Copyright © 2015 Concrete All Rights Reserved Concrete Literary Magazine is an annual print and monthly online journal produced in downtown Boston, amid blue-tinted high rises and blackened train tracks, at the tables of crowded cafés and at the mercy of flickering wireless internet. Established in 1982, Concrete, like Boston, or New York, or London, or Shanghai, is continuously evolving to match its urban population. Within the journal's pages—both virtual and print—can be found a collection of prose and poetry that represents the dynamic nature of city life and the vivaciousness of Emerson's writers.
All of the work found within the pages of Concrete is original work published by undergraduates of Emerson College under the Student Government Association and the Writing, Literature, and Publishing department. All rights revert to the authors and artists upon publication, and permissions to republish must be gained directly through the contributors.
Submissions: Concrete accepts unsolicited submissions from registered students of Emerson College, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry and screenplays. Submissions should be delivered electronically via Submittable at concretelitmag.com/submit. Please also include a cover sheet that includes your name, Emerson ID, email address, phone number, and the title and genre of the work submitted. Do not include your name within the document of the piece. Please do not submit to both the Print and Online categories simultaneously. Emerson College 120 Boylston Street Boston, MA 02116
STAFF Marketing Director Andy Pham
Managing Editor Kayla Tostevin
Marketing Assistant Liza Hsu
Poetry Editor Marina Starkey
Head Copy Editor Spencer Shannon
Assistant Poetry Editor Sahalie Martin
Copy Editing Assistant Emily Mackenzie
Prose Editor Malcolm Sullivan
Design Director Claire Torres
Assistant Prose Editor Rebecca Rozenberg
Design Assistant Tim Biddick
Marketing Consultant Mariesa Negosanti
Editor-in-Chief ZoĂŤ Fay-Stindt
Prose Readers Cara DuBois Victoria Menson Jeannine Hennawi Ashley Tenn Kaylee Anzick Sammi Curran Madeline Poage Kristina Del Pico
Poetry Readers Jessica Austin Richie Wheelock Jeannine Hennawi Erini Katopodis
Table of Contents Passage Erini Katopodis
Midwest Storms Richie Wheelock
Everything is Temporary Sahalie Martin
Meet Me In The Bathroom Elizabeth Capot
Dear David Fincher Isabel Mäder
The Girl Erini Katopodis
Giving Flowers to a Boy in Milton, Vermont Jessica Austin
When Ruth Lowers the Switch Jeannine Hennawi
Perfect Thing Erini Katopodis
How I Turned Into A Bird Rhianna Reinmuth
Honeymoon Isabel Mäder
Little Towns Victoria Menson
I Want to Grow Out of the Ground Erini Katopodis
Recovery on a Farm Zoë Fay-Stindt
PASSAGE Erini Katopodis
I was here, I was here: I am evidence of me, myself. I will not die—did you know that? They tell me that I will, but it isn’t true. I walk through any place and leave behind enough skin to sketch an outline of my dancing body, the shed cells lingering. When I leave, my ghost in dust re-walks my steps, repeats my motions; my ghost in dust echoes my words when they leave my mouth. I have a hundred copies of myself repeating, and so I do not ever leave. My other selves sweeten the air with my breath though I am not there to breathe it. I rub my hands on a wall until I feel skin sticking—I pluck a hair and hide it under a rock—I chew a toothpick and bury it. I need this semi-permanence. Markers as manifestations. A thousand years in the future, some race studying strange dead civilizations will pick up the pieces of me. Their scientists will analyze me back to life, take the toothprints and build up my jaw. Then cheeks, eyes and mouth, and they will find me this way. My face will stare out of their screens long after I’m dead. They will talk to me, and my eyes will hold no secrets. Here, in the dirt—there, in the sand. Every strand of me reappearing as if I never left. I am a thousand places, on every rock I have ever walked, and every cement block upon which I have spat. I am nowhere; I will not die; I am moving. Leaving pieces of myself, so many ghosts stretching my being wide. I am evidence of me, myself.
Everything is Temporary
They were about thirty miles outside of Omaha when she asked him to pull over. “I feel sick,” she said, flicking her cigarette ashes out the open window. The truck window was always open because some kids from the barley farm had thrown a rock through the glass a few years ago. Outside, the cornfields were withering in the August heat, either mowed smooth or snapped halfway down the stalks. “It hasn’t even been an hour since the last time,” he said without looking at her. “I know that.” “Damn it, why’d you get a Snickers bar if you knew you were just gonna throw up again?” The candy had been sitting in the sun and had already been half-melted by the time she’d opened it, and the chocolate stains on her fingers rolled onto the cigarette as she tapped ashes onto the road. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Please,” she said quietly, “I don’t want to do it in the truck.” “Fine.” The truck sputtered on in the slow lane of the highway, pulling up behind a large, beat-up station wagon. It had probably once been white but was now spattered with mud and road dust. Over the tops of the baggage piled in the back, they could see three small heads lined up in the back seat.
