Spectrum: The Identity Zine

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Art | Fiction | Poetry| Plays| Screenplays| Films| Interviews








by Eliza Marley



by D.J. Pileggi


by Charlotte Gutzmer






by Loren Walker




BOYHOOD by Andie Klarin

by Ian Powell-Palm




by Marc Frazier



by Lucia Gallipoli


ACE OF CUPS by Allen Means

CHRYSALIS by Charlotte Gutzmer

by Lorelei Bacht








by Joe Klaus


by Jesse Egner


Kitty Dasinger





The creator of TheMoodFits, a social media fashion account, talks about her journey of creating TheMoodfits' account and all the different aspects/situations that have occurred because of it.

by Jesse Egner

Kitty Dasinger




by Allison Fradkin EXTRA CONTENT






Eliza Marley and Tabatha Miller talk about Eliza’s short story “You Shouldn’t Worry About The Frogs,” while also talking about her craft and creative choices.





ME AND U ME AND U by Kitty Dasinger

Editor's Note

Hey creatives and all the people who come across this zine, This is Chaotic Merge's first ever donation based zine. This idea was pitched back when our team was only about two people, and now here we are a year later, making it happen. This zine specifically is about a matter I truly care about, and that is identity. As the title says, identity is a spectrum; there is no clear definition of your sexual orientation or sexual identity. You are who you are, and that's a kind and well-hearted human. As someone who struggles with their own identity and always redefines themselves every other month, it's okay to not always have an answer; do what feels right. With that being said, this zine is filled with works by people in the LGBTQIA+ Community, and they all range from all different mediums, but one thing is for sure they will make you feel and feel it in every portion of your body, whether that sadness, joy, irrational laughter or anger. Our team is extremely proud of publishing all their works. I want to thank everyone who submitted, bought stickers, and donated to our mag to be able to support Love Wins Food Pantry and Black Trans Travel Fund. I believe wholeheartedly that every small donation counts and affects a person who needs it, whether that's providing them with food or getting them access to a safer alternative to travel. So thank you for supporting us and supporting them. Please enjoy our zine! Stay Chaotic, Jasmine Ferrufino


Thank You To Our Team! Editor in Chief Jasmine Ferrufino

Fiction Alison Van Glad Tabatha Miller Noah Rigby

Nonfiction Frederica Danzinger Maggie Conlee

Poetry Thomas Orr Britt Trachtenberg Emerson Gray Kaitlyn Crow

Layout & Design Jasmine Ferrufino Jack Palmiotti


I excel at the construction of spirit limbs At night, I do not need a head (never the important part)

by Loren Walker

I prefer wind tunnel fingers, vaporous arms that loop over my waist, zephyr breath against my neck. The weight and shape of lovers vary: when the barometer drops, when compressed air creates pressure firm enough to lean back into, when the humidity sinks, it’s welcome weight pressing down on me. And when the air is silent, I concentrate on the rows forming behind my eyes, pixelated, pulsing squares that flow horizontal, then red waves, then old television static, always the same pattern, before I open, see the ceiling, start the journey over. Strange comfort, to be anchored by pulsations, but how many stifled nights have I fixed on that movement for company? Those inner patterns, wholly my own, a comfort on those windless nights, leaves me sated just enough to remain salt, partially dissolved but still able to crumble commands when the weather pattern changes: Come here headless, lover, I will take your remaining tonight.


Gloried Hole This is the place/where he takes me in his mouth/behind an iron curtain/that I cannot break through. This is the place where I reach for his mouth and am stopped by a wall I cannot overturn. His mouth, a country on the other side of this Earth, A slit, open miles wide. Everything he is, ready for me. He tells me he is ready. I believe. I make myself prepared for my own departure. And when I leave this place, I bang my fists against the Wall To make sure that he can hear me. This man I have never seen, this man I have never touched, who brings me out of myself regardless, Watches as I fall to my knees. His eye, a slit in the wall, watching as I become whole. A transformation that not even I am worthy of.

by Ian Powell-Palm



The Defiant Morning by Marc Frazier Summer. I almost fear it. My hand on you is confident and warm: a faint clarinet. I’m satisfied: the marigolds on the glass stand mellow, burnt hues like us. How bronzed our bodies are. I fear the colors, the season of chrysanthemums even here where marigolds, too perfect to go to seed, bear resemblance to sunset on the sheered fields of autumn. Dawn—silent sleuth—enters, defying us to stay the same. What clues can you gather here? Where everything changes. Where I am changed somehow. You are aging, now, before my eyes, in the light of dawn, and I think how I was never young, and here, the morning shows: you are already old. I cannot stop this or the morning as you throw your arm around me, as I want to grow, but not let us go to seed. The day expands, the old moon subjugated by something fiercely young and hot. Daylilies, blue asters, Queen Anne’s lace turn toward it. Each day the humidity brings the rains, the rumbling of an advancing enemy. Each afternoon I ready a bucket for the trailer roof’s leak. I will spend much of my life in poorly constructed tenements, lowering windows, sopping up water, making love on a damp mattress. Amid the flashes, thunder, the driving rains, we touch. Afterward, the calm, the cooler breeze, the quiet—time stopped to get its bearings— and I mine. I must leave here soon. A new sun rises upon our flesh, as you lie here unwrapped, naked to the onset of cooler mornings. How can it be, how can it be there are other men outside this door, other summers we will travel apart?


A Conversation Jasmine Ferrufino: I remember when this account had initially started. It was an account where you and your friends were modeling clothing and different aesthetics, but I feel like TheMoodFits has found its own photography style and aesthetic over time. How did this aesthetic develop over time, and did you imagine it to grow the way it has?

Sarah Pezzoti: Ah, yes. You one hundred percent followed TheMoodFits since the beginning. You were, like, the twentieth follower we ever had, so I’ve got to thank you for that. I feel like the aesthetic was created organically. There was never one specific vibe I was trying to emulate throughout TheMoodFits. I wanted this page to be filled with all different types of style, so really, it's thanks to the models. They're the ones who come to the shoots in whatever fashionable mood they're feeling that day, and that's why each post has its own individualistic aesthetic. I definitely believed that it could grow, I just didn't know how exactly it would happen. I am super happy with how it's going so far.

JF: As I mentioned in the first question, TheMoodFits began to grow, and you were uploading consistently, but somehow you managed to keep producing photos. You mentioned before how you, yourself, take almost all the photos on this Instagram account. I guess I'm wondering how do you manage keeping this account, and what were the types of conflicts you ran across when you began or even now?

SP: Yes, I take all of the photos for MoodFits, unless they are of me, which only happens on rare occasions. I’m lowkey anonymous. I’m able to post consistently because I am constantly reaching out to people that I feel have an interesting style, and I ask them if they'd be down for a shoot and to be posted on TheMoodFits page. Luckily, ninety-nine percent of people say yes. Now that MoodFits has grown a little bit, I have people reaching out to me and asking to be posted, which is really cool. Also, anytime I'm at school, in a mall, or grocery store, the second I see someone with a really unique style, I go 8|SPECTRUM: THE IDENTITY ZINE

with Sarah Pezzoti

up to them, tell them I like their outfit, show them TheMoodFits Instagram, and see if they'd be down for a photo shoot. Most people say yes, so it’s a cool way to keep meeting new people. I’d say the biggest struggle for TheMoodFits so far was making the Pride merch. I took one screen printing class two years ago and thought it would be a good idea to screen print on t-shirts for Pride month. That was a struggle, and I messed up a bunch of shirts. I finally got the hang of it, and I really liked how they turned out, so I'm glad I persisted.

JF: I'm curious about how this account came to be. What is the origin story? Did you randomly decide to make this account, or was it something you always had in the back of your head? What inspired it?

SP: TheMoodFits came about when I was at school at SUNY Purchase and noticed that so many kids on campus had such different styles, so I was like, “Wait… this could be a cool way to showcase that.” The first MoodFits' model was someone I knew from Purchase, and the second was a random person I saw in the city. I was in Dos Toros, which is a really good burrito place, and I saw a super cool person walk in with such a zingy, colorful outfit, and I was like, “I need to go up to them and see if I can MoodFits them.” So I did, and they said yes! That was the moment I realized I didn't need to be on an artsy college campus to do this —I could find unique people truly anywhere.


