Issue 6 | Summer

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Summer | 1 Art | Fiction | Poetry| Plays| Screenplays | Films | Interviews Issue 6|Summer Find works from 29 different creatives from around the world ranging from art, fiction, poetry, nonfiction, film, and plays A Conversation with the creators of Chill Subs about the development and goals of their platform Interview
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Summer | 3
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© 2023 by Chaotic Merge Magazine. All Rights Reserved. All rights to all original artwork, photography, and written works belongs to the respective owners as stated in the attributions. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and publisher.

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6 | Issue 6
Summer | 7
by Amy Monaghan WHEN
by Lori
party prophets
by Rachel Lutwick-Deaner
by Emily Polson
by Court Ludwick TO
by Taylor Franson-Thiel SEAL
by Allan Lake slumber
by Kailey Tedesco
by Raynar Rogers
river birch run by Timothy Fox
BEES by Wren Donovan
by Laura Dzubay
Dylan Boyer
8 | Issue 6 101 103 5 DAYS AND NIGHT by Christ Keivom PLANETS by Morgan
BERNICE AT NIGHT by Francis DiClemente 57 74 REFLECTION by Gerry Rodriguez R.R. by Juliana Warta ART 3 9 LONG DISTANCE by Jill Letten 5:10pm by Iat Fong Kong 17 20 29 35 43 43 রূপকথা - POETIC NOMADIC II by Sujash Purna BROAD DAYLIGHT by Lee Davenport ARTIFICIAL CONVENIENCE
44 71 BRIDGE
Jennifer Weigel DON’T GO IN by Gina Gidaro 87 100 HARVESTING THE SKY by Jill Letten CHECKERBOARD
Marjorie Gaber 104 A COMET FROM AFAR
by Jennifer Weigel
by Jennifer Weigel





Jasmine Ferrufino


Lassiter Jamison

Isha Jain

Audrey T. Carroll

Kylie Yockey


Frederica Danzinger

Tabatha Miller

Christopher Barton


Sarah Lawless

Alison Van Glad

Ayla Marsden

Kirry Kaufer



Hi Everyone! It’s Jasmine here! I know you always see a nice little note coming from me in the editor’s note section, but since then, we have seen the magazine grow, and with that growth comes many helping hands; for the next upcoming issues, we have decided that our managing editor will take turns writing the editor’s note. It gives me great pleasure for me to introduce them to you. Many of them joined me when I was alone and overwhelmed trying to do this on my own. But like Chill Subs (Karina and Benjamin) said in this issue, don’t be afraid to ask for help. These people TRULY came and helped, and I have not seen the magazine in such great light than in their hands. For this Issue, Britt Trachtenberg, our poetry managing editor, will write our editor’s note. Britt has been with us since I asked for help in 2021. She has captivated me with her insight and how she talks about poetry. I sometimes can’t believe I met her during college in a writing club that was fully via Zoom because of the pandemic. It gives me great pleasure to have such a passionate poetry editor. So with that, Britt, take it away

Hi Readers,

Thank you for reading our Summer Issue. Our editors have selected works from twenty-nine creatives that span various genres. Many of the works critically examine societal standards, gender roles, and our roles as humans.The poetry includes eloquent figurative language and plays with conventions in fascinating ways. The fiction and plays/screenplays blend imagery with captivating narratives and resolutions. The artwork traverses many mediums, such as illustrations and photography. The eye-catching pieces consist of people, landscapes, houses, and even supermarket aisles. The colorful works complement the written work by commenting on humans’ relationships with public spaces, homes, and nature. The sixth issue ends with a humorous note— a cute image of an astronaut in outer space.


Summer | 9

Point by Court Ludwick

Every day I wake up past four p.m. there’s a crick in my neck. Meaning memory is a strain the body’s trying to support. In the dark, feeling for the

feeling between skin and bone, skin and sinew, skin and self

has less implication, while afternoon is heavy shoulders and wide gaps

and overuse and bad posture and improper alignment. So too am I

a tight knot of something, a stiffness unwound by knuckles, a symptom

of asking for it I suppose, a gesture to my ___ beats per minute,

as if a number explains a shaking palm and the repeated bend of my breaking head.

1 | Issue 6 Myofascial Trigger

To the Mother of my Abuser

To my daughter I will say, ‘When the men come, set yourself on fire’.

When I think of the worst days of my life, I think of your son’s hands. I’ve had to become a woman who carries nails in her shoulder blades and razors in her kneecaps. Now, I write about my body the way I write about my abuser. Painfully. Carefully. I have started chewing lead so my jaw can take a punch. Sleeping with a knife so my nightmares think I am already dead. Did you know one time he said he loved when I touched him? It made him feel like a better man. I love that in seven years, when all my cells are new, he will not have touched a single one. And I will be a cleaner woman. Sometimes, I still dream of him. Him driving the jeep while I stick my head out of the sunroof in the middle of a hurricane. I drown over and over, hair whipping round my neck like a noose. He never slows down. He used to say I reminded him of you.

Summer | 2

Seal of Silence

(mood mantra)

This morning while trudging down the road, without moving my lips, I tell everything and everyone I happen to meet to phoque (pardon my French) right off. I woke on the wrong side of anything with sides.

Summer | 4

Bernice at Night

A Black woman in her late forties sits on a couch in a living room. An iPhone rests near her thigh, and she holds a glass of red wine. A song from the album A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio plays at a low volume and the lights are turned down low. She takes a sip of wine and sets the glass down on a coffee table. She then pushes the record button on the Voice Memo app on her phone and we hear a recording start.


I don’t know what to say, so I’ll start with my name. I’m Bernice, and I feel ... I feel, well, I’m in a strange mood tonight. Let’s put it that way.

It’s Christmas Eve 2020, and my two kids are sleeping. Melinda’s fifteen and Brian is nine. My husband Ed died from colon cancer three years ago. Being a single mom in the middle of a pandemic means I don’t get a chance to share my thoughts with other adults.

And I just feel like getting all of this stuff building inside of me out -- to record a Voice Memo just in case ... just in case I get coronavirus and die in the new year. I want my family to know what I was thinking on this night, as we move toward 2021.

I mean, you probably don’t care what I have to say. And I guess that’s fine, because no one will likely hear this recording anyway. So I guess I’m free to speak my mind.

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I know it’s wrong and believe me I’m not suicidal. But truthfully -- I wish a meteor would have crashed to Earth and killed all of us in a flash instead of this prolonged pandemic -- this virus infecting the population, nickel and diming us to death. Hundreds of thousands of people sick, others unemployed, all of us stressed out and pushed to the brink -- afraid of living, death hanging around every corner.

I wonder: Is grocery shopping gonna kill me? If I stop at McDonald’s and get burgers and fries for Melinda and Brian, will I inhale the drive-thru worker’s droplets, or will the Quarter Pounder box be contaminated?

Sometimes it hits me in the chest, a tightness squeezing my heart and a vice grip feeling in my head, and I think, “It would have been better if we all gathered in the living room, wrapped ourselves in blankets, and waited for that meteor to hit.”

Then it would all be over. That would be easy.

This is not easy. This is a day-in and day-out grind to find the strength to carry on, to find meaning in a world that doesn’t make sense anymore.

I tell myself BREATHE. Just breathe, Bernice.

She takes a couple of deep breaths and releases the air slowly.


I’m a finance administrator for a healthcare company, and I’ve been working from home. It’s hard, but I’m lucky to still have a job and I don’t take that for granted. But it’s so stressful. The back and forth emails with my boss and colleagues, the multiple Zoom meetings each day.

And from the moment I wake up in the morning, I’m already behind. I’m already playing catch up, as I struggle to balance work with family.

When the pandemic hit, my mother, Jackie, was living with us, but I told

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my sister, Rhonda, to take her in. Rhonda and her husband, Billy, have a big house in the suburbs with a finished basement with a bedroom and a bathroom. I miss her so much, but we talk on the phone every day.

She’s been harping on me to get back into the dating scene. She said she saw on TV that online dating has surged during the pandemic, and maybe I could find someone. She said the time for being a widow is over.

The truth is, it’s not a pressing matter for me. Seriously, where could I slot romance in my life right now? Who has the time and how would it even work in the age of social distancing? I can wait ... I can wait until after the pandemic or maybe never.

So for now, it’s just me and the kids. And I’m OK with that. I’ve been taking Brian and Melinda out for long drives when things get a little too stressful inside the house. One of my favorite activities is going through the car wash with our beat-up, used Honda CR-V.

Something about the roar of the machines -- the high intensity spraying of water, the suds on the windshield, the back and forth of the scrubbers, the heated air -- the whole experience just soothes and comforts me, and I forget about everything for a few minutes.

The kids just play on their phones, hardly paying attention, like they’re waiting in a doctor’s office. But for me, it’s like a touch-free spa treatment, and I leave feeling refreshed.

Another thing I’ve tried to do, at least when I have to go out -- is to look at each person I encounter as a potential victim and not a spreader. I still keep my distance, but I try to really see the person approaching me, to look at their eyes above the mask line. It makes me realize it’s not just me who needs to survive this mess.

I guess the hardest thing right now is not knowing the future, not knowing if and when things will return to normal. Am I scared? You bet I am. But here’s what I do know: my kids and I have a home, and we have food

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and clothes. I’m still employed with good health insurance. We’re still here, thank God.

And it’s so cheesy, but I’ve decided I’m gonna live one day at a time. Such a platitude, right? Such drivel, I know. But seriously, you only get one allotment of 24 hours. That’s it. And if I’m granted another day, I’ll be grateful for the gift of working limbs, a beating heart, and air in my lungs.

So tonight, Santa doesn’t need to leave me anything under the tree. If my kids and I wake up on Christmas morning, believe me, I will have all the presents I need.

She stops the recording on the phone, shakes her head, and lets out a small laugh. She takes a glance at her phone.


Well, I hoped that saved OK. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe no one needs to hear what I have to say.


Summer | 8

A Good Girl

Kristen was slightly drunk the first time she met her Goddess. She was drunk most days, of course. But she told herself it was fine because she only started around lunch, and alcoholics drink in the morning.

Things had been going poorly at work. After thirteenand-a-half months she still hadn’t decorated her cubicle, still hadn’t let her eyes adjust to the green tinge of the fluorescent overhead lights. She had, however, adjusted to the ritual of throwing back a shot or two in the bathroom before heating up her noodles in the communal microwave.

The little park next to her office building was wedged up against the freeway. It was better than nothing, she supposed, but the ten-foot wall that hid the never-ending traffic from view did little to block the sound of horns or the stinging smell of exhaust. Most days after her fortifying ritual in the bathroom, she would trudge across the parking lot and eat her lunch in the grass beneath a big pine tree. She had come to view this particular tree as a colleague, and to pride herself on her ability to befriend the people (trees) with whom she worked.

She had just settled beneath the pine with a long-suffering, half-melted Tupperware, when the sound of a scream made her jolt to attention. A few yards away, in an overgrown corner of the park, an ugly man and a beautiful woman were in the middle of what looked like a blowout confrontation. Kristen watched in alarm as the man shoved the woman away from him and spat viciously at her feet. For a second she felt that she should intervene, but what the hell was she supposed

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to do? She was wearing her office shoes, after all. Luckily it seemed the time for a helpful bystander had already passed, because the man turned on his heel and stormed away towards the underpass that led beneath the freeway.

Kristen looked closer at the woman. She was older than Kristen, maybe somewhere in her forties. Her long, beautiful blonde hair was the most well-kept part of her, and the rest seemed to be an afterthought. Her clothing was dirty, her skin tanned to a level that far exceeded sun-kissed and tipped over into leathery. Still, there was something deeply intriguing about her. Maybe it had to do with the cloying smile that played across her lips as she watched the man’s back recede into the darkness of the freeway underpass. As he disappeared from view, the woman gave the smallest of nods: a tiny gesture of triumph that only someone like Kristen would ever recognize.

The woman tossed her hair over her shoulder and began packing up an overflowing shopping cart of items that Kristen hadn’t even noticed in all the kerfuffle. There was something regal and important about the way she walked with her shoulders pushed back, and her look of bored nonchalance which had fallen back into place now that the argument was over. The woman tossed a balled up sleeping bag into the shopping cart, and something clicked in Kristen’s mind. She wasn’t sure why the realization that the woman was homeless was jarring to her, but it was. Suddenly, she turned and stared at Kristen before she could think to look away.

“Do you need help?”

