Dear Readers, In your hands you hold the most recent edition of The Anthem, Georgetown’s official literary magazine. On behalf of the entire staff and every person who contributed to this magazine, I would like to thank you. Our volunteer editing staff has been hard at work all year to produce what I believe to be our best issue yet for the 2015-2016 year, working hand-in-hand with writers, visual artists, and photographers throughout Georgetown’s creative community. When I was a freshman, I submitted an overly long, overly wrought, angst-ridden story to Georgetown’s literary magazine. It did not pan out well, but the comments and revisions I received from the staff – all of whom now have moved on to the complexities of the real world, ranging from working in the publishing industry to serving in Teach for America – allowed me to improve as a writer. I was so impressed by the level of thought and care put in by the editing staff to revise my submission, that I eventually joined the editing staff myself. Moments like these are why we do what we do: we hold a passion for helping others in the Georgetown creative community improve their craft. This magazine would be absolutely nothing without our dedicated editing staff who deserve all of my thanks and genuine appreciation. We may be a small snarky group, but we are an effective one. New and old staff members alike become not just friends by the end of the year, but become literary comrades. The hard work of our editing staff cannot be overstated, as they worked tirelessly all year offering comments and revisions to authors, pairing artwork with submissions, and ordering the magazine. Most simply put, our magazine would be nothing without the hard work our staff puts in throughout the year, and to them I am forever grateful. The Georgetown arts community may be smaller than at other schools, but it is passionate, driven, and inspired. These traits are readily apparent in this year’s issue of The Anthem. These writers and artists cover a range of topics and emotions in this issue, ranging from reflections on death, to conceptualizations of modern romance, to a poetic exegesis on the nature of writing. This vibrant community has much to offer Georgetown and the world, starting with a turn of the page. Brian Fritzsche, Editor-in-Chief
The Anthem Staff Editor-in-Chief Brian Fritzsche Treasurer Regina Andreoni Layout Director Anna Shuster Cover Art “No Strings Attached” by Mark Keffer
Editors Regina Andreoni Isabelle Berten Katia Carro-Garcia Nick Ebert Brian Fritzsche Emma Holland Christina Lamoureux Laura Lannan Kate Randazzo Anna Shuster Sean Stempler Huneeya Siddiqui
Poetry and Prose 1 2 3 10 11 12 20 21 22
The Regulars by James McNamara After Mottetti by Christina Lamoureux Hi My Name is ____ and I’m a Transfer Student by Elizabeth Biener Fever by Anna Shuster Visiting Nunziata by Regina Andreoni American Dream by Nonyelum Ekwempu Chipped by Sarah Pavlak
Blue Vinyl, Green Vinyl by Vince Barrett
30 Kerosene by Leonor Morrow 31 Louïe all’arrabbiata by Isabelle Berten 32 American Son by Anna Shuster 37 Broken Concrete by Ryan Johnston 38 Northwest Passage by Owen Eagan 40 Love’s Laboratory Lost 42
Northwest despedida by Krystal Vazquez
A Drop of Rain by Tyler Welsh
by Mac Dinneen
Incomplete Self-Portrait of Us
To Write by Henry Bule
by Michael Mungiello
Performance by Christina Lamoureux
Visual Art 2 6 10 12 20 25
Photograph by Lily Gibbons Painting by Mark Keffer Photograph by Lily Gibbons Photograph by Christina Lamoureux Photograph by Kevin Phelan Photograph by Christina Lamoureux
33 Photograph by Lily Gibbons 37 Painting by Mark Keffer 39 Photograph by Kevin Phelan 40 Photograph by Christina Lamoureux 43 Photograph by Lily Gibbons 46 Painting by Mark Keffer
The Regulars by James McNamara
he hormonal teenagers are the worst. Their yuppie parents use the library as some version of free adolescent daycare. And I’m no babysitter. They arrive in the afternoon, stomping their mud-filled boots up the stairs as if to warn us: we are here to have fun and not play by the rules. I’m fine with the innocent ones. They play tag around the bookcases. I draw the line at the exhibitionists that find the most visible location in the library to make out. They don’t teach you the art of ignoring in library school. Sainthood, of course, is volunteering to teach the elderly how to send an e-mail. And I’m no saint. My extroverted supervisor wears a yellow pin that informs the public she is willing to help. I always choose to leave my pin at home. Sometimes I think of the regulars when I can’t sleep. The overweight woman using the public computer to simultaneously stream The Talk while selling knock-off Pandora charms on eBay. The old man who sits in that chair, without a book. Just staring. The long-term unemployed man who switches between porn and Monster. I’ve rotated through all the sleep medications at CVS, but they aren’t worth the strange dreams.
That pretty young woman enters again. She likes Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. The kind that leaves circular puddles of diluted coffee water on the wooden desks. She doesn’t care. It’s the third time this week she’s sat by the corner, studying for the GRE. Sometimes I dare myself to look at her test results crumpled in the trashcan. She hates teenagers more than me. She’s the one who submitted the anonymous complaint last week about their noise. I recognized her bubbly handwriting. I immediately told another librarian that I knew who wrote it. I’m always the first one to read complaints from the anonymous reporting box. Sometimes I write anonymous complaints during the night shifts so that the morning librarian has something to read with her coffee. In the outside world, she would probably confront these teenagers herself. In Library World, however, she needs to tattle to me. I’m the one behind the Resource Desk wearing the Irish sweater. I’m always cold. Just a few years ago, she was one of those hormonal teenagers. She catches me staring at her again. I just wanted a life of quiet research. I return to Craigslist. I think I want a job that involves animals.
After Mottetti by Christina Lamoureux
I. The magnolia blossoms on the tree where you liked to spread out droop their petals to the ground, reaching for the space where you once were. The dog whines in the air heavy with absence after you slammed the front door. II. I listen in elevators and shops for your laugh, the wheeze of your boots rising and falling step by step, the soft thud of your coat as it hits the floor. But all I ever hear is the mundane buzz of the world, a whisper at its edges.
by Lily Gibbons
Hi My Name is ____ and I’m a Transfer Student by Elizabeth Biener
t was a bright, sunny morning, and several bad things had already happened to Kayla the Second. Hit the snooze button a few too many times, ran out of her favorite cereal, had to fix the zipper on her backpack again. Nothing noteworthy enough to complain about, which in a sense made it worse. She waxed half-serious tragic poetry (which she would never write down) as she slouched down the hall and into her first-period class. Did she have her book? Yes. Small pleasures. Had she read it all? No, but probably enough that she could make a couple smart-sounding comments and nail the minimal participation rate. Paige arrived and sat in the desk to her right. “How’s the day, bae?” “Eh, you know,” Kayla responded. “You?” “Well, I woke up thinking it was a Saturday, so it can only go downhill from there.” Kayla laughed, then after the appropriate amount of silence resumed her gazing at the similarly-sleepy faces of her classmates. Until she noticed a new one, at the other end of the room. Her clothes were almost ridiculously old-fashioned, like with a white wig she could easily fit in at an old folk’s home. Her hair was tied in a bun, and when Kayla squinted she could just pick out hints of a fading reddish dye. Her eyes were downcast and her hands were fiddling with some chewed-up pencils. If she was trying to make a good first impression, she was sorely failing. And yet...that was exactly the sort of thing Kayla liked to pick up on. Based on, well, previous experience, she knew what it felt like to be left out, and she liked helping others not feel that way. Hm. A new objective to focus her attentions and energies on. Should make things more interesting. The teacher was about to begin his first remarks when he, too, noticed the girl on the other side
of the room. “Oh! Uh….” he scanned the roll. “Yasmin?” She nodded. “Welcome, then, Yasmin, good to have you here. Would you like to introduce yourself ?” Everyone turned toward her. She stood up quickly, her eyes still cast downward, “HimynameisYasminI’matransferstudent,” and back down again. “Well, it’s...nice to meet you, Yasmin,” Mr. Griffith said graciously. “May I ask you where you’re from?” “Racist!” Frank hooted from the back of the class. “Minnesota,” Yasmin whispered. “Well, I’ll bet you’re used to this cold, then,” Mr. Griffith laughed. “Anyway, here’s what we’ve been reading….” Kayla leaned over to Paige. “Hey, we should talk to the new girl after class.” Paige glanced from Yasmin to Kayla, then waggled her eyebrows. “You sure you want me to come with?” “Yes! Obviously.” Kayla hid her grin. “Shut up. It’s a nice thing to do.” “PAIGE, do you have any thoughts on the play’s ending?” Paige smoothly turned towards the class and transitioned into discussion mode. “I agree with Deshaun, it was pretty sad. The Stockmanns are going to be pariahs for at least the next few years; and even though they’re right about the pollution, no one’s going to believe them.” “That’s a fair point, Paige. Do you think Ibsen wrote this as a tragedy? Should we be feeling sorry for the protagonists?” Eyes glanced downwards, waiting for the individuals who always answered these questions to take one for the team. “Yasmin! You have an idea?” Kayla grimaced at the teacher’s attempt to -3-
draw an evidently shy student into the discussion. But when she looked, she saw that Yasmin did have her hand raised. Yasmin tentatively put down her hand. “Well...I think Ibsen wants to present the Stockmanns, or at least Mr. Stockmann, as fortunate. I mean, they obviously had opportunities to leave or to compromise their values, but instead they stood their ground. They chose to be outcasts, and that makes their choice valid, not tragic.” Mr. Griffith adjusted his glasses. “That’s very astute, Yasmin. Did you read this play at your other school?” Yasmin looked him directly in the eyes. “I read it on my own time.” Kayla puffed out her cheeks. Hot damn. Anime protagonist alert. After class, Kayla sidled across the desks to the new girl, who was intently placing her books in her backpack and avoiding the casual stares. “Hey...Yasmin,” she quipped. “That was a pretty nice comment you made back there. You like to read?” Yasmin slowly raised her head and fixated, pensive, on Kayla. Then she offered a half-smile. “Yeah.” “I do too. I’m not, like, the most well-read or anything, such as yourself, probably, but maybe we both have some books we could recommend to each other.” “Maybe.” “Yeah! Also, welcome to our school and all that. And, if we have the same lunch period, feel free to sit with me and my people.” “Okay.” They did have the same lunch period, but Yasmin didn’t sit with them. Kayla spotted her at the grassy base of the farthest courtyard tree, eating a bagged lunch. She felt a slight pang and wondered what she did wrong. Well, probably lots of things. But on the third day after Yasmin arrived, she did join them, and something amazing happened. She unshed her timid layer and became another person. She laughed, cracked some jokes, got into serious discussions about politics and media and the meaning of life. Her skin, Kayla noted, seemed to
literally gain a rosier hue. And so many of her ideas complemented or challenged perfectly what Kayla thought, to the point that she would mull over their conversations during the dull parts of her day. This is not to say that Kayla’s life had lacked excitement before, certainly not. It was more along the lines of…her receiving an upgrade. Unexpected, perhaps unnecessary, but no need to uninstall. As the days went by, she began to look for Yasmin in the hallways, check her phone in case she’d texted (hardly ever; but still), and count the hours until lunch. English and Chemistry became her favorite classes. And Yasmin herself integrated seamlessly into the school and her social group. “It’s too good to be true,” Paige remarked, doodling on the back of her homework. “Um...how so?” Kayla replied nonchalantly. “She’s just...weird. You must have noticed.” “Not really. Well, she was, a little, but now she’s not.” “Hm.” Paige continued drawing. Her silence flowed into Kayla’s workspace. She sighed. “Fine, I’ll indulge you.” “So, you didn’t think it was strange at all when, last week during lunch, she mentioned the kid and the backpack?” “Which—oh, you mean the kid and the fire?” “Yeah, the kid and the fire, and everyone was like, ‘He’s dead, too,’ and then they find the backpack miles and miles away, but not the kid?” “Yeah…but that happened like ten years ago.” “Exactly. But she mentioned it.” Paige waved her pen for emphasis. “And she’s not from these parts. How could she have known about it?” “Well, maybe someone talked to her about it. Spoke with words, that she heard.” “Maybe, but she really doesn’t talk to anyone but us and who we hang out with.” “That we know of.” Kayla paused. “And maybe that’s because other people made snap judgments about her—not based on, say, her brilliant personality, but on her weird clothing choices or something.” “And why are her clothes so strange?” Kayla threw her hands in the air. “Her parents let her do what she wants?”
