David Martineau “Choices” The angel Samuel was nervous and anxious. Normally, such turbulent and hesitant emotions would be completely absent from his being. Samuel’s kin rarely ever found themselves consumed by anxiety; such was the nature of their species. But today was different, and for good reason. Samuel had never expected to be in this situation. Of course, he had made mistakes before, acted recklessly when caution was necessary. However, he had always prided himself on his adherence to regulation—until today. In mere moments, Samuel was about to undergo examination, something few of his kinsfolk had ever had to endure. Such evaluation, which judged an angel’s actions under Eternal Law, was only undertaken in extreme circumstances, another factor that contributed to Samuel’s restlessness. Apparently, his actions were considered “extreme…” Sighing, Samuel leaned back in the office chair, his russet wings drooping. I’ve really done it this time, haven’t I? He hadn’t tried to make it happen—nor had he wanted it to. It had just…happened. How was he to control what he felt? Angelic emotions were preternaturally intense, second only to those of the Creator, making what had happened seem almost inevitable. However, Samuel would have never imagined it happening to him—maybe a more passionate angel, like Adiel or Viorel. But it hadn’t happened to either of them. It had happened to him. And now he would face the consequences of his actions. Closing his eyes, Samuel shook his head, his fingers buried in his thick brown hair. No, he thought, he had done nothing wrong. How could he be punished for something he had no control over, something done unintentionally, unwillingly? It was unfair, and he would resist, fighting for what he believed until the end. He would not back down. A gentle noise reached Samuel’s ears. Turning, the angel stared over his shoulder. His eyes settled upon the open door leading into the office. A figure stood there, garbed in white robes embroidered with twisting gold designs. Six golden-feathered wings framed the figure’s tall, lean form. The being’s face was wizened and compassionate, even with the grim expression it bore. A mane of neatly combed silver hair surrounded the figure’s chiseled features, which betrayed almost no sign of age, aside from sparse wrinkles around the eyes, brow, and lips. With silent, gliding steps, the Seraph named Metatron made his way over to Samuel, lowering himself into the chair behind the mahogany writing desk the younger angel sat before. Samuel’s chest tightened. His trepidation was such that it overshadowed the pride and honor he felt and being able to sit facing the Creator’s Chief Scribe. Metatron spent a few moments arranging the items on his desk into a perfect semblance of neatness. The table contained few objects, the most prominent being a massive, leather-bound book that sat open, taking up three-quarters of the desk space. Beside the book, a white feathered quill with a golden nib rested in a crystal inkwell, the silver writing fluid within shimmering like liquid platinum. Other than these two items, the only things on the desk were a few papers neatly placed in an empty corner and a solitary folder, laid atop the pages of the open book. Metatron’s golden eyes flashed upward, settling upon Samuel. His face was emotionless, his eyes piercing. Samuel felt as if his very being was examined in that one glance. Could this be all there was to the evaluation, he wondered? Perhaps… “You know why you were summoned?” the scribe asked plainly. Samuel nodded, slightly disappointed that his torment was not yet complete. He said nothing, out of both respect for Metatron and anticipation of the results of his evaluation.
Metatron sighed. “Your situation is a particularly unique case, Samuel,” he said. “You understand that your actions, and the consequences that accompany them, have been processed under Eternal Law?” He received another nod, and folded his hands under his chin. “You also understand that I have no control whatsoever over the verdict on your conduct, other than the task of promulgating it to you?” Samuel nodded again, wetting his lips anxiously. His heart fluttered in apprehension. Metatron sighed a second time. “I have not presided over such a proceeding for many ages. You remember the last time a member of our race was placed on trial?” Samuel frowned, gathering the courage to speak for the first time. “With all due respect,” he said in a trembling voice, “how do my actions possibly correlate to…his?” He spoke the final word with disdain, remembering the day eons ago when his race had been betrayed by the most powerful of them all. He did not like remembering it, for many a friend had been lost in that betrayal, and were now forever incarcerated by their own arrogance and evil. Metatron’s face was inscrutable behind his folded hands. “Your actions, though in opposition to the Creator’s Eternal Law, are your own. They correlate to the Adversary’s in that way only. Still, you risk sharing his fate should you continue down the path you have begun.” Samuel’s heart skipped a beat at Metatron’s words, fear welling up within him. He would not let that happen to him, he swore it. No fate was worse than that, and he would fight to his last breath to avoid it. Metatron lifted the folder from atop the great book. “Your file,” he said, a brief smile touching his face, “so few angels have had the liberty of gazing upon the record of their own lives…all their actions recorded.” He opened the folder, inspecting its contents, and then said, “By all means you have proven yourself a worthy addition to our race. Your support and loyalty to the Creator is unquestioned, you perform your duties to the letter, and you maintain an excellent character in all interactions with your fellow angels, as well as humans.” Metatron lifted his gaze from the folder. “How, then, can you explain this sudden break from regulation?” Samuel hesitated, biting his lip. “I can’t, sir. I wish I could, but…emotions are powerful, wild things. I can’t control them any more than I can control the actions of others.” Metatron closed the folder, his face pensive. “But to violate the Eternal Law in such a way, to experience such feelings toward a human being, a lesser creature…Samuel, this is not angelic conduct.” A surge of anger flared up in Samuel, and he recklessly spoke. “Don’t you think I know that? Believe me, if I could simply whisk away my feelings towards her, I would.” Metatron’s gaze was piercing. “Would you?” Samuel frowned, caught off guard. He thought for a moment, finally realizing that the true answer was no. Despite all the pain and uncertainty, the angel had never wanted to stop his feelings. He had been taught that the heart was the one thing that could not lie, and his heart was telling him that this was what he wanted. He groaned, burying his face in his hands. “Wonderful,” he moaned, “now I’m a liar too…” There was a pause, and suddenly Samuel felt a hand touch his shoulder. Metatron looked down at him with a compassionate gaze. “Fear not, Samuel,” the scribe said sympathetically. “The Creator knows your heart, as He knows all of His creations. That is why He wishes to give you a choice…” Samuel looked up, filled with confusion. Hope. “You have violated the Eternal Law, but only in a certain respect,” Metatron said. “By falling in love with a human, you have breached a barrier that none of our kind have since the creation of the universe. You are the first, Samuel, the first angel to ever love a human. Therefore, the Creator has given you the power to choose your own fate, and that of any angel who treads the selfsame path you have. You can choose to remain here in Paradise, but renounce your love of this woman. Or, you can choose to take up a mortal life and pursue this quest alone, with no memory of your life as an angel…” Samuel released a deep breath and slowly rose. His brown eyes were wide with awe. “The Creator would give me this choice?”
Metatron nodded. “He desires only the happiness of those He has brought into being…” Samuel shook his head. “But I was made an angel. By revoking that identity, I revoke that of He who created me, do I not?” Metatron smiled. He strode back to his desk and lifted Samuel’s file off of the massive book’s open pages. “You know what this is.” It was not a question. Samuel nodded. Every angel knew the features of the great Book of Life by heart, for it was on those pages that Metatron transcribed the history of the universe itself. At Samuel’s affirmative nod, Metatron smiled. His hand extended over the Book, and the thick pages immediately began to turn by their own volition. They stopped near the beginning of the great volume, and Metatron read, “By the Creator’s express Will, it is decreed that all creatures granted by Him with intelligence and self-awareness have power to choose their own actions, hereafter known as Free Will. This overrides every aspect of these creatures’ natures.” He smiled. “You see, it was established long ago that nothing is impossible for our Creator. You can make your own choices, Samuel. That is the purpose of all intelligent life: that you create your own destiny by your actions, good or bad…” Samuel trembled. As an angel, he had never truly considered the notion of Free Will. For ages it had seemed that only one path was set for him, one with no possible opportunity to deviate. For what it was worth, Free Will was an entirely human ideal. Now he recognized that his choices were not simply products of a mind forged with one purpose. They influenced his life, providing innumerable paths for him to follow, leading him into either good or evil. Now he needed to choose once more, the options far more difficult than he had ever imagined. But he already knew what he was going to do. “By my right to choose,” he said, “I decide to live out my life as a mortal.” Metatron nodded, his golden wings extending outward. His hands clasped Samuel’s shoulders gently. A tingling sensation flowed through the young angel, and a soft breeze swept through the chamber, conjured from seemingly nowhere. Metatron thrummed with power, his eyes glowing. “SO LET IT BE DONE,” he whispered, his voice echoing like a rushing waterfall. Then Samuel was gone, teleported away without a noise. The breeze faded, and Metatron’s eyes stopped shining. He smiled. “Farewell, Samuel,” he whispered. He needn’t have said it, for he knew that Samuel would. Choices were strange, fickle things. When made by the mind alone, they would often lead to evil. When made by the heart alone, they sometimes led to anguish. But when both mind and heart worked together, the outcome was constant, unwavering—complete happiness. Smiling, Metatron turned back to his desk, running his fingers along the edge of mahogany wood. Mind and heart—such had Samuel’s decision been. His pure, utter conviction that his choice was right meant that he would not falter until he was satisfied. That conviction alone meant that his dreams would come true, in ways far greater than even he could imagine. With a chuckle, Metatron swept his quill across the heavy pages of the Book of Life, transcribing the newest occurrence into the great codex, including an addendum expressly requested of him…by the Creator Himself. By the dictates of Eternal Law, and by his own individual decision, the angel Samuel was on this day transubstantiated into mortal form, with no memory of his angelic life, to live as a human in pursuit of his desire for love. By the express Will of the Creator, if Samuel should utilize his mortal life to spread goodness amongst the people of Earth, upon his mortal death, when he reenters Paradise, he shall be reinstated to his former glory as an angel of the host. His wizened face smiling contentedly, Metatron finished his sentence with a flourish, replacing his quill in the inkwell. As he did, he cast his mind out to Earth, far away from his study. There, he sensed the consciousness of a mortal man rising from his bed on the human planet—a man with the heart of an angel… Metatron smiled. “A new dawn arises,” he said, “and his new era begins…”
Raheel Chaudhry Prologue from “Greater Things”
Immense light, blinding white and filled with the lifeblood of Helios himself, shone down on the forest, signifying the presence of a creature that had not set foot in the lands of Terra in centuries. The winds stopped blowing and the woods were deathly quiet, a strange mixture of respect for the greater being and fear of its terrible power that the native creatures could never comprehend. The light waned and soon disappeared. The West Wind blew once again and rustled the leaves, the birds returned to their songs, the animals of the forest continued on with their lives. Soon, the woods were brimming with life and the strange light and the feeling of awe caused by a higher being were put into the back of the minds of the forest dwellers, and slowly forgotten. In another section of the forest, unnatural eyes opened. Shining reddish brown orbs took in the nature around it. Nostrils flared as it smelled the scents surrounding it. A metallic stench stood out the most, mixed in with the land’s earthy scent. It seemed that its escape had not gone as well as it had hoped. A large laceration cut through its body, painting it in the silvery glow of its ichor. Examining the wound took up so much of the being’s attention that it seemed to miss the telltale sounds of a hunt. The grass rustled once before a great grey beast sprung out with a growl. Yellow slit eyes roamed the clearing before taking in the wounded being. The beast’s lupine features twisted into a satisfied snarl. Yes, he would eat well tonight. Whatever the strange thing in front of him was, it would regret the day that it decided to enter his domain, especially when it was injured. Claws, as sharp as a knife, flashed, and teeth, honed from years of tearing and biting, clenched. Muscles, built from years of hunting and thriving in the cruel forest, tensed. The great wolf, empowered by hunger and pride, pounced. He flew through the air with a grace that had made him one of the most feared inhabitants of the forest. His prey remained still, not even noticing his approach. He was feeling merciful; he would kill it first before feasting. No need to prolong the suffering of an animal that knew he was no match against the mighty wolf; yes, it would be rewarded for its lack of self-awareness. He was mere feet from the being, soon he would lock his jaws around its neck and a quick snap would take care of it. He could almost feel itA blur of ebony, and blood splashed on the ground. It was running out of time. Soon the magic coursing through its body, a remnant of its earlier escape, would disperse and the pain of its wound would set in. It had to find a place to rest before that. The being, covered in red blood and silvery ichor, moved. The sun was shining and the clearing was quiet and undisturbed. There didn’t seem to be any evidence of the being left, except for the eviscerated body of the wolf. Up above, a crow cawed, and a swarm of black fell upon the body.
“Six Word Stories” He laughed, she didn’t, he’s alone. I had a goldfish; he died It’s better than I had expected.
