TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: IT IS SPRINGTIME. IT IS LATE AFTERNOON. ~ KURT VONNEGUT ~ THE CREATIVE ADULT IS THE CHILD WHO HAS SURVIVED.
~ URSULA K. L E GUIN ~ I HAVE AN EXISTENTIAL MAP. IT HAS ‘ YOU ARE HERE’ WRITTEN ALL OVER IT. ~ STEVEN WRIGHT ~ Volume 8 F Issue 2
E DITOR Craig Rebele P RODUCTION M ANAGER Ivy Page L AYOUT M ANAGER Natalie Watson L AYOUT Nicole Bailey Jordan Huckins Craig Rebele A DV ISORY E DITORS Dr. Liz Ahl Dr. Paul Rogalus S ENIOR E DITORS Meg Kennedy Ivy Page Natalie Watson A SSOCIATE E DITORS Sean Asmar Nicole Bailey Brittany Brockner Jordan Huckins Miranda Perry
Submission Guidelines: Submissions are open to students, alumni, faculty, and friends of Centripetal. All submissions must be typed. No hand-written submissions will be accepted. Prose of any length; poetry (up to 4 pieces) may be any length, any style. Micro-Fiction should be 500 words or less. Graphic Fiction, up to 4 pages; black and white art or photography, up to 4 high resolution images. Submissions should be e-mailed as attachments in Rich Text format or jpeg to firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions must contain name and contact information for the poet/author, as well as a brief note on the contributor. Centripetal accepts one time North American Rights for print and online publication. All rights revert to the authors upon publication.
C OV ER P HOTO Arlin Goss
Acknowledgements: Plymouth State Poets & Writers would like to thank the following for their support of this issue of Centripetal: all of the contributors, with special thanks to Plymouth State University, the Hartman Union Building Staff, Mandarin Taste, Rodney Eckstrom, Dr. Liz Ahl, and the PSU English Department. We would especially like to thank Dr. Paul Rogalus, our advisor, without whom this would not have been possible.
CENTRIPETAL IS PRINTED BY K ASE P RINTING, I NC. 13 H AMPSHIRE DRIVE, UNIT 18 HUDSON, NH (603) 883-9223
Poets and Writers 19 Highland Ave. Suite A14 Plymouth, NH 03264 (603) 535-2236 email@example.com
B USINESS M ANAGER Meg Kennedy
CONTENTS Vo l u m e 8 F I s s u e 2 1
Mother at Work
18 Essential Parts
23 After Alice
34 Color-Infused Nature
36 Ferris Wheel
39 Requiem for CBGB & OMFUG
40 The Trouble With Gravity Ivy Page 41 Twice-Baked Cunnilingus Ivy Page 42 How Sweet To Lie in the Orchard Grass
43 Making the Shrine
45 Because I Promised
64 My Inspiration
71 Not a Morning Person
77 The Seagulls Watch On as Timothy Sacco the Lovers Quarrel 88 Waking Up
101 Diamonds in December
THE PAINTER BRANDI PHILBRICK Rest now by your canvas, love as her water colored vines entwine you, decked in lilac blossom bruises. You lie, enclosed in her woman-want: she, the grateful model masterpieceyour submissive work of art. Watch, love as your reds become violetsviolent watercolors, pulsing, raised, and lovingly alive. Convince yourself, love As you view your violence That the canvas didn’t care And that your art Aptly expressed your affection.
ZOMBIE BRANDI PHILBRICK “You do the little job you’re trained to do. Pull a lever. Push a button. You don’t understand any of it, and then you just die.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk
You shuffle off to work; this is how you live— you’re drained of life even before you start— so you are damned no matter what you give. You wake from the alarm of crying kids, monotony lies on your toast like art— you shuffle off to work, this is how you live. The business won’t allow feelings to thrive; you’ll keep your head in check- you have no heart, so you are damned no matter what you give. The world exists in grey; your mind’s a sieve from popping pills while sitting in your car— You shuffled off to work, this is how you live. Your boss, a corporate drill sergeant who waves production in your face–a tell-tale chart, so you are damned no matter what you give. You’ve given up your soul, and you’re captive to jobs and pills that tear your mind apart; you shuffle off to work; this is how you live, so you are damned no matter what you give.
MOTHER AT WORK LYNN RUDMIN By all appearances a baby stroller Blanket carelessly hanging out Is abandoned On a university sidewalk The place is empty, end of day But for the stroller Where is the baby? A swoosh, a swish! A young woman, blue-jeaned Lithe as a boy Long-legged drops from a tree Arms extended upward Face looking upward – radiant, pleased – And I look up to her little girl Sitting on a branch (Not low at all) sturdy Straddling, learning her lesson: How to be secure in a tree
BIRCH BLOOD NAOMI JUDD At the center of my family’s kitchen table, crafted by my father over twenty years ago, sits a small birch bark basket holding salt and pepper shakers. Beside it sits a section of log holding a small white candle, illuminating gold through dime size holes cut through the curling bark. When the power goes out, which it often does, it creates beams of flickering light across the table. If there is any magic in the fibers of a birch, it certainly seems to show in this play of light. The birches outside the window tap their ends across the glass, not so far from all the birch within. Their lovely figures full of life; I see that they are all around, inside and out, creating interplay between us, and them. I have set out to experience birches in many different ways. I have climbed through shockingly bright birches en route to many summits in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. September blooms of Purple Aster and Roughstemmed Goldenrod burst from late summer green along the trails. The trees grow smaller as elevation is gained. Looking back on the woodlands behind me I have realized birch forests are my favorite kind. Late-summer chlorophyllinfused canopy plays with the light above dappling the trails like stained glass. Time and again I see birches on many different mountains, in many different woods; it never gets old, I am captivated each time as if it was my first. I suppose you could say that’s what love is. Peach colored papery strips flutter among smooth silver and white bark. Their leaves sound soothing, similar
CENTRIPETAL to that of Aspen trees which murmur their chimes in the Rockies. I have often traced the smooth curls of papery bark with my fingertips. A beautiful sunset of color lies within each horizontal ribbon that peels off of slender trunks. Picking up natural pink-orange paper strips and brushing them against my cheek, I reaffirm their pleasant texture. The bark is smoother and almost white on one side, and on the other it can be a golden cream, burnt orange, salmon pink, or even a russet brown. Some trees are more blue-grey. The species of birch trees are just as abundant as their colors. An image of the four white birch poles in my parent’s house frequently sweeps through my mind. The name birch derives from an old Germanic root, Birka. According to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birch there are over 35 species around the world. The three species indigenous to New England are the Black Birch (River Birch), the Paper Birch (White Birch), and the Yellow Birch. Known as Betula nigra, Betula papyrify, and Betula alleghaniensis. New England birches turn bright yellow in the fall. Perhaps one of the reasons these beauties are so appealing is their bright leaves. Yellow is a positive color (composed of primary colors). It has been said that it evokes happiness, a color close to light itself. As Goethe points out, “This is the color nearest the light […] in its highest purity it always carries with it the nature of brightness, and has a serene, gay, softly exciting character. Yellow excites a warm and agreeable impression.” My curiosity often spreads to several different species of birch, though the one I am most familiar with is the Paper birch. Their different hues are intoxicating. Hiking through the expansive birch forest of Mount Hale, another of the
CENTRIPETAL high peaks in the White Mountains, I came upon a peeling paper birch, which revealed a color similar to the inside of an almond. I put my hand up to the 60 foot tall trunk and stood there, looking up through all of its leaved branches, its many fingers. I felt the density of the thick smooth trunk beneath my palm, pressing only as hard as it pressed back. We felt each other. These are creature-like trees, I half expect them to start walking as one of Tolkien’s Ents. Their light bark is flexible, the leaves, which can be toothed or lobed, are like a smattering of green jewels in the summer, thrown up into the air and suspended, left for the wind to play through. Birches are ghostly at night. Walking under a beaming half moon, they are easily picked out among their cousins, the oak and beech. Birches glow. Their lustrous trunks collect the blue light, holding it for a moment as if the trees were warm and the light flocked to it. On several winter nights I ventured out onto the quiet and cold landscape. The snow sparkled on lines of powdery flakes along what looked to be arms branching out to grab at me. The birch trees burst out from the edge of the forest, whiter than the bluish moonlit snow. I would often stop in my tracks upon seeing this, staying still for several minutes as my foggy breath created the only movement. It is the art of some wilder magic: a woods-world of colorful fantasy, provoking my child-mind to imagine things alive, closer perhaps to what they really are. It is no trouble at all to imagine how these trees might have seemed mystical to many cultures in the past, and present. New Hampshire adopted the paper birch as the state tree, calling it the “Queen of the woods.” Similarly, it has been named the “Lady of the woods,” by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, due to its, “lightness, elegance and fragrance
CENTRIPETAL particularly after the rain.” It is presumably no coincidence that the tree has strong fertility connections; in the Celtic celebrations of Beltane, also known as May Day, the birch fed ritual fires in Scotland and was often used for the maypole itself. The Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring was celebrated around and through the birch tree between the spring equinox and Beltane. According to Scottish Highland folklore, a barren cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile, or a pregnant cow would bear a healthy calf. Along those lines of new beginnings this straight grained hardwood was often used to make cradles, protecting the innocent newborn. It is remarkable how the birch has found a place for itself in so many unusual ways. It is also considered sacred by the druids in the practice of Wicca /Witchcraft. The birch was placed at the start of the Celtic calendar, associating it with new beginnings as well as the spirits of the dead. An old folk ballad known as “The Wife of Ushers Well,” tells of souls returning from the realms of the Underworld dressed in hats and clothes made of birch. Witches are said to have used the twigs of birch as their choice for the end of their broom sticks. Though many of these things may have been true, it cannot be proven that the birch possessed such qualities. As Paul Kendal says in his writings on the use of birches in witchcraft, “these broomsticks were used in their Shamanistic flights, perhaps after the use of extracts of the fly agaric mushrooms commonly found in birch woods” (www.trees forlife.org.uk). However mystical these trees may be, there are some things we can be sure of about the birch: it has held many generations and cultures captive for centuries, my
CENTRIPETAL family included. I had no idea about the folklore behind birches when my dad carried four of them into our home one Christmas. Our family has used these to make baskets much like the Native Americans such as some of the Algonquian linguistic tribes in centuries past, as well as candle holders, and coat pegs, even furniture. We have burnt many a thick log in the embers of our winter-lit woodstove; orange glow spreading throughout the splintered wood grains. Birches were everywhere, inside and out of our house, but it is the four birches which stand at the entrance and exit to the central vaulted area that will always stay with me. Integrated into the heart of our home, the trees blend a natural air into the house, which is itself a structure customarily used to close out nature. One year, my dad decided that we were not going to have a regular Christmas tree. He thought it was too normal, and what significance did the standard type of Christmas tree have anyway? He went into the brisk wintry air with his worn leather gloves and saw and after morning faded past noon, he came back with four perfect, straight, smooth and clean white birches. We helped him cut the out-sticking branches off with small hand saws and wedged the poles perfectly from floor to ceiling. We strung white lights up and around each of them, spiraling my 12-year-old mind into imagining the sight as a staircase for fairies. They were beautiful. Wondrous and sleek, a white forest right in our home. The outside walked in, and we were stunned. We gazed at them for several minutes and then my brother and I began to get upset. “But where will we put the presents?” Despite the beauty of the birches, my parents snuck out to the woods on that Christmas Eve and somehow
CENTRIPETAL quietly dragged in a stunning balsam fir which was waiting for us in the morning. The fir held out its feathery branches over the shiny wrapped gifts like a goose sheltering her goslings. Yet the birches have endured, standing almost 8 years later they have blended into the structure of the house. Perhaps growing up sharing my very home with the birches has kindled a sense of home with where they sway in the wild. Our family was not the first to integrate birch into a home; according to Bernd Heinrich, several birds including robins, red-eyed vireo, and golden-crowned kinglets, use strips of birch bark in the construction of their nests. One spring I found a robin’s nest in the undergrowth. An excellent display of dried moss, lichen, mud and fine wispy strips of cream colored birch bark, cradled several skyblue eggs. Only shells remained, cracked open, the young feathered creatures having ventured off into their new lives. I picked up one of the weightless shells, which was no larger than a Hershey’s kiss. The birch pieces had no doubt helped a great deal to insulate the birds. The birch trees of the New Hampshire woods significantly contributed to my experiences as a girl growing up in a rural area. Walking through a patch of new-growth forest on our land, I remember peeling a strip of green from a young birch sapling no thicker than my thumb. The fresh, bendable wood was the color of an effervescent grasshopper. Its scent filled the air around me with wintergreen. Sticking a strip in my mouth I was filled with the sensation of this naturally aromatic scent and taste which most have only come to know from chewing gum. Oil of wintergreen extract is only one among many of the tastes that the birch has to offer. At a county fair one windy fall day, I came to a stand selling Blueberry Soda, Root beer, and Birch soda, all made
CENTRIPETAL from natural sources around the area. Curiously, I tried the blueberry one, sampling a small sip of the birch as well. It was different, yet it wasn’t a bold flavor. In fact I have trouble even remembering a distinct taste. It was the blueberry I decided to purchase an entire bottle of, and then regretted half way through. It was far too sweet and stained my tongue terribly. The fluids of the Birch have been used for many purposes. Birch vinegar, and beer are just a few. In several places such as Russia, Finland, and Northern China, the sap of the birch is made into a pale watery green tonic. This slightly sweet and supposedly refreshing drink is bottled and sold commercially in these countries. The sap can also be tapped similarly to Maple trees and through a lengthy process be turned into syrup. Keen to pursue the tastes of the Birch, and acquaint myself in yet another way with the trees, I sought out the syrup. Birch syrup is produced predominantly in Alaska and I conveniently happened to be residing in Juneau at the time. There are several species of Alaska Birch which can be found all around the state, from the North Tongass National Forest up through the interior. Birches are also found all across Canada. Alders, though within the Birch family, should not be mistaken for Western or Alaska Paper birches. Alders usually have gray bark, which is smooth though not papery, and have some old, dark cone-like fruits remaining on their twigs. For years the syrup of Alaska Birch was thought to taste smoky due to the fact that it was commonly burned, an easy thing to do if not handled right. In actuality the syrup is a fine tasting sweet. The tapping season of the birches is shorter than Maples and is harder to procure; this is why it is not as often heard of. Unable to find the syrup for sale
CENTRIPETAL in Juneau, I sent for a sample from the interior. Kim Elgee, of the Alaska Birch Syrup Company located in Wasilla, informed me that there are three grades, the light, medium and dark. Much like wine, birch has natural yeast which affects its taste depending on how much sun the tree has received. The more sun received before the tree is tapped, the darker the syrup. I received a small bottle of light and one of medium syrup. Both are a deep dark amber color, but when held up to light, reddish amber shines through, which is slightly darker in the medium one. Excited to experience a new flavor, I unpacked the two bottles of syrup and first uncapped the light flavor labeled Harvest Gold. The scent of something extra sugary wafted up to my nose, I tapped my finger onto some syrup in the cap and tasted a rich smooth sweetness. It tasted similar to molasses, but of a much faster consistency. I opened up the medium, labeled McKinley Gold and tasted it as well. A similar but more concentrated taste enlightened my senses. Pancakes were of course next. Whipping up some batter and browning both sides of the flattened disk the next morning, I poured the Harvest Gold over the center. It soaked in fast, darkening the flapjack unlike the fake-maple syrup in my fridge. I soon learned that one does not need much birch syrup on a pancake to flavor it well. It was strong and made the pancakes feel hefty. Now taking in the tree directly to my body, it became even more a part of me. A new way to interact with the birch. I imagine how these trees have gone from seed to spout and then gain their strength, height and grandeur before they are ready to be tapped, giving their blood, their life for us to taste. According to Kim Elgee, Birch syrup producers are excited that Japan has recently discovered the syrup and it
CENTRIPETAL is being exported from Alaska. It could possibly become a new agricultural product of the state. “We would eventually like to teach others to make the syrup correctly and get them started in their own business producing graded Birch Syrup,” Elgee said. It amazes me all the edible things that come from one tree: syrup, soda, beer, and jam, wine, oil of birch tar (oil of wintergreen), ice cream, baked breads, milk shakes, marinades, bbq sauces, dressings, even birch granola (which I have yet to try). This is a flavorful tree to say the least! The Alaska Birch has added new pages to the story of my relationship with these trees; though my bond remains strong with the hardwoods of New England. Groves of especially impressive birches grow throughout the White Mountains in New Hampshire, in my yard and in my mind. On numerous hikes as if walking with me, they present themselves as corridors of serene color and mystery, physique and flavor. These trees mix with the very heart and soul of so many cultures and creatures, myself included. One could say that these are the ladies of the wood, but I too would consider myself a lady of the birches. There are some elements on this earth which will bond us with it like no other, entwining us as the very paper of a birch is braided into a basket.