“Or her parents are negligent. Or she has no parents.” “Geez, Paige.” “I mean, I don’t really think that. But she does seem as though she’s guarding a secret. In the way she looks at us weirdly, at least. I mean, she looks at you especially weirdly, like you’re the one who might put together the pieces first. Haven’t you noticed that?” “Really? She does? Oh, that might be...something else.” “Hm. Whatever.” Paige scribbled some dark spirals around her page. “You have your theories, and I have mine.” “I don’t have any ‘theories.’” Kayla stood up. “You know, Paige, I remember what it’s like to be stared at and distrusted because I’m ‘the new thing.’ But that was in middle school, those were horrible middle schoolers, and I thought that we had grown beyond that.” Paige continued drawing. Kayla walked away, wondering why Paige had to be so stubborn. Sure, she could spend all day coming up with a million conspiracy theories, but what would it do in the end? It was only a few minutes until the last bell, so she left study hall early and got her coat from her locker. She wrapped her scarf around her nose and mouth and, hands jammed in her pockets, set off into the murky gray suburbs. As she left the school behind her, she grew increasingly anxious. She had essentially pissed on the conspiratorial world that Paige valued, and why did she have to strike with the low blow of maturity? To leave in the middle of a fight, too, was Kayla’s fault. Kayla the First wouldn’t have done something as stupid as that, probably. She had failed, as usual. Would they even talk to each other the next morning? She could go back there now….On the other hand, maybe Paige wasn’t taking this as seriously as Kayla was. Maybe, Kayla fantasized, by tomorrow Paige would have just forgotten the whole thing, and she wouldn’t need to face any consequences. Yeah. Another day, another destiny…. The streets were mostly silent, save a dog bark or two. She turned down a side street and, after admiring the bonsai house, looked ahead to find some-
one travelling in the same direction as her. Yasmin? Kayla thought about insouciantly calling her name, but that would require pulling her scarf down and she was feeling too lazy for that. They walked together, a girl and her shadow, until Yasmin crossed the street where Kayla was supposed to turn right. She was about to do so, when she recalled that a book she had transfer-requested was waiting for her at the library and she had only, like, a day before it would be sent back. So she went straight, towards the library. Then Yasmin headed into the neighborhood across from the library, and Kayla followed her. Yasmin was a latchkey kid. Kayla saw her pull off her glove, then a bracelet with a key on it. One car was in the driveway. Once Yasmin had been swallowed by the door, Kayla slipped behind a row of hedges to the left of the house. Through a gap between two of them, she could see into a pristine dining room, behind which was a kitchen and a living room. Yasmin was in the kitchen. She had set her backpack down and was rummaging through the cabinets. From an upper shelf she fished out a box of pasta; from under the sink she brought up a saucepan, filled it with water and turned on the stove. She stared at the pot for a few minutes, then sat on a counter chair and took out her phone. Kayla’s phone started buzzing. She fumbled through her gloves with her bag’s zipper before finally yanking one off with her teeth. Once she located her phone and saw who was calling, she instinctively ducked into a crouch. Breathing evenly, she raised the phone to her ear. “Hi...Yasmin?” “Hey….Do you want to come in?” Kayla clapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh my gosh, I’m really sorry.” “That’s okay. This isn’t the first time, you know.” “Really?--” “Well, obviously you don’t know. It’s fine. You don’t have to come inside, but if you want to, I can make us some tea. You’re probably getting cold out there.” She was right. Besides, what chance was there of her skedaddling now and pretending her creepy
by Mark Keffer
escapade never happened? Doing so almost seemed worse than…whatever consequences she was now facing. “Okay,” Kayla whispered. “I’m heading over.” She retreated around the hedges and shuffled towards the door, which opened as she headed up the steps. She caught a glimpse of Yasmin’s--slightly amused?--face before she searched for anything else to look at. Some teenage-girl shoes strewn around what looked like a shoe holder. In the living room, a pile of the same textbooks and Lit novels that Kayla had. Family photos, mainly featuring a smiling mother and her two daughters. Which of them was Yasmin? Kayla paused to study one, then stiffened. Neither of them were. Yasmin had continued into the kitchen and was grabbing mugs from the dishwasher. She turned off the stove, then poured the water from the saucepan into the mugs. “The kettle’s broken, anyway. I’m going to get a new one soon.” “Yeah.” Kayla sat herself onto a stool, her back rod-straight, and grabbed the cup for warmth. “Cool.” Brushing her thick hair behind her shoulders, Yasmin busied herself with finding teabags, offering them to Kayla (who tentatively picked the chamomile), and sitting down across from her. She began mixing some honey into her own tea and, every once in a while, glanced at Kayla. Not angry, not surprised. Not even some shy grimace to prove that she too sensed the awkwardness in the room. Just, patience. Kayla had something to say, and she would talk eventually. “Um….” Kayla wanted to crash through the window in front of her, throw herself headlong into the hedges and raise a trail of dust in her wake. “Look, I’m not one to judge...lifestyle choices. I’ve had a pretty weird life story myself. I...only, I like you a lot, and if there is something happening in your world that you need help with, I would like to help. In any way I can.” Yasmin stared at her tea. “I know you’re new here, and that may make you feel like no one is watching out for you. But I, and my friends, do value your presence. I hope we’ve -7-
communicated that.” Yasmin sighed, then looked to the right. When she finally spoke, her voice vibrated as if it was resonating with another, unheard voice. “First of all, it’s not a lifestyle choice.” “What? Oh,” Kayla backtracked, “I’m sure it isn’t.” Were they talking about the same thing? “Secondly, you can’t help.” “I can’t help, or you don’t want me to?” “The former. Definitely the former.” Yasmin took a sip of her tea, then stuck out her tongue. “Eck, too hot. See, the reason you can’t help is because helping would require a sustained commitment, and you are unable to commit.” “Whoa, unfair.” Kayla gulped down the rest of her chamomile. “What did I ever do to make you think that? I can commit, I can sustained commit.” “You’ll see.” Yasmin hopped from her stool. “Why don’t we take the grand tour.” Kayla followed her to the living room, her eyes avoiding the family pictures. Yasmin gestured to the pile of schoolwork. “Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see.” She had never been good at the “spot the differences” game. “I see...all the books you’re going to need for school. Except Twelfth Night; we read that last semester.” “Yup. I got a ninety-seven on the exam. And I read for Sir Tony Belch.” Funny. But of course she hadn’t read for any part, much less that of Sir Belch. Someone else had... Kayla couldn’t recall. Yasmin frowned and excavated something from between the couch cushions. “You lost this before vacation. I meant to return it sooner, but I forgot. Or,” she grinned, “I was waiting until a situation like this to give it back to you.” She passed Kayla her favorite winter hat, which she grasped loosely. Kayla laughed. “I don’t get it. Are you a ghost?” “I’m alive, Kayla. And I’ve always been here. You just keep forgetting about me.” Yasmin passed (smoothly, like a graceful ghost), in front of Kayla towards the hallway. Kayla sped after her.
“What, do I have amnesia? I’m sorry—I didn’t know! I can find workarounds, though. Please don’t be mad at me.” Yasmin was halfway up the stairs, but paused to let Kayla come around the balustrade. “It’s...not just you.” “It’s not just me that has amnesia. It’s everyone?” Yasmin continued up the stairs. “Yeah.” “So everyone forgets about you? Including your family? Is that why they’re not here?” Yasmin paused at the edge of a room. Her voice wavered. “Mostly.” She disappeared into the room, and when Kayla entered she saw her ensconced in a plush red chair. A hamster spun its wheel on a dresser to Yasmin’s left. She gestured to a black moon seat across from her own. “That’s your chair.” “Mmkay.” Kayla sat down. “Is this your room? I like it.” “Thank you, that means a lot.” “So…this…amnesia. How is it that I, and everyone else, can remember you now, but not anything from earlier this year? I mean,” Kayla stuttered, “it really does feel as though you only existed as of a few weeks ago.” “Well, here’s the deal from my perspective. I wake up, go to school. I notice that no one says hi to me, but rather stares curiously. So I know everyone’s dumped me out of their memories, yet again. Maybe it was not even two days before when I had stood up in each class and “introduced” myself. Maybe it was after over a month of steady, hard-won relationship building. Who cares. After a day or two--if I make it that far--we run into each other. Sometimes, like this time I think, you veer right over to me, and I tickle myself by imagining that some residue of our past lives remains in your mind.” Yasmin closed her eyes and smiled. “On other occasions, you’ve left little notes in my locker, but I recognize your handwriting. I’m not always the passive one, though. If I’m in a good mood, I’ll strike up the conversation first. Like that one time when—” She glanced at Kayla knowingly, but then her voice and smile trailed off. “Anyway….” She motioned toward her neatly-made bed, on which was a small bear plushie holding a heart. “You gave that to
me for Valentine’s Day.” Yet Kayla had distinctly remembered complaining on that day about how decidedly boring the holiday was, and how even if she ever entered a relationship, none of the cheesy romantic stuff would even appeal to her…. Had she ever said that? Did she even believe that? Yasmin had risen from her chair and was leafing through papers on her dresser. The hamster wheel squeaked excitedly. She pulled out one sheet filled on both sides with scribbled blue pen. “You wrote this for me.” Kayla leaned forward to take it from her and then, with her elbows on her thighs, parsed through the words without spending too much time on specific ones. “My dearest Yasmin, today I write to you these heartfelt truths, yet tomorrow I may forget you...” “...whenever you see me walk past you offering nothing more than a blank stare, please do not anger or sadden, but pity me as one who knows not the curse she suffers…” “I am leaving reminders of you everywhere: notes, memories, photographs. Perhaps one will stay…” “...even if I don’t remember them, I enjoy every minute I spend with you….” She wanted to laugh at the inanity of her writing, how ridiculously sappy this version of her was. Something to lighten the mood. “Why, though? Do you know why?” Yasmin sniffed. “I have a theory.” “Do you want to tell me?” “I usually do.” “...” “I think the universe didn’t actually want me to be born, so it’s trying to fix its mistake.” Kayla inhaled sharply. Oh, but no one else should feel that way, much less Yasmin, only Kayla should. Wasn’t it she who had Kayla the First to “look up” to? That charming, golden-haired child of five, born six years before she was. Photographs of her still everywhere, even in the bathroom. What a mistake it had been to let this disappointing imitation walk around in the world. And yet...(It’s what she told herself, too)... “It’s not true, though.” “But you don’t know.”
“I do, actually.” Kayla straightened up, her eyes boring into Yasmin’s. “The universe makes tons of mistakes--and I count myself as one--but it doesn’t try and fix them. If it did try, then, well, wouldn’t it be successful? And neither of us would be here.” Yasmin scrutinized Kayla, then sighed, leaning back in her chair. “I’ll bet you’re just saying that because of your sister.” “What? Oh my goodness,” Kayla broke out into a series of giggles. “Do I tell you everything?” “Maybe…but I guess I wouldn’t know for sure.” They stared at each other for a while, then at other parts of the room. The hamster had buried under the straw. “Yasmin--” “Yes?” “How did you live with your family, if they didn’t remember you?” “That? Oh, yeah, that.” Her voice tightened. “Most of them didn’t. Just my mom did.” Relief rushed through Kayla, until she realized: “did.” “She--well--” her voice became higher pitched-- “she doesn’t really remember anyone much anymore, so my sisters moved her to a place downtown. I visit her most days.” “Oh. I’m so….” Sorry. A pointless, useless, nothing phrase. “How old is she?” “Sixty. Yeah, she had me a long time after my sisters.” “And they don’t--” “No.” “Your dad?” “They divorced after he kept freaking out every few days when he saw me. It was kind of fun-
ny, actually. Until it wasn’t, of course. I didn’t really know what was going on at the time. I sort of thought all dads were like that.” “Do your sisters ever come home?” “On some holidays, yeah. On those days I sleep in this nice hostel.” The loneliness of it. “I’m so sorry,” Kayla whispered. “Don’t be.” Yasmin grinned. “I’m serious. It’s not really true, that you can’t help. You do. Believe it or not, you’re one of the only reasons I enjoy having this particular part of my life.” “Enjoy? I--” Kayla laughed forcibly. “I’m finding it hard to discern the enjoyment from this.” “Well, as it happens….” Yasmin suddenly covered her face with her hands and groaned facetiously. “It’s so dumb, it’s so dumb. There’s no reason I shouldn’t just come out and say it, no social repercussions, you know. But alas, my shyness overtakes me. Tell you what, I’m going to write it down on--” she leaned far over her chair and plucked a blankish sheet from her dresser-- “this, and you’re going to promise not to read it until tonight, right before you go to sleep.” So Yasmin wrote, and Kayla left, reaching her house as the early twilight hit. She spent hours finishing homework and jumping carelessly across websites (maybe she wouldn’t sleep at all), but as two in the morning rolled around, she wrapped the warm, blessed blanket around her and, by the light of her lamp, picked away at the scotch tape on the folded sheet of paper. Only one line: I like wondering how you’re going to fall in love with me next. As she slipped into a mindless haze, the blank piece of paper dropped from her hand.
by Anna Shuster In this maze of hallways, which of these hundred identical doors will reveal you? In the air-conditioned chill, rows of door handles reflect the fluorescents. White walls echo back the slap of my footsteps on linoleum, and the hum of machinery throbs in my ears, and now the proper door stands before me and finally, I find you.