JF:You have been running this account for about two years now. There must be many funny dynamics and hiccups that have occurred. Is there anything experience that you associate with TheMoodfits consistently and why?

SP: Yes, TheMoodFits started in September 2019, so it's been two years. Something I find funny is that a few of the MoodFits models have been kids that I went to highschoolhigh school with but never really crossed paths with. I find it super interesting to connect with people that I knew of but never really knew well. Now, getting to know them through TheMoodFits is such a cool experience for all of us. Another thing that's pretty funny is whenever my mom’s out somewhere, and she sees a fashionable person who she thinks is “MoodFits material,” she'll let me know. It's like she's a TheMoodFits scout. I must say, she has found some of the most unique people I've ever seen, so shout out to Ria.

JF: 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 an artistic platform?

SP: I know the people who read this magazine are cool and creative, so I'm pumped to see their stuff in this issue! Also, I know y’all reading this have a cool style, so follow @TheMoodFits or DM us. I wanna collaborate with y’all and see your work. I'd say when navigating an artistic platform, keep creating and keep posting new things. Another big thing is taking and making opportunities with other creatives. DM that person that you think is cool and tell them you'd like to create something with them. Other creatives are on the same page as you are and are very willing to collaborate with you.


My body as a home, given by Lorelai Bacht

to no other – kept to myself instead. Is it not poetic, the quiet melopee of a cold morning spent at home? No-one to yell, no bells to tell my body what to do. On my own clock, I watch the steady rise and fall of my own breath. No emperor, no monument, only this calm, spacious moment. The voluptuous cup of coffee, limbs folded up under the white blanket, a silent fawn, her face resting on the cold dawn blueing at the window. I owe you nothing of my bones, sweet pulsating network of woven whites and reds – you are nothing to this, which is everything.


ace of cups by Allen Means the first boy who doesn’t love me back laughs himself across the bridge and tells me to hold my breath. he holds my elbow as i step up onto his skateboard and i tell him i must i look stupid for trying. the park benches are all green and empty. he does not understand because he is not afraid of looking. he tells me all he can see and it is covered in tired, shimmering dust. he grins for anything at all, even falling. in fall, he lends me his favorite book. i softly hold the pages with my fingers instead of dogearing them. i finish it in one sitting and bring it back to him the next day with my bookmark still inside. he brings out rain-splotched tarot cards and tells me to pick one. he and i fall asleep on my couch in my farmhouse watching Downtown Abbey. he takes me on a hike and i can only remember how sweaty his hands were and that he calls me lucky. i ask him to go to the winter ball with me and he tells me he has visual snow. i do not know what this means, and he smiles because he knows. he wears a tacky gray sweater over his button-up that says he does not know what he is doing here. it has a logo but no letters. i am a guiding shadow next to him. i slip his fingers underneath the wrists of my black sleeves and tell him to move instead of dance. when the music starts to make him sick and the colored lights start to change too quickly, we leave through the back of the cafeteria. it is a quarter ‘till the sky is all green and empty. i want to kiss him and he smiles because he knows, but i never do. standing at the edge of the river, wide mouthed and joyful and alive, i remember the rocks he pulled me across several miles down. i watch him glow and my lips buzz with closed questions in the night. he asks me if i can imagine tv static falling from my eyelashes. i tell him i can often not imagine anything at all.



According to Wikipedia, a news article discusses current or recent news of either general interest (i.e. daily newspapers) or of a specific topic (i.e. political or trade news magazines, club newsletters, or technology news websites).

Something needed to be done about all of the croaking. It was the middle of the night, those few precious hours between work and class where I could settle in long enough to think or maybe even sleep. At least, I would try if it wasn’t for the frogs. They should have starved to death already, it was too late in the season for frogs. When I first moved in, they had just been tadpoles, sitting in the murky still water of our courtyard’s fountain. I figured they would get picked off by a bird or something. But, a few survived and now they never leave the fountain. They sit there with their constant croaking, just loud enough to break through any train of thought or activity I might try to do. I stared up at my ceiling from where I laid on my mattress and scrubbed a hand down my face. This was just another painful reminder that I could have lived in a dorm, around other people and already built furniture. Instead, here I was, in the only part of the city I could afford with a shoebox studio to call my very own.


in a dorm, around other people and already built furniture. Instead, here I was, in the only part of the city I could afford with a shoebox studio to call my very own. My mattress was still on the floor, the bed frame in a box somewhere around here. My books were stacked up on one wall next to another box that contained my desk, and all my clothes were packed into my duffel bag, some already worn ones strewn around the floor. The apartment was on the ground floor in a brick building covered in peeling yellow paint and a courtyard view that never shut up. A particularly loud croak cut came through and I groaned back loudly. Enough was enough. I got out of bed and picked up an empty takeout box from last night. I grabbed my keys and headed outside. It was cold outside and I was barefoot, wearing the pajamas Mom had got me for Christmas last year with the bunnies all over them. Luckily, no one was around to see them. I marched over to the fountain that sat at the courtyard’s center, surrounded by neglected and

drooping plants. It was made of crumbling cement with moss that had overtaken most of what was left. Old rain water was collected in the base where the frogs sat. All five of them stopped croaking as I approached. They didn’t scatter or even move, just sat there and stared at me. “Alright listen up,” I said. “One night. Tomorrow, I’m going to find a spot for you. A nice park or something and then you will stay there and I will get some sleep. Understand?” I glared down at the frogs. One croaked and the others joined back in. It sounded enough like an agreement. I got down and scooped all them up and into my takeout container, they went in without a fight. Before I could close the lid, the iron gate creaked behind me and I whipped around to see the door swinging open. I scrambled up from where I kneeled in the dirt and ran back inside with the frogs cradled in my arms. Shutting the front door to my section of the building, I peeked back through the window. One frog jumped up and I caught it with my hand and pushed it back down. “Quiet,” I whispered to the frog. “One second.” I peered back out the window at the figure coming down through the courtyard. I could never quite figure out Maggie’s work schedule. She was always coming and going with a bookbag on one shoulder and a canvas bag on the other. She was some sort of waitress judging by the uniform, but I didn’t know where. I imagined it was one of those places that stayed open late and served pancakes to truckers. We had met once, the first day I had moved in. She stopped to help me with a box of pots and pans I had dropped. Her name tag said ‘Margaret’ but she wrinkled her nose and insisted anyone under 50 should just call her Maggie.

I had barely said a word to her at the time, too stressed out and unsure what to say. I had been waiting for a good time to introduce myself again. She seemed about my age, another girl living alone, we already had things in common, maybe she would want to get coffee sometime. But, hiding behind a door in pajamas with a fried-rice carton of frogs was probably not the time to ask. I watched Maggie walk through the courtyard, stopping to peek into the fountain. She stayed there for a minute, before she opened the door across the square from mine and went inside. Maggie’s apartment was directly across from mine and I knew from experience pretty soon her light would be on and I’d be able to see right into her apartment. I turned my attention back to the wet, croaking box in my hands. I quickly went back to my own apartment, flicking on the lights as well. I rushed past the window and to the bathroom. I dumped the container of frogs into my tub and ran the faucet until they had a good amount of water. There were a couple clumps of moss stuck to my shirt from the fountain. I plucked them off and dropped them into the tub with the frogs. All of them were still and quiet, taking in their surroundings. They were a little small, but all were bright green and seemed healthy enough for living in a gross fountain. “Be good,” I waved a finger threateningly at them. “I’ll be back to check on you.” Back in the kitchen, I opened up the fridge to look over my poor offerings. I doubted frogs were supposed to eat peanut butter, pickles, or eggs. Actually, I had no idea what they ate besides bugs. I was supposed to call and get my internet set up, I still hadn't so there was no use searching for it.