SKIN MICHELLE STEPHENS Your pen scratches across the clinical white sheet While I watch you from the corner of my eye But that’s not what I’m waiting for – No, its that point when You yawn, and then stretch your arms up high. I fall all over again, For that thin patch of skin, Just above those worn blue jeans, held Tight with your favorite white belt. And I may say I’ve moved on, that You aren’t what I really wanted anyway, But still long to run my fingers along That taut skin, as I have done so many times In the past; I know how the muscles Would tighten, your breathing gaining speed With anticipation. And if I moved those hands upward, That lithe body would shiver and yield To my light touch. But then you turn to me, jarring me from pleasant dreams, And with smiling eyes, tell me how much she means to you. I can tell how happy you are Far happier now than when it was me Who worshipped the ground at your feet. And so I smile back, the mask covering my bloodshot eyes, Knowing that all I have now is that vision; that thin sliver of Skin.
SALTWATER R EBECCA A LOSA With clams squirting up at our feet, my son and I cross the pebbly beach. The tide had just receded and the beach was covered with snail shells, broken clam shells, and an occasional piece of milky sea glass. I picked him up and carried him to protect his tender feet as we made our way down to the shallow waves to search for more creatures. Crawling between the rocks and snails were hermit crabs of different sizes. I put my son down, the waves lapping against his knees, and handed him a small crab. It darted back into its shell as I placed it in his outstretched hand. Cradling his hand in mine, we held our fingers steady as the crab darted cautiously back and forth. We made our way through the water, moving among the floating seaweed as it rhythmically swayed, carefully watching for moving creatures or whole pieces of shells to keep as treasures. As we wade deeper, the water changes from warm to chilling, each step colder than the one before. I pick up my son and suck in my breath as his cold legs wrap around me. In the distance we can make out two figures. They are hunched over looking for something on the beach left behind by the changing tide. As soon as we spot them, I know that my son will want to know what they are busy looking for. I make my way back onto the beach, with his weight on my hip and his arms around my neck, the sharp shells and stones digging into the bottoms of my feet. As we begin to get closer and the couple comes into focus, I notice that they are picking up handfuls of seaweed,
CENTRIPETAL pulling off mussels, and dropping them into five-gallon buckets. I tuck my mouth in next to my son’s ear, smelling his salty neck, and tell him that I am sure they would not mind us looking into their pails. “Go up and ask them,” I whisper against the sound of the waves sliding over the shore. I walk closer and put my son down. He has suddenly gone shy and won’t say what is on his mind. “Do you mind if we take a look?” I ask, trying to catch their gaze, as they continue to pull up pieces of seaweed, searching for what is hiding underneath. “Go ahead,” the man replies, looking up at us. Peering over the rims, we see that one is almost completely filled with the iridescent blues, grays, and purples of the wet mussels. In another, there are a few crabs, some larger than others, a couple that I wouldn’t want to pick up. The man introduces himself and his wife Rosa, who appears only to speak Spanish. I can understand most of what they say to each other, little snippets of conversation, as they continue to wade through the salty brine, picking up the creatures that will be their feast around a campfire later that night. He tells me about how he saw her on a busy street corner in New York, that he barely even knew her name, but he searched for her- and here they were, expecting their first child. “So what’s your story?” he asks me. He wants to know how I could be here, at this quiet beach in northern Maine, camping alone with my young son. I bend down, entangling my fingers in the smooth clumps of seaweed, as though looking for something that I knew wasn’t there. I glance over at my son, now covered in the black sand, his small hands searching out clumps of
CENTRIPETAL mussels, finding them, and tearing them from the seaweed. “Well, I’m kind of separated,” I say. Weighing my words carefully against what I think little ears can hold. Abruptly the man stands and meets my gaze. “What’d he do cheat?” he asks. I can feel the weight of my feet sinking into the soft sand, my shoes starting to soak through. I look out into the bay at the fishing boats moored off-shore as though something has caught my eye. “Previously,” I reply. Though I know that it is a sham of an answer even before it comes off my lips. But how do you explain such things, I wonder? I take a step back and look down at my feet, noticing a milk jug half-filled with sea water. I watch Rosa as she works diligently, ripping mussels from the seaweed and searching out the tiniest of crabs, the kind I would put into my child’s hands, sure they could not pinch. She takes these small crabs and drops them into the jug of saltwater. “She likes to eat them whole,” the man explains to me, “shell and everything.” “I’ve got one,” my son yells out, adding another mussel to their collection. He is fascinated by the search and the easy promise of finding these treasures, but I am wanting to move away from this conversation, from feeling as though I have to explain myself, when I feel too unclear to do so. I try to catch his attention, looking for an opportunity to begin walking across the beach once more, but he is too caught up in the moment to be steered away. I busy myself with the pretense of helping Rosa as she sinks her fingers into the muck, pulling up a cluster of mussels every time. The tide begins to move back in, the rising water will soon overtake this portion of the beach once more. I reach
CENTRIPETAL down to pick up my son, who is now covered in the wet black sand. “It was nice meeting you both,” I say, trying to make this sound like the truth, but even in my own ears it sounds contrived. My son’s body wraps itself around mine, cold and uncomfortable, soaking my shirt through with salty mud, the salt rubbing against my skin. But I don’t mind. I am relieved to be walking across the beach, in an effort I hope looks like I am simply trying to beat the in-coming tide. “That will stain your shirt,” the man calls out from behind me. “You’ll never get that out.”
ESSENTIAL PARTS R EBECCA A LOSA The icy wind can surprise you in its sudden urgency, pulling your breath along with it, leaving you gasping as you emerge from the dim underground lights and screeching metal wheels grinding to a stop and into another part of the city. I walk briskly from the subway station down toward the harbor because it is just so damn cold. I have seen the posters advertising the Body Exhibit displayed all around Manhattan. They are immediately striking and slightly disturbing. Picture, if you will, Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, not cast in bronze but cast in flesh, skin peeled back, exposing stringy tendons, red muscle, and white bone. A man sitting and thinking with hunched back and rounded shoulders, elbow resting on knee, and wrist propping up a full head. He is leaning forward a bit more, perhaps to catch a passerby’s eye, their image reflected within his carefully placed gray/blue ones. I make it down to the building housing this exhibit, and into the line forming inside along the wall. I stand and flex my fingers trying to get some warmth moving through them, curiously aware of the rhythm of my joints. There is a faint smell here, almost imperceptible, not quite as piercing as formaldehyde and not nearly as strong as the decay of death, but the lingering scent of death preserved and on display. Today is my 30th birthday, and I have come to the city by myself, leaving behind those who are essentially parts of me, as much as the bones carrying this flesh. I ascend the steps up to the second floor with a bit of trepidation. I have an idea of what I will encounter, but
CENTRIPETAL am not sure of my stomach for it. I am not someone who is able to watch televised surgery, witnessing the initial incision, the creamy skin folded back, imagining a heart still pumping blood through veins. Live people who will wake up from this intrusion and carry on with their lives. I am not here for purely scientific curiosity, and although this is not a “freak” show, I somehow feel as though I am in fact a kind of voyeur. As I enter the first portion of the exhibit, I notice how the rooms are darkened, that there are no windows, the temperature is just a bit too warm, and I am standing right next to the body that I have seen displayed on posters all over Manhattan. I hesitate, take a few long, deep breaths, and silently try to distance myself from the life that this body may have lived. Whoever this body once belonged to has been transformed, flesh removed and striped down of all outward appearances. He has been cut in ways that depict all the contours of his muscles, which are an odd sort of bright red. What catches me though, are the unnerving eyes that unnaturally stare out as though transfixed. I move slowly around each part of the room seeing what is displayed, but also seeing myself from the inside out. There are no names or histories attached to any of these bodies, they have been carefully dissected and drained, posed in differing ways, and pumped full of dyed plastic to illustrate every part that is within us all. They have simply become flesh on display. There are clear illuminated boxes holding within them various parts of the human body, all neatly separate and labeled. I walk slowly and intently, following the flow of people, catching portions of their conversations, but it just becomes noise, murmuring in the background.
CENTRIPETAL It is the parts of the whole that my mind is fixed upon. The parts that are missing and the cavernous empty places that have been left behind. Today I am 30, leaving behind not only another year, but also the entire decade of my 20’s. Walking through these rooms, I think about what it is that I want to take with me into this new decade, about the choices I will make, and about the ways that my life is changing. I see my history as these “parts of the whole,” fragmented and standing alone. What pieces are worthy of keeping as I dissect my own life? It is a marriage and a decade that has fallen into pieces. Standing alone, they make little sense as I grasp at them with my hands trying to put them back together in some rational order. The bodies that I see all around me are reflections of myself, striped down and exposed. As I travel from room to room, through bodily systems and jigsaw-like parts, through disease, ulcers, cancers, and dead babies, I wonder about how sharp the blades must have been, the instruments used, the whirring of saws cutting through tissue and bone, and the careful hands of those who undertook the tedious work of separating someone from all of the parts that made up who and what they were. These are not only pieces of flesh from strangers scattered around the room, I own them like my own. Each illuminated box holding within it chunks of my life as I have known it to be. Each gaping orifice calling out to me like the holes I find within myself. I imagine the strength of those skilled hands, the mindful decisions of what was important enough to keep, and about the bits of flesh left behind, ultimately discarded.
GARBAGE CELESTE K ARPF We chuck our junk into empty containers, empty containers and into our bodies. Wrappers, cartons, plastic pasts, and family photos. My garbage becomes coffee cups and divorce papers. Your plastic becomes, rodent homes piled high next to syringes and body bags. And it never disappears, but grows and grows and fills this earth-can. My trash is yours, and we share dumping grounds and broken memories. Your finished microwave meal is her train ticket away and their midnight affair. It’s the therapist’s pen writing on what once was her prescription and his smoked cigarette, their cancer revealing x-rays. The earth carries our garbage, and we share it like
CENTRIPETAL another entity, a garbage intelligence. We seep into one another’s lives, like the grease of a fast food bag. We share our garbage. The murderer’s gloves become your toothbrush. We share our garbage, our families, our losses. The child’s toy bike is her pregnancy test and his broken condom. And mine is yours. I carry your garbage out to the curb and you carry mine. And all I want to do is just throw it away, but it never disappears. Just grows and grows, it weighs on my back, which is your back, and fills this earth-can.
A FTER A LICE JORDAN DAVIS It’s raining when I pull into Tranquility. After spotting Gramp’s car by the building’s entrance, I decide to stay. I enter the nursing home and spot Gramp in the common room. I notice a bunch of circular tables gathered together with three or four chairs at each table. To the left of the tables is a big-screen TV surrounded by couches and recliners. I shake hands with Gramp. “Look who’s here,” he says to Nana. “Who’s that?” Nana asks. I try to force a smile to accommodate the stare of her glazed, vacant eyes. In her wheelchair, a plaid blanket conceals her atrophied frame. The topography of her body is an interplay of infinite wrinkles along loose skin. “This is Will,” Gramp says. “Who’s that?” Nana repeats. “Will, you’re grandson. You remember him. He goes to college over in Ashfield.” Nana nods, feigning recognition. I can’t think of anything to do or say so I just stand there like an idiot with my hands in my pockets, switching weight from one foot to other, wondering if Nana is more aware of things than I am and how she’s certainly much less awkward than me. “Take your coat off,” Gramp says. “Have a seat.” I drape my black jacket over a chair and sit at the small table with Gramp and Nana. Gramp asks about school and I tell him how I’m doing fine and how I’ve got finals next week.