“I’ve always wanted one of them,” she said, eyeing the station wagon fondly. “Think about the trips we could take if we had one of them. We could go into town whenever we wanted!" “I told you, we’ll never need all that room,” he said, flipping on the radio. “We’ve decided we got everything right here.” He tried to listen to it as they drove, but the stations flickered in and out and eventually went to static. There were no radio towers anywhere near them, just wide brown fields and clear blue sky that stretched out for miles and miles. The only green things around them were the road signs, which reflected the sunlight with a white-hot glare so bad that he nearly missed the exit. When he did pull off, it was a hairpin turn that made the truck groan in protest. Suddenly he braked hard, throwing himself and his wife violently forward as two white-tufted deer darted across the road in front of them and into the ditch on the other side. “Did you have to stop so suddenly?” she demanded as he revved the truck back up again. She had thrown her arms out onto the dashboard to keep herself from hitting it, and there was cigarette ash littering the surface. “Why weren’t you wearing a seatbelt?” “It hurt my chest,” she muttered. She rubbed her fleshy wrists, wincing. Inwardly, he cursed her sensitivity, her carelessness, the chocolate fingerprints smeared along the dashboard. He pulled into the rest stop, which featured a gas station and tiny convenience store that was more or less identical to the one they had stopped at an hour before. She opened the passenger door, which squeaked in protest, and peeled herself away from the seat, waddling across the gravel and into the small store. The store was painted white, and there was a sign in the window for a big, shiny hotel that had never been built. He knew this because the exit listed was one that they had taken an hour ago, where there had been nothing but a large, barren hole behind a gas station surrounded by skeletons of backhoes that were no longer moving. The sign for the hotel had a picture of a pool and a smiling family whose teeth were whiter than the rest of the station. It read “Everything Is
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Temporary. Don’t Waste Another Moment! Book Your Stay Today.” After several minutes, he realized that she was not coming out any time soon, and the heat was beginning to roast the inside of the truck bed. He swung himself out of the truck, slammed the door behind him, and entered the tiny convenience store. A blast of cold air hit him as soon as the door swung open—the store was chilled to arctic levels. To his left was a smooth white counter, complete with register, cigarettes, and a bored-looking employee in a blue apron whose plastic name tag read “Annie”. To his left was a selection of tools on metal shelves: small wrenches and screwdrivers with the handles facing towards him, sitting below small white face masks as though ready to be grabbed at any moment. Despite its outside appearance, the place was clinically clean. He began to wander among the aisles, picking up packages and pretending to read ingredients he could not pronounce before discarding them each in turn. He came to the tall, narrow fridges on the opposite wall where cartons of ice cream and soda sat in their frosted lines. The cold seemed to reach out from the fridges and cool the metal shelves around the store. He backed away from the chill and turned to examine small packages of snack cakes. They were the same kind he had gotten as a kid whenever his father had taken him to the gas station. They would drive to the station in the same truck that was currently parked outside. The radio had worked then, and he had watched his father turn the knob at the speed of lightning, listening to no more than ten seconds of a station before moving on. The little snippets of noise came back to him now as he stood there—a halffinished sentence, the beginning of a guitar riff, a price for something he would never own. He remembered dreading the split second of silence between songs, holding his breath until another one came on, letting it out again. Sometimes, if the stations suited his father’s tastes, he could almost breathe normally again. He was jerked back into the present by a sudden, loud humming coming from the register. It came from a large metal milkshake mixer churning behind the counter, condensation sweating down its outside in tiny rivulets. The bored employee had taken a cup from the counter
and, after a furtive look at the security camera, was currently making herself a milkshake. She glanced over his way, and he glared at her to let her know how he felt about her delinquency. Flushed, she turned back to the milkshake maker, and he returned to his perusal of the aisles. Hanging from some of the shelves were tiny key chains in the shapes of animals —a puppy, a small bird, and a cartoonish rabbit dangled from small silver hooks. He flicked at one and watched it crash into the others like some freakish wind chime, clinking with no wind except the chill from the refrigerators. He unclipped one and it detached with a snap. There was a squeak of a door, and the man’s wife emerged from the bathroom. She spotted him and shuffled over, looking pale. “Honey,” she began, but Annie interrupted her. “You’ve got to buy something now that you’ve used the bathrooms,” she said flatly over the hum of the milkshake maker. So the man took the keychain with the small bird that was already in his fist and paid for it, because it was only twenty-five cents anyway. His wife followed him silently back out to the truck, and they clambered in. He had not yet started the engine when she said in a very small voice, “I don’t think we need to go to that clinic anymore.” He paused in the act of twisting the key. “But we’re nearly to town,” he said. “I know,” she said, “but I don’t reckon we need to go anymore.” He looked at her oddly, directly in the eye, and there were tears running down her soft, snub nose. He knew that she finally understood, just as he did, that they were never meant to make anything new together, only to deepen the ruts of ordinary roads until they were content to sleep in the soft, tilled earth. “Well all right then,” he said, “but we could have done without wasting gas money.” Leaving his wife in the truck, he went back inside the convenience store. Grabbing two beers, he approached the register, where the abandoned milkshake maker was spluttering and shaking. The employee was nowhere to be seen. He backed away from the register and made his way around the store until he was just far enough to hear a crashing and swearing from the
open bathroom. He scratched at the barcodes on the beers and left, handing one to his wife as the engine spluttered to life. On the way back to the highway, they saw the off-white station wagon pulled over to the side of the road. “You see?” he demanded, pointing it out to his wife. “We don’t need one of them things. Damned unpredictable.” She didn’t say anything, just nodded and turned her face back out the window. Once they were back on the highway, he clipped the small bird to the rearview mirror. It hung there, swinging back and forth in an odd mockery of flying, wings outstretched against the wide blue sky.
Dear David Fincher Isabel MÄder
Dear David Fincher: I read Fight Club; it's a masturbatory tribute to American machismo for men who feel entitled to tell me to smile. Your satirical interpretation is more of a cultural touchstone than Chuck's novel will ever be. I saw the movie when I was thirteen: With a gun in your mouth, you speak only in vowels. Settled in the corner of the couch, I wondered briefly if it was true, but kept watching for Marla. When I was sixteen, with a gun against my longest rib, I spoke so gently, softly, with such eloquence, words slowly weighing down the weapon until the echo of metal on wood meant no one had the gun. Concrete 2015
Waking up next to him—my gunman, my lover— I realized he always told me to smile. Shouldn't I have been afraid, David? Maybe not. Marla came back, didn't she? To watch the world end; to hold his hand.
Giving Flowers to a Boy in Milton, Vermont Jessica Austin
You meet him twice, and the first time, you stand at the back of the trailer park west of the freewayâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the last thing the sun touches before it deepens, sinking like a cinderblock into the hills. He tells you to open your eyes against the wind so he can taste the tears tracked down your cheeks, tells you to feel where the sun has graced you, where his spit soothes you like a salve. This boy has gorged himself on luxuries that cannot be found on Earth, but he does not know any better than you do, even if he pretends to.
The second time is months later, and you meet him in the gulch. He is pulling a bicycle from the weeds and a tire iron from its spokes, and you can still see the violent skid track from where you lost your mind
to him: falling into that gully like a child. You are sure he has never been rained on, but if he has, it was with arms spread wide to the sky. You give him daisies grown in the veins of the sidewalk outside your house. This is your parting gift, and you leave because you have to keep something for yourself. When his fingers fit around the bouquet more naturally than they ever threaded through yours, you realize you met this boy with dirt under his nails, and he has only been with you at sunset. Years later, you will find a picture from that last day. You will notice the mud he smeared across your shoulder when he held you; you will notice the daisy, hanging limp in the curls above his ear; you will notice that you are not smiling the way you always thought you had been. You will stand facing the freeway, pry your eyes open against the western winds, and you will wonder why you still feel his tongue so soft against your sunburnt cheek. Concrete 2015 9
Perfect Thing Erini Katopodis
The other day I grew tired of the earth, and asked the clouds permission. They bowed. They knew that I was sick of soil. I made a planet for myself.
I stood under the sky and reached up my hands caught matter, then thought: I cannot lose this perfect thingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; With my wrists I spun the pink sky on its axis & it became a tender sphere.
All opposites would meet in this new place: My rivers would be green with breathing, and my land blue with living. And little creatures would walk on water and swim in the new blue land. Nothing would be rooted in dirt like I have been. I cupped clouds in my hands, beganâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; but they were selfish things. They curled & curved away, turned the new place to dust. My land bled out its blue. The sky quit its spinning.