It would be fine, as soon as the sun was up I’d go take them to the park down the street. They could live in a big pond and have all the bugs and whatever else they wanted. For now, I washed the sticky feeling of cardboard off my hands. I was too wound up to sleep, so I put a mug of water in the microwave and resolved to finally finish unpacking. While my water was heating up I heard a thud from outside and I walked over to my window to look out. Across the courtyard, Maggie had opened up her window and was shaking out a blanket. I stepped back so she wouldn’t see me looking and watched her finish up and turn back out of view, leaving the window open. Everything in her apartment was colorful. I could see the edge of her kitchen counter, wrapped in a strand of fairy lights with purple and yellow bowls sitting on top of them, filled with apples and grapes. On the wall was a tapestry of woven threads and yarn, not making any specific picture, just an explosion of color, spreading across the wall and dripping down to rest on top of her couch, which was a bright, velvety teal. She had lime green curtains which were pushed aside most days so I could see her walk back and forth with a steaming mug or bag of chips in her hand. My own apartment was blank. Perfectly white walls that still smelled like fresh paint and a dark, wood floor covered in scratches and dust buried between layers of lacquer. My worn, red comforter thrown over my mattress was the only pop of color besides my scattered mugs and dirty clothes. Most of my stuff I had left at home. I figured it wasn’t worth the hassle, packing everything up, moving it in, doing it all again in a year. Except now it felt so empty all the time, sort of like I was melting into the blankness, like


one day I’d wake up and find myself another piece of dust glued onto the floor. I wondered what Maggie thought when she looked in here, or if she ever did. Back home, my room was covered in posters and half finished paintings made at sleepovers. My window was taped up from where it had cracked during a bad winter. Whenever I looked out, I could see the woods and the tall grasses that covered them, coming up to my waist when I went out for walks. The only grass around here was all flooded and muddy from the rain we’d been having. The microwave dinged and I dissolved a spoonful of instant coffee into my mug, then got to work building my desk. I was roughly halfway through when soft croaking erupted from the bathroom. I ripped off a chunk of cardboard box and went to check on the frogs. They were still sitting in the tub, staring at me. I placed the cardboard in the tub so it floated like a lilypad. “Here, you guys have pool toys now,” One frog hopped on it immediately. It looked up at me, puffing out its chest and croaking loudly. “Yeah, you’re welcome, but don’t get too comfortable.” The frog hopped back into the water, leaving a small clump of moss behind. There was actually a decent amount of moss in my tub now, it almost looked like it was covering the bottom. How did a few frogs track in that much crap? I’d have to remember to pick up some shower cleaner after going to the park. And some groceries. With the frogs hopefully entertained, I continued to wrestle with my desk. I could still hear croaking from the bathroom, but the door muffled most of it. I could also hear faint music coming from outside, probably Maggie since we seemed to be the only people up so late. I sat up on my

knees and took another peek out my window. Maggie had her hair wrapped up in a towel and a nightshirt on with her bare legs sticking out. She was swaying side to side, mouthing the words to the song playing. I didn’t recognize it. Maggie turned towards the window and I dropped down onto my mattress to avoid being caught looking. I should just stand up and wave. Say Hi, do you know much about frogs? It seems like we both stay up late. Would you like to get some coffee? It would be nice to have a friend here. Most of my classes were in huge rooms filled with people who all seemed to have their groups made up. The girl who had the desk shift before me was nice, but she never stuck around long to talk. After I unpacked and got my place looking a little less awful, I could invite her over. I could buy a poster and stick it up right on the wall where she could see it through the window. Then, at least I’d have an icebreaker. I turned back to my desk, but saw that another clump of moss was stuck to the side of one panel. I must have had some stuck to my hands. It wouldn’t peel off either, I’d need to scrub it with something. I really thought I had gotten all the moss off of me, but looking down I saw there was a spread of it on my shirt, all gross and damp. I got some paper towels wet under the sink and started rubbing the moss off my shirt. It seemed like no matter how hard I scrubbed, it wouldn’t come off. What the hell was this crap? Some sort of mutant, frog residue? I stopped trying to get it off and just took the shirt off to go find another one in my duffel bag. My desk, which only had one small clump of moss on the side, was now completely covered. Squishy green crap coated it like I had pulled it out of a bog. The moss was

spreading. I ran back to my bathroom and threw open the door. My bathtub was overgrown with moss to the point where I couldn’t see any porcelain. There were vines dangling from my shower rod, wrapping around and poking through the curtain. I had no idea where they were growing from. Three of the frogs were still sitting in the tub, unbothered by the shift in surroundings. The other two were sitting in the sink, which was now also filled with water. It had a yellow, marshy top to it that was sloshing onto the floor. They were all still croaking. I backed up and shut the door tightly. Okay. Okay, okay, okay. I shut my eyes and squeezed them tightly. There was not a marsh in my bathroom. I had only been gone for about half an hour. I was obviously hallucinating from lack of sleep and stress. Or there was a gas leak. Or my Thai food had been drugged with hallucinogens. All I had to do was take a deep breath, clear my mind, and open back up the door. I pressed my forehead to the door, taking one last deep breath. I grabbed the doorknob tightly and pulled. Cold water rushed past me and into the hallway, sloshing over my feet. With it came a few small, silvery fish and clumps of uprooted ferns and grass. Inside the bathroom, cattails and ferns had sprung up, surrounding what used to be my tub. Water was overflowing from the sink and winding its way between plants, like a river, out into my hallway. The bathroom floor was covered in mud, moss, and the roots of trees. Whole trees, in my bathroom, that pushed up against the ceiling and formed a canopy of dense green leaves. More vines were wrapped around my ceiling fan and dangled down in my face. The frogs were croaking loudly from


somewhere inside, but I couldn’t see them anymore. The sound was joined by buzzing dragonflies that had begun circling the room. I backed up and slipped on the wet floor, landing on my butt in the shallow water. My whole apartment was going to flood if I couldn’t figure out how to stop this. There were no taps running that I could see, but the water was still coming. I shut the door again firmly and went back into my living room in my wet shorts and tank top. My phone was sitting on top of the kitchen counter, dry and unharmed. The moss from my desk had spread across the floor. Already, my mattress had been swallowed by a mass of weeds and roots. There was a thin layer of water that was slowly rising the longer I stood in it with tall grasses springing up along my walls. A frog hopped up on the counter, startling me into dropping my phone into the now shin-deep water. I watched as what looked like a catfish swam by and swallowed it whole. The frog croaked once before hopping back into the water. There were a couple more frogs swimming. One was resting on a piece of driftwood that was floating near my mattress. I looked back towards the bathroom and heard the same muffled croaking as before. I stumbled my way towards the front door. Cattails brushed against my legs and I pushed them away. A small brown bird landed on top of one of them, eyeing some of the beetles that were floating in the water below. It chirped shrily at me and I backed away. Finally, I pulled open the door and stepped into the hallway, slamming it shut again behind me before too much water could escape. Thank God I didn’t have downstairs neighbors. It didn’t look like anything was leaking out. I felt around at the bottom of the door and


pressed my ear against it, listening for any wildlife or rushing water, but couldn’t hear anything through the wood. My legs were soaked and my shorts were dripping water onto the hall carpet. I tried to wipe off any clumps of moss and grass that had stuck to me. They dropped onto the floor and stayed, not growing any further. I looked back at my apartment, hand hovering over the door once more, before dropping it. I walked down the hall and around the corner on shaky legs and damp, bare feet. I knew when I had found the right door. It had polka dot wrapping paper taped all over it and a plastic, glittery welcome mat. I wrapped my knuckles softly against the door. Maggie pulled the door open. She was still in her nightshirt with dots of acne cream dabbed on her face. She stared at me. “You live across from me, right?,” she asked eventually. “Yeah,” I replied. “I’m Sylvia.” “Right, what’s up? Is it raining again or something? You’re like, super wet.” “Can I come in?,” I asked. Maggie’s eyebrows shot up. “I know it’s really late. I’ve had sort of a weird night.” “Okay, yeah.” We continued to stand in the hall staring at each other. Maggie shifted on the balls of her feet, “Come on in.” She moved to the side and I walked past her, careful not to brush her with my damp arm. The wooden floor was similar to mine, but Maggie’s was covered in mismatched rugs and the plain walls were hidden by bookcases littered with trinkets from a tambourine to a collection of small, porcelain houses. I stood stiffly in the hall, hoping I wasn’t dripping onto her pretty rugs. “Here, one second,” Maggie seemed to notice my discomfort. She disappeared

around the corner and came back with a yellow, fluffy towel that she handed to me. “Thank you.” “Sure. Here, dry off, I’ll make some popcorn?” “That'd be great, thanks.” I rubbed the towel over my legs, arms, and then hair. “Hey, do you like coffee?” I raised my head up from toweling off my hair. Maggie was smiling at me, waiting for a reply. I realized she had wiped off her acne cream. “Yeah, coffee is good. Thanks, again.” Maggie nodded and turned quickly away from me to rummage around in her cabinets. I held my used towel tightly in my arms. Across the room, Maggie’s window looked out onto the courtyard, same as mine did. I peered out at the dark square of grass and the empty, silent fountain in the center. The lights in my apartment were still on, creating a glowing square of empty, white wall. I couldn’t see anything else. No birds, no vines, no rising water. Maggie’s coffee maker beeped, startling me away from my staring. Maggie called me over to pick out a mug and I went, turning away from the window. I left it open, letting in the sounds of cars rushing past outside and the distant sound of croaking.