“Haikus” Shining Bright and Loud Beauty and Simplicity Head Hurts, Need Advil Running Through Black Night Falling into Deep Abyss Quickly, Now I wake
Amanda Butcher “Repeated”
Echo was a simple nymph. She loved gossip, loved to hear and spread the word of mouth that tickled her ear. Aphrodite herself praised her for her beauty and her lovely voice. She was vain in a way much different from the vanity of the man she loved. And so she was cursed by the gods, her voice stolen from her and her mouth filled with the words of others. After she lost her voice, there was no love for Echo. They laughed and mocked her. “She deserved it,” they said. “No loss there.” So when a handsome hunter wandered through the forest, her heart filled with the desire to be loved once more. But she could not call out to him and, eventually, he came upon a crystal pool of water where he found the love of his life: himself. He was vain, they said amongst themselves. Vain, but so so pretty. They fawned over him; he fawned over himself. She watched from afar, unseen and only occasionally heard, waiting for her turn to be noticed. But that would never happen, and everyone knew it. What chance could an invisible little Echo have with such a beautiful man who didn't even know she existed? So poor Echo watched with sadness in her heart as the man she loved withered away to nothing. Eventually, she faded away too, nothing but her repeating voice left in the world. In her mind and her heart, she hoped that someday she would live a new life as a new being and the beautiful man would too. Then they could finally be together. Her only wish was that she could say his name, feel its sweet sound coat her lips with the honey that was the voice from her own soul, not the bitter words others were allowed to speak. She longed to, just once, gently whisper, “Narcissus.” This is the story, the legend, the myth. Their vain love never saw its chance in that first meeting, but their souls were too tightly twined together. And their story was far from over. Star-crossed lovers they were. For years, she was silent. She sat back, biting her tongue, as her father married her away to some pompous, self-absorbed man who she had no real feelings for. He was a peacock, strutting and fanning out his luxurious tail to get the best mate he could. To such a man, she was an ideal wife: beautiful and from a wealthy family. How could she say no? Good girls were seen and not heard; they did as their parents wished without qualm. Then there was sweet, strong Romeo. He was beautiful and kind and she knew it was love the moment their eyes met by the look in his eyes, full of amazement, and the way her stomach lurched at his smile. She felt a pull so strong to the handsome boy, something in the pit of her stomach that she could not ignore, a stone dragging her into unknown depths. She no longer wished to be silent, to be obedient. She wanted to be with this boy, this forbidden entity. She would do anything to preserve this exciting and intoxicating feeling, even if she didn't understand what it meant. For what is a Juliet without her dear Romeo? Romeo knew he needed this girl, needed her like a carriage needs four wheels and a horse. She was beautiful, her smile enchanting. Who cared if they only just met? It was love they shared, and he would have it. But how could they be together? Their families would never allow such a marriage. What business did a Capulet have 'loving' a Montague? Romeo knew only one thing: no matter who it hurt, he would have his Juliet.
And together they died for this ancient love. Died for each other and in the other’s arms. Love was etched in their hearts and poison lingered in the last kiss. But that is all they were, were they not? Nothing but wine and poison. Sweet poison and bitter wine. Together, they could speak only death. Her name was Annabel Lee. She was soft and sweet as she drifted through the kingdom by the sea, her kind words gracing their neighbors. He loved her and she loved him. They were as one, it seemed. Her words were full of grace and light as feathers. She was called quiet, only speaking her heart when they were alone. It seemed love was the word floating on the breeze, from the villagers to their families to the angels above. It was winter when she first fell ill. He longed to see her again, though he knew what he would find. Her soft glow extinguished, her life faded so. It would be painful to see her as such, but more so to stay away. He let his words carry up to the heavens, praying for her health to return. His prayers went unanswered. Within a fortnight, the tragedy reached his ear. The sickness was too strong for fragile, sickly Annabel Lee. So every night, he laid by her side, as much as he could. He sat by her tomb as the ocean roared. Through rain and sun and snow and hail, they rested together, her name whispered through cracked lips in the darkness as he stared up at the stars; her name torn from his nightmares as he slept. On the nights when it was calm, he sat on a rock that broke the waves in half. And when water was trapped in small pools to its side, there were the stars and the moon reflected, singing their silvery glow. And there he saw himself, but he no longer felt it was himself. It was a stranger wearing his skin and looking through his eyes. He loved only his Annabel Lee and lived by her side. Even in her death, he stayed with her. Even when he found that he no longer knew who he was. And, at the end of his life, he saw her face only and breathed her name only; he died by her side. “I love you,” he whispered against her soft lips, feeling her smile. “I love you,” she echoed. Slowly, they opened their eyes, lips mere millimeters apart. In her deep, blue eyes, he could see himself reflected. From the moment he met her, he knew it was love, a feeling of flying, then suddenly free-falling. He should have been scared. He should have been concerned about the inevitable splat! No matter how much he thought about it, he could not force those feelings to come. She felt it too, in every tender word and gentle touch. They were one, dozens of individual ingredients thrown together to make an intricate, delectable dish. It was sweet and spicy and bitter and sour all at once, but it was the most delicious thing either of them had ever experienced. It was love older than they could comprehend. Two souls meeting at long last. You could say that it was “fate” or “destiny,” but that is so cliché. It was just love. Credit for the characters named in this story: Romeo/Juliet – Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare Annabel Lee – “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe
Breanna Stewart “Untitled”
Archer leaps, sending his body over the jump, straight and true just as his namesake would. I perch in the saddle, my eyes facing staunchly forward, my face stoic. The standard dissapears beneath my horse. Even though we are still in mid-air, I have sighted the next jump. My intentions flow from my brain down my hands, singing through the reins to my warmblood. He responds, and as soon as he alights, his mahogany body curves, bending easily toward our target. My horse and I are of the same mind, working together through the course. The double-oxer looms before us. Again, we narrow our focus. The center of the jump is straight ahead; we are neither left nor right. The world long ago faded from our senses, the hundred or so patrons in the stands utterly silent to our minds. The neon flags, the barking dogs, the smell of popcorn and cracker jack; we are oblivious to it all. Together, we take in a sharp breath, gathering ourselves. The fear of oxers is gone, shoved back into the deep recesses of my mind. If my reliable warmblood sensed that, he would falter. That cannot happen. I know we will clear it. I feel it. We stretch over the poles, our forelegs tucked neatly under us, our hindquarters the image of power and poetry. We are crouched foreward in the saddle, keeping our eyes and hands ahead. Our back feet leave the ground, and we are flying. We are champions in our own right for accomplishing such a feat. Our tail doesn't touch the standard - not one hair. Then we are descending, leaning back as we touch the ground. First our front two feet, then our back feet. We continue at a canter; our only remaining target is the gate. No matter what we are ranked, we have won. As soon as we reached the gate, the stands erupted into cheers and shouts. I smiled, patting the sweaty neck beneath me. Dad trotted up to me, pumping his fist. "You were awesome!" he chuckled, his beaming smile always the largest on record when he was happy. "Archer never missed a stride in that round. I guess your hard work paid off after all, huh, Squirt?" My sarcastic tone couldn't have hidden my smile from a blind and deaf man. "No, not at all, considering we've been working all week on making this course run like clockwork." I scratched my bay's shoulder. Archer leaned against my fingernails, turning his head to look back at me in gratitude. I noticed another rider, a blonde astride a chestnut. "The rider before me came out really good, just like the one before her." Doubt crept into my voice. "I doubt we could beat them." Dad slipped his hand through Archer's bridle and began to lead us back to the stalls. "Okay," he started, his coaching side taking over the proud father. "You guys looked great, but there were a couple things. You're warm-up circle was too small - Archer couldn't properly set up, and it looked more like a sorry attempt." I loved my Dad's bluntness. "You let his strides get really long during your hand-gallops. That's why in your first and second jumps, he jumped early." He was reviewing the course through his head."Third, fourth, and fifth jumps were good...sixth and seventh..." A burst of laughter escaped me, and Archer's pinned his ears back at the high pitch. "What, Dad? How were they? Give me an honest opinion." He stopped, pulling up Archer. He turned around to face me, and I could see the love for me gleming in his eyes as he shrugged. "Hey, I'm biased anyway." He let his smile finally return as tears brimmed in his eyes. "You were the best out there, and I'm so proud of you."
A bigger smile replaced the one that had been on my face. I hadn't realized we were at the stables, so I quickly dismounted to lead Archer into his stall. I was toting out his saddle and bridle when Dad stepped in front of me, a wrapped box in his hand. I kept myself from dropping the tack, but I failed at keeping my lower jaw closed. "Dad, you didn't-" "Yeah, I did." He held it out to me. "Today, you deserve it. I want you to have it. And your mother-" He paused, biting his lower lip as he closed his eyes for a moment. "She would want you to have it, too." I don't really remember shutting Archer's stall door, or putting up the tack. But suddenly my bay's white face was hanging over the door, and the gift was in my hands. Slowly, I peeled away the paper, glancing at my Dad. When I pulled out the jacket, tears began to fall from my eyes. It was old and worn, with a small stain near the collar. It was a dark blue, so the stain didn't stick out as much as the tag in the back. Underneath the company name, the letters so scrawling and beautiful they could have been printed there, were two initials I knew all too well. Best of all, the smell of orange blossoms was ingrained in the material, stitched in with the years of hard work by the wearer. "Mom's jacket," I whispered, my lips trembling. Dad wrapped me in a hug, and I could feel his tears on my shoulder. For a long moment we stood there, embracing a memory, forgetting the tragedy of her loss. The jacket's scent hovered around us, so much so that it felt for a moment like she was there with us. "I miss her, too, kiddo," Dad murmured. "But there's more. Look -" He was interrupted by the gutteral nicker of Archer, who had been patiently waiting on his grain. Apparently, horses lose their patience, too. "Alright, boy," I laughed as I stroked his velvet nose. "Let's feed you. You deserve it, anyway." Together, Dad and I took care of the mahogany bay gelding. While I scooped his grain and tossed a couple flakes of hay into his stall, Dad carried his water bucket to the hose. As he walked, a couple people stopped to look at him. They usually did, and he'd gotten used to it. After a year, Dad was used to people looking at the stump of his left arm. He gave the best hugs, and he'd quickly adapted to using only one arm. For that, he was my idol; he had more courage and strength than many people I know. I was just about to start mucking out Archer's stall when he returned, amazingly keeping the water from sloshing out of the five-gallon bucket. He sat it down in the corner, and the warmblood dipped his head to take a long drink. The sound of his swallow, the water sloshing down into his gut, made me thirsty; he could make water sound like he was drinking elixir. "I'm going to check on the scores," Dad said as he patted Archer's side. "I'll be back in a little bit. Make sure you groom him down, and buckle on his blanket." I saluted him, clicking my heels together. "Yes, sir, uh...sir." He chuckled, a deep, warm sound that made everyone passing glance in with a smile. "'Dad' is perfectly fine, but alrighty, then." With that, he strode off, his pride glowing with every bouncing step. I pulled out a light brush and started brushing my beautiful bay. His coat shone like a king's grandest table, and his white face was a piece of fine china, with two insets: one a deep brown, the other a bright turquoise. With every stroke, his coat gleamed even more as ground-in sweat was brought to the surface and dusted off. He was even dappling, the lighter spots the color of golden honey. "You're the most beautiful horse the world's ever seen," I said with childish flair, giggling at the memory of Mom helping me brush Archer- then a mere yearling colt- while I told her about the adventures of Ivanhoe. That was when we'd decided to christen him Archer, I remembered.
Suddenly, Dad came running, breathless. "You're not going to believe this," he stammered. He paused for breath, ignoring my dinner-plate-sized eyes. Archer turned to look at me, wondering why I'd stopped brushing him. Finally, Dad smiled his brightest smile yet. "But you got second place in your class." I wrapped my arms around Archer's neck. "We did it, boy!" I squealed in delight. "We did it!" I was laughing from giddiness when I turned to my dad. 'It's not first, but are you happy?" As I exited the stall, he wrapped me in a big bear hug. "I am thrilled," He said. "But-" he held me away from him. "I didn't get to tell you: there's more to your gift. Look under the jacket." Eyeing him skeptically, I returned to the box with Mom's beloved jacket. Carefully, I lifted up the fabric coat. Under it was a packet. Taking it out, I shook out a couple papers. There were pictures in black and white I didn't understand, some charts, and 1 final analysis paper. "What's all this for?" Dad smiled mischeviously. "That's the results from my test yesterday. I'm cured." Tears sprang to his eyes. "It's gone." My eyes were now platters, the papers held out to one side as my jaw touched the floor. Then I was in his embrace again, laughing and crying at the news. The cancer he'd been battling for three years was gone from his side. It had started in his arm, and it had generated so many cells that by the time we found out, it needed to be amputated. It had seeped down to his side, and he'd been taking radiation ever since. Now, the battle was over. "We've all won, Dad," I cried as I held him. "We're all champions. We've taken out our obstacles." I turned my head to Archer, who was watching us with keen interest. "We've taken them out, like hunters." Dad smiled, holding my face in his hand. "Yes we have, kiddo," he said as he kissed my forehead. "Yes we have."