Kristen stared, feeling the gears turn in her buzzed little brain as she tried and failed to process the question, which had been delivered without a single hint of sarcasm. The homeless woman with the shopping cart whose man had just pushed her down and stormed away was asking if she, Kristen, needed help. She opened her mouth to say something dismissive, but the vodka in her bloodstream instantly betrayed her.

“Yes,” she said.

The woman cocked her hip and looked down at Kristen. From down there in the grass, she felt like a small child

Summer | 12

staring up at her mother, and she felt a strange and humiliating urge to lift her arms and be carried.

“What’s your name?”


“You want somebody to tell you what to do, Kristen?”

Somebody to tell her what to do. That sounded nice, actually. She felt so tired all the time. Tired of picking which boring collared shirt to wear and which polyester slacks went with it. Tired of choosing which brand of tampons, and of trying to justify ordering lunch instead of making it at home. Tired of the daily monotonies and sorrows that came with being a grown up. And above it all, tired, so fucking tired, of knowing that everything was up to her.

Kristen nodded.

“I can see that,” said the woman. “I can tell you need to be bossed around.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m your Goddess. Say it back.”

Kristen’s eyes flicked across the park in search of any errant acquaintances. The coast was clear.

“Yes, Goddess,” she said, and as the words left her tongue a feeling of absolute surrender came over her. She knew, inexplicably, that whatever she was asked to do, she’d do.

Goddess crouched down and leaned in, the ends of her long, shiny hair grazing Kristin’s face as she did so. The unmistakable smell of a person who had not showered recently mixed unfortunately with an ancient body spray that Kristen could see poking out of the shopping cart, but that didn’t matter.

“You’re going to give me twenty dollars,” said Goddess, “and then you’re going to get yourself a cup of coffee and think about me while you drink it.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” she lied for no reason.

“I don’t care.”

Kristen reached into her wallet and fished out the only twenty-dollar bill that resided there. She handed it to Goddess, who snatched it up, stuffed it in her bra, and pushed her shopping cart away without a word.

In the office break room a short while later, Kristen poured a cup of coffee.

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And the next day at lunch, she downed an extra shot. Goddess was there in the park again when she arrived. The pine tree, that loyal yet judgmental colleague, looked on passive aggressively as Kristen took a seat and waited for her orders.

“Did you do what Goddess told you?”

“Yes, Goddess. But I burned my tongue.”

“Good girl.”

“Thank you, Goddess.”

Goddess held out her hand.

“I don’t have money today,” Kristen said. Goddess fixed her with an expression both frightening and thrilling.

“Are you telling Goddess that you’re wasting her time?”


“Then what else are you going to do to make yourself useful?”

The office gym was rarely used, and even less so by Kristen’s immediate coworkers, but she still felt her heart racing as she ushered Goddess inside with a swipe of her laminated keycard. She led the way past the row of empty treadmills to the locker room and showers, and stood aside for Goddess to pass.

“Good girl.”

It went on like this for about a week. Kristen’s lunchtime vodka intake increased to keep pace with Goddess’s increasingly brazen requests. First it was the shower, then fifty dollars cash from the ATM, then lunch to feed an army at the office cafeteria. They sat together at a table in the corner. Kristen’s gaze flickered around the sad little corporate dining room and landed on a few of her coworkers eating together nearby. They watched curiously but didn’t wave. Goddess finished her sandwich and moved on to a cup of coleslaw, holding her plastic fork like an etiquette school instructor. She kept her eyes on Kristen as she did so.

“You don’t like your life,” she said. Not a question. The abruptness of it and the lack of underlying innuendo caught Kristen off guard.

“Nobody likes their life,” Kristen replied. “Do you?”

“Would you really like to know?”

Kristen thought about it for a moment, but decided that she didn’t, so she said nothing. Goddess glared at her, and Kristen felt herself wilt under the weight of a failed exam.

Summer | 14

“I don’t,” said Goddess. “But someday I will.” There was spite behind it.

“Who were you eating with earlier?”

“Huh?” Kristen looked up to find a coworker leaning into her cubicle. Her heartbeat quickened in a way that was now familiar and exciting. “Oh – my friend stopped by. She’s visiting from out of town.”

“Ah,” said the coworker, and drifted away looking lightly interested, but not enough to pry. They both knew Kristen did not have friends, either in town or out.

On the sixth consecutive day of her lunchtime dalliances with Goddess, Kristen found herself in the park, drunker than she’d ever been on a workday. As she handed over two hundred dollars cash to Goddess, a pinecone fell from her tree and hit her squarely on the head. A rational person, Kristen knew, would take this as a sign to stop whatever it was that she was doing, but any rationality in her body was currently doused in alcohol.

“Good girl,” said Goddess, and Kristen felt the blood rush to her cheeks.

“What next?” she asked.

“Up to you.”

Goddess swiftly began packing her shopping cart. Kristen watched in alarm.

“What do you mean, up to me?”

Goddess shot her a pitying look and held up the cash.

“This is for my ticket home. Did you think I’d be here forever?”

From across the park, a deep and guttural yell pierced the white noise of the nearby freeway. Kristen and Goddess looked towards the source. The ugly man, the one who had pushed Goddess on that very first day, was rushing towards them in a rage. Kristen stumbled to her feet and backed away in fear. Goddess attempted to quickly stow the cash, but it was too late. The man grabbed it from her hand, yelling incomprehensibly in what could only be a drug-induced fervor.

Kristen watched as her Goddess cowered before this simple, ugly man. The first time they’d met seemed so long ago

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that Kristen had almost forgotten about him entirely, and the sight of him shouting at Goddess induced something shameful within her: a sudden surge of pity. For a split second she and Goddess locked eyes, and Kristen knew the spell had been broken. She turned and hurried away from the park, leaving Goddess and the man to their quarrel, and the two hundred-dollar bills clenched in his sweaty, flailing fist.

Back at her cubicle, Kristen squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her hands against her face to block out the heinous fluorescent lights above. Just off to her left, in the depths of a filing cabinet beside her computer, lived several tiny vodka bottles which were each the perfect size for slipping up the sleeve of a blazer before a quick trip to the bathroom. Kristen envisioned herself locking the door and dumping them down the drain one by one. She envisioned Goddess bruising under the ugly man’s fist, but not badly enough to stop her from finding another loser like Kristen with cash to burn and a void to fill. Another person too attached to their misery to even think about escaping it. She wasn’t like Goddess. She’d be here forever.

Kristen opened her eyes and decided that she needed another shot.

Summer | 16

slumber party prophets

featherlight & boardstiff—crushed velvet weather fogging

our mirrors—all at once a room of braids chandeliering, brains kept bell jarred, butterfly-barretted into place,

anatomical charts revealing the plush organs of our nightgowns, stitched up in sinew, all bodies above-ground. this is the moment

we remember better than our reflections, bereaved in reams of our own faces, unrecognizable heap of gashes, gurney-lounged.

Summer | 18

yes, the future was revealed in sleeping bags & it was unpretty— lacking in ponytails, lacking in pat-a-cakes—yet dolled up, yet unfurled hair from foam curlers, yet we will all die one day wasp-nested in our own grey, tangled up in our own skin.

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Death Wordle


The first time I played Wordle, after decrying the limits of the five-letter word, I successfully played the word MOURN on the sixth try. In less than twenty-four hours, I found myself transformed from a Wordle doubter, nay, hater, to devotee of the 5 letter word. I began reading differently. Rather than gathering all the meaning I could from my latest novel or essay collection, I was searching for five letter words. I have no interest in playing Wordle with starter words. I read an article which reported that ardent Wordle players often start with choices like AUDIO or ADIEU to assess what vowels might be in the game. I start with words that echo my state of mind.


Sitting on the couch, I am disrupted by a rank smell. The air is redolent with rot, like sushi left to putrefy in the backseat of a hot car. The odor follows me from room to room in my house, tail wagging. It’s my dog, Murphy, a soft-coated wheaten terrier. She’s 30 pounds of curly tan fur, and it’s she who smells like death.


Hovering over my little dog, grasping the thin plastic strip of a measuring tape, I tried to get an estimate of her “waist.” Until I went on Amazon to investigate dog diapers, I didn’t know that dogs had something one could consider a waist, but they do, and she’s a 15 incher. Murphy has been reliably peeing on the floor every day, sometimes twice a day. We’ve already removed every rug that can’t be thrown into the washing machine, but our hardwood floors have been recently refinished. The diapers I chose on Amazon are brightly colored, labeled specifically for girl dogs. I know that doggie diapers will not extend her diminishing timeline, but

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they will engender feelings of sympathy and love, which will extend my tolerance for her failing kidneys and their literal fallout. The diapers have a darling hole for the tail.

For months, Murphy was doing a strange thing after she peed. Not a squat; more of a strain. Over and over, the stop and start, the wait, the push, for just a drop.

When I see her straining to get out the phantom pee, I begin to worry over her death. I wish to hasten it, to get from here, the point at which I’m contemplating her death only, to there, the point at which she is gone, and I am free of the anticipation.


She wasn’t eating. Once a voracious consumer of two bowls of kibble a day, following those two bowls with lots of pawing and hysterical crying at her bowls, she now asked for nothing. The more she ignored the food in her bowl, the more ardently I hoped she would take a few bites.

Have you ever considered what your dog’s preferred cheese might be? We’ve all seen Tik Tok pets slurping up bags of shredded cheese, sprinkled into their mouths from the heavens. However, choosing cheese as a pill delivery system is tricky. My dog’s favorite cheese was an aged Neufchatel from Trader Joe’s, heart-shaped for Valentine’s Day. This cheese got bad reviews online–the reviewer noted that the rind was “leathery.” However, Murphy loved that cheese. It was also perfect because as a soft cheese, I could push her three half pills into the nugget, and they would not fall out because the cheese would not crumble in the open-mouthed eating process. It might seem like cheddar, mouse-trap cheese, ever present in our cheese drawer, would be the obvious choice. Murphy would eat some cheddar, but the pills always fell out in the chewing, and she was no dummy. She wasn’t going to eat the bitter pills which fell to the floor. She knew the cheese was a diversion. It is for me too.

I haven’t cared for an infant for 11 years, but the last week with Murphy brought me back to those tender days. Except I never had to trim the shit out from under my baby’s tail before 8:30am. I carefully cleansed their pearly bums with

Summer | 22

Costco sized bundles of baby wipes, re-cladding their bits in a cozy disposable diaper, completing the look with some footed pajamas, what passes for an “outfit” in infancy. This particular morning, I noticed that Murphy had a poop situation after changing her reusable diaper for the third time in twelve hours. There was a huge skid mark near the tail–a first since she started wearing the diapers the week before. Not only was my dog peeing in the diapers, I was going to have to deal with shit. I was starting to wonder how long she would last. How long we should allow her to last. How long I could last.

Wordle greeted me every morning, a fresh problem that could be solved, mostly with ease. Wordle made me feel accomplished, clever. Wordle praised me when I got the answer in two or three tries “Impressive!” “Wow!” and it cautioned me when I got the answer on the last try “Phew!” Problem solving with Murphy was not so succinct.


She was diminishing, emaciated. In her final weeks, the vet encouraged me to serve her whatever “senior” wet food I could find at the pet store.

Just perusing the canned food aisles makes me gag. One can serve their dog anything from chicken to beef, lamb, venison, salmon, even duck. It’s all jellied into a can–sometimes chunky with vegetables and grains, sometimes just a mush of pâté that hides the contents–presenting them only as the stuff of nightmares. There’s even some brisket or chicken flavored drops you can put in their water to encourage them to drink. Special pet friendly soups and bone broths. Writing about this food turns my stomach. But shopping for the wet food was also a distraction, an exercise in hope. I could solve her dinner problem by presenting the stinking mash from the brightly colored can, a can of disgusting hope.

Serving Murphy her wet food was an exercise in breath restraint. I took a few deep cleansing breaths before opening the can, oxygenating, because for the few minutes it takes to scoop the food, mix in her pills, and place it on her food tray, I do not breathe. By the time I replaced the plastic lid and thrust the can deep into the bowels of my refrigera-

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tor (it’s in the fridge! With my Food!! That I eat!) I was light headed. When she turned up her nose at this luxury food, I was crestfallen. It would be worth it if she would eat it.

Instead, it would sit in the corner of my kitchen, wafting noxious fumes, a crust hardening on the surface, until I dumped it in the garbage.

