STAFF / ABOUT
Periphery is a student produced, annual publication of Drake University. Funding for Periphery is provided by the Board of Student Communications. Opinions and contents printed in this journal do not
reserves the right to edit any and all submissions, but does not own the rights to any student work. All revisions are verified by the authors. JUDGING
reflect those of Drake University.
All pieces published in this journal were evaluated and considered for recognition
by this yearâ€™s judges.
Submission to Periphery is free and open to students attending Drake University, Grand View University, Des Moines Area Community College, and Simpson College, as well as undergraduate students who study in the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. Submissions for the journal are accepted in the categories of stories, poems, essays, interviews, new media work, graphic narratives, art, music, spoken word, prose poems, and genres that are yet to be created or recognized. Submissions are reviewed blindly and equally by an editorial board. Periphery
COLOPHON The fonts used throughout this publication are Foro, Trade Gothic, and Abel. The type families are liscened through Hoftype, Linotype, and open source foundaries, respectively. The journal was printed on UBrand 80lb cover weight paper, Accent white vellum offset 60lb text, Centura gloss 70lb text, and Accent warm white smooth 70lb text. 1,000 copies of this journal were printed by ColorFX in May of 2013 in Des Moines, IA.
In a dark room at the top of the library, we’d heard of boxes ﬁlled with old editions of
Periphery. We emptied the boxes, spread the journals around us, and began to read. When rejection letters tell us, “this piece wasn’t right for our aesthetic,” what does that word—aesthetic—mean? And what does it mean for a publication that’s existed for ﬁfty years? We thought turning to the forty-nine previous copies of Periphery might help us answer this question. It did, but in a way different than imagined. As we turned the pages of the old journals, we read poems about war and stories about death; we saw photos of women’s faces and drawings of landscapes. Though these may seem bland at ﬁrst glance, they weren’t. Each page was ﬁlled with the experiences and emotions of the writers and artists who existed through their work. What we found out about Periphery’s aesthetic was this: it morphs. In design, theme, and content, the journal was constantly moving to better represent those writers and artists that were submitting work. The journal is still morphing to become a better representation of the writers and artists that allow it to continue to breathe. Each year, we ﬁnd out what students have experienced and imagined; what their eyes have led them to see; what their ears have led them to hear. This year’s edition is no different. In Periphery 50, you’ll read about ﬂying monsters and cancerous toes; June Buddhas and the lindy hop. This edition could not have come to exist without the help of many individuals. I was fortunate to surround myself with an inspiring editorial board: Dylan Rollo, Heather Hall, Lucca Soria, and Maria Hanson. An enormous thank you to Kerri Sorrell, our art director, whose creative energy has guided us through the past year and brought us to a beautiful ﬁnal product. For all of their advising, thank you to Amy Letter, Jan Wise, and Dan Alexander. And especially, thank you to those of you who submitted your work for Periphery 50. Though we may not have found our aesthetic tied up in a neat bow during our search, we think we might have hit on something. Periphery’s aesthetic is constantly morphing because our aesthetic is you: the writers, artists, and readers who create Periphery’s community. Periphery continues to move, just as the peripheries of our own world continue to shift. I hope you ﬁnd enjoyment in these pages. I hope that these stories, poems, and artwork lead you to think about your relationships, your connections to this world that surrounds us. I hope you let your own periphery continue to move, just as this journal will.
Yours truly, Kelsey Lepperd EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Happy ﬁftieth, Periphery.
Being American TYLER SHELDON
Apophasis CARLY NOYES
XXXV. ALLISON SAVAGE
Dos de Noviembre: Today ANTONIO REYES
Dictionary Deathbeds JOSEPH WOLFE
Juarez: a name loaded like so many guns
Musing RYLEE MAXWELL
The Lawmaker’s Tithe JOSEPH WOLFE
Railroad Gawker’s Express LASARA BOLES
summer twenty twelve CARLY NOYES
Missing Photograph TAYLOR WEWEL
Because dancing used to bring us together
Child’s Play in La Bufa ANTONIO REYES
As far as I know CAITLIN DORSETT
In Loving Miriam
Echoed Cries JAKE HUEBSCH
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Firefly Eyes PETER RIPPLE
Empty Patch ALEXANDRA ROSEBERG
Table of Contents
Peanut Butter Marks the Spot
My Bragging Right MADELINE MATTHEWS
The Big Toe Tale LASARA BOLES
Eye See You MARY PAT LAWLER
Royal Happiness RACHAEL KRESKI
Siblings STEPH WERNING
Timpani Drumhead MALLORY RASKY
100 Post-Modern Sentiment (This Is Shit) NICOLE DYAR
101 Whale STEPH WERNING
MARY PAT LAWLER
Awards 105 Poetry Awards SUSANNA CHILDRESS
109 Art Awards BILLY SIMMS
107 Prose Awards THOMAS MCBEE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Epilogue MATT HAUPERT
It does not matter to me if you never made it to the top of the world. I am not concerned with the paths you carved, or the lives you changed, or the wonders you witnessed. If you fell down, I hope you brought a piece of the earth back up with you. If you got lost, I hope you called it home. If the world put up a wall to stop you from moving forward, I hope you turned around, taking forward with you. I only ask that you unpack the weight that drags your shoulders back to the earth, and leave it here, with me.
Walk slowly. Carry nothing. Your sunken eyes might miss the sunset.
Being American TYLER SHELDON
Ours were years that we all lived through, or wanted to; years where it was “common” to spend more on Italian floor tile than on our families; to have a realtor and a bottle there by the phone, at all times. Such was the way of things. I remember that a woman once down our street moved seven times in three years before deciding it was enough and blowing her own mind right there, at the end of the drive. The new upholstery in her ’72 Mustang was kind enough to look the other way. Somewhere then, French parlor music came from speakers in a new-furnished living room, and the musicians argued over whose solos would sound more expensive; the notes tripped over themselves to get to their new owners, who now bloated from such capitalism would collapse into chintzy chairs and floral couches, having gilded their lily to bursting.
Because these were our years, and that’s how you did things.
Apophasis CARLY NOYES
I will name this by what it is not. This is not a big red heart with bold lettering. This is not a continuous dialogue. This is not a straight answer, ever. Apophasis is working in opposites to reach the actual. I will work in negatives, in un-ness. This has not been like blood flow heart lungs heart body heart again and againâ€”I think there may be a clot. There is not any sort of denouement. Affirmation through negation; that is apophasis. I will build this wall by taking away all of the bricks that cannot construct it. This is the sensuality of not you tracing the outline of the bottom of my black oxford. This is not parallel because that would be too easy, too normal. This is not seeing the meteor shower because the moon is too bright. This is not green, it is not growing. This is not.
XXXV. ALLISON SAVAGE
My face is a collection of Weathered patches Stitched together over bone Seams are loose Sockets & cavities hide mold Mulch for gums & stones for teeth My canvas visage Wavers in the wind Like a tired flag
The landscape of my dreams Mocks my lack of whim Disappointed in the one dimension Iâ€™ve become
The dead en los panteones are celebrated with candles scenting and mirroring Michoacan’s crowded skies.
Dos de Noviembre: Today ANTONIO REYES
Sweets, glaze the peppery grey tombstones, white glazed plates, spring tulipanes, mass around, mass between, the criers counting their swaying rosaries. Alleluias heartbeat into the wind, and into the blackness, white petals from Uruapan eclipse headlines from La Voz de Michoacan, that print, Long obituaries about narcotic war, bullets lying in silent streets like cigarette butts, piles of punctured bodies smoking in the dirty wind, and bags of de-ca-pi-ta-ted heads, arms and dreams sprout on roads like weeds, and hopeless sentences fill the cover pages. Tonight, prayers continue to chat like typewriters, mariachis continue to play corridos in las cantinas and in the cathedrals.
Dia de los muertos, tonight, tomorrow, tomorrow mañana.
Tonight, those staring out their windows to Morelia, and those lighting candles under La Guadalupana, and those sitting on a patch and tracing the tomb’s letters fall into dreams of reunions with those below muddy shovels, below the roads, below their shoes.
Dictionary Deathbeds JOSEPH WOLFE
Ignorance has evolved into a War of deceptively caustic linguistics, “Family values” became a disguise For the lies of pitchforks and torches, Leaving Frankenstein children to Stitch their souls fallout shelters, While helter skelter rains down on them From platforms of protecting the innocent, The dissidents rise to declare war In the name of peace, Politicians offer piecemeal policies, Changing the holy words to unions with partners, Because it’s hard for them to admit They utilize the brutal lies of shameful days, “Separate but equal.” Freedom’s ring has lost its luster, The youthful can’t muster the bare will to grow old Under the molding pages of social discourse, Soldiers without remorse march to the sound of Airwaves that are now battlegrounds, The label “conservative Christian” Is synonymous with enemy combatant, Street preachers shoot biblical bullets at matrimony, Citing passages on sins and choices, Skin is a uniform that blades cannot cut free, Air raids by the religious right Rain moralistic propaganda, Distracting the denizens from the fact that This war is defined by those that Designed love on sketch boards of hair and flesh, Who declare that clashing is the new cardinal sin, Who act as if love has always been a Measurable feature of the physical world.