Neal Ables “A New Day”
The sun rises, a new day begins. The city bustles with the activity of ten thousand people shaping their futures. George wakes up and gets ready for another busy day of signing meaningless documents, all to be filed away and never be seen again. He walks down the stairs, wood creaking in protest with each step. George is a portly man with a gut similar to that of old Saint Nick. He ambulates along with a peculiar gait, one that is the sole domain of men of a dangerously high weight. A low sizzling sound can be heard from the kitchen. The smell of fresh, organic eggs wafts around the hallway, enticing the nose. George winces, disliking the smell of wasted money on the frying pan. He trudges into the kitchen, squeezes between a chair and the wall behind it. Anna, George’s wife, stands at the stove with a spatula in her hand. “Good morning, Honey. I thought I should make some eggs this morning,” says Anna. She gives the eggs a flip in the pan. “Sorry I can’t be here for your five-star breakfast. Tax season, you know,” says George, in as apologetic a manner as he could muster. He sits down to put on his shoes, shined to the point of looking like sepia-tinted mirrors. “George, you really need to eat better, regardless of whether you need to do taxes or not.” “Gotta go. See you later.” George smiles sheepishly, they kiss, and he exits their rickety old house. He starts up his blue PT Cruiser, drives up the brick street, and enters the drive-thru lane of the nearest donut shop. “Hello, whaddaya want?” an annoyed voice emanates from the speaker. One could tell just by hearing it that it belongs to an inexperienced, angsty teenager who hates everything in his young life. “I’ll have a dozen cake donuts, please,” says George. “Act peppy. Speaking like you’re better than everyone else won’t get you far,” he adds. George maneuvers his car up to the pickup window, and the teen forks over the box of fried dough with a scowl. George opens the box to assure they are there. The smell of artificial sugars fills the cabin, banishing any lingering smell of those organic eggs. George takes two and digs them into his mouth as he drives away. Halfway to work, as he drives on route 48, he feels a sudden stab of pain behind his left breastbone. The pain grows on him as drives, spreading across his broad chest. The box of donuts is finished, lying haphazardly open on the passenger seat. A cold sweat forms on his brow, his breathing becomes shallow, and his vision becomes blurry. “Oh God,” he stammers between his rapid breaths. Another sharp wave of pain hits him, and as a reflex he jerks the car into oncoming traffic. That is the last he knows before he blacks out. A commotion, the beeping of a heart monitor, a baby wailing down the hallway, a soft blanket, the frail touch of his wife’s hand- these are his first senses, or rather, what he picks up during the scattered moments of consciousness he manages to gain over the next few days. Anna visits often, wanting to apologize for not keeping him in shape, but he is incoherent. When he first wakes for more than two minutes, she is there. “Hey, you’re awake!” whispers Anna. She is diminished due to the sadness of the recent few days, but not without a certain sorrowful beauty. “What….happened…?” George tries to talk; even the faintest whisper is physically taxing. All kinds of medical equipment surround him- tubes, needles, monitors, everything. “You.. you had a heart attack. You’ve been out for days. It’s a wonder you survived. I’ll leave you be for nowyou need rest.” She smiles faintly, and then walks out of the dimly lit hospital room. She pauses for an imperceptible moment at the door, and she is gone. Thus, George is left to his own thoughts. He contemplates long and hard, looking inward. He now realizes is a prisoner to his own body and its desires. He must overcome it for his sake and for Anna’s. The sun rises, a new day begins. The city bustles with the activity of ten thousand people shaping their futures. This day, George shapes his.
Thalia Chrysanthis “Fairy Dance”
Around, Around The Circle goes The girl in green has passed me twice Turns, Turns Without an end The girl in green has passed me thrice More, More Come to dance A man in brown joins to her right Now a Circle Now a Spiral A boy in blue kidnapped at night The Circle strains The Circle pulls A woman limps but cannot halt Dance goes faster Many fall The man beside me’s burnt by salt Join the Dance The Circle calls Another in the Circle falls I say no, For I now see
The pain of man calls out to me I turn and run From Circle’s pull Not fast enough! My senses dull Next I know I dance along To that wicked Tricky song And as I go The dance I dread For locked I am Like spool to thread Time flows on And years dance by The Circle won’t stop Though we die Around and Around I finally see The girl in green is really me
Elijah Santner “I Believe in Dirt” I was thirteen years old, when my science teacher told me that dirt was a bad thing. She claimed that if it were a good thing, we would call it "soil" I was always upset about that. What gave her the right I would walk into class,
to label one kind of Earthly matter better than another?
My shoes heavy with mud That felt warm and bright under my Discount rack sneakers and she would say “ Elijah, you can’t come in here with all that dirt.” And I wanted to say If only you knew What it meant to run with Bare feet through soft fields in the early morning, With the earth still damp From the dew of the dawn. I wanted to say If you only knew what it felt like, To skid your shoes in the dry cracked earth And watch the dust Float up like storm clouds. If you had been born in the earthy decomposing leaves time and again Creating yourself as a new person Every day, If you had carved out your friendships in the soft ground, and Marched back home bearing the battle stains of a thousand fights we imagined we fought… And god knows we weren’t playing in soil. Soil is what worms shit out when they have finished eating the dead; Dirt is the stuff that you dig in searching for diamonds and crystals. Soil is a thing chocked full of preservatives and fertilizers, something that you don’t step on for fear of killing the carrots. Dirt is something you roll in; hiding from soldiers you dream up and dream away. Soil is something you get on your hands, but dirt is something you get in your mind. Dirt is something you build a fortress out of, something you love in, something you live in, and it is
the stuff that we die in. So when you ask me why I’m not a scientist, I say, “Because I believe in a world of dirt.” Because I believe in the first layer of the world being a place to play in, not a resource to be studied and mutated. I believe in a world, Where no one will tell my children not to get their feet muddy because it would stain the rug. I don’t want to be clean; I want my fingernails black with the product of the ground, not smelling of the over-ripe soap that sits next to a high pressure sink in a lab room. I belive that if there is a god He does not live in the sky, but lives in the rich earth, just below the roots of the trees and the subways and the sewers. I believe in the stains and the grit of the ground. In the power of mud and The beauty of dust. I believe! I believe in dirt.
Ronald Jason “Grey”
Ignorance and Knowledge two halves of the same coin Both being the absent of the other One thought to be and the answer to every question The other thought to be the stem of all evil State by one of the world greatest philosopher Plato himself But if ignorance is bad how can it be bliss An emotional state that is characterized by perfect happiness So is happiness ignorant and evil The answer is nothing is really black and white Everything is just shades of grey
First day or sixth? Itâ€™s hard to tell!
Jenna Hoinke “II. and the walls became the world all around”
It's cramped. A lifetime away from this, what she'll remember most of all is the feeling of loss. It doesn't make all that much sense, honestly, because she hasn't really lost much of anything. Not limb, nor body, nor soul or dignity. Just her freedom, and can't that be regained? In hindsight, she shouldn't have tried to escape. That only made them angry. Angrier. She shouldn't have, shouldn't have, shouldn't have. Shouldn't. Should not. She passes time by pacing concrete floors and staring at concrete walls. There are dents and scars and marks in places where people shouldn't have gouged them. Shouldn't. Should not. Her feet slap, bare-footed, against concrete jungles. The concrete is cold like the skin of a bloated drowned corpse. Her nails scream against the floor, a high-pitched wail that hurts, hurts, hurts. She talks to herself to keep herself busy. She hums the opening chords of "Smoke on the Water", bleats out "Do You Hear The People Sing?" "Do you hear the people sing," She says, loud enough that she hopes her captors can hear. "Singing the songs of angry men, they are the songs of a people who will not be slaves again." It lilts and sounds terrible, and she can't be bothered to care. The darkness closes in like someone's drawing in thin curtains, and she needs something that can pierce through it all, something that can save her and she'll be damned if it's not singing. The words reverberate and vibrate throughout her. She can feel it from the inside, from the heart and it makes her feel alive, if anything else. Because if she can sing, she can make the walls sing. In the absolute darkness, making the world feel alive is all that matters. The darkness is impossibly cold, impossibly long, impossibly everything. It frightens her and terrifies her and makes her so happy though it shouldn't. Shouldn't. Should not. She makes a world of her own. She imagines all the places she's ever been and all the places she'll never go. She imagines the beach on Maui, the black sands squished between toes. The way it squelched like a bog once she stepped out of the crests of the ocean. She imagines the tree in Paia, the branches which looked themselves like the tide, moving up and down and down again. She had climbed those branches, hung from its cradle and smiled for the pictures. Who had taken the picture? She had an image, snapping across her head like lightning; a woman, a girl, with big blue eyes and spattered with freckles. What had she called her? "Sasha." She croaks. Sasha. Another imagine. Lips on her collarbone. A whisper in the ear, "I love you." So loud it seemed half-ascream. She's crying. She shouldn't. Should not. She thinks about other things. How she got here. A desert, blood-stained. Metallic. Blood smells like horror, like a world apart from this one. The disconnect between what she sees and what she needs to do is cruel. It is not a place for journalists. Not a place for Americans. The bag they put over her head blocks out sounds and smells and sights. Black. Black. Black. She's still crying. She thinks it might be the only thing she can do.
G iuliana Zanutta “Sanity”
Where am I? You are here Where is here? Where we are. Who are you? I am you. You are me? And you are me Then what am I? You are yourself And you are…? I am myself I don’t understand You will But I don’t… Patience Where do you get the answers? From your questions. Then answer my questions. I only have some answers What can’t you answer Hello?!? I am here. Where did you go? I had no answer What!?! I don’t know what you don’t know Is this insanity? Is this insanity? I don’t know! Do you know?!? If you question your own sanity is it insanity? I DON’T KNOW What are you doing? Asking you Who am I You are me. Who are you asking I am asking you And who am I You are me Yes Oh… And who are you asking about your sanity My self If you question your own sanity is it insanity.
Cassidy Younggreen “Rainer and Rolf”
I sat down on the couch while Rolf went into the kitchen to make some tea. His house was small, but big enough for him. The living room had children’s toys scattered about, the result of him not picking up after Gwen when he would baby-sit her. I leaned back and messed with my hair, a habit of mine. I heard Rolf moving around in the kitchen, and I checked my phone while I waited. My screensaver was a picture of Gwen and I,with her smiling happily while hugging my leg. It wasn’t taken too long ago, but it already seemed like months had passed since then. She was growing up too fast. “So what brings you here?” Rolf asked, reentering the living room. He handed me a plain white cup, plate, and a gray spoon, and I set them on my lap. He sat in the chair across from me, and took the tea bag out of his cup, “It’s been a couple months since we last talked.” “Just came to visit.” I shrugged, “You haven’t babysat for Gwen for a while, came to make sure you weren’t too lonely.” Rolf laughed in response, and shook his head. I pulled the tea bag out of my own cup of tea and set it on the plate, then looked back up at Rolf. “You know me,” he said, “Always getting lonely. No girlfriend to keep me company.” “I don’t have a girlfriend right now.” “But you have a daughter.” He smiled and took a sip of his tea, “How is she doing?” “Good, I think.” I shrugged and stirred my tea with the spoon absently, not bothering to take a sip yet. “You think?” “Well, I’m dating again.” “Rainer, you never stopped dating.” Rolf teased, “You said you didn’t have a girlfriend, so I’m guessing you’ve got yourself another boyfriend?” “Yeah, I do.” “Does Gwen not like him very much?” Rolf asked. I shrugged in response and ran a hand through my hair, “Honestly, I can’t tell. He’s an ex though, so... It’s a little awkward between them right now. She doesn’t trust him.” “An ex? Do I know him?” “I sure hope you do. I dated him for about five years, you know.” Rolf frowned a little and cocked his head to the side, his red glasses slipping down his face. He thought for a second, narrowed his eyes, and sat up straight, “Oh my god, Rainer, are you dating him again?” “You can say his name. It’s not like it’s some taboo.” “Kim Rielly.” He frowned, “The same Kim Rielly who left you and your three year old daughter without warning six years ago? The same Kim Rielly who didn’t pay child support and barely talked to you? The same Kim Rielly who caused you so much pain?” “I know what he did, Rolf.” I said, and scratched my head, “He came back about two months ago. You know, unannounced. He wanted to live with Gwen and I again, and I didn’t know what else to say... So he stayed in our guest room for a while, but I guess there must’ve been a lot of romantic tension or something because one month later we’re going out again.” “He left you for six years, Rainer. You tried to kill yourself over him! How the hell could you just take him back like that? He abandoned you and Gwen!” “You did the same thing to Gwen, but you don’t see me chewing you out.”
Rolf flinched at my remark and looked away. He took a deep breath and sipped his tea, “That was different. I couldn’t be a father to her. I’m better off as her uncle. Plus, back then I thought you and Kim were solid. I didn’t think he’d just pick up and leave with his first shot at fame.” “You both left her.” I frowned, “So don’t try to use that for a reason to rip Kim apart. He feels bad about what he did.” “I don’t think he realizes how badly it affected you, Rainer. Gwen was young, she probably barely even remembers having Kim as a father. But she sure as hell remembers you being a wreck for four out of those six years, and bitter the other two.” I looked down at my feet. I had tried to conceal how upset our breakup had been, for Gwen’s sake. That’s what had gotten me through all this time, just thinking about how I had to be there for her. At the beginning I did try to run away, I tried to... I tried to end it all, to make it so that I wouldn’t have to deal with my problems anymore. Thankfully Gwen was my anchor--keeping me from sailing off into the neverending sea of depression. I guess I didn’t realize how in tune she was to my sadness, that she could see that I was barely hanging on, barely managing, barely moving from day to day, keeping a fake smile plastered on my face for her sake. “I thought we were going to last.” I said quietly, “I thought, that because we had a daughter, he wouldn’t leave me... We had survived so much together! I mean, with his personality disorder and all of that mess, after we got through that stage in our relationship, it was smooth sailing. We never fought, or argued... He rejected my proposal, but that was before Gwen. Once Gwen came along, I thought he would settle down and just live with me and be happy. But obviously he wanted more.” “Well of course. The guy’s selfish.” “Don’t say that.” I snapped, “We are dating again, you know. I don’t appreciate you pointing out his every flaw.” Rolf paused and sipped his tea again, trying to think of what to say next. He brushed some of his dull orange hair out of his face and readjusted his glasses, “Think you’re gonna last this time?” “Honestly, Rolf? I don’t have a clue.”