A Conversation

Tabatha Miller:What was some of the inspiration behind “You Shouldn’t Worry About The Frogs”? Did you actually have frogs that kept you awake at night like the main character did?

Eliza Marley:So, I never had frogs but there is actually a story behind the story! When I was doing my undergraduate degree, college was kind of a shock to my system and I found myself having all these... I always suffered from anxiety, and I've always had anxiety attacks and panic attacks, and it’s kind of, you know, just a fact of My Life, but College it ranked up to 11 and I had this crazy feeling of anxiety in like “I'm just in this box of the dorm room surrounded by people I don't know on a campus full of people I don’t know doing things and feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing,” and so it would start raining all the time in Chicago, just pouring rain, and I had so much anxiety but I just felt like I needed to do something so I would go on walks around the campus, in the rain because it kind of grounded me, and this really happened probably for like a year and a half. I would go on walks in the rain and there'd be the worms, the worms would be getting drowned in the dirt and wriggling on the sidewalk, I just saw them and I was like “I have to do something about these worms!” and I would pick them up with my hands, just wet worms drowning on the sidewalk, and I would carry them somewhere where I thought they would be okay. And that's how I mitigated the anxiety, because see everything is fine, I'm taking care of something. I am saving these worms from drowning which, you know, sounds absolutely bonkers. It was one of those things that just happened and it worked. I wasn't going to question it and then later on when I sorta got to a better place I was like “well I have to use this in something.” So then the worms became the frogs.

TB:So my co-editors and I were very curious where the setting of “You Shouldn’t Worry About The Frogs” was. One of my co-editors while reviewing your piece and was like it has to be like LA or San Francisco, so we wanted to know.

EM: I always pictured it being in Chicago but I was like, “City” city. It's kind of a theme in a lot of my work where I don't always name a specific place because for me, that always kind of took me out of the mystery and like, a little bit out of the groove if I'm getting caught up in details of like and actual location I'm envisioning. So I do that in a few of my stories. Actually, I'm like “um yeah they are going up north” or like, “the city,” “the town,” like whatever, It can be anywhere. I feel like people have a better time connection to it if they could just put their own location on top of what I’m writing and fill in some of the blanks.


with Eliza Marley TB:The event that takes place in the story, it connects the character to deeper memories of home and possibly unlocking some of those homesick feelings. When you were writing this, were you using personal events that you have experienced in life so far? EM: A little bit, I feel like pieces of me kind of end up in all of my stories to some degree or another even if I don’t mean them to. I actually went to school pretty close to where I grew up and it wasn't a very familiar area but I’ve definitely had periods and the consistent feeling of just uncertainty, and “what am I doing here?” and “how do I carve out a space for myself that feels like me?” and “how do I feel like me going through life when everything is just bleh?” That’s the best way I can put it. When I got started actually trying to write stories and pursue fiction as a career and not just something that I knew I loved, there was like this just overwhelming feeling of this is I’m never going to be enough, and anything I write, I'm looking at it like it's an alien language, and like “what am I doing, what am I trying to say, what's happening?” and think I started to lean in and embrace that uncertainty and let it bleed into the writing and just hope that it gave my character my stories some semblance of sincerity and authenticity because that's where I'm at as a writer.

TM: What is your writing process like?

EM: My writing process usually starts with just idea generating, and I do that sort of in a few different ways. Most of the time I try to get out and live. A writing Professor when I was in undergrad gave me some really good advice that was “the best thing you can do when you're stressed about writing is to just not write at all and just go do things and experience the world.” I thought it was really cheesy and hokey but that is usually what I do, I just go on a walk and I look at things. I look at things, and I people watch, and I just kind of take it all in, and then every now and then I'll do some different writing prompts or I’ll have my roommate or whatever poor friend that is in the closest vicinity to me like give me a word, or a setting, or a character description, or something that I can go off of. Then I have this massive Google doc of all my– I call it my graveyard, where it’s just where I put all the ramblings, all the little ideas, all the chunks of something that never made it into a final draft, all the random characters, all the phone notes, it all ends up in the graveyard. I can go and pick things out when I need something and I'm not sure what.


imitation crab by Robin Gow

dug a fresh chasm & called it "ocean." waited for the water to return. have you heard they are growing meat in buckets? talking to walls of muscle & saying, "you were born for devouring." then again, weren't we all? i used to be a vegetarian by which i mean i wanted to be dismembered like a head of lettuce. one leaf of my heart at a time. the shoreline is only two streets away. we used to say "landlocked" & we'd mean something less severe. i update my phone & wait for it to load whatever future i'm going to be taught to need. use the gps to find the grave. we buried the cow's bones after boiling them for broth. a rib under my pillow. i ask, "is this yours or mine?" femur for steering wheel. there is, of course, a piece of the animal even within the replica. you can't teach meat how to move without a mother. i had a bicep once. i had a toy truck full of glass eyes. a device for cracking open the arms of crustaceans. lobsters living forever as knights do. just armor & a will to keep asking "whose tongue am i made for?" we could have built anything you know? instead, we made the choir & the knuckle. tossed skulls into the bay. stumbled headless in the bright dark evening as blue crabs cut our hair in the surface.


Spectrum:The Identity Zine Crossword Puzzle

Answer key is on the back of the back cover

Across 1. a nonbinary character in a play by Allison Fradkin 2. Cover artist's first name 3. they make croaking noises in one of the stories 4. The First name of the author/poet of Chrysalis and For What it's Worth 5. that would prompt strangers to comment/“you’re not even


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Down A press open for submissions how many editors worked on this issue in fall, he lends me his favorite . The creator of TheMoodFits Song by King Princess Grant's favorite constellation

Boyhood I am most boyish in my many fingers and my left leaning and my no boobs. Girls don’t hurry through lists like this. There is nothing urgent in femininity, it follows you. All the dogs that greet me on their strolls are ladies. There is a kinship in this, a pack of big cheeks and slight jaws and I am burning in the center of the heap. Bitches. I am a bitch in the Westminster sense. Just like a man, I am always a woman. How I sit, how my shoulders round, how I look looking down in pictures. A more womanly list: rich in the way the words fall over each other. Let their cheeks fall onto each other’s backs. Take their time braiding each other’s hair. I am a woman when I am rich and a man when I am poor. Right now, I am waiting for my money to come through.


“you’re not e

“you’re not even that hot”

Existential Amazon Wish List by Lucia Gallipoli


“you’re not even that I want the kind of confidence that would prompt strangers to comment “you’re not even that hot” in response to my appearance and caption, respectively. “you’re even that first hot” I want to not be another woman’s obsession. I want to be a reason she feels confident claiming her sexuality. I want to look like Fiona Apple sounds. I want to have the waist-to-hip that only French Cut underwear can afford me. I want candid pictures of me to look like my selfies— to exist solely as my right cheekbone “you’re not even that hot” from slightly below. I want to be less aware of my corporeal form when I’m slouching on the subway platform under the weight of hypochondria and optimistically schlepped water bottles. I want to feel like I’m really lying on the couch and not in a slice of life simulation. I want to feel the velvet cushions under my fingernails. I want to feel and express anger “you’re not even that hot” at people in the moment instead of spending the next two weeks dreaming up biting rebuttals while in line at Trader Joes. “you’re not even that hot I want to ask my landlord— who receives a small fortune each month for doing nothing— what his history degree is doing for him when he that scoffshot” at my liberal arts degree. not even I want to have an MFA without the strain of attending graduate school. I want to feel inspired. I want to be a muse. “you’re I want the kind of confidencenot even that hot” that would cause strangers to comment just the fire emoji before living in my DM requests indefinitely.