You watch me take a seat at your bedside, beside the plastic tendril creeping from the IV to lie with you under your white sheets but despite the aching your voice stays unstrained, holds me with its low, familiar thrill until hours skip like minutes to the early morning. In the dim room your eyes defy your too-pale face, burning strange, dark fire.
by Lily Gibbons - 10 -
Visiting Nunziata by Regina Andreoni
Well, I dumped him. No, not your Pop-Pop, Jim. Well, I dumped your Pop-Pop too. Twice. But that’s a different story.
I never expected Jim to propose. I just liked him for his dancin’, went every weekend with Mary, my bridesmaid. She lives down this here hall. Do you know about Mary, my bridesmaid? Oh, you met her the last time you emptied my garbage? How nice.
Yeah, well, I dumped your Pop-Pop. He was such a dull man. I was young, just wanted to dance. Jim was a wonderful dancer. Don’t give me that look – we had good, clean fun.
So Mary and I went dancin’ with Jim and his friend, can’t remember the friend’s name, but Mary married him, and I was her bridesmaid too. She copied me, you know. I married your Pop-Pop first. Had an Italian from the old neighborhood make my dress. Got beautiful pictures taken. No one had them pictures done like me. You see right behind you on that there wall. You recognize your Pop-Pop don’t you? It’s a nice picture.
It makes me mad when they play the old music at the senior citizen’s dinners. I love dancin’ but my knees pain me. I get that needle, the whatchamacallit, from this young doctor – how handsome! It sooths, God bless it, that needle. I should be thankful I can walk. No damn cane for me. These people here, they need help takin’ a bath. But I’m mad my knees can’t dance.
- 11 -
American Dream by Nonyelum Ekwempu
over my body, including my scalp. My mother shaved was eleven when Prophet Ajanaku announced in my head and kept it shaved for the months that front of the whole church that I was destined to live the ringworm lingered. On my first day at my new school, I felt embarrassed walking into my crowded in America. “This one is an Americanah,” he’d said. “His classroom. I imagined that the other children would enemies have seen this and they are not happy. That’s why they want to take him before his time. Church let us pray.” He sprinkled holy water on my head and rang his bell in circles seven times. In the middle of the prayer, I looked up at my mother and noticed that happiness had suddenly descended on her. I had been sick with malaria for seven days, and for those seven days she’d worn sadness as clothes. Her sadness turned into panic. Panic turned to anguish when she found me foaming at the mouth and shaking without control. But as Prophet Ajanaku placed his hand on my shoulders and spoke about my future, the corners of her mouth were turned up and her face glowed with optimism. For many years after that day, my mother would clutch tightly to those few words about my future and they would lift and soothe her soul as she struggled to build a new life without my father. I remember that day in church clearly because it was also the one year anniversary of my father’s death, and exactly ten months since we had moved from our house in Surulere to our new home in Makoko, a sprawling slum on the Lagos lagoon. There were no official numbers for the population of the slum, but people said that between 85,000 and 250,000 people lived in the tightly packed shanty houses that hovered precariously over the polluted, stagnant waters on uneven wooden stilts. A lot changed in the year after my father’s death, but the move to Makoko was the biggest change for me. A week after we’d moved into our stare and point at the new boy with no hair and ringnew home, I noticed a cluster of ringworm develop worm colonies running up and down his arms and on the left side of my neck. Then without warning, legs. But that didn’t happen. And I quickly realized I woke up one morning to find that it had spread all that having ringworm or some sort of skin disease - 12 -
was not an oddity at the school. Life in Makoko revolved around the lagoon. There was no clay soil, no concrete, and no dirt roads to stand on, to tumble in cartwheels on, or to play soccer. All of that was no longer part of my life. And clay soil and open dirt roads now felt so distant, as if they had only been a figment of my imagination. The other children in Makoko didn’t seem to mind that they didn’t have these things. Most of them were born here and had learned to swim before they could walk. Their lives followed a predictable pattern.
sell it along with other goods. This was their way of life and anything different would be so foreign that it would require some time to adjust. On some evenings, some of the boys stopped by my house in their canoes and we paddled out into the open lagoon, away from the other houses, the barking dogs, the women selling goods from the ribbed bottoms of their canoes, and the chaos of our organic, unplanned neighborhood. We fished and watched cars and buses crawl through traffic on the Third Mainland Bridge, in the distance. The boys taught me how to cast a net and how to swim. When I felt confident in my swimming skills, I called my mother and my two younger sisters out to the little porch in front of our house and I leaped off the peeling wooden rail into the brownish-black water below. They jumped in excitement as they watched me alternate between the breaststroke, the backstroke and the front crawl. My sisters asked me to teach them to swim and we started lessons right away. My mother kept a watchful eye from above, in case she needed to scream for help. She didn’t know how to swim, and I could tell that she was proud of me, just like she was whenever I brought fish home from my outings with the boys. After a while, she got tired of watching and she went inside. Our house was a square room with two windows on the same side as our door. We had tiptoed around the room for the first two weeks after we moved in, afraid that the thin wood sheets that suspended us over the waste and sewage-filled lagoon would give in under our weight. My mother had placed a queen-sized mattress that took up half the space of the room on the wall directly across from the door and windows. In a corner near one of the windows, she kept a small kerosene stove that always ran out midway through her cooking. Sometimes she’d ask me to go and beg Iya Tubosun, who lived next door, for some kerosene. by Christina Lamoureux Iya Tubosun was my mother’s closest friend in the neighborhood, and she always seemed willing They went to school if their parents decided on it. to give my mother whatever she asked for — cooking They learned to swim and paddle wooden canoes seasoning, toothpaste, kerosene, calamine lotion for with a straight bamboo stick. The boys learned how Tosin’s measles, detergent. When we first moved in, to build the narrow, wooden crafts and how to fish. she lent us one of her canoes until my mother saved The girls learned how to smoke the fish and how to up enough money to buy her own. On some morn- 13 -
ings, she stopped by our house with Agege bread and hard boiled eggs that she bought from hawkers who paddled around the neighborhood in their canoes, shouting, “Come and buy Agege bread ‘o,” in Yoruba. Iya Tubosun would hand the food to my mother, and then place her fat hands on my mother’s thin waist to twist her hips from side to side, admiring them as if they were new shoes. “If I thin like you, ehn, I for done go international. All these oyinbo men on the Island, na them I go dey sell my market to,” she’d say. My mother would laugh shyly, avert her gaze from Iya Tubosun, and pretend to not be flattered. No one dared to offend Iya Tubosun, a woman who walked with an air of confidence and certainty that engendered a sense of assurance and a sliver of fear. Her short, stout build, deep red eyes, and horizontal tribal marks that ran across her puffy cheeks only added to the effect. She was the type of woman who knew how to make things happen, the kind of woman who couldn’t be shortchanged on anything. The first time she knocked on our door, which was on the day we moved in, Tosin, who was three at the time, refused to look at Iya Tubosun’s face or to collect the biscuit that Iya Tubosun held out to her. Later that day, Iya Tubosun brought her four children to greet my mother. She ordered her son Jide, who was a year younger than me, to pick me up for school in their canoe every morning. Jide frowned and grumbled something incomprehensible to himself. I’d been surprised that she didn’t put Tubosun who was my age in charge of the task. But he didn’t seem to mind that the task had been delegated to his younger brother. Before Iya Tubosun left our house that day, she told my mother to let her know if anyone gave us trouble as we settled into the neighborhood. I was happy my mother had gained the friendship of a woman whose place in Makoko was unquestioned and firmly rooted. But their friendship didn’t last long. One Saturday morning, I woke up to find my mother and Iya Tubosun trading harsh words, each woman trying to out scream the other. My mother called Iya Tubosun an ashewo, a third class prostitute. The crowd of neighbors and strangers who had gathered to watch
the mildly entertaining scuffle looked to Iya Tubosun for a reaction. Mama Bisi stood between my mother and Iya Tobosun, restraining them from exchanging more than words. When either woman hurled an insult and tightened her wrapper, as if in preparation to get physical, Mama Bisi ran to the woman and wrapped her body around the woman, shouting, “His hokay. His hokay ‘o. Let there be peace. Me hi’ve said my hown.” But then her face would betray her words. She’d glance at the other woman, searching for a response. She yelled to my mother in a moment of unnecessary self-aggrandizement, “Hif to say hi’ not here, Iya Tubosun for finish you.” But Iya Tubosun had already won the fight and the crowd. My mother stood in a corner, exhausted and at a loss for words, her hands folded over her flat chest. Tears gathered in her eyes and remained there. She shook her head in the pitiful way she did whenever she thought of my father’s death. How swift and unexpected — alive and vibrant in the morning, slight headache in the afternoon, dead before sunset. My mother had used her best line when she called Iya Tubosun an ashewo. But it had failed to have the desired effect she had hoped it would. It didn’t sting like hot iron on the skin. It left her mouth and fell flat at Iya Tubosun’s feet. The crowd had not gasped the way they did when Iya Tubosun called my mother a “wretched widow” or when she called me a “prancing ringworm infested beggar.” But then again, it was also an open secret that Iya Tubosun was a sex worker. I saw men of all ages and body types either running away shyly from her room or knocking quietly at her door, trying not to attract the unwanted gazes of the jobless neighbors who sat outside and gossiped. I wanted to go outside and put my arms around my mother’s bony shoulders. I wanted to remind her and announce to the familiar and unknown faces that my mother has a son who is destined to live in America, a son who is an Americanah. If Prophet Ajanaku had said it, then it had to be true. Prophet Ajanaku would not lie. He hears directly from God, he is God’s anointed. God reveals himself to him in a way that he does not to other
- 14 -
people. That is the reason why the Holy Prophet, as we were ordered to call Prophet Ajanaku in church, is able to see things in the future that other people cannot see. It is the reason why people fall to ground when he places his hands on their foreheads. It is the reason why women who visit our church complaining about barrenness come back nine months later carrying new born babies. It is the reason why some church members get new jobs just days after he tells them that they will, and the reason why people who have all kinds of sicknesses come to our church and later give testimonies of miraculous healings after the Holy Prophet has poured holy water on them. Some people are even healed without his touch. One time a crippled woman stood from her wheelchair and started running around the altar after the Holy Prophet’s sweat pelted her by accident. I was in church that day and I saw everything with my own eyes. Prophet Ajanaku was shouting into the microphone as he prayed. He was sweating profusely, as usual, but he did not have the small red towel that he always uses to wipe the sweat from his face and neck. At some point, he ran his index finger across his forehead to wipe away the beads that had formed there. Then he flicked his hands to get rid of the sweat. It fell in the woman’s direction, and she was healed. I did not go outside and let the crowd know what the Holy Prophet had said about me. My mother would have knocked my head with her knuckles if I did. She did not want anyone besides the people who were in church on that day to know what lay in my future. She feared that people would be jealous and that they might try to stop it from happening. I don’t know how people are able to do such things. But I know that no one can be trusted, not even your uncles and aunties. The conditions of people’s love are fragile and superficial. One day they can have your back and then the next they can come after you with a wickedness that will shake you at your core and uproot the anchors of your life. I learned this after my father died. His brothers and sisters — my uncles and aunties — showed me a part of themselves that I didn’t know lay within
them all the years my father was alive. Daddy was the first born, and he was also the first to live in Lagos. After he graduated from secondary school, he left his small town to study Mathematics on a full scholarship at the University of Lagos. This was when Nigeria was still “good” as he liked to say. A sepia picture of daddy smiling proudly in his graduation gown hung on the wall above our television, back in Surulere. After he graduated, he got a job in the oil industry, and from his paycheck he put Uncle Tayo, Uncle Segun, Aunty Titi, and Aunty Fisayo through school. I was nine when Aunty Fisayo finished up her degree in Mass Communication at Lagos State University. Like my other uncles and aunties, she, too, lived with us while she went to school and after she graduated. She and Aunty Titi shared a room in our four-bedroom bungalow while Uncle Tayo and Uncle Segun lived in the boys’ quarters. I enjoyed having all my uncles and aunties around. But Uncle Tayo was my favorite. Even though he was older than Uncle Segun, Aunty Titi, and Aunty Fisayo, he acted younger. He walked with a bounce like some of the teenaged boys on our street, bending his shoulders, listening to music through his Walkman, and moving his arms with a swagger that made girls listen when he talked to them. He had come to Lagos with dreams of studying Law at the same university that daddy graduated from many years earlier. His admission letter stated that he had been admitted into the Law program, only for him and dozens of his other freshman classmates to arrive on campus to discover that their offers had been receded without any explanations. The university offered them spots in the English and the Theatre Arts departments instead. Uncle Tayo chose to major in English. Five years after graduation, he remained unemployed, or underemployed, I should say, since he was cutting people’s hair for a living. If he had any resentment about where his cards had fallen, he didn’t show it. Or maybe I wasn’t observant enough. On weekends, he blasted Michael Jackson songs from his radio while he hand-washed his clothes outside in the courtyard. I would sit with him, listening to his stories of how the university had changed
- 15 -