CENTRIPETAL “Finals,” Nana says. “Finals.” She mutters something else, but I can’t make sense of it. “Here comes your sister,” Gramps says to Nana. I look over my shoulder and an elderly woman is being rolled into the common room by a young nurse dressed in blue pants and a blue V-necked shirt. The nurse brings the patient to a stop at our table. “Okay Doris, you’re all set,” the nurse says and disappears. “How are you Doris?” Gramp says. Doris mumbles something and glances around the room at everything--at nothing. Doris and Nana are both in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and they’re largely unaware that they’re even sisters. While similar in appearance, Doris is much larger than Nana. And while Nana says actual words, Doris speaks her own language of sounds without pause that usually end in delirious laughter. A few more minutes pass and the room comes into focus. I become aware of the chairs being filled up around me. In the TV room, a couple patients are viewing some outdated Christmas themed concert on the big screen. I notice a woman strapped to a recliner watching the images on the screen and I start feeling strange. I try to figure out what’s strange about an old lady watching TV and then it hits me. It’s the straps. She’s actually strapped to the recliner, bearing witness to some degraded TV show full of people who probably died years ago--imprisoned by a recliner. Straps. Christ. I avert my attention from the straps. There’s a tall Christmas tree in the far corner of the room without any presents beneath it. Close by, a sign with giant letters reads: “TODAY IS DECEMBER 7, 2006. THE WEATHER
CENTRIPETAL IS: COLD AND RAINY. THE NEXT HOLIDAY IS: CHRISTMAS.” By now, most of the patients have been gathered for dinner. The common room is an expanse of white hair, gray hair, bald heads with brown spots, oxygen tanks, saggy skin, blank faces, hollowed eyes--everything aged, a living model of life feeding on life: absolute deterioration wrapped in a veil of thin paned fragility. Bodies are curled and bent and somehow none of them seem normal; they’re either obese or they’re skeletal and skinny--anorexic skinny. The sounds in the common room are a combination of slow voices, laughter without reason, and incoherent speech--all echoed by the zombie-esque deep drawling “aaaahhhhh” that comes from the more afflicted patients. A continual groan floods from the throat and dentures of a man nearby, chin buried in chest, eyes closed, not sitting as much as slipping. The smell is repugnant and stale and it makes me wonder how many people have shit their pants in the last hour and how many times rivers of urine have had to be soaked up with paper towels by nurses kneeling on the ground beneath my feet. The smell in Tranquility is the aura of decomposition and decay. It is something no amount of air freshener could negate. It is a smell distinctly noble and relentless, something an observer could never deny or ignore. The smell here right now--potently rank, curdled, and haunting--is the smell of death itself. “Here comes your dinner,” Gramp tells Nana. The nurse sets two plates of food on the table, one for Doris and one for Nana. Tonight’s cuisine is an entrée of mashed potatoes and mashed chicken accompanied by a slab-like mound of cottage cheese. Pills pop and bump into one another in the Dixie
CENTRIPETAL cups that the nurses administer the patients, hovering above them, making sure the meds are swallowed and making sure no one chokes. When the nurse attempts to convince Doris to take her pills, Doris grabs a cup of water and empties it onto the floor. “Come on Doris, you know better than that,” Gramp says, shaking his head from side to side in the same way a parent scolds a toddler with a “tisk-tisk-tisk” wave of the finger. Watching Doris behaving in such a way manifests a strange awareness in my head. Okay, so in the beginning you’re born wet with bodily fluid, screaming and crying. After birth, you grow incredibly fast, taking the whole world inside you, learning language and communication; then fully developing and summiting the mountain of physical change in the peak of your adolescence. After that, it’s all downhill. You start to get aches and pains for no reason. Your muscles weaken. You’re always tired. You get cancer. Alzheimer’s rapes your memory. You become uninvolved and impotent. Everyday you’re alive you’re just becoming more proficient in the art of dying. Living is just the optimist’s way of describing death. Looking around at Nana and Doris and the other patients, I think about the idea that in their process of collective fading, they are coming full circle, and their deaths, respectively, will serve as irrefutable proofs of their lives. I come out of my trance, my stomach knotting in on itself, discomfort mounting within me. Gramp is spoon feeding Nana, reminding her to open her mouth and to chew her food. Nana hasn’t been able to feed herself for over a year now. Her hands are reptilian in texture--red and purple--her fingers themselves twisted in awkward ways as if invisible amphibious webs were connecting them and keeping
CENTRIPETAL them from individual movement. “Okay, here comes another bite. Good, there you go. That’s good, isn’t it? You’re doing great. Almost done,” Gramp encourages. The nurses run around trying to feed the patients in the same way Gramp is doing with Nana. Messes are a guarantee. Despite the blanket sized bibs the patients are wearing, cottage cheese and liquids find their way onto pants, sleeves, shoes, and hair. “So, what do you think Dante? How’d you like to work here?” Gramp asks with a sly smile. “I don’t think it’s for me,” I tell him. “There’s not enough going on here. It’d be too boring.” Gramp laughs at this and I find a moment’s solace in a joke that is shattered just as soon as it is experienced by a high-pitched yelp from across the room. I scan for the source of the cry and find it originating from a patient a couple tables away from me. My view of her is obscured by the rather wide spherical midsection of one of the nurses. “You need to eat, Alice,” the nurse says. “You can do whatever you’d like after dinner, but right now you have to eat.” “No, no I don’t,” Alice wails. The mammoth nurse nods to the young nurse that had wheeled Doris to the table earlier. The young nurse leaves and returns a half a minute later with two rectangular pads, each about four inches in thickness. She fits them long ways across Alice’s thighs and under the wheelchair’s armrests, thus binding her to the chair. Gramp sees me watching this altercation and says, shaking his head with that same parental disapproval, “That’s Alice. She’s like this everyday. Always causing some kind of
CENTRIPETAL trouble. What a handful.” A couple tables behind me I hear a weird gurgling sound. I look around just in time to watch an older man spit up onto his plate, long strands of drool sprinkled with chewed bits of food hanging from his mouth, getting thicker as they pull away from his spotted chin and eventually break off, falling into his mashed potatoes. The nurses rush over to help him. Alice, seeing the nurses occupied, takes advantage of the situation and rolls herself away from the tables. I obtain a closer look of Alice as she wheels past me. Like Nana, her frame is small and thin. Her hair is a frayed curling white that stands at different angles along the curvature of her head. Her face is marked with a menacing scowl. It’s as if she’s unable to portray any expression other than disdain. Her contorted white eyebrows pulling down towards her semi-crooked nose, her wrinkled cheeks held aloft by her grimace, her mouth pursed in the same way that a sour taste or a straight gulp of whiskey will give most people an expression of intense distaste--these are the characteristics wheeling past me. Out of my peripheral I watch Alice stop near the Christmas tree and work madly to get rid of the pads keeping her enslaved to the wheelchair. Her hands rub and explore all areas of the pads until she frees the end of the top one. Alice tosses it aside and gets to work on the other. She glances up in frantic intervals with the concern of a convict planning a prison break. The look in her eyes is one of wild, ravenous desperation. Just before freeing herself entirely, the young nurse appears, foiling Alice’s plans. “Now what are you doing, Alice?” she says. The nurse picks the pad from the floor and encroaches upon Alice.
CENTRIPETAL “No,” Alice cries. As the nurse attempts to fit the pad back into place, Alice explodes with incredible strength, taking hold of the nurse’s arms and pushing her away, causing the nurse to stumble a few feet backwards. I look on in awe, amazed at the sheer force produced by this fragile woman that couldn’t be taller than five feet or weigh more than a hundred pounds. “Now be nice,” the nurse says in what I assume is her consoling voice. The nurse picks up the pad and advances on Alice, ready for resistance this time around. The two struggle and the nurse gradually overcomes Alice. “There,” she says, “no one wants to hurt you, Alice. We’re your friends. We’re only here to help you and keeping you in that wheelchair is helping you so just stay put and everything will be fine.” Alice begins clawing at the pads with her ancient talons just as soon as attention is directed away from her and naturally, the nurses don’t notice her at first because they know it takes a good chunk of time for Alice to remove the pads, so they just let her live the vain illusion that she’s going to free herself and then they reset the pads whenever Alice nears the actualization of her goal. I watch this bizarre interaction between patient and nurse repeat itself at least six or seven times. I become consumed with this woman’s scowl and her endless struggle for freedom. There’s something about her, something that frightens me. It frightens me because it is something I cannot name or pin point; I can only remain painfully aware of its presence--terrifying in its namelessness. It is something I fear acknowledging. It is the unknown. The nauseating stomach pain returns and I’m sweating. Alice has giveen up on the pads for the time being to wheel
CENTRIPETAL herself around. I shroud my head in my hands when she nears me, avoiding eye contact and that fiery scowl. Alice creeps by in her wheelchair, gets a few feet ahead of me and then she stops. I watch the wheels’ rotation switch from clockwise to counter-clockwise. Oh shit, I almost scream. Alice pushes herself backwards until we are parallel to one another; her small frame shackled by the pads and me hunched over trying to conceal my growing uneasiness--the awkwardness of this juxtaposition strangling me. I don’t even need to look up to know that those cold eyes are glaring into me. I can hear Gramp encouraging Nana to finish her juice and I can’t understand why no one sees that Alice is searing my flesh--my entire being--with her incinerating stare. Then the craziest thing happens. I feel someone rubbing my arm. Someone is rubbing me up from my shoulder and down past my bicep all the way to my wrist. No, not rubbing. Caressing. Alice is caressing my arm. Petting. I’m too baffled--too overwhelmed, too frozen, too something, too whatever--to move or look up. Why isn’t anyone intervening here? Alice continues to rub my arm. Her callused fingers are warm. Her smell is the smell of Tranquility--the smell of death. Alice withdraws her hand. She sniffles. When I look up Alice has buried her face in her palms. Her body is making sporadic convulsive movements. She’s crying. Sobbing. Coming apart. I sit still, avoidant and confused, thinking how I liked Alice better from a distance rather than the tears streaming in whatever affinity she’s bridged between us. Alice’s cries become softer while the chaos in me gets louder. I can think of only one thing: leaving. I can’t be here another second. I
CENTRIPETAL won’t get out alive. I may die if she touches me again. I burst, jumping up, grabbing my coat. “Hey, ah… I’ll…ah--back in a second,” I tell Gramp. I flee the common room, careful to avoid Alice’s image on my way out. Outside, my heart rate slows and the air is clean and fresh and welcoming. I light a cigarette and let the rain soak my hair and cool my skin. I spend the next half hour walking in circles in the rain. When I reenter the nursing home almost all the patients have been taken to clean up before bed. I find the relief of Alice’s absence euphoric. I find Gramp in Nana’s room. He’s brushing her teeth. “Open a bit wider, okay good. Here. Spit the tooth paste in here. Drink some water.” I sit in a chair in the corner of the room and watch as Gramp puts Nana’s toothbrush away and returns with a bottle of cream. He elevates Nana’s feet with a small bench and kneels down, pulling her socks off to reveal two swelled, purple feet. He explains how the circulation in Nana’s legs hasn’t been extending down to her feet lately and how the cream helps to counteract the swelling. Gramp rubs the lotion into Nana’s feet. It’s hard for me to imagine being in his position, spending the greater part of every day in this nursing home and never uttering a single complaint. Unlike him, I can’t be here for longer than a few minutes without being overwhelmed with an urge to flee. The only reason Nana is even here is because it had become impossible for Gramp to take care of her on his own. Before finally finding this place, Gramp was spending all his time looking after Nana, and at least once or twice a day--sometimes even three or four times a day--he would have to clean up the mess and
CENTRIPETAL bathe Nana whenever she couldn’t make it to the bathroom. I guess that’s love. True love is not a matter of convenience or simply saying the right words. True love is being on your hands and knees, caring for another selflessly. It is unconditional. For some reason my thoughts move to Alice and the thought of her becomes an undertow. It crawls up my spine, corroding my arteries, singeing my nerve endings and leaving me paralyzed with a fear I cannot define. “Listen, I’ve got to head out, Gramp,” I say. He asks when I’ll be around again. “Next Sunday,” I tell him. Sunday arrives quickly. After parking and entering the nursing home I greet Nana and exchange hellos with Gramp. Nana appears to be doing alright, or at least no worse than she was the other day. Dinner is being served to the patients. The straps are still lying on the recliners by the big screen like slender black snakes. The smell is the same. I look around for Alice but she’s not here. Dinner passes. No Alice. Patients are taken to bed. Still no Alice. I follow Gramp up to Nana’s room. I watch him retrieve the foot lotion. “I’ll be right back,” I say. I leave Nana’s room and wander down the hall, stopping at every door to read the names of each room’s tenants. I find Alice’s room near the end of the hall. The door is open, but Alice’s room is silent and dark. When I turn on the light, an empty room presents itself to me, absolute in its nakedness. The walls are bare and the shelves shelve nothing. The smell is one of allconsuming, limitless death. There’s a twin bed against the
CENTRIPETAL room’s back wall stripped of its sheets. I walk up to it and notice an oblong yellow stain in the middle of the mattress. I stand there in Alice’s room breathing its odor deeply and fully. I stand there trying to imagine who Alice was and what she was like, but in the end, nothing happens. Passing a nurse in the hall I don’t even ask when it happened or if it was peaceful. I just kiss Nana, who still can’t remember who I am. And her lack of recognition doesn’t bother me in the least because right now, I can’t remember either. On my way out, I stumble silently through the stares of the soon-to-be-departed. I open and close the door that is forever closed to them--the door that opens only in their death. In my car I leave Tranquility, driving reckless into the cold December night, overcome with the need to prove to myself that I’m alive.
COLOR INFUSED NATURE A LYSSA DETHLEFS
Leaves lose their spring green shade as they slowly cascade from the trees. Animals crunch about the once green grass to hide away. A swift cool takes over the previously cucumbered land, As all the melon fresh vegetation dies away. Frost crystals over the changed minty grass, an offering for snow to come The land drains of granny smith apple hues, dead, quiet and waiting
MID-THROW, M ARISSA LUPPI
FERRIS WHEEL, JOSHUA H ARRINGTON
UNTITLED, ARLIN GOSS
UNTITLED, IAN M ASSE
R EQUIEM FOR CBGB & OMFUG CAITLIN STEVENS “The initial patrons were artists, bohemians, drag queens and Hell’s Angels--who could ask for more?” -Tommy Ramone More than just a bar that raised music standards everywhere that sweating and swearing against mainstream everything gave birth to punk, the American way, CBGB’s in the East Village fed music lovers and music makers what they wanted to hear Original riffs and lyrics that refuse to make sense of the world, raw emotions, drugs are less addictive than good music; certain songs linger in your veins longer than heroin. Patti Smith says this generation will find its own shit hole to play music in; the kids will be all right. I say what the hell are we going to do when the show’s over, when the four corporations owning all the record labels and songs don’t recognize music that could change the world, even as it assaults their ears.
THE TROUBLE WITH GRAVITY IVY PAGE Atop a spire you shout into the wind a stolen phrase. Looking up at you I wish I could hear your words. All I can do is cover my face as your marbles pelt the ground, and shatter fragments of your mind. Your medication rushes in, the fear of what you have become flashes across your angular jaw — a spasm of your insanity. If only your science worked and Galileo had climbed that great leaning structure ages ago.
TWICE BAKED CUNNILINGUS IVY PAGE Unwrapping your firm brown flesh, taking in your scent as if I were meditating on your essence. With the parting of your lips an eruption, five flavors, creamy flesh inside circumference of smoky haze, organic emotion, buttery texture of your tongue, ending in an exhalation that carries the melody of release.
HOW SWEET TO LIE IN THE ORCHARD GRASS R EBECCA JORDAN How sweet to lie in the orchard grass When end of day is nigh, And the evening breeze soothes all the trees With a sound like a lover’s sigh, And the clouds lay down their fleecy heads In their soft blue beds of sky. How sweet to lie in the orchard grass Without a thought or care, How sweet to lie ‘neath a warm spring sky When birdsong’s in the air. Far sweeter ‘tis to lie like this Than to lie most anywhere. How sweet to lie in the orchard grass While the wars of men rage on, To linger there and not much care If the battle’s lost or won, To pity those whose eyes have closed While you lie in the sun. How sweet to lie in the orchard grass While one man sits alone, And prays for peace in the throat of a beast Whose heart is blackened stone, And counts the stars between the bars And does not think of home.
M AKING THE SHRINE BRITTANY BROCKNER Along the parkway there’s a memorial for a girl killed in an accident. In the center, hangs a picture: her long brown hair trails from a white high school graduation cap, Class of ’04. I know making the shrine was hard for them. You can see it in the dirty cotton stuffing seaping from the tattered teddy bear’s seams. You can see it in the wind as the white rosary beads slap the neck of the makeshift wooden cross. And you can see it in the overgrown bush branches that stab through the holes of the chain link fence. But there’s solace in her resilient little pin wheels. shiny, red and white staked like national flags in the soil they spin and spin and spin.
PHOENIX CHRISTINA BROWN I move in quick steps blowing small gulps of swollen air which mushrooms about my head in stiff meringued peaks. My body flutters against this cold. Blood vessels glowing purple plum blossom with reached lightning. Only three months left for burnt feathers to, fanning, ash out. I imagine years from now the same mountains coo snuggled in the same rub pinked lotus bellies of low clouds. The same bricks lay bonebleached in New England’s stubborn freeze. Only I, ember birthed at last and cooling, will cut my teeth on inexorable change.