Chapter 28: This Time in Rehab He Has a Bathtub He soaks in the tub for as long as his sober housemates will allow, sometimes over an hour. He drinks club soda and lime and tries not to wish it were booze. All he can drink is water here. And one coffee in the morning. That week he shared at a meeting that he is grateful for the bathtub. His last rehab didn’t have one. When you think you’ve lost everything, it’s easier to be grateful for small things. Tomorrow is family day, but he doesn’t think she’ll drive down. He’ll take a longer bath while everyone is gone.

Chapter 29: A Fetid Opportunity at Fenway They say he has to learn to demolish pipe before they’ll teach him real plumbing. They leave before he cuts into the drainpipe of the trough urinal, spilling beery piss all over the floor. The stagnant urine has rotted the metal. Its stench billows out, and with his mouth closed, it seeps into his nostrils, down his esophagus, coils in his stomach, backs up into his mouth, and coats his tongue. He gags only once, then becomes used to it. He reminds himself to be grateful she found him this job.

Chapter 35: The Water Cycle He leaves with his boy for the pond in Concord—his wife stays behind after an argument about wet laundry. He watches from the beach as his son splashes in the clear, shallow water. The boy breaks through the surface and spits water into the air. The father wonders if this was the same water that he swam in with his mother. Was the pond like the oceans, where a drop of water drifts for thousands of years? Or does it evaporate more easily, replaced by rains from the sublimation of ice atop Mt. Everest, so that now his son swims on the summit of a mountain?


Chapter 40: Soaking Wet From their looks, the therapist has asked him a question, and both she and his soonto-be ex-wife are waiting for his response. But he’s been refighting an argument his wife brought up, ending in a draw again. How do you feel when Jodi says that? She lets the dishes soak, he wants to say.

Just tosses them into the sink, pours tepid water on them, and lets them soak for days. Some food floats to the surface, the rest clogs the drain so that I’ve had to snake it twice. And when the gnats come, she complains. But it’s up to me to scrub them clean. She just lets it all soak.

Chapter 59&1/2: Retirement As the apprentice runs to the mechanical room for the shut-off valve, the old man stands under the water. At eighty pounds per square inch, a hundred gallons of water rain upon him from the punctured main in a few seconds. The company phone in his pants is soaked and destroyed. He drops it into the floodwaters as he heads for the door. He is done for the day. He is done for the week. He is done for life. His first pension check arrives in a week, and his son and grandson are joining him at the lake for the long weekend.

Chapter 80: Warranty In the hospital bed, he recalls old sump pumps he’d removed from buildings forty-five, fifty years old. Hard water left a crust of minerals on the inside of the cast iron pipe, shrinking the diameter to a penny, burning out the motor. Just the same with the pipes crisscrossing his body, and now his old pump has backed up and burned out. His heart has beat over three billion times, pumping sixty million gallons of blood, his grandson informs him. He never feels his age a single day. And he knows his body is full of hard water. Not many beats left. He would replace it, but the warranty has expired.


Chapter 80.01: The Family Please, his family hears him repeat. His son squeezes his hand. He is drowning. He only sees the water on the road after a night that stretched into the morning. He’d replaced so much of his blood with a tincture that was not a cure. “I’m sorry.” The old man, in and out of wakefulness, practices asking the Joss family for forgiveness. With a drop of luck, he will see them soon.

Chapter 80.015: The saline drips into his blood. He tastes the salt under his tongue. Someone closes his eyes. Thank you, he wants to say.

Chapter Next: A Body of Water The first of his water leaves him by evaporation. His sweat rises off of his forehead and up through the hospital ductwork, joining the sky to become rain. The rest seeps out of his compostable casket and into the ground, twisting down to the aquifers to become drinking water. When his son swims with his grandson in their pond, it rains softly. Jodi watches from the beach in a chair and under an umbrella. She sips from a bottle that she filled at the tap. And they’re all still together.


Chrysalis by Charlotte Gutzmer It’s a Sunday, so we’ll slip into our skin and remember that nothing truly dies (the muscle twitching when you slice it open) dissected stars, mechanical light, creatures of fire who melt along the pavement (their guts hanging like ribbons) and when we rummage through the rust and rubble, we might remember how to breathe (bleed shred shatter suffer suffocate if we’re lucky) I’m bent in the pews and the statues stare back, moss-mildew masks of faces I once knew: hymns spun from cobwebs, verses etched in dust. The dusty old lot of rot, stale stillness— and the glassy eye of the moon is dark. Dark, the shadows beneath my fingers Dark, the figure in the confessional booth Dark, the bruises on the Bible spine (let go, let go, let go) I hear footsteps in the attic, waxing poetic and rejoicing their praise (harmonize with the tear of cartilage and skin) angels in the walls, devils in the pipes, drown it out with a spear of lightning and smoke (maybe you’ll survive this time) a chrysalis of moth-bitten gossamer, splitting the flesh tangled limbs clouded vision, cataracts that (rip through stained-glass corneas) fingers twisting into lacerated claws, anatomical ligatures and ribs cracking, glitched distortion, (the catharsis of shattering through your skin) fire eating through itself and bursting in neons, a drunken mess of fractured light— reborn as a blaze of life against the hollow night sky.


The Beaufort Scale by Traci McMicle The wake of you disassembled me like flatpack furniture. Memories gather around the edges of things. They blow away and you’re there. I wish I could pour you into a sieve and drain myself away. A stainless-steel bitch, no one would put me on the prow of their ship. The sea’s breath will never lift my metal hair. I make art, not babies. I loved you in ink. You loved me like a drive-by shooting. I know what derailment is like for the conductor. You drive through life riding the e-brake. Real wind is a dead child’s mother. It keens into the hollows of the house. The eaves moan with it. Your voice never learned how to sing harmony. Mine reaches down the chimney, slamming the flue open then shut, open then shut. It slices you across the grain. I am my own abyss. I scream into me.


Spectrum:The Identity Zine Spotify Playlist

Parks 1. Green Eyes by Arlo

2. Pynk ( feat. Grimes) by Janelle Monae, Grimes 3. they/them by atlas, jhfly 4. I Wanna Boi by PWE BTTM 5. Queen by Perfume Genius 6. Verbatim by Mother Mother 7. Cherry by Rina Sawayama 8. honey by Halsey 9. space girl by Frances Forever 10. Grace Kelly by MIKA 11. Some Kinda Love by The Velvet Underground 12. Lollipop by MIKA 13. Talia by King Princess 14. How Soon is Now? by The Smiths 15. She by dodie

Listen NOW by scanning the QR Code


GREEN WITH ENBY By Allison Fradkin

SYNOPSIS Aline Fabry has discovered that being straight is no Sapph-faux pas. She’s sick of being a speck on the gender spectrum too, and is hoping to get it all out of her system—or, in her case, her cis-tem. Can her favorite (and only) child Gene, an LMFT, administer inversion therapy to make her LGBT (and E-N-B-Y)? CHARACTERS

GENE 20s-40s non-binary marriage & family therapist clinical yet whimsical

ALINE 50s-70s female-identifying bakery owner autocratic yet idiosyncratic

SETTING Gene’s office.

TIME The present.


At rise, GENE is alone in their office, practicing for a pronouncement.

GENE When it comes to non-hetero sexual orientation, don’t stan it. Pan it! That’s right, Ma, you’ve hit the mother lode, because not only am I pansexual, but... (sings, to the tune of the Oscar Mayer jingle) My queerness has a gender. It’s E-N-B-I-E. (reconsiders) I should spellcheck that. I feel like the I-before-E is really a Y-after-B. (whips out their iPad) ALINE (from offstage) I’m coming in! GENE (sotto voce) I’m coming out! Eventually. (ALINE enters. Her attire is showy and flowy, and a fashion scarf keeps her head—but not her hubris—under wraps.) ALINE You would not believe the gay I had. GENE What? ALINE Oh. (unwrapping the scarf) I said: You would not believe the day I had. Can you queer me now? GENE Yeah, Ma, I can hear you now. ALINE Yes, but can you listen? A therapist should lend an ear when someone bends their ear. So, tell me, Dr. Fabry, how’s therapy treating you? GENE I’m…treating others to the best of my ability as always, Ma, thanks for asking.