so much over the last few years, watching his muscles stiffen as he wrung water from the wet clothes. I enjoyed comparing the stories he told of his school to the stories dad told. Unlike daddy’s stories, there were no campus gardens, no exhilarating road trips around the country and other parts of West Africa with other students, and no cheery lecturers in Uncle Tayo’s stories. Everything was dark and gloomy — lengthy strikes that stretched four-year degrees to eight years, hungry unpaid lecturers who charged students fees for their final exam results, cultist students who slashed other students’ throats with machetes and terrorized the campus. His stories were a reflection of what the country had become since the good days were displaced by successive coups and brutal military regimes. On some Saturday afternoons, Uncle Tayo took me out. I always looked forward to our outings. We usually went to the bookstores in CMS and bought cheap secondhand books. And then on our way home, he always bought me either a meat pie from Mr. Biggs or an ice cream from the ice cream men, who wore large straw hats and rode around on bicycles with coolers attached to their fronts. Once, when I was eight, he took me to the Bar beach in Victoria Island. It was a pleasant surprise. That was the first time I saw the Atlantic Ocean and a horse. I asked Uncle Tayo if I could ride on one of the emaciated animals that took beach visitors on five-minute rides beside the crashing waves. But he didn’t have enough money to pay for a ride. Instead, he asked a gaunt-faced handler if I could touch his horse. The man shouted at us in Hausa and threatened to hit us with the whip he used on the horses. We ran away disappointed. The day daddy died, Uncle Tayo put his arms around my shoulders and told me to stop crying. We walked to the kaboki store down the street and he bought me a bottle of Fanta and a packet of biscuits. We sat in silence in the dimly lit living room with Mummy, my sisters, Uncle Segun, Aunty Titi, and Aunty Fisayo. Uncle Tayo sat in daddy’s chair. I sat beside him, resting my head against his chest. Mummy dabbed tears away from her eyes with her wrapper from time to time. Neighbors trickled in and out
of our house. They all had puzzled expressions and different explanations for daddy’s mysterious death. Mrs. Delano, who lived across the street and had a son who was a doctor in London, said that she saw a star fall from the sky the previous night when she went outside to take down clothes she had washed earlier in the day. Mr. Omotosho, who was the headmaster of a small private school on the street before my street, said he had seen a black cat sitting in front of our gate just that morning. Paapa, a whitehaired man who had lived the longest on our street, said he saw a dark cloud over our house in a dream he’d had some days before. He said he’d shared the dream with his wife and they’d prayed about it. That night I dreamt about black cats and dark ominous clouds. The next morning, Uncle Tayo woke me with a heavy slap. His hand left an imprint on my face. He dragged me from my bed and pushed me to the floor. When I opened my eyes, I saw Uncle Segun, Aunty Titi, and Aunty Fisayo standing behind Uncle Tayo. I heard my mother crying loudly behind my door. “You and your witch mother are leaving this house today, illegitimate goat,” Uncle Tayo said as he kicked me. “We will kill you before you kill us.” Aunty Titi and Aunty Fisayo nodded. Uncle Segun shouted insults at my mother in Yoruba. He slapped her and she fell to the floor. For the first time, I wished that Uncle Segun’s eyes would go blind. He already had poor and rapidly deteriorating vision because of his albinism. I get lost in my thoughts every time I recall that day, particularly Uncle Segun’s pale hand slicing across the air before landing on Mummy’s cheeks. The memory is like paddling out into the vast lagoon without the backdrop of Makoko to guide you back home where you set out from. It was only when my mother slammed the door that I realized that she and Iya Tubosun had run out of hurtful words to throw at each other and that the crowd which had gathered had dispersed. Mummy threw herself on the mattress and slept for the rest of the day. She did not let me or my sisters go outside to play, so we were stuck inside with her. The next morning, I tiptoed outside while she was still asleep. An unpleasant smell of feces and trash hung in the air. It had rained heavily throughout the
- 16 -
night and outside was dull and heavy, as if a lot more rain was still to come. I felt myself unfold as soon as I stepped out. It was as if all the air outside inflated my whole body, not just my lungs. Tubosun was sitting on the ten-inch wide plank that was their front porch; his legs spilled over the edge and dangled in the dirty water below, which had risen because of the rains. He was biting his nails and scratching dried flakes of skin from the infection on his scalp. He often sat outside like this whenever his mother had a client inside. His brother and his sisters would come to my house or go to some other friend’s house. But Tubosun never joined them. He preferred to sit alone and bite his nails. I asked him if Jide was home. I wanted us to paddle out into the lagoon. Tubosun pretended not to hear me. I raised my voice and asked him again. He looked at me through the corners of his eyes, rolled his eyeballs and hissed loudly. He got up from the edge of the plank that he sat on and walked to the end that was farthest away from me. I watched as his hips swayed from side to side in an intentionally exaggerated fashion. This was his way of reacting to the fight between our mothers. I wanted to call him a bastard. The word hung from the tip of my tongue. It was what his mother called him. When she and Mummy were friends, she would come to our house complaining about things he had done that displeased her. “I no know who give me that bastard. No be same person who give me Jide,” she’d say, laughing. The first time I heard her call him a bastard, I’d been startled at the casual ease of it, as if it was normal. That day on the porch I didn’t call Tubosun a bastard out of fear that Jide might hear me. Although Jide was younger, he struck a strange fear in me. There was something about his authoritative demeanor, the stiffness and seriousness of his face, the broadness of his chest that belied his age. He was taller and stronger than both Tubosun and me. He usually decided where we paddled to, what games we played, and how long we spent on an activity. I sometimes imagined him as one of the soldiers in daddy’s stories about the Buhari regime, which in its time had authorized soldiers to flog adult men and women for petty things like not forming
a line when entering public transportation. Even at eleven, Jide already had a manliness that I and the other boys lacked. He probably thought of himself as the only male and, perhaps, the de facto first-born in his house. Sometimes I felt that his masculinity was so conspicuous because it stood in stark contrast to his older brother’s femininity. Tubosun was not like the other boys in the neighborhood. He never joined us for our fishing trips. He preferred to play hand and leg games with the girls. Once, when I and the boys came back from fishing, we sat in the boat and watched as Tubosun and some girls played Ten Ten in front of his house. In the middle of the foot-stomping rhythms, one girl’s braided extension dropped from her head and Tubosun picked it up and attached it to his own. He ran his hands over the length of hair repeatedly and tucked it behind his ear. The other boys and I laughed. Jide glanced at us and our laughter vanished instantly. As Tubosun continued to bite his nails and stare into the distance at nothing in particular, I asked him about Jide one last time. This time he did not look in my direction. I realized that he was determined to ignore me, so I sighed and went home. I heard him stutter “p-p-p-pra-pra-praprancing beggar” and burst into laughter behind me as I closed the door. Later that afternoon, Mummy finally got up from the mattress where she had been sleeping since she came inside after her fight with Iya Tubosun the previous day. Her eyes were dim, as if she’d been crying throughout the time she’d slept. A dried, flaky trail of spit adorned the left corner of her mouth. Her short hair was tangled and pointed straight out of her head, as if in rebellion against something she had done or not yet done. My sisters and I watched her as she picked out a flowery shirt from among her few clothes, which sat in a pile at the edge of the mattress. But just as she was about to slip into it, she remembered that Iya Tubosun had given her the shirt, so she threw it back into the pile and settled on a sleeveless yellow one instead. Mummy knew that we were watching her, so she took extra precautions to avoid making eye contact with our hungry faces. No one had eaten
- 17 -
anything since the previous morning. Mummy bent over the kerosene stove and shook it to see if it had any kerosene. It was empty. But even if it had kerosene, I wasn’t sure what she would have cooked. Almost all the money my mother earned went to keeping the rusted corrugated iron sheet roof over our heads. Mummy straightened herself, put her hands on her waist, and shook her head. “Ade, you have to work,” she said to me, without making eye contact. “You can see how tight things are. I will ask the Holy Prophet to pray for you so that you can get a job.” The next week, I started working as a gateman at a school in Victoria Island, the business center of Lagos. I got the job through a member of our church, who was also a gateman at the school. It was my first opportunity to leave Makoko. As much as the stench of Makoko and the lagoon had become a part of my identity, they did not have the same hold on me that they had on most residents. Every night I dreamt of the day when I would leave Makoko and never return. In my dreams, I always load a big suitcase into a canoe and then paddle out of the lagoon and, all the way to Murtala Mohammed International Airport, where I get on a flight to America and start a new life. In reality, I would need to board one or two rickety danfo buses— the ubiquitous small yellow vehicles, black stripes along their sides, that are a unique feature of the Lagos landscape — to get to the airport.
ater, when I was paid my first salary, I folded the few notes into my pocket and took three danfo buses from the school to my late father’s house in Surulere. It was my first time there since my mother, my sisters, and I were chased out. The bright red gate, which was one of the few things that I remembered about the house, was now painted black. An image of the day when I crashed into the gate and bruised my knee with the new bicycle that was my seventh birthday present from my father floated into my memory. I wrapped my hands around the bars at the top of the black gate and broke into tears, which surprised me. I had only returned to get closure, to bury a stubborn memory that had refused to die with time.
I had not thought about what I would say or how I would react if I ran into Uncle Tayo or my father’s other siblings, whom I’d not seen since the day they sent us packing. As I wept in front of the gate, I did not notice that a grey, 1997 Toyota Corolla had pulled over beside the gate and a man dressed in a business casual outfit had stepped out of the car and was walking towards me. “Can I help you?” he asked, fidgeting with a big bunch of keys in his left hand. Words eluded me as I tried to speak. Only salty tears came. The man was patient, but I could see anxiety seeping into his chest. He was ready to fight or to run if he had to. After three attempts, I managed to tell him only about the memory of my bruised knee. He looked more confused than he was before. That was when my words finally came back to me and I told him everything. The man, who looked like he was between fifty-five and sixty-five, kept his hands in his pockets while I spoke. His brows were furrowed. He did not interrupt or ask any questions until I’d finished. I asked him if he had bought the house from Uncle Tayo. But he had never heard the name before. He said that he bought the house from an Igbo man, who had bought the house from a Yoruba man, whom he believed was the original owner of the house. “When I bought this house,” he said, biting on his lower lip, “it was in a bad state. I had to do a lot of work on it.” I pointed at Mrs. Delano’s house across the street and asked whether she still lived there. His eyes widened and he smiled at me for the first time. It seemed the question was his first authentication of my story. Mrs. Delano, who’d said she’d seen a star fall when my father died, had moved to London two years earlier. She wanted to be closer to her son. I was restless on my way back to Makoko that night. My heart pounded heavily against the walls of my chest. It could barely contain the exhilaration of what had transpired that day. My head felt light and free. My lips ached to tell someone about the man, the bright red gate, which was now black, and Mrs. Delano.
- 18 -
I couldn’t tell my mother what I’d done. Any mention of my father made her face fall with the weight of sadness. I decided to stop by Iya Tubosun’s house on my way home to tell Jide everything. I could already picture his eyes lighting up at my story about my father’s house. I looked forward to providing embellished answers to any questions that he would ask. No one was sitting outside on the porch when I knocked on Iya Tubosun’s door that evening. That should have been a clue to me that something was wrong. Tubosun and his siblings usually ate their dinner outside on the porch. Although I heard voices inside, no one answered the door. I knocked again. There was no response for a while, but just as I was about to head home, Iya Tubosun shouted, “Ta ni ye? Who is that?” She opened the door as soon as she confirmed that it was me. Once I stepped inside, a ravenous shock descended on me and consumed all the excitement that had been bubbling within. Iya Tubosun’s house was dark, except for a dull glow that emanated from the kerosene lamp that hung overhead on a hook attached to the ceiling. In the dark, Tubosun lay motionless on the floor. His face was swollen beyond recognition. Cuts and bruises covered his entire body. He had been caught kissing another boy at school that afternoon. An angry mob had formed and beat the two boys. I didn’t witness the beating since I no longer went to school. The outcome may have been worse had Jide not gone to the scene just in time. He’d been heroic when he stepped in and fought off the boys who were beating his brother. But he had not escaped
unharmed. An old shirt was wrapped around the gash on Jide’s head. He and Tubosun were expelled on the spot. The principal said he didn’t want an abomination at his school. While I stood just inside the door, Iya Tubosun sat restlessly on a short stool in a corner, shouting, “Bastard, bastard, bastard,” repeatedly in Yoruba. She shifted her chin from one palm to the other every few moments. I couldn’t tell whether the redness in her eyes were from crying, since her eyes were always red. But her voice was cracked and she spoke without the certainty that I had come to know very well. I knew it would not be wise to bring up my story, so I only sympathized with Iya Tubosun and her family and promised to check on them the next day. When I went home, I tried to read the first pages of the used novel I bought earlier that day. The sentences on the pages of the book merged into a blurry image of the red gate, and I could hardly focus. So I blew out my candle and forced myself to sleep. In my dream that night, I loaded the familiar suitcase into Mummy’s canoe and paddled to the airport. I got on a flight that stopped in London, where I saw a grey-haired Mrs. Delano. I told her that I was on my way to America.