BECAUSE I PROMISED SEAN ROBINSON The cairn brought my mind back to the road that cut through the sloping valleys of the high country. It rose out of the late autumn fields higher than I was tall, built from solid granite pieces laid one atop of another. Once, it had marked entrance into the heart of a great empire, but so many centuries had passed and one empire had eaten another and another. Where a great fortress had been, there was only a few standing stones clinging to the peaks, holding lonely sentry above the village of Oakfall--a tiny place in the wilds of the Darini Empire that ruled from one endless sea to another other Now the pile of stones only told village children that they’d wandered too far from home. I smiled, looking at it then followed the dusty track with my eyes as I passed it. I had certainly wandered too far from Oakfall in the last ten years. Had it really been that long? I wondered, but knew as I passed over the last hill that the valleyed village hadn’t changed at all from when Dymas and I had paraded out of town. It was still three dozen white washed houses, thatch roofs, wide yards filled with chickens and small children running in swarms as mothers hung laundry in the sun-waiting for their men to come in from planting spring onions and laying wheat seed to grow when summer came. But seeing the village sent terror through me. Civil war was following on my heels and I offered up a silent prayer that I had made it in time—that he hadn’t gotten here before me. Each step of this journey had had the hand of Fate on it, moving me here faster and faster to meet what was coming.
CENTRIPETAL “Mister?” a child’s voice said from behind me. I spun on too-tight nerves, bringing the ironwood staff I’d carried up to bare, parallel with the dusty-autumn earth. I looked at a child who was no more than eight: brown hair cut to just above his ears and a wide gap in the toothy smile he gave me. He looked at me without a drop of fear in his eyes, as though it was every day that a travel-tired man appeared at the crest of the hill, staff in hand, for him to startle out of his wits. I liked the little scamp and there was a twinge in my chest in sympathy. I lowered the staff. Would Annise’s babe have looked like this? Or Bernard and Chantal if they’d been let to grow that old? “Shouldn’t you be down with your Mam helping her with the wash or with the littles?” I asked, arching my eyebrow at him. “She won’t appreciate you being up here to scare grown men half to death any more than I do.” His smile grew wider and he answered in a voice that wouldn’t crack for years yet. “But, mister, I am doing what my Mam told me to do. She says my uncle’s coming any day now. Back for the first time in ten years.” The boy looked back at the road quickly, frantic that he might have missed the shape of someone coming along the track, then turned back to me as an afterthought. His face pulled at me--the line of his jaw, the color of his hair, and the slight upturn of his eyes and nose that every one of my father’s brood had had. I smiled wider, and crouched down to meet the little man eye to eye. “Is that so?” “Yes! Mam said he’d be coming along any day now and I was t’ watch real careful like and let her know when he came back. My grammie is twice as excited as she is!” “Oh? and why’s that?”
CENTRIPETAL “Well mister.” the little boy said in the hushed whisper of shared secrets. “My uncle…he’s famous!” “Is he, now? What’s he famous for? Does he clean the Emperor’s cows or something?” “Gosh no!” he looked at me aghast. “He’s the Seer! And he’s comin’ home.” Part of me cringed at the way he’d said it. There were some titles that were earned, names that were truer than any given at birth. That one though-the Seer-had been laid around my neck like a laurel wreath--I was ten years old and had learned that I had power. Nine years passed before I learned that power came with a price. “What’s your name boy? And your Mam’s?” He looked at me again, but this time his smile had faltered a bit, and his eyebrows furrowed in irritation. I was obviously keeping him from his watch on the road, his posture said but it was impolite to be rude to grown men and his mam would be cross if I went down and told her. “My name’s Mandel, mister. And my Mam’s name is Clora. ” My eyes went wide. Cherrie? Old enough to have had children? Gods be merciful on her husband. I’d have bet that she still liked to throw things when she was angry. “Well, I said, feeling the unfamiliar spark of hope inside me for the first time since my feet had begun carrying me towards Oakfall. “Well then, Master Mendel you’d best go down and see if your Mam has anything on the pot to eat.” I tried to put on my wickedest grin as he stared at me. “Your old uncle has been walking for almost a month and it’ll be nice to sit down to a meal that I didn’t have to catch myself. I’d eat shoe leather if I didn’t have to cook it!” His eyes went wider and wider, his jaw fell slack . “You’re…you’re….Uncle Cerric?”
CENTRIPETAL “How about I give you a head start down the hill so you can tell everyone; so it doesn’t look like you were napping when you were supposed to be watching the road, ok?” I winked at him and watched the shock fade from his face and the toothy smile come back. He rushed past me in a blur. “Oh, Mendel?” He stopped in his tracks then turned back his small body pulled tight, ready to run screaming down the hill. “Has anyone else come down the road today? Or maybe yesterday?” My sister’s son rocked back and forth on his heels— smile still shining on his face. “Ya. Another man: big, tall, he didn’t say much though. When I told him that I was waiting for my Uncle he patted me on the head and started walking off toward the cliffs. Says, “Mister there’s nothing up there but the Ruins’. When I did, he said ‘ I know’.” Mendel turned to rush away again, and then stopped a second time to add: “He wanted me to tell you that he’d be waiting for you when you were done.” He stopped one last time “Are you sure you’re really my uncle Cerric?” “Yes son.” I said, feeling cold dread washing over me. The spring sun didn’t feel as warm anymore and as I watched him sprint over the grassy hill, I could feel fate pulling, shifting around him. If I looked hard enough, I knew I’d see his future, his wife and children. Or I’d see the sword that would kill him. When I was alone on top of the hill overlooking my childhood home, I dared one long look up into the fogclogged cliffs, obscuring the ruins that Dymas and I had played in as children. “Thank you, Mas,” I whispered to the cliffs. “for these last few hours with my family-since you wouldn’t let me have my own. I haven’t forgotten the promise I made you. I
CENTRIPETAL wish I could have, and maybe we could have saved each other instead of this.” I turned away from the cliffs, and the phantoms that haunted there. I chose to walk, following my nephew’s tracks down into Oak fall. Mendel ran screaming for his Mam, howling that “Uncle Cerric’s home. Uncle Cerric’s home!” at the top of his lungs. I followed with a tired amusement as mothers dropped their sheets into wicker baskets and plucked their youngest children from the ground beside them to stare up the road. They’d been expecting something grander, I thought wryly. Not a filthy man, unshaved, with barely twenty years to call his own—mage with more dirt on him than the road had. I supposed I should have had long red hair instead of plain nut-brown, should have pulled it back in something other than a tail behind my head. Maybe worn a blue silk robe embroidered with stars instead of the doeskin pants and dirty linen shirt that stuck to my body like a second skin, almost crusty with only haphazard washings when I stopped long enough to throw myself into a river or a pond. In a flash of vanity, I considered about throwing a spell over myself; make them awe and shock. But no, these people had things to do besides gawk. There were fields and children to tend, and death waiting for them in the ruins of the cliff waiting for me to finish. At the end of the village stood my father’s home-the one he built with his own hands, with my mother beside him after they were married. He’d been a campaigner for the army-before the Queen was murdered and civil war split the empire. Before I had fought, and killed, and those close to me had fallen beneath the slaughter. Nothing had ever been as beautiful as that home. All of four rooms, tight and cramped with two apple trees
CENTRIPETAL growing in the yard. This early in the spring they were just beginning to grow leaves. My sisters had climbed that tree, sat beneath it with their loom-work and dreamed off the great cities far away from. We’d picked apples and thrown them at each other when they were too green to eat. I’d seen those great cities and the Imperial Palace of Darini—gold and marble built to tower above the thriving city. Its rooms had walls of amber, lit by mage flames that never died. I’d stood in the great houses of the nobility, places great and small. I’d kneeled before the Great Throne—a monstrosity of carved silver and ivory beneath an aged Empress—to be named the Seer of the Realm. I’d have traded it all for an apple off my mother’s trees. By then, the entire horde was standing outsidewomen all red-haired and freckled as my mother was, with half a dozen wild children circled around their skirts, alternating between looking at their mothers and looking at me with wonder… My family. I thought. So much like Bernard and Chantal. And oh god Annise. You’d have loved them. I know you’d have loved them. Each step I took moved me closer to the garden gate and I saw the last figure erupt from the house, being halfdragged by Mendel who was speaking too fast for her to hear, but pointing at me with more enthusiasm than I could have mustered. If my heart didn’t stop beating like a drum, I’d pass out. My mother’s apron, hands and face were covered in flour. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun at the top of her head. Nothing had changed, save that now there were small streaks of grey in the fiery red and tiny lines growing in the creases of her eyes and lips . – smile and worry lines. But her eyes were clear and bright despite the tears that fell from
CENTRIPETAL them and down her cheeks in small rivers. There might have been threads of silver in her hair now, and she might have been smaller than I remembered, but there she was standing where she had waved ‘Mas and I away when we left to seek our fortunes. “Mother?” I said, stopping at the garden gate. “Cerric?” she replied, clutching her hand to her breast. “Is it really you?” Tears fell from my eyes too and I opened the gate, dropping my staff and carry sack onto the grass before opening my arms wide as she surged forward, clutching her youngest son to her, mumbling I love you’s as the rest of my family watched on. “I dreamed you were coming home.” she said at last. “And I knew it. Your Da didn’t believe me, but I told him ‘Jiles, your son is coming home. He’s coming home to us because he promised to. He promised me he’d follow his feet home.’ The girls-women now-followed suit, crying with our mother, surrounding me in family and love so thick that I could almost taste it. “I’m home. I’m home.” And Dymas would not take me from it. He would not snuff the last love in this dark world out as he had before. In the darkest pit of my soul I swore an oath-piled atop each and every one I had made since Annise had died. I’ll kill him first. F
The men came in from the fields, with their boychildren beside them, tired after a day’s work. Inside my father’s home, I wanted with my breath held tight. There were things to be said, and done aside from watching my
CENTRIPETAL nieces and nephews tear through the house and talk of whatever inconsequential things I could think of to tell my sisters and mother what ten years away from Oakfall had been like. The sun began to set when he finally entered-he was taller than I was, built broad and strong. Jiles stopped dead, and I could see him take in the shape of a man sitting beside his hearth and watched his eyes fall to the staff that lay at my feet beside the carry sack I had dragged with me since leaving the capital. “Son?” he asked. “Jiles!” my mother cried, coming into the kitchen after putting her grandchildren to bed upstairs, so their mothers could meet their husbands in private. “I told you! I told you he was coming home. And he’s here! Our Cerric is home at last!” My father stepped forward, closing the distance between us. I stood to meet him, and we hugged in the tiny kitchen, the sounds of the quiet village fading away. When we pulled apart there were tears in his eyes, and in mine. But I’d never seen my father cry before. “Welcome home, son.” He said, and smiled. I smiled as well, but could not fight away the dread inside my heart. “There’s stew.” My mother said moving towards the stewpot above the fire-bowls in hand. “More than enough for the two of you. I’m sure there’s things for you both to talk about, he’s been here since midday and I’ve already questioned him half out of his wits! “And.” She said turning to face the staircase. “Enough for nosey little boys who sneak out of bed after they’ve been put to sleep.” There was a yelp from the stairs as Mendel scurried down, dressed in a too-large linen shirt, obviously too excited
CENTRIPETAL at seeing his ‘famous’ Uncle to do something as silly as sleeping. “I guess it’s alright.” I said when he came up to the table and sat between my father and I. “So long as you’re not up all night. Your mother would have my hide if it was my fault you were tired in the morning.” “Alright, Uncle Cerric.” He said and my mother put a bowl of stew in front of him. We sat quietly, we three men, and ate. The silence lasted for a few minutes, until Mendel with an empty bowl in front of him began to speak. “Uncle Cerric?” “Yes?” I said to Mendel after pushing the bowl of stew away. It had grown into a tight knot in my stomach as the hours past and the smiles of my sibs had come and gone, asking questions that I couldn’t truthfully answer. “Do you have a wife?” I lost my breath as the innocent child rammed a knife into my chest with those words, and shattered the illusion that I had just returned to my family, instead of being on the heels of a killer. I stumbled, fighting for air, for something to say, but nothing would come. The meal churned again and for a moment I thought I would throw up. “Mendel, your Uncle Cerric has had a long day, why don’t you head up to bed. It’s past your bedtime.” He smiled, nonplussed and gave me a sweet hug and a kiss on my cheek before scampering away, my mother in tow leaving my father at the table. Jile’s features were blunt in the light of the kitchen candle. Scars marked the places where a sword or knife had caught him and I knew that beneath his coarse brown shirt there were even more. One did not become a Commander of an army without shedding blood –the blood of others, and your own.
CENTRIPETAL “I’m sorry son.” he said at last. “How did it happen?” he asked me. ”I’ve never had a wife.” I answered. “But Annise and I had just been waiting for the moment to be right. We were students together, and friends.” My breath had gone ragged, remembering her—the careful curve of her jaw and the wide honest smile framed by miles and miles of auburn hair. The way we had talked for long hours about philosophy and the nature of our art-our magic. She had ready every book she could lay her hands on, and did it with a bright and shining smile. Her slender form, and the tiny scar that ran beneath her eye that she always hated-though no one ever saw. I remembered too the swelling curve of her belly, wrapping my arms around her to cup it in my hands, feeling our babe kick with impatience to greet the world. “Childbirth?” my mother asked, returning. “It’s always so hard..” “No.” I said with a laugh that tasted like soot on my lips. “She loved the Seer. I’ve seen the futures of battles, the ends of lives. But I couldn’t See what would happen until it was too late. I was too far away and I couldn’t stop it.” Silence fell on the room. “There was a village for our people-those loyal to the new Empress, even after the assassination of her mother. Those of us that didn’t have enough power to fight, or the desire—they were our women, and children. Our crippled and our sick. They’d named it Edensforge and planted gardens along every pathway, grew trees up into the sky to shade them. Our children danced in the streams and the Butcher came. He fell on them and slaughtered them all. No one was there to stop him. I wasn’t there to protect the woman I loved when they cleaved her open and tore our baby from her womb and left them both to die.”
CENTRIPETAL “Every night I go to sleep seeing their faces. I got there hours too late and they were gone.” My mother clutched my fathers arm, burying her face in his tunic as sobs wracked her small frame. But my father’s gray eyes were locked on me and I knew he finally understood why I’d come home at last. “He’s coming.” he said. I replied quietly “He’s here.” “Can we stop him?” A moment of silence passed and I brought together what little pieces of sanity I had left to me. “At dawn, pack the children and run. Run as far and as fast as you can.” “What will you do?” “What I have to.” I stood reaching out to where my staff lay, feeling the familiar wood grain under my fingers. My father stood as well, crossing slowly to the hearth and the scabbard that hung above it. His hands clutched the hilt and pulled it free of the hook. When my father turned, he was not the gentle man who’d lead Oakfall since he came into town atop his warhorse, but instead a soldier who’d seen too many wars. “Why?” he asked. “Because ten years ago I made him promise me that we’d come home together regardless of where I lives lead us. Something changed when ‘Mas went away, Father. The Hostmasters turned their back on all of us—taking their weapons and slaughtering us. The only thing that stands between them destroying the Darini is me.” “Did you See what would happen?” “I saw my best friend bathed in blood. I didn’t want to lose him.” My father stood silently, his hands running down the length of the sheathed blade, like he was remembering and old lover. “We’ll be gone by dawn.”