Juarez: a name loaded like so many guns ASHTON WEIS
The space that occupies nowhere and everywhere Plays the role of a stupid gringa The division is small, but it separates us from them It separates a single murder in twenty-one days or seven daily murders We’ve drawn the lines We’ve accepted the rectal rape of an 11-year-old with a splintered 2x4 Because she was born on the wrong side of the border, a splinter of a difference Her name, a whisper, a prayer spoken through sewn-shut lips, it breathes
It’s almost as though she didn’t exist, yet her mother talked about her as though she was still alive Her daughter is entirely dead
Se busca, se busca “Where is the victim here?” whispers maria elena No evidence
El moyote knows, his insides strewn over the asphalt And used for public consumption His eyes, his Lucy in the sky eyes, shifting through the rainbow Trying desperately to find the beauty in death
Is there any?
A soup made from the tortured bodies of men’s souls, Their skin, muscles, flesh, ingredients, floating amongst carrots and potatoes The city of dead upon the hill, a beacon of something The specter dances in a mirage before us, across the river A pauper’s grave, so real, she appears, a palpable piece of her soul in dreams sleeping and awake A simple white wooden cross, planted in gravel, bearing her name
It’s wrong, it’s all wrong, nothing is permanent. Who am I kidding? But they seemed to like it The line of hatred so small, like minute tears in the last existing photograph Shredded out of spite and jealousy
“That’s what I made of her” Any story I write, it’s about everybody taunting: “neener neener” There is no political asylum, no safety of: “do I end on a positive note?”
If you hear that, you’ll be happy…maybe This great sparkling life, it kinda sucks, but maybe it’s beautiful
*poem inspired by Phoebe Gloeckner
The Melt TRICIA DALABA
Each shattered page of white yields to the bristle winds and the searing sun. Pliant and dying, missiles of ice and drooping noses make their departure. A chorus of drips, the echo of shine, and I sit melting on this frozen log of steel.
Because dancing used to bring us together CAITLIN DORSETT
I could have sworn that once you swallowed drowsy honey under the eaves of the marble temple I bought on impulse in the yawning bower of an Abilene afternoon. What I mean is I would have your surrender bruising beneath your ribs as long as we could still waltz together; I’d have you walk tightropes between my armchair and the needle of your compass. I feel this bare-bone ache where your hand blinked over my body, especially after you sang me hymns for some girl named Cecily (who I call Jezebel in the biblical shadow of a bright twig woman). ‘Cause I am a groupie while you sing the blues lighting your lanterns with a thrifted matchstick. I am a shallow cavern, a cough in the pauses of your orchestra swells, bumming your light. If I could, I’d crystallize you hooves and all (four legs run faster than two). oh Miraculous, if you languished long enough to eat poppies, we’d crack open opiates that burn out our sickened smokestacks.
I’d fly us to Oahu and we’d lindy hop among the tinkers and the heretics and the mystic hips of Bollywood so your misogyny could sip at the lips of every palomino-sequined navel.
Musing RYLEE MAXWELL
A sweating glass, Drowned moral compass. Imagine my heartThrobbing purple. Just a damaged shade of bruise. Weighted air, thick, Laced with sorrow, Smothers a neglected fire. An agitated hiss, resounding Crack, The silence fractured. A spark exiled beyond the grate smolders in revenge. Silence restored, but not without consequence. The floor where it rests is eternally scarred. Fireâ€™s rebel quirk, Alone, Pulsing and dying, A glowing outcast In its farewell debut. Previously captive to drink, I emerge, Seek solace in flame as a minister seeks God. Enraptured by embers impairing the darkness, The shadows caressing the rushed plaster walls
Amazing how something so simple, majestic Rises and falls like the sun.
The Lawmakerâ€™s Tithe JOSEPH WOLFE
To keep living our bare hands must Keep giving to disproportionate extortionists, Until we bend to their will like contortionists Lingering on a marionette string, Eager to sling blades against Decades of coerced performances, Acquiescing to systematic sacrificing, Protecting God above from our love, We have shredding wedding plans and Bled while shedding ring fingers For the lawmakerâ€™s tithe, With blithe masks our Forsaken hearts were sealed Like wine casks in societal cellars With time they gather locks and grime, Not value or taste, Letting the nectar waste away in a dusty den Until lonely shadows emerge To claim their broken kin.
Railroad Gawkerâ€™s Express LASARA BOLES
Railroad-riding gawkers Stare starry-eyed and pleased, Passing by Johnstown flood victims. [Chug, chug, chug. Images flicker, A silent film, Window frame By frame] Corpses of cattle and Progeny litter disfigures streets With water & death & water & filth & water, But none to drink. Into the eyes of broken strangers They gaze, glazed, Something inside Gives way. A twinge of sympathy swells In their breasts, Then passes through Like the passengers do. [Chug, chug, chug. Itâ€™s not real, The silent film. Images flickering Window frame
summer twenty twelve CARLY NOYES
a shadow is a brick, is a constant reminder. you June Buddha you life-saver you fly-swatter, joke-teller, cart-pusher. the rent is not cheap except the dividends are high. ignore the signs long enough and you might eventually be right. a short time is better than no time, is maybe just long enough. beginning to desire the end. you my three-oh-nine my fever-reducer my internal pump-up. here is what crepuscular rays mean: a smoldering yellow glow, a shiny vibration, the planted seed, the bursting roots.
Missing Photograph TAYLOR WEWEL
Gilded frame hanging on the wall shapes etched Reflect A
along golden corners
glows in the dim firelight
Grooves worn smooth glint when candles flicker
g r e e d y and joy
A pile of ash ground
d i s s o l v e ghosting on the parlor floor
into the Persian rug
Remnants of an image
a distinguished man
into the granite hearth
beside amber coals
Child’s Play in La Bufa ANTONIO REYES
There are too many mulling tourists in Guanajuato every July. They leave airports with trails of pictures of empty haciendas, stone heroes and weeping angels. That afternoon, masked actors, and book vendors snaked in between fish schools of Europeans and Americans, but all I wanted was a play of my own, with my brother. We walked from the crowded narrow brick stone alleyways, until we reached dirt and grass. We walked up green canyons toward La Bufa, where tales of monsters and treasure sermon from dry thorn bushes and damp caves. Away, from the ticket vendors and theatre shenanigans of Shakespeare in Mexico, we staged a tragedy in the forest. I shot my brother without grandfather’s empty gun. He is still lying somewhere in those woods, joyfully, agonizing under the great dipper, and the star audience’s flickering applause. I bowed and bowed, until I saw my brother, bleeding grapes
and berries from his mouth.
As far as I know CAITLIN DORSETT
Before she kicked me in the gut my Nana told me she saw butterflies in the upstairs bedroom that ticked and hummed with her electric life machines woven through with knitting needles. My father lost his father who lost his father whose father lost a son. The Sioux once danced in my backyard with their faces painted gold. They went up down up down, and now the only dancing ones are us, heel-kicking to revive the Charleston. My mother’s mother lives in the prettiest mobile home in Boerne, Texas, but the hot water only works sometimes and the trees never bud or blossom. A woman once taught me that the black keys meant flat. Another taught me they meant sharp. It took me a while to figure out how both could be true. My brother passed my height years ago but he still carries middlechild anxiety in the hollows of his shoulder sockets and the way his head ducks under rain. I pickpocket the dead. I carry their trinkets with me in slim leather suitcases. I smoke Granddad’s pipes and drape myself in Nana’s costume jewelry.
When I near my final failure my vision will blur an aviary, and the parrots will tell you all of these things as they have heard them from me.