ALINE I’m not asking, Gene, I’m questioning. Which brings me back to my original question: Can you queer me now? You remember that digital dating doohickey you introduced me to? This scarf isn’t hiding an honest-to-goodness hickey—yet, but it’s best to make the proper preparations, because that app has some seriously succulent applicants. This morning, I went out for breakfast with Dashiell, an FTM—that’s trans talk for Female-to-Male—and he was telling me the most scintillating story. On the day of his first gender confirmation surgery, as he was being wheeled off to the operating theater, he started belting out “Tradition!” You know, from Fiddler on the Roof. Except he changed it to “Transition!” since that’s what he was about to do. Then he did it for every surgery since, so that it became—wait for it—tradition! “Dashiell,” I said, “way to make like your namesake and Hammett [ham it] up.” I am so glad I didn’t limit my options to people whose identifiers were identical to mine. GENE So you went to the “I am looking for” section on the app and found...Select All? ALINE I didn’t check all the boxes. I checked all the out-of-the-boxes. I hope that doesn’t make you bristle. You leave the bristling to the snazzy new electric toothbrush I just bought you. Wait’ll you see it. It’s… (rummaging around in her purse) It’s in the car. GENE Thanks, Ma. ALINE Young [man or lady, depending on the actor playing Gene], I’m going to need you to stop calling me that. It’s essential for treatment that we reverse the power dynamics between us. You call me Aline, and I’ll call you Dr. Fabry. GENE Ma, I can’t be your therapist. At best, it’s a conflict of interest. At worst, it’s a compromise of ethics. ALINE Since when is nepotism a form of discrimination? If it helps, don’t think of me as a parent. Think of me as a patient. There’s not much difference letter-wise. And therein lies the problem. Do you know how many boxes I checked when I signed up on that app? Two: the one marked cisgender female and the one marked heterosexual. My whole life I’ve prioritized rigidity over fluidity. GENE You can’t help who you are.


ALINE But you can. I’m a sheet cake, sweetheart.


ALINE Single-layer. How can I compete with—or appeal to—people like Dashiell who have more layers than a wedding cake? Don’t read into that. It’s mostly a metaphor. I’m sure Dashiell will dash my hopes of a second date when he realizes how prosaic I am. He’d probably be happier with an MTF, not an...empty F. You know, yesterday, at the supermarket, someone called out “Hey, cis!” and my head swiveled like a tube of lipstick.

GENE You should spellcheck that. I feel like the C in cis is the sibilant equivalent of the S in sis…ter. Do you think maybe you’re internalizing inclusivity and negating it with negativity?

ALINE That does seem to be my proclivity. But if I weren’t so normal, I wouldn’t feel so weird. I’m tired of not being different. I want to fit in. No—I want to fit out. I want to be Queer AF!

GENE Are you interpreting that as Queer Aline Fabry?

ALINE You say that as if it’s open to multiple interpretations.

GENE Well, you’re in for a shock.

ALINE Am I? Are you going to subject me to electroconvulsive therapy?

GENE You say that as if you’re open to multiple administrations.

ALINE Does that shock you?

GENE Shockingly, no. As a matter of fact, I’m glad you brought it up, Aline. You’re familiar with conversion therapy, correct? Well, what you are about to experience is its sister remedy: inversion therapy. Patients who have received this treatment report an instant inclination to steer queer of straightness and ancillary anomalies. To prepare for the procedure, you are required to retrieve an object that will deliver a zesty and zippy zap to your system. For my part, I will collate images that a cisgender heterosexual female of your caliber would deem desirable.


ALINE I will BRB PDQ! GENE You’re so acronymble [acro-nimble]. (Aline exits. Gene scrolls through their iPad and dutifully downloads images of their mother’s favorite male eye candy, commenting on their selections all the while.) Ugh, that mother of mine. Why must she be so unbearably hip and open-minded? (Aline enters, brandishing an electric toothbrush.)

ALINE (sings, to the tune of “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John) Let’s get bzzz-ical, bzzz-ical. I wanna get bzzz-ical. (reaching for a tape dispenser on Gene’s desk) Should I attach it to my head like a unicorn horn or just grip it?

GENE Grip it. Grip it good. Now, I’m going to show you a series of photographs, and when you see an image of someone you’d like to...tap, give yourself a zap.

(Gene holds up their iPad so that both Aline and the audience can see it. One at a time, they reveal a photograph of a male celebrity. The pictures should be as retro and ridiculous as possible. The more cringe-worthy the image is to the average person, the more drool-worthy it is to Aline, and she administers a shock with the electric toothbrush. After four images and four buzzes, Gene switches it up and shares a photo of their father, Aline’s late husband. This time, Aline is shocked in a good way.)

ALINE It’s Dad. I miss him.

GENE Likewise.

ALINE Buzzkill.

GENE All in a gay’s work. So, do you feel...differently?


GENE Now there’s a shocker. Look, Ma, Dad loved you for who you are and so do I. So you were born basic. Them’s the breaks. Them’s also my preferred pronoun. Well, one of the triumvirate of they/them/theirs. And, just to put things in perspective, being cisgender cannot compare to being misgendered. So…I’m going to need you to stop calling me young [man or lady].


ALINE Well! You certainly put the pronoun in pronouncement, Gene. GENE Not to overwhelm you—or underwhelm you, given your quest for queerness—but I also put the pan in pansexual. ALINE You could’ve just one-upped me, sweetheart. There was no need to two-up me. On the sunny side, I’ve hit the mother lode. You are proof positive that there is a gay gene! GENE Ma, you know that pansexual means I’m attracted to people of all genders. You also know that gay is not one of my identifiers, even though I did just— ALINE That’s what we are! We’re ident-defiers! I defy convention by having an old-school orientation and soon-to-be marginalized gender, and you defy convention by having a mother who’s taking back the A in LGBTQIA because allies are people too! Pop would be so proud. (Her phone buzzes. She reads the message.) Well, I’ve gotta dash. You’re not the only pan in my life, you know. I’ve got a panoply of them in the kitchen at the bakery. I think I’ll make a dash for it and make it for Dash; it being one of my scrumptious layer cakes, of course. That man is going to have my cake and eat it too; it being my — GENE Say no more. Or I will say…cis-boom-bah-humbug! ALINE Don’t quit your gay job, dear. Although I recommend revising your introduction. You can’t say “The doctor is in anymore.” That would be a—what did you call it?—compromise of ethics. You can only in good conscience say “The doctor is out.” And with that, so am I. Toodles, toots! (Aline exits.) You know, Ma, you may not be queer AF, but there’s no questioning the fact that you are savage AF. (Aline pops back in.) ALINE I heard that. And I concur. I may be hard-of-queering, Gene, but I’ve got pride coming out of my ears.

End of play.


For What It's Worth by Charlotte Gutzmer

He found the disposable camera while sorting through his parent’s attic with his sister. It was packed in a box alongside several other things from his high school years: old jerseys, yearbooks, photo albums, and more. It looked as inconspicuous as anything else—faded and plastic. He clutched the camera in his hands, suddenly nauseous. Why was it still here? “Whatcha got there?” Jude asked. She crouched behind him on the dusty floor, brown hair tumbling over her knit navyblue sweater. “Let me see.” Before Grant could say anything, she’d reached across him and plucked it away. The two of them had been sorting the attic to help their parents in the moving process, and he just knew she had been aching for some kind of excitement for hours now. “You never developed these,” she said, turning it over in her hands. “When’s it from?”

“Shit,” Jude said, dropping to sit down beside him. Her voice dropped. “When is this camera from?” He traced Thomas’s name on the paper. “That night.”

It happened over spring break of their senior year. They went out camping at Devil’s Lake state park. It was a beautiful March week for Wisconsin– the trees were budding, the sky was dry, and the morning chill kept it just a little too cold for mosquitoes to rise from their watery graves. Thomas poked his head out of the tent, the setting sun catching on his blond hair. Grant always thought that his hair looked like starlight. He had never believed in making wishes on stars. “Sleeping bags are all set up!” he said with a grin, waving for Jude and Grant to join him in the tent. As soon as they bent through the entrance, the three of them collapsed onto their pile of blankets. Jude “There’s nothing on it.” Grant leaned and Grant had matching blue sleeping back into the box and pulled out one of the bags with their names embroidered in the yearbooks. “Don’t worry about it. Put it in corner, courtesy of their stay-at-home the toss pile.” mom. Thomas’s was dark green, laid between theirs. Quilts were strewn around The empty ‘click’ of a failed camera on the ground to keep them a bit warmer, shot, and Jude clicked her tongue. and a lantern was hooked to the ceiling for when nightfall came around. Their bags “There’s no more film left on this were emptied into a corner—there was a thing. It’s all used up. Maybe you just don’t variety of scary story collections, three remember taking the photos.” miniature canvases, Jude’s set of acrylic paints, Thomas’s guitar, and Grant’s book She watched as he flipped through on astronomy. A disposable camera was the yearbook, silent. The pages still tucked into the pocket of the tent. The smelled fresh off the printer—one of the main haul for the trip—a bottle of whisky effects of staying untouched for a good —was locked in the trunk of Thomas’s car. half a decade after printing. He stopped on "Shouldn’t we start the fire?” Grant the page of Class 2011 and stared down at asked, sitting up. Jude groaned. Thomas their senior year photos: Jude, with her rolled over and peeked up at him through wild smile, Grant, his hair a mess from his bangs. oversleeping on Photo Day, and Thomas.


