign and familiar land knows the same sun that glows over Sevilla burns above all else. it is el mismo sol y la misma persona that constructed el paraíso to be a place in España. this world only spins in place y yo, I cry one tear for realized dreams one tear for leaving y una lágrima for losing the specific and unchanging sun.


by Jordan Gallant

MANUSCRIPT MANUSCRIPT I

III

Your anxiety looks a lot like don’t leave me. Or maybe it’s your fear of being left that is your anxiety. Maybe it is how your family is liquid, how it spills over the sides on the way to the stovetop. You are most afraid when it feels like the leaving is inevitable. Lately that feels like all the time. When you feel this way you hold everyone tighter. Your response is to constrict with your love and care, to give them all the reasons that you are the solution to their pain. You forget about yourself in this process, but maybe it’s because you only see yourself painted through their gaze. The pills do not help you when you have a panic attack over the words “Leave me alone” or “Do you want to break up”.

You and him are not dating, yet. But every day he picks you up and you go to his apartment and you become wrapped within one another and somehow he convinces you to stay the night, again, and you swaddle yourselves in the same sheets and face one another on the same pillow in the dark room. You feel whole. Maybe that’s why when he prods you answer his questions about what happened, about the four months of your life you spent preparing for funerals, you answer him. About how when you returned from winter break, a month of watching dumb television shows with your mom on the couch while she mourned the loss of her older sister, your then boyfriend broke up with you. You will have come to realize that this was a positive thing, but in this moment you feel so safe and warm and comforted you admit your anger. He had stolen your grief. It wasn’t his fault that his uncle had cancer at the same time as your aunt. It wasn’t his fault that his uncle had died first. You chose to visit him when he was bedridden. You chose to go to the funeral. You remember distinctly when you arrived at the funeral home with him and his parents. When you entered the main room and saw the box that held his ashes, you cried, filled with this overwhelming sense of loss for someone you never really knew. When your aunt passed weeks later, you wouldn’t feel much. Sure you cried when you found out, but not at the funeral, not during Christmas like your mom. A year later, you haven’t cried since. For a while you thought maybe it was because it didn’t feel real, but now you know that your grief was wasted on someone else. “He didn’t even come to her funeral,” you whispered, afraid to disturb your shared cocoon. The truth was but another blanket.

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II You go to therapy with your sister just once. It is after your aunt died. Her therapist asks how you both are feeling. You haven’t cried since you found out. She hasn’t either. You are both worried about your mother. She tries so hard to do so much for everyone but herself, you say. She will collapse, you think. This will end her. You are struck by how much you are like her. On the most basic level, you both do not know how to care for yourselves. Your sister only calls you when she is at her most alone. She is usually empty or crying. She has told you what she has said in therapy about you, how deeply she feels that physical distance of 200 plus miles. You know so much of your life could be done better, so many of your relationships, but all you can say is “I’m sorry”. You don’t change anything. You wonder what this means. “It’s a two-way street,” your boyfriend will tell you whenever you feel this stifling inadequacy. It feels as though your side is always under construction.


IV Your first real memory of being a sister is not in the hospital room or when they came home — it is months or years later and you are getting dressed for school in the living room. You grab your shirt from the neatly folded pile on the couch, knocking down a single sock. Devin runs for the master bedroom, yelling, “Jordan threw her sock at me!” and you are filled with rage at this accusation — running in pursuit to defend your honor. Car rides after preschool were spent listening to her report of her day. It was filled with a lot of “and then”s that did not cease even while mom hopped out to get gas or bought you slushies at the 7 Eleven. When you got home, she would insist on opening the door, hovering while Mom twisted the keys. More often than not she would take too long and you would open it for her — causing her to cry and demand a do-over. Mom would drag you back out and give her another chance. One of her favorite snacks was canned carrots. Mom would pour them out onto a plate or her high chair and she would grab them in her grubby hands and stuff them into her face. You hated the thought of them, let alone the smell or the look. You would take cereal boxes and barricade you and your meal away from the gross carrots, breathing exclusively from your mouth. The only time her idolization of you did not seem annoying was during her ballet obsession. She was probably four and spent her free time twirling on the linoleum of the kitchen floor. Sometimes, you would join her, and try to spin yourself as many times as possible on the ball of your foot. She was convinced you were a real-life ballerina. When Mom asked if she wanted to take lessons she refused. “Jordan is gonna teach me,” she said. Your first physical fight was not really a fight. You were preparing to make pasta, standing in front of the stove topped with a pot filled with water. There was a confrontation, yelling, and the slotted spoon flew and hit one of you. You dispersed, half shocked and half amused by the shape of this hurt — a half-wet spoon on the hardwood.