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Honeymoon Isabel MĂ&#x201E;der
Fall of 1990 My parents got married in a field of wildflowers the colors of too-ripe grapefruits and peaches outside of the only bed and breakfast in Ringe, New Hampshire. My father's pick-up truck ran on diesel, crossed fingers, rumbling away from home. They had bins of clothing, a tent, and a tarp in the back.
Cutting out west as the sun was sinking, moving from empty pine campground to faded park to concrete parking lot. Made it to New Mexico,
bought ghost beads from the Navajo, a nation immortal, indifferent to two kids in a red truck passing through their desert where there are rocks so sharp that my father cut his foot
through his thin-soled boots. They climbed Half-Dome rock in Yosemite, where snow had already fallen. On South Dakota badlands, they inhaled geyser mist, dark peat moss. They had to stop at Gold's Bluffâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;cliffs and tufts of lichen. Standing over the Pacific for the first time, watching the round pebble shore roll back and forth with the surf. Gold Coast sunset made shadows on the tent walls, elk bellowing in the brush just a few yards away. A pair of males clashed like Titans; antlers clanging until one surrendered, whimpering. There is a picture of it in the house, blurred by sitting on the windowsill too long. They went looking for the injured one just after taking the picture. He was bedded down: a curve of heaving muscle in a silver-green sea of grass. His eye had been punctured by an antler pointâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;he couldn't see them.
Soil collected in almost every national park, almost every part of the United States. An entire continent, seen and explored. Children were the next unknown, I was born soon after.
The road back was shorter, a straight line. Low on gas, money, and motivation to return, wash the dirt from their clothes.
My mother threw herself into the care of me, my curious brain; waddling and pregnant with my brother, still climbing the bookshelves to get the Autobon bird book for me, pointing out cedar waxwings in bushes like she had seen out West. My father worked double-time so she could be home. They both told us stories about the country we had never seen. My brother and I held them stable, stationary, surrounded by the village it took to raise us. I've been out of the house three years now. I like to imagine that as my brother leaves for college,
this coming fall, taking his clothes in bins and little else, our parents will move dreamlike into my father's truck, leave before the sun is up, follow that full honey moon until it fades in the coming light.
I Want To Grow Out of the Ground Erini Katopodis I want to grow out of the ground like you & bloom with my whole head: So I will eat you. Then I will become you. Your stem will clog up my throat and your thorns will tear at my gums. This is a small price. When I finally swallow your thick, pink pollen; when I wrap my tongue over the heavy petals until my saliva is thick with anther, I will feel the transformation:
The roots will start spreading out under my feet; my spine will curl green & soften, and my head will separate, split, spread thin, my veins will pump water as new blood; looking up forever. Me, I will bloom with my whole head, grow out of the ground.
Midwest Storms Richie Wheelock
Midwestern storms travel like herds of cattle across the corn-heavy back of the country. Our land is flat and they look for things to ruin. With gusty hooves they trample into cities and homes. The mouth of a roaming storm is looseâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;it laughs and weeps and laughs in blind, bewildered profusion. If we thundered so much, our throats would be purple.
Storms in the Northeast are not as wild. Instead, they are made of many sheets of rain, with rare and pearly lightning strung between. While the ocean swells thunder along the coast, Northeastern people come to understand that all power comes from larger force, that every sea-borne storm carries a threat of fatal consequence to shore. The ocean and the precipice.
Midwestern people have nowhere to go. We cook our storms inside of ourselves, meadows and meadows of wind and squall, flooding our flatness with coal-clouded sprawl. And maybe the sky can explain it all, why we remain on this endless plain, stalled beneath the battering hooves of our storms.
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Meet me in the bathroom
She is sitting on the passenger side of a beat-up forest green Honda Civic, and the pubescent owner is trying his best to find her nipple from beneath the seatbelt while simultaneously sucking at her neck like a fucking Dracula. She makes some vague sound of encouragement, wondering if maybe she should just show him where to put his hand, but he takes this as a sign of pleasure and moans loudly into her shoulder. He’s seventeen, but he told her that his birthday’s next month so she figures that this is only sort of illegal. Or maybe it’s only illegal if he comes inside her, which wasn’t going to happen anyway. His hand is rapidly performing some fucked-up version of a shiatsu massage on her right breast, and she decides to unbuckle herself from the seat to give him a fighting chance. “Touch it,” he says. His breath is so hot on her throat that it’s creating condensation, and she is briefly reminded of the time she went to a greenhouse for a school field trip. She found a worm poking up between the roots of a rhododendron, and she stroked the length of its pink, ringed body gently. “Oh my god,” he says, inhaling sharply, “Oh my god this feels good.” And it was reassuring to have him against her, to watch his eyes roll back into his head and feel his breath sputter insistently into her jugular. “I’m so close,” he says. She almost laughs at how obvious this is. She unbuttons his jeans and pulls down the zipper, but it’s too late, and when she reaches in, her hand comes out looking frosted.
Everything in the car begins to smell like warm disappointment, but he is too concentrated on regulating his breathing again to notice. She wipes her hand off on the dashboard and gives him the standard farewell. It goes something like, that was a lot of fun, we should do that again sometime, no don’t worry about it, you were really turning me on with that hand stuff, seriously.
She throws her keys onto the counter, and they skitter into the crevice between the toaster and the microwave. Her apartment is dark, but not empty. “You’re home late,” he says. He’s sitting on the couch and staring at the wall. The circles beneath his eyes look etched there, and she wonders if he ever bothers to put the cream she keeps in their medicine cabinet on them. “Yes,” she says, “I went for a drive.” He leans back and smiles at the ceiling. “Really,” he says. “You sure do like to go for drives, Suzy.” And she knows that this is nothing, that they’ve had this conversation before, that she can beat this non-accusation accusation. But she is so tired, so instead she sits on the couch next to him, trying to figure out the correct way to hold him without using the hand that had recently been down some minor’s Levis. She looks at the line of his lips and wonders if it is possible for sex to fix sex. “What was his name?” he says. She doesn’t respond, half because she doesn’t know and half because it doesn’t matter, not really. His hands are clenched into tight fists, the veins sticking out in ridges. She runs a thumb over his knuckles. She says, “I love you, Alex.” He laughs, and she wants to laugh too, but she’s not sure if he will think this is cruel of her. And then he is not laughing anymore, just looking at her intently as the smile fades from his face. He grabs her shoulders and pushes her horizontally onto the couch, his fingernails digging into her collarbone. It hurts, but she doesn’t cry out the way he wants her to. She watches as his face changes from the fierce pleasure of causing her pain to the sick
realization that she might be enjoying it. He gets off of her. “I’m going to bed,” he says. She watches the tension in his shoulders roll away the farther he gets from her. She can almost see him walk into the bedroom, and imagines sleeping next to him, how it relaxes her. How the sheets always smell like lilacs because he never forgets to do the laundry. She crumples herself into something small and thinks about the hickey on her neck, which she’s sure is bursting into purple by now. She is left alone on the couch for the third time this week. The air starts to get cold and harder to breathe as she looks into the reflection of the television screen across from her and sees nothing but fidgety fingers and bleeding lips. She doesn’t blame him for leaving, or she wouldn’t if she ever let him leave first. She strokes the bruise on her neck and then gets up, fishing out her keys from behind the microwave and shutting the door quietly behind her.