“I’m Not a Dancer”
Grace was dancing, and I wasn’t. The radio was playing—Station 99.7. The local country station. It was the only station Grace’s dad, Mr. Herring, could bear to listen to, and since he was the one paying us to help clean out the warehouse we were standing in, we decided it would be best to humor him. I didn’t know the name of the song that was playing, but it was absolutely not a song one would want to dance to. It was something with lots of twangy banjos and a guy drawling on about a dusty pickup truck and a dead dog. We couldn’t even really hear it that well. The radio kept cutting in and out because the antenna seemed to be permanently bent. Mr. Herring bought and sold motorcycles for a living and had amassed a gigantic warehouse’s worth of scattered motorcycle parts. Enough parts, in fact, that he needed to move it all to an even bigger warehouse. He had hired Grace and me to help him with transport. We were supposed to be stacking bins of oily engine parts into the trailer, but Mr. Herring wasn’t back yet from unloading the previous trailer, and with the rain falling outside and the radio turned up and the sweat and grease wiped all over our clothes, Grace danced. I sat down on a nearby ladder and watched, smiling. She looked ridiculous. Her hair was sticking to the back of her neck, and she kept awkwardly darting in and out of the building, in and out of the rain. She hadn’t even taken off her too-big leather gloves, and there was a gob of grease smeared down the left leg of her tattered jeans. And for some reason, I couldn’t even bring myself to laugh, even though it was the funniest thing I had seen all day. It was certainly a lot more amusing than trying not to drop carburetors on my feet. I often feel too reserved to dance. Too passive. I’d rather live in my brain, I suppose, and not my body. I play the piano for a reason, I have always told myself, and that reason is so that I don’t have to be the one who dances. I used to dance, though. All the time. I took classes and everything when I was little. I started in tap and then took ballet. I quit at the age of eight, when the music at the dance recital didn’t start in the right place. I got scared and couldn’t go out onto that stage. It was too unfamiliar. That was a very long time ago. Grace was still dancing, and I was listening to her talk about how she should have been a ballerina instead of a soccer player. “No, you shouldn’t have,” I said to her. She laughed. “Why?” “Because then I wouldn’t have met you.” I was scared of soccer, too, at first, and also of Grace. It was just another unfamiliar situation I had thrown myself into. I didn’t quit soccer, though, not even after sprints and situps and endless drills. Soccer practices, I thought, felt an awful lot like this job does. It’s hard, hard work, lifting heavy boxes and pushing cumbersome machinery across the floor on a hot day at the end of May. It’s sweaty and breathless, it’s a dance in itself, of bending at the knees to lift, of leaning hard to push and push, of clambering onto scaffolding and handing boxes back and down, of stretching high to tip the engines and wheels and fenders into the spaces at the very top of the trailer. The music came not from the radio as much as from the sound of our grunts and sighs and pants. And at last, we gave ourselves a break, and the labor sank into us in a way that only happens when you’ve truly been working with your body, with your muscles and your bones. It’s a nice feeling, in a way.
It gave our mental problems a rest for a while. That feeling made me realize how much I really do live in my body. I thought about all the things I could do, all the miles I had run. All the boxes Iâ€™d lifted just today. I even lived right through my fingers, through all the songs Iâ€™d played. I looked back up at Grace, at how her hips swayed slightly out of time with the terrible song. The rusty ladder creaked loudly as I unfolded myself from it, trying and failing to use my grimy shirtsleeve to wipe the dirt off my face. Thunder rumbled in front of us. Mr. Herring had still not returned; the awful song was still sputtering from the broken radio; I joined Grace in the rain. Grace was dancing, and I danced too.
Ivy charms everyone with her lovely guitar!
Sophie Chun “The Burgess”
“Where is she?” “I’m here.” “You’re late.” “You’re petty.” “Late people don’t get to be rude, too. Get in place, Lady Burgess. You’re on in five.”
“Where’s my costume?” “Are you drunk?” “On the rush of television magic. Where’s my suit?” “Sandra has it.” “Sandra? Are you serious? She probably glitterbombed the damn thing. God, think of someone besides yourself for a minute. Sandra, where are you?” “Here, I’m over here.” “Oh, my god. I love that vest. You really know how to rock the sparkles.” “Thanks. Oh, your costume. I have your costume.” “Thanks so much! Oh, hey, you added a little, a little glitter to the bun.” “Yes. Sorry, I thought it needed something. It was just so… boring.” “No, I know, yeah. A sparkly hamburger. It’s genius.” “Thank you.” “Wrap it up, ladies! Lark, you’re on in three!” “Damn. Alright.” “Good evening, kids! This is Food Town. We’re coming to you from San Francisco-” “When are they going to change that intro? Someone’s supposed to change that intro. I told Mike. Sandra, where is Mike?” “He was fired, Lark.” “What? For what?” “He peed on the audience.” “What? Where was I?” “I don’t know. It was during the live show. You haven’t heard?” “No. Nobody tells me anything. God. Of course he got fired.” “-and welcome our mascot, Lady Burgess!” “Hey, kids!” “Hey, Lady Burgess!” “Can you tell us the healthy fact of the day, Lady Burgess?” “Sure, Carl. The healthy fact of the day is… an apple a day keeps the doctor away!” “Okay, that wasn’t the right line. Someone tell her.” “It’s too late.” “Hey, Lady Burgess! Why are you the mascot of a kids’ health show? You give people heart attacks!” “Who is that? What is he doing?” “I don’t know. Please stop shouting in your mich, Carl. Security’s on it.” “If you really want to keep the doctor away, don’t let your kids watch this show! My son got diabetes and hemorrhoids and he went blind from this crap!” “God, he’s in front of the camera. This is not happening.” “Lark? Lark, where are you going?” “Hey, you! You think burgers are unhealthy? It’s all I ate as a kid, and look at me!” “Why the hell is she taking off her costume? Someone! Someone!”
“I’m blooding freaking gorgeous, baby!” “Is she in her- Oh, God. She’s in her underwear. We’re dead. Okay. Everyone find new jobs.” “Good morning everyone. I see we have some new faces here in our Rehabilitation Center. Why don’t we go around the circle and introduce ourselves? Let’s start with our newcomers. Would you like to--” “No.” “Excuse me…?” “No.” “Lark Clark, is it?” “What’s it to ya, lady?”’ “Lark, are you inebriated right now?” “So many questions. I’m not made of answers, lady. That’s what life is for.” “Miss Clark. You know what the consequence for intake is in rehab?” “Is it more tequila? That would be nice.” “No. It’s a day in the Thinking Room.” “I don’t need no room for thinking! I have the world, lady, I have life! The world is my oyster and I’m the pearl! See? See, I’m thoughtful and I mean something! I mean something!” “Okay. Security?” “You can try to hold it back all you want! But I know! We all know the truth! We all know! We all eat burgers, damn it!” “What’s your name?” “Why does everyone keep asking that?” “I’m Sam.” “My human name is Lark. Like the bird. Caw.” “Caw.” “That was weak.” “So was that back there.” “Back where? Cuba? America won that fight. Don’t listen to them.” “I’m not Cuban. I’m from El Salvador. And I was talking about your episode back in the meeting room.” “Where’s that?” “’Lady, hey, lady, we all eat burgers!’” “I don’t sound like that.” “No, I was trying to be nice. You actually sound crazier.” “So mean. I’m in rehab. Be nice to me. Do you have tequila?” “No. I’m in rehab.” “God, that’s terrible!” “You seem to be doing okay.” “Yeah. That’s because I have tequila.” “Where did you get it?” “Why should I tell you? You’re in rehab.” “So’re you.” “Are you in rehab for being mean? Because it’s not working!” “You’re going to be here for a while.” “I can be anywhere I please. Look at me. I’m Lark Clark, Lady Burgess, Duchess of Healthiness, Lordess of Lettuce. You, you mean little man, have nothing on me.” “No. I don’t. I don’t think I ever want to.” “Your words! So stinging! They should put you in the Thinking Room! So you can think about other people’s feelings! I mean, God.” “Yeah. God.”
Emily Reynolds “What You Love” Tell me what you love. If I look you in the eyes and ask you to tell me what you love, the answers will likely roll off of your tongue. You love sushi and drawing and roller coasters and poetry. You love to dance, you love to write, you love music, cats, tattoos, crazy concerts, and the color of the sunset painted in the sky like a masterpiece. You love your boyfriend. Your mom. Your brother. Your sister. Your niece. Your Best friend. Your dogs. Your grandmother. Your cousin. Your dad. Your aunt. Your girlfriend. You love cakes and foreign places and country music the way it feels to itch a bug bite. You love late mornings and early nights and time alone and hugs and sentimental cards on your birthday. But how long do you think you could go on and on before you say, “I love myself.” Most people could go a lifetime. I used to believe I was invincible, like most young people do. I knew everything, knew exactly who I was, I could have conquered the world. My friend’s mother, with a smile sewn of wisdom, once told me if I really wanted the truth, I should stand in front of a mirror. She told me: “Meet yourself in the mirror, make a date of it. Look closely, and even if it’s strange, keep on looking until your eyes become skies with constellations of light, and the rest of the world fades away. Examine every inch of your face, and feel however you feel about it. Be thorough. See even the things you don’t like to see. When you know your face like you’d know a friend’s, meet your eyes again. If it’s awkward or forced, do the best that you can, and with all the sincerity you can muster, say, ‘I love you.’” I thought it was stupid, and I told her right then and there, but for some reason I still crept into my bathroom that night to rekindle with my eyes. I was surprisingly awkward, awkwardly shy, and stood with my gaze turned down, like I was seeing myself for the first time. With a flutter in my stomach I met my own stare, and though everything in me protested, I let out a short breath that carried the faintest whisper of the words… I love you… and then I felt as though I could cry because I knew it wasn’t true. I stood in my bathroom every night for months, and I lied to my eyes until I could rewrite the truth. When I looked in the mirror and knew for the first time that I loved myself, I also knew I would never need anything else to survive. My friends mom knew me, and instead of telling, she showed me that love is a tree, and if we don’t grow the roots, we’ll spend our lives collecting dry leaves; they are charming when pressed in books and kept in picture frames but they don’t grow up to feed our families the way seeds do. She told me: “You cannot say, ‘I love you,’ without knowing inside that you love yourself, first. If you don’t love yourself, every time you have ever said, ‘I love you,’ it was a lie.” And she was right.
Kethry Hunter “Hope Blossoms” Hope is an odd thing. It feeds life into a being, but at the same time consumes your soul, and in moments of disappointment, feasts away at the delicate flesh. Every being has it at one time or another, and in a way, it is an addicting feeling, light and happy. Hope is a fickle entity, your best friend in one instance, and your worst enemy in another. At times, it is perhaps the only element keeping you alive, keeping you going. But perhaps also, it can be the very thing that will sever and wrench your delicate soul into wisps. The fruit trees were heavy with blossoms, and as she padded through them on bare feet, she brushed the tips of her fingers along the hanging branches, causing a mini storm of petals to fall and swirl around her. They landed with feather touches on her bare shoulders like tiny kisses, catching in her ebony locks. She felt adorned like a fairy queen. The scent was all around her, crisp and fresh and heavy with the vitality of life. Her dress barely caught on the upturned roots and then pulled free, the light cream fabric wrapping her in a design she was new to. It was tight to her waist and loose below, allowing for plenty of movement. It was lighter than what she had worn before in her life. She turned into a grove, an almost perfect circle. There was a little iron bench on one end, and she headed there and sat, tracing the ivy design crawling up the sides. Her fingers were sensitive and she could feel tiny warps and bumps in the metal and a light flaking of orange rust that rubbed off on her smooth skin. Tiny blue and orange butterflies were crowded on all the trees, tiny proboscis’ reaching deep into the flower center to suck up the syrupy nectar. One fluttered down and landed on her dress. Its delicate wings floated up and down, so easily hurt, so very flimsy. It was joined by several of its fellows, and one boldly stepped onto her finger. She laughed when she realized that they were interested in the sap that had rubbed off onto her hands. If she had felt otherworldly before, it was nothing to how she felt now, covered in butterflies and sitting in paradise. Carefully, she stood, gently dislodging her fluttering passengers. She twirled across the grove, spinning with her arms out like a child, spinning, spinning, until the grove was a pink and white blur and the sky above her was a dome of swirling clouds and blue streaks. She fell down into the grass, breathing in its sweet, clean scent. It was a bright, vibrant green, and with the filtering light she could see the tiny veins that threaded each blade. Flipping onto her back, skirts spread in disarray around her she looked up. Fluffy shapes sped across the sky, white and soft-looking. Deep breaths came from her mouth, trying to drink in all the elements around her. She sat, ebony locks tumbling down her back with tiny pink cherry petals woven in like jewels. The peace she felt surprised her, and (dare she even think it?) she felt the tiniest stirrings of hope blossom in her otherwise dry husk of a soul. In this place, in paradise, she could allow herself to shed off her old life like the butterflies had shed their cocoons and then emerge, damp and fresh and so very striking. So very delicate. Here, she did not have to be a warrior or a guardian. She could make herself into whatever she wanted: a girl, a butterfly, a queen. There was comfort in that. Her skirts gathered in one hand, she moved onwards, out of the glade and back into the fragrant forest. Perhaps she could remake herself here, in this garden in the sky where if she wanted to, she could fly and touch the filmy clouds and dance in them. There was hope here, something that she had not allowed herself to feel in almost forever. Before now hope had been a disease, a poison that devastated. Now it may be her deliverance.