IC TIO N
In Loving Miriam ASMITA GAUCHAN
I’ve been dreaming a lot about taking a big leap. These dreams are so vivid and scary, but liberating at the same time. They will call me cruel, but you know I’ve never cared much for what anyone thinks of me. I do hope you understand what happened was through no fault of yours. We had our good times, and we had some bad ones. I would never let go of the bad, because that would mean giving up on the good as well. But I’ve reached a point, my dear, where I simply can’t stand to take any more. I am a burning building. You could try and save some things within me, things that are fluid, moveable, and actually can’t perish in the fire, but there is no hope for all of me. * Peter sat and smiled inside the express floater, staring out into the city still engulfed in shreds of grey from the night just past. It was not an extravagant smile. He hadn’t been able to afford those for a while now, but it was a smile nonetheless. He looked rather handsome on this particular day. He had put a considerable amount of effort into his appearance. His face was cleanly shaven, his shoes polished to a shine you’d always imagine being accompanied by a twinkle of perfection, and though he had decided to go against his virtual stylist’s suggestion of donning a man skirt, which apparently was the most liked men’s apparel in the city at the moment, he felt good about the suit and the bowtie he’d opted for instead. Miriam always said he looked dapper in bowties. It felt only appropriate that he dressed the way she liked today. The express floater descended into the Grand Central Air Terminal Portal 13. When the automatic doors opened, he crossed the stationary bridge to hop onto the empty cable car waiting on the other end. The ride from air to land was as smooth as he remembered, but the scene with which the city greeted him less so. There was a cacophony of honks from a massive traffic jam in the intersection before of him. Hundreds of interactive advertisements were being projected onto the sparkling pavements. The City Watch floater noisily hovered not thirty feet startled or intimidated by anything he saw. And so he went about his way as if
above him. His senses felt assaulted, but he was a man on a mission, not to be
Miriam was already by his side. * He waited in line, contemplating. There was a giant menu propped up against the wall behind the cashier counter, and on it were one hundred and fifty-four different flavor options for a shake. Fifty-four more than the first time he’d been here with Miriam. He saw a middle-aged man, dressed in a pristine City Watch uniform, leaning against the kiosk to the far right. The watchman was perusing The New York
Times with an unpleasant scowl on his face. His furrowing brows looked like a storm gathering, and had the intercom not announced the completion of his order the very next moment, his two brows might even have bridged their gap to form one big, black cloud of discontentment. His shake came swooshing down a large, glass tube connected to the large, spherical shake lab upstairs. The watchman’s scowl immediately disappeared, and he thanked the shake artist most courteously. “Please enjoy your Bilberry Meditation, sir!” the shake artist replied, cheerily. Miriam had ordered Bilberry Meditation for him the first time they’d met. It had been his first day in the city, and he had been a nervous wreck. He had not even been able to verbalize what he wanted when he’d made it to the front of the line and encountered a holographic shake artist for the first time in his life. “Did you need a moment longer, sir?” The shake artist had repeatedly asked, in a very unsettling manner. “He’ll take a Bilberry Meditation!” Miriam had come to his rescue, seemingly out of thin air. She wasn’t very tall, but had been wearing incredibly high heels, the ones that had to be at least six inches that only the runway models back in the twenty-first century used to wear. Retro is in! Have you gone retro yet? - one of the interactive advertisements on the subway had twittered on loop for the entirety of his first ride to the city from Zone 89. “That will be fifteen currants. Please pay at the kiosk to your far right.” She had ordered a Calafete Crush for herself, which they’d both ended up sharing because Bilberry Meditation was the absolute worst flavor The ShakeSphere offered. He still wondered sometimes, what exactly would have become of him had
she not decided to take pity on his hapless soul that day?
I remember the first time I met you, my love. You looked like such a fool, with your eyes nearly bulging out of their sockets. You were so lost, and I couldn’t have been happier to help you find your way. These days, I find myself wishing so hard we could go back to our younger days, to those simpler times. Do you think things would have turned out differently if we went back in time and shared your Bilberry Meditation instead of my Calafete Crush? Do you think we could have saved her? * Peter hurriedly slurped the last of his Calafete Crush as he heard the rumbles of the train fast approaching. A new legislation had been passed last year that banned passengers from carrying liquid drinks into any and all public vehicles of transportation loaded heavily with interactive advertisements. The interactive ads, though pushed as carrying no health repercussions or risks when first introduced some forty odd years ago, had been recently found to possess some unstable charges of electricity that could electrocute you. An old man who had spilled the contents of his drink onto his lap and then proceeded to try and walk through an interactive ad had been the first known victim of many. After a panicked frenzy spread across the state, city officials had decided the most plausible course of action would be to take away from the people their right to quench their thirst, instead thrusting upon them more ads that could potentially kill them. Miriam had never been fond of these interactive ads, and she’d only grown increasingly wary over the years. “This is such a fucking joke.” She would get riled up. “The last thing I need right now is to insure my memories. Seriously, where do they get off shoving these obnoxious, intrusive things in my face?” “The state feels we may have needs we have not yet realized, love. It’s looking out for us,” he would say in response, always like a soothing balm to her burn. “You know what I think? I think the state can shove it up my ass. I know what I need and what I don’t better than anybody else ever will.” He would take quiet offense when she said such things. Was it that she never depended on him the way he depended on her that bothered him, or just that she seemed to grow angrier with each passing day they spent together? He never did figure that out. He made his way into the train compartment, having dumped his empty preferred the good old bullet trains. He remembered all the times she had
shake container in a trashcan nearby. Miriam loved floating, but he had always
dragged him around the state, hopping from one floater to another, breezing past districts like a meteor shooting across their sky. They had stumbled upon Zone 39, the infamous Valley of Flaming Cards, one fateful day when Miriam decided it would be a good idea to take a random floater out of the city. “Oh, for crying out loud, Peter. Gambling’s not a fool’s game.” He could still hear her voice, ringing with all the inflections characteristic of an impassioned artist denied the privilege of their imagination. “I didn’t say it was a fool’s game, but only the foolish would be willing to bet their last fifty currants on a game of Japanese Roulette.” “Peter?” Miriam would try to reason with him, “Peter? Honey, please look at me.” He had known exactly what she was going to say then, but he had turned to look at her anyway. “Do you know what the chances of this floater crashing right now are?” she had asked, her eyebrows raised, “About one in a million.” “Yes, I was aware of that fact, but thank you for the unnecessary refresher.” “How would you feel if the floater engines were to come to a sudden halt, and we plunged hundreds of miles below to meet a gruesome end?” “That is not going to happen, Miriam.” “You know, for someone who insists on never taking any chances, you have quite a bias in which ones you take seriously and which you don’t,” Miriam continued, “But really, think about it. What if this floater were to spontaneously combust and go down in spectacular flames in the next five minutes? Will the fifty currants matter then? Will you have any regrets? How exactly would you feel as you sat here with me, helpless and aflame?” Miriam had a way about words like no one Peter had ever met before. She could make you feel like you were the one sun her whole solar system revolved around or tear your heart asunder with disconcerting nonchalance. She could persuade and dissuade like it was her only occupation in life. “Let’s go fucking gamble,” he had sighed out in defeat, but it hadn’t really been one because she was smiling like she had been declared the queen of the state and he reveled in little victories like that; it was his life. They had left the place six hours later, almost five hundred currants richer with Miriam’s unbelievable luck in Japanese Roulette. It had been a good day.
As Peter sat inside the floater accompanied by Miriam in his memories, the
intercom announced the forthcoming arrival of his destination. This was it. In
just a little bit, he was going to be with her and be able to hear her thoughts and look back on everything not alone, but with the woman most of his happiest memories were comprised of. *
Sometimes I lay awake at night wondering about her. I imagine how her laugh would have sounded, what her favorite color would have been, if she would have taken after your appalling love for order and quiet, or inherited my taste for chaos. I think she would’ve been a little bit more like me to be honest. Do you remember how fierce her first cry was? Yes, she would have loved to give you a hard time like I do. * Peter felt a little sadder with each step he took forward. He had been able to keep it at bay for most of the morning, but now that he was in the heart of the city, getting ever closer, his confidence began to falter. Perhaps it was because they always came to this part of the city together, or maybe it was just the anticipation of finally being able to understand why it was so much harder for her. Was it even anticipation he felt, or was it just some good, old fear? Fear that he might learn something today he did not want to. He waited for the traffic lights to turn green as a particularly painful memory started unfurling inside his head. He was suddenly inside their old apartment, staring into Miriam’s eyes. She wasn’t happy. It hadn’t been anything new at that point. What had been new, however, was how profoundly empty her eyes looked, even when the rest of her being was writhing in uncontrollable fury. “This has been just as bad for me, Miriam, but you don’t see me completely giving up on everything!” In response, she had hurled a flower vase at the wall before storming out of the apartment. Peter had not been able to locate her for the rest of the day. The next time he saw her face had been when it was broadcasted across the state in the evening news later that night. * Peter stopped in front of the main doors of the Department of Collection. He was still nervous, but went in taking confident strides and walked right up to the one empty counter that was available to help. An elderly woman sat behind the high-top marble counter. “Here to get MIRIAM15309923, ma’am.”