V You have just finished another rom-com. At the end, Lily James’s character demands that her love interest marry her. “Marry me,” she says, and they kiss for the first time. You and your boyfriend sit well into the credits, living room dark. You turn to him and say, “Marry me.” He laughs and says you’re just copying the movie; you don’t mean it. But then you kiss him hard and long because you’ve never meant anything more in your life. This is not the first time you have talked about marriage. You both lay in bed at night, sharing a pillow and breathing the same air, and he tells you he’s going to marry you. He admits once that he wanted to propose at his graduation and you scold him. “Three more years,” you say, “Then I’ll have graduated and we will have lived together and we both will have jobs.” You do not recognize until later that this plan does not guarantee success. Nothing does. You cannot treat your relationship like a math equation if you barely passed algebra. And yet, you strive for that “right time”, that inevitability. No matter how much those three years stretch out before you like forever. At night in the same bed in the hush of the fan, you want to say it again and again. Marry me. Marry me. Marry me. “Goodnight,” you say instead.

Chris Hagenbuch - The Middle of the World


by Elizabeth Eberhardt

I S A B E L

“Paint me as a mermaid,” Isabel said. I stopped and looked at her. “A mermaid from the sea coast of New Hampshire.” Yes, I could see it. Isabel was the perfect mermaid. Sand and abalone and shells of cream glistening, trailing through her hair, down its curly length, seaweed woven into her skin, salt and sea and the fresh breeze that smells of a far-off hurricane. Turquoise water swirling around her, dazzling. A satchel of stones that were skipped and long forgotten, bits of sea glass turned over and over in her fingertips like a talisman — the spirit of the sea. My hand moved for me. I dipped my brush into green, mixed it with blue. Heavy, textured strokes and softer ones for her skin that glowed pale, translucent, in the white moonlight that trickled through the water. She began to take shape under my hands. Details filled in like a tidal pool after the waves recede, leaving a pool of life in its wake. Life and beauty and colors. “Should I pose? How do you want me?” No, I let my imagination take me away. I couldn’t bear the stiffness of a pose overlapping the disengaged tension already present every time we interacted. The easel filled with colors, the light from the studio’s two windows dribbling over my canvas. I’d never seen the ocean before. I didn’t

Olivia Long - Revive

understand how the waves could play with her toes, frolicking like a leviathan racing its mate from coast to coast. All I knew was color, the adventure of an uncharted canvas, but I usually recreated my mountains. My past, not hers. But now I painted her underwater, trying to do her justice, dappling the pupils in her eyes and tinting her warm skin a cool, clammy green like the seaweed she loved, her blond hair billowing around her as she curled up on a rock and touched a shell with the tip of her pointer finger. I intently touched the brush to the canvas, pausing to study her — unnecessary, but I wanted the chance to absorb her, saturate myself in her — this woman that I didn’t know half as well as I should and never would, whether I tried or not. Isabel, the pearl of the sea. She smiled at me, that distracted smile that meant her