“We just finished setting everything up,” Thomas said, grabbing him by the collar of his hoodie and pulling him into the pile. “Rest now. Work later.” Grant laughed. It was just like those two to take any opportunity they could to nap. But he obliged, sinking into his pillow. The grass beneath the tent was hard and cold, but surrounded by his sister and best friend since childhood, he felt a little warmer. As the sun set, it cast the shadows of trees and their branches through the tent screen. Birdsong echoed through the forest, and the smell of the campfire from adjacent sites began to drift through the tent. He turned to look at Thomas, whose eyes were closed. Already asleep, his arm laid under his cheek, hands crumpled up in the warmth of the sleeping bag. Jude, beside him, had her hair fanned out over the pillow. Her hair had always been wild and curly, just like Grant’s, but a lot lighter in color. She sat up now, tucking a hat over her head. “Let him sleep for a bit, Grant. He deserves it after that drive. Wanna help me start a fire?” She grinned, eyes gleaming. “You sound like an arsonist,” Grant said. He rolled his eyes, but followed her out the tent anyways, leaving Thomas to sleep. It took more than a few tries to start the fire. The firewood was damp from a day’s old rain, and with each match, they only got a few seconds of smoke and glow before one of the branches caught. The fire began just as the sun tucked itself beyond the horizon. The stars shone from behind wisps of cirrus clouds. A thin tendril of smoke lazily circled into the sky. A light flashed behind the two of them. They turned to see Thomas in the tent, watching them through the viewfinder of the disposable camera. “Good morning,” Thomas yawned, clambering out of the tent. “What did I miss?”


“Good evening, you mean,” Jude corrected. “And nothing much. Just started the fire.” “Oh, thank god,” Thomas said, settling into the chair next to Grant’s. He stuck his hands over the fire, rubbing his fingers back to life. “It’s so cold in there! I think I’m gonna freeze to death overnight.” “When we’re all in there together, we can huddle up for warmth. It’ll be fine.” Grant broke a stick in half and tossed it into the fire. “Who wants dinner?” Jude whooped in excitement as Grant pulled a few packs of tinfoil from the cooler. He plopped them onto the fire grate. “What are those?” Thomas asked, poking one of them with a stick. “Potato packs. They’ve got sliced potatoes, onions, veggies, cheese, ground beef. You know, the works.” “And they’re delectable,” Jude said. Once the packs were ready, the three of them sat around the fire, eating and laughing. Jude pulled a bottle of whiskey from the car and poured them each a small cup. She poured a lot more for herself. Grant watched as Thomas took his first sip. “This is disgusting!” he groaned, sticking out his tongue. “It tastes how nail polish remover smells.” “Wimp,” Jude jeered over her own cup, downing it as if it were a shot of vodka. “You might want to slow down, Jude. Whiskey is for sipping,” Grant said. “Sure, if you’re a wimp.” “And Thomas, you don’t have to have any if you don’t want to. We’re having a few drinks for fun, but there’s no reason you have to join us.” “While the thought of staying sober and watching you two get drunk and stupid is enticing,” Thomas said, “I can handle this. I want to join in on the fun for once.” Thomas took another gulp of whiskey, scrunched his eyes shut, and smiled once

he’d swallowed. “Tastes better the second time Grant’s goodnight. He went back out to around.” the remains of the fire, where Thomas ran “Dork,” Grant laughed. their makeshift poker through the ashes. “A dork and a wimp,” Thomas said. “I just “Look, Grant,” he said. “I drew our can’t win tonight, can I?” campsite.” Hours passed. The three of them made Grant peered over to see a triangle drawn jokes, painted, and sang as Thomas played in the ashes. It must have been the tent. guitar. Even drunk, he played beautifully. “Wow,” he laughed. “That’s some real After graduation, he was going to go to art talent. You should go to art school.” school, where he wanted to study to become a “Don’t be a dick,” Thomas said, smiling. music teacher. He tried to show Grant a few “Are you ready to go to bed?” he asked. chords. They all came out strangled as Grant’s “Jude’s passed out already.” fingers tripped over the strings. Thomas put a finger to his chin as if he “I’m probably the worst student you’ll were in deep thought. ever have,” Grant said. Thomas slapped his “Let’s go on an adventure,” he whispered. hand playfully before taking the guitar back. “A hike through the woods.” His eyes glittered They passed the camera around between fiercely, the gray of a storm cloud about to the three of them, taking as many stupid light up the sky. pictures as they thought were funny. They They found themselves stumbling up a only decided to call it a night when the fire hiking trail to the bluffs, keeping themselves burned down to the last few splinters of wood. up only because they hung onto each other’s White ash coated the bottom of the pit. shoulders. Trees lined the path, the shadows of Thomas was a giggling mess in his chair. He their boughs spiderwebs on the rocky ground. sat sideways, legs dangling off the armrest, The night sky was a deep midnight blue now. head tilted backwards, watching Grant. Devil’s Lake was known for its bluffs; in the “Wait, wait, wait,” Thomas said, waving dark, their silhouettes were like giant creatures his hands to get their attention. He didn’t have half-buried in the earth. to, though; Grant never kept his eyes off him. Halfway up the highest bluff, they laid “We can’t already be out of whiskey. We had a down side-by-side and stared at the sky. They whole bottle.” took a picture of themselves together on the Jude tipped the bottle upside down in her rock, laughing all the while. mouth. “Do you know any constellations?” “Yep,” she said, “empty as can be.” She Thomas asked. “I always look for them, but I was slumped over on the picnic bench, head can’t find any. They all blend together to me.” down. She was practically asleep already, Grant lifted his hand towards the sky, mumbling every word and laughing every few inching towards Thomas so that they would minutes when she wasn’t snoring. “I think I’m have close to the same view. He traced the ready to go to bed.” stars with his finger. “I’ll help you to the tent,” Grant said. He “There’s Leo. And Ursa Major. And that didn’t really feel the effects of the whiskey one there is Cancer.” until he stood up. His head swirled. His legs “You’re a Cancer, Grant!” Thomas blurted felt electric. out. After practically dragging her to the “I am.” entrance, she crawled over to her sleeping bag “I’m a Taurus.” and promptly collapsed onto her pillow. She “You are.” didn’t even grunt in acknowledgment at


“What’s your favorite constellation?” Thomas asked, laying his hands across his stomach. “Centaurus,” he said. “But you can only see it in the southern hemisphere. So I’ve never seen it.” “How can it be your favorite if you’ve never seen it?” “The lore behind it. It’s a beautiful myth. And it’s one of the biggest constellations in the sky—I really want to see it one day.” “We can go look at it together,” Thomas said, glancing towards him. “Over the summer. We can go to, like, Greece.” “That’s still the Northern hemisphere.” “Then Australia,” Thomas said with a shrug. “Doesn’t matter. As long as you can see Centaurus.” The moonlight glinted off Thomas’s hair. “I always thought that your hair looked like starlight, too,” Grant said. He shut his mouth immediately. It felt like a stupid thing to say. Thomas blinked at him in surprise and ran a hand through his hair self-consciously. “Really?” Grant nodded. He said, “Yeah. It’s that same bright color. Almost white. And your eyes are like storm clouds.” Thomas looked at him for a few moments before pushing himself to his feet. He swayed in place, then started to walk. “Where’re you going?” From the bluff, the water looked like black glass. The edges of the lake gently rocked up and down the beach side of the shore and foamed against the rocky side. It seemed almost alive, breathing in time with him. “Do you think I’m a coward, Grant?” he asked. The trees towered behind him. “Why would you ask that?”