CENTRIPETAL That done, I stepped towards my mother’s shaking form, wrapped my arms around her waist and buried my face in her sobbing shoulders. “I love you.” I said then walked from the cottage out into the darkness before dawn, alone save for my thoughts following the trail up to the ruins where Dymas and I had played kings and heroes and where we promised we’d come back to. F
The path that lead up the cliffs was once wide enough for two oxcarts to travel side by side, but centuries of rain and weather and carved the road down to a small footpath criss-crossing it’s way up the mountainside, doubling back again and again. In the pre-dawn gloom the houses looked like tiny fireflies and the darkness above me was a thick blackness of moving shadows. The light breeze sweeping up the mountain face was cold and I pulled my travel-worn cloak a little tighter around me, urging my legs to walk faster up the path. Many things passed through my mind the distance between Oakfall and I grew wider. We’d walked this path every day we could get away, to run through the ruins at the top. Sometimes we played mighty explorer, or great knights come to fight back a make-believe army that had threatened the village below. But slowly, the games changed the day my father told me that my best friend and I were to be sent away. I saw things sometimes, warned my mother that across the village my sister was about to fall into the well. That the family mare would throw a filly that was chestnut brown with one white sock. They were small visions and my innocent mind traced the courses of Fate without ever realizing what I did.
CENTRIPETAL ‘Mas was to go too, but not to the mages of the Capital. My father had trained my best friend in the arts of the sword and war craft. He handled an edged blade like he’d been born with a sword in his hand. Dymas went to the Hostmasters - the finest swordsmen in the Darini empire. What had happened, I wondered, that turned the smiling, dark haired boy I knew-who was so much like a brother to me-into a monster. By the time I had made my place among the mages – as the Seer of the Empire—the war had begun to boil over. The Empress-cold, hard, and desperate-could no longer charm her generals to her hand. They rebelled, and sent an assassin to kill her. They failed twice-my visions had saved her from poison and a knife blade in the dark. I could not save her from the rising star of the Hostmasters. He slipped past the wards of the castle, through corridors filled with mages-still loyal to her—and slit her throat with his dagger. I saw it too late-and found only the Empress’ cooling body and the dagger Dymas had used to commit the murder. That day had started the game between he and I-trying to outfox and out maneuver our allies against one another. Until Edensforge. And until then – where the game ended. F
Fate shifted a moment before he spoke-I felt him there. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t come.” he said, from the shadows. The voice was hard, like the sound of gravel sliding down the mountain and came from every direction at once. I knew he could see me then, could feel his eyes watching me. “I promised, didn’t I?” I said back, scanning the
CENTRIPETAL ruins. The shadows didn’t move, but as the wind pressed against my skin, it brought the smell of animal fur and sweat. There was silence after that. It hung with foreboding and foretelling—what passed here, between ‘Mas and I had been coming for a long time, I could wait in the dark a few minutes longer. “How is your family, Cerric?” he asked. “I saw Clora’s boy a few day ago. Looks like the spitting image of your Da.” “They’re well.” I replied idly, forcing my hearing to find the man hidden in the shadows. “They were getting ready to go to the fields today. Mam made me promise to help weed later in the day.” “You’re a terrible liar, Seer.” he spat. There was a flash of light a moment later as flames shot up into the night and then faded again into a small campfire-taking my night vision with it as it went. The flames were a merry red-gold and the light they cast a dark silhouette. Dymas had grown in the passing of years, filling out into a wide chest and arms grown large with years of sword work. His hair was still black-blue, melting into the night but his face had changed. Firelight showed scars across his chin, and the thick seam of a knife-wound bisecting his right eye. Even his lips that all the girls had wanted to kiss were different. I could see where part of his lower lip had been carved away. “Like what you see?” he asked, then turned his back to me to crouch near the fire. He wore the boots of a centurion-thick black leather laced to his knees and a kilt held around his waist-the black-blue tartan of the Hostmasters. there were stains on his tunic-again-black as the early hours before dawn. In the light of the morning they would be the dark stain of heart’s blood. “I see many things.” I said quietly.
CENTRIPETAL “I’ve never needed Sight to tell me the obvious, Cerric. You’re family’s running as we speak, the entire village is scattering like a family of field mice across the fields and into the woods, hoping to lose me in the mountains. You told them I was coming.” “Why are you here ‘Mas?” “To fulfill your damned promise!” He screamed, neck went corded, his face twisted in a deranged mask of anger. “to fulfill the damned curse you set on me!” His voice echoed against the stones and off into the valley below us. I acted then, moving closer to the fire. “I won’t let you kill them.” He looked at me across the fire. “Do you think you can stop me, Seer?” “There will not be another Edensforge.” I gripped my staff tighter, moving them apart to act as a fulcrum. I could only brace myself as I watched the man rise from the ground in a movement of fluid grace—watch a sword appear in his hand to glint in the firelight –and watch as he swept it in a deadly arc towards me. I pivoted, bringing the staff up to block high, felt the sword’s edge part the very air as he reposted, advancing on me in swipes and lunges. I caught the first with the staff, buying a moment to back away from the flames. He came at me again, faster and faster. Pushing and herding me. My pulse pounded angry in my chest, in my head. In the darkness we fought, but there was no use-his sword was too fast, my staff too slow. Fire ran up my arm as ‘Mas cut through my shirt and bit into flesh. He whirled and blood began to pour from my arm. The angle was high and I watched it come towards my neck. It would split my throat like a rotten apple. I’d failed.
CENTRIPETAL And the sword fell. Fell into the dirt as my childhood friend dropped to his knees before me. His eyes were wide and desperate. His chest heaved, gasping for air. “No.” he said, staring at me. “Please don’t let there be another. If you have any mercy left in you Cerric, don’t let it happen again. I did what you asked—I came here. You remember?” His voice was desperate, sobbing. What was happening? A trick? The sun was starting to rise. “We stood up here that day, you and I. and you looked out towards the sun and you Saw something. You looked at me for a long time. Then asked me to promise you something. Of course I’d do it! I’d have done anything for you – you were the only one who believed in me. Do you remember?” “Yes.” I whispered. “You said – ‘Promise me, whatever happens. Promise me that we’ll come back here. Ten years from now.’ then you took your boot knife and sliced your palm open, tossed it to me and I did the same. I swore on my life that I’d come back here to these damned ruins and this damned mountain.” He breathed in again and then forced the air out. “It’s haunted me every waking moment since then. I had to survive. I survived war, I survived torture. I survived watching my brothers-in-arms die around me. I survived when my commanders ordered us to kill innocent women and children, when we took the throne. I survived when they ordered me into a tiny village because we needed to break the Mages once and for all. I survived that slaughter and survived being called ‘the Butcher’ – the Butcher Cerric. I go to sleep hearing their screams and I can’t fail because I promised you that I’d be here.” Dymas was screaming then wailing out the words
CENTRIPETAL inside his heart. Every word cut as savagely as the knife had done. “Kill me.” he said. “Kill me and let it be over.” My breath caught. The crimson sun burst over the horizon, and in the dawn light I saw his eyes-wide with desperation, fear, and longing. My muscles held, ready to bring the staff against his head, but I faltered. “’Mas.” I said. He was my best friend. Dymas had been my brother. We’d played games, and there had been dark nights and darker days where I had thought of him too. Days where I made it through because I wanted him to be proud of me— knew that he would succeed at everything. Let nothing stop him. “For the love of the gods, Cerric. Do it. End it before I cant fight it anymore.” The Hostmaster begged. “I can’t.” “Then you die. Then I go down to that village and through those fields and kill them all. Oakfall will be worse than Edensforge, Dymas. They will remember it as the day that the Seer fell. If you let me live, the Hostmasters will hunt down the mages, will slaughter them, and I will put a knife through your empress’s chest the way I did her mother” My shoulders strained, holding the staff so high for so long. I needed to decide, from pulling it down against his head, or to drop the staff and let what happen may. Fate moved too quickly around me—the future held blood and death and flames, others held the promise of peace. What I did would decide the fate of more than just him and I. I dropped the staff to the dirt beneath my feet. “I won’t.” His face fell. “Then you die, Seer.”
CENTRIPETAL He moved faster than I expected, in a blur that found the metal blade at his side, and brought it him up to his feet, and the sword in a high arc, aiming for the curve of my neck. Then stopped. “They raped us, Cerric.” He screamed, holding the edge of the sword against the skin. “They killed us-made us kill each other to survive. We had no friends, nothing save the next battle. The Hostmasters know no love, no faith. They fed me hatred and taught me death and obedience. I am bound to a blade, Seer, that wants your blood. Bound with magic and oaths that will make me take your life.” “Then do it.” I said. “What do I have left for? If this is my fault, then I deserve it, don’t I? My curse? Kill me then, and let it be done.” Dymas screamed, and crumbled to the ground a second time, pulling his arms tight to his chest. He sat, huddled in the ground, crying. “I can’t. I hate you and I can’t.” “Then what happens next?” I said quietly. “You don’t understand.” Seeing him there, lying in the dust broke something inside of me. The cold cage that had been my heart since Annise’s death shattered. Whatever had happened couldn’t be undone. He had done it out of duty, out of submission. “You killed the woman I loved.” I said. “But she would hate me if I took your life for hers’ ‘Mas. She’d never forgive me. It wasn’t her way. She’d want me to help you, however I could. There wont be another Edensforge, there wont be an Oakfall-not if you don’t want there to be. There are other people to blame” He looked at me again, eyes puffed with tears. “Cerric, its not that easy. You don’t understand.” “Promise me there wont be another Edensforge, and I’ll stay with you. We’ll face whatever happens, together. I
CENTRIPETAL can’t kill my best friend.” “I don’t think I can ever forgive you, Seer. This is your fault. Your last promise you made me give created the Butcher-what will this one create?” He looked at me coldly, appraisingly. “I don’t know if I can forgive you either, but promise me.” “I promise there will never be another Edensforge.” He stood, wiped the dirty from his kilt and resheathed the sword. “I promise that I’ll face whatever comes by your side; that for what they did to you, and I, we’ll pay them back. War or no.” Silence fell between us. “Can we go home, ‘Mas?” I said, breaking it, looking back down the road I’d come up hours, lifetimes, ago. “I think my father would like to see you. “You think he wants to see the Butcher?” “No. He wants to see Dymas.” “Alright, Cerric. Let’s go.
MY INSPIRATION JACLYN DOUGLAS “I really don’t want to go. People like that scare me.” I had never met a handicapped person or severely disabled person until I was twelve. I knew that my father had been dating someone new, but I wasn’t prepared for her daughter. When I met Caitlin, she was sitting in a hospital bed with tubes going in and out of her small body. They went into her chest and arms. They were both covered by white gauze like material. They were both of orangey-red colorings. What I later found out to be Iodine. The fear of being around someone like that was overwhelming; I just wanted to bolt out of that hospital and never go back. When we got back to the house, my dad explained to my brother, Eddie, and I what was wrong with Caitlin. She had Cornelia de Lange Syndrome or CdLS as it is commonly referred. Caitlin had trouble eating, digesting food, talking and hearing, along with many other things. After seeing Caitlin more and outside of the hospital, I got very comfortable with her. I would spend hours sitting in the big oversized rocker with her. We would just rock back and forth in silence. Occasionally, she would make a movement of a small tiny noise. The noise was nothing more than a squeak like a mouse. I started to see her as a little girl, who would soon become my best friend, and a person who would show me the world, just with the simplest of gestures. She taught me how to be patient, caring and understanding. Without her there to help, I don’t think I would be who I am today. I would instead be a person who does not have patience with others.