my grandfather’s old studio, now reclaimed as mine — but I didn’t care. I banged the door open, nearly upsetting a can of paint in the process but stopping it before it fell. The lakeshore sprawled in front of me, trembling with the pounding of ten billion raindrops all at once, lightning flashing overhead. I splashed in up to my knees, losing my balance on the muddy bottom and falling on my hands and knees in the cold water. The wind drove at me, prying at my skin, harshly telling me to go back inside, that this was none of my business. The metal canoe in the yard rocked wildly. A life jacket sat morose next to it, pinned under its weight. Of course Isabel wouldn’t take a life jacket. She was the spirit of water, she wouldn’t need one. I shoved the canoe into the water, weakly battling the rain. I couldn’t swim — of course I couldn’t, I grew up landlocked. I didn’t make it beyond the inlet before the canoe was rocking too badly, taking in so much water from the rain and the angry lake that I had to turn around. I waited on the shore for hours, far past when the rain gradually receded like the tide and darkness began to fall in earnest. It was there that I remembered that I was in love with her, not the spirit of her or the thought of her but her, the woman who made me eggs in the morning but ate them by herself at the breakfast table because I was too busy, and who believed that dinosaurs were oversized, aged reptiles, and who would only ever order chocolate-based ice cream from the small stand down the road. The next day, the local paper ran an article about a local who had found a body, bloated from the lake and shrouded in the weeds from lily pads, washed up on the small public beach before sunrise. I finished the painting then, but my bristles were bent from the brush falling on the floor, and the green of the sea smudged over her throat, into her lungs, and I ran outside and threw up and wondered at the hollowness inside. My mermaid, my Isabel, had been a pivot point; someone to gracefully spin past, trying not to upset tins of paint and kayaks. But in the end, isn’t that all we have left?

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mind was a million miles away. I gently painted her fingernail, cloudy as milk, as a white shell covered in salty water. Thick lashes, thicker than in real life. She came and stood over my shoulder, examining the painting. “I’m going to go for a kayak ride, I think,” she said. “Want to join?” No thanks, her hope for our redemption was wasted on me. I was in my own world and she in hers, as per usual. We were in love, or love was in us. We’d coexisted for so long it was a given. We had perfected this dance, tiptoeing around each other’s scars, describing each other to our families in only the best light possible. I swirled the paintbrush idly, filling in her pensive eye with a light blue, tinted greener from the sea. I’d never been able to share in that part of her life. How was it that we’d been married four years and she’d never taken me to her sea? But then again, I’d never taken her to my mountains. We existed in a separate plane from our old lives. I painted till the sky was dusky, lost in the seashells I had read about in books and the colors I had only ever imagined. Rain slid down the windows, dappling and warping my light. I had only heard about boardwalks, the lights and colors that always reminded me of a summer vacation pictured in an ’80s movie. I stretched and turned on the light. It was only 4:30; darkness had come soon. I looked outside and, for the first time, truly noticed the rain lashing the windows, tearing at the pine tree in the yard. The paintbrush fell out of my fingers, smearing green-blue on the wooden floor of the cabin that had been in my family for years —


a thousand tiny mollusks line the inside of my body i am held captive by what i cannot see sucking tentacles the crack of a shell, which used to be spine now covered in wet, slick barnacles

Creature Collection by Gianna Caputo

i no longer know myself vessel grave sepulcher with tiny somas spilling forth from my chest through a telescope i watch my body, i used to be so afraid of dying that i failed to realize what it means to be gone me, a home for a thousand tiny creatures, me, flesh and nothing more, me, bones washing ashore in pieces me, a collection of all i wished to be in life, now in death me, forgetting what it is to wonder about what comes after because that means they will have somewhere to live