“Hello,” she says, “my name is Suzana Aster, and I’m a sex addict.” She looks the group leader in the eye while she says this, but he doesn’t even blink when she licks her bottom lip and winks at him. His eyes are blank in a way that says he has been running this sex addiction group for a while, and this is not the first time someone has tried something. Maybe once he had even fallen for it, but at this point he was so done fucking nymphos. Everyone in the group murmurs hello Suzana, and then they move on to sharing. The guy next to her starts to cry when he tells them that he sucked some stranger’s dick in the bathroom of a Macy’s last week, but his face is so jowly that it begins to jiggle with the force of his sobs, and she has to stop a wild urge to laugh. Alex forces her to go to these, but he would stop if he knew how much fun she has listening to their stories, how many stories she herself contributes. Sometimes she makes up something particularly erotic for the satisfaction she gets from watching them salivate and quiver. “I just didn’t have any control,” he says, like it’s not completely obvious. She watches as
He is waiting outside the bathroom door for her, tapping his dirty shoes on the tile. She
he blows his nose on the hem of his ratty Guinness t-shirt and sits back down beside her. She offers him a tissue, and he takes it gratefully, his pale, piggy eyes tearing up again. Next is a tall man in a wrinkled suit who talks about his compulsive need to masturbate in the car on his way to work, and then an anorexically thin woman who says she loves the taste of cum, that there are some days when that’s all she can think about. Suzana evaluates her skeletal frame and finds that the idea of her eating anything at all is comforting. The group leader says that it’s her turn, and she stands up slowly, savoring the moment of palpable anticipation. The acoustics in this Lutheran church are fantastic. She decides to tell a story about the time she got fucked in a graveyard and then left there afterwards. She takes care in describing the way the dirt felt on her back, in her fingernails, dragging through her hair. She tells them that he insisted on calling her Ethel, which she knew was his mom’s name because her head was thrust back into the tombstone for a solid ten minutes. Ethel Laydon, RIP. “I know that he was crying,” she says, “because I could feel it on my belly.” Then she tells them how he stopped a little while after that and gathered his things without a word, leaving her with no way to get home and a lingering feeling that she needed an exorcism, or maybe that it was time to finally find God, because Jesus Christ. Someone stifles a laugh at this, and she sees that it is a man sitting across the circle from her. He has a buzz cut and a pair of muddy shoes. He smiles. “Thank you,” she says, and then sits back down. Buzz Cut stares at her openly and then says to the group, “I’ve gotta pee.” He leaves without looking at her again. And on and on and on. The storytelling continues, but she can’t concentrate on their sexual misadventures the way she wants to because Buzz Cut never returns. Her skin itches incessantly and her toes tingle. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she says. “Woman troubles.”
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sees the outline of an anchor through the thin white of his t-shirt and she wrinkles her nose in distaste. Alex didn’t have any tattoos. “You look like a fucking sailor,” she says, and he laughs. He takes her chin into his hands and forces it upward so that she’s looking him in the eye. “You look easy,” he says, and then bites down on her bottom lip, pushing her into the bathroom and shoving her into an empty stall. He turns her around so that her palms are pressed flat against the grimy, graffitied door, and her cheek absorbs the ink from a cartoon cross. His teeth are firmly latched onto her earlobe, nibbling into pre-made holes clumsily. She can’t help but revel in the way it feels to be thrust repeatedly into the door, the lovely repetition of it. The burning itch beneath her skin soothes at the touch of his hand to her hair, her back, clawing at her stomach. She closes her eyes and feels absolutely nothing for a moment, hears nothing but the beat of her own throbbing pulse. And then she feels him still against her and it’s over. The itch pools into her fingertips, satisfied just enough to make her chew her fingernails for a while. He grunts and sighs into her neck, and she realizes that he will have left another mark on her. Grape vines of thumbprints on her spine, a plum on her carotid. She thinks of Alex again and despairs. Buzz Cut pulls up his pants and opens the stall door, walking over to the sink to wash his hands. He says, “That was a lot of fun.” But she doesn’t know what to say, so she nods and looks for her underwear instead, avoiding his gaze in the mirror’s reflection. “Are you okay?” he says, drying his hands. She ignores him and gets on her knees, sweeping her hands over the floor uselessly, keeping her gaze carefully averted from the one place it might be... He says again, “Are you okay?” She leans over the toilet seat and feels the bile on her tongue like acid. She fishes them out of the bowl and squeezes the filth-water back in. She says, “My fucking panties are wet.”
Alex picks her up afterwards. His hands are adjusting the mirror when she gets in, but he’s not looking at anything in particular. The wheel, his shoes, the warning on the side-mirror: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. “How was the meeting?” he says, starting the car. She buckles herself in and tries to concentrate on the safety of being tied down, the certainty. “I think I really made progress,” she says. She can tell he’s trying to believe her by the way his breathing slows to a purposeful rhythm, matching the turn signal as they get onto the highway. He is always trying for her. She’s sure that the reason he stays with her at all is because he hates failing things, and she was the ultimate failure. A flush of pleasure, a pang of guilt. She shifts in her seat, trying to find a position where she can forget that she’s not wearing any underwear.
They arrive home, and before they leave the car, he takes her hand and squeezes it. When she opens the door, she thinks for a moment that it is much dirtier than when she left earlier. His stuff is piled into bags and boxes near the threshold, and Alex walks past her to stand next to it. She stands in the doorway and watches as he gathers these things onto his shoulders, balances a box onto his hip. He says, “I’m sorry.” Of course. She wants to say something, but her skin is itching wildly, and she is paralyzed by it. He comes up to her and pushes back her hair, exposing her shoulder, her neck. He sighs. He says, “I don’t know what you want from me.” He leans down and kisses her bruising methodically, lines a hand up with the handprints on her back as if he can see them. She remembers why she loves him, because the itch goes away when he touches her. There are no cars, no bathrooms, no voids to fill. Just her and him. But he leaves, and she’s alone. And when she finally goes inside and lays on the couch, it is for the fourth time this week.
The Girl Erini Katopodis
The girl is a mindreader. The mindreader has six toes on one foot and five on the other. She has seaweed for hair and a heart full of sand—it falls into her ankles every once in awhile, cycles back up through her system to beat again. We think in circles, and together we watch the sea. Her, with the sand in her veins, and me with salt crystallizing my head.