“What can I do for you today, son?” she asked, adjusting her glasses.
“Hold on just a second while I pull up her file.” She punched some keys into her processor and Miriam’s face popped up on her holographic computer screen. Peter grinned as he saw Miriam smiling through the elderly lady’s screen. “It looks like she also left you a tangible item,” the old woman said. “Let me check our records real quick.” Miriam’s face flew to a corner of the screen as she started digging through an infinite order of numbers on the main screen. Miriam’s eyes did not look empty in this picture. She was glowing here, as if filled with life once more. They had used the same picture on the news that night and all the following nights for a whole week; this beautiful, absolutely breathtaking picture of his wife as they announced she had jumped out the window of a moving floater. “Here you go, son.” She was holding out a microchip and an envelope, which he noticed had nothing written on it. He took both things from the lady and thanked her graciously. As he started walking out, he wondered what the envelope held inside. He had only prepared himself for her memories. For two years now he had been preparing to face her memories. His hands started shaking as he looked at the envelope. He tore it open and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. Even before he unfolded it, he could see the inked imprint of her handwriting on
the backside. Slowly, he straightened the sheet of paper and started reading.
Echoed Cries JAKE HUEBSCH
Sweat ran down my neck as I craned it, attempting to take in the full scale of the hallway. A humid haze seemed to stretch across the ceiling, causing flecks of paint to fall softly as the doors of the foyer shut. I listened to the sound of hooves clatter away from the mansion, marking the departure of my employer from the vicinity. I smiled as the silence of the manor settled in around me. At home, I would have Alice help me plug a room with our sheets and pillows: after which, she would sit and knit beside me as I touched up on my work. I was so startled, the day I met her, when she accidentally burst through the door of my shed in a panic, dripping wet from the storm outside. A year later and we married. The sound of her needles tapping being my only audible companion. She has told me that I should be a mime, that I use my hands to express meaning and my voice for nothing. I laughed quietly to myself as I moved my gaze from the ceiling to the row of portraits that lined the walls. My hands stretched out longingly, flitting about in confusion. The frames of each portrait were beautiful. A simple rebuffing would redeem the sheen. My eyes roved down the countless other portraits. My jaw dropped as I realized the sudden weight of work set upon me. Numerous images were blackened, destroyed in their golden frames. I drew close to one, examining the charred remains of the canvas. The figure was unrecognizable, the only indication of a figure being a chunk of torso robed in scarlet in the bottom corner of the frame. I muttered quietly to myself, speculating the time it would take to conceivably restore this small piece let alone construct the remainder of the portrait. A shot down my spine, forcing me to turn my head towards the rest of the hallway and my eyes widened. An uncontrolled gasp slipped from my lips as I took in the number of blackened images that hung upon the walls. Everyone in town had said how glorious Master Beauvontâ€™s artwork was. They said that it had spanned four long hallways of the manor, charting the lineage from the first Beauvont to the Master himself. I gritted my teeth as the number rose in my head. Apparently Charles, the stonemason, had been lying. My eyes took in well over twenty marred and damaged paintings each bearing the same blackened each image. I stopped half-way through the wall of faces, another chill slipping
markings as the first. I walked the length of the hall, surveying the damages of
along my arms. There were now burn marks on the walls. The damage done to the portraits left no collateral harm. It seemed to be controlled. Resuming my slow pace, I became more aware of the silence around me. It was profound, domineering in its existence within the manor. My own, makeshift, hideaways seemed childish to the heavy intensity found in the still air. I followed the row of painting via date, imagining the chronicling of the Beauvont family through the small gold plates that revealed the images era: W. Beauvont- 1454, K. Beauvont- 1567, I. Beauvont- 1643. I paused at this last name, looking back towards a large group of ashen frames. I looked at the dates, stooping down and rubbing flecks of ash from a few of them. M. Beauvont- 1655, Y. Beauvont-1655, P. Beauvont- 1655. The group continued: all eight of the small plates affirming the same number. I grumbled again, the damage done to this group harsh and thorough. I would have to inform Master Beauvont that they would probably be beyond repair. I moved to the end of the hallway, stopping as the gaze of a grand portrait stared down at me. Boldred Beauvont was hulking, dark and as many of the townsfolk remember him, terrifying. I laughed nervously as the icy stare from the canvas caused my stomach to churn uncomfortably. I composed myself, shying away from the unblinking eyes as I examined the paintingâ€™s strokes and color. My fingers ran around the edge of the frame, pausing at a strewn patch of red crust that stretched along the frame and canvas. My jaw clenched. Using my fingernail, I picked away at the flaw, watching it flake away onto the floor. I could feel the icy stare above me, as I smelled the small particles on my nail. I snapped my head back as I could smell a dull, rusty odor. I looked back up at the face looming over me, noting the almost black eyes that were painted in: fitting. Making a mental note to address the incongruities in Boldredâ€™s piece, I turned to the other painting: Aldwin Beauvont. The face of Master Aldwin reflected that of his disturbing father. I remember watching Aldwin pass me as I gathered with my small group of friends. He would turn and look at us, using his piercing gaze to shatter our ranks and cause us to flee into the alleyways. I would never look back at him. My father told me that, like Boldred, you never stare back. Just keep the head lowered and move past. I have been sure to explain that to Alice and the tradition lives on. Like the others, my fingers mechanically traced the edge of the canvas. I paused as they nudged the lip of an object underneath the canvas. I placed my fingernail against the paint, feeling the thing shift as I dragged my nail along the surface. Paint fell away in thin flakes as I worked: an easy fix later on. Eventually, FICTION
a small sheaf of paper emerged behind the end of the frame. My hand moved
forward instinctually, pulling the papers away from the portrait. I glanced quickly
up at the glare overhead. I turned my back away from prying eyes, flipping the pages over in my hands. There was writing on the other side, short and messy. I squinted slightly to focus as I made out the first word, “father”. March 5, Father, I have a chance to write to you right now. You were right. There is something wrong with the Beauvont family. There is something wrong with me. Aldwin tells me that it is in my head. His care of our child has taken him away from my side, which he seems never to leave. The crying is insufferable. Thank God. Aldwin could not take it anymore. He is away. The pen is not moving fast enough. Father, I need your help. I am alone. Aldwin stands beside me, our daughter Elizabeth is distant and our son Benjamin is young, naïve. I am alone. If the baby continues to cry, I’ll have time to explain to you what is happening. I must not dawdle. The house is often silent, aside from now, the screaming baby. It had become impossible to write to you since even the slightest scratching of pen would fall on Aldwin’s ear. I hide these pages behind Aldwin. He never finds them. He hears all and sees it. It’s unnerving. The children are similar, knowing what I was doing before they have entered the room. Elizabeth, so kind to me before has grown angry and distressed. It must be because she is almost twenty. And she is a Beauvont! Why did you let me marry into the family father? It feels cold here. Aldwin’s eyes do not reflect the same way that they did when you first met him. He is callous and obsessed with the library. Every night, he goes in there and calls in servants. I don’t want to be called in. He and those he chooses are in there for such long hours that I often fall asleep before they emerge. Aldwin has been muttering about a book. He says that itBenjamin is shouting in the library. I can catch moments of it through the cries. He has begun to scare me. Aldwin told me it was simply that he’s a growing boy, but I don’t think so. Father, the start of our problems happened when Benjamin was in town. He started fighting with another boy. Benjamin hit the boy with a rock and knocked him down. My hands tremble thinking about it. Aldwin won’t listen to me. He keeps Benjamin in the house now. He told me
Aldwin said it was the boy’s fault. He took Benjamin home.