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Sam Fuller - Untitled


Beautyof Symmetry The

by Lisa Booth

In 1753, Richard Boyle died, followed subsequently by his only remaining daughter and his wife, all within a five-year span. Their deaths changed the lineage of ownership of the Chiswick House from Earl of Burlington to Duke of Devonshire — from Boyle to Cavendish. Boyle’s son-in-law inherited the manor and then passed it down to his son. In the Chiswick house, tall, arched windows line the hallways and marble statues and busts come in pairs. They stand straight against the walls and in corners, continuing the symmetrical theme throughout the property. The European Palladian architecture that the manor replicates was inspired by Andrea Palladio, whose work focused on symmetry, as well as the perspective and values of the formal classical architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The manor still retains those architectural ideals despite its many renovations after Boyle’s death. I think about physical and intangible change: the change you notice and the change that happens subtly. In my own family, the deterioration of my parents’ marriage and my mother’s new romantic prospects were unexpected. Her new boyfriend kept appearing wherever we went; he always wanted it to be the weekend I went to see my father so he could have my mother all to himself. It all happened before my very eyes, yet I couldn’t see it. My family was still my family and the same rules somewhat applied, but life was different. I had a stepfather who wanted to get rid of me and a new sibling on the way, and the changes that were occurring in my life were anything but subtle. Boyle’s grandson, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and his wife, Duchess Georgiana, inherited the property in 1764. Together, the pair renovated the property to hold lavish parties. Georgiana loved the villa and often used the property as an escape to get away and rejuvenate. In 1813, almost 50

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In Chiswick, West London, England, on Burlington Lane, resides an 18th-century neo-palladian villa called Chiswick House; it is one of the last of its kind in London. The building itself is colored in shades of whites, grays, and creams. It consists of geometric shapes and angles. If you were to split the main villa down the middle, it would be nearly symmetrical. Most of the garden grounds surrounding the property are symmetrical as well, with plants and trees mirroring each other. Chiswick House was inherited by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, in 1715. The neo-palladian villa began construction in 1726 and was completed three years later, after intense renovation. As I walk along the corridors of the white and golden exterior, I try to imagine what it would have been like to have lived in the manor during that time. I try to imagine the grandeur of being waited on and served and living in rooms of white and gold, and I just can’t picture it. Growing up in a low-middle income family in a small town in Connecticut, with only my mother and younger sister, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have lived the way the wealthy Earls, Dukes, and Duchesses did during the 17th and 18th centuries in England. I had the opportunity to study abroad in London, which in itself still surprises me because of my circumstances. Even though I can see the living space that these people inhabited and I read about their lives, I still can’t piece the picture together in my head the way it probably was. My mind instead creates dreamlike images, romanticizing the lives they may have led, when in reality it was probably a lot less pleasant than what my imagination conjures up. While Chiswick House is a beautiful piece of architecture with an antiquated charm, the history is a lot darker than the light creams and whites make it seem.


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The 65 acres of Chiswick gardens follow the same patterns of symmetry and replication of Ancient Greek and Roman styles as the villa. There is a classical stone bridge that connects the two pieces of land divided by the lake. The channel is narrow like a river, its edges altered to give the body of water a river-like illusion. It’s calm and peaceful. The grounds are alive with nature, birds chirping, squirrels running up trees, and fish swimming just below the surface of the water. I’ve come into contact with very few people. It’s a serene atmosphere, completely quiet except for the little creatures scuttling around and the whistle of the wind. I am alone with my thoughts. With so much land, I imagine that one could feel completely isolated if they lived here alone. I walk along the pathways and take in all the nature and landmarks around me ranging from ponds and fountains to monuments and temples. It’s all beautiful — from the lake to the cascades and everything in between, but I can’t help but think that this would’ve been nice to enjoy with a friend. I often felt alone growing up with an absentee father who was only sometimes present and a mother who had a new baby. My life didn’t really intersect with my family during the two years that my mother and stepfather were together. I would watch them be a family when they passed the baby to one another and when they all slept together in the same room, in the same bed. They were their own little unit and I was a reminder of the lives my parents led before their significant others. Through their words and actions, I knew that both of my parents’ partners wanted me gone. The feelings of being unwanted still haunt me and play a role in my relationships with others. During the years 1892–1929, the property was leased to the Tuke family to be used as a private asylum. Walking around the Chiswick property, learning of all its history and seeing everything from the crystal chandeliers to the Ionic Temple in the gardens, I’m taken back in time. I think about the forgotten history of Chiswick House. Not many people are aware that Chiswick was an asylum, mainly because the wings where the patients lived were demolished in the 1950s by the Ministry of Works. But that isn’t all that was forgotten. One of the wings that was added during one of the property’s many renovations was destroyed by a V2 rocket in 1944, during WWII, and much of the ’50s were spent restoring the property to its former glory.