She sleeps—sleeps mountains, dreams enough— she would, with all the things she hears. With other people’s mouths on her ears, I catch her twitching. She is too full, needs me to stop thinking. The girl is a mindreader. She has two tongues and no larynx, she doesn't speak. Just feels the sand run hot in her belly, reach the tips of her fingers.
Once, she covered my mouth with her palm, and I heard her. Her thoughts sounded like waves, pounding over and over. Ring-shaped things repeating. The girl on the same dark coast.
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When Ruth Lowers the Switch Jeannine Hennawi
Ruth cannot swallowÂ the pudding a nurse has spooned on her tongue. Her bronze skin sags over bone. Shy bruising. Each of her machines exhale our names in a tempo made for ballads, meant to keep us close to the door at all times. Mama holds one frail hand in hers, runs her thumb over its ancient channels.
With juice sticky under her fingernails, Ruth stripped the leaves off the branch before forcing it down with a silhouette fine enough to fragment the sky. Many times, Mama saw the sun in pieces.
Mama releases the hand. She tells me to get her bag, tells me to touch Ruth’s hand on the way out. I don’t like those leathery fingers. I pull away quickly. We roam into the hall. Somewhere, Mama sprints across a backyard, eyes squinting. A shadow descends the porch behind her. The brass voice lifts in ringlets among the trees— “Adrienne, don’t you get too wild, don’t you make me snap a branch, now.”
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How I turned into a bird Rhianna Reinmuth
My mother chased my father through fields, up a tree. He never learned to get down, made a nest of foil and ashes. Fifteen minutes passed, the high slipped off like the moon into the morning sky when youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not ready to wake.
I remember his fingernails caked with the dregs of a base pipe. He made me a bird, taught me to squawk and caw. I dyed my hair black so he would love me like a raven, purred at his neck like a hummingbird, reminding him we were alive.
And when he finally dissolved into smoke, I tried to learn how to fly home, and dropped belly-first into a bed of feathers, found my mother tied to the tree. She plucked me naked, picked my fingers with quills, peeled the foil from my bottom, said, Keep quiet. I am no longer yellow, my beak has turned soft, I learned how to eat my worms whole.
Corrections from the 2014 edition
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The small shop was full of stifling summer air; the lazy fan slowly moving back and forth barely made a slight difference. I leaned on the front counter, my eyes drooping with sleep. Bells jingled over the door as Old Mrs. Carter came in, her eyes bright but empty. “Hello Peter, how are you?” I winced when she called me by my brother’s name, but I didn’t bother to correct her. I learned not to after my first week last summer. “Could you point me to the toothpaste, dear?” I smiled and calmly reminded her that Al turned his convenience store into a pizza joint three years ago. “Oh, I’m sorry. Darn old memory. I must sound like a crazy old bat!” she chuckled at her joke, the same joke she’d made for the past couple of months. I got out from behind the counter and helped walk her across the town common to Hathaway Groceries and into the care of my older sister, Hilary, who worked in the produce department. It was funny how in a little town, everyone could be someone to someone and everyone knew everyone else’s story. The bells, introduced to Al’s after the second change when it was still a bait-and-tackle shop, rang loudly in my ears and echoed in the empty store. Usually at about this time, my younger sister Kelly would come tearing in with her friends, leaving their bikes piled outside,
and they’d sit in the front window until I got off work. Kelly and I would then walk home together and help Mom with dinner. But today, Mom took her and her friends to the dam two towns over to swim for the day. As much as Kelly and I always annoyed each other, the way that younger siblings do, I missed the sound of them in the store. I pulled some dead dough out of the back, too inflexible for pizza crust but still with enough life in it for my purposes. I built the dough up into a cube, grabbing a dull knife to scrape in windows. As I smoothed a roof onto the structure, the bells rang again. I tucked the dough under the counter and went out front. A bunch of people from my high school crowded around the counter, laughing and talking animatedly, but the only person I registered was Jennifer Maston. Nicole, another girl from our elementary school, ordered for all of them, and Jenny gave me a half-sincere smile. We were polite when our parents did their monthly dinners together, but in front of people from school, we both acted like the other didn’t exist. I didn’t make any effort to change this because it seemed pointless. She’d just use it against me like she did years ago. Jenny had lived in the house next to me since before either of us could remember. Our parents had always been close friends. Jenny’s older sister Carly, and Hilary, and Peter would always play in our backyards, so when Jenny and I were born the same year, our parents started doing everything together. We would play in our combined backyards, running from one end to another, in and out of each other’s houses. But all that changed soon after we started school. On our first day of kindergarten, she held my trembling hand. We were too young to articulate it, but we were both scared of the huge changes. The other ten kids, who would be our only classmates from then ‘til high school, laughed at us, chanting that we were in love. Jenny dropped her hand from mine, and a couple weeks later, she told everyone about the time I wore a dress. Her version was far from what actually happened. One day Jenny decided that we should mess with her sister, and we ran into Carly’s room to raid her closet. Jenny giggled as I put on a slippery, short dress over my clothes. She showed me how dresses twirl when you spin, her own soft cotton dress spinning up while the dress I
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wore barely moved. We raced out of her house screaming with laughter as Carly chased after us. Jenny and I ran into the woods at the back of our yards, sliding through the trees and jumping over roots. She was always faster than me, racing ahead up the hill until all I could see were glimpses of her brown hair whipping behind her. Suddenly I burst through the trees and came into a clearing, one I would come to know very well later on. Jenny stood in the middle, her neck craned up and watching the clouds move across the clear blue sky. “Look, Clark! The moon!” A thin white sliver of the moon peered down at us as I stood next to her, panting. Her face was lit up with a smile, her bright eyes dancing. We were never friends like that again. At seven, Jenny started playing with the girls in our class. When everyone said I had cooties, she didn’t stand up for me. I had never felt more betrayed. I retreated into the back of the classroom and stayed in the background ever since, never making any effort to interact with anyone else. Instead, I followed my brother around, content with only his company. Luckily, Peter tolerated my quiet idolization of him, and he helped me through the lonely years unquestioningly. He even got me this job after he went off to college, still looking out for his sad little brother even from far away. When Jenny and I were twelve, we were bussed two towns over to the regional combined middle and high school. We hadn’t been friends for five years. Jenny and I weren’t even in the same classes anymore. I made friends with some of the other kids from other towns who didn’t know of that time I wore a dress or of the schoolyard chanting of ‘cooties.’ Jenny threw herself into the new experiences high school gave us and almost completely fell off my radar. As my classmates left without a glance in my direction, Jenny paused at the door and looked back at me. We looked at each other for a moment until a conflicted look twisted over her face and she left. Irrationally angry, I turned my back to the door and destroyed the little dough house. Not long after Jenny and her friends left, Harrison slunk in. His eyes were barely open. His clothes hung limply from his thin shoulders. Harrison graduated with my brother, but
didn’t go off to college like Peter, so Al, his dad, gave him this job. He was a good coworker; we never said much to each other when he came in to take over the shift. We silently acknowledged each other as I grabbed my backpack from the back and left through the kitchen door. Everything that I had ever known growing up was around the circle of the common. My elementary school where all the kids in town went from kindergarten to seventh grade stood next to the pastor’s house. The church was right next door, and as I looked at it, the mid-day summer sun bounced off of the stained glass windows that were voted “Best in Vermont.” A little ways down was the town hall, Route 30 running right past it. By far the busiest road in this part of southern Vermont, it acted as a guide to the tourists coming through in autumn for all of our fall foliage. The rest of the year it just helped the people in our part of the state commute to their jobs in the bigger towns and sometimes all the way to the cities. I walked slowly home along Route 30, stopping in at the town post office. We lived two miles away from the center of town, but I never felt the distance. One of my favorite things to do when I wasn’t working was walk through our town, looking at all the different windows and seeing nothing change from day to day. Yeah, things differed from year to year, like Al changing his store every couple years in an effort to keep it open, or the Andersons planting new bushes outside their front windows. Sometimes the library would decorate their yard with different book themes, but generally in our little town, not a lot changed. I could walk by the library any day and see Ms. Finley working on next month’s display. When I walked past town hall, I could see Mayor Grayson talking to the other town council members in the conference room. If I went to Hathaway’s, I would see Mr. Olivier sitting at the only check out where the biggest change over the years were his wrinkles as they deepened. This was my town, as stifling a little town could feel sometimes. By the time I got to the front of our shared driveway, the sun was beginning to set behind the hill. The gravel shifted from my steps as I walked up the steep side. Our big yellow house faced the street while the driveway continued past and onto the Maston’s smaller blue house.