Before she stopped eating all together, but after she had given up dog food, I got Murphy to eat scrambled eggs. I made these eggs before I even started my Wordle for the day. I made them really well. First, I put some butter in the cast iron skillet, using the silicon brush to make sure there was an even coating of delicious fat before I poured in her two eggs, lightly whisked. I gently stirred the eggs with a rubber spatula, assuring myself that Murphy likes a scrambled egg with a larger curd, as opposed to the smooth, omelet style eggs I have a tendency to make for myself. Scooping out Murphy’s eggs, I added three half pills to her plate, gingerly pushing them down into the egg, hiding their presence. I took the plate of eggs into the living room, and I balanced the plate a few inches from her nose, so she could scent their buttery richness. She ate them, sometimes.


She was my constant companion for 5 years, following me throughout the house pathologically, standing close, in my blindspot. Her favorite activity was laying on the ottoman or the couch, preferably atop a pile of pillows or an afghan, queen of the living room.

In the days preceding her death, we experienced a windstorm of leonine proportions, and when I let the dog out into the gusting morning, a gale sent a decrepit cypress crashing into the muck of the yard. I didn’t see it go down, but I did see the dog come dashing into the house, fearful and shocked.”What if that tree had fallen on her?” my husband asked. “What if it had?” I wondered. We wouldn’t have to face her end of life. The eventual choice to do what’s humane would not fall to us. Her exit would have been an act of god, not a decision that makes us feel hollow and raw.

My friend Mandy just lost her mother-in-law, and

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when I asked how the family was doing, she said they were doing well, that they had seen her through the last few months of her illness, the gradual steps away from this life, and the end had seemed natural and a blessing. When Mandy says this, I realize that I do not want to see this dog through the steps. I want an act of god. I want it out of my hands. Considering the alternatives to an act of god seemed more than I could manage, caught as I am in the middle of a college semester, the parent of a college student, a high school student, and a middle schooler, child of aging parents. Counting how many more times I will have to wash her urine soaked bed, wipe the muddy paws, dispose of the stinking, sodden bowl of food, stirred so many times by eager hands thinking that freshly mixed food would be more appealing. How long will it be before I can’t take her for a walk any more if I want to actually walk, because walking her is just a series of fits and starts punctuated by her squats and straining stances, eeking out urine by hot droplet after drop. I regret that I can play Wordle but once a day, just that one chance to focus on something entirely unrelated to the dog.

This is the dog, this little friend, who knows the song that I sing when it’s time for her to jump into bed with me. The dog who insists on riding in the right hand passenger seat, head out the window, fur flapping, free. The dog who is so excited to see me after a long absence that she spins and cries with joy. This was the dog who did those things.


On the same day I purchased dog diapers for Murphy, a student told me that he has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He asks for an extension on his research paper. I say yes. Of course. He is 18. A college student, but he is 18, and he will get his chemotherapy at the Children’s hospital. I will watch my dog die while this young man fights for his life. It’s difficult to reconcile how both of these things can take up space in my head and heart at the same time.

How to care about the dog when my own mother has only just finished her cancer treatment, when my father shuffles around and falls into extended silences, when my

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declining vision makes it impossible to tell if it’s my own son running across the soccer field or some other boy all together. When my daughter’s classmate has freshly taken her own life. When one friend has had her breasts removed, and the other is waiting to remove her uterus, swollen as if in a second trimester pregnancy with a boulder sized fibroid.

I consider my gall at mourning a pet. The day we decided to end her life, I told my colleague Patrick, whose son died of brain cancer five years ago, at age 14. And he was so kind. So generous with his response to me. How rude it is to be honest when my friend Susan asks how I am doing, when her own brother died in the fall. When I know that John’s bladder function was compromised by tumors, when in my head I compared his discomfort to whatever is going on inside of Murphy.


I don’t know how to reconcile my foolish grief. My sister Nina tells me that my grief is real. That I shouldn’t judge myself. That she cried more about Murphy’s death than she cried for both my grandparents, combined. I know this is true. While losing a grandparent is sad, my grandmother didn’t lie by my feet as I watched television and graded discussion board posts; she didn’t put her paws on my bed, waiting for me to issue a “Sister Bed” invitation; she didn’t spin in circles and take a victory lap around the backyard when I pulled into the driveway.


The morning when my husband and I resolved that this was the end for the dog, the first word I played was GRIEF. I know this was not a great choice–no A, no S, no T. And I was pretty off base–only F was in the answer, and it was in a different spot. The next word I played was FOUND and it was the right answer.

Grief Found

The day we are going to put her down, I first play LEASH–A is in the right spot, L, S, and H are all brown–in the word but not in the right spots. The next word I play, which is correct, is SHALL.

Summer | 26

We shall put her down, we shall end her life, we shall decide that she won’t have to stay here, stinking and rotting from the inside.

At work, the smell of her food is stuck in my nose. It makes me gag.

The day after Murphy dies, I play DEATH.

I’m wrong of course.

Next, I play CREST, and then STONE. It’s neither of these words, but the game tells me that I’ve just about got it. The word is S-T-O-[Blank]-E

And I flub the game.

I play STONE, and STOKE, and STOLE, and it’s none of these, and it’s the first time I’ve ever lost the game.

The answer is STOVE, and of course it is, because my dog is dead, her greasy little corpse up in flames at the pet crematorium, incinerated, burnt, gone.


A week after Murphy’s death, I feel like I can’t open my eyes all the way. I haven’t been crying, so they’re not swollen from tears; I’ve been taking allergy medication, so it’s not the seasonal pollen; maybe it’s all the sleep, because I can’t stop feeling exhausted, wrung out.

Explaining how I am doing to a friend, I mistake that I’m still in the dog of grief when I mean fog but also I do mean dog.

I can feel her absence in my arms and shoulders–the parts of me that held her leash, that picked up her weakened body to go up and down the stairs. I am so very empty.

I spent months pre-mourning the death of my dog. Murphy. My little dog, my greasy, shaggy little dog. I saw the decline, and I wanted to get to the end. For what? So I could turn back to my Wordle?

I thought I wanted to get to the end, and now that the end has passed, and I have stood next to the car, my family inside, unable to get in for my sobbing, I don’t want it any more. I want her back. Every day I think that I will take my dying dog back. Emaciated. Stinking. Inert but for her eyes. Even though it was the right thing to say goodbye when we

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did, I. Want. Her. Back.

Sitting down to work the Wordle, I play EMPTY, the space on the couch where she’s not any more; shame over not sensing that the end was so near; BRAIN, on fire, knowing that she’s gone but still looking for her, on the bed, in the doorway; BLAME, my blame for not finding a way to get the pills she resisted in her, to gain what? a few more minutes, days; BLAST, the work that grief has done on my heart.

There’s little physical evidence left of her in the house. We picked up her bowls, donated her food, laundered and put away the countless towels and blankets. Her basket of toys is tucked away, out of sight.

In the corner of my bedroom, there’s a scrim of dried vomit, left over from her penultimate night in our home. I tried to clean it up at the moment, but a ring of it stuck, and I haven’t been able to make myself scrub away the last of her from my space. If my husband realized it was there, he’d be horrified. Rightfully so. I saved my dog’s vomit.

But the ghost of her is everywhere.

Especially in the morning. When I sit down on the couch, to play Wordle, it’s not just the couch which is empty.

Summer | 28

Diet Coke

Nurse me you imperfect thing, color me at midmorning, midnight, hiss at me like you might be full of bees, burn my fresh-brushed teeth with your fake bounty, give me this break in a day of polite duty, this small Bad deed in daylight.

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When Your Sister Went Poltergeist by

At first, it was weird seeing your sister get sucked into your parents’ box sized TV. Then you wondered if it still would have happened if they’d just taken your advice and gotten the new flat screen one that you had recommended during last year’s Walmart Black Friday sale.

But they had protested consumerism, refusing to participate in Charles Dickens’ debt laden Christmas dream. Instead, they’d watched their old TV and stayed home.

And so, maybe because they had a TV the size of a microwave in the living room, your sister now lived inside a tube.

Eventually you got used to the unreal reality of seeing her this way. If you wanted to check on her, you could. You just had to turn on the cable box.

You weren’t sure about the logistics of it. Had she shrunk, and did she now exist physically in the box like an eraser sized version of her former self, or did she live on only in waves of sound and light? Did she eat in there? If so, how and what?

In the beginning, you mourned the loss of her, but she wasn’t really gone. She still dwelled in some kind of space between the virtual and the real. And, in some ways, this was a good thing. It saved money and time. There was no more having to choose the pricier side salad option instead of the fries you wanted because of the latest greens and grains health kick your sister wanted to drag you on, no more tapping of your fingers and your feet, sitting, waiting impatiently to leave for a downtown concert while she slathered on another layer of Goth makeup to her naturally freckled face.

Now, when people asked you if you had a sister, your answer was situational: yes, no, sort of, I used to, or she died.

Summer | 32

You didn’t know which version was closest to the truth.

Was the TV image you saw of your sister her true self or just a memory? Sometimes you thought you knew. Sometimes you didn’t. The screen was just a screen, but it was haunting. What if it wasn’t only a screen but another dimension?

You weren’t stuck watching her all the time. You could watch other things too. At one point, your dad got tired of your mom’s obsessive 3 a.m. viewing, so he took your sister off the list of pre-programed channels. Your mom had watched it like some people watched the weather. It didn’t matter what was on. It could be a hurricane, a forecast, a story about firefighting heroes. At one point, your sister’s image on the screen had been omnipresent, like light rain. Until Dad intervened.

Your mother stopped watching after that and instead turned to reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond, laughing at the awkward interactions between Debra and Marie, as if they had become her family. Mostly, it was better that way.

Sometimes, you and dad still watched, when your mother wasn’t home. One of you always kept an ear out for the muffler on your parents’ 1980s station wagon. It was distinctive. It sounded like a dying animal.

“She looks good,” your father would say.

“Yeah,” you would reply, and sometimes you would ask a question like, “Don’t you feel a little creepy watching her like this?”

“Not really,” he would respond evenly, asking a question back like, “Don’t you think it’s weird that your sister irons so much?”

You would shrug and watch your sister wearing long floral dresses like something out Little House on the Prairie that she neatly pressed over and over again for hours. Then the two of you were quiet until you heard the sound of your mother’s muffler. Quickly, you’d switch to some station playing Law & Order reruns (there was always a station playing Law & Order reruns) and pretend to care about the outcome of the case. If your mom asked, you could just say that Jack McCoy or Olivia Benson saved the day. Sometimes you

33 | Issue 6

would change it up and put on medical dramas House or ER. You liked the episodes with a younger George Clooney best. Unlike George Clooney, your sister would not age. She would not get married or have twins. Instead, she would iron the same dresses for years and years. You would see this. Until one day you and your father stopped watching the sister channel too. When people asked if you had any siblings, you would reply truthfully, “I used to, but she’s gone now.” Usually, they didn’t press for details, but if they did, you’d say, “One day she just disappeared,” and you left it at that. But you knew in the back of your mind that if you wanted to see her, you could. All you had to do was tune into her channel. Sometimes you were on the verge of pressing the numbers, but something stopped you. What if her channel wasn’t there anymore? What if it was?

Summer | 34

She Knows Where I Live

she waits for me to finish my morning coffee but not to get dressed before she loses it we forget where it is kept in the corners of my mouth she stitches in strings to pull my words back and forth into a smile

she knows where my shadows live the sun and its dance around me twisting my friend into me

she waits for feeding time pleads I fatten like a pillow or a punching bag or a set of Russian dolls trapped within themselves

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The Long and Bouncy Road: The Key Stages of Psychosocial Development, Re-imagined as Masochistic Trampoline Games I Play With My Children


You are a near-blind squid, creeping along the ocean floor. You lie in the centre of the trampoline and can only navigate on all fours. You claim to have eyes at the tips of your fingers, and you flick and swish them around as if you did, but this fools no one.

sharks flash at you from all sides, and you lash out, trying to take a bite of an arm or a leg. The sharks kick and poke you at will. If you do catch one, the others can rescue them by causing you pain.


With your eyes closed on pain of further punishment, you run round and round the edge of the trampoline netting, pursued by giant eels who have charged themselves with static and poke you at unexpected intervals. The shocks never lose their capacity to disconcert. The more you give voice to your discomfort, the funnier the eels find it. Best to suffer in silence.


You are an old-style puffer train on a small circular track. Your passengers wait at the station. As you come past, they throw the ball in

Summer | 38

The more you give voice to your discomfort, the funnier the eels find it. Best to suffer in silence.