- 19 -
A version of this story first appeared in the Red Rock Review.
by Kevin Phelan
Chipped by Sarah Pavlak Oh, The ways youâ€™ve Whispered love. Porcelain chipped Teeth counting goose bumps On the back of my neck. Tongue coated in French lullabies, And a lone cello You make my soul shiver. And in the exhale Your fingertips run up to my hips And my life soars for you. - 20 -
A Drop of Rain by Tyler Welsh
Love is like rain That’s what the Internet told me Because it’s unpredictable or something If love is like rain Then I am that moment of uncertainty When you don’t know if you felt a drop And you hold your hands out Looking for some sign if what you felt before was real Standing in a state of complete confusion When it was probably just bird shit Google said that love is like sand Because it slips through our fingers But that’s only when I open my hand And let go Love is the sand that gets caught under my fingernails And in my hair The grains that I can’t escape Holding on to No matter how much I shake or try to brush it off Or quietly sob while watching The Notebook alone with a carton of ice cream There will still be sand that Ben and Jerry can do nothing about Love is like a flower You’ve got to let it grow Yeah, love is a lot like a flower It blossoms, it’s beautiful, and if you don’t give it enough attention It will die I can understand why flowers are so enticing as a simile And why poets plant gardens To express their love The unfortunate thing is I’m allergic
- 21 -
Incomplete Self-Portrait of Us by Michael Mungiello
knownst maybe even to her, she had been submerged in something that neither of us saw, something like rainforest flowers so bright they are unbearable to the eye: EVASIVE
he was an actress: BORING
There was always some makeup left in her hairline when she returned from the set, which reminded me of the ink smudges my pen had left on my palms: Then when we fought, fights about food, fights about money, even one time a fight about Monet, we would ALSO BORING murmur accusations and then flee from each other, She ran up the stairs, slammed the door, shouted that she would lie on the floor of our bedroom for hours she never wanted to see me again, and then, together, while I went into another room and scratched my forewe began singing Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde: head until my skin broke and I bled: GROTESQUE TOO HIGHBROW BE VULNERABLE: You don’t mean that Afterwards we went to see a movie: VAGUE TELL THEM ABOUT THE TIME: Once upon a Back home we made love again and I got to thinking time, you were seeing somebody else, so I took you to that sex in which nobody orgasms resembles a conver- a poetry reading where we got drunk on complemensation at a cocktail party you attend to advance your tary red wine, where I embarrassed myself in front of C. K. Williams because I wanted to say something career: VULGAR wonderful about his poetry but found myself inarticWhen we first moved in together, it was April on the ulate because of the wine, wine I drank so I would be Lower East Side, and she still had a tourist’s curiosity inarticulate enough to not be able to explain to myself about the whole thing, love and New York, and I was what I was about to do with you, because had I been her guide, her personal native New Yorker who could able, had I been able to explain to myself that I was see an idealized reflection of himself in the window- going to kiss you, why I was going to do it, and what panes of the cathedrals, museums, and skyscrapers that would mean for us down the line, then I never that we spent weeks perusing: ARE YOU SERIOUS would have done it That spring we spent whole days in bed, in part because we were studying each other’s bodies the same way we were studying each other’s lexicons, as though we were method actors researching a role or poets of witness stuck in an unknown country, the tropical surface of which poorly disguised the criminal underworld raging just beneath sight, and it made sense to think about those first domestic days this way, especially when it became clear that she was depressed and that we had spent whole days in bed in part because she could not have left our bed, unbeknownst to me who had interpreted desperation as devotion, unbe-
THAT IS NOT IT AT ALL: You’re going to quote “Prufrock” to me? Let me start where you want me to, then, let me start the night we had sex for the very first time, that first time years ago, and for the very first time in my life, I was able to come with a woman, that was you, I was able to come, and not by picturing a million strangers alone, no, I came because I was with you and I saw you, and I did not just see you seeing me, I saw you, yes, and so that night I slipped a note under your door because this was before we began living together, and
- 22 -
in that note I told you I loved you, and all the next day you didn’t bring it up once, in fact you hated me that day: STOP No, I’m not done yet, in fact you hated me that day, because you thought I had flirted with your friend, the one who accompanied us to that expensive museum to watch that awful German movie, the very friend you invited, you thought I loved her, wanted her more, because I looked at her more, and I went home with my face glued to the ground, not knowing that you hadn’t read the letter until much later when you called and told me to come over, and I ran through several city blocks, memorizing everything blurring past me, until I reached your apartment, and you opened the door in a towel and you said that you too: THAT’S ENOUGH You don’t get to decide that: INDULGENT Stop: REPETITIOUS If you could just speak to me, if you could just see this portrait for what it is, a performance, a play simultaneously penned and performed, or maybe like a plant, growing and dying at the same time, if only you could assume for a moment that it is more than just a self-portrait of me, a self-portrait of you, if only you could trace me onto our canvas with your photogenic eyeliner and I could pour a wine bottle of black ink over your head and together we could be encased again, we could be in love, we could be fixed in the mutual avoidance of the problem of being ourselves with each other: GO ON
- 23 -
Blue Vinyl, Green Vinyl by Vince Barrett
he early morning dance of orange-tinged light coming in from the hall windows and streaking across the bare oak floors confirmed to Brian Hurtz that Mother Nature was quite indifferent to the fact that his would be an agonizing day; it was bright and cheery in sunny South Florida. Resigned to his fate, he shrugged off the meteorological sleight and made his way along the second floor hallway towards the upstairs bathroom. Though he had been living in and navigating his way throughout this house for over thirty years now, his ginger steps were the slow and deliberate ones of a stranger. This, of course, was so as not to knock into any of Blanche’s knickknacks which were carefully arranged on a series of small tables that lined both sides of the long corridor like processional soldiers marking the path for visiting dignitaries in a receiving line. Not that Brian knew what walking a dignitaries’ receiving line would be like, but the thought always amused him, especially as he was walking to the can. While he once knew the stories behind the various menageries and collectable pieces, Blanche had been gone now for over fifteen years, and he himself was eighty-six; Brian figured some things were safe to let fade into the far recesses of the mind forever. Things like why in the hell was that glass giraffe perched off to one side precariously like that, right next to the rhinestone umbrella miniature? Brian didn’t get any of it anymore, but nonetheless insured that everything stayed exactly as it was the day Blanche had left all those years ago. Even the most simple of tasks like heading to the john did nothing these days but underscore the level to which his body was failing him. And fast. It was a cruel irony that inside his pain-racked body he still felt every bit like the nineteen-year-old marine recruit that had stormed that ash laden hellhole of Iwo Jima to capture three airfields from the Japanese Imperial Army. Brian paused next to the half-moon console
table on which Blanche’s favorite assortment of lead glass horses were frozen in some kind of mid-parade prance. Normally he derived some sense of comfort from these things that had once been so cherished by the only woman he had ever loved, but today there was something about the imposed order of it all that he found disquieting. He let his mind wander back to those hellish days in February and March of 1945, and for a moment the house dissolved into a rising plume of rubber laden smoke: the foul sensation of cordite permeated his nostrils as he watched scores of men around him pulverized by enemy fire coming from the series of fortified bunkers surrounding the air fields. By then, of course, the Americans had laid on so much bomb ordinance that the surface of the moon would have been a more ideal place to land a plane. Against the backdrop of memories from sixty-five years earlier which were more powerful than those of his day yesterday, something about the march of those horses definitely troubled him. Brian’s frail age-spotted hand reached out and delicately grasped the beveled edge of the table and lay there for a moment before he forcefully shook the table, sending the scene atop it askew; some pieces still stood, while others had fallen. There was no longer any order – just chaos. Once back in the bedroom, Brian began to dress for the important day, selecting his dressiest sleeveless t-shirt, considered such for the lack of holes, and a pair of comfortable sweatpants – neither of which had been in the unlaundered rotation for too long. He sniffed his shirt just to make sure. Scarcely had he finished securing the Velcro straps of his cross-training shoes, when he heard the sound of his son William coming in the front door followed by his voice filtering up from downstairs. “Dad, are you ready yet? We don’t want to be late.” Brian sighed, took a last look around his bedroom and trudged towards the stairs, “I’m coming down. Hold your horses!” He smiled to himself as he made
- 24 -
his way down the creaking stairs, amused by a joke only he had heard relating to an event only he had witnessed. This is what life had come to in eightysix years – a series of increasingly private jokes and smiles shared with no one, save that nineteen-yearold trapped in his decrepit prison of a body. William helped get Brian situated in the passenger side of the Toyota sedan – the look from Brian
thing over with.” He again turned his attention to the blur of the world passing by outside the window in hopes of blotting out this last bit of painful reality. Once arriving and parking the car, the two made their way into the austere-looking building. As he and William ascended to the fourth floor, Brian considered the polished cold steel enclosure of the elevator. Though certainly more expansive, he couldn’t
by Christina Lamoureux indicated that the car’s lineage was not pleasing to him. As they pulled out of the drive, William glanced over at his father who seemed rather distant today – more so than normal. “Dad, do you want me to stop for lottery tickets? We have time.” “No.” Brian turned his head to survey the receding scene of his neighborhood. “Not today. I don’t want to be one of those idiots standing in line to play some stupid game with sucker’s odds; I’m already doing that with my life son. Let’s just go get this
help but think of this box as not that dissimilar from a casket – both places to put a body as it, hopefully, shuttles away to some other place. The chime announcing their arrival awakened him from his reverie, and Brian prepared himself for the familiar onslaught he knew was coming. As the doors silently parted, the sensation was that of bitter cold air laced with the pungent sweetness of disinfectant and synthetic freshness. Brian wasn’t fooled; he knew that the artificial climate and
- 25 -
its accompanying olfactory mélange were designed with one purpose in mind: to disguise the obvious evidence of death and human decay from the place he was about to visit. He looked over at his son and contemplated William’s vacant expression. Brian silently shook his head and shuffled out towards the reception desk housed behind a floor to ceiling glass enclosure that had been erected to at least imply some kind of separation from those who milled about behind the barrier and those unfortunate souls who had occasion to congregate at its open windowed front. “Good morning, Sir,” said the overly friendly voice behind the opaque encampment belonging to a girl Brian suspected couldn’t be older than seventeen. “What’s the last name?” “Hurtz.” “Ahh, Brian Hurtz, got you right here for 9:30; looks like you’re a little early, which is fine. We’re kind of off to a slow start, so there’s plenty of room. Why don’t you pick out a free station, and one of the nurses will get you all set up. I’m sure the doctor will be in any time now too and will be right over as soon as she arrives.” Brian turned and reluctantly took in the expansive room that was bordered on the remaining three sides by large windows that overlooked the campus grounds unfolding below. Neatly arranged in small clusters of twos and threes along the windows, some facing out while others stubbornly faced away from the sunlit windows, were large overstuffed, seemingly comfortable, recliners. Each was, in turn, surrounded by various pieces of equipment that radiated their companion chair’s utilitarian purpose. Having more in common with their sinister cousin, Florida’s electric chair, than those found in cozy living rooms, these draconian beasts were designed for one thing: to hold its occupant in a suspended state long enough for the white coats behind the glass to administer the applicable protocol of poison concocted for each lounged soul. Though, of course, they preferred to call it by another more innocuous sounding name – chemotherapy. “Where do you want to go sit, Dad?” William asked. With nothing to distinguish one cluster of chairs from another, especially with so few seats actu-
ally being occupied at this early hour, all Brian could do was shrug his shoulders. His choice was actually rather simple: did he prefer to play the human lottery today, hoping to be the one from many who beat the odds and was saved, while lounging his ass in blue vinyl, or was he feeling like green vinyl? This, apparently, is what it all comes down to after a lifetime of seemingly important decisions. Do I want to get married? To her? Do I want to have kids? How many? Should I get another job? Do I like my job? No, after a life’s worth of conditioning into thinking that decisions actually mean something and are attached to ramifications with some actual weight, what it all boils down to is this: blue vinyl, green vinyl. What he really wanted, he decided, was to get back into Otis’ silver box and just be done with all this nonsense. He was tired of the race to see if it was the cancer or the chemo that killed him first. “I want an orange chair,” Brian announced to a perplexed William. “Go see if they have an orange one.” Nearly fifteen rarified miles north, behind the imposing gates of Willoughby Grande Estates, Elizabeth Kelly was tucked away in her five thousand square foot home but had her own cross to bear. She was, of course, running late again and yet couldn’t seem to muster the strength to do anything but stare up at the ceiling from under the covers. Though all the blackout curtains were tightly drawn in “the chamber” as she referred to her oversized and lushly appointed bedroom, she continued to strain at the dark recesses above as if somehow the meaning of something profound would suddenly descend and illuminate the darkness that wouldn’t let loose of her soul. She swung her legs from under the sheets and made contact with the cold barren expanse of the Rosa Aurora marble floor below; the expenditure for the bedroom flooring had at one time given her great satisfaction. Lately it was just cold. The kind of bitter cold that characterized painful memories one couldn’t change – permanently cold. With one final herculean effort, Elizabeth finally rose from the bed, lifting her arms upward and stepping out of her nightgown in one fluid movement. She crossed the room towards the suite’s attached spa-like master bathroom, pausing in front