that I can’t go back into town. The townsfolk stare, Father. They whisper. The crying has stopped. Aldwin will be back. Charles is crying and Aldwin is in the library. Apparently, Benjamin was pretending to kill someone when he was shouting two weeks ago. Aldwin lets him read those terrible pirate books. Aldwin likes to read them out loud. Aldwin told Elizabeth that she cannot go to town anymore. He told her that the town is in unrest and it is not safe for us to go. Father, I didn’t forget what I needed to tell you. Do you remember the portraits that showed all of the Beauvonts? Remember that there were some that were burned? I think I know why they are black and ashen. It has to do with the library. There are fewer servants now. I knew one, a new girl who was invited into the library with Aldwin. He told me that he had to fire her. I haven’t seen her since. Aldwin keeps talking about a book. I have heard him say that it is not helpful. That it doesn’t show him why. That he may need Elizabeth to help him. What does that mean? I can hear the baby quieting. Please come and get me Father. I don’t want to be a Beauvont anymore. I want to be a Penollate. I want to be your daughter again. The house has grown large. I don’t see Elizabeth anymore. Aldwin tells me that she is sick. Benjamin seems to burst out more. Aldwin has sent Charles away. He told me that a tutor could care for him and instruct him until he is of age. Aldwin was sleeping the other night. I was awake next to him. I don’t sleep much with him. I heard him whisper in his sleep. He kept saying Benjamin. Benjamin. Benjamin. Aldwin keeps Benjamin nearby now. He says that we should read a book together soon. We should go to the library. Father, I think I have a week. I don’t want to die. Aldwin is mad. I think he knows about me. The crying has stopped. I don’t remember when. The writing ceases with a black line, skimming across to the edge of the page. I feel the cold eyes on my back again: a muscle in my neck giving a slight twinge as I stand there. I fold the paper back up, slipping it into my pocket. The stillness was palpable around me, causing each step to clash against the muffling air. I passed back down the row of portraits. My heart beat drummed in my ears as I FICTION
looked at adjacent black frames. I wished that I could hear the clicking of needles
nearby. I knocked my tongue against my teeth, hearing a light “click” emit from
my lips. I could remember Elizabeth Beauvont. She was a beautiful girl. Every one of my older companions would attempt to court her. I threw in my hat as well, but she would always turn us down, asking, “What would my father think?” Two boys went to ask Master Beauvont if they could have his daughter’s hand in marriage. They were all nervous and my companions and I kept pressuring them. Eventually they got the confidence to come up to this manor. I can’t remember the rest. I remember a rumor saying that Master Beauvont shipped them off to a school in Germany to be educated first. They must have had good lives there since I never heard that they came back. My feet stopped in front of a pair of dark oak doors. I broke away from my thoughts to stare blankly at the handle. I tried it, feeling it give way. The door swung away from its counterpart, revealing a grasp gloom of the library. It was dark in this room. I squinted as I peered into the dark, seeing a low glow emitting from two large windows. A small gust of air blew past me into the room, moving with such force that I took a step forward. I shuddered, wrapping my arms around myself. I stepped into the room. There were large, draping rolls of cloth strung before the windows, transforming the light into a deep maroon hue. Books lined the walls around me, their titles hard to distinguish. I squinted hard, feeling my eyes water slightly in the effort. My breathing seemed short in here, sounding quick and clipped. I could taste dust on my mouth. I touched the pages in my pocket again. Pulling them out, I quickly reminded myself of a clue, “pirate book.” I shuffled around the library: the process slow going. Sweat was running into my eyes, causing them to burn and water. I wanted to leave the room. I wanted to find the book. I knew it was close. My fingers lightly tread along the bindings, scuttling through volumes of information, adventures and poems. Alice loved listening to me read a story out loud. She told me that they were our own adventure. I made the clicking noise with my teeth again as I worked, finishing another shelf of books. My hand stopped at a book. Blackbeard. Its cover bent and bruised. It was wedged between two large dusty volumes. I braced myself, feeling the blood quickly rushing down my arm. I was losing sensation of the book. I placed a foot on the books below, leaning back with my weight. I could feel the book inch forward, the friction of the two leather bound books beside it fighting back. I gave another tug, feeling the book pull free along with a number of others. Shouting, I fell back and slammed into the ground. A bludgeoning smash exploded against my head and a sickening dark started looming up in front of my eyes. I laid back, the book still clutched in my fingers and my breath heavy. After a short while, I could feel the black bookshelf. At least eight books had followed me in my fall, all strewn about me. I
slip away, falling down below my eyes. Staggering to my feet, I looked up at the
squinted and rubbed my head, noticing an oddity on the shelf. One book had not fallen. Instead, it hung slanted out of the shelf, defying gravity’s pull in the murky gloom. A short burst of wind slipped past my back, not from the entrance to the library. I could feel the hairs stand up on my neck: a moist, cold smell seeping into my nostrils. I turned slowly. In the corner of the room, a bookcase swung open, moving on silent hinges. I inched towards the room, ignoring the compulsion to head towards the library doors. My hands touched the back of the bookcase, feeling moist driblets of water that speckled the old wood. I pushed the door aside, revealing a stone walkway. There was no silence here, only the sound of air against stone as a companion. I started to click my teeth, “click,” “click,” “click.” I felt the papers rub against my leg as I put a foot forward. I breathed deeply, feeling the cold air sting against my lungs. The blackened portraits hung in the back of my mind as I stepped forward. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I could make out a lantern hanging on the wall. I snatched it, striking a match and illuminating the room. Before me was a pedestal, behind which lay a stone table. I moved forward, spotting an object on the pedestal. I slipped slightly, realizing that the floor was slanted towards the pedestal, which looked to be in the center of the room. I backed up suddenly, moving back into the hallway. I could hear my breath in my ears and my legs felt weak. I thought about Alice, thinking about the dangerous sewer that my companions and I explored when I was younger. I swallowed hard, turned around and moved back into the room. I approached the pedestal, noticing that a large, leather tome lay atop it. I squinted to make out the dull lettering: Beauvont Family Lineage and Studies. I moved my hand towards it, stopping just short of the cover as I spotted the same dark, red crust that had proliferated Boldred’s painting. It seemed to cover the book. I closed my eyes, feeling the crusty flakes give way as I pulled open the book. It fell open to a center page. The first thing catching my eye being a large family tree that occupied both pages, the second being small sporadic etching around the sides. Names were scratched out on the tree and a table was made in the margin: K. Beauvont- inconclusive evidence found. P. Beauvont- inconclusive evidence found. O. Beauvont- and the name was underlined fervently- high possibility of family trait, dissection needed for conclusive results. Dates skittered across the upper part of the page: 1655. I flipped to the last page, seeing Boldred’s name begin to appear in the trees. I stopped at the final page, seeing the crossed out names before me. A slip of paper fell out from the FICTION
book’s hold, landing on my foot. I scanned the names: E.Beauvont- inconclusive
evidence found due to preemptively spoiled results. B. Beauvont- inconclusive
evidence found. L. Beauvont- excluded from family line, dissection collateral. I picked up the page resting on my foot, hearing my heartbeat audibly in my ears. I muttered to myself, quelling the drumming pulse and breaking the silence around me. I held the light up to see the scrap piece. Four nearly illegible words were scrawled on the page. It may be me. I heard a click behind me. Not a click like the needles Alice used or the clicking of my tongue. Instead, it was the hard rap of a stick upon stone. My muscles were rigid as I turned on the spot, looking towards the dark figure in the entryway. The lantern’s light fell upon an older man, a grey, well-trimmed goatee covering a strong jaw line. The legs were powerful, standing alone beside the cane which was embroidered in silver with an iron band near its base. The stick was clutched by toned arms, the muscles still lean underneath the skin. The figure was lean, but there was a livid fluidity to how he moved. My gaze continued upward, breaking my father’s rule as I finished my path. I stared at the near black orbs of Master Aldwin Beauvont’s eyes. There was a dominating, muffling silence around us, interrupted only by the
tap of the cane and the flutter of the page that slipped out of my hand.
Stars LINDSEY STUBBS
I guess my brother died without feeling much pain. That’s what they say, anyway. I usually don’t believe them, because saying stuff like that is so convenient. This time, though, I’d really like to. The way my parents deal with loss has always been strange, and frustrating. First, they tell you: “Ron, I know it’s hard, but we need to talk about things like this.” Then, five minutes later, the conversation takes a roundabout turn to: “Well of course we should choose this template. Look at how neatly it’s laid out! And we can put Simon’s picture here. See, wouldn’t that look nice?” When I couldn’t take it anymore, I brought up the last words Simon had said to me. The last ones I remembered. We had been fighting, and he said: “go screw yourself”. That was the last thing I could remember. No heartfelt apology followed. When I told them about it, Mom looked jolted. The program paper crumpled between her fingers. How could I possibly bring up the need for closure when she and Dad were making template decisions? So, I take walks to leave them to their arrangements. Snow is stacked on everything like one massive glistening blanket and the sun is shining. It’s one of those precious winter days when the cold doesn’t reach under your skin. I have always loved the way the snow looks in sunlight. Simon had pointed it out once, when I was little. Our grandpa had just died. I was young and even though I wanted to say goodbye to him, Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me. They let Simon stay, though. They thought sixteen was an appropriate age for this sort of thing. He didn’t really talk about it until a few weeks after. I was eight years old, we were at the playground, and everything was covered with a shifting blanket of snow. “So, Ronnie,” Simon hoisted himself up onto the monkey bars and sat there, “you sad?” “‘bout what?” I was trying to lift myself up and failing. “About Grandpa,” he shook his head. I gave up, dropped to the ground, and shrugged. FICTION
He kicked his legs, looking very unsatisfied. “That’s not really an answer, Short-Stack.”