Zoe Grieze “Nagkakamay”
The boy and the girl sit side by side on the edge of her tattered couch with what used to be her mother’s best china perched in the valleys of their laps. They stare into the hollows of the pale ceramic bowls, testing the silence. Over years they’d grown accustomed to a backdrop of chattering friends, but today they’re alone in the quiet. He starts to laugh to himself, a wisp of a chuckle almost too quiet to notice, but she likes to notice everything. She voices the question with her eyes. He droops his head as if the meal was the one asking. “Well, it’s the proportions. Look.” She looks into his bowl: a mountain of rice steams below a polite spoonful of glazed chicken and pepper. She looks back into hers: a mixed pile of meat with grain, a homogeneous heap. His eyes change, shoot out to an imagined horizon past the chipped plaster. His words are gifted with the same sense of distance. “America... America is not the Philippines. There, rice is the main dish, rice is what you can afford; the meat is extra. Seasoning.” She feels a little ashamed of her excess and winces down at what used to be her mother’s best china, before the new set. Mom wanted the colors to match the glossy framed print of flowers in the dining room. “Also, you… I don’t know. You might think-” He stops and takes his turn at looking ashamed. She raises her eyebrow to remind him that she is the crazy one. “Well, you eat it with your hands” He says. “That sounds better, actually.” “It is. It’s more natural.” Critically, she considers the shiny length of her spoon. “We could do it now. I mean, if you want.” He offers. “I would love to.” Suddenly he acquires an excited sense of purpose, moves in all angles and lines. “First we need to wash.” In a huddle over the sink, she watches as the soap bubbles catch the tones of his skin and shift the smooth clay brown into a flurry of pinks, blues, greens. The water splashes back up on the counter top and leaves little leopard spots on her tee shirt. They move back to the couch. “When we first moved here,” he says, “we used to close all of the blinds before we ate so the neighbors wouldn’t see us nagkakamay – that’s Tagalog for using your hands – but now we eat like Americans.” “So how do I…?” She’s afraid of committing some cultural violation, even though he probably expects clumsiness. She’s most afraid of expectation. He holds out his hand to demonstrate, the tawny palm up and the smooth fingers pressed together in a gentle curve. “You scoop, you kind of – I haven’t ever had to explain this- you kind of hold the food there with your thumb, then you use the thumb to sort of push it, I guess, into your mouth.” He says. She experiments, pivoting joints, extending muscles, and he watches. “Just try it. It’ll feel right when you get it, I think...” Her hand dives down into the warm dish, and she imagines her mother’s disapproving cluck. The grains shimmy into the valleys between her fingers; the steam dances up her arm. At first she can’t seem to guide anything into her mouth without a confetti of wayward rice raining back into the bowl, but she adjusts. She starts to feel. She is falling in love with how it feels, warm and savory and human. The next day he’s gone home, and she hovers in the kitchen while her younger sister colors blocky kittens on the table. When unwatched, the girl eats her rice with her hands.
Matt Morris “Shed” When I first met the doctor, I had no intention of kidnapping him. He wasn’t my usual type. Fat and pampered, he was the sort who would demand food from me in lavish qualities. A wife, two kids, loose ends, people who would come looking for him. Though he came from money, I didn’t want to hold him for ransom; when you ask for that kind of thing you risk putting yourself in contact with the authorities. It’s a rookie mistake. I think it had something to do with the fact that the doc had something I could only dream about, contentment. His goofy smile as he waddled into the office, the way it made his double chin more prominent. He knew he was fat and ugly, and he didn’t care. As hard as I tried, I could never live like that. It was five years ago. He was the new doctor and I was the forty-year-old woman who still had the back acne of a sixteen year old. I was just getting into making people disappear. I saw it more as a hobby back then. I was aiming low: back alley toughs, dumb kids at the bar, the kinds of people who wouldn’t expect a chick to be a serial kidnapper. It was so simple, buy them a beer, a few lines of flattery, a batting of the eyelashes and they were history. Take them to the car, them thinking they were about to get lucky, me focusing my black belt mind, getting ready for a different kind of action. Once the door shut it was over. A dislocated shoulder was usually all it took. In the novels, the captives are always kept in the basement. I prefer to go the storage shed route. I knew a guy, Jack, who kept his people in the basement and got busted when his mother in law went downstairs looking for a bathroom. The basement is no good. If I wanted to get the doc, I would need a different plan of attack. Most of my victims are people I’m not very well acquainted with, which is usually essential. It’s easier to stay aloof. Doc had been my dermatologist for years. A backyard shed would not do. And how to get started? The doc was never alone, always surrounded by his employees; the nurses, the secretaries, and occasionally even his wife. I’d seen her around a few times, her hair piled high upon her head, her makeup placed perfectly. She didn’t seem like a bad woman, just kind of snooty. The way I saw it was doing her a favor. If I didn’t kidnap him someone else would, and it was better he was with me than someone else. I knew some of the others who did what I did. Many of them could occasionally cross the line between serial kidnapper and serial killer. Roscoe barks intently, interrupting my thought process. He is hungry. Roscoe is a golden retriever. He is my best friend because he is the one thing in my life that listens to me unconditionally. When I say jump, Roscoe jumps. When I say roll over, Roscoe rolls over. If the shit-heads at the office were anything like Roscoe the world would be a better place. I feed Roscoe, pour some food from the bag and then take the rest back to the shed. Being a kidnapper is a labor of love. The extra food and water runs up the bills and the rushes of adrenaline are few and far between. Kidnapping used to be the most important thing in my life. Now I’m more of a weekend warrior type. I’m cutting corners; I should really be getting these people food that’s actually meant for people. I feel guilty, I really do. People assume that if you’re the kind of person willing to steal away another human being and tie them up in your tool shed, you must not care about their wellbeing. On the contrary, I feel like these people are a part of me. I’m humane. When the time comes and the police finally catch up with me, I hope my prisoners look back fondly on their time with me. Visit me in prison. Remember me as a maternal figure. At work I think back on my plans to capture my doctor. I think I’ll go over to his practice and slash his tires. Then in his time of need I’ll drive by, my excuse for being there I’ll think up later, and offer him a ride. I’m daydreaming about how doc’s face would look with a blindfold and gag when the temp dumps some papers on my desk. He says the boss wants them in by Wednesday. The temp annoys me. I think about how easy it would be for me to snap his neck. I check my email; Pet Mart is having a sale on dog food. I double click.
Vee Duong “Grandfather’s Girl” Marissa heard her name called, the sea of bleary faces turning to look at her, eyes wide with expectation. Dragging her feet with the swishing of her black dress along her tanned calves, she willed herself to stand in front of the crowd. It was time to give the eulogy. “Good afternoon everyone,” she began slowly, “I am truly thankful that you all could attend such a deeply important event.” She stared around at the crowd, measuring the red eyes of the quiet, sniffling people, all mirroring her own turbulent emotions, a fine mingling of hopelessness, anger and grief. In their lives, each person has things that he or she wants to do - everyone has an agenda of his or her own. It just so happened that for all the people sitting together in that room, their agendas had at one point included “him.” Marissa was sure that some of these people wanted to discuss old time Vietnam with him, about the days of the great republic with its verdant jungles and suffocating humidity. Others had probably wanted to sit and drink dark, tangy and black coffee with him - the kind that scalded her tongue but warmed her like a fleece blanket. Others probably wanted to sit and play Chinese poker around a table, chatting all night long over chrysanthemum tea. But all she wanted was to settle into his comfortable embrace again and fall asleep to his countless stories which had all since faded into murmurs, the smell of wood and leather filling her nostrils. She wanted to learn large cursive letters again with his aged, wrinkled hands wrapped around her small, chubby fingers. She wanted him to come pick her up from primary school, sharing her cookie and insisting to take her out to eat aromatic food for lunch, sneaking into the house after and running away from her grandmother’s attempts to feed them again. Marissa longed for her grandfather, strong, independent, and larger than life. After she had received the grim news, delivered to her quietly over the phone in the middle of the night, the deafeningly empty silence that followed had almost crushed her from the inside out. She paused to take a slow, shuddering breath, clearing her head of all the mind numbing darkness. A subtle glance at her almost illegible notes told her that they weren’t what she really wanted to say. It was too practiced, too robotic, too empty. She wanted her grandfather back so much that it hurt to look at his open casket. It hurt, it hurt everywhere from the nerves behind her eyes, to her reddened nose, to her heart, her pitifully cracked and bruised heart. The crowd was silent and sniffling. Everything was hushed under a blanket of sad discomfort, like those nights she lay in her bed following his death. Even God was silent, waiting for her to speak and break that stifling quiet. “I can’t tell you all here about his youthful accomplishments that I never, personally, witnessed nor about the time before I met him which he spent working dutifully as a teacher, later in the Vietnamese government, or how he survived the thirteen year struggle in ‘reeducation’ camp. But I can tell you all that my grandfather was the toughest man that I will ever meet. The toughest, kindest, most wonderful grandfather a girl could ever have.” “So this eulogy won’t be about all of the amazing things that he’s managed to do. It will be my thanks to him - words that I will never be able to personally disclose to him myself. You’re listening, right Grandpa? You’ll hear me out?” Marissa questioned to the sullen atmosphere.
She took another pause, inhaling another lung full of breath in order to stem the threatening tears and push on. “Thank you, dear grandfather, for taking me home from school every day for years, for carrying me on your back through thigh - high dirty flood water when I was four. Thank you for cradling me in your arms, letting me fall asleep on your lap even though your back must have been hurting. Thank you for cooking me spicy ramen when I got hungry, taking me to the nearby park when the dusk came and holding my hand when I got scared of demonic ghosts before I fell asleep at night. “Thank you for teaching me how to tie my shoelaces in the first grade - I am a pro at it now. “Your granddaughter has grown up well. Now I wonder, who will take me out for brunch on Saturday? Who will eat fried chicken with me even when he isn’t hungry? Who will hug me goodbye at the door?
“Will you watch my graduation from above? Will you smile for me - will you be proud like the day when you brought me home from the hospital ? Will you come to me in my dreams and congratulate me?” And then she broke, tears flooding, cascading to her lips, just like the sky outside that wept and almost washed its clouds and stars and all into the river. The angels must have wept too. She stood in front of the crowd, her tears clouding her vision - speckling onto her now useless notes - she hadn’t followed the perfect practiced speech from the beginning. Her heart was too attached to his memory to plainly recite off of a black and white, defined paper. “Thank you...thank you for everything,” she mumbled incoherently, choking on her overwhelming sobs that were caught in her throat. “Today isn’t the end,” she managed to say clearly, looking straight into the sympathetic eyes of the people around her, “it is the start of a new beginning, right Grandpa? “We will meet again, I promise.” She bowed politely to the audience, and there was a surge of abrupt applause.
Cheerleaders invade the dining hallâ€Ś
Andrianna Peterson “At .29 BAC” He consumed me Rather I consumed him Like a yellow spark Crackling, popping deep within his souls And he was mine so some called it love yet I deemed it lust I quenched his thirst and delivered sweet numbness A transparent paradise, a temporary release, his purist confidant; I was His emotions evolved into endless echoes While I, with beads of sweat rolling down my side Like that of a cold glass of water in the heat of June Enticed him- his bottle, his bride Replacing air in his lungs with forbidden glimpses of our future Because no one knew we would fall together And as he lifted me to his lips I swept the control from him Like a mother does a small child I mirrored him; his reflection made visible only through me. I was emptied The sweet and tart taste of my liquors lingered now on his mouth And when the quiet begin to set in I pulled him deeper Into an endless cloud of bliss, with no escape I am all he ever wanted
“Daddy’s Light” There is a light Of which some speak That’s present in the eye This light I’d hoped to never see Go dim or lose its shine For when that light Turned grim and left A trench was left in turn Now this heart Your glow kept warm Yearns for your sweet return
Joseph Jordan-‐‑Johnson “Solar Plexus Suture” I have loved so much corpses have sprung from my chest and I cannot hold something so finite. I have become dependent on the trade of people, the coarse-buck of banter and all things humans sing holy. We’ve been over for days now, I sit cross-legged in the front room of my apartment saying to myself: let it die, let it die let it die letitdie. That’s what he told me, and my chest, suture-skinned, drapes like cabinet doors. The heart-spice, my liver, to the boy who struck chords with his tongue my spine to the ache and bend of him and every hallowed cell I have given—can give the love I have is core-rotten, cut from the worst bones. The body has been open for far too long and the blood is restless; free— free is only for the individual, not the petty boy. I cannot stich wounds with love in graveyards and salted bones. It is not the useable thread, it is the knife.