- 26 -
of the floor to ceiling mirror that leaned against the wall opposite the bed long enough to consider her reflection. Though now forty-three, the decision not to have any children combined with her fastidious dedication to working out had saved Elizabeth the cruel injustice of watching her body completely deteriorate along with the rest of her life. She felt the familiar stab of regret over what now seemed misalligned priorities that had led her to this solitary place. Once in the bathroom, Elizabeth pulled out the upholstered chair in front of the “hers” vanity – the “his” had been conspicuously unused for over a year now – and sat down, pulling the illuminated makeup mirror towards her face. Once a prized possession, the mirror had various settings that changed the intensity and kind of lighting allowing her to change her makeup to suit whatever the day or evening would bring. She considered the various settings: evening, home, office, and day. She selected office and was greeted with the sudden harshness of florescent lighting which was never a favorite since it, above all the others, reflected the harsh truth of what was really there over the various other dimmer, and softer, settings that tended to blur and otherwise obfuscate the reality of what was reflected. Mirrors can, in fact, lie. As she began putting on her face, Elizabeth’s attention reflexively went to what she perceived to be her flaws and signs of aging. She was reasonably certain she could identify with particularity each meandering crevice and crack in her skin with the exact life event that had caused the fault line to emerge. The oldest lines were those on the outside of her eyes, the faint spider webbing that had begun early in life as she struggled to balance her academic pursuits against the reality of her having to work full time in order to make ends meet. Those creases that were etched along her forehead were most certainly tied to those years as an ambitious medical student. No doubt she owed the adjoining vertical lines between her eyes to her two years serving as chief oncology resident at the university’s affiliate hospital. Her eyes danced past several of the other small tell-tale signs and finally came to rest on the significantly more pronounced crevices that ran down either side of her nose towards her unsmiling mouth for these twins
were linked to the most brutal and unforgivable of life’s experiences – the one that had left her a . . . widow. As she reached to turn off the lit vanity, her attention focused on the slight white band of skin on the ring finger of her left hand. While life had seen fit to rob her of her husband and with him all the joy and happiness she had once known, the passing of time had done nothing to erase the telling tan line of where her wedding ring had been worn for twelve years. It, like the emotional scar associated with his absence, seemed destined to linger forever. She reached over to the wall and grabbed the bathroom’s telephone and dialed her office. In the precise fashion that had once characterized every facet of Elizabeth’s life, her call was answered after the first ring. “Oncology, this is Candace,” came the sweet voice. “Candie, it’s Dr. Kelly,” Elizabeth replied. “I’m running a bit late but will be there in less than thirty minutes. Is Mr. Hurtz there yet?” “Yes, Doctor, he’s here waiting, and the nurse is just checking his blood count. He’ll be ready for you by the time you arrive. We’ll see you when you get in.” Elizabeth hung up the phone and, as an afterthought, opened the medicine cabinet directly above to make sure everything was still there. On the top shelf were the various bottles of morphine and powerful pain medications that hospice had never bothered to retrieve after her husband had finally succumbed. The cancer had riddled his body with such ferocious speed that nothing could be done except attempt to manage his pain, while speeding along the inevitable with the copious amounts of morphine being injected into his collapsing veins. Elizabeth again considered the irony of how most lay persons considered doctors to somehow be possessed of some kind of superhuman ability to save lives, some even accusing them of having a god complex. It was obvious to her, as to anyone else who had ever taken the Hippocratic Oath, that physicians were often as impotent as anyone else to actually do anything other than act as a steward for whatever the universe otherwise had in store. Sighing, Elizabeth closed the medicine cabinet with the final thought of how she would soon enough put the stockpile of drugs to one last good use: the
- 27 -
dulling of her own pain – permanently. She quickly dressed and began the twenty minute drive to the medical facilities on campus. As she drove, she went through her checklist; she had already cleared her entire patient calendar by feigning plans to take a much deserved and needed vacation. Her colleagues had been quick to agree to take on the additional burden of her patients while she was “out of town,” for they all privately agreed she had not been herself in quite some time. Indeed, today’s appointment with Brian Hurtz would be her very last patient visit before -- it was, actually, to be her last appointment, period. And with that her thoughts went to the strange, undeniable bond between the two of them that made it absolutely essential that she at least see Brian one last time before she left this world and everything in it behind. The bond, of course, was simple: he was the last living tie that she had to her departed husband. Dr. Timothy Kelly had been a truly talented surgeon, one whose skill had only been matched by his willingness to make tough decisions and take bold decisive actions that most doctors shirked from. It was thus that fourteen months earlier, Tim, not knowing it would be his last surgery, had made the decision to put Brian under the knife for the highly complicated six hour long Whipple procedure to treat pancreatic cancer involving the removal of the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, a portion of the stomach, and other nearby tissues. Obviously this kind of pancreaticoduodenectomy was complicated under the best of circumstances, but with an eightyfive-year-old patient like Brian, it was considered by most surgeons to be a fool’s errand and a malpractice lawsuit just waiting to happen. The surgery had gone perfectly; the cancer was removed with sufficiently clean margins, and Brian’s prognosis went from guaranteed mortality to suddenly having cheated death. Clearly, however, death had not been pleased, for it was only three days later that Tim had collapsed from abdominal pain at home and was subsequently diagnosed with his own cancer – an untreatable variety that had completely enveloped his organs; he was dead within two months. As she pulled into the physician’s lot, Elizabeth struggled to push her husband’s memory from
her mind in order that she might focus long enough to get through what would be her final visit with the man who had become her most important patient. Checking her mirror, she wiped away the running mascara lines that the tears shed during the drive. Exiting the car, she briskly made her way to the elevator and held her finger over the button marked four a few moments before taking a final deep breath and pressing it. The ride up seemed somehow shorter than normal, and Elizabeth had barely composed herself when the doors opened onto the oncology ward. After checking in with the front desk and grabbing her patient file, Elizabeth turned and directed her attention to the far side of the room where Brian was sitting and made her way over. “How’s my favorite patient today?” Elizabeth inquired as she drew alongside him in a tone that she hoped disguised the turmoil she was feeling. “I’m okay, Lizzy, just okay,” came Brian’s subdued reply. Elizabeth sat on the wheeled chair in Brian’s station and rolled herself over next to his lounger, checked the tube connection leading from the machinery to the port surgically implanted under the skin in his chest; satisfied that everything looked good, she surveyed the status of the machinery and saw that Brian was nearly done receiving his weekly dose of chemo. After briefly reviewing her previous notes in his file, she again turned her attention back to Brian, taking his frail hand in her own. “Where is your son today?” she asked. “He’s around here somewhere. I sent him to go find me an orange chair. These blue and green ones make me want to puke. The poor kid probably got himself locked in a closet somewhere. You know he’s not the sharpest steak knife in the drawer right?” Brian said with just a hint of a smile. “Oh Brian, you are too much, what am I going to do with you? So tell me what’s going on, how have you been feeling this past week, how’s your energy level been?” “Doc, I got to tell ya, I’m getting tired of all this,” Brian quietly replied as he averted his gaze. “I really don’t think I want to do this anymore.” Though Elizabeth found his words extremely
- 28 -
disquieting, she was not surprised. She had sensed the man letting go for some time. She recognized the indicators for she too had been silently letting loose of the ties that bound her to this world for quite a while. Still, she had to say something. “Brian, what you’re feeling is natural. The chemo is quite hard on the body. It has to be – it’s designed to completely eradicate any cancer cells that may have lingered and prevent their coming back. Why on earth would you want to just give up when we are so close?” she asked. “Lizzy, I figured of all people you would know about wanting to give in and surrender the fight. We’ve been doing this on and off for eight months, every week, you think I haven’t been watching you? I notice the signs. I saw them all the time during the war, guys around you would just get shell shocked, and you could literally see the life just drain away – they’d become walking zombies. None of them was ever right afterwards either – saw it too many times doc, and I been watching it happen to you,” Brian said while staring into Elizabeth’s eyes with such an intensity she felt as if he were reading her very thoughts. “It’s been a rough time losing Tim,” was all she could muster in response while casting her eyes downward. “Oh no, sweetheart, you misunderstood. I’m not judging you, Lizzy, never would I do that, believe me – I understand the pain. I went through it all with my Blanche. Don’t you ever believe I’m thinking about you with anything but love in my heart. But, I know the signs, and you been somewhere else for quite a spell now – you been letting go all this time. What’s so bad if I do the same? I’m tired Lizzy, and I’m old…real old and real tired.” Elizabeth could feel the sting of tears begging to well up and had to fight to keep them at bay. “Brian, I don’t want it to be like this, but I honestly don’t know what to do. Nothing has worked, not the grief counseling, not the church bereavement groups, not even the three damn grief blankets I stitched and sewed with all the butter cookie-eating
elderly ladies at the hospice life transition meetings. I just can’t seem to shake the pain and, frankly, I’m not even sure what I’m doing anymore. I just want the pain to end. . . .” Elizabeth suddenly stopped, aware of actual words that couldn’t be taken back had just escaped her mouth. Brian looked back with a look of such warm understanding and compassion that Elizabeth was immediately off guard once again; they both smiled at one another in a way that communicated how each really saw the other, saw not just what was happening on the surface but the entirety of the person in front of them. It was one of those precious real moments in life, and Elizabeth wished it to last. The warning indicator from the machine indicated that the chemo cycle had ended and that Brian’s therapy session was complete. And, just like that, the moment had passed. After disconnecting the various pieces of equipment, Elizabeth helped Brian out of the chair, gave him a gentle hug, and began helping him walk towards the reception desk. Once arriving, she spoke to the young girl behind the glass, “Candie, give me an appointment card for Mr. Hurtz for next Friday morning at 9:30.” As she placed the card into Brian’s hand, she looked at him and inquired, “I’ll see you next week, Brian, right?” Candace inquired from behind the glass enclosure: “Doctor Kelly, you wanted me to schedule Mr. Hurtz with Doctor Baker since you’ll be away on vacation, right?” Not wanting to break eye contact with Brian, Elizabeth replied with her back to the counter, “No Candace, actually I am cancelling my vacation…Brian and I have agreed that the other plans we both had for next week can wait because what we are doing here together is far more important.” Brian turned around just in time to see his son laboring to push an orange-rust colored chair out of the elevator.
- 29 -
A version of this story first appeared in The Last Line.
Northwest despedida by Krystal Vazquez
The cane keeps you up or I do. Stiff legs in winter, you must sit like the old man you aren’t. The waiter sees your school boy blonde hair and blue-eyed get-up-and-go. and orders that you order or else he can’t allow you the chair. Overpriced hot toddies half-drunk in line for ramen speak instead of the needles and pins.
I ride the yellow chair at dawn against the kitchen wall (I got you, you say, I got you). The curtains call on us from above the sink and I kiss your left cheek, avoiding the stabbing pain on the right side of your mouth that comes the first night after every monthly muscle injection but you say, leaves by morning.
Saturday after Saturday back to your stateless studio where pill bottles line the walls like books, your spontaneous leg spasms shoot up my fingertips and your body moves, swiftly, the way it never can on eye-dotted sidewalks, making my body the unruly one on your ex’s old sheets.
- 30 -
by Leonor Morrow “If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life.” - Pablo Neruda I want you to be the sun beam that wakes me up every morning or maybe, the lamp light that eases me from my slumber. On darker days, I would beckon you to my doorstep. You’d greet me as fresh kindling, and I would be warm again. You ignite a flame in me with just one touch: there is kerosene in your eyes, and I have never kissed anything brighter. When you approach me, it is like a flock of birds landing on my chest. I am happy simply being underneath your wing.
- 31 -
Louïe all’arrabbiata by Isabelle Berten
1. Bring four quarts water to a roiling boil.
nna sits in the third row of a vacant classroom, a forgotten page of lecture notes crumpled on the floor, eraser marks on the board, the fluorescent lights flickering, one, one-two, one. She chooses the same seat every night, has done so for so long she’s memorized the vulgar markings in the desk and the rattle in the left leg. Her evening starts at eight and ends at a quarter to nine, right before the janitor makes his nightly rounds and tries to peel away the gum she sticks beneath the metal chair. Wintergreen, Extra. Dinner is first. Anna makes batch meals every Sunday to get her through the week, heating up one Ziploc container in the microwave for two minutes, despite what her mother warns about the plastic leaching chemicals into her food. She likes to think they give it a special something that counteracts the freezer burn, a delicious bite to the monotony of the same meal every day. Savery 244 faces west, a wall of gothic windows and broken blinds. By the time Anna’s anthropology class comes to an end, the room is painted in brushstrokes of pink and gold, slow patterns of lines she pretends to draw in her page margins. Her professor is standard: little hair, glasses, memorized lectures no one needs to pay attention to. She takes scattered notes with a pencil made of black wood. They take three weeks to arrive from Japan in boxes of twenty-four, ordered on the first Tuesday of every month. She uses the same pencils when she returns at night, devotes herself to a single page of paper until the clock signals her time is up. She sharpens it every fifteen minutes, following the chimes, using an aluminum sharpener her grandfather gave her. It’s German, blade so sharp she’s cut herself twice. Now her pencils write with bits of her every time, a more personal touch to the scrawls.