“I dunno, I guess. Mom and Dad said he went to heaven.” I pushed around some snow with my boot. “Uh-huh, you bet they did.” He gave a sort of laugh, “What does that mean, Short-Stack? What does it mean when somebody goes to heaven?” I was hesitant to answer, the sentence feeling heavy. “It means that they died.” “Bingo.” He rubbed his hands together before jumping down. “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it, Ronnie? Just to say it?” I gave another little shrug. I got the feeling that he wanted me to ask a question, the right question, but I had no idea what it was. “Hey, Ronnie,” he walked toward a set of swings. The snow crunched quietly under his shoes. I followed. “Mom and Dad probably talked about Grandpa, didn’t they?” “Yea,” I said, “they said that Grandpa went to heaven. They said that it was like he went to sleep.” “Well, they lied.” He sat on the swing, making the chain jingle. “It’s not anything like going to sleep. When you go to sleep, you wake up. Dying isn’t anything like sleep.” I sat on the swing next to him, and felt the cold coming through my jeans. He started pushing himself back and forth with this feet. I just held onto the chains and felt the cold working its way through my gloves. “So what is it like?” I asked. The way he looked at me, I knew it was what he was waiting for. “I don’t know what it feels like, Ronnie, I just know what it looks like. I watched it happen.” He stopped pushing, and sat there like a pendulum. He was staring at the snow on the ground. I watched him, and felt that weight getting heavier and heavier. I wondered if he felt it too. Maybe that was why he walked away from his swing and knelt down in the snow. “Come here, Ronnie,” he said without looking back, “I’ll show you what it looks like.” I sat down beside him, transfixed by the way he picked up a handful of snow and held it up to me. “What does that look like to you, Ronnie?” “Snow.” “Try again. Look, if I hold it up to the light,” and he did, “they turn to glitter. See that? Pretty cool right? Don’t those look like stars to you?” I nodded, but didn’t really agree. It still just looked like a handful of snow. Still, he kept talking. “And they’re all going out. The snowflakes are melting. It looks like the stars are going FICTION
out. Don’t you think?” I nodded again, though still skeptical. He clapped his hands
together and what hadn’t melted exploded from his hand.
“That’s the best way I can tell you. Grandpa didn’t die sleeping, because his eyes were open. I saw it. His eyes, when it happened, went out just like the snowflakes melted.” And now, eight years later, he’s gone too. Somehow, walking, I end up at the playground. They’ve redone it several times by now. Different slides. Different set of swings. Different set of monkey bars. The snow’s the same, though, and I’m grateful for that. I think of Simon as I scoop up a handful of snow. I think of Simon, and how right he was. I look at the snow, and see entire galaxies now. I watch, as the stars go out in my hands, and realize that there was a sort of justice in the way he left this world. He really did go out just like a star. He wasn’t the dwindling light in the distance. He went out as he was always meant to, in a mess of tangled metal and fire. In a burst, leaving behind
two things of comfort: a handful of stars and the fact that it was painless.
Firefly Eyes PETER RIPPLE
Dad came home. He usually doesn’t come home so I thought that maybe he wanted to come home more because he is missing me. Mom said he wasn’t going to come home a lot anymore because the farm was so far, but maybe he just came because it was so wet outside because there was a big storm and the TV said that we had to wait inside. I told him, “are you missing me?” And he said, “yes, where is your mother?” And I said, “are you missing her, too?” And he said, “yes, where is she?” And I said, “I’ll show you!” And that’s how I knew that he was missing me, but he was missing Mom too. Mom told me that he wasn’t going to be around every day anymore, so I thought that it was weird that he was here, but I showed him where Mom was anyway. “Mom’s sleeping,” I took Dad’s hand and I pulled on him real hard. I wanted to show him sleeping Mom. I used to not like taking Dad’s hand. I didn’t like taking anybody’s hand. But then Mom said sometimes you gotta take people’s hands because you just have to. Even if it’s scary. “She’s asleep like a princess, you’ll see,” I told him. “Aren’t you a little old for princesses?” he said to me and I was confused. “How old are princesses? Are they older than me?” I said and I really hoped that they weren’t older than me. “A lot are. Nevermind,” he said. I walked him upstairs to see Mom’s room. Dad’s hand felt scaly like the back of our class pet lizard—Izzy. I don’t like Izzy anymore because Izzy scratched my hand one time when I was trying to pet him because our teacher, Miss Lee, told us that we’re supposed to pet things that we think are nice. That’s how I knew that Izzy wasn’t nice. Maybe that means Dad’s hands aren’t nice. “Are your hands nice?” I asked him. “What? Yes, of course they are,” he said, but his hand still felt like Izzy even after he said that. So now I just don’t know what to think about his hand or Izzy. FICTION
“She’s right here, behind this secret door,” I told him. The door was taller than a lot of trees and I thought that it was because it was made from trees. Like, maybe
the door was made for tree-people to use, but then they let us borrow it to use in our house. Maybe I should go thank the tree-people for their door later tonight, after Dad leaves. “What makes it a secret?” he said to me. “Well no one knows about it beside me, and mommy, and you, so it’s a secret!” I let go of his hand and poked his belly. I giggled because his belly felt like jell-o. One time, Mommy said that was why he left, because his tummy started to turn into more and more jell-o. I don’t think it would taste very good though. He let go of my hand and he opened the secret door and then he scared me because he screamed like this, “Ohh God!” and it made the butterflies in me wake up and jump real high. He started to cry when he saw sleeping Mom so I said, “Daddy, why are you crying?” and then he scared me again because he pointed his finger at me and said really loud, “shut up!” and then my butterflies were flying around faster and faster and faster. So I said to sleeping Mom, “Mommy, tell Dad to stop screaming at me because my butterflies are flying around real fast.” And Mom took a little bit of time to talk because that’s how she said that she was going to start talking. So she went like this for a little bit, “errr,” and then she said, “stop scaring Liam.” My dad still looked really angry so he put his hands up in the sky and said, “you need to go to a forking hospital,” but I knew she didn’t need to go to the hospital because she told me she didn’t need to go to the hospital. And then she made that noise again, “errr,” before she said, “I’m not going to a hospital.” And then Dad got all scary again and his face got red and he looked like a scary devil like they talk about at church. We stopped going to church because Mom said that church isn’t the same as it used to be because she said the priest used to be really nice but then he was mean to one of the other kids that’s not me. Then we stopped going to church and Dad got angry that we stopped but Mom said that he doesn’t live with us anymore so he can’t tell us what to do. So Dad yelled, “I’m going to call an ambulance and you’re going to the forking hospital.” And then Mom started to cry and she went, “errrr,” and then, “it’s not like an ambulance could even make it out here in this storm. Leave me alone.” And I didn’t know why Mom was crying so I went up to her bed and I looked at her face and it was really white. I told my Mom’s face that “it’s okay to stay if you FICTION
want. I’ll give you forks from the kitchen!”
Mommy kept crying and then Dad said, “get away from here,” real loud. And
then he tried to grab me and Mom made a sound that was louder than “errr,” it was more like, “GRRR,” so Dad went outside of the room and started to call the ambulance people. Mom took my wrist with her hand and her hand was real cold. She looked at me and didn’t say anything for a little while, so I said, “what?” She said to me, “can you keep a secret?” And I said, “uh-huh. I like secrets!” And she said, “errr, but do you promise not to tell anyone?” “Yes, I promise,” I promised. “There’s something… errr… magical in the shed that I need,” she said. “Something magical?” “Yes, but quiet down. We don’t want… your Dad to hear,” she said, but it took her a long time to say. “Why not?” I said. “Because your father doesn’t like magic like us. He… errr… wants to make magic against the law,” she said to me. I was confused because the only people that want to make magic against the law are bad guys or guys that don’t have magic and they’re really angry about it. “Is he a bad guy?” I said. “Yes,” she said and opened her eyes real wide and they looked like two big fireflies that buzzed around like the ones I caught in that jar with Mom before she said that she couldn’t do things like that anymore. “Okay,” I said. “Remember… errr… how we practiced letters?” “Yes,” I said to Mom and I remembered. “I want you to get that pen over there… errr… and take my bookmark from my book and we’re going to practice letters. You have to be extra fast, Liam,” she said to me. I saw the pen and I grabbed it and then I took her book from the table by her bed and I looked inside and I grabbed the bookmark and then I put the book back. “But you won’t be able to read without a bookmark!” I said and then I cried because I saw that I already took the bookmark and I knew that Mom loved to read. She would read books all the time and then she would read books to me and she said that I was going to be a very good reader some day and then I could make books for other people to read and they would like them like I liked Mom’s books. I heard Dad yelling a lot in the hallway and I think Mom must have heard too
“Shh, it’s okay. I don’t need that book anymore,” she said to me.