39 | Issue 6

your face, grab hold of your coat and force you to pull them round. If any fall off the train, they are allowed to go back to the station and throw the ball in your face again.

After each inevitable collapse, the train sets off on ever slower circuits, puffing and blowing in a desperate bid for mercy. The passengers do not thank you for trying to make them feel bad, and channel their resentment into ever-harder throws. Play continues until the train crashes terminally.


You are a big old horse who must circle the edge of the net for all time. First you plod, then you trot, then you canter, and finally you force yourself to gallop. All the time, the posse will hang on to your clothing, dragged along in your wake, trying to pull you down. You can shake some off but there are always more behind them, it seems, younger and fresher. Though you fake a fall just to snatch a moment of reprieve, you will be fed invisible apples and whipped until you get up again.


You are each given a scrap of paper with your secret role: egg, human, parrot, sheriff, cow, scarecrow. The sheriff is mad; the human’s job is to kill all the animals; the scarecrow is the human’s sidekick. The parrot tries to help one of the others by becoming its doppelganger. If the egg looks at the human, it dies. But if the human kills someone else, the egg hatches and now it can kill one person that it thinks is the human. The rules are subtle, but everyone dies in the end.


The butcher is a stinky old man with a limp and a cigarette who

Summer | 40

drags himself around the trampoline snarling and swearing and flaunting his bad breath. His white overall is covered in blood and he has not washed for 20 years.

He is on the prowl for a young piece of flesh to take to market. His potential victims cower around the edges of the net, feverish with pantomime fear. To be caught – or not caught? Each is as thrillingly bad as the other. When he catches one he will brand them on the rump with his iron, three times. No one knows how to stop the butcher.


The baby is an old flat football. As the mother – and you are always the mother – you must try to hang on to the baby while the rest of the gang circle and scheme, looking for ways to snatch the tiny one away. Desperate, dogged pile-ons are inevitable.

To make things harder, the mother has to release the baby to the floor after shielding it for a maximum of 10 seconds, and then try to capture it all over again. It is hard to protect the baby without smothering it. But for those brief moments, between the squashing and the snatching, safe and not safe, the baby knows a terrible freedom. The game continues in this way, relentlessly.


One cowhand climbs on your back and whips you till you move to the next pickup. Another gets on, and then another. The idea is to see if you can do a whole lap without collapsing, even though you never manage more than a couple of steps. This is very funny to the hands and they are keen for you to try and fail several times more.

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You are an old explorer with an unconvincing French accent who must undertake one final voyage that will call upon your very last reserves of endurance. Your task is to cross the impossible Desert of Nylon from one end of the bouncy oval all the way over to the other. The terrain is uncompromising tundra, populated by serpents that cling to your ankles and try to drag you down into the fatal quicksand. And to reach the end means only that you have run out of road.


After the violence, all lie on their backs and look at the sky. Say what you see in the cloud: a kangaroo vaulting a giant mushroom, a poodle God, a horse on fire. Only the unending eerie screams of the girl on the trampoline three gardens down break the spell. That, and the thought of the giant pink koi over the fence, cornered all day and night in the slipstream of his pond’s filter after a fox took a huge bite out of his fin. Treading water, barely alive; together, we will invent a new game to remember him by.

Summer | 42

Human Subjects

I created a summer job for myself at the weekly newspaper in Madison, Mississippi, the wealthy suburb north of Jackson, my college town, after the two paid internship positions there had been filled. A childhood interest in journalism had faded like my aspirations of becoming an astronaut, but Penguin Random House wasn’t returning my emails and I needed internship credits for my creative writing major to graduate (as if my professor knew that personal essays wouldn’t pay the bills!), so principles be damned, I would work for free in a field I didn’t care about and find another way to get by.

On my first day, the associate publisher & editor, Michael, called the three interns into his office and asked us to come up with ideas for feature stories. Having just been assigned to write 300 words about a local church’s vacation Bible school, I pitched something that actually interested me: a series of profiles on members of the Mississippi Craftsmen’s Guild, a group of artisans whose utilitarian creations fell outside the mainstream definition of “art.” Potters, quilters, weavers, and the like.

“Sure,” Michael said. “Go for it.”

After a couple hours of googling on my personal laptop, I sent a few messages from my school email address, drove twenty minutes to a textile and antique shop called P Is for Primitive in Canton’s main square, and greeted the nation’s foremost rug-hooker, Lisanne. She told me she was dyeing skies: drizzling blue, purple, orange, and yellow into a crockpot full of wool soaking in hot water. “Dyeing wool is just playing with color all day,” she said. Then she told me she hooked rugs “the way they’ve been doing it since the 1800s,” a method she learned in the Bicentennial Girl Scouts and had taught in workshops around the country.

As she showed me around her shop, I took snapshots

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with my 1080-pixel point-and-shoot digital camera, intended for my own reference so I could paint the scene from my desk later: hooked rugs hung from the walls, tables and shelves loaded with bolts of fabrics, skeins of yarn, and antique tchotchkes, and a fluffy gray-and-white cat asleep on a folding chair. It looked and smelled like my grandmother’s basement, a mustiness borne from year-round humidity woven into the textiles. Lisanne sent me off with the contact info of a few ladies from her weekly knitting and rug-hooking circles who were tickled to answer my questions.

After writing the story and emailing it to Michael, he asked if I had any pictures. I’d wrongly assumed they would send a photographer after my interview. The next week, my story and primitive photos were on the front page of the Lifestyles section with vaguely inaccurate captions written by someone else. Still, I was giddy to see my name in print and made a note to send supplementary copy with any images in the future.

Next I interviewed an elderly ceramic painter named Mary Lea in her giant country home in rural Flora, driving under a miles-long canopy of glowing green trees to get there. She’d been painting for forty years and teaching for over a decade, but she was mostly retired now, she said, so it was a delightful surprise to get my email. She gave me a glass of lemonade and led me up to the sun-drenched studio she called her “playroom.” I photographed her in front of a wall of her work—plates intricately decorated with flowers, birds, nests, and winking, rosy-cheeked Santa Clauses. Then she showed me one of her favorite pieces: a platter with three radiant piglets painted in a realistic style, blush pink with black spots, who she called “Tom, Dick, and Harriet.”

“I can’t just kill myself doing serious things all the time,” she said and gave me a little blue glazed box as a memento of our conversation. It had a silver metal clasp and was “just the right size for a hundred-dollar bill,” she said with a wink. But this box was empty, of course, and on the way home I spent $35 refilling my tank, knowing I’d remain too shy to ask Michael if there was reimbursement for gas.

Channeling Mary Lea by trying to have a little fun

Summer | 46

with it, I tracked down a fiber artist and self-proclaimed “narratologist” in Madison to talk about her colorful, often three-dimensional, story-telling quilts. She met me at her downtown day-job office, where she waxed on about how mastering a craft was comparable to the gestational period of a human, but then went on to describe life outside the womb: “One or two years of creating—you’re a baby, you have so much to learn, you don’t even know how to speak the language, really. And then when you get in your teen years you think you know everything.”

She drove me, a baby, to the studio space she shared with three other Guild members so I could see more of her work. It featured vibrantly-colored fabrics, some stitched together into silhouettes and landscapes, some woven with beads, stones, buttons, and clay faces. True to her title, she told me about a recent project with fifth graders in Jackson who sewed the story of the Civil Rights Movement into a narrative quilt.

Each feature landed on the front page of the Lifestyles section, and I kept writing the other little soft stories I was assigned, too—pieces about new local popsicle shops and a young filmmaker’s workshop and CPR classes for aspiring babysitters—then sending them off in emails to Michael that he never acknowledged. Sometimes the stories showed up in the next week’s paper in a form I recognized and sometimes they showed up Frankensteined or not at all. The paid interns never spoke to me, or each other, for that matter—leaving and returning in silence on what turned out to be slightly “newsier” assignments. And while Michael sometimes made small talk, only twice did he say “Nice job” about something I’d written. “You really placed me in the scene,” he added on the second occasion, referring to my coverage of a local bookstore’s launch for Harper Lee’s anticipated yet controversial Go Set a Watchman.

Though he seemed disinterested in teaching me anything about his craft, I sometimes read line-by-line between the print version and the Word doc I’d sent, looking for what he’d changed and the reasoning why. I started sharpening my ledes. Shortening my paragraphs. Emphasizing the best pull

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quotes by cutting the weak. I stockpiled hard copies of my articles and drank the terrible breakroom coffee as if it were a substitute for compensation, until the day Michael shook a dead cockroach out of the powdered cream canister.

That summer I worked two other jobs to afford this one, so after leaving the office around one or two or whenever I felt like it—since I was essentially a self-appointed volunteer, they didn’t seem to care—I’d drive home to Jackson and drink my second coffee on the front porch before heading out again to wait tables. Once, the woman who sold ads for the newspaper was seated in my section of the restaurant, and I had to explain to her that if she really has a gluten allergy she shouldn’t get the sushi, because the chef told me flour was used as a binding agent in the rice.

“Oh it’s fine,” she insisted, ordered it anyway, and tipped just okay.

My last profile was of a potter named Sam who etches robots into the sides of hand-thrown mugs and sculpts scholarly dragons and coffee trolls. I toured his humid garage workshop at 9am on a Wednesday, snapping pics and asking him to pose with newfound confidence, then followed him into his air-conditioned living room. He told me about his childhood playing imaginary games in the woods, the detour he took in college to graphic design, the part-time jobs he works to supplement his art career, and his reasons for staying in Mississippi.

“I used to look at bigger cities and think, aw, I wish I lived there,” he said, “cause they’ve got all this going on. But I’m starting to get this growing sense of responsibility. Maybe I should just work really hard where I am and create that place here, or help create it.”

“Bloom where you’re planted,” I said. Forty-five minutes into the conversation, his gaze returned to the present, and he asked something about me. As if he’d only just realized there was a stranger in his living room who now knew the story of his life. I don’t remember what he said (I’d stopped taking notes), but I haven’t forgotten the feeling of this shift.

I bought a robot mug from him on my way out.

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really hard where I am and create that place here, or help create it."

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"I used to look at bigger cities and think, aw, I wish I lived there," he said, "cause they've got all this going on. But I'm starting to get this growing sense of responsibility. Maybe I should just work

My internship ended anticlimactically—the whoosh of one final email, the closing of my laptop, the winding of the charging cord plugged precariously into the nearest outlet, which was six feet from my desk in the middle of the open office plan floor. I didn’t think anyone at the job cared whether I continued to exist after leaving the premises or not, so I wasn’t sure I’d ever see the final issues featuring my work.

I returned with great relief to my next semester, where I was soon neck-deep in a creative nonfiction thesis project, surrendering the dispassionate role of observer to turn that greedy lens of attention back toward my own face. I didn’t have to wait for a reporter to come knocking; I would sing the song of myself and spin it however I pleased.

Months went by, then one weekday afternoon I drove past my old office with a roommate who had been subjected to my many complaints about the place all summer. She insisted we stop and convinced me it wouldn’t be weird if I just walked in. The building was dark and empty but for Michael in his fluorescently lit corner office. I said a curt hello and goodbye, then retrieved a stack of August papers. A ceramic dragon graced the first page of a Lifestyles section.

What I later read in my intern evaluation—which Michael completed so I could receive course credit—surprised me. He called my work “remarkable,” wrote that I made even dull topics interesting, said “I have not had a more capable intern in my years of management.” I felt a rush of goodwill toward him. In the area where he was asked to list ways in which I could improve, he said: “I honestly can’t think of something she could do differently with her writing, other than practice, practice, practice.” A baby, still learning the language? Or a teenager who thinks she knows everything and might be right? I wondered.

The form also asked him to tell a little of his career story, explain how he got where he is. He shared that he originally planned to attend law school and become a lobbyist, but after completing undergrad he didn’t want to sign up for three more years of reading and writing. “I started working for a local paper,” he wrote, “and now I have done nothing

Summer | 50

but read and write for nearly a decade—only with less pay!” I laughed a little at that. Imagined it as the pull quote for a profile. A photo of him illuminated at his desk, the rest of the building dark. The document was just a completed form, the equivalent of a checkmark in a grade book confirming my eligibility to graduate, but as I read I couldn’t help but think of myself—a writer—as the subject of another writer who then also became his own subject. How do we decide how to tell our own stories? And does the angle change based on who we think is listening?