“History of the House.” Chiswick House Friends, chfriends.org.uk/history/. Rabon, John, et al. “Great London Buildings – Chiswick House.” Londontopia, 6 Oct. 2016, londontopia.net/culture/buildings/great-london-buildings-chiswick-house/. “The History of the House and Gardens.” Chiswick House & Gardens, chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk/house-gardens/the-house/history-of-the-house/. “Timeline of Historic Maps; Chiswick through the Centuries.” Chiswick Timeline, chiswicktimeline.org/1939-bomb-damage-map/.

years later, the next generation, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, commissioned more renovations to the property. He had a 300-foot conservatory built with a geometric garden built around it. The Chiswick conservatory is light and made almost completely of glass. The windows are narrow panels that align in rows all around. Like the manor, the conservatory is also symmetrical and replicates the same geometric shapes that are present in the house. I walk through the bright cream-colored space and take in the white frames juxtaposed with the translucent glass. The conservatory is a popular wedding venue, the crisp white and clarity surrounded by the rich greens of the garden making it a lovely place to say “I do.” I wonder what my own wedding would be like if I were to have one. Would I want a big white wedding? Would I want to get married in a beautiful place surrounded by friends and family? I don’t know. I don’t think about it often, but something about being in this place, listening to couples talk about the amazing pictures that they’ll have makes me think about the what ifs. My mind creates images of a white and warm beaming sun and an unidentifiable man who I could maybe spend forever with and my father walking me down the aisle. I think for a moment that that would be nice, but then the clouds darken and erase any thought of it and the subsequent rain washes it away. I haven’t spoken to my father in years. My thoughts shift and I begin to wonder what the 6th Duke used the conservatory for in the past. I can only imagine that if he had something this intricate and pristine, he’d want it to be seen. In the 1820s, the 6th Duke held many lavish parties and entertained royalty at his Chiswick home. Queen Victoria, two Russian Tsars, and the kings of Prussia and Saxony were entreated to the beauty of the villa and the exotic animals that the Duke kept. Some of the animals were an Indian elephant named Sadi, as well as an Indian bull, a Neapolitan pig, a Peruvian llama, elks, emus, and even kangaroos. It is believed that the Duke collected animals to keep him company, as he never married. He was known as the “Bachelor” Duke. I wonder, with all my insecurities and dysfunctional relationships, especially with my absent father and insecure stepfather, if I’ll be the bachelor in my family — not of my own volition, but because I don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like.


I think about this physical loss of land and history at this time and can’t help but think about all the destruction and losses around the world. WWII was a time of great suffering and fear. People were trying to escape the inescapable war. My grandmother, who was one of the only people who I was close to and has since passed away, was in Germany during WWII. She sought refuge at a convent, seeking asylum from all the devastation raining down on the world around her. My grandmother lost her home in Ukraine, found herself in Germany, and made her way to America, where she had no choice but to make a new home for herself, a new life. During the years my mother was with my father, we moved from place to place. After my mother left my sister’s father, we were once again without a home. We lived in a safe house for half a year, fearing my stepfather would take my sister away. I envy the residents of the Chiswick House, who probably never had to worry about where they were going to live. To me, life just seemed simpler then, even though it was probably just as complicated, if not more so than it is now. In 1929 the grounds were sold to the Middlesex County Council by the 9th Duke of Devonshire and the property became a public park. The property has remained a public place, despite the change in ownership and care for the property in the last