Mahalla Wilbur “Voices” A deep echoing, Born from the darkest places in my mind. A constant taunting, Evil, angry and unkind. Scratching at my soul, Burning down my wall. I can hear them! Are they not real at all? Eyes droop shut, a deep breath enters my chest. They slowly start to fade. Again I am reminded, they are here to stay. Trying as hard as I can, But destroy them I cannot do. Am I just insane, or can you hear them too?
“A Drip of Pure Envy” Smothered in pain. Drowning in sorrow. I may smile again. My eyes may twinkle, my laugh may shine. Fake and happy, are intertwined. Hold my hand and kiss me, Never let me go. Heartbreaking memories, That will never go. Dreams die and go away. A child reborn, a life remade. Habits picked up and hobbies dropped. It’d have been better to have loved, not lost.
“Screaming” Angry and cold. All they want is enough. Enough of me. my tiny bits and pieces, Scattered about. I find no hope in this life! Only self-wrenching doubt. Disappearing from the picture, One at a time. My heart is weak and ageing, Covering with rime. Another piece torn off, Another blow in the face! My body, my mind, my life, Just examples of disgrace! Shove me aside and beat me! I do not see why I try. Striving to finally be enough! Yet d rather lay down and cry. For me, for you, for them! Will I ever be worth it?! Am I just doomed to walk this cruel earth, Empty and broken? I cannot breath! A repeat in my head of words spoken. My eyes tear up as I look away. My very best will never be enough, Not here, not ever, not today.
Megan McConnell “Porcelain Dolls” Porcelain dolls terrified me well into my teen years. My great aunt displayed a collection on great big shelves, high-up enough to keep me from reaching the bottom of their polished Mary Jane shoes, even while on my tippy-toes. Despite being unreachable, the dolls stared down at me with their big blue eyes from every angle of the room. Their faces were painted with a ghost-white complexion, even powder-pink blushes, and dark, red lips. They wore dresses of silk and lace, and thin, white stockings. These hard, miniature mannequins had an unwavering air of faultlessness, intimidating to me. Simply seeing these dolls when I visited my great aunt would have been bearable. Unfortunately, my great aunt giving me a new doll almost every time I visited her was unbearable. My mother insisted I keep the dolls untouched in their boxes, retaining the pristine condition that they had been packaged in. The unopened human figurines sat in my bedroom, invading my personal space and my day-to-day life. The unblinking eyes never ceased staring at me, eyes glinting with judgment. They stood high and mighty, pristine and clean, and the older I grew, the more their perfection reminded me of my ever-present imperfection. As I moved out of childhood, my fear only increased, as did the looks of judgment cast by the dolls. To bury my fear and hide their judgment, I took the sickeningly intact dolls from their places of display and shoved them away into the back of my closet. Despite my greatest hopes, the door was somehow too thin to mute their jeering taunts. As they mocked me and reminded me of every flaw of mine, I realized what would make them stop: if I could achieve the same level of perfection as these life-like mannequins, then I could quiet their disparagement. Years and years passed, but I continued to chase flawlessness. I became frustrated with myself for making no progress in the stride for excellence. More often than not, I spent my nights contemplating my worth and feeling more miserable than before. On an ordinary evening, I found myself crying in my room with nobody to comfort me. The dolls began to shout from behind the closet door again. Instead of being afraid and intimidated as usual, I felt oddly comforted by the familiarity of their sounds. Shaking, I opened my closet door and removed one of the dolls. I stood for a few moments, just looking at it, contemplating the amount of grief and pain that it caused me. It still taunted me from behind its plastic encasement. After a shaky breath, I fumbled as I opened the box, taking away the only separation between us. When it was in my hands for the very first time, I let the box hit the floor and cradled the doll in both hands. This thing that I had once been so cruel felt almost comforting. It felt comforting until I pulled away from the tight embrace. I looked directly into the eyes, bright and blue. My eyes fell down to its pink blush and dark red lips. I searched for a flaw, but I couldn’t find one. The comfort churned into a mixture of disgust and rage. Why was it so perfect? Why was I so far from that? It had done no work to become unblemished and perfect; it was manufactured to be that way. I worked my whole life, and I always came up short. My uneasiness sickened me and before I was aware of what I was doing, I wound my arm back. I threw it. I threw that doll harder than I’d ever thrown anything in my life. There was a loud slam followed by the sound of the pieces shattering apart, showering to the floor in a chaotic, porcelain rain. On the wall, it left a small, but permanent black scuff. Jagged puzzle pieces of perfect eyes and lip pieces, pink blushes and pale skin, small legs and a thin torso, were scattered at my feet. It was shattered. It was broken and there was no way of repairing it. These dolls, which taunted me endlessly, were nothing more than fragile playthings.
I kneeled down and solemnly picked up one of the pieces, which still had a small, intact painted blue eyeball on it. My thumb ran over the false glisten and I bit my lip. I wanted to feel sad for this pathetic toy. I wanted to feel regret for breaking it. I wanted to feel longing for what used to be familiar to me. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I felt too free. I had finally defeated the one thing that held me back time after time. I had control over every doll in my closet. More importantly, I had control over myself. Before I realized what I was doing, I had another doll in my hands. I wound up my arm, threw the doll, and watched the pieces split and crack and fall to the floor. I repeated the action until my collection was broken to a pitiful pile at my feet. But I took no pity on them. The shattered bits of imperfection gave me the empowerment that I had never felt. I wiped my tears, swept up the pieces, closed my closet door, and put those retched children’s toys behind me. Of course, it’s not as if I’ve never had to see a porcelain doll again. I’ve seen them plenty of times. My fear is not completely washed away and I can still hear a quiet murmur of judgment as I walk past them, but what I have learned something about both them and myself, which gives me courage to go on. They are weak and easily broken. I am strong and will endure.
Sarah Ruwe “Holidays” From the time when I was two to the beginning of my awkward teenage years, it was just me and my mom in our tiny brick house in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Everywhere you looked there were little clues to our girly lifestyle. Precious Moments figurines posed and smiled from all the flat surfaces, ABBA CD’s were stacked neatly on top of the stereo, and Sandra Bullock movies and Disney princess classics were almost always on t.v. Most much of our life story can be told through Holidays. For every holiday we had a ritual. Halloween was the product of months of planning. My mom usually sewed my costume herself, while I sat at the table watching her nimble fingers move the fabric through the speeding machine. I was a pumpkin, a cheerleader, a Go-Go girl, and one year she even made a teletubbie costume for herself because I wanted her to dress up with me. She went as Laa-Laa and I was Po. The most fabulous costume was by far the Cinderella gown, with its pale blue fabric that sparkled in the streetlight. Each year she’d take me around from house to house until we’d gone up and down our long, one-street neighborhood. When we finally arrived home we’d settle on the couch to examine the haul. We always picked out the Reese cups first and ate them together, because we are not the type of people to save the best for last. Easter was its own extravaganza. My mom was always careful to leave a half an hour early for Easter Mass, knowing that the church would be packed. The crowd on Easter was second only to the crowd on Christmas Day. My mom called the people who only came to church on these two occasions “Chreasters,” and we were always determined to beat the rush. So we slid into our usual seats while the church was nearly empty, and waited patiently as the building filled to the brim, with all the poor Cheasters forced to stand in the back because all the seats were taken. Then we’d drive the short distance to the local park so I could sit on the Easter bunny’s lap, get my face painted, and race around the field in my pastel dress in pursuit of those precious eggs. I couldn’t keep all the egg-hunting fun for myself, though. When we got home I’d dive into our egg collection and hide them all around the house for my mom to find. Some were placed in plain sight on the windowsill or on top of lamps, while others were hidden more cleverly behind couch cushions and in the dining room centerpiece. My favorite spot was behind picture frames, and I made sure to put an egg behind every single one on the mantle. One year we didn’t find the last egg until July. Of course it had been a little yellow one behind my third grade school picture. I was immensely proud of my clever hiding job when it finally showed up. My favorite was always Christmas. My mom and I didn’t hold back. Our outdoor lights display was unrivaled. Each year we’d venture to Lowe’s and buy a new light-up piece to add to our collection. By the time I was twelve we had two reindeer, a skiing snowman, a few penguins with presents, and a 7-foot candy cane bridge that we put over our front walk. The inside was just as elaborate. We’d carefully pick out our Christmas tree, always real, and cover it with our lights, ornaments, and cranberry strands until barely any green was visible. My mom would arrange her glass nativity on the mantle, while I set up my miniature wooden one on the coffee table. All the while we’d be singing along to Amy Grant and Bing Crosby carols, munching on gingerbread cookies and drinking milk. My favorite tradition was our Hallmark Channel marathons. We’d settle in by the fire to watch Christmas movie after Christmas movie, sipping hot chocolate all the way through. We’d fall in love with every single one of them, even if they were sappy and predictable. In fact, I think that’s what we loved most about them. Eventually the weather turned hot and the holiday season ended, but we still did our best to make every moment special. We were always cooking, always talking, and always singing ABBA’s “Dancing Queens” as we slid around the dining room floor in our socks. We made my school book covers with paper
bags and stamps, and were always playing with my favorite doll Goldie. Many nights we would spend nestled together in our green to read before bed, from the age of Dr. Seuss to the era of American Girl. Most importantly, she always read my stories and poems once I decided to be a writer at age nine. Even when things were tough, we were never down for long. As I grew the two of us had our share of fights. There would be tears and quite a bit of yelling, ultimately ending with me stomping to my room to contemplate my shame. Still, not long after my tears had dried up, I’d hear the soft knock on the door. She’d give me a hug and the tension between us would immediately evaporate. As I got older there were many things she had to coach me through. She was the motivator that made me do my homework, even when I hated her for it. She was my comforter when I’d come home crying, haunting by what those mean girls at school had said about me. She hated them right along with me, and always knew exactly what to say to make me feel alright again. I was a careless girl, and I didn’t always listen, and there were plenty of times when I pushed on her last nerve. I never made being a single mom easy on her, but still I knew she loved me more than anything, just like I loved her. As long as I had her, I knew I’d always be okay. I still know that now. So much about my life has changed since we left our little Kentucky house. I now call Steve my step-dad, and I call his house in Ohio my home. Despite this shift, our quirky traditions have stayed the same on this new side of the river. We still get excited for Halloween, even though my days of trick-ortreating are long gone. We decorate the house with stuffed ghosts and black cats, and replace all the white candles with black and orange ones. Steve is always happy to join in our festivities. He helps us assemble our elaborate Christmas display in the yard, and patiently changes the light bulbs that have burnt out on Jack the reindeer. He intersperses his ornaments with ours as we decorate his 10-foot-tall fake tree, and together we hang new ornaments that represent the three of as one new family. Most important of all he spends the month of December watching all the Hallmark Christmas specials with us, laughing as Mom and I exchange theories about the plots when we find a new one. Between the two of us, we are never wrong. Even when the premieres are through, we still stay up ‘til one a.m. watching the movies we’ve seen a hundred times, because when you’re watching with your best friend it never gets old.
“Memories” I kneel down in front of the stone. I feel my knees sink into the ground. Times like these I feel so alone. I’m wishing just to hear the sound Of your voice, of your steps Of your laugh, even your breath. I long to have you close to me You can’t be just a memory. I plant the flowers by your grave I feel myself starting to cry Facing the pain, I must be brave It will be hard, but I’ve got to try
To keep going, not to hide Even though I’m dying inside I know that you’re still with me In my heart and my memories. I whisper to you through my tears The flowers gently sway in the breeze The wind is my sign that you’re here It wraps around me, puts me at ease I see your face, full of love I know you’re watching me from above Please remember that to me You’ll always be more than a memory
Lydia Galarneau “What I Should Have Said” Where are you? You should be here, The place where you always used to be- right next to me. Where were you? I was looking for Your familiar face in the crowd of strangers. Do you remember? The pull between us Had us bent together like two saplings Under a heavy blanket of snow. Was there a spark? Whenever We ran into each other, I treasured every glance The time was so rare. How did you feel? When I was with you, Your eyes locked to mine, it was sheer bliss My fears and pains soared away. Wasn’t it cold when we sat together? I prayed my mother would never show up; I clung to the after-school moments when we would talk. Were you crying too? I had to leave you, Forever wishing I didn’t; forever hoping to see you again.
“What I Should Tell You” The time has come to let you know how I really feel; I’ve known what you think for long enough. Therefore, buddy, I hope you fully understand; I no longer care if you love me or hate me, whatever you say about me. From here on out, I declare my independence. Your words, actions, looks of scorn will not hurt me. Your apologies will not earn my forgiveness. I may be forgetful as you say, but I remember the important parts. The cruelty, the way you threw me aside, The utter disregard for me as a friend. It always had to be about you, I always have to be a perfect person, or cry trying. No more, my foot is down. I am for now, No, for good, Independent.