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I stepped inside, dropping my stuff and kicking my shoes off. Hilary was sprawled out on the couch with E! blasting news about some reality TV family while she was on Facebook, talking with people she’d met last year when she started college. I waved to her and got a halfhearted acknowledgement. Pausing in front of the kitchen door, I saw Mom at the island, chopping carrots. My dad was leaning against the sink, laughing with her. Mom asked about my day as Dad finished his beer and started another. He stopped to press a kiss to Mom’s cheek before stepping out the back door. Mom reminded me that the Mastons were going to come over tomorrow night for dinner as I watched my dad close the wood shop door behind him. I nodded a bit and then mentioned that I was going to do some work in my room as Kelly started screaming at Hilary that it was her turn with the TV now. Mom sent a harried glance in their direction, knowing the chaos that was about to start. I slipped up the back staircase that led to my room. I locked the door behind me and settled at my desk. If anyone looked through the drawers, they wouldn’t know what to make of it. The bottom drawer was stuffed full of spare electrical parts and half-made bits and extra light bulbs. The second drawer held pieces of glass wrapped carefully in old towels, different designs etched into each one. The top drawer held my good sketchbooks I bought last time Peter drove me into Brattleboro so we could go to the only art store in the county. They were all full now, and I kept meaning to ask my mom to let me borrow the car soon. I opened the center drawer and pulled out the fancy pens I spent two weeks’ worth of wages on and some cheap computer paper. My mind on that stained glass window from church, I turned on my desk lamp and picked up a pen, sketching out the arches and details. After dinner, I retreated back into my room, this time turning on the TV and popping in a video game. As it loaded, I looked out my window, across my backyard and into Jenny’s. I could see Jenny’s window from mine, but usually the shade was drawn. Today, though, it was open; I could just barely see Jenny sitting on her bed with something in her hands. The game chimed as it finally loaded, and I transferred my attention to the screen,
forgetting about Jenny for a while. I played on into the night, not really paying attention to the time until I could hear my dad moving around in the kitchen, which meant it was past midnight. I thought I could hear the sound of another beer being cracked, but that was probably just what I expected to hear. A little while later, I heard my parents’ bedroom door close, and I peeked my head out into the hallway. Hilary and Kelly’s doors were also closed, the hallway dark except for the bathroom light on between my bedroom and Kelly’s. I crept down the stairs, avoiding the creaky ones, which I had learned years ago when I only snuck down for late night snacks. The back door was slightly ajar; Dad probably didn’t close it completely to keep it from waking me up. He didn’t know that I was always awake, waiting for him to come in. I closed the back door behind me without the slam that usually accompanied it. As I walked deeper into the backyard, remnants of when my siblings and I were younger remained. The old yellow slide was now darker and dirtier. The swing set always looked like it was getting smaller by the day. But tonight I was shocked to see Jenny sitting on one of the old swings, an orange light from a cigarette bobbing as she pushed herself slowly. I stopped before she noticed me and watched her for a moment. She puffed on the cigarette, her brown eyes gazing up in the sky. She swayed with the gentle night breeze, a book on her lap. She looked down from the sky, ashing her cigarette. I looked at the forest behind her, my plans momentarily forgotten. I hesitated for a couple more minutes, wondering what I could do until I gave up and started walking over. I wasn’t sure why I bothered, it’s not like I had any right to interrupt her. But then it’s not like she had any right to be on my swing set. “Jenny?” She slowly raised her eyes from the pages and caught sight of me. “Oh, hey,” she said, her voice rusty. She patted the swing next to her, but I just stood before it. “What are you doing over here?” The last time she was in my backyard was the family
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barbecue for 4th of July, and she hadn’t bothered to say a word to me. “I can never get the right angle to see Orion from my backyard, and you guys have the best angle I’ve ever found,” she said, like that was a completely normal thing to say, and she gestured to the book she had open to a page about Orion. I sat next to her on the old cracked blue plastic that somehow managed to keep it together throughout years of weathering. The tired wood creaked at the weight of two teenagers; the last time anyone used these swings must have been when we were very little. Later, I would find out Jenny had been coming here for a while. We sat in silence, Jenny’s eyes still fixated on the white lights while I slowly swayed in the seat. “If you look over there, Cassiopeia’s sitting on her throne, that sideways ‘W.’” Her fingers pointed west, but the jumble of stars was lost on me. “Orion’s over there,” her finger moved east, “See his belt? Those three bright stars?” I strained to figure out where she was pointing. As I scanned the sky, I wondered how we were looking at the same sky, yet we weren’t seeing the same at all. “Constellations are always so tragic,” she sighed, and I looked down from the stars to her. “They live such big lives.” She continued with the story of Cassiopeia. Apparently she was this vain, arrogant, but beautiful queen who was put into the stars as a punishment for drawing the wrath of Poseidon. This Cassiopeia insulted goddesses by saying her daughter Andromeda was more beautiful than anyone else. Jenny reminded me of the Perseus myth, the whole flying too close to the sun story. Because Poseidon didn’t get to fully punish Cassiopeia in her life, he hung her in her throne in the stars near the poles, Jenny told me. “All because she was proud of her daughter,” she finished. “Orion, though, was an amazing hunter, this great guy that everyone loved. He’s my favorite,” she said with a longing sigh and a brush of her fingers over the open page. “Even Artemis, the virgin goddess of hunting, fell for him. But Apollo, her twin brother, got jealous and tricked Artemis into killing him. Apollo sent a giant scorpion to kill Orion and when Orion failed to kill the scorpion, he jumped into the sea to swim away. Apollo goaded Artemis