because her fireflies were buzzing around and around. “Now write the letters I tell you, just like how we… used to,” she said. She started to breathe real fast and it sounded like a fan that blew air that was real cold. She kept looking at me and then at the door and then at me again. “Okay,” I said and then I took the cap off the pen and I kneeled on the ground so I could use the table by her bed. “P, for puppy. A, for apple. I… errr… for igloo. N, for nintendo. T, for tail. Another T… errr… H, for hamburger. I, for igloo. Two Ns, for nintendo. E, for elephant. R, for red,” she said to me. I wrote down the letters as good as I ever have and I held them up to Mom and I said, “look how good they are!” She said, “good. That’s good,” and then she breathed fast again. “Now you go to the shed and bring this bookmark with you. You find the can that has this on it, okay?” she said. “Is that where the magic is?” I said. “Yes.” “If it’s magic, then why do we hide it in the shed? Why don’t we use it to build spaceships and beat up dragons and bad guys?” I said. “Because you can only… use this once. And I have been saving it,” she breathed really, really fast, “do you understand?” I didn’t really understand because I didn’t ever use magic before but it seemed like she had so I nodded a couple times. Dad walked back into the room with a glass of water and a loaf of bread. He looked real mad and I was kind of scared but I knew that there was magic that would help Mom which made me feel better. He pushed me on the shoulder so that I fell over and Mom cried a little bit more. I said, “it’s okay, Mom! I’m fine.” She closed her eyes and then Dad sat next to her and started talking low and quiet, kind of like a car motor that goes, “brrooom,” but quieter than that. He was talking to Mom and I couldn’t hear what he said but he tried to open her mouth and put the water inside her. She bit his finger and he jumped and went, “god, damn it!” and then he stood up and walked in circles for a little bit. He walked over to me and pushed me into the hall and then he closed the secret door so it went, “slam!” I was going to cry but then I told myself that I couldn’t cry because I had to go get the magic for Mom. I walked down the stairs and then I looked outside and I saw that it was still really wet and raining and there was lightning and then FICTION
when you would count for three seconds after the lightning there would be a big
thunder that went, “kabloom!”
I opened the door to my porch and it was super windy. The bushes and trees were all going “whoosh,” except even louder than “whoosh.” More like, “WSH.” The grass on the ground was super wet and every once in a while you could see real well because lightning would make the sky light up bright like flashlights. I got kinda scared to go outside but I knew that there was magic so nothing bad could happen to me. So I sat down and I quick put on my big yellow boots so that my feet wouldn’t get wet and then I put on my jacket. I looked at the bookmark and I really did write the letters good. I folded the bookmark and then thought, I hope it doesn’t get too wet. I heard a big “boom!” and I didn’t know whether it came from upstairs or outside, but I thought that I should hurry up and get the magic already. When I walked outside, my face got wet and I had to close my eyes. I put my hands over my eyes and peeked through like I did when movies got too scary. This way, I could see in front of me but the rain didn’t get in my eyes. I had to walk along the cornfields in our backyard to get to the shed. So I started walking but the rain was hitting my head like “pitter-patter,” and it kinda hurt. I looked to the cornfields and I thought that I saw something. The cornfields were always kind of scary because they were really, really, really big and long. Mom used to say, “just pick a spot and keep going straight, and then you’ll make it to the other side.” She was right, but I still got scared every time I went in them. And then, I heard something. It came from the cornfields. I stopped walking so that I could hear better. “Hello?” I said. And then I heard Mom’s voice coming from the cornfields. She said, “you’ll be better off without them.” That really made me wonder why Mom was in the cornfield and what she was trying to tell me. So, I thought, I’ll go to the shed in just a sec. “Boom!” again, and so I started running and there was lightning and rain everywhere. I kept my hands over my face and I ran into the big, tall corn wall that was in front of me. The lightning kept getting bigger and the thunder would be real loud, so I ran as fast as I could. I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and then I thought, I’ve been running for a really long time. And I knew that Mom said to just pick a spot and keep going straight, but I forgot which spot I picked, so no matter where I walked, I just kept getting more lost. I stopped and I cried, but just a little bit. The corn was giving me lots of little cuts and I was real scared. Then I thought I saw something. I did see something. But it was dark and rainy, so maybe I just imagined it. There! I saw it move by and moving around me.
then the corn started to shake. All I saw was a black and slimy leg. I could hear it
“Hello?” I said. The corn kept moving in different parts, so it must have been running around fast. I was scared so I kept my hands over my eyes, but not because of the rain anymore, because I was scared like when I watched those movies. Then, it got super quiet so I didn’t know if the rain was still going but I still felt wet so maybe the rain said, “sorry for being so loud, I’ll be quieter and less scary, but I’m still gonna make you a little wet.” That would be okay. I opened my eyes and I screamed because it was right in front of me. It had a wide mouth so that I could see all of its pointy teeth. Its face was so black that it was blacker than the sky at night, which Mom said was really black at the farm because no one would come and mess up the sky out here, but its eyes glowed a little yellow—like fireflies—so that you could see where it was and go, “I see you ’cause of your eyes!” At first, I thought it was as tall as me, but then it lifted its face maybe a hundred feet into the air and it was up in the tops of the corn. I thought it was gonna try and hurt me so I cried some more, but then I looked up at it and it was just looking at me with its firefly eyes. “Are you gonna hurt me?” I said to it. It shook its head for no. “Are you here to help me?” I said to it. It nodded its head for yes. “Well then show me how to get out of here, ’cause I’m lost and scared,” I told it. It nodded its head for yes and then started to float away. “Wait up! I’m not that fast!” I ran after it and thought, this thing is super fast, it must be magic. Real quick, I got out of the cornfield and the rain stopped falling and it wasn’t that loud anymore. The tall, black thing was dripping with a little bit of slimy stuff, but it wasn’t that scary or gross. Maybe that’s because it was nice and it helped me. “Thank you!” I said to it. It nodded its head, but I’m not sure if it meant to say thank you. I pushed open the heavy door to the shed and then I walked inside. Mom said that there used to be a bunch of animals here when she and Dad lived together, but then the animals moved away when he did. There’s just a bunch of stuff here now. There was so much stuff that I didn’t even know where to start looking for the magic, so I sat down and got kinda angry. I took out the bookmark and looked at the letters. I tried to sound them out but the paper was wet so it was hard to read the letters. I stomped my boot on the ground even though I knew that probably wouldn’t help me. I looked at the door and I saw the real tall monster FICTION
float inside. His teeth were still showing, and now that he was in the shed, I saw
that he had arms but they were black too so it was real hard to see where his
arms started on his body. “I’m not gonna be able to find the magic,” I told it. It came closer and it put its head sideways and looked at me. Its teeth and eyes were the same kind of yellow. “My Mom wanted me to find the magic and she told me that this was the magic,” I gave him the bookmark and he grabbed it from me and I got a little bit of slime on my fingers. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find it because there’s so much stuff in here and I’m so little,” I told it. It nodded and then floated over to one of the shelves on the side of the shed. It reached out its hand and it picked up a can and brought it over to me. It stretched out its arms to me and they were real long too. It handed me the can of magic and the bookmark. I put the bookmark back in my boot and said, “thanks! It must be a potion, right?” It nodded its head and then floated outside. “Wait up!” I said to it and then ran outside again. The rain was going hard again and there was a ton of lightning and I couldn’t even count to one one-thousand before it could go, “kabloom!” But it didn’t scare me. And this time I picked a point to follow and the point was the top of the monster’s head. I ran along the edge of the corn and I almost dropped the potion once, but I held on because I’m strong. When I got to the front of the house, I looked around and the monster disappeared. I didn’t see the monster anymore. It made me kind of sad because I wanted to say, “thank you!” but it was already gone. I walked back inside the house and I saw the monster was inside, standing by where we put our shoes. “I thought you left!” I said to it. It shook its head for no. “Good. You can come meet Mom.” I took off my boots and I put the bookmark in my pocket and then I grabbed the potion by the handle. When I picked it up, a little bit of it spilled out. The lid must have been taken off already! I thought that Mom said this only works once! “Did you open this?” I said to the monster. It nodded its head for yes. “You shouldn’t have done that!” I screamed. “Did you use it?” I said and I cried. It shook its head for no. “Good,” I wiped the tears from my eyes and said, “it’s okay. I just thought that you used up all the magic already.” I grabbed the handle and I went upstairs. When I walked up to the secret door,
It shook its head for no.