CENTRIPETAL At age fourteen, I decided to move in with my Dad, who lived in Wisconsin. That was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. I could stay with my Mom, Eddie, friends, and the community and lifestyle I knew, or move halfway across the country to be with my Dad, Caitlin, and her mother, Christine, in a completely different lifestyle. F
I still remember the day when Laura and Shania showed up on our doorstep with pizza and balloons. I was sitting in front of the picture window holding her as close and as hard as I could, trying to calm Caitlin down from one of her tantrums. The only way you could calm her down was to almost suffocate her, but not. She needed to become unaware of her surroundings and only concentrate on herself. She was kicking and screaming for half an hour. I felt like if I ran to the other side of the country I could still hear her screaming. I wasn’t sure if it was pain related, so I decided that in Caitlin’s best interest, I should give her Tylenol instead of strong medicine. As soon as the doorbell rang, Caitlin screamed louder, and started clawing at her face again. Whenever she was upset she would scratch and eventually have deep cuts all along her face. These cuts were deep and most of them had dried blood already caked on. By this time she had already gouged out part of her cheek. While Caitlin was wailing, Laura and Shania walked in, and Caitlin noticed the bright purple balloon. Instantly she settled down and started playing with the balloon, forgetting about her tantrum. Laura and Shania were from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Wisconsin. They were there to let us know Caitlin had been granted a wish. Caitlin was to go on a Walt
CENTRIPETAL Disney Cruise to the Virgin Islands. Even though Caitlin had hearing problems, as soon as she heard the news about the trip her eyes brightened. You could see the stars in her eyes. She stopped playing with her balloon and looked at us with a huge smile on her face. For me, the prospect of missing school for a week, going to the Virgin Islands in December, and not having to pay for anything was very exciting. F
It was about 3:30 in the morning, and I had just gotten back to my room that I shared with my brother on the cruise. Eddie was sound asleep on the couch, and I could hear Caitlin’s feeding pump beeping in the next room. It was probably just a kink in the tubing. I decided to wait a couple of minutes and see if Christine or my Dad would hear the beeping and go un-kink the line, knowing they wouldn’t. The last thing I wanted to do was go into the other room, un-kink the line and risk Caitlin being awake. If Caitlin was awake, she wouldn’t go back to sleep, at least not this week. About five minutes had passed and the beeping still hadn’t stopped. I knew I needed to go and un-kink the line. When I walked in the room it took a second for my eyes to adjust to the lack of light. Once they did, I noticed Caitlin wasn’t in her bed. I first looked at her bed, found it empty and scanned over to the second bed, the bathroom and the shower room. She was not in any of those places. I went to walk farther in the room, but as I did, I heard Caitlin’s voice go, “NA NA NA” from behind me. Somehow she had run past me when I opened the door and was now running back and forth across my room, yelling. I knew this was going to happen when I opened the
CENTRIPETAL door. It was one of those things that you just know she’s going to do when you don’t want her to. She was up for the day, so it was now my responsibility to take care of her until someone else woke up. I couldn’t wake up Christine or my Dad because that would get me into trouble. They did not like getting up in the morning. Waking up my brother wasn’t an option, and I couldn’t get into Grandma and Grandpa’s room to wake them up. I started by getting Caitlin ready for the day. She had a routine that she followed, even on the cruise. I stretched out her legs, so that they wouldn’t be stiff, which was one of the hardest things. Caitlin never liked getting her legs stretched out because it hurt her so much. Within no time I had been kicked twice in the jaw. After finishing with her legs, I got her dressed for the day and we went for one of her daily walks. I left a note just in case anybody woke up while we were gone. We went to the fourth floor and walked around on the outside deck. For being that early in the morning, it was still very nice out. We only walked around the deck once before Caitlin started to complain. When we were at home she hated walking, but on the cruise, she would walk all day if she could. She was always on the go. When we got back to the room, Christine was up. I told her that she needed to watch Caitlin so I could finally sleep! F
The day we got off the cruise was very sad. Luckily I didn’t have to say goodbye to the nice weather. Christine, Caitlin, and I were going to stay in Florida for two extra days so Caitlin could see her father, stepmother, half brother, two step brothers and her other grandparents. When Christine
CENTRIPETAL and I dropped Caitlin off at her father’s house she was perfectly fine. She was happy and in very good health. When we picked her up the next day however, that was a different story. I was the first one to notice something. Caitlin’s eyes were sunken in and she didn’t have her usual smile on her face. After spending so much time with a noncommunicating person, you learn to tell through their facial expressions and body language what they are feeling. I could tell just by looking at her that something was wrong. After a couple hours, Caitlin started to cry and nothing we could do would make her stop. I knew it wasn’t one of her tantrums, this one was for real. Christine and I decided to bring her to the local Emergency Room. There, the doctors told us that she had gas in her stomach and it would pass by morning. They sent us back to the hotel and said that it would be fine to fly home in the morning. The whole night went slowly. It seemed as if the clock never moved. The big and little hand just stayed where they were. Caitlin did not stop crying and had to be held upright all night. We went with what the ER had said and took our flight home. About halfway through, I became very scared. Caitlin still hadn’t stopped crying and now she wouldn’t stop scratching at her face and anything else she could reach. Christine and I had huge bruises all over us from where we had gotten whacked with Caitlin’s hands and feet. Christine had the airline call my Dad, who worked for an ambulance company. We would have an ambulance meet us at the airport and take Caitlin straight to Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee. We also had a limo waiting for us to take us home, from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I decided that I would go with the limo and make sure all our luggage
CENTRIPETAL got home safely. If I had known, what was going to happen, I would have gone to the hospital. F
The next morning I got up and went to school, like I was supposed to. Before I left for school, I called Christine. “How is she doing?” I had asked “Caitlin is sleeping and in the ICU. I have to go though; I will call when you get out of school.” That was the end of our phone call. My question was never really answered. Maybe if it was, I could have at least said goodbye. About 7:30 a.m., my guidance counselor came into my French class and took me to the chapel meeting room. I knew something was wrong, by the look on her face. “I am so sorry to have to be the one to say this. Caitlin has passed.” At exactly 7:38 on December 10, 2003, I heard the news that Caitlin had passed away shortly after I got off the phone with Christine that morning. She was just 17 days shy of her 9th birthday. I could not stop crying. The tears kept streaking down my face. I could taste the salt in them. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation with my guidance counselor. My Aunt came and picked me up about an hour later. I was numb. I felt as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest by a human hand. I don’t remember ever going to the hospital .I found out later that I did go to the hospital and talked with the social worker. I found out later that the ER in Florida was wrong in their diagnosis. The supposed “gas” in her stomach was actually bacteria eating a hole through the stomach. I don’t remember really anything that happened in the next couple of days. I almost didn’t even show up for the
CENTRIPETAL funeral. My friends literally had to drag me out of the house and into the church. The only thing that kept me going was my friends. They came over the same night she passed away and never really left. Someone was always there with me. They made sure I got out of the house often too, so I wouldn’t constantly be around the memory. My friend, Heather, came to my house the morning of the funeral and drove me over. All my friends were already there, and even some students from my school were there. I was so thankful for all their help. I don’t know what I would have done without them. F
I will never forget what my friends and family did to help me. Just by being there and keeping me busy. They somehow managed to make something so unbearable slightly bearable. They helped me cope with the loss of my step-sister, my best friend, my inspiration. For that I am truly thankful.
NOT A MORNING PERSON JACK FAHEY Dudley awakens with a jolt to a pain so penetrating and pure that every tissue and every tendon in his body seems to shriek in unison. Even the singed synapses firing spastically inside his buzzing head feel as though they are about to burn out completely. He squeezes his eyes shut against the glaring sunlight piercing into his temples, the pounding pulse resonating through his skull. A ragged moan rattles and creaks through his chest and past his chapped lips. He licks them with a dry, numb tongue. Dudley looks to his left, momentarily disoriented as it takes his vision a moment to catch up. No sooner does he recognize his own living room than he is gripped by an urgent need to vomit. He swallows hard against the swirling ache welling up from within, tries to take a deep breath into shredded lungs. His throat is thick with mucus, his mouth sour with the taste of stale bile. “Of course I had to pass out on this end of the sofa.” Dudley’s torso is framed in a crooked diamond of bright light from the window above. He slings a limp forearm across face, lamely shielding his eyes. Suddenly, his bladder voices a desperate cry for immediate action. Lurching stiffly to his feet and making for the bathroom, he hooks his ankle in the leg of the coffee table and plummets face first in a spongy stain where someone had spilled beer onto the carpet the night before. Nearly succumbing to the promise of cathartic release into his jeans, he drags himself like an incontinent sloth into the lav. Lacking the strength to stand before the toilet, he drops his trousers and collapses to
CENTRIPETAL the seat. He hunches miserably with his elbows on his knees, his head cradled in shaking hands, and he stares at the dingy linoleum between his feet. “Ugh, I didn’t even kick off my shoes.” Despite the concussive throbbing in his skull, he counts his blessings that he wasn’t screwed around with in his sleep. He recalls other poor bastards who had broken the cardinal rule of binge drinking and dozed off in their sneakers only to wake up completely covered with crude expletives; rudimentary phalluses scrawled on their skin in permanent ink. Reluctantly, Dudley pulls himself to his feet, hoists up his pants and shambles into the kitchen. Feeling numb and clumsy, he goes about the task of making coffee in extreme slow motion. Hazy images surface from his murky memory of the night before of countless whiskey shots and a lot of noise. The front door crashing open with the boisterous roar of an unfamiliar oaf in a fraternity hoody, fully plastered with a case of beer over each shoulder. Jovial comrades slugging and spilling and laughing into the night, they sang and stumbled and rose up and drank some more. Some wandered off into the darkness to find more dizzy hilarity and some returned to the party here at 137 Ocean. Dudley personally remembers little, save for the distant slideshow of hectic celebration running through his woozy brain. He hears the scuff of slippers on the linoleum and turns from the sugar bowl to see his roommate Corey emerging from his bedroom off the kitchen. “You missed a good sunrise, Dud.” Dudley grumbles in acknowledgement and returns his attention to his coffee mug. Too much cream, he reflects with a sneer. Oh well. “I’m going to get a paper. You need
CENTRIPETAL anything?” Corey looks up from the box of cereal he is elbow deep in, digging eagerly for some prize at the bottom. He thinks for a moment. “Naw, dude, I’m set.” With this, he pulls a little plastic package out of the dust of crushed cereal bits. “But if you feel the urge to buy me a handle of rum, I’ll love you forever.” Dudley flicks a middle finger over his shoulder as he leaves the kitchen, but Corey doesn’t even see it. He’s already tearing at the plastic bag with his teeth, trying to get at the small green ring inside with Shrek’s face on it. It’s sunny outside on this yellow autumn day, but a violent chill courses through Dudley as he slides into the cold plastic seat of his car. His breath fogs out of his mouth with each breath and he has to rub some frost from the inside of his windshield before turning the key and cranking the heat. Popping a cassette in the tape deck, he backs out of the carport on the side of the duplex. He shares an apartment on one side of the house with Corey; the other side is occupied by some fat troll of a man who never seems to leave and never opens his blinds. Dudley has only seen him a handful of times, returning home late at night, no doubt from some wretched job on his comical little 10 speed bicycle. If he even has a job. Dud is pretty sure the man is a hopeless drunk with more than a few DUI’s under his belt. As he pulls out of the shade of the house, Dud slips on his mirrored cop shades to block out the oppressive sunrays. The light on his street still feels young, though it has to be past ten AM. Corey doesn’t believe in time and therefore owns no clocks and Dudley never really cared. The little clock on his dashboard perpetually blinks 12:00. Perhaps it is the autumn air or the watercolor foliage that
CENTRIPETAL makes it feel like it’s scarcely past dawn. Dudley raises his coffee mug to a passing jogger on the sidewalk, who gives him a strange sideways look. “Whatever, dude,” he says, a little bit irked that the man in the sweat suit didn’t return his friendly gesture. Dudley has been feeling quite weary of this college town and all the local assholes that assume he’s up to no good as soon as they see him turn the corner. On the other hand, he is also tired of all the kids he has to hang out with here, the dumb drunks and silly girls who float around this little town until they run out of money or grades or interest. Dudley would just as soon move into his own little room away from the party scene and focus on his studies. Read all the books he had meant to crack open. He is just calculating his expenses and deeming them too great to stop sharing rent when he pulls into the downtown general store and parks around the side. There is a wooden porch out front, with inflatable tubes and rafts hung up on the wall. They sell well to the college kids in the late spring, when the river is warm enough to float down, perhaps with a cool case of Papst. No one’s buying at this point in the fall, though. Dudley spots Jeffery, a passing acquaintance that was at his house last night. He’s smoking a butt in the shade of the storefront porch as Dudley approaches. “What up, son? Didn’t see you roll up.” Jeffery tends to speak with a contrived urban accent even though he is from a well-to-do neighborhood in rural Connecticut. “Good time last night, am I right?” Dudley deferentially shakes Jeff’s hand and nods. He says something about the cold weather coming on and slips past him into the store. Of course, the only paper left on the
CENTRIPETAL rack is the ridiculous local rag which Dud is pretty certain is published by a local faction of the KKK. He glances around for anything else he could need. There’s Advil, water and a warm bed waiting for him at home. To hell with it, he thinks as he heads back outside, empty-handed. Jeffery is just finishing off his cig. “Yo Dud.” He calls as he flicks the filter into the street. “How about that joyride we took last night?” He emits a sinister chuckle and shakes his head to himself as if he’d just heard a great joke. “Um... No. What are you talking about? Where did we go?” “Shit, I don’t know, son. I just know we took a booze cruise out the back roads with two blunts and a 40oz each. We musta been out there for a few hours, but the last I remember was pulling back into town. Before that, my mind’s a blank, kid. We took you’re car, don’t you remember driving?” Dud’s mind races. He sifts through the images buried just below the surface of his cloudy consciousness. “I don’t remember at all, I didn’t even know we went out. Jesus, how did you convince me to go out last night, I was wasted!” “One word, nigga--- the chronic!” Dudley grimaces at this and turns to leave, lost in his thoughts. Without saying “bye”, he gets into his car and rolls back through town in a daze. Dudley pulls back onto his street and into the driveway. Corey is out on the front stoop having a morning smoke and a beer. He toasts Dudley with a smile before his face suddenly drops into an expression of confusion and then sudden recognition. His beer hovers, his hand pausing uncertainly in the air. He begins to stand as Dudley gets out of the car.
CENTRIPETAL “Hey Cor, do you—“ but as he see’s Corey’s pallid complexion, Dudley stops in his tracks. “What?” Corey points weakly at the car with his beer, his hand quivering a bit. “What the fuck is that?” Dudley reads the fear in his roommate’s face and feels the blood rush out of him all at once, gripped by a sudden chill. He stands rigid on the gravel before turning reluctantly back to his car and sees the chaos imbedded in his fender. He spots the twisted wheel first, the bent spokes, the rim jabbed between the teeth of the snarling grille. But that isn’t what causes him to shudder in spite of himself. He overlooks the pedals and the gears jammed underneath the bumper, the greased chain hanging just off the ground. What causes his knees to buckle beneath him is the dried blood on the headlights, the clump of hair and scalp stuck between the hood and the grille. Corey breathlessly mutters “What did you do, dude?” But Dudley doesn’t answer. Can’t. Corey’s plaintive question hangs in the air, echoing through Dudley’s spinning mind before it is enveloped in the merciful darkness of unconsciousness as Dud collapses onto the grass, wet with the night’s frost thawing in the sun.
THE SEAGULLS WATCH ON AS THE LOVERS QUARREL TIMOTHY SACCO The morning rose into itself, shaded with a dark blossoming red. I looked from the deck of my sea vessel, stinking of fish even this early in the morning, and I knew I was looking at the end of the world, violently strewn with graying feathers of dead seagulls, drifting gently down through the thick salty air, caressing my cheek. I was staring at the Alpha and Omega before me, and the calm water beneath my boat deceived my mind for just mere moments, telling me that I was not, indeed, facing a hopeless end. As the clouds started to roll in over all of existence I could see from my point of observation on the earths surface that it was starting to drizzle, the droplets of water colliding on the sea, causing it to appear sharp as the ripples jumped off the surface, spiking in millions of cones across the water that lasted just seconds before falling back to their point of origin, their hopeless end. I pulled my fishing net out of the water and started heading back to the ashen port city that I called home, that I have always called home, that still slept through the morning, unaware of the turbulent future I was seeing all alone. My hands smelled of cod. As the sky faded that evening, the seagulls disappeared with the day and the wind blew through the city streets as drunkards sang in the pub and the loose women sold themselves on the sidewalk. People walked in their suits and ties, another laborious day had become a thing of the past, and in the room next to mine I listened as Julie, my neighbor, received her partner Ben in a physical and vocal
CENTRIPETAL portrayal of her emotions. “Oh!” she cried as I stared down at my TV dinner. “Oh Yes Yes YES!” I could feel the tremors in the floor. The vibrations of her bed rocking and her nightstand shaking and her cats running across the room out of fear all became images carved in my mind as if it were a marble slab. I despised the two of them, listening to them go at it night after night as my wife and I acted like cadavers around one another. I looked up to see her across the table, my wife of 36 years, and her eyes, trapped beneath her aging skin but still tender, holding on to the quality and perfection of youth, still holding onto an identity deep beneath the surface of her green pupils that I feel I had never fully known in all our years together. “Listen to them.” she said with a hearty chuckle. “What is that? The third time tonight?” The head of the bed was slamming in a steady rhythm, I was humming a tune in 7/4 time beneath my breath to its beat of the wailing drum. “Probably.” I said as I quietly poked and pried the microwave brownie out of its assigned square of my TV dinners little plastic tray. I caught an aroma of fish in my nostrils and realized that I hadn’t changed my clothes after I got off the boat this morning, taking shelter from the storm. The scent of fish lived in these clothes as I did, their smell lived in my skin as I did, tan and weathered. “You would think they would have something better to do with their time than screw every night. God.” “Why?” I asked, annoyed with a mouthful of brownie muffling the anger in my voice, slamming my fist down with the other half of the brownie in it. I swallowed, and then I spoke as clearly as I could. “It’s not like we do anything better with our time.” As soon as I ended the sentence
CENTRIPETAL I could feel it growing again from the depths of some unknown place. Our married life had become a battleground, a melee of our own frustrations and tonight, like every night, was not going to be an exception. “What are you talking about?” she asked, a sense of confusion laced the tip of her tongue. “I mean, we come home from work every day, and we sit here. We eat our TV dinners. We watch bullshit on the tube. We fall asleep out of boredom more than exhaustion. We never have the kind of fun they are having every night. I mean, we never do. Never. And even when we did, it wasn’t nearly as good as THAT.” I pointed towards the wall, bed board smacking against the other side of the wall with the rhythm of a metronome and Julie screaming bloody murder at the top of her lungs. Our picture frames shook on the wall and I could feel the vibrations traveling through the floorboards, up my legs and into my gut, churning it into a sour lump of dead weight. “I thought we had good sex.” she said. “I was never much of a screamer like that, but it was good. Wasn’t it good?” “It doesn’t matter how good it was, because now it’s none existent.” I said with a sharp stab fueled by my own sexual neglect. “I mean come on; the highlight of my day is beating off in the shower. What the hell?” “You’re a prick.” she said coldly, tears building in her eyes that, just moments ago, had held signs of youth. They were now void, empty, black holes, sucking the light out of the room, bending the laws of time and space, cornering me into my own little hole of the universe. Her voice was sharp, twisted, a mangled heap of metal and rotting bones as she spoke again. “You’re a fucking prick.”