That semester, one of my four roommates knocked my robot mug off the counter and the handle broke. I superglued it, only to end up toppling it myself later, and this time it cracked straight down the side. Forget about bloom-whereyou’re-planted, I thought, a senior four years removed from my Iowa upbringing ready to get the hell out of Dodge.

After graduating, I did, and the following summer I googled my name looking for links to digital clips for a portfolio. I found them, as well as an announcement that the feature I wrote on Sam, the potter, had won first place in the photo-story combination category in the Mississippi Press Association’s 2015 Better Newspaper Contest. In the notes about the award, the judge commented that “a greater variety of photos would have been welcomed,” but “the photographer excellently captured the life of the sculptures as well as the life of the human subject.” It was the only thing resembling constructive feedback I’d received for the whole summer.

Maybe Michael’s disinterest in training me reflected the false binary I’d drawn before entering his office: my “creative” writing as fine art, a calling, his journalism as a craft, a trade. Yet who had I spent the whole summer profiling? People who made beautiful, usable objects for drinking, eating, keeping warm, and walking upon. I prided myself a personal essayist, yet the most lauded thing I’d ever written contained no whisper of the word “I.” Perhaps he could tell I was just there for the course credit, didn’t care about a career in journalism and therefore wasn’t worth the investment of mentorship, but how could I say I learned nothing from him, from that summer, feedback or not? That curly-haired man

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wearing wire-framed glasses and khakis, laughing at himself in the office kitchen as he dumped a dead cockroach down the drain.

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river birch run

down the bank standing tall one against the other in expectation like old men in loose skin having seen it all

and knowing how this ends

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Bees by

I used to sit in pools of clover making chains of flowers for my head and neck. The corner yard in Utah pointing back to planes in silhouette

across a summer field of sun and weeds. Construction sites with danger signs

and dirty holes. Boys who cussed and girls who started schoolyard fights. Un-Southern

snow turned grey in school bus fumes. Daddy’s black fur Russian hat,

blue camper in the carport. Wooden fence around the deck above a hole

unfinished. Hiding places, brown and green. I diverged that year, went void-of-course. I called

the seagulls. See the Wasatch range, and honey bees, more clover. Yellow glass distorting heads and

hands that knock at misremembered doors I hesitate to open, still too young. I’ll hide

here with my ghosts who are all happy in the basement where I slept and multiplied.

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Time Travel with Eggs

I’m standing in the kitchen, sprinkling shredded cheese over just-cooked eggs, when I feel her arrival: Can I come in?

The first step, unless you’re dancing, is to keep very still in the pose you were already in. My hand is out gently over the cheese and eggs; I could be petting a dog. I let her in. I can feel the scintillating gray of her filtering through me, like sun, like alcohol, like age—exploring the measured muscles knitting together in my legs, the broadness of my shoulders, and the breath that comes easily to the lungs in my chest, what my thoughts feel like inside my skull. What comfortable neighbors we are within what carbon and oxygen have given me, what the green light of summer has given me, what my mother and father and all the meals I’ve ever been fed, happily or unhappily, have given me.

I don’t know why the elderly version of myself time-travels back to me. Sometimes I think the reason is different every time, and sometimes I think it’s all the same visit. Occasionally, future me comes from her deathbed. But mostly, I like to hope she makes her visits periodically throughout her life, in different moods and different states of being, to talk to me and be with me in different ways. We don’t usually speak or identify ourselves. I don’t always know that it’s her. Sometimes she’s a feeling more than a person. But she knows there are many, many, many ways to be alive.

After a moment, I move again. I spear a bit of cheesy egg with my fork and slide it into my mouth. While I’ve— we’ve—been standing motionless, the fork has been resting on the pan—I always eat eggs right out of the pan, don’t use plates if I can avoid them—and the metal’s warm in my mouth. I let her taste it, savor the soft cheese and the salt.

I know there are things I have now, and can do now, I might not always have or be able to do. So when I can, I

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try to share them with old woman Laura. She shares things with me, too—her lifespan, not least of all, and things I can’t speak of. It’s important to keep these doors open. Time travel doesn’t work otherwise.

Eventually, I feel her leaving me, because I start writing this, which means she must have finished what she wanted to say. Or what she wanted to feel—it could very well be that she just wanted to mooch off me, powerful, standing here on both legs, tasting my eggs.

Don’t worry, really; that’s what I want to say. I know I could die tomorrow: by a car crash, by a gunshot, by my own body and the secrets I know it keeps from me. Don’t worry: there isn’t a life I haven’t gotten to yet. I have spent a lot of time with old-woman Laura. I know what she’s like. She’s real.

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Reflection by Gerry Rodriguez

Lisa: Mental health patient, timid 24 W

Jacob: Psychologist, calm, confident 40 M

A PSYCHOLOGIST’S OFFICE. A sofa, chair, bookshelf, and lamp. There is a side table on which sits a telephone and a coffee table on which sits a box of tissues. LISA stands in front of the bookshelf, scanning the books while she taps her thigh. She steps away from the bookshelf and looks at the ceiling while she paces a few steps. Finally, she takes a seat on the sofa. She takes a deep breath and leans her head back.

LISA exhales and leans forward on the sofa. She begins to pick at her fingernails.

JACOB enters with a folder and a leather-bound legal pad and pen.


I apologize for making you wait. There was an emergency at the front desk.

JACOB sits on the chair across from LISA, opens the legal pad and begins to write.

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It’s fine.


So, Lisa, it’s wonderful to see you today. How many weeks has it been? Two, three...?

LISA hangs her head and begins playing with a strand of hair that has fallen in her face.


I was concerned when you canceled our last few appointments.


Can you tell me what happened?


Do you want to talk about it?


We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.


How are you feeling...right now? Are you okay?

LISA still does not respond. JACOB puts down the legal pad and pen.


I’ll be frank. I’m quite concerned with this behavior. You seem to be regressing.


In the past, we’ve discussed that you need to make these sessions a priority. I’m sure Dr. Kramer has made that clear. He will not prescribe any medication if you are not regularly seeing a therapist. At this time, I am obligated to inform him that you have not been attending your sessions.


Are you listening? Lisa, you could be taken off your medication. Do you understand what I’m saying? Any progress we have made could be put at risk. You’ve come too far to let it all fall apart like this.

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Take a moment to think about the consequences of quitting your treatment. If you decide to return, you’ll need a whole new psychoanalysis and months of trialing new prescriptions before you’re even regulated again. And that’s the best case scenario. Worst case... LISA

I know.


She speaks! So what’s going on? Why would you disappear for weeks and then show up out of the blue? Please, enlighten me. LISA

I stopped taking my medication. (beat)

Why would you do that?


JACOB picks up his legal pad and pen. He begins taking notes. He looks up, expectantly, at LISA. She does not respond.


I need you to talk to me. Is there something wrong with the medication? You’ve been on your current prescriptions for seven months now, am I correct? I thought you were happy with them. Has something changed? Do you not feel in control? Is the medication making you feel dizzy, irritable...? Are you having trouble sleeping or concentrating?


These are things you need to discuss with me and Dr. Kramer. We can address these issues if you make us aware of them.


I’m pregnant.

Lisa and Jacob stare at each other. They do not

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How long have you known?

Three weeks.

speak. Finally, Jacob picks up his pen and begins to write on the legal pad again.




I see. And you disappeared for three weeks. So, what are you going to do?


What do you mean?


This is an overwhelming time for you. I’m sure it’s been a difficult experience going through all of your options.



Actually, I’m happy.

You’re happy?



I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I feel like I have a fresh start.


Well, I’m very happy for you. But now that you will not be taking your medication, it’s more important than ever that you make these weekly appointments a priority. Maybe we should meet two days a week from now on. How does that sound? I’ll call Dr. Kramer today and let him know.


Oh. I just thought...


Why did you feel the need to keep this a secret at first, especially from me? Re-

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member, this is a safe environment. Everything is confidential.


I didn’t know how you would react.


React to what?

You being pregnant...



Is there a specific way you expected me to react?


Well, yeah.

And how is that?



Well, I thought you’d be angry.


Why would I be angry?


I think you know.


To be honest, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are you thinking right now?


Please, don’t patronize me.

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Lisa, you seem upset. Maybe you should take a deep breath and think about what you’re planning to say before you say it.


What’s that supposed to mean?


It seems to me that you are upset with someone and you’re directing that anger towards me. Why don’t you try to calm yourself, and we can talk about who you are really angry with and why.


I am calm, and I’m not angry at you. I’m just trying to figure out how this is going to work.


How what’s going to work? Can you be more specific? LISA

This. Me and you.


I’m not sure I understand.


Well, we’ve know...and now I’m pregnant which I know is a lot to take in at first, but I think this is a good thing. This could be a sign...


What are you suggesting? LISA

Me and you..the two of us...

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Lisa, you’ve been off your medication for some time now. You disappear for weeks at a time. Given your state of mental health, I believe it is safe to assume that you may have some facts confused.

LISA What?


Don’t feel bad. It’s perfectly normal for someone like you to confuse imagination with reality. You shouldn’t feel ashamed.

LISA slowly becomes more confused. LISA

But we -


Have been meeting once a week for therapy sessions for the past two years. You received a referral from Dr. Kramer. Do you remember that?



Lisa, do you know my name?


Of course. Jacob.


I’m Dr. Miller, but you may call me Jacob if that makes you feel more comfortable.

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Yes. Now, can you tell me where you have been for the past three weeks?


I...don’t remember...


(shaking his head)

Oh Lisa, Lisa, Lisa...what are we going to do with you?

They both sit in silence. JACOB has stopped writing. He stares at LISA, smiling. LISA stares at the ground, shaking.


You don’t understand what it’s like. There’s a buzzing in my head. It’s high pitched and screaming.




I can’t hear my own thoughts. There are flies and bees and maggots crawling inside my brain. It itches, and I can’t scratch it. I can’t get at it.


Keep going.


And then the waves come crashing down, and they drown all of the insects and I’m left with this deafening silence. And it weighs so much. It’s so heavy. I can’t

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carry it.


And think about it. You’re going to have a baby. All alone.


I can’t even take care of myself. How am I going to take care of someone else?

LISA begins to cry while JACOB smiles at her.


I’m broken. I’m defective, a mutation. I’m not a whole person. There’s this little person growing inside of me. Absorbing all of me.


That’s very true. Your condition is genetic. There is a very good chance that your child will be afflicted with the same mental disturbances as yourself.


What have I done?


Don’t worry. I’m here to help you. You can trust me.

JACOB reaches his hand out to LISA.


Come here.

LISA reaches for JACOB’S hand. Blackout.

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Creators of Chill Subs

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Karina Kupp Benjamin Davis

Jasmine Ferrufino: Chill Subs has grown into a platform/database that has over 3,000+ literary magazines and has become a hub for people to submit their work in an easy and less stressful format. We would love to hear what made you want to make Chill Subs. What inspired it? And did you expect so many people to use it on a day to day basis?

Karina Kupp: Speaking on the last question right away, absolutely not! I’ve been writing for quite a long time, and I wanted to start submitting my poems and nonfiction. I started researching how the whole literary magazine world works and how to submit my stuff. So I browsed the internet and realized that it’s just such a messy, complicated, and uninspiring process. It’s like, Oh, yay, I have poems. They are so cool. What should I do with them? And then you sit and try to navigate all this stuff, and it’s so demotivating, and you lose the spark pretty quickly.

I didn’t want to do anything with it right away. I just started creating my spreadsheet with journals that I like. But then, my husband and I moved to Poland in December 2021. A month later, we were drinking beer and discussing some silly startup ideas. We are both software developers, and that’s how we have fun. So, we discussed some ideas that can be helpful. We started discussing what datasets could be presented nicely, and I suddenly realized I already had a data set. I have this in a spreadsheet. And so I came home and just turned it into a website, and I didn’t have a plan to make some huge literary startup. I said, Okay, I will just make this tool; the spreadsheet would look nicer. And I had this silly idea for a vibe filter. Somehow, everything resulted around that idea. I thought, okay, ten people will find it useful. I will link to it as my pet project, and that’s it. But Twitter didn’t agree with me when 3,000 people followed it in two days.

Jasmine Ferrufino: As I mentioned in the first question, Chill Subs has grown, and you are consistently making updates like [ugh], Submission Tracker, Event Calendar, and much more. I’m curious, what are your plans for Chill Subs, and where do you see it going?