Nicole Brokaw - Overgrown

80 years or so. The property and its history are preserved and maintained today by English Heritage, a charity that overlooks England’s historical buildings and landmarks. As I make my exit from Chiswick House, I pass by other visitors taking pictures and taking in the vast landscape and architecture. Parents take numerous pictures of everything they see and have their children pose with big cheesy smiles. They came to see the beautiful and quiet Chiswick House in London that is a piece of the past preserved for the present and future. Children run around and play while their parents chase after them, trying to get them to listen and behave, but they pay no mind to the historical significance of the property. They are young and full of life — completely carefree. They are away from home at a “castle” with a big “backyard”’ and front yard for them to run around and play to their heart’s content. I remember being that young and carefree, unaware of the significance of where I was. I miss that innocence. Now I travel with the goal to learn about the different places I go. I travel with the goal to learn about the past and how it affects the present and our future. I take in the beauty, but I also take in the history. The history of a place where the good and the bad have played into the beauty of its evolution and coming future.


T

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Carly Hough - Red in Ruin


This morning I shaved my pubes into a flooded bathtub. That piece of green buried in my lower gum finally came out. It was brown and dried. It was crawling from my wet socket. Into a flooded bathtub. I like stroking the things most likely to kill me. The back window of his 1999 Polo doesn’t quite roll all the way downleaving a smooth curve of glass that I lean my neck into My finger curling in a press against itI accept it. Just like always. I am not trying to die. I am dying. My tongue is often blistered. Today it was from microwavable chicken teriyaki that I had left packed in my backpack for three hours without refrigeration. It thawed, dripping into my pencil pouch. When I have sex with someone new, I have dreams - lying in their bed. My teeth are decayingOnly in the center. Only the edges of a toothy box remainingWhen I’m lying in their bed My teeth are decayingBone & Rot. Rot & Bone. Sometimes I eat chicken and that’s exactly what I can taste:

Rot & Bone. Bone & Rot. Its feathers. Its bumpy yellow skin.

I gag almost every time I eat It. It is my favorite meal. I am not here just when you want me to have sex with you. When you think I am not dreaming at all. That’s when I don’t want to kiss you with my blistered tongue. I am not here just for you to think I am without flaws. That I can fix you. I can’t even fix the pain in my back From falling. From falling asleep in the shower.

by Sophie Westergren

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ROTT ING WOMEN


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Nnebundo Obi - Golden Chameleon


by Kyra Skye

the sun is inside the gender neutral bathroom is it to see if there are flyaway hair strands that need to be pulled back into a ponytail. It’s to look at them. It’s to look at me. They have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. They are a deep shade of brown, like the soil you unearth to nestle a seed into. There’s a spark in them, like the spark of life when roots rest into soil, receiving Earth’s love for the first time. They look at me with an unfamiliar adoration. I look at them and understand a fragment of what it’s like to love this person. I have seen this person before, but not quite like this. Only in photographs. There’s one where this person is surrounded by their mother, stepfather, and two little brothers, who just happen to be very small dogs (and are technically much older in dog years). The five of them take a family photo on their front porch and their smiles radiate off the paper. It looked like the photograph itself was glowing. This person looked so happy, so real that I almost didn’t rec-

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There is a person staring at me in the bathroom on the fifth floor of the library. It’s quiet except for the gentle drip of the sink faucet, plinking against the ceramic like a runny nose. We are inside the gender neutral bathroom. The bathrooms are fairly new and they are the most spacious public bathrooms I’ve ever seen. You can lock the entire bathroom and have it all to yourself. Or share it with another person. I reach out to touch them. They reach out to touch me. My index finger is on theirs, like that painting of God and the naked guy. I don’t know what it’s called. But it feels the same as that moment, reaching out for something, for someone just out of reach. My hand drops and so does theirs. We look at each other. It’s not a glance on the way out to wash our hands, nor