CENTRIPETAL Her eyes had pushed me into a hole so far I could not see any signs of light. I panicked, picked up my glass of milk and threw it against Julies’ wall, watching it implode within itself before finally shattering and bleeding down to the floor. Julie and Ben’s rhythm didn’t miss a beat. We looked at each other, and the last remaining fragments of our love eroded before our eyes. “Get out.” She said harshly. “Leave now.” F
I walked down the sidewalk back towards my apartment tanked on rum and a bouquet of flowers in my hand. It is amazing how when your life deals you a bad hand, all the regulars of the local pub come together, taking you in with open arms and devising you a fail proof solution to all your problems. Seagulls watched silently from their perch as I discovered that I couldn’t walk. I didn’t even know if I could talk. I got to the door and fell face down on the cement while fumbling to get my keys out of my pocket. As I picked myself up, Poseidon blew an eruption of wind off of the coast of the lingering ocean that left me disoriented, picking all the petals off of the bouquet, leaving me with a fistful of thorn-covered stems. The world turned fast and time stood still, but after much struggle I managed to make it inside, up two flights of stairs and in front of my door. I stick the key into the lock and start mumbling. “Babe, I love you. I’m sorry.” I bust through the door, my mumbles becoming roars of emotion as I felt tears streaming down my face. I tripped over myself and fell to the floor. “Babe, I’m sorry. I love you so much.” I stopped
CENTRIPETAL yelling, I stopped sobbing. There was complete silence. I pulled myself off the floor and found the light switch on the wall. There was a note on the kitchen table. I pulled it into my hand and processed the words on the page. I have gone to stay with my sister in Vt. until I figure out what I want. Tonight made me realize that you are as unhappy with this beast we call our marriage as I am. I am debating whether we have anything worth pursuing, or are we just beating what may have once been a good thing into a pulp. I will call you if I want to talk. I love you, or at least I told myself I used to. I just don’t think there is anything there anymore. Thank you for some unforgettable memories, I hope you look on them as fondly as I do. I read this over and over, too drunk to process what it was trying to say. I put it back down on the table next to the ravaged stems of the flowers and released a long string of drunken profanities as I staggered into the bedroom, floorboards creaking beneath my weight, feeling sick from the alcohol mixed in with my own misfortune. I looked at the mirror on the wall, seeing a wilted face I did not know anymore. His wrinkled brow, shadowed face and unkempt hair were no reflection of the man I had been when she fell in love with me. I took my watch off and put it on my nightstand, noticing she had tipped our wedding picture face down. I picked up the frame and took it over with me as I keeled over onto the bed, remembering the good times she had referred to in her letter. They really were good, and with them I passed out with the picture in my hand; the lights were still
CENTRIPETAL on when I awoke in the morning. The next day I rose to the sound of seagulls heckling me from my open window. I found myself with rotten breath; the likes of the apocalypse were on my mind and a I was haunted by a hangover I wish had killed me or at least left me in a coma, shielding me from this sick world. I made eggs for breakfast, shaved and then jumped in the shower, washed my hair, and beat off to the image of Julie and Ben I had created in my head, moaning out of sheer pleasure, smiling as they lived a life I envied, living a life I had lost a long time ago. Or maybe it was just forgotten. I felt the solitude begin to fester beneath my skin. F
Days passed with every sunrise and sunset. I began to feel quarantined from the world, isolated in a dank prison and bringing her back into my life seemed to be the only key towards my own minds liberation. I got out of work on the Thursday following the strife that led to the partition between us and, out of solitude, took a walk on the boardwalk, watching the sunset over the ocean that turned into a shimmering mirror for heaven, looking so small underneath the big sky, painted bronze and shedding blood The seagulls flew overhead, moaning as they always have and always will, and the wind lifted them up from under their wings into the ethereal and eternal heavens as it also crept in between the seams of my shirt and my skin, chilling my blood and tensing my muscles. “Humans have harnessed a lot of things in the span of their existence,” I said as I thought to myself out loud. The moon was starting to appear in the sky, tainting its purity
CENTRIPETAL with the first signs of darkness. A seagull landed on the rail I supported myself on. “But my friend,” I said to him as if he had been listening to my troubles for all my life, “man has never harnessed the force of love, and I doubt he ever will.” I thought back to the day we had met at a church reception, so youthful, sneaking away, creating our own fortress of solitude together as one where we lived in each other, learned one another. We created our own love, a love that had been eternal, a love that had been everlasting, a love that had withered and grayed as our bodies had begun to, faded along with the beats of our aging hearts. The seagull spoke, and in my own mind I interpreted his squawk as a question of what I was going to do next. “Well, I guess I am going to try and fix what went wrong, my friend.” I said. He let one more squawk out before spreading his wings, letting the wind lift him up into the air and disappear in the night that was rolling in. F
I arrived at my sister in laws house late after midnight, far from the rolling tides and the seagulls sitting guard in the vulnerable sky. Pulling up the long dirt driveway, I strained my eyes until I could make out the 3 –story wooden monolith that stood in front of me, looking as though it should smell of pine as it towered over its kingdom that consisted of 86 acres of dense woods. I stopped my car but left it running, not noticing the way my headlights bent themselves ever so slightly in the cool air of night. I took a sip from a flask and prayed for the courage to knock on the door, but the prayer did not need to be answered as I noticed
CENTRIPETAL the lights of the house turn on one by one until finally the front door opened. My wives sister stepped out. “Go away!” she shouted to me, “She doesn’t want to see you!” I looked up toward a window on the second floor, seeing my wife standing there on the other side of the glass, staring at me with a look of despair, pulling her nightgown tight with clenched fists and the glistening birth of a tear in her eye. “If you don’t leave now I am going to have you arrested for trespassing!” yelled her sister, but I paid no attention to her. I just looked at my wife, her eyes hollow and bare. “Please, can we talk?! Please, give me 5 minutes!” I yelled to my wife. “I love you! I am sorry….Please!” I pleaded, and from some deep crevice inside my wilting body a river of emotions exploded, raging through my eyes, down my cheeks, dripping onto my shirt. The streams were as warm as freshly shed blood, and I am almost convinced that is indeed what they were. I watched her until she grabbed the curtains of the window and shut them, and I watched out of hopeless despair as her silhouette wandered through the shaded room as if it were some sort of purgatory or limbo until the lights shut off and she was gone. “PLEASE!” I pleaded in a voice so loud it awoke all those that slept within miles of the house, disturbed all the animals of the night and ripped through my head as I rapidly experienced déjà vu, convinced I had lived this horrible moment already, maybe in another life. “That’s it! I’m calling the police!” yelled her sister, but instead of putting up a fight, humiliating myself even more than I had already, I climbed back into my car, turned it
CENTRIPETAL around and drove away. I knew lost her. F
I took another sip of my flask and I sang a hymn to the solitude around me. F
By the time I got back to my small fishing town that slept gingerly on the coast to the sound of the tumbling sea and the seagulls’ song, the bronze red sky and shimmering mirror we people called the ocean had faded into grey powdered ash, rolling out of the pores of the sky over my life, landing so close to my head that I could reach out and feel the dark taint of soot on the tips of my fingers. Not long after, it started to downpour, and this purging flood of God didn’t stop for the next 7 years, 2 months and 14 days; the day of my wives death. The constant rain left me troubled, not only did it leave me trapped in my own purgatory after losing touch with the one person who had ever loved and understood me, but I now too feared I would never see the stars again. I sank into a deep chasm of alcoholism, and then into a spinning world of mindless and careless sex, trying to replace what the first 3 years of my addiction to alcohol would not make me forget. I never saw my wife again, though I tried many times, but always got the impression that she had lost touch with the memory of us, our history, and our past. I sent her a letter every day until I got word of her death. I doubted she would ever read them. The closest I came to her again was standing outside of her casket at her
CENTRIPETAL funeral, running my hand over the oak wood, placing the rose I wanted to give her for so long on the top of it. “I’m sorry.” I told her deceased body, knowing she could here me. Also at her funeral I was approached by her sister, who gave me a box with all the letters I wrote to my wife and a note consisting of one line: I’m sorry, but I wasn’t going to let you fuck up her life again. I looked at her for a few seconds, feeling myself change from sorrow to rage and then to an antagonized feeling that felt as if it had risen from some suppressed depth. She turned and walked away, and I understood my indignant feelings wouldn’t change anything. It was in the past, I could not change that. On the day the rain stopped, I took a walk on the boardwalk in the town. An exuberant rainbow tore through the flesh of the clouds like an hatchet, dismembering them until the small pieces that were left became susceptible to the force of gravity, falling from the sky, caving in behind the horizon, welcoming back the bronze sunset that had graced us years back. People ran to the streets to see the clear sky, but it clouded again soon enough with the seagulls that had been in their own isolation during the storm, until we were once again standing in shadow as we stared up at thousands of seagulls dancing and gliding through the naked sky, until one by one they spread their wings, letting the wind carry them up past the limits of the atmosphere, into the utopia that awaits all of us somewhere in the sky. Someday. The wind blew and in the air I smelled her, sharp on the edge of the breeze. I leaned over the boardwalks railing and stared strait down into the water; a glistening mirror for all of heaven, and I saw the reflection of my wife, beautiful as ever, looking down from the kingdom above, hair breathing, her skin unblemished, her eyes holding the secrets to all the
CENTRIPETAL universe, endless and infinite. A wind circled around me and my mind filled with a feeling of love and reconciliation, my feet lifted inches off of the ground for a few seconds until it set me back down, first on my toes and then planting myself on my heels, and there was just me and her, and I knew she was leaving me again. And as quickly I had managed to ruin 36 years of our marriage, her body faded into the afterlife, into a silvery mist, disappearing like Alice, traveling through the looking glass the ocean had become, into a more complex and surreal place, shimmering, crashing, flowing, reflecting the heavens standing above the bronze skyline, bleeding a bloody red into the crevice of the horizon. I felt the sirens calling my name. Then I found paradise. I lit a cigarette and spent a few minutes dragging on it until I felt content with myself. I climbed up on the railing of the boardwalk, my legs frail with old age, removed my shirt, and as if I had wings branching from the surface of my back, I became weightless. It only took fractions of a millennia and a little work by the forces of gravity for me to become submerged in the cleansing salt of the sea, never to resurface, the weightlessness overcame me, and then I was gone.
WAKING UP CRAIG BROWN I had reached that state of semi-consciousness in my sleep pattern just after a deep sleep. They say the body will go in and out of cycles throughout the night. At first you are in deep sleep then you come out into a half awake, half sleep state. Right now I was fighting to fall back into sleep. “Don’t wake up, don’t wake up.” I kept thinking to myself. In no time my eyes were wide taking in the surrounding room, my room. The light burnt and I squinted as the noises of the outside world bombarded my auditory senses; traffic, children playing, a dog barking at a group of crows, and a woman trying to calm a crying baby. I woke up. Tuesday: I stepped out into the Boston air, head spinning with lack of sleep. It was Tuesday, and like every Tuesday I had nothing to do, much like any day. I was being paid to write and writing was something I hadn’t done much of as of late. I am twenty-three walking down a side street to a Dunkin Donuts in Boston. I see people heading to work and I envy them. To me they have a normal life. You know the type, more than one suit, a good chunk of paper in the wallet for a decent lunch with members of the office, and of course a cell phone with good reception anywhere at any time. This was, at least, the case with the gentleman in front of me who was trying to perfect the art of juggling a large black coffee with sugar, the morning’s paper, and his cell phone, which he had wedged between his shoulder and ear. He then added to the daunting task a strawberry frosted donut without sprinkles.