Lindsay Tracy “A Long Road” It was a cold night. The efflorescent flowers shivered. The streetlight flickered and the wind blew. It was quiet. Grass twisted through the cracked pavement.
A man with faint wrinkles sat near a bus stop in a city neighborhood and stared ahead. He was still. A figure in a gray coat walked through the street with a relaxed step. His worn, black shoes stopped when he reached the bench. “Quite a nice house,” he said. Wind swirled around the two men. A firefly floated past the visitor’s head, and he sighed. “How have you been since your mother died?” “Oh, supremely happy.” “Now, they won’t believe that.” The wrinkled man looked up sullenly. “My wife always drags me to dinner parties.” “How delightful,” the man in the gray recited. “And the children?” “My daughter married last month.” The man on the bench sighed. “She only talks to her mother.” “What a shame.” The wind started up, and the streetlight creaked and dimmed. The sitting man inhaled the breeze. “Are you ready to go now?” The man on the bench squeezed his hands together. “I – I forgot something inside.” He moved toward his wilted house. “There’s no point in getting it now.” “...Except—” “No point at all.” The man sat back down and stared at the frail streetlight. “Rather cold, isn’t it? I really should fetch my coat.” “It won’t help. It never does.” The man sunk into the bench and strangled its rail. “Say, can’t we do this some other—” “Every damn time.” The man on the bench flinched. The streetlight moaned. He looked up. “Why, it’s getting even colder.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” said the man in the gray. He paused. “We really must be going.” “You must understand, my wife really can be lovely, and my children and I get along sometimes. I ought to be there for my son’s graduation and my grandchild’s birth. Can’t we do this another time?” “You are just like your mother,” the gray man swore. The poor man looked down at his lap. He had never been fond of traveling. He shivered against the stinging bench. He looked up. “I’ve never liked working at the insurance office. I can never give people what they want.”
“We really must be going now.” The streetlight lit up. The man on the bench flexed his fingers and stood up. He exhaled heavily and took a step forward. The man in the gray began to walk. “Down this street. We have more stops on the way.” They passed through the streets in silence and looked straight into the wind. The streetlight turned off, and the road became dark and warm.
Ivy Gilbert “Free” The crisp wind felt freeing as it tossed blond hair across my face. The bridge was full of people, families and their little children enjoying a day away from the sickening chaos of the real world. Everyone was out enjoying the warm sun, but on the bridge the air was cold and dry, void of life. From the top of a bridge one can see the entire layout of city around them, helping the insecure feel safe and strong. My family was among the other sightseers, staring aimlessly at the skyline as the sun began to set. I was unlike my parents- I did not look up, I looked down into the playful unknown of the river. I leaned over the rusty guardrail, eyes scanning the churning water below; 158 feet deep of frigid, unforgiving muck. The bridge groaned as the same wind that played with my hair pulled at its iron joints. I could hear the hungry lapping of the river below me, its voice a dark angel that begged for my warm presence. That was when I noticed her, once the thought of darkness and cold crept into my heart. The little girl was my carbon copy, her honey blond hair blessed with knots that danced in the wind. She hung over the guardrail, following my example, her little smooth fingers disturbing the orange rust. We were both entranced by the water that ate away at the silt beneath us. Every action of hers tempted the devil: the rust, the bridge, and her bare arms. I looked down at my grey sweater that was two sizes too large, a sweater my father had given to me the first day of high school. The sweater was so worn that the holes were massive, allowing every cool gust to creep its way into my bones. I looked up at my clone. We were the only two left on the bridge as the sky began to change color and develop into threatening thunderheads. “Watch out, dear,” I said to her in a motherly tone, “you just may fall.” If she fell from this height her little body would not make the fifty-foot free-fall into nothing. The innocent little me just smiled, not saying a word, and went back to memorizing the rhythm of the river. “Want to watch me dance? Mamma always said I was the best dancer.” The little girl looked past my eyes and into my heart, I just nodded. The little blond haired sprite crawled up onto the guard-rail with elegant ease and spread her arms like a little barn swallow preparing to take flight for the first time out of the safety of her parent’s eye. Her clothing hung off of her body creating wings, increasing the small girl’s surface area. My lungs forgot how to function as I tried to scream at her to get down. The wind that played with my hair, the wind that chilled my bones, the same wind that made the bridge moan, gave the girl the gift of flight. She did not scream or whimper in protest, she just tumbled down, her body a slave to the desires of the wind. My heart knew what I had to do before my brain had time to think. Taking a few steps back to get a strong running start, my heart stopped as I took a smooth flight, diving through the air. The harsh wind burned my cheeks; I was aerodynamic, with my arms in a streamline, her body a feather in the wind. I had managed to catch up. The girl had given up at this point, but the subtle smile on her face is still present, like she is enjoying the final flight before death. I reach my arms out until my fingers grasp the soft fabric of her shirt. In a heartbeat I drag her into my body, curling up around her little frame as we plummet. She opened her eyes that locked with mine. I pulled her even closer. I could hear screams from the bridge. “Hold. Your. Breath” I managed to get out before the water gobbled our bodies up. The water was possessed by an undertow and we got dragged deeper and deeper into darkness. Water rushed into my lungs, burning and searing the delicate skin on the back of my throat. Vision was blurred and random spots of color started to appear. So close to oblivion, yet so close to life.
I had to get her back to the surface to feel the warmth of air in the lungs one last time. I drug her to the surface, fighting the undertow that snatched at our feet. My kick increased, the arms and strength of a swimmer kicking in to save her life. We reached the surface, my hands and lungs hunting for something to grab on to, hunting through the muck for life. That was when I saw our salvation. The area beneath the bridge could save one life. The mud on the bank was warm and covered with the water that was just within our lungs. The problem is there is only room for one body, and the little girl was unconscious. I took off my sweater and wrapped her shaking body, being careful to place her on the temporary sandbar before I parted ways. I kissed her delicate forehead. â€œYou were a beautiful dancer,â€? I whispered before letting the river consume me. The undertow dragged my body to the bottom of the river. The pressure began to crush and contort my body, taking what little life I still had and placing me in a grave the water had bestowed upon me.
At the Columbus Museum of Artâ€Ś
Sarah Davidoff “Sleeve” You are satin pulled over my elbow, smooth and powder blue and gleaming. The sleeve I wear my heart on. You are the Aurora Borealis that I stitched onto my cuff, the frills of light dragging, kicking up foam on the shore. You make me flawless and admirable, hiding my blemishes and stunning those who watch me with how you make me shine. It's cold without you, the satin sleeve I wear my heart on. But I've outgrown you. You are too restricting, limiting my movement and making what should be joy just kicking up foam on the shore. Your smooth surface slips my elbow form the drafting table because it's impossible to grip without gripping onto you. So I'm using the point of my elbow to break free from you. I'll rub the smooth and gleam away until you are ground grit, gravel, nothing on the shore. I'll go sleeveless, let them count my imperfections, and let someone else wear my heart today.
Andrea Seberig “From the Outside Looking In” I was four and you were five, I looked at you with an idle mind. I admired your knowledge of the outside world; I’d walk in your steps, a naïve girl. You grabbed my hand and pulled me in, but I wasn’t ready, and too young to swim. This pool of mystery had a current too strong, I held my breath but it didn’t last long. I began to drown in what I could not understand. You said it was safe. I want back on land. I want to stand on my own two feet; I’m lost in your shadow, the water’s too deep. Remember all those years ago? I was four and you were five. You showed me all the dangers of what it’s like to be alive. It’s funny how even though many days seem to drag on and on, we won’t ever forget those single memories we lived over a decade ago. You lived the next street over, but our backyards were diagonal from each other. Though you lived only seconds away, our backyard fences separated what were actually worlds apart. You stood on one side and I stood on the other. Our small hands fit through each opening far enough to reach each other. We’d stand there for what seemed to be hours; you because you were trying to escape the rest of the world, and me because you told me to do so. Your skin always felt so cold despite the summer heat. Nothing could warm your dirty hands, and your touch made me tremble. Yelling. Screaming. Your mother cried over everything she regretted and what over years, she slowly dug herself into. The sound of her sobs became all too familiar to me as they rang from the doorway of your back porch. I never had the courage to ask how her tear ducts were capable of being so active or how your skin was capable of healing so quickly over and over, just to be bruised again. Your dad was the reason for all your insecurities and inability to live your childhood as a child. You understood everything and I cried for you. I was seven and you were eight. You moved away, it was too late. Things never changed you blocked them out, but you want to scream, you want to shout. I know you cry at night when you think no one can hear. I know you hide under the blanket cowering in fear. You hold on to your strength because the battles just begun and you’re tied together with a smile but you’re coming undone. I remember running and running, listening to your footsteps behind me. You were so much faster than me but you pretended that you couldn’t catch me. I liked that. These games we played made it seem like there wasn’t a trouble in the world. Recess was our time. You’d grab my hand and thank me over and over for being your friend. I’m just one average person, but you’re welcome. You told me you didn’t want to go home, you wanted to stay on the playground forever. . . but I could never do that. My mom would worry. Your mom says a lot of bad words. My dad told me cussing makes pretty girls look ugly, but my mom said that sometimes when the world gives you a lot to deal with, the world can handle a few foul words. What do those words even mean? Why are they so bad? Words aren’t meant to have foul meanings until we choose to create them that way. None the less, I didn’t understand half of what was being said, while you had memorized every situation that occured as an effect of each word. Sometimes I’d hear you mutter those words under your breath when you thought no one else was listening, but I heard you loud and clear. I pray for you. I was nine and you were ten. Who would’ve known when I’d see you again? I thought of you all night and day, begging God to make sure you’re okay. I now know the dangers of everything he does. I remember things you told me, what he did and who he was. He trapped everyone there and began to leave
scars. He broke everyone’s confidence that he’d store away in jars. He made your mom cry, he broke the law, he made bad decisions, and all of which you saw. . . and you were only ten. Ten dreams never met, ten baseball games never seen, you missed out on all your childhood and everything in between. I always worried for you, not knowing where you were. I tried to imagine a place I knew you’d love and be safe in. I’d put you there along with your mother and brother but all else failed when I opened my eyes, because then it all rushed back. Reality set a rude awakening to those who couldn’t comprehend what went on in those fake-smile, lie-for-a-while, broken households. There wasn’t much too see and that was the problem. Why was it so hard to escape all those lies? Let’s start all over. Let’s be brand new. Remember those days that we’d meet at my aunts and you’d sit with me in the backyard watching me pick dandelions? I taught you how to blow the tops off and make a wish. You always wished for more time to spend with me, and I always wished that your dad would go away. You smiled at the thought of that. I see the scars that he’s left on your face and arms. “Mostly.. they were accidents,” you’d tell me. We’d both cried because we knew it wasn’t true. I’d give you my strength, my courage, and even my smile, but what would it be worth? You’re already stronger and braver than I am for facing all that you have. Never the less, I’d still give you every smile to replace your every frown. I still have hope for you. I was twelve you were thirteen. I wish I believed everything you say you mean. Your dad’s long gone. He wasn’t wanted around; where ever he is all your secrets are found. No one knows what goes on in that head full of nothing, no one knows all your thoughts, they’re not empty, they’re something. He bruised your skin and broke your heart, no one can see it but you’re falling apart. I’ve been given the time to see life through your eyes. Nothing is stable, you live in disguise. I want to reach out and guide you to grow, but now you’ve been stomped on and you’re stuck down below. Grab my hand and follow my steps I’ll pull you out of this sorrowful depth. For an instant consider my hand just to hold, just grasp it and everything else will unfold. I always wanted to be all that you never had. I wanted so badly to give you everything that you were robbed of, but it seemed as though you could not live for the future knowing that you had an unfinished past. For just one second I prayed you’d give me the chance to pull you out of what you could not understand. My hands were waiting. I felt your touch. I waited too long, this didn’t do much. You got lost in the shadows of everyone near. You let yourself drown in the tears that you cried out of fear. Then you let go, because the currents were strong; for a second I felt you and the next you were gone.
Zavi Sheldon “After the Forgotten Years” It was December When his heart seized. The wind howled, But he resisted for a moment, Held in rapture by the snow-plastered window, The whiteness of it. When he did not come to bed, She crept from their room, Following her fingers, Which stumbled across the whitewashed wall. She followed the crests and valleys In search of the forgotten years. Her darkness drew the shadows, And they were tangible. She shrank into a closet, And shivering, she huddled there For days, waiting For him.