the monster stood at the top of the stairs. I said, “come on!” but the monster didn’t move because I think he knew that the door was a secret. “That’s okay, I’ll be right out,” I told it. I walked inside the room and Mom was still lying there in bed and Dad was sitting on a chair in the corner. He was crying and his face was in his hands. Mom’s breathing kinda sounded like she was coughing too. “Mom, I got the potion for you!” I said and then I ran to the side of her bed. Her eyes got really wide and glowy again. Dad stood up from his chair and said, “what are you talking about?” He looked really scary because he was super big and he talked in a low voice. “Mom told me to get the magic, so I went to the shed and this really nice monster helped me get it.” Dad took the potion from me and cried some more. Then he hit me real hard on the face. It hurt more than anything I’ve ever felt, and one time I tripped and hit my head on the corner of a sandbox at a park, so my head was bleeding a lot and it really hurt, but this hurt more than that. My butterflies started spinning in circles and it made me feel sick. “How the hell did you get this?” he grabbed my shirt and yelled at me and I closed my eyes. I could hear Mom going, “errr,” really loud. “The really tall monster got it for me at the shed,” I said. Dad shook me really hard and yelled again, “how did you get this? It was at the top of the forking shelf!” I told him again, “the monster helped me! He’s by the stairs. Let go of me! You’re hurting me!” Dad let go of me and ran out of the secret door. I brought the can to Mom and I said, “here’s the potion.” She nodded to say yes. Dad screamed and there was a big “kabloom!” I gave Mom the potion and she drank it to give her magic and make her talk better again. Then I went outside to check what the “kabloom!” was. I called out, “Dad?” I saw a big tree that must have broken the top of our house, because it was inside and it was on top of Dad and he was quiet. The monster wasn’t anywhere and I thought that he must have gone home. I walked to the front door to see if the monster was outside. I saw fireflies on my porch and I waved to them and said, “hi fireflies! Nice to see you!” They flew far, far away by the road where I saw FICTION
blue and red lights flashing.
Empty Patch ALEXANDRA ROSENBERG
We are in an empty patch of land by my father’s house. These fields are rare in South Florida and soon I imagine there will be a mini-mall or apartment complex here. His tiny body is hidden in the tall weeds, but I can see his little fingers curled around a dandelion stem. It is the summer of lithium and the doctor is considering Electric Compulsion Therapy. The fancy name for what ultimately killed Sylvia. I am considering remembering how to breathe. I’ve been told that abruptly stopping lithium intake can kill you, and I am considering stopping taking it. I do not want to die, so I will wean myself. But I cannot remember the feeling of irritation when a telemarketer calls or the sensation of surprise. Kaleb’s hands are attempting to wrench the weed free of its station, but the roots are stronger than his toddler strength and his fists mutilate the bulb as he falls down. I know I would laugh at him, but my face just twitches and I lay back into the green. I can hear him stomping tiny stomps away, but I know he’ll come running back as soon as he reaches the rotted out fence. He needs me to say, it’s okay, you can go. But I won’t. The sensation of drifting makes me believe in the matter of clouds, or perhaps in the transparency of myself. It is warm, because it is Florida, and I wonder if this was the same way I felt when it was cold, when I still cared enough to make my first snow angel. He comes back with a bouquet of weeds clenched between the flat palms of each hand, each facing a different direction, and his face is all joy and green. Clever boy, knowing that teeth are tiny scissors. He throws his gift into my lap and I tuck one offering behind each of my ears and then behind each of his. For a moment we silently look at each alien face before us.
His tanned blond eyebrows pull together as his stubby fingers touch my
face and I can feel it is wet and that I might be crying.
N IC TIO N
Peanut Butter Marks the Spot AMANDA GOODWIN
Spending most of my childhood years growing up in north Florida, I came to appreciate many things: neighborhood block parties, hunting for shark teeth on the beach, being towed by my best friend and water-rescue trained Newfoundland in the ocean—and doing all of it in a bathing suit. For years, the beach was my playground and the ocean my sanctuary. Little did I know that one remark could make me feel resentment toward everything I knew. I don’t remember who she was, but I will forever remember the moment when she said with disdain, “You’ve got dried peanut butter on your stomach.” I peered down at the speckled formation, like a connect-the-dots on my ribcage: my birthmark. Suddenly, my two-piece bathing suit was too much. Sheepishly, I corrected her, my arms clutching my sides. “Oh,” was all she said. Never before had I felt so mortified. That girl will never know that the wave of humiliation she caused me turned the tide in the voyage to find myself, the Florida-shaped birthmark as my map. As the word suggests, my birthmark has graced my epidermis since I took my first breath. But it is common for some birthmarks to appear within the first month of birth. Though the direct cause of all birthmarks is somewhat unknown, scientists have classified them into two subtypes: pigmented and vascular. Vascular birthmarks occur in infants when there is an excess of blood vessels in skin cells that don’t form properly. These can appear in shades of pink or deep red, and are flat to the touch. Typically, they fade or disappear completely after the first few years of life. Pigmented birthmarks result from an excess of pigment cells in the skin, called melanocytes. The chief responsibility of melanocytes is to produce melanin, the main determinant in skin color. When there is overgrowth of melanocytes at the cellular level, parts of the skin can take on a darker pigment than the rest, thus resulting in a birthmark. Pigmented birthmarks can be raised or flat, and look like moles or discolored patches of skin ranging in size and shape. might as well wear a stamp on my forehead that said, “Yes, I have a birthmark, buzz off”. But for one of my friends growing up, that was essentially the case.
After constantly having my own birthmark pointed out to me, I thought I
Jessica Bovaird was one of my friends and classmates at Palmer Catholic Academy, the K-through-8 private school I attended until fifth grade. Jessica was a very sweet, pretty girl, but she was different. She had a Mongolian spot on her forehead. Mongolian spots, a type of pigmented birthmark, are faded splotches typically bluish in color that are common among children of Native American, Asian, African, or Hispanic descent. What are usually found on the lower back, shoulders, or buttocks, Jessica had smack dab in the middle of her forehead. The spot, like crosshairs on her face, killed any chance of her not being known for it. One of the first times I introduced her to my mother was on Ash Wednesday. As students at a private Catholic school, we attended mass that morning and left with crucifix-shaped smudges of ash on our foreheads. By the end of the day, most everyone’s ashes had faded, including Jessica’s. When my mom picked both of us up from school that day, she noticed Jessica’s “ashes” and tried to wipe them off for her. My mother had no idea that Jessica’s ashes weren’t ashes at all, but merely part of her face. I can’t blame my mom for making the mistake that dozens of people had already made about her birthmark. It wasn’t the first time someone felt obligated to tell her that she had something on her face that they assumed wasn’t supposed to be there. Tired of being “the girl with the blue spot on her forehead”, when Jessica was a junior in high school, she had her Mongolian spot removed with laser treatment. Suddenly, she was free to be known for whatever she wanted. But while Jessica gained freedom, she still lost a portion of herself—a portion that I’ve kept with me all of my life. Cosmetically, my birthmark is a clustered line of tannish-colored, raised splotches, totaling about an inch long with a small gap in the middle. The overall mark resembles what I consider to be either an italicized, backwards “7” or, if you really squint and haven’t looked at a map in about three hundred years, the state of Florida. Or, in the words of my mother, it looks like “an island formation in a sea of smooth dermis.” I’ll take that over “dried, crusty peanut butter” any day. But essentially, my birthmark is a grouping of small, elevated moles. Statistically, I am part of the one percent of people in the world born with this kind of pigmented birthmark, a congenital mole. Congenital moles, scientifically known as congenital melanocytic nevus, can appear on any part of the body, but are commonly found on the back and neck. They range in size and can be anywhere from tan to black in color. Some congenital moles even contain NONFICTION
hair. Although there are no direct complications associated with congenital
moles, excessive sun exposure to a congenital mole can increase one’s risk of melanoma, especially with age. But, the risk is still very slight and easily
preventable. In most cases, if one desires to remove a congenital mole, they do so for cosmetic purposes. When my mom asked me if I wanted my birthmark removed, we were in a cramped Von Maur dressing room, the space littered with rejected prom dresses. The slinky black dress I had just tried on had cutouts on both sides of the waist, the left of which perfectly framed my birthmark in an array of colorful gems. I don’t know if it was a combination of my fear of cosmetic surgery (of any kind), or the strange attachment I felt to the birthmark that has grown along with me all these years. By then I was a senior in high school on the verge of self-acceptance, with only a few insecurities left to erase. Whatever the reason, I looked my mom in the eye and told her, “Never.” Think about a birthmark as a kind of a