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67 | Issue 6

Benjamin Davis: The thing with a lot of the literary community and the establishment, it’s been the same for about 20 years. It’s been the same publications and tools, and everyone feels like they’ve accepted being relegated to the sidelines. You know, a new writer is coming in, and we are like, oh, okay, so this is all here, and this is unattainable, and I have to pay for this. And I have to just deal with these systems. And we’re kind of like, fuck that. We can make things that are better and really focus on people and writers and also connect writers and editors. And one of the things we’re about to do, which is why we’re so busy, is merging.

We’re merging with Write or Die. So they’re going to be joining us as our internal magazine and internal community. Something similar is Catapult. When Catapult shut their doors, a lot of the instructors found out via Twitter. They found out on the day, and all these things were up in the air, and we kind of thought that was screwed up. We were in talks with Kailey, who runs Write or Die to join. And she went off, and now we’re launching with 30 workshops, and 80% of them are catapult instructors.

But basically, the goal is to eventually create an ecosystem where writers and editors can connect, publish, and learn from each other and where work isn’t going to go and die.

Jasmine Ferrufino: Chill Subs is a platform that prides itself in being a fully transparent platform, hence the Roadmap. The social media content and newsletter are also very intimate. It makes you feel like we are on the journey with you. What made you want to make this process transparent? And what are some hurdles/pros to this format?

Karina Kupp: I think we never even thought about not doing it this way. I don’t understand how companies just hide behind some abstract We and never talk about who they are. You never know who these people who build these products that you’re using are. It felt so natural to us to just be usual people who are

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just trying to build something cool. These people sometimes face problems. These people sometimes need money. These people sometimes get sad or really excited. It just feels so natural to share this with people, and it’s important for us, too. But also, the project started with me just sharing random things on Twitter. Just “Hello, I added this button. Hello, I added this field.” People got excited, and it was important to keep this feeling of making everyone feel like we’re building this together. And it’s not just me.

Benjamin Davis: We couldn’t have done it any other way. It’s in our nature. It comes from seeing things and being in the community. We’ve seen people launch things or run projects, and we don’t know who they are every time. They don’t like to talk about themselves. We’re building a company; when we say we want to be a supportive tool for people, that’s because we mean it. It’s something we wanted. And that’s what drove the idea behind Chill Subs. People are not being served well by these tools. People are very supportive of each other, but many of the available services felt like they were taking advantage of everyone. So we’re so conscious of that because we don’t want to make people feel that way. We want people to feel and know we are building this for you

Jasmine Ferrufino: There are many creatives reading this issue or included in this issue, but I wonder if you have any advice for the readers about navigating or starting a community platform?

Karina Kupp: It’s hard, but sometimes you need to try not to try so hard and start sharing. Don’t wait until something is really perfect. If I started Chill Subs, having said, “I will start this, and I will share this with people only when it has 1000 magazines and all the filters possible.” I’m not even sure if it would have been so successful. But it’s really just starting with something small but kind of nice. Then, updating people when something is not yet finished and developing. It gives people an extra reason to follow

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your progress. Start small, or let people in on your progress.

Benjamin Davis: The only thing I would add to that is not to do it alone. I don’t believe any of what we’ve done would have been possible alone. For a while, it was like Karina and I. We were constantly sending all of these messages but doing it together. I think that’s really important. Also, reaching out and asking for help. People feel like they have to appear to know what they are doing all the time. Otherwise, no one’s going to want to follow them. And I don’t think that’s true. Or that’s probably changing because that’s not a human thing; that’s an internet thing. When we don’t know something, we reach out to editors and ask them what we don’t know. We reach out to the community, and we talk to them. We ask, and we get feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to look foolish because that’s inevitable. And when you try not to, it will be an upsetting experience. I think we look foolish at least 40% of the time.

Want to Learn More or Join Chill


Feel free to scan the QR Code to go straight into Chill Subs, a free database with 3000+ literary magazines, 12000+ writing contests, a submission tracker, and, of course, Write or Die.

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If I Was Silence

The psilocybin began to creep up my spine and into my brain within forty-five minutes of scarfing the eighth of raw Penis Envy that I’d picked up earlier in the day, and as I sat back on the couch to prepare myself, my phone rang. My ex of one month said that she needed help, that there was blood, but she was OK, but that yes, if I could, she needed help. Knowing she wouldn’t call unless she had to, I enlisted Matt to drive me; I slumped with my forehead flattening against the window of the passenger seat and watched the lights of other cars zipping tracers through the velvet dark oozing everywhere, the splashes of streetlight orange rippling out from their orbs, neon striping the dark in signs the meaning of which I could not decipher. Matt dropped me at my ex’s house, and I let myself in; I held onto the banister as I pulled my dumbbell feet up the beige-carpeted steps to the second floor. She was sitting at the edge of her bed with her bare feet sunk into the carpet, in a black tank-top and shorts, her black hair pulled back into a bun. A folding table covered in paper towels was laid out in front of her, orthodontic tools she’d lifted lying in a neat row atop it along with a bottle of antiseptic liquid and cotton pads and gauze. She had a paper towel taped around her upper right arm and when she moved to beckon me towards her, I saw the red blooming and blotting through it. I told her that I was on drugs and that my time to help was limited, and she had me sit down on her right side and she said – Look, I’m removing my birth control implant; I can almost get it but I need you to stretch open the hole while I grab it. I asked her why and she said her doctor had recommended it prior to her upcoming surgery, but it was so close to the surface of the skin and she didn’t want to spend the cash on getting the implant out. I said OK, and that I was only helping to

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try to minimize the damage; I sheathed my hands in purple latex gloves clinging tight at the wrists, my fingers beginning to lose their sense of intuitive purpose and becoming strange to me, and she positioned these fingers around the dime-sized hole in the underside of her upper arm, and I watched that hole yawn red with the pressure of my thumbs as she tenderly inserted the instrument with the hooked metal end as I began to feel gnomes crawl up my spine like a ladder and the sea-foam walls began to glow and shift, their consistency changing and becoming more malleable like clay or playdough shimmering vibrant, the room growing smaller and larger simultaneously as I held her flesh open with my thumbs; further up her arm I saw the hook poke up and briefly tent her skin as she winced and maneuvered it sideways, and as I watched the hook move beneath her surface I began to feel it too – I began to feel my fingers binding to her skin through the gloves and our bodies soldering into each-other with the heat of immediate reactivity – and as the gnomes scrambled and chirped along my bones and the walls undulated fluorescent-green mud, I asked her with trembling breath to stop, please stop, withdrawing my hands and stretching off the bloody gloves to crawl into the corner of the room, perching like a psychotic cat with my arms folded around me as she continued to dig around in her arm, the universe bleeding through itself and coming in through my sinuses to fill my head. When she gave up and gauzed and bandaged her arm, she turned off the lamp in the corner, the string of yellow bulbs lining her ceiling still glowing pale in their chain of soft light, I did not go to bed with her – I opened a jar I found on the dresser and ate peanut butter off of my hand like a fucking animal and watched her sleep, knowing in my heart that we both were doomed, though to just what remained to be seen.

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R.R. by




The entire room is shown being completely spotless apart from the owner’s walls that are decked out with drawings and pictures of theirs. They are all strung up on the walls. Each portrait looks the same; mostly landscapes or animals devoid of people.

A close up on small, boney pale male hands drawing in a sketchbook with red charcoal. They begin to draw a sketch but then aggressively scribble it out. He tries again but eventually just gives up due to a minimal mistake of going outside the lines.

Frustrated with his work, the male drops his charcoal and goes to his fridge, grabbing and downing a bottle of red wine.

REVEAL: MALE(25) he is a white, scrawny, pale, awkward male and isn’t very nicely dressed but still clean.

The male walks to his kitchen sink and thoroughly scrubs the red charcoal off his hands until they are completely clean. The red liquid seeps into the drain of the kitchen sink.

He collapses onto his bed and looks up at the ceiling. He tosses and turns, his face compresses in anger.

Suddenly LOUD rock music can be heard outside the window,

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the male abruptly sits up and looks out the window where the sound is coming from.


Through the window is a young AUBURN-HAIRED WOMAN, she can be seen dancing around in her crimson silk robe.


The male smirks to himself and sits back down at his desk, beginning to draw an outline of her.


The male is sitting at his desk looking over all the drawings that he drew of the girl the day before. He seems satisfied with them as he strokes the paper and smiles to himself.

He then pauses and lets out a long sigh, suddenly ripping out each drawing. He crumbles up all the papers and throws them in his waste basket next to his desk. He then aggressively closes his curtains so he can’t look at the girl.

He takes a deep breath as he sits back at his desk and tries to focus. He puts his pencil to the paper and the point immediately snaps. He huffs and takes out a sharpener, sharpening the pencil. He takes it out and inspects it and then puts it back in. He can never seem to get the perfect point and keeps starting over. He wastes his whole day on this.

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The male sits down at his desk and attempts to draw again, this time using a gel pen.

There is a close up on his wastebasket and it continuously gets filled with crumpled paper after crumbled paper throughout the day.


The male is still sitting at his desk, clearly tired but still trying to just draw something. He has clearly been unsuccessful shown by his empty walls and full garbage can.

He goes to the fridge and takes out a bottle of red wine. As he goes to uncork it, he is interrupted again by the LOUD rock music.

The male slowly walks to the window and starts to lift his curtain. He then stops himself and shakes his head, having this look of shame on his face.

As he walks away from the window he steps on a crumpled up piece of paper, one of his destroyed drawings.

He looks down at the crushed paper then back at the window. FADE OUT.


The male has now set up a camera and telescope pointed directly into the female’s window.

A time lapse of him is shown; Watching her becomes a daily

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routine of his and he seems no longer be ashamed of it. He is constantly sitting at his window, taking pictures of her and sketching her. He barely sleeps now and is always wearing the same clothes.


Throughout the day the female can be seen dancing, undressing and dressing, cooking and cleaning, eating etc., all her daily routines.


TIMELAPSE: The female starts to have a different man over every night.


The male can’t bring himself to watch her and the men she has over but takes pictures anyway to develop and sketch later.

His walls are covered in red charcoal drawings and pictures of the female. Empty wine bottles are scattered all over the floor and bed. The apartment room is devoid of light except for the streetlight outside and the one red lamp on his bedside table.


The female‘s curtains are now closed and there’s seem to be

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no sound coming from her apartment.


Throughout the day the male sits at his window waiting for her to pull up the curtain again but the female never does.

His room is completely dark except for his red-orange lamp on his desk.

He drinks heavily and barely sleeps, anxiously waiting for the woman to return. He has been wearing the same clothes every day and has bright purple bags under his eyes.

For a moment, the male falls asleep on his chair then suddenly wakes up in a panic, afraid he missed the girl.

As he scrambles to look out the telescope he knocks over a glass of red wine and it spills on his white carpet. He quickly runs to his kitchen sink and grabs a sponge, harshly scrubbing away at the stain.


The male hears a knock on the door and jumps up from his bed to open it.

There are TWO POLICE OFFICERS on the other side. He quickly shuts the door behind him and talks to them out in the hall.

Their conversation is inaudible but they seem to be asking him questions, with each question the male just shakes his head.

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Suddenly they pull out a picture of a missing flyer; the female he has been watching.

The male looks surprised and shakes his head at them. They nod and dismiss themselves.

The male shuts the door and starts to angrily rip down all his drawings and pictures of her. FADE


The male is taking a walk in the woods, he has a camera around his neck.

He takes multiple pictures of the trees and sky. He closes up on a squirrel eating a nut and tries to take a picture of it but it scurries off. He sighs, frustrated that nothing is cooperating with him.

A cardinal then flies past the male and he quickly snaps a picture of it.

As he gets closer to the bird he notices it’s carrying a glob of red hair in its mouth. The bird then flies off.

The male runs to the direction the bird flew to and comes upon a mostly naked dead body, only dressed in lacy, scarlet lingerie. The body is propped up against a tree.

He slowly approaches the body and on further inspection he realizes it’s the missing female.

He gets closer to her and gently touches her hair and

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strokes her face, never being this close to her. He checks his surroundings and then begins to take multiple pictures of her both up close and far away. He then gently takes her arms and positions them crossed on her lap then snaps a picture. He tries to move her head but it stays limp. As he goes to snap the picture he stops and looks around the woods and then looks back at the corpse.


The male is back at the spot but this time has a shovel, he begins to dig a hole.

He drags the body into the hole and buries her. He stabs the pile of dirt with a stick, marking it for memory.


The male comes back to his room and drops his camera on his bed. He goes to the bathroom and washes his face with cold water from the sink.