CENTRIPETAL He finally received the donut upon a fourth request. I walked out with an ice coffee and a strawberry frosted donut, I wanted to know what all the hype was about and why it was better without sprinkles. Honestly, to me, a donut is a donut is a donut. I walked back into my apartment, cracked open my laptop and turned it on. I left and went back into my room and lay on my bed to watch the morning sun pierce the blinds and splatter onto the ceiling. I still had the lingering taste of artificial strawberry flavoring on my lips. My eyes were casting sleep anchors from my eyelids and I dozed for about forty-five minutes. This was a rarity, falling asleep on my own will. Hell, falling asleep at all was rare. I awoke, against my will, determined to finish a goal I had set for the day. Today I was going to write, or at least try really hard. I was going to write the articles I had promised to write for that underground music magazine. “You can sleep when you’re dead,” I said as I rose to my feet. I went in the living room and finished off the now watered down iced coffee. With a grimace I sat on the couch, laptop firmly in place. “I’m doing this. I can do this.” Clicking the play button on the recorder I started to listen to the singer from Say Anything speak and let my fingers do the work. The article was done. I revised it, showered, revised it, ordered take out, revised it, and finally sent an email apologizing for the tardiness of the article and of course, the article was attached. When my inbox reloaded I had a new message. I paused for a second because I don’t really get new messages unless it is from a magazine or an editor with something less than positive to say about how long I am taking to write a piece. I read the name of the sender. Julie Kenton. “Julie Kenton?” I said aloud. I stood up and scratched the back of my head. Staring at the computer as it hummed on the coffee table next to a stack of magazines I had articles in. “Julie Kenton?” I looked at my bookshelf and
CENTRIPETAL pulled out my high school yearbook. I don’t know why I had this here, maybe for nostalgia or maybe in the event someone from the past emails me and I can’t think of a name to match the face. It was my sophomore yearbook. I never cared to buy another. Before I even heard the crack of the book open, memories suddenly began to play out in front of me and Julie Kenton was standing right there just like she had back in high school. She was the most attractive girl I, as a sixteen year old, had ever seen. Its not that I had forgotten Julie, you could never forget Julie Kenton. She was the one girl I wanted to be with more than anything in the world. Her wavy golden hair lay perfect on her athletic shoulders. She always appeared tan and well rested. Back then we sat next to each other in Mr. Crass’ English class where she wrote her phone number on my arm in red Sharpie. “Don’t lose that,” she said. “My arm?” I questioned. We became pretty close. We surfed together over at Jenness Beach in Rye. It was just a fifteen-minute drive from my house and after she used to come over and my mom would order us pizza. We also worked together on the school newspaper. But in November of our junior year I saw Julie cleaning out her locker. I walked up to her as she closed and locked the metal door one last time. She gathered her backpack just as I approached her. “What’s going on?” I asked her. “My parents are moving their firm to Washington,” she began, “my dad, thinks it will be good for me to ‘see life outside these small New Hampshire towns.’ ” She said in her best impression of her dad she could muster without choking on the words. We stared at each other for what seemed like years. “I couldn’t agree with him any less.” I said, and I walked away without looking back knowing she did the same. I walked away from Julie and did my best to forget her name and face until this email appeared. Julie had been my closest friend and she left me
CENTRIPETAL in November. Or should I say we walked away from each other in November. Then in April I came home to find my brother dead. He was lying in the bathtub fully clothed and head submerged. Just his nose poked out above the water, but not enough to grasp air. A toppled bottled of nighttime cough syrup lay by the tub. His note gave its apologizes to the family and the crime scene investigators said that the probable reason he was in the tub was so that he would drown in his sleep. This struck me in an ironic way seeing as when he and I talked about how we would like to die. One day after CCD, we both agreed we just wanted to go to sleep and then we could just dream after a wonderful discussion on the afterlife. By the beginning of that summer, I had stopped sleeping. But I was always dreaming. I searched the yearbook for confirmation of my memories and sat back down on the couch. I found Julie Kenton’s photo and it confirmed the memory. Beautiful. I realized I had not even bothered to read the email yet. I clicked it open. IAN! How are you? Holy shit it seems like forever! I hope this isn’t too creepy. I heard you were living in Boston and I just moved here about a month ago. I saw your big article in Spin magazine and got your email from my friend who is an intern there. I was wondering if you wanted to go out, grab some food or something and you can show me the town. Write me back if you have time! Always, Julie. I threw my arms up in the air as if signaling that the kick was good. “Julie Kenton asked me out! Haha!” There I was. Tuesday afternoon sitting in boxers, my shaggy brown hair flopped over to the side, getting excited because a girl every boy in high school wanted to see naked six years ago
CENTRIPETAL emailed ME. She was coming back, coming back to me. My life had, I thought, reached its lowest point sitting there dwelling in old high school memories. The buzzer for my door interrupted my thinking to let me know lunch was here. I left my number thirteen lunch special, which consisted of rice, chicken fingers, and crab ran goons, cool while I emailed back Julie. “She isn’t really coming back to me.” I convinced myself. She simply is looking to meet up and say “hi.” I gave her my cell phone number and ended up finishing two small articles I had put on the back burner for some time now while eating my food. I don’t know if I was happy or just in a state of delirium, work was getting done and something was happening. I just didn’t know what yet. Wednesday: “Don’t wake up. Don’t wake up.” I thought hard. I clenched my eyes to try and keep myself locked in my dream world, but clenching them only made them release their hold. My eyes were wide and sound slowly crept into my brain. There was children enjoying their youthful summer days, and a really annoying crow by the windowsill, and there was a beeping that seemed out of place with the rest of the outside world. I woke up. It was my cell phone letting me know I had a missed call. My phone has a tendency to constantly alert me if I don’t acknowledge missed calls. I picked it up and rubbing the sleep off my face I looked at the screen. 1 Missed Call UNKNOWN CALLER 603-555-2417 9: 48 AM It had to be Julie. But why did the number have a New Hampshire area code? I checked my voicemail. It was her; she wanted to meet up tonight. I looked at the clock. 10:
CENTRIPETAL 45AM looked back at me with its red stare. I determined that if a girl can call me at almost ten minutes of ten in the morning, she could receive a call from me at quarter to eleven. The phone rang. It rang three more times before I heard her voice. Still soft, still inviting. “Hello.” She said. “Hey.” My typical response to most greetings. “Ian, hey. Look can I call you back?” “Uh, sure.” “Okay great! Talk to you in a bit! Bye.” Silence. My phone glowed to inform me the call had ended. You know its funny. Here is someone I had not talked to in years and never thought I really would. Sure I wanted to more than anything in the world after she left in high school, but as of right now her only purpose was filling the space that had been empty for so long. The most people I talk to nowadays are my editor and Mr. Kim from Kim’s Express Chinese Cuisine. Julie called about six thirty that night and we arranged to meet at this café I knew of on Newbury Street. I gave her explicit instructions on how to get to the café from where she lived, which is relatively close to Newbury Street. We set a time for about one forty five after she gets back from the gym and takes a shower the following day. That reminded me to shower before going to meet her. This, in turn, forced me to do laundry tonight and clean up around the house. I could never do one or the other. I always figured if you’re up, clean everything. I like to think this was something I received from my mother and she would be glad to know this. After doing my best to effectively make my apartment look as though someone other than the kid from Charlie Brown with the perpetual cloud of dust around him lived in here, I decided to go to bed. I plugged my phone into
CENTRIPETAL its charger and laid it on top of the milk crate I used as a nightstand. I watched the glow of the phone on my ceiling and tried to let my body drift into sleep. I woke up six or seven times before I saw myself in front of the bathroom mirror white pill in hand. I sent the pill to the back of my throat with a Dixie cup of water. I placed the purple bottle back into the medicine cabinet. Before closing the cabinet I re-read the bottle’s label. MELATONIN: SLEEP AID 3mg. I was told by my mother to start taking these pills when I stopped fully sleeping after my brother died. The 3mg white pills look like ecstasy pills without the little smiley face. I have been on some dosage of them since high school. Once I got into college I upped the dosage. They do their job when I do use them. I shut the cabinet and within twenty-five minutes my eyelids collapsed over themselves and I was in dreams. Thursday: Oh God. I was standing hazily by the water back home in New Hampshire. The Atlantic beat against the rocks beside me creating a white froth. I was fully dressed but I was shin high in the water. My fingertips rested below the top of the greenish gray liquid that surrounded me for what looked like miles. Land was so far away, yet I remained standing so shallow. I felt dizzy and nervous and ended up floating on my back. In front of me floated my white pills and the ocean waves carried them down my throat, and I let it happen without a gag. I was nervous, I couldn’t retain focus and my vision was blurry. I reached my hands out for land, where was home? I wanted to go home. I wanted to be on land. The white froth had become thousands of white pills and they were pushing their way down my throat. I began to sink into the sea.
CENTRIPETAL Don’t wake up. Everything grew warm as the ocean depths pulled me down. Don’t wake up. I looked to my left and saw Julie sinking with me. Don’t wake up. Julie. OH MY GOD JULIE. I woke up. Turning to my clock I saw it was noon. I had just enough time to get into the shower and make it to the café before her. If it is one thing I have learned in relationships, if you really want to impress the girl, no matter what get there before her and look preoccupied. In doing this you will be greeted with a “Hey, how are you? Oh have you been waiting long? Sorry, I just have been running late all day today.” This is exactly what Julie said to me when she met me at our table for lunch. “Its ok,” I said despite it being the exact opposite. I had not seen her in person since we walked away from each other in the hall that day. “Tell my about your life!” she said has she sat herself down and removed her Kelly green track jacket. It was still chilly for April and I anxiously wanted the warmth of summer to arrive. She pulled out her phone and quickly ran her thumbs across the keys. “Sorry. Text message. This phone never stops.” She stated in a fake tone of disgust. “That’s fine.” I said with a dumb grin on my face. I was happy just to be sitting in that wooden café chair across from someone I convinced myself not to miss. We sat there well into the early evening catching up and discovering new things about each other. She was beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off the way the four o’clock sun made her highlighted blonde hair look. It was longer now than it had been when I knew her. It cascaded and framed her face so well that I wanted this moment to be a photograph. A photograph that I could hang on my ceiling
CENTRIPETAL while I lay in bed and watch the morning sun dance around it. She had put me in this trance that I knew I could never escape again. She was trying to get in good with the local underground fashion magazines she told me, and that is why she had moved to Boston about a month ago. I told her I knew some people and I would help her along. I genuinely meant this too. “What are you up to this weekend?” She asked. “Maybe you would like to show me around?” “I planned on going back to New Hampshire. See the folks, and eat something other than take out. We were going to pay respects to Drew. We like to do that every year as a family.” “Ian, I am so sorry. I heard about that from my folks. I wanted to call…I tried to write you. I just…” “Were too busy? No, its ok I understand.” I didn’t though. I wanted her there more than anything else back then. “You had just moved a few months before. Getting into new scenery is a hard adjustment.” “Well don’t think I didn’t want to Ian. I did, I missed you so much. When you walked away from me in the hall I nearly died myself.” “We walked away from each other.” I stated as I stirred the coffee I had been drinking nervously. “No, Ian you walked away and I stood there and I cried.” She grew uncomfortable and disappointed. “I cried because my whole world was being torn upside down and my one constant friend, someone I loved deeply, turned his back on me and walked away from me. Don’t think that was my decision to leave, I fought long and hard to stay here. I even moved back here and lived with my Aunt my second year of college. I tried to get in touch with you but I was told it would be best not to come around you.” She stared at me for a moment. Her brown eyes worked their way into mine and I saw a hint of anger, some regret, and sadness.
CENTRIPETAL “That’s why your number comes up under the New Hampshire area code.” I wanted to think this, but I blurted it out instead. “Yes Ian. That’s why my number’s area code is for New Hampshire.” She looked dejected and turned her head to the ground. I was about to tell her I didn’t know when I would be coming back this weekend but that I wanted to see her again. I was about to tell her that I was going to make this right. I was even about to invite her back to New Hampshire when that damn cell phone rang. She took the call and informed me she had to leave. She kissed my cheek and hung her lips close to my face for a moment. I wasn’t sure if she was debating what she had done was right or if she wanted me to turn and beg her to stay with a pleading return kiss to her lips. I was wondering that myself, but I stared forward allowing half a smile to creep toward the corners of my lips. Then I watched her leave. I have never felt as antsy as I did while I watched her turn and exit the café, turning slightly to meet my eyes once again and mouth out “bye” and “call me” before returning to her world of phone calls and text messages. I sat there well after she had left my field of vision. She walked away. Friday: My head hurt the entire train ride to Exeter that morning. I had not slept the night before. My pills were packed in my bag for my trip home so I spent the night laying in bed and stared at the blue light the moon put on my ceiling until the sun rose. My alarm went off and I slapped it silent. I lay under the sheets thinking about Julie walking away, but I knew I had to get to the station.
CENTRIPETAL The train ride was bumpy and I let my head bounce off the glass a few times before deciding to rest it on the back of the chair. It throbbed with delirium. My body was weak and shaking because it had gotten no rest. I hadn’t even eaten anything before I left. Getting off the train I caught a cab back to my parents house, my former adolescent residence. I crept inside to find no one home. I snatched the station wagon keys out of the key basket. Throwing my bag into the passenger seat I sat in the drivers seat. Turning the key, the beast rumbled to life. I drove to the coastline where I watched the Atlantic rise and fall in the mid afternoon glare of grey skies and patchy rainspouts. Stopping along a patch of rocks I made the lengthy descent to a patch of flat land that was guarded by an army of rising sea stones. I stood and stared out at the foaming sea and I opened my bag. Fishing around for a few moments I found my purple bottle of white pills. I began to pour most of the bottle out leaving about half for me. I put the rest in my mouth crunching some into powder with my molars. Using the salty sea I drank the rest down my throat. The ocean water had a sour salted taste that made me gag on a few of the pills. I started to choke heavily and began to vomit trying grasp for air. As I leaned over, I slipped down the side of a rock face and in a cold splash I lay floating face toward the sky on the ocean surface. I could tell I had been cut up on the rocks ripe with barnacles as the salty ocean flowed into my open wounds. I winced. My discarded pills floated around me. I gasped and caught some air. I started to feel tired and my struggling became less and less as I entered a euphoric state. Soon I was letting myself be suspended in the sea. My mind eased and I watched the grey sky as my eyes sank below the surface of the ocean. I breathed in through my nostrils allowing the ocean waves to fill my lungs and pull me toward the bottom.
CENTRIPETAL 99 Don’t wake up. This wasn’t a dream; I wasn’t going to wake up this time. The struggle to get breath seized my body as my mind automatically tried to kick start me into survival mode. I fought the urge hard and I could feel my elbows slide against the stone and sand as I made my descent. The seaweed wrapped around my wrists. I closed my eyes. Don’t wake up. I just kept my eyes closed tightly not allowing myself to see anything. Don’t wake up. “UGH! AH! UGH! AH!” I was lying on the rocks. My lungs burnt for air. My arms were weak from struggling with the seaweed and pulling myself out of the depths of the dark sea and into the grey light. My mind whirled with sleep. I wanted to be in bed staring at the ceiling thinking of Julie. My back ached as I pulled myself onto the shoreline. I vomited again. I lay there in the muddy sand and just laughed to myself and laughed until I cried. I had not cried since I had my ass kicked by Thomas Falcrop in the nineth grade. I cried and laughed and cried and laughed. Slowly and wounded I rose to my feet. I found my bag and began my ascent up the rocks. Before I got to my car I vomited and I stopped feeling tired. I stopped feeling sorry. I blasted the heat in my car to warm up and I thought about showering at the house and fixing myself something to eat. I thought about calling Julie and going back to Boston tonight to see her. I was excited to have this new day ahead of me. I drove home and parked the car angled in the driveway. I went into the bathroom and washed my cuts. I used three mouthfuls of Listerine to rinse out my mouth. Still weary I went out the car for my bag of clean clothes. I stopped shocked to find Julie’s car with her inside parked on the side of the street. “I was calling your phone… JESUS CHRIST WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? Have you
been sick? Have you been drinking? Why are you all wet?” She was nervous and scared. “Yeah. I was sick. I feel better though. My phone is in some lobster trap I think. I am not very sure, I don’t really care though.” She took me by the hand and we went into the house. I told her what happened, everything. I told her about my lack of sleep, the endless nights without sleep and the sleep pills. I told her how I had decided to die this day because it was the day I found my brother in the tub. I told her that I had made this decision on the train. But I told her I wasn’t ready to die, that wasn’t going to be my answer, not my way out. At this she took me by the waist and kissed me hard on the lips. I backed off and looked at her. “Julie, I have missed you everyday since you left. Back then I loved you so much that I couldn’t get over it and it seems stupid to think that I have held onto this since high school.” I was rambling and she was crying. I continued, “And I am so sorry for walking away that day. I am sorry I made myself forget you.” “Its okay,” she whispered. “It’s ok.” She kissed me hard again; after this, all I could think was, don’t wake up Ian, don’t wake up. I woke up.
DIAMONDS IN DECEMBER BROOKE THORNTON Winter splashes over nature, Waves of white, poured like chilled wine into frosted goblets And served on trays of frozen lakes. Snowflakes descend lazily from the sky; Catching on eyelashes and melting on tongues December’s air is crisp and pure, Sweetened by wood smoke And pierced by the glow of Christmas lights. Trees sleep in tranquility; Their sinister branches twist lacy silhouettes against the sky. Snow frosts mountain tops, Coating evergreens with crystalline icicles that crackle As children sled between their frozen needles. Old Man Winter has reclaimed his mighty place; Bringing to rest all that spring and summer ignite. Let the peace of this sleepy season unfold.
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