into trying to hit a far off target in the sea with her arrow. When she discovered Apollo had tricked her into killing Orion, she was heartbroken. To honor him, she placed him in the sky.” Jenny’s eyes shone with riveted interest as she told me more stories of the stars. I couldn’t help but wonder why she was telling me all of this, but I also couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I thought about the other times I saw her and how different she acted now. I would sometimes see her passing in the hallways at school, talking to different people, and she’d sometimes come into Al’s with the other kids like today. She was always smiling, seemingly unbothered by anything. But with this sense of sadness in her words, I knew she wasn’t that happy girl I always pictured when I thought of her. She stamped out the butt of her cigarette and leaned back in the swing, her hands gripping the rusted chains. The swing set groaned again as she suddenly pushed off, her legs pumping as she tried to go higher and higher. Her laughter filled the air and just as she reached the highest spot on her arch, she launched herself into the sky, fingers reaching for the stars. She tumbled to the soft summer ground and came up grinning. “Come on, Clarky. You used to have so much fun jumping off swings with me!” Her use of my childhood nickname irked me; neither of us were those kids anymore. “I think I’m good,” I said. She laughed and sat back on the swing. “So why are you out here? It’s 2AM, what’s a good little boy like you doing sneaking out of the house?” Part of me wanted to assert that I wasn’t sneaking out at all, I was in my own backyard after all, but the other part wondered what I should tell her. Maybe I would tell her I was going to go do hard drugs in the forest with my hardcore friends, but she wouldn’t believe that any more than anything else. Maybe I would tell her the truth, and she’d think I was insane and tell everyone. Maybe I wouldn’t tell her anything. We weren’t anything close to friends. Or maybe she’d be interested in the truth. I don’t know why I would trust her, but for some reason in the middle of the night, I wanted her to know. “Can you keep a secret? Like, life or death. No one else knows.”
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She nodded. “Follow me,” I said as I got off the swing set. She put her book in the seat, and I read Beginners Guide to the Galaxy on the cover. We headed for the edge of the backyard as she pestered me with questions, but I just hiked up the side of the hill and kept laughing her off. “Clark Bennett, my parents know your parents, so if you’re taking me up here to kill me, they’ll know,” she said, her joking tone undercut with a note of concern. “Jennifer Maston, if I was going to kill you, I would have done it when you turned everyone in class against me because of my dire case of cooties.” She stifled a laugh behind me and I smiled, remembering the times as kids we’d tease each other like this. As we were getting closer, she stumbled with a squeak over a tree root and grabbed onto my back. Swaying at her weight, I steadied us and looked back at her. She seemed sheepish, and I finally felt like more than the little boy that chased her shadow around. “It gets tricky around now; here, hold my hand,” I said as I extended my hand to her. She took it, her feet unsteady as I guided us over the root systems. We came into a natural clearing in the woods, wild grass high as our ankles. It wasn’t a huge clearing, everything just far enough away that you could see the whole clearing but still get the details of the scene. I waited to see if she recognized this particular place. She didn’t. Her jaw dropped as she looked up at the sky framed by the dense forest around us. The ring of trees acted as an amplifier, the stars shining brighter in relief of the dark forest. “Oh, this is amazing,” she whispered “That’s not even the best part of it.” I dropped her hand to head over to the other side of the clearing. On the edge, I had slowly brought up a generator piece by piece and rebuilt it. What Jenny didn’t know was that throughout the whole clearing, wires crossed and ran back and forth between the trees on the edges. Some of them had been there so long the grass had buried the wires and grown over them. I turned the generator on, and Jenny turned her head at the sound of it rumbling to life. The trees around us slowly started to light up, squares and boxes illuminating the area.
Jenny’s eyes flickered from me to the lights, her eyes wide as she took off to run around the edges of the trees. “Holy shit!” she exclaimed as she pointed to the little windows that I built into the trees, the scenes painted on the glass and wood with lights made to give the rooms depth and a sense of reality. I had turned spare bits of wood into molding, which, after I replicated the natural surface of the bark, I nailed into the trees to make the rooms seem as if they grew organically out of the old trees. Little light bulbs illuminated the rooms, some flickering as if little people were turning the lights on and off. The whole town was lined around the clearing like it was around the common: Dad’s auto shop next to Al’s, Hathaway’s big store front across the clearing. The Grayson mansion in the middle of our town was on another tree, its big stately bay windows flowing on the circumference of the tree. I watched, leaning against the generator, as Jenny peered into each window, her face lit up in the soft light. “Hey! This is like the door from our elementary school!” she said excitedly and gestured to one of the first trees I altered. She moved to another tree and shouted that it looked like the town store. She started going back to the other trees she had already seen and found the similarities to other towns around us. “Wait, where are these other places?” I joined her by the tree that held our elementary school and started walking her through the trees outside of the circle. I pointed out the chocolate shop in Newfane that closed down when we were eight, and a couple trees later I showed her the gas station that replaced it. Our high school was on another tree across the clearing. These trees mapped out everything I’ve known. And on the two trees next to the generator were our windows, facing each other across the gap as they do over the grass that bleeds from her yard to mine. “How did you do all of this? I can’t even imagine how long this must have taken you,” she whispered as we hunched over and peered into the images of our windows. I turned to look at her, sitting down with my back against the tree, my own little window just above my head. “I started this freshman year. In shop, Mr. Miller was teaching us about wiring and electricity. So I started tinkering around in my dad’s garage. A couple months later in art, Ms.