Megan Lovely “Justified” “Would anyone in the cart crash scene be willing to kiss Fauchelevent after Valjean lifts the cart off of him?” our director asked. Ten days until the show, and we were more familiar with each other’s character names than our birth names. We sat in our costumes in the lecture hall seats, the same ones that, ten days from now, would be filled by unintentionally skeptical audience members. Who could blame them? A tiny charter school adopting a musical like Les Mis, with nothing to house it but our twenty by twenty foot semicircular stage, scuffed from dress shoes and stained from sweaty feet. We snacked on rice cakes and Chobani yogurt and leftover pizza from Javert’s dad, trying to maneuver it around our costumes and head mics. Foundationed sweat dripped down our faces. Lipstick crusted in the corners of our mouths. Marius admired his cane and Cosette sat on the opposite side of the room for his safety and for her own sanity. Jean Valjean rubbed his head against Madame Thénardier’s cheek, his hair slicked back and sprayed gray from the “Epilogue.” “Anyone?” our director repeated. The boys yawned and rubbed their eyes. Enjolras twirled the French flag, and the other revolutionaries played with their newsboy caps and stage guns. “Well I would, but I’m kind of dying in a hospital during that scene,” Fantine said, munching from a box of Cheerios while repairing the cross necklace for the fifth time that week. In the back, I cast my eyes around the room––a shy revolutionary astray from her battlefield. I propped my hand on my knee, teetering on the thought of volunteering. It wasn’t that I wanted to kiss him, necessarily–– Fauchelevent, played by the Spider-Man-loving, spider-fearing redhead who talked clouds with me at track practice. The closest part of him I ever came to kissing was the wrapper of the cinnamon Pop Tart he gave me before every track meet. And then I feared his past feelings towards me: the water gun and the inflatable Red Sox bat he bought me at Canobie Lake Park, the stuffed frog he gave me from Witch’s Woods, the good luck notes he wrote me before he himself became involved in the plays I convinced him to join. What if he believed it was something more? I just wanted to kiss. Stage-kiss. I had always wanted a stage kiss. Or something. I wanted to do something. Get slapped. Do the slapping. Kiss. I longed for the physical interaction that Eponine seemed to get every show. Seeing that nobody raised her hand, I raised mine high enough to be seen but low enough to repudiate enthusiasm. If anyone says anything, I can just play it off like I felt bad for him, I figured. “Feuilly! Feuilly will kiss Fauchelevent,” our director said, referring to my revolutionary name in another scene. With such a demanding show, every non-lead actor was required to adopt two, three, even seven parts. My best friend always said I would know what to do in the moment. I had felt that instinct with other first kisses, but this one was different. These sorts of things aren’t usually planned. They don’t typically have a spotlight on them. How long did I kiss him for? What if it was too much? What would people think? The first time we kissed later that rehearsal, I felt my face grow red like his hair. “Just go for it!” our director said mid-scene. I didn’t think. I couldn’t think. If I thought, I wouldn’t do it. I ran to kiss him as bystanders pulled him out from underneath the cart. “Wait!” our director said, but it was too late. I heard her, but ignored her. It would have been like stopping ten meters short of the finish line. I continued running, grabbed his face, and pulled his lips to mine for a worried peck. Everyone laughed, friendly-like. I laughed, too. Fauchelevent laughed. The Foreman cheered in the back of the auditorium. “You were eager,” Thénardier said. It’s an interesting paradox. The one place I feel the most myself is the one place where I pretend to be someone different. Somehow the stage justifies everything: the anticipation, the expectation of the audience, the obligation to do something. So I do.
Clayton Reynolds “Melancholy Muses” I look down at my skin— The once bright honey, Dulled and chiseled by greedy hands, Now broken leather. My textbook example of beauty Faded like the meager bills in my pocket. I had been a treat. Exclusive. Wanted and lusted after. Now I strive to scratch a living Out of the backs of men who don’t care Enough to know me. My eyes still have That sparkle in them: Once gemstones, Now the stonewashed twinkle Of copper at the bottom of fountains Singing of unfulfilled dreams. My breasts, Once smooth and dew-drop new Have changed and softened, Now the overripe fruit Fondled and inspected on market day Until the rare buyer finds them worth the price. A sigh escapes my lips, The world is my oyster, But I am still just a simple grain of sand.
Haley Sylvester “Control” Every time he speaks… every word he says, I grow more afraid of him. I grow afraid of his impact on me. I grow afraid of speaking to him. That look on his face as I talk. Am I saying something wrong? Is he mad at me? What if he gets mad? He’ll get mad, he always gets mad. I’m scared out of my mind to talk to this boy. I try to distance myself, but then he gets sad. He thinks I’m disinterested. He thinks I’m not trying to make it work. But he’s not my top priority, and I tell him that. I tell him he’s not my main focus. I have school, and swimming, and he’s my third option. But that, that makes him mad. He gets real mad. He wants to be my first priority, he says I’m his. He says it’s only fair. He tells me “you’re my number one, all the time.” It scares me. I don’t like having that pressure on myself to constantly impress him; of knowing that I’m the first thing he concerns himself with when making a decision. I need to focus on myself, my schoolwork, my swimming, my own life. He gets sad when I don’t want to talk to him after school, when I have homework. He gets sad when I have to go to swim practice, because that means I can’t talk to him for 150 minutes of the day. He gets sad, and waits for my return. He knows my schedule, when I’m done. He knows when I should call, and if I don’t, the sadness turns to rage. He has this control over me that I don’t like. It changes me, I’m not myself. Being constantly scared, terrified, that I’m going to be hurt by this boy, that’s what I’m living through. His control is through his hands. I told him once he had strong hands, that I liked them. He now uses that to his advantage. He puts his hands on me and I have no control. It’s the worst form of dehumanization, someone you love hurting you, changing your appearance. I started out with dark brown hair, pale skin, and green eyes. Every day something new changes, something’s ruined. The most common is the color of my skin. It starts out almost pasty white, and it turns to black and blue. Purple, too; yellow later. Those bruises, they hurt. Sometimes I can’t move for days. He was alright in the beginning; such a gentlemen. But he wanted that control. And boy, he got it. He’s already broken my heart. It’s in those tiny pieces, those pieces that fit together like a puzzle. But I don’t know how to solve that puzzle, and he sure as hell can’t either. He just breaks those pieces smaller, every time he hurts me. I want my control back; my individuality, my life. But this boy, he’ll never let me.
“Craving Copper” He had that look about him That style I craved. He had those copper brown eyes And matching scruffy hair. He was taller than me by a head And looked down At me, One eyebrow arched Higher Than the other. That smirk On his lips could Naturally Be taken as arrogant, But on him, It read, “I want to know you.” He pressed for an answer to my nationality He said we have the same skin tone: Can’t tan easily,
But if Persisted Can achieve the shade of a penny. I said I’m German And he replied with a twinkle In his eye. He said he was too, and why Weren’t my eyes brown? I told him because My mama Had brown eyes and my daddy Had Blue. He said my daddy messed everything up, Where was he, So he could give him a Talk. I said my daddy was gone, And he lost that twinkle.
Sarah Wagner “Three Strikes” “Luke, is that you?” Kelly called into the empty hall. She could’ve sworn she heard the door slam. When she didn’t hear a response, Kelly got back down on her knees, and continued feverishly scrubbing the floor of the apartment. The fresh, lemon scent of the cleaner filled the air again as she continued to make this place feel like home; her home now. Tonight would be her first night living with her boyfriend, Luke. All Kelly could think about was how happy he would be to come home to a clean house, although now he just seems to sulk within it. She could only imagine him picking her up and kissing her for all the work she did. Once Kelly had made the linoleum tile a sparkling white, she took her bucket of dingy yet sweetsmelling water to the sink in the kitchen. She then realized that sitting at the head of the hardwood table was Luke. He looked at his girlfriend with light disgust as she said with slight surprise, “Luke! I thought I heard you come in.” she smiled and continued. “Well, what do you think? It took me about half the day, but I finally made this place look like new.” Kelly beamed and dumped the dirty water down the sink, set the bucket down, and turned to look at Luke, whose face hadn’t changed expressions. The bright white floor reminded her of his once luminous and taught skin, now beginning to drag with age. His eyes were like the soapy water, a pure reflective blue before becoming infected with the murky filth from the surrounding world. They were a dual image of the musty blue beer bottles he now always seems to have near. I’m sure they will be clear and happy again one day – hopefully soon. “You cleaned,” he stated. He seemed nonchalant then, but his tone got louder as he continued, “Why? Is my home not nice enough for you? Maybe you should be grateful I invited you here in the first place!” Luke’s accusation caught Kelly off guard. She tried to explain. “Oh Luke, please don’t think that way, I’m grateful! I really am I just – I’m sorry. I should’ve left the apartment alone; I just wanted you to be…I just thought I’d surprise you.” “Yeah well, I’ve had enough of surprises today,” he replied, “I got fired.” “Fired? What happened, did you do something wrong?” She was flooded with the terrible thoughts and difficult questions that come with being involved with someone who was let go. The bills, food money, amount of savings, his well-being... She felt as though nearly every thought she had lately had to do with her wanting to keep him content. When he’s not happy, it’s impossible for her to be. “What makes you think it was my fault?” Luke exclaimed, “You think I’m always the one in the wrong! Maybe it wasn’t my fault I got fired! You ever think of that?” He glared menacingly at the now silent girl. Kelly knew very well not to say anything; she couldn’t afford to upset him again. After a long pause he continued, “Did you at least make me dinner? You did do one useful thing today, right?” “Of course I made dinner!” She said with a smile, hoping to brighten his mood a tad. He used to always tell her she had a pretty smile, while he courted her, and during the honeymoon phase of their first few dates. Even as the compliments faded, she still showed her smile. Kelly quickly ran over to the oven and opened the door. “It’s right here. I made your favorite too, lasagna! I think it’s done too, I’ll just – oh no.” As she set the cold dish on the countertop, Kelly now realized that in the midst of her cleaning she forgot to turn the oven on. Their meal wasn’t ready, and Luke was furious. “Do I not even have a hot dinner to eat after a long day of work?” he yelled. That’s it. Kelly thought, Strike three. I’ve made one mistake too many. Kelly was on the ground before she could feel the pain of where his hand had hit her cheek. She tried to keep the tears from flooding over, but she could feel the warmth in her face as it turned as white as
the floor, and a bruise began to form next to her mouth. It was only one blow, she had been hit worse before, and yet she couldn’t help but cry. The tears caused her boyfriend to hit her another time. Her ears were ringing and she couldn’t hear Luke’s reason for her to be hit the third time, causing her to slump to the floor she had worked so hard to clean. “I’m sorry!” she said through her tears, “I’m so sorry… Luke, I love you! I can’t tell you how sorry I am, please…” By the end of the apology she had managed to get out through her tears, Kelly’s boyfriend had walked into the other room and was watching television. Kelly wiped the tears from her aching face with her sleeve, turned the oven on, and locked herself in the bathroom. The bathroom smelled like lemons, which only made the girl cry harder. She covered her face with a towel to keep Luke from hearing her sobs. She knew they hurt him just as much as they hurt her. He loves me, she reminded herself. He only lost his temper…again. He must feel terrible; I’ll bet he’s hurt more than I am. He’s hurt, because he loves me too. At that thought Kelly looked up at her reflection. She could easily see the red imprints of where he had hit her. The back of his hand was outlined on her right cheek, and his knuckles had left eight swelling dots beneath her left eye. Three mistakes, three tries, three strikes.
Cat Sar “I Have Never Read The Electric Kool-‐Aid Acid Test” The first time you smoke a cigarette, do not cough. When my grandfather was fourteen, he fell into a well. If a boy who is an artist asks to draw you, tell him to hold his pencil in his non-dominant hand, or to shut his eyes. My grandfather struggled by himself, grasping the slick walls around him. Someday, perhaps, you will have the urge to stand in a downpour, to lift your arms to the open clouds, and pretend you never started hiding childhood joy in the back of your closet. Do it. He called out until he was hoarse, and could yell no more. Tell lies to your teachers, tell lies to your mother, your rabbi, your lover. Tell lies like they will save the boy from stepping in front of the bus, from falling because he thinks he will fly. Give them away in nicely wrapped jewelry boxes, send them cross country with extra postage, share them with anyone who asks, like sticks of gum on public transport. Eventually, my grandfather had to be content with treading water and waiting. When you take your first long drag of a cigarette, do not cough. His small village moved around him as he paddled his feet, unaware of his sopping plight. If you find heartbreak, hold it close. Press it into your chest like the last surviving photograph of your long dead great grandparents, whose touch you can only pretend to recall. His survival was uncertain. If the time comes when you are angry and you cannot understand it, be angry. Fight. Scratch and hiss and brawl and let your fury rain down on those who incite it. If you feel a hot heavy unyielding unbending hard fierce turning smoky paint covered fingers rollicky careening incredible dying lying sighing HEAT HEAT HEAT squeezing you, let it squeeze. After several hours his rescue came, a hand, a rope,
a questioning voice. When you smell flowers, do not remember the girl you loved first. The first time someone hands you a cigarette, breathe deep and do not cough. Seventy years later, he sat beneath an open canopy in the early summer, and told his granddaughter â€œI survived.â€? You will wake up one morning before your bedmate, you will look at their sleeping form for a warm moment, and you will feel your ribcage chip with every shudder of your poison breath, and the lining of your stomach will turn to stone. You will claw at the loneliness with two wrinkled hands when this happens. You will go for the throat of what terrifies you and feel its howls reverberate inside your wasted body. You will roll over, wrap an arm around the one who ruins you, and close your eyes to the soft snores and start of day. The first time you smoke a cigarette, you will not cough.