The clock strikes eight. Twist, three turns to the right. She peels away a silver foil wrapper and opens her mouth to slide in a stick of green gum. Today’s lecture was on Peru. Her notes are sparse, words here and there that she tries to piece together. “Potatoes: purple, red, yellow.” “Alpacas.” “Greater lung capacity.” Other notes, too, larger, more noticeable. “Stain on his shirt in the shape of Sicily.” “Dull, hours old.” “Mustard, maybe.” His sweater was red today. Wool. The clock strikes a quarter of. Twist. Class meets twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Only two days to get her through a whole week. It’s maddening, just enough to push her past the point of sanity. Almost. She prides herself on being able to keep it in control, to handle the wait and the anxiety behind each day without letting it get to her. Other girls can be so dramatic, gasping for air if he meets their eyes, shrieking in the hallways if he handed them their dropped pencil, thinking he’s out of earshot. In the beginning it was overwhelming, the rapid thumping of her heart, like rabbit’s feet, the sound of her blood pumping by her ears, one-two one-two one-two one-two. She adapted, learned to deal, survival of the fittest. He sits one seat over on the left, one row up. The first day of class, he leaned over, stuck out his hand, eyes dancing, “Hi. I’m Louie.” His fingers were so thin, slim, the skin so white. “Anna.” His hand lit firecrackers in her fingerprints, jolting sparks through the lines of her palm. A tornado stirred in her chest, tsunami waves rocking her stomach, wild.
- 32 -
One time last month he caught the flu and didn’t show up for two weeks straight, an empty chair and silence at the roll call. She wrote dark poetry and suicide notes at night until he returned. The clock strikes half past. Twist. She has the best view in the whole room. There is nothing like his right ear. Small, pointed, imperfect. Like someone had taken a bite out of the upper part. Little notches, divots. How she longed to trace the valleys and the hills, feel the softness of the skin. She followed them slowly, delicately, carefully. Wanted to learn everything as much as she knew that ear. Every minute of that class she would glance to her right, count to twelve, and let out her breath, slow, steady, calming. It was an impossible project, but still she tried, every night. Forty-five minutes of silence and her memory and the best job she could do. Her pencil drags along the page, stops next to the most beautiful words yet. “Group project.” “October sixteenth.” “Names due Tuesday.” The clock strikes
a quarter ’til. Twist, three turns to the right, sharp. She takes out the wad of gum, tasteless, hard and dry, and sticks it under the seat, a gift for the janitor. Ritualistic, almost.
- 33 -
by Mark Keffer
2. Add pasta. Turn heat down to a simmer.
ouie was tall and thin, and rode a bike. He bought sweaters by the half dozen at Village Discount Thrift when they had their green tag sale (every fourth Tuesday), which he wore until they went threadbare. His bag was filled with Russian literature, dogeared pages of the descriptions he had to reread before he could understand them. He worked in a bookstore and lived in the apartment above with three others. The whole east wall was exposed brick, murky red, the mortar sloughing away each time anyone touched it. They had made a game of slicing out the bricks that were the worst for wear, hollowing them out and filling them with money, candy, photos of old girlfriends, new girlfriends. A locked vault all their own. One brick had gone missing, probably shattered during a drunken stupor, dropped out a window or thrown in a lake. They had built a shrine in the crevice, tea candles and little curtains made of ripped red cloth from the insides of their jackets. Gold coins from casinos, paper umbrellas from bars, Polaroid photos of subway cars and graffiti in alleyways. A glimpse into their lives. Louie woke with the sun, showered with a soap that smelled of sandalwood, and picked up a poppyseed bagel and coffee at the café on the corner before opening the bookstore at seven. He helped men with white hair and thick bifocals find how-to’s on birdcalls and mothers with tired eyes and ponytails select thin, glossy books on trains and clueless lovers pick out anniversary gifts of first edition Fitzgeralds and Brontës. He left after lunch, rode to campus on his bike, a junkyard find he had remodeled with his best friend when he was fourteen. His father referred to his education as “a hodgepodge of nothing”, a quote Louie figured would be better suited to replace the university’s slogan than to describe his transcript. Louie chose to operate on the premise that there was more to gain from an obscure class than one he could have taken anywhere else, and so his days were filled with topics from African art to anthropology of mountains. His last class of the day made him shuttle
across campus from Holton to Savery, but lately he found that the journey was going by faster than usual. His mind was elsewhere, distracted, anticipating, blood rising to his cheeks. He was lucky that he sat in front of her, because it would have been difficult to do anything but stare if he had had the luxury of doing so. He was limited to a mere two glimpses a day, one on the way in, the other on the way out, and noticed something new each time, it seemed. The smattering of freckles on her nose, how her eyelashes grazed her cheeks when she blinked, the way the sun made her hair look even redder by the end of class. He wondered if she had studied him as much as he had tried to learn her. The professor lectured absentmindedly about Nepal, balding head glimmering under the lights, buttons on his wrinkled shirt misaligned. Louie spent his time trying to draw the sticker by the light switch, placed in every room after the university was christened a Greenie Campus Finalist. The slogan in bubble letters, “Saving energy, saving you”. The peeling edges, dust trapped underneath, bits of dead skin and gray hair, likely. He was jolted back to reality by the feverish sound of books being slammed and shoved into bags, zippers pulling shut. His throat caught as the professor shouted over the shuffle of students, armed to exit, “Group names!” A chance gifted from the heavens above. He stopped her as she got up to leave, his tongue so dry it stuck to his palate. “Do you want to work together?” She was wearing red, a cotton blouse. “Sure. Do you want to come over this weekend?” It was so casual, so easy. She couldn’t have been feeling the way he was, nerves in his whole body on fire, high alert. “Yeah, sure. Sounds good.” He hadn’t expected it when he introduced himself on the first day. How smooth her voice was, like silk. A joy to the ears, his ears. “You have something in your hair.” She reached up, picked a red thread out of his dark curls. Her fingers grazed his ear, lightning shocks.
- 34 -
“What about Sunday?”
3. Drain through a colander. Transfer to a skillet with onion, tomato, peppers, and garlic.
nna lit amber candles in the living room and drank herbal tea laced with half a Valium to come back down to reality. Her weekly grocery bag sat on the counter, stuffed to the brim with tomatoes on the vine, a head of garlic, a box of pasta labeled “Orecchiette”. Little ears. How fitting. Small shells that did no justice to the term, more reminiscent of baby bonnets than anything else, but perfect for holding sauce from now until Saturday. She cooked her pasta 3 minutes longer than the box said, every time, drenched it in sauce and real tomatoes and basil and spinach, steaming, boiling, spiked it with peppers until her tongue burned deliciously with every bite. It made her eyes go wide and white and a fire start in her chest that got her from Tuesday to Thursday and back again. Today was her lucky break, one extra day she had been thinking about since she had touched the tip of his ear last week. By the time four rolls around, she has jazz music playing through the speakers in her apartment, wavering voices and saxophones. It’s driving her insane, so slow, the melodies forced, ancient. She stands at the kitchen counter crushing garlic cloves and julienning spinach, dressed in blue, a swipe of red lipstick on her lips. The doorbell buzzes with such force that she startles, muscles jolting. Her knife clatters to the floor. She picks it up and places it on the edge of the sink, delicately balanced, gleaming in the light. 4. Sauté until golden.
ouie debated bringing something along, a hostess gift of sorts. At the last minute he swiped a chocolate truffle from his roommate’s stash in the second brick down from the Paris poster. His palms smeared sweat on his handlebars the entire bike ride over. The door is industrial, painted black, ominous. He paces
back and forth for three minutes before pressing the buzzer marked 4E, written in ballpoint pen on the back of a gum wrapper and shoved into the plastic slot so hastily it’s creased in the middle. The door clicks open with a buzz, locks behind him automatically as he stumbles up the carpeted flights of stairs. He wipes his hands on his jeans before knocking. “Hi.” Anna steps to the side to let him in. Her apartment is bright, welcoming. He follows her into the kitchen, the wooden planks of the floor creaking beneath his shoes like organ groans, an accompaniment to the riffs of jazz, a delight to his ears. “I like the music. Sarah Vaughan?” “Oh, yeah. Just a playlist of my favorites.” “Really? You like jazz?” “Love it. They don’t make music like it anymore.” He must have found the perfect girl. “That’s exactly what I think! You know, if they – ” She cuts him off as she picks up her knife, slices expertly through a clove of garlic, mincing it into cubes, “I thought we could bounce ideas off each other while I finish up here. Sound good?” Her gaze meets his, one eyebrow raised, daring him to turn her down. “Uh, yeah, great.” “Good. I think a poster would be easiest. I can take one from the art room.” She rattles on as she chops, dress swinging with each brusque movement of her arms as if they were puppet strings, every move orchestrated and rehearsed to look seamless to the public. Louie struggles to swallow. He hadn’t planned on working on their project at all. Had he read her all wrong? She glides her knife along the edge of the cutting board, sliding everything into a big pot set over a blue flame. The room starts to smell like his childhood, the pasta dishes his mother would make to feed their family of six. Memories assault him so quickly his vision goes blurry, dizzying. He gets up with a start, needs a change of scenery for half a second, a moment to gather his thoughts.
- 35 -
“Where’s your bathroom?” “The door on the right,” she points with her knife, the tip held steady, even. He moves along, hands shaking. The doorknobs gleam in the light. “This one here?” “No, the right.” He doesn’t hear her, his ears failing him for the first time in his life. “Don’t – ” The room is dark, but the setting sun pouring in through the window highlights the space in wide, wide lines, wide enough to make out the papers tacked to the wall. Is the music getting louder? Is he dreaming? Photographs on the walls, newspaper clippings, his History of Jazz term paper stapled to the peeling wallpaper, yellowing. Recipes from his grandmother’s cookbook, black and white images of his back as he exits the bookstore, poppyseed glued to a sheet from his notebook. The sun falls on the desk, scattered in clippings, held down by a single brick, hollowed out, stuffed with ivory paper. It matches his fingers. Pencil sketches of ears. Hundreds. The same one over and over and over again. The door creaks and Louie spins around, catches a glimpse of her standing in the doorway, shrouded in darkness. She moves in close, right before him, the sun casting a banner of light over her eyes, pupils dilated, lashes so long they reach her cheeks. “Aren’t they beautiful?” A knife to the knee. Louie feels the truffle in his pocket flatten as he falls to the ground. A knife to the throat. She hovers before him, her eyes glowing milky white, rabid.
years later. Anna scoops pasta with a ladle, dripping with sauce, and piles it high in the center of a deep bowl. She wipes the splatter marks off the edge with a damp cloth and sits at her table, back straight against the plastic chair. She eats it like soup, using one large silver spoon, savoring each bite. It was almost too easy, so much so it distracted from the beauty a bit. She traced the ear on a fresh sheet of paper, perfect at last, like a prized Michelangelo sketch. She made three copies and slipped them all into an accordion folder, fifth tab down. Afterwards she carried it back to her cutting board, debated between mincing and dicing and settled on slicing. Slid the whole into the casserole pot, watched it bubble along until she couldn’t tell the difference between the baby bonnets and her orecchietta. Louie tasted like silver. Metallic. Tangy. Hint of sandalwood. She takes a shot of cognac at the end of the meal, divides the leftovers into stained Ziploc containers, and labels them for every day of the week before arranging them neatly in the back of her freezer. It had been such a perfect end, sunset. The light bathed everything in violet, bouncing off the notches in his upper ear the same way it had on the very first day she had noticed him, glowing. She takes a seat at her desk, savors the moment, notes all the sounds. The dulcet tones of Nina Simone wavering in the background. The smack of her gum against her molars. The dull squeak of rubber as the freezer doors close. A flattened chocolate truffle on the floor catches her eye, the foil wrapper ripped in places. “He loved me, too,” she thinks. She lifts the wrapper off, smoothes it out, picks up her pencil and writes, in loopy cursive, “No. 5.” Takes her knife and slips it across, staining the paper a dull, murky red. Presses it to her lips, a mix of lipstick and pasta sauce creating a personalized 5. Serve. Enjoy. border, violent shades of crimson. It fits into the label of the accordion folder perfectly, as if it was meant to be. The music dies out, the sun fades away, and Anteam rises from the pot on the stove, disappearing na’s heart finally slows, the thumps steady, reliable, into the ceiling to reappear in bubbles in the plaster quiet. Almost.