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ognize them. There are other photographs of them — all of which are them on stage, with a guitar or microphone or both. There are photos of them singing or shredding on the guitar, or looking up as the stage lights paint their skin in a wash of color. They are smiling so hard and you know there’s nothing else in the world that can make them this happy. I remember what it felt like to be that person. That person is here. They are looking at me and I am looking at them. They are beautiful. Brown skin from head to toe, sweet as chocolate. Dark hair that falls in waves at their shoulders. A button nose and soft cheeks — and dimples! They’re smiling now so I can see them, along with two rows of white teeth. The left one on the top row is chipped from a bike crash when they were eight years old. They’ve had it fixed once or twice, but the cap always came off. It’s looked like this ever since. It’s their favorite tooth. Their eyes crinkle when they smile. Tiny folds of skin bunch together on the sides of their eyes and stretch out like bare tree branches in the middle of autumn. They’ve smiled with their eyes before the chipped tooth had even grown in from the soft gums of baby teeth. Will those tree branches continue to stretch across their face as they

age? What will they look like with wispy white hair and freckled skin? What will they look like with grandchildren at their hip? Will those eyes still look at me like this? Will they be clouded and blurred at the edges? Or will they still be the black coffee pools I’m used to — warm, dark eyes that have seen so many things? So many beautiful things and so many difficult things. I look at them and they look at me and it’s not painful like it used to be. We used to look at each other out of necessity — to see if their high school uniform was stained or if their neck brace was on securely. The eyes that stared back at me used to sink into the holes of their skull, sagging dark circles underneath them. Veins would pulse against them, making their eyes weary and bloodshot. Their body became a desolate plot of dust and parched dirt. The folds of their brain were cluttered with weeds, for that was the only thing that could sprout from it. Neurons fired in the wrong directions until there was an earthquake — a body seizing on the floor, screaming until it was over. School uniforms turned into hospital gowns and white walls became their only companions. I look at them and they look at me and it’s different now. There hasn’t been an earthquake in ten months — the longest it’s been since they started. I spent the summer yanking weeds from the crevices of my brain, churning them out through words on the page. It hurts, having to tear out parts of yourself in order for things to grow. Weeds filled


almost reach out to touch them to make sure. They look at me. I look at them. “I love you.” I watch their mouth move and the words echo off the sink, the urinal, the toilet, the tile, the doors, the mirror. The words melt into my skin and into my ears and I hear it and I absorb it and I let it sink into my pores. It feels warm and tickles, like apple cider that’s a little too hot to drink, but warms your chilled fingers around the mug. It rests into the soil of my core and for the first time, it is not too rocky or barren to be planted. It curls its roots inside of me and receives the love that’s been patiently waiting to be shared. It’s always been there. I just never made room to receive it. I look at them, they look at me. I say it again. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” Each time, the room gets a little brighter, a little warmer, and the person in the mirror looks more familiar, more real than they’ve ever been. I touch the glass and they touch me. I look at them and they look at me. I look at me. I look at me. That’s me.

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with negativity were grabbed by their heads and tossed out onto a page. Their power was taken away through naming them, pulverising them into sound, and transmuting their energy into a melody. I took them and made them into songs — alive, tangible beings that are something new on their own. I made room for the first flower to sprout with nothing to block it from the sunlight. The bud pushed through the soil and a sunflower rose for the first time in years. It’s so easy to talk to them now. Though no words have been spoken out loud, I know they can hear everything. The channels of communication are clear now that the weeds are gone. They hear me and I hear them and they see me and I see them and it’s all happening at once, right here, right now. It’s quiet, except for the gentle plink of the faucet. But I can hear their voice and they can hear mine. They smile at me. I smile back. I love this person. I love them and how we’ve grown so much together. I want to hug them. I do. I wrap my arms around my body and these arms are mine, but they feel new, as if they belong to someone else. They hug me so tightly and there is a warmth that grows in my chest and spreads throughout my body. This body of mine. Their body. My body. There is somebody in the gender neutral bathroom that looks like me. They are the most familiar and unfamiliar person I’ve ever known. Like that person you walk by in the supermarket who looks just like your mother and you


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Stillwater Magazine #58  

Stillwater Magazine #58  

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