He grips the edges of the sink tightly, getting dirt all over the white marble. He looks at himself in the mirror.

Suddenly the image of himself begins to disorient and small holes begin to form on his face and all over his body, morphing into little mouths with sharp teeth. They began to talk to him.

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(chanting, growing louder)

They know! They’re going to find out! They’re going to take her from you!

The male holds his ears trying to cancel out the noise. He then punches the mirror, making it shatter.

The image goes back to normal and he can no longer hear the voices. He stares in the now broken mirror. It shows a split reflection of his mouth and eyes, making it look like he still has more than one.

The male‘s blood drips from his fist, falling onto his pale white sink. He quickly wraps up his hand with a rag.

He gets a sponge and begins to rigorously scrub the sink and his hands, trying to rid of the blood.

He then begins to pack himself a bag but it’s hard to tell what. He then leaves the room.


The male kneels down next to the marked dirt pile and starts to unpack his bag. He takes out a shovel, a knife, black gloves and he has a compact cooler.

He begins to dig out the body. He pulls the deceased female out of the hole. She is covered in dirt and maggots are emerging from her eye.

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The male gags as he slowly pulls at each worm, taking them from her eye one by one. He tries to take a picture of her but can’t even bear to look at her. He then takes out the knife he brought and begins to smoothly cut her body into small, intricate pieces making sure each incision is perfect. He places each chunk of the body in the cooler. He shuts the lid and carries it off with him, leaving the woods. CUT TO:


The room is pitch black until the male yanks a string on his pull light. The light bulb swings in circles, illuminating the room.

The room is completely white and filled with photography equipment; backgrounds, flood lights, soft box lights, camera stands, stools, and a big fan. There is also a large freezer in the corner now.

The male empties his cooler, spewing each lifeless body part onto a long bone-white table.

He takes out a wet cloth, meticulously scrubbing away the blood and dirt caked onto each body part.

He then takes out a sewing kit, pulling out a needle and red thread. The sharp needle pokes through the skin, coming in and out of each crevice of the body as he successfully sews her back together again.

When the male finishes he takes the threaded body and props her up on a chair with a white background behind her. He aims flood lights and his camera at the body. FLASH, He snaps

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the first picture of his lifeless model. More than content with the first picture he begins to snap more.


Becoming more enticed with the photoshoot he takes out makeup and puts bright red lipstick on her numb lips, brushes out her hair and dresses her in a bright crimson dress.


He sets her up in specific poses but she doesn’t always stay in them, her hand falling or her head struggling to stay up, dangling from her neck. Still, he takes the pictures.

He decides he is done using her for the night. He takes her body and puts it in a big freezer preserving her so he may use her again later.

He can’t quite fit her arm in. The male takes out her hand and slowly pulls the female’s middle finger back until a LOUD popping noise can be heard. He winces at the sound but keeps pulling at each finger until he makes the body fully acquitted in the frigid box.

Now with the female fully compacted the male takes out a razor blade and slowly carves something unknown into her skin, bright red blood oozing out of her stomach.

He takes one last picture of her then shuts the freezer. CUT TO BLACK.


The male enters the dark room. A red safelight illuminates

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the room fully. There are a bunch of pictures hung up on strings and trays of water for developing the pictures.

He carefully places all the pictures he took of the girl in the water tray to develop.

After a moment, he gently takes out the images and hangs them up to dry in the dark room.

One picture in the water tray is still developing. The image slowly forms and we can see it fully now. The image is the one he took of her in the freezer, the carving on her stomach is now visible.

The initials carved into her stomach, bright red; R.R.

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America's Child

I curl my already fried auburn locks. I hear the sizzle as the iron glides over the raindrops from my unsanctioned walk this morning. Steam rises and I see Papa’s face through the haze, the ever-vigilant yet distant oracle. Before I stepped outside, he foretold Momma’s wrath at defying the routine. I was to meticulously clean, brilliantly dress, and obediently wait for their approval. Approval that never came, the door was always shut and my mind ever-curious.

Momma never let me out because she feared it would ruin my perfectly crafted look. Papa only let me out to prove his suspicions right, knowing that I’d be punished. The two were holding on for dear life to a precipice of superiority, neither recognizing that their feet never made it off the ground. The ground–my back, my bones, my flesh, my tendons, and their inseparable heredity.

Momma didn’t even let me dry my hair before ordering me to fix my mess. She just watched, flashing her flawless veneers. Her smile is infectious. I grimace as the curler slices through the frayed strands of my hair, Momma’s punishment for defying the routine, a moment we both share with teeth bared. It’s the only warmness that’s come from her in at least a year.

I won my first beauty pageant title when I was just ten months old. I was only a baby, babbling and cooing, but they saw something in me.

Ever since, I’ve been a doll to my parents. Just their plaything, not a person. It was hard for me to develop as I should. Conversating wasn’t my forte and neither was showing emotion. I had to learn everything, especially Papa’s lessons on empathy:

1. If someone helps you, smile and say, “thank you.”

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2. If someone gives you something, smile and say, “thank you, you shouldn’t have.”

3. If someone needs help with a task you know how to do, offer to help them. Actually, help them. Even if it is inconvenient, because image is everything, and it also makes the family look good as a whole.

4. If someone is being unreasonable, swallow your pride and be complacent. No one likes a person who cannot be agreeable. Better them than you.

5. If someone insults you, take the criticism and learn from it. You’ll never become prettier or worthwhile if you don’t have thick skin, figuratively, of course.

6. If someone hits you, let them. Don’t break a nail on someone who doesn’t deserve it. Bad PR is hard to shake and you may never be pretty enough to talk yourself out of an assault charge. Makeup or plastic surgery can cover any imperfections caused by abuse.

7. If you encounter an injured creature, do not leave it to die. Call for help, sit by its side as it slowly bleeds out, or snap its neck to end its suffering.

8. If you find a dead animal or body, do not play with it. Your morbid fascination with death will make the scene imperfect. There is dignity in death that one must respect.

Respect, I did.

Momma and Papa are propped up on the couch now. Silent and still. Complacent. Their bodies are perfectly preserved, human dolls, just like me. I still hear their loving voices in my head giving me advice on how to be my best self. I may not be Miss America but I’ll always be a star in their eyes. I walk over to my trophy shelf and pull out two bedazzled tiaras. I place one on each of their infallible heads. We’re the perfect American family.

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My Name Is

I am trying to write a scene. I am trying to write a scene and it is not coming out. You’ll probably read this and think, oh pooh, girl thinks she’s something special, writing about something so unspecial. We all go through this, silly girl. Stop trying. You’re not special.

When I applied for a Fulbright to Korea I had to take a language diagnostic, and the proctor asked me questions about myself. That of course led me to talk about my life. My Korean’s all right. It’s in that odd spot between can read a novel but would need some help keeping up with the news. So I strolled around the best I could, with decent diction, about growing up as a Korean American and then when I went to Korea in college I felt so weird because everyone thought I was something I both was and was not, and given more time I could have gone on to talk about the time I passed a fringe protest on the street of Seoul where the leader blared into a megaphone DIRTY

GET THE DIRTY YANKEES OUT OF OUR COUNTRY and something in my chest froze and twisted and stopped because why did I feel like he was yelling at me?

But the instructor stopped me before I could say any of that and said, “Saeryeong-ssi, what you just expressed is very common. I hear this from Korean Americans all the time.” Then she moved on. And I thought of how my recommender responded to my essay with, “Let’s work on it, because it doesn’t stand out. It isn’t special,” because the goal is to be special, the goal is to stand out, because in order to win you must be so good everyone else looks bad. You must fight tooth and nail to be so good everyone else looks just downright terrible compared to you. You must be the specialest most special Korean American. Otherwise you’re just another diasporic baby-child blubbering about a culture you never had, in an aisle of baby-children who look exactly like you, to an audience of looming enlightened old people who will

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distinguish the baby-child who cries the hardest. Then you hate the other babies for their sameness because that is how you win, that is how you become the specialest most special baby who wins the baby war.

Anyway. Clearly, I didn’t get the Fulbright.

On Friday, I watch tick, tick…BOOM! with Philippa. We make a movie night out of it, and we like it. We like it a lot. I watch Andrew Garfield wring his head and wail about how he was supposed to make something of himself by now, but now he is almost thirty and he is desperate, because what is his impact, what is the mark he is going to leave on the world, what if he, gasp, doesn’t? But I also watch Andrew Garfield/ Jonathan Larson’s face smooth out from one of anxiety to one of assurance as he realizes why we do anything at all: for love, and for the people we love. I’m crying by the end. So is Philippa.

I think Jonathan Larson understood that to do anything at all is to write a love letter, and the size of it does not matter as long as you are alive and loving. Then I think of people who throw that aside in their obsessed pursuit of legacy, and the word legacy makes me think of Hamilton, and how everyone thought seeing non-white people dressed like white people meant that racism was cured, but Hamilton was always singing about his legacy too, he is always singing about his legacy. Sure, maybe Hamilton was an immigrant, but that’s not mutually exclusive from being a dick.

Americans are so fucking obsessed with standing out, I say.

Fucking right, says Philippa, like we’re not American, which is, you know, not not fucking right.

That night, I declare to Philippa that she must keep me accountable because I will never marry an artist. Not because he’ll be poor. I don’t care if he’s poor. No, because he’ll be an egomaniac.

Sorry. That was a rough start. I am thinking about artifice. Is

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that better?

I am thinking about artifice because you asked me how I was doing, and I said fine. And I was telling the truth at the time, but it’s not true anymore. Funny how that works. Does that mean I was lying to you when you said it sounded like I was doing alright, and I said, I guess I am?

I wish I could let you see me cry. I wish I was brave enough to show you what a wreck I am, when I am. Damn it, why do we always happen to talk when I happen to be doing okay?

Philippa and I are having dinner at Lily’s when the doorbell rings. Our party of six looks up. Who could it be?

“Oh, that’s probably Jack and Sandra,” says Lily, getting up. Philippa looks over at me. No one notices.

Ah. Maybe there is a Korean word for being fine and not fine, but I don’t know it, and there’s none in English, so ah. I don’t think any of us know how to be fine and not fine, so nothing looks out of the ordinary when Jack and Sandra come into the room, I am not out of the ordinary, I look like a perfectly sound, functioning human being even though I am profoundly not, but it’s alright?

Jack and Sandra take their seats across from where I am. Everyone says hello. I reach for another helping of chicken. Philippa squeezes my free hand under the table. No one notices.

A year ago, roughly, Jack sat next to me at one of Lily’s dinners two weeks after I moved to Boston. I came along with Philippa at her behest that I socialize. I wanted to read over the ending I had just written to the second act of my script. I didn’t want to meet anyone. But I went with Philippa because Philippa is my friend and I would do anything for her, and if there is anything I have learned over our friendship it is that Philippa loves me and when I need it, she knows me better than myself.

So I went, and Jack sat next to me, and I really didn’t want to talk to him, but he started talking to me, and looking at me, and smiling, and by the end of the night, by the end of

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most nights for almost two months, so was I.

When Lily’s boyfriend Oliver picked up on it and, when asked, I confessed it all for some goddamn reason— because it was one of those developments that is so exciting you cannot help but share it with everyone like a badly kept secret—he raised an eyebrow. He opened his mouth, then closed it. I asked him what he was going to say.

“Never mind,” said Oliver. “It was bad.”

I told him not to hide anything from me.

“I was going to say that the Chinese have historically enjoyed penetrating Korea.”

I screamed and smacked him. I was also laughing. I was uncomfortable and also thrilled. It is horrifying, how the pit of a starved stomach will fire up for a crumb, no matter how meager and no matter how crude.

“Hi,” says Jack. He’s looking at me. His eyes hold nothing interesting or of value in them whatsoever, yet they also have all the power. I feel myself solidifying under them, into the thing he doesn’t even realize he thinks I am. Korean Girl who was fun to play with for a while. I want to cry. But I can’t tell anyone; he didn’t break any laws. Sometimes assholes are just assholes, and you have to live with them.

He wraps his arm around Sandra. Kisses her temple. Bile rises in my stomach because watching him kiss someone is so gross, yet in that parody I am reminded—Saeryeong, wouldn’t it be nice if someone kissed you like that. I don’t know what upsets me more.

English is such a joke, rife with platitudes and conventions that mean nothing at all.

I know exactly what upsets me more.