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Herald had us draw a building in town. And it just grew from there,” I explained as she sat across from me. “How did you even find this place?” she wondered, her curiosity clear on her features, and my lips twitched into a bitter smile. She still didn’t remember it from when we were little. I wouldn’t tell her. “Well, after second grade, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I must’ve hiked this hill a thousand times over when Peter wasn’t around. I kept coming back here until it was just my spot,” I explained, not mentioning that it was because of the memory of one of the last times I played with her happened here. I had felt less lonely here back then. Eventually that memory faded in importance as I replaced it with my own. I moved past her to crouch next to the generator and opened the big weatherproof toolbox with all my tools I needed up here. I pulled out the piece of glass I had planned to work on tonight and showed her. “Oh, our church,” she cooed as she handled it gently. She raised it to the night sky, looking through it. The stained glass doorway of our church was known around Vermont; I must have painted and repainted this doorway over ten times trying to get it right. I usually worked on the painting up here, where no one could bother me or break anything, but only really during the daytime. This late night visit was just another way for me to pass my time in the dull summer; I wouldn’t generally do much work but sit with the newest piece in my lap. I’d watch my little lights, or sometimes I plotted the next tree I would mold into a familiar place. “You’ve got to show people. This is incredible! No one has ever done anything as cool as this in our county, probably in the history of ever,” she said as she handed the glass carefully back to me, and I packed it away again. I shrugged at her words, not really interested in sharing this with the small town people that populated our lives. Nothing against them, but I couldn’t picture people like Mrs. Carter and Mayor Grayson understanding. If I ever showed this to my dad, he wouldn’t know what
to make of it. My mom would try to understand it, but her creativity and interest peaked after four kids left a perpetual look of exhaustion on her face. I thought about showing Ms. Caraway a while ago, but she’d just use it to feed her foundering artistic ego and twist it away from me. “It’s not for other people,” I finally answered, “it’s just for me.” “But you showed me,” she insisted. “You’re not other people. You’re Jenny.” She gave me a skeptical look. “Clark, I’m not special. I’m just Jenny-next-door.” “Jenny-next-door who smokes secret cigarettes and harbors a secret love for constellations,” I pointed out. “Yeah well what about Clark, quiet nerdy guy with an amazing artistic side that he’s literally never shown anyone!” she said. Her elbow jabbed my arm, and I shook my head. “Okay, fine, maybe people aren’t so simple, but damn they seem like it,” I said, aware of the break of exhaustion in my tone. After a moment of glaring at me, she finally relented. “Anyone can seem simple from a distance. And you’ve been great at keeping yourself at a distance,” she whispered. There was a tone of hurt in her voice that I didn’t understand. “I don’t keep myself at a distance, people keep me at distance!” I tried to convince her even as something felt wrong with the words. She stood up, moving to the center of the clearing. She beckoned me over to her, and I reluctantly followed with a sinking feeling she was going to continue to chastise me. “Just look at all these windows. They’re full of people living their lives just as complicated as yours. And look at how you look at them,” she said and gestured around her, then spun me around so I could see the whole thing. “You’re looking at them from far away. You don’t let yourself get closer.” She moved nearer to the tree closest to us and pointed. “Even this close to the window, you’re still separated,” her stubborn tone softened as she looked deeper, her nose almost pressing against the glass. She was looking at what I had
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painted in the distance in the hallway of our elementary school. Two little figures stood close together, a tiny link between them. “Is that us?” she wondered aloud, and looked at me. I shrugged again. The answer was obvious, but I was wary of her reaction. “Really?” I frowned, not understanding. Her eyes were no longer filled with wonder, curiosity, or stubborn fire, but sadness. “The only one who’s done this to you is you. You can’t withhold yourself from everyone and then point fingers when you’re lonely. I’ve watched you do this our whole lives, and now you’ve done it to me too.” I wanted to argue, to insist that that wasn’t what I was doing, that she was the one who abandoned me when she was the only friend I cared about back then. But her eyes made me queasy, and I moved away from her to sit in the middle of the clearing, looking at my little town, built to escape my real little town. I thought after a while she would leave, disgusted with me yet again, except now it was for a reason more tangible than cooties. When she sat down next to me, I didn’t want to look at her. She nudged my shoulder with hers and pointed at the sky again. “Look, Orion’s right there,” she said, a smile in her voice. I knew I wouldn’t see what she meant again, but I looked up anyway. The brightest stars blinked at me, and slowly I saw the belt, then an arm reaching back, a bow in the other hand. Orion stood tall and powerful in the night sky like he had been there all along. I looked back down at Jenny in surprise, and she was smiling at me. “See? Stop being so afraid of other people and look closer. They can surprise you.” She moved to settle her head in my lap, her eyes drifting from my little town to the night sky. I slowly lay down as well, looking up at all of the little lights. We stayed like that in silence for a while, the night air warm and the silence of the forest calming. I was slowly starting to drift off when she spoke again. “I lied. This is the best angle for the stars,” her mumbled words were caught in the air as
she reached for my hand again. I held on as I silently agreed with her. The next day, bleary eyed and half awake, I walked into Al’s and started opening shop. The day wore on like it usually did. Mrs. Carter stopped in looking for toilet paper, and I had to quietly remind her again that Al’s was a pizza shop. My little sister came racing in with her friends and ate slices in the window, their bikes sloppily tied up just outside the door. I spent most of the day leaning on the counter and trying to keep my eyes open. Ten minutes before my shift was over, I started to get the shop ready for Harrison. The door opened, sending the bells jingling and echoing in the empty store. I turned, trying to add some alertness to my eyes, when I saw Jenny. “Hey, can I have a slice?” she said nonchalantly. I chuckled and leaned on the counter again, noticing her book tucked under her arm. “No problem, but you’ve got to tell me another star story.” “Only if you take me back up there again tonight,” she joked, but her eyes told me she was serious. “Meet me on the swing set.” Her laughter filled the store, and she agreed. We chatted about how Carly was coming home in a week from her summer internship, and how Hilary would be happy to see her, as I grabbed Jenny’s pizza. As she was walking out, she called out goodbye just as Harrison walked in from the back door. After the door closed behind her, he looked at me expectantly. He probably wondered why she was suddenly talking to me. Instinct told me it wasn’t his business. But I was dying to tell someone. So I told him about last night, from the stars to my lights. He was a bit skeptical at first, but as I was winding down, he asked me if he could see these little lights too. Concrete 2015 43
Recovery on a Farm ZoĂ&#x2039; Fay-Stindt
I slow my mind so that it spins only like a spoon-twirled coffee right around dawn, so that when curdled images appear from months ago, they fold out like a morning glory or something else cold and white, but they only exist, they don't pinch or tug anymore.
So that when I think about the ripping wind at my face when I ran you out into the street to slam your chest, screaming, until someone else wrapped my discarded jacket around my shoulders and pulled me away, I step outside of myself, zip the memory up, and salute the sun in the hexagon shaped yoga room.
Because I am who I think I am now, because even when things start to break down, I feel composed for the first time in too long, and I think of the greyed man JosĂŠ chanting, "Todo es bueno, todo es bueno," peeling an orange as the sun finds its way onto the open fields, and I nudge out the purples and pinks from underneath the crusted parts of my heart, and exhale.
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Jessica Austin Elizabeth Capot ZoĂŤ Fay-Stindt Jeannine Hennawi Erini Katapodis Hazel King Isabel MĂ¤der Sahalie Martin Victoria Menson Rhianna Reinmuth Kaylan Scott Richie Wheelock