There are so many things that I haven’t done or said just because I was scared.” His voice slurred slightly. Thomas was close enough that Grant could smell the whiskey on his breath. “That doesn’t make you a coward. What is it that’s scaring you?” “That’s just what I mean. I’m scared you’ll hate me if I tell you.” “I don’t know if I could ever hate you.” “You say that now.” The wind blew out from behind them, pushing them towards the water. “Thomas, whatever scares you, you can work yourself up towards it little by little. Take baby steps, you know?” Thomas shrugged. “Like, what’s something little that scares you? Something you think you could overcome?” He stared at Grant for a long moment before looking to the water. There was a faraway look in his eyes. “Deep water.” “That’s easy! We’re at a lake, Thomas. Let’s go for a swim.” Thomas shot him a glance, indecipherable as ever. “What if I drown? I’m not the best swimmer. I mean, I’m not bad, but…” “I’ll help out if you have a hard time. Just call my name. I’ll be there.” As they hiked down the bluff, Grant caught his limbs feeling more and more numb. He felt dizzy and alive. “When we find a nice spot to jump, we can cliff dive. It’ll be easier to do that than to swim from the shore, to the middle, and back.” The moon rose higher and higher into the sky, casting a rippling crescent reflection in the lake. Finally, they found the perfect drop: not too high up, a sheer cliff face with no obstacles on the way down.

“Are you ready?” Grant asked. Thomas nodded wildly. The smile on his face seemed frantic and forced, but his eyes lit with determination. “I’ll jump in first, and you can come in after me.” “No, I’ll go first,” Thomas insisted. “That way, you can take a picture of me jumping. I want proof that I did this.” He took a few steps back and jumped off the edge of the bluff. It was almost like he hung in midair for a moment. Not falling, but floating. Tilted upside down in the air, he met Thomas’s eyes. He was smiling. So was Grant. Grant wasn’t sure if it was just the alcohol in his system, but he swore he could see the reflection of his ghost in the water, rippling in the wake of the tide. He snapped the picture just before Thomas broke through the water. He landed on his spine with a crack on black rock. Grant watched as the water sloshed back over him. It never covered him again completely - parts of Thomas’s face still stared up at him, expression slack and cheeks pale. It took a few moments of standing, shocked, before Grant realized what had happened. “Jesus, Thomas!” He dropped the camera at his feet and began to climb down the drop. He wasn’t a climber at the best of times, and with his body feeling like television static, he quickly lost hold of it, falling into the water right beside him. He landed on his bottom and the heels of his hand with a hiss. He felt the cold of the water before the impact of the rock. The water was shallow, reaching only about a foot over a slick plate of rock. Frantic, Grant lifted Thomas’s face up and placed it on his lap so he could breathe. The back of his skull was split. He could feel the blood pooling over his legs, the only heat in the frigid water. Even his cheeks felt like ice.

“Thomas, can you hear me? Are you okay?” Thomas’s mouth opened and shut as if he was trying to say something, but there were no sounds. He sputtered water. As Grant shifted him, he realized that his spine was probably broken, too. “I’m going to get you some help,” Grant said. “I’ll get you help. I promise.” He looked for a dry rock to pull him up to. A slab of rock stuck out from the water like a jagged tooth. He dragged Thomas as far as he could up it, all too aware of the unnatural bend in his torso. “I’ll be right back. Right back.” He tried to scale the rock and slid down, once, twice, three times before somehow managing to pull himself back onto the bluff. He ran and ran on what he assumed was pure adrenaline up to the Ranger’s station. When he returned to the spot with the disposable camera and looked down, Thomas was no longer there. No one found him until the following morning, when they dragged the water for what could, at that point, only be a corpse. “It wasn’t your fault,” Jude told him a few days later. “Those hiking trails are dangerous, especially when you’re alone at night, and especially when you’re drunk. People have slipped off before. There was nothing you could have done.” Grant never corrected her, never told her he’d been there. That he’d held the camera. How could he? Thomas was gone. Half a decade later, the disposable camera was still packed in the box. Grant knew that he should’ve thrown it away. But all that was left of Thomas’s last moments were in this shitty dollar-store device: the campfire, the whiskey, the stargazing. The jump.


“Let’s get them developed,” Jude said softly. “It’s what he would have wanted.” “It hasn’t stopped hurting since then,” Grant whispered. “I know. I don’t know if it will ever stop. But won’t this be a good first step?”

backs against the bluff while they stared up at the stars. The camera flash blurred them almost together, drunken pastels overlapping and creating a newer, muddy color. “Where was this one taken?” Jude asked. “On the bluff,” Grant said. “We were naming the constellations.” Jude and Grant tore open the packet of Jude eyed him curiously. Before she developed photos at their parents’ dining could say anything, Grant continued. room table. The tablecloth was still the same “He looked so happy,” Grant said. as it was when they were children, a white Thomas’s smile narrowed his eyes in the fabric embroidered with red and yellow photo, reflecting the light of the cheap flash. tulips. They went through each photo one The dimple in the lower corner of his cheek, by one. the hair mussed up from hiking in the Grant could feel the nausea bubbling woods. in his stomach. He should say something “So do you,” Jude pointed out. It was before she saw the picture. He had to. true. Grant couldn’t remember the last time But there was that first photo: Jude and he looked so carefree. “What’s the last Grant, backs to the cameras, facing the fire. picture?” The trees rose up behind them. Backlit by He clenched his teeth and flipped the the embers, they looked like shadows sitting paper. beside each other. Thomas’s first photo that Grant flipped over to the last of the night. photos, the one taken as Thomas hurdled The second was of Thomas and Grant towards the lake. The flash barely reached drinking together and laughing. Thomas him in the picture, but despite the blurriness, looked vibrant and energetic as he it was all there: the starlight hair, the stormy ungracefully sipped from his red solo cup, eyes lit with lightning, the smile as he met staring at Grant over it. Grant’s eyes. What was he feeling in those The third was of Jude and Thomas moments? Joy? Pride? painting: Jude had painted the forest, tall “What is this?” Jude whispered. Her and dark and shadowy. Thomas had painted voice shook. “Grant, tell me this isn’t what I the water. A reflection of the sky, with think it is.” She stared at Grant, her own eyes jagged rocks rising up. wide. Her eyebrows drew up in confusion, The fourth was of Thomas playing his shock, disbelief. guitar. In it, he looked across at the camera Grant could only stare back. He felt the with a warm and crooked smile, lit by the tears pricking through. fire. What had he been singing? Grant would “You were there, Grant? And you never give anything to remember. told me?” The photos were all so blurry and “It’s not what it looks like.” energetic, remnants of a night forgotten “He’s jumping, Grant, he’s fucking through alcoholic haze and years of jumping!” she shoved the picture in his face, repression. With them came a certain pointing at the image, crumpling the edges. emptiness, a hollow thump in his chest. “Why is he jumping?” Finally, they came across the photo that Grant had taken of the two of them,


“He was trying to be brave,” Grant whispered. “He was scared of deep water.” “You knew, and you didn’t tell anyone?” Jude threw the photo down, hands knotted in her hair. Grant could feel the tears slipping down his cheeks. “I suggested it. It’s my fault. This was supposed to lead to something bigger. He —he wanted to be braver, Jude.” “What, Grant?” she shouted. “What was jumping off a cliff supposed to accomplish? What was worth that? Did you even stop to think? Or tell someone?” “We were drunk,” Grant said. “We didn’t know. I didn’t know.” “What kind of stupid act of bravery was that supposed to be?” Jude put her face in her hands, and her words became muffled. “Was it worth his life, Grant? You couldn’t even have told me?” Grant glanced at the photo one more time. Thomas looked back at him – the first time in six years. The last time. He would never see that smile again. In that moment, he knew exactly what Thomas had felt for him, what kind of anxious excitement was beating in his ribcage. He felt it, too. He’d loved him. He still did. “No,” he whispered. “It wasn’t worth it.” But anything else would have been. He would have given up all the stars in the sky for it.




Answer key for Crossword Puzzle on page 26: Across: 1. Gene 4. Kitty 5. Frogs 8. Charlotte 9. hot Down: 1. Gutslut 2. Eleven 3.book 4. Sarah 5. Talia 6. Centaurus


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