- 36 -
American Son by Anna Shuster
I met you in the dog tag days your uniform a shade of blue I saw the sea in and my thoughts whisked you away to that place where sailors take nurses in their arms, their kisses full of promised peace. But your hands still carried the weight of this yearâ€™s warfare, and even in the summer wind you knew a colder touch than I could understand. Still you blazed on, American son, and my imagination made you old school straight from a Sinatra tune and I, your lucky lady, just in time for the song to end. Late July, you faded like the flash of the rocketâ€™s red glare back into the dream you always were.
by Lily Gibbons
- 37 -
Broken Concrete by Ryan Johnston
The soul falls, concrete under weight of time. Cement mutates as thoughts shift and sublime, Spidering streaks break solid slab in two. One half is bizarre, veiled and volatile: Invariably shifting so to catch Each and every passer’s foot, quicksand’s match. Alone, it seems enough, yet all the while… The other stands familiar and stable: With known curves it folds gracefully through age. It exists like a run-of-the-mill fable: Ever-changing, yet borne into a cage. Both brandish ability to imbue, But the pair’s friction was without a cure; Such a union could never have endured.
- 38 -
by Mark Keffer
by Kevin Phelan
Northwest Passage by Owen Eagan
Mayhap the wild and wicked wonder Will whisper with the wind of night, And we, waiting, would watch the roaring thunder Rend the sky in deathly white Seams and ties ‘twixt World and world— It seems as if it had not passed— And whirled away in blackness furled, Passed dauntlessly the raucous blast Of wind that wraps and rings with screeching And bears against temporal dust Of reason cloaked in hallowed teaching And claps the shining steel to rust.
- 40 -
And wherewith against the Might of Meekness, Hiding in the stillest glade, And bursting out in matchless sleekness, Could we defend our weakened state? It chances once in favor fleeting, Then turns about in baleful woe, For how could one avoid the meeting With this most terrific foe? It climbs clockwise with cool claws clasped, Clutching coarse walls amongst deep shelves of mind, Evading all glances, but then settling back, To meager gains granted, turned skyward in time. And avoiding sharp pins and the critic’s keen glass, A furtive, evasive, drawn specter at dawn, And passing and lasting, digging halting morass— Explosions of sunlight leave one concussed, stunned—long gone. It whiles with ample and well-dreamt prediction Growing lightsome and falling out well past the mark, And then vexes with wiles far ahead of description, Befuddling and worrisome as the day’s light runs dark. Alone, awash, away, aright— On the ice-plain of a sunless moon, Then breaking back to-ward the fight As emboldened chest beats a blazing tattoo. To rescue, to protect, to devote the whole essence, To raise with breathless effort by pulley and joist With the very being that gives one presence, And leads to that last brink of choice. Building and watching through wizening gaze, Eyes brim-full with saline mirth, One’s only pause in their amaze That fear had ever pricked their worth. Mayhap the wild and wicked wonder Might enter in the winds of night, And we, waiting, would watch a cannonade of thunder And excite in the bond of right with its right.
- 41 -
Love’s Laboratory Lost by Mac Dinneen
he scientist, deep in the heart of the chrome-plated lab, was attempting to insert rod A into slot B when he heard a rumbling from the ceiling above. He looked up to see a vent plate falling down with a loud knock onto the silver floor between the Perpetual Motion Machine and the Heat Ray. From the newly created gap in the roof two men somersaulted down, each clad in black camo and hoisting laser rifles. One of them, the slightly shorter of the two, wore face paint and a helmet. The other sported sun shades and he was the first one to notice the scientist. “Hey science bro!” Shades said, aiming his laser rifle, “we’ve come for something and we mean to take it!” “The treasures of science are not the playthings of thugs!” spat the scientist in a nasally tone. “Defense-O, attack!” Emerging from the line of machines that stretched throughout the room, Defense-O came to life. With iron claws outstretched, he pivoted around on his cylindrical legs toward the intruders. He lumbered slowly towards them, the red dot that was his cyclopean eye beeping to life. “BEEP BEEP BEEP,” he beeped. Shades and Helmet watched Defense-O coming at them for a few seconds before looking at each other and shrugging. They lifted their laser rifles and fired at Defense-O who exploded and, like a firework that with a loud bang scatters its bright coloration throughout the sky, so too did a cornucopia of rust-colored junk rain throughout the lab with a clatter, the bucket-like head landing at the feet of the scientist. “BEEP BLEEP BLEARGH,” beeped the last of Defense-O as his red dot faded to black. The scientist knelt down and cradled the head to his chest. “Defense-Nooooooo!” he cried. “Please, we’re defenseless! Take what you want, just let Defense-O and I go!”
“Quick!” said Shades to Helmet. “We can use our laser rifles as clubs!” Running up to the scientist, Shades and Helmet clubbed him savagely, knocking the head of Defense-O to the ground. Running over to the head, they clubbed it into misshapen scrap before incinerating it into ash with a final round of laser fire. “Now that we’re safe,” said Helmet, “we can find what we came for.” “Not so fast,” said Shades. “We can’t just leave him free,” he said, pointing to the nearly unconscious and concussion-riddled scientist who now lay facedown in a pool of his own blood. “You’re right. We should tie him up.” “Too risky. Better cut off his arms.” “Good call, bro.” “Wait,” spat the scientist weakly through a mouth of blood and missing teeth. “Please just tell me what you want and I can tell you where it is.” “Alright, geek,” said Shades as he aimed his laser rifle, “and you only get one shot at this: tell us, where is… the Time Machine?” “It’s over there, man!” said the scientist nearly in tears as he pointed to the immediate left of Shades to a Time Machine, by which there was a sign in big, bold lettering that read: TIME MACHINE. “Oh sure, nice try scientist! The ‘Fake Time Machine on Display to Throw Us off the Trail of the Real Time Machine’ Gambit. I just hope that obvious lie was worth your life!” He cocked the laser rifle. “Hey, hold on a second bro!” interjected Helmet. “Since when did we come here for a Time Machine?” “Dude!” rebutted Shades as he lowered the laser rifle, “we’ve always been coming here for a Time Machine. After all,” he said as he turned his gaze toward the Time Machine. He walked up and stroked its red enamel. “What better way is there to have the same love twice?” “Dude, that’s crazy! The only reason I agreed to this plan—other than the fact than it’s been two
- 42 -
months since Melanie dumped you and I need you off my couch, bro!—is that you promised we were going to steal a Mind Wiper. You said you desired that you and her become better strangers!” “What I meant, obviously, is that I wanted her to become a stranger to the me now. By going back in time and starting the relationship over from the beginning, then I’ll be able to realize my true desire: nonstop banging!” “Dude, that’s dumb!” “You’re dumb!” “There’s all kinds of love in the world, man. And let’s be honest here, Melanie was not that hot.” “Dude!” “Can I say something?” mustered the scientist. “Shut up, nerd!” screamed Shades. “You’ll be dead soon anyway! But don’t worry, you’ll be going to hell with a companion—this jabroni, if he keeps screwing around like a punk-ass bitch!” “Me a jabroni!?” marveled Helmet. “I’m the one whose been screwing around? Look at yourself ! What do the shades do? The camo isn’t for fashion bro, the whole point is not to be seen and remembered!” “Bro, I look fucking amazing, okay?” “Dude, that’s not the point! Okay? This is why Melanie left you, okay? A time machine’s not gonna help you with that!” “Dude!” “Okay, okay, I’m sorry, you’re right. That’s not your real shortcoming. But it’s not like a time machine is going to help you fix that either,” said Helmet as he pointed to his crotch. “Duuuuude!” said Shades, this time aiming his laser rifle. “Not cool. My dick ain’t the issue.” “Look bro, I’m just ridin’ you.” Helmet chuckled. “Like Melanie doesn’t do anymore!” Shades fired a laser beam at Helmet’s feet that scorched the chrome. Helmet leapt back. “Okay okay okay. The whole point is that you aren’t going to find an easy answer here. Okay? It’s over. Find that Mind Wiper. Forget about her. And move on.” “Your friend is right,” said the scientist. “But also… wrong.” “Dude…” said Helmet softly. “There are no easy answers in love. But the Mind Wiper is an easy answer too. Whether magic tricks or
cheap literary clichés, the fast, painless solution is not one at all. Maybe you don’t have the same love twice, but so what? Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe the first love was garbage, you ever think of that? And do you know what it means to become better strangers? It doesn’t mean to forget, it means to move on with your life. Maybe you won’t find the answer out there in the new, but you surely won’t find it clinging to the old.” The scientist coughed blood onto the floor.
- 43 -
by Christina Lamoureux
“Or maybe you will! What do I, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or William Shakespeare, know about your love life? Only you have the wisdom and the experience to decide that for yourself. Yes, your experience may have brought you pain, but it has brought you understanding as well. There are all kinds of love in the world, but only you can decide what kinds lead to lovers and what kinds lead to strangers. Love and pain and time and happiness and all.” Helmet wiped away the tears from his eyes. “So what do you think, man? Are you ready to start the game of love again—the RIGHT way?” The laser beam from Shades’s rifle caused Helmet’s head to explode instantly. As Defense-O’s destruction had earlier sprayed the chrome exterior of the lab with metallic splinters, so too did Helmet’s demise stain the room with bloody droplets and meaty chunks. Blood splashed onto the scientist so that it was hard to tell where he was covered in his own juice and where he was covered in Helmet. “I want instant gratification, and I want it now,” said Shades. The scientist wanted to respond, but he was too busy puking. “You said magic couldn’t give me what I wanted. But I came here for SCIENCE. Are you telling me that science is lame too?” The scientist wiped the vomit away from his mouth and looked at Shades with red, glowing eyes. “What did you say about science?” “Are you telling me that in all this junk there isn’t a single thing that can help me win Melanie back?” “There is… something. But it comes with a terrible cost.” Shades aimed the laser rifle. “Get it.” “But my bones—“ Shades cocked the laser rifle. “Okay, okay.” The scientist slowly made it to his feet. “My organs!” he howled in pain. “Less whining, more winning—Melanie’s heart back.” Slowly, and in much agony, the scientist led Shades over to a small device kept in a laser dome on top of a golden pedestal. The scientist punched in a code on the nearby keypad and the laser disintegrated. The
scientist took the device, a ray gun-looking apparatus, into his hands. The nearby sign read: MIND VIPER. “A Mind… Viper?” asked Shades. “Yes. Whereas a Mind Wiper can be used to delete one’s own mind, the Mind Viper will allow you to take control of another’s mind. Overriding their will, any person can be made to do anything… even love. Of course, the cost is a metaphysical one, the predatory nature of forcing someone to—“ Shades grabbed the Mind Viper while shoving the scientist away hard to the ground. “At last,” he said, “the device I’ve been searching for. Melanie shall be mine.” The scientist, slowly crawling away, rolled over on his back. “All you have to do is fire it at someone. Then they will be under your power. You can even use it to… wipe their memories.” “A Mind Viper and a Mind Wiper all in one. With this the game of love shall become quite fun indeed. Yes, Shakespeare, when I’m done with them the ladies shall become great strangers indeed. Now as for you, Mr. Scientist, I don’t think you need to remember me either.” Shades pulled the trigger and was instantly immolated by the exploding ray gun. When the smoke cleared his bare skeleton held the charred remains of the gun. The gun turned to dust in his bony fingers, then his bones flopped into a pile with a comical noise. His sun shades remained impeccably affixed on his skull. “Heh,” said the scientist. “The ‘Fake Fake Time Machine Gambit to Attract Attention Away from the Fake Exploding Ray Gun’ Gambit. Checkmate, bitch. Blergh.” The scientist puked black bile. “Oh boy. Defense-O, call for help.” The pile of ash that used to be Defense-O’s head continued to smolder. “Should have built… second robot… or… better… first… robot. Ugh, fools, all. Yes, their love problems… and… all such… love problems… could have been solved if… only they… listened… to…” Expelling the last of his energy by talking out loud to no one when he should have been conserving it by staying quiet, the scientist died.
- 44 -
To Write by Henry Bule
To write is subjugation. Desperate to escape those inky threads, close calls, deadly flirtation, trapped somewhere between death and salvation, ensnared in silky cursive spider webs. Emotional starvation, hungry for words, a blank sheet of paper. A long lost trepidation returns, relearned, inside out, misshapen, outside in—a shift shaper. Oh, this manifestation of burning, churning passion. How it grows. These changes. Raw and unshaven. Monsters, ever-evolving mutations, beasts that lurk in the shadows. To write is a temptation. A capricious sin, so thinly disguised in flesh. This infestation, a pen on papery skin sensation, a poison strong enough to paralyze. Hands spin the mind’s translation. Black pigment dances a violent ballet. Fingertip animation. Pages and pages. Ink dehydration. What a pity it is to be the prey. Emotional damnation with a crack of bones and muscle kneading. This written amputation, a feeling of torturous frustration… one you wish weren’t so fleeting.
- 45 -
Performance by Christina Lamoureux Every night, the man jumps from the cliff to the hoots and cries of those on the shore. Before he leaps he swallows fire. As the rocks rush up at his face, he is thinking of his shoes and the sound an egg makes when you crack it.
by Lily Gibbons - 46 -