You said you were grateful for me. It isn’t the last thing you said to me, but it’s one of those significant lines that has stuck like a magnet onto the refrigerator that is this perplexing thing someone more eloquent and gracious might call my mind palace. But it’s the last thing you said to me, really, before we subconsciously tabled the whole thing. I didn’t realize we were never going to speak of it again. I don’t think you did

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You told me you were grateful for me. Do you remember?

Are you still?

Simeon is back in town and we get ramen, knowing full well we will be complaining about the bloat after. But it’s a tonkotsu and katsu sando kind of day, so that’s what we do.

Simeon’s hair has grown as long and springy as he is, especially now that he’s permed it. He’s taken to wearing glasses too, finally. All of college we were begging him to wear his glasses. He looks like a real scientist, and I tell him so as I walk up. He stands up at the table and bows his stringbean body.

“What the hell?” I whack him, but already he has broken me into laughter.

“The legend!” he crows, and hugs me before I can tell him to please retire that embarrassing nickname already. I am so glad he is here. For some reason I feel that I might cry, seeing Simeon in the flesh after his graduation five months ago.

Simeon wants ice cream after ramen. Of course he does. In college I was the friend who kept him from buying too many ice cream cones, but it has been a year so I will indulge him this once. He asks me questions. I can always count on Simeon to ask me question after question. His brain is always questions, questions, questions. But he’s also just genuinely interested in the kinds of things I do despite being a science guy, which is why we are friends. So on the way to getting taiyaki he wants to hear about everything: how my summer writing fellowship was, how work is going, what I’m writing right now amidst it all. So I tell him about the theater in Minnesota over the summer, and how cool it was, to watch local playwriting go up so close to where I had grown up, and I don’t know how to capture it in words, how it had felt to exist in a space where I wasn’t a thing with one of those names who had to prove she was special enough to trauma-pornographize her life. I end up telling Simeon about the script I

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have not told anyone about yet, not even my parents and not even Philippa.

“That’s so cool,” says Simeon.

I want to cry. What I end up saying is, “Jack made me feel stupid about what I liked,” which is true, and for some reason saying that out loud makes me remember my Fulbright proctor for the first time in years, which unleashes recollections of all the times in school, college, at Korean dinner parties growing up and Lily’s dinner parties now when I’ve been shot down, or laughed at, or just smiled and shrugged at in that pitying, how-cute, she-thinks-she-has-something-tosay kind of way.

In medieval times, being a fool was a full-time job. Someone had to be the silly one. I guess I have destined myself to be the fool in everyone’s story. It’s so funny and so cruel, the nickname Simeon and Philippa and our friends used to have for me, the way I foolishly believed it had to have come from some inkling of truth (how arrogant!), because outside of our little bubble, it seems I am just a little girl whose best efforts are at most the third-rate scribblings of ideas someone else has already thought of.

“Saeryeong,” says Simeon. “Stop destroying yourself. I know you.” He says the latter sentence gently, not with authority, out of triumph, not the way Jack did when he predicted my coffee order correctly once, and repeated whenever I told him something about myself for the first time. It’s been a long time since someone has just understood.

Simeon hums to himself, and I am struck by how much my impression of him has changed not only since the first time I met him, when I thought he was all numbers and intensity and no humor, but over the course of the past five years. Simeon has always been changing, just like I was, just like I am. I have been and will be witness to it all. We are such malleable and impressionable creatures. We change and are changed by our circumstances all the time. Will we ever truly know anyone at all? Will anyone ever know us? Will we ever know ourselves?

I think of someone else, and I wonder. I wonder because I should be keeping in touch, but I also know I

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shouldn’t, not if I know what’s good for me. It sucks to have the self-awareness to know what is and isn’t good for you. You just end up wishing.

Part of me wants Simeon to never change. There’s a possessive logic to it, but can I be blamed? Because friend, I am so fond of you in this moment, and please, if you loved me you wouldn’t leave me alone, would you?

“I missed you a lot,” I say.

“Good,” says Simeon. “I’m glad. Hashtag not all Chinese men.”

“Simeon Zhou,” I say, but I’m laughing too hard for it to have any bite. It has been too long since I’ve felt like myself. Since I haven’t had to think about myself as someone who must be explained. Since I haven’t had to think at all.

I want Simeon to ask about you. But how could he? He’s never met you. And I also don’t—want him to ask, I mean. I know it’s better for me if he doesn’t. It’s true. Damn. It’s like Austen said. If I missed you less, I would be able to talk about you so much more.

Philippa is taking a video call in the living room when I get home. “Say hi to Saeryeong,” she says, pointing the screen at me. Ben says hi. I say hi back.

“Shouldn’t your eyes be on the road?” I ask.

“They are!” Ben insists.

I laugh and gesture to Philippa that I’m going to my room. When I get there, I close the door and grab my earbuds, intending to leave Philippa and Ben alone, but as luck would have it, I am not quick enough to miss the last of what Philippa says.

“Okay,” I hear her voice in the other room. “Get home safe. I love you.”

When we were eighteen, Philippa and I stayed up in her dorm room, where I held her while she cried because of her ex. I was angry for her. I was furious at him. I couldn’t understand what it was about him that could hurt her so deeply. How she could have let him take up so much of her heart. I didn’t understand what could bring her to care about

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someone so much as to cry over them. Now I know that it’s from the same impulse as wanting to tell someone, anyone— but of course, not just anyone, but someone—that you love them. I know that now.

I am so happy for Philippa, that she has someone she feels safe with to say that to. As for me? I am so fucking sad.

It all happened so fast, didn’t it? One moment we were just Philippa’s friends, and then we were Philippa’s friends getting coffee, and then by the time we were sitting in your car that night, shoulders inches away from each other, air tense with all that we could have been doing but weren’t—yeah, clearly not just Philippa’s friends anymore, were we.

I never told you, but when we first met, I thought you liked Philippa. “Philippa Han,” you sang, coming up behind her. A kind of knowing in your voice and your smile, and your arms when you hugged her in greeting. Any semblance of interest I might have had dissipated—or rather, I pocketed it in that moment, thanking God for the convenient signal that this person, like many others, was not made for me. So I wasn’t ready for you learning my name and, with each time you called me, speaking it with knowing too—of a different kind. That must have surprised you too.

Sometimes I get mad and think it’s at you, but when I calm down, it’s not. It’s a general anger, a frustration with nowhere to rest. It feels like the world is constantly reminding me that I am a silly little girl who has never really experienced anything in her life, so whenever I get close to something, I hold on. You understand, right?

Let’s rewind. Let’s rewind to the rain. Do you remember? It was February, and a one-hour coffee had turned into four. We left the shop ten minutes before closing, only to be immediately drenched by torrents of rain. Water streamed down all the rivets and cracks in the pavement. Your umbrella wouldn’t open. Mine flipped inside out. We laughed and laughed. Your smile rang bells at me when we said goodbye. “Let’s do this again,” you said, and I knew we would.

Whenever I remember things I am afraid of how

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sentimental I am, because what if you’re not? What if the only meaning in these memories are the longings I’ve retroactively inflected? On your last day, when I accompanied you on your final errands, the convenience store greeter saw us together and something in me swooped as I thought, yes, you’re correct, we are together. Except we weren’t. We aren’t. That hurt/s.

If I had pushed a little more, would you have stayed?

Umma calls me while I’m walking down Commonwealth. I don’t want to answer because I am afraid she will ask me how I am doing, to which my honest answer, since I can never hide from her, is anything but good.

Umma is spring cleaning and wants to know if she can donate some of my childhood notebooks I never used. I tell her she can. While looking through them, she found one of my story sketches from tenth grade or so. I remember exactly which one she is talking about as she describes the plot to me. I try not to wince. It’s the thinly veiled Penderwicks knockoff, except the girls were called the Chungs and they lived in a neighborhood that, except for the name, was the same as ours in Saint Paul.

“Your name was on this one,” says Umma, and that’s when I remember. My notebooks were where I experimented with every pen name in the universe. Mia Miller and Emily Danvers. My fantasy era, marked by the signatures of D.C. Harlowe. I never figured out what the D.C. was supposed to stand for. By eighth grade, I was writing customized stories for my friends as Abigail Lee. But this notebook is the first one to have my name on it. The first time I wrote as myself, and not as somebody else.

“Shim Saeryeong,” says Umma. “I don’t know where you got it from, but I’m your fan. Appa’s your fan too.”

My lip juts out. I blubber gomawoyo, and it’s satire, but I mean it. The only time I do anything close to aegyo is for my parents. It isn’t until hours later that, hands wrung into my hair over a keyboard, hands punishing hands that refuse to type out words that a brain refuses to string

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together, I remember what my parents said again and cry for real this time. I am experiencing everything I need to experience. I am alive and loving.

“How are you?” you ask. What am I supposed to say? You are here and sitting right in front of me. What can I even say? Did we make it up? I want to ask. Did I make it up? To acknowledge our memories as things of the past is to acknowledge that we are different now, not who we were to each other then, which is just a theory I am clinging to anyway. It is to acknowledge a future where we might not be anything to each other anymore.

“I’m good,” I reply. I must choose what I’m going to tell you, and I want to choose what will give you life. So I will say what is good for you. Because, because, I— We’re on my street now. You turn to face me, and it is time to say bye again.

“Saeryeong,” you say, and I might cry, I really might, because when you say Saeryeong, you don’t say Saeryeong, or Saeryeong, or Say-ree-yung, or Sai-reng, or anything but You. You look at me and call me who I am. I am not ready to lose that. I store the echo deep in my ears until it is a soothing and steady reverberation through my skull. You.

“We’ll talk soon,” you say, like you said all those months ago, and that’s when I realize this is a dream, and you are not real, even while I believe that it is not, and that you are. There are no rules here. Don’t you see? This is a town we never have to leave. This is a town where we can be together. I am thinking of all the things I want to say and how there is nowhere to say them, and how that’s not true because there is one person I want to say all of this to, but as much as I want that person to be you, you are not real after all. And I’m thinking of the last time we called, and how sad you were, and I’m thinking what I thought the first time you ever showed me you were sad, which is Oh no, what if I am what is making you sad, and if I am then I would never be able to live with myself, because I might, you know.

You turn away, and I know. I know because I do not

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dare say it out loud. Goodbye. I form the contours of the word with my mouth. I wake up.

You asked me how I was. I’m still finding my answer. Until then, everything I write inevitably finds its way to you. And that’s okay. Eventually you’ll read it, or you won’t. I’ll be ready either way.

But tell me: How are you? How are you really? Is there a future, any future at all, where one day I could be the person you tell?

Are you still grateful for me?

I am trying to write the end of this act. It is not coming out because I am not done yet.

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Days and Nights

How to describe in what way it began?

When loving you always feels like the first time. What you felt for her without touching?

That history. That familiarity. Made you realize why many of your poems would be for her.

Before then, moments were postcards with nowhere to send. Days of anything goes. Nights of nothing in it. How he spend all of his time forgetting the past; each time he said his name to someone new.

I was always here and there, writing or thinking about you. With memory tunneling through time: wafting, whispering, wanting.

Waiting for you while death waited for me—

How late you were but worth the wait.

Just like that, it was evening and at the last minute. He said, “It’s too early to leave and we’re still young for the ending”. With her he would go anywhere. Without her he goes nowhere. Despite the missed chances of yesterday, Everyday now an invitation to see her. These mundane routines, suddenly worthwhile: Shower, an outfit, a walk down metro street.

5 mins early, waiting for 10 mins and soon 15 mins.

Waiting again, in the back, at the front. After class, After lunch, After sunset.

Eventually here, Eventually now, Eventually with her.

How do I tell you? What pulls the strings of our fate is hidden within. We were here all the time

passing each other on the same street.

What I mean is I loved you even before we met.

“I declare that later on” wrote Sappho “Even in the age

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unlike our own, someone will remember who we were”. Today, I don’t care about being remembered if you forget. Everything in transit is departure bound. The ticket says we’ve overstayed. The evening ushers us into the night, who approaches us like a waiter holding our coats at the exit. Still, stay. sit. Settle for another smoke or a kiss. Settle for both. Settle for many. Settle for nothing short of a lot. Pocket your phone in. Delay checking the time. If you’re asking, if you still need to know. It’s too early to leave and we’re still young for the ending.

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We are reading a book about astrophysics for young scientists.

Well, I am reading it Just before bed, with well measured tempo.

The book talks about oxygen and helium, and lithium.

It talks about the multiverse and exploding stars and the Planck second.

The Bang that starts it all and the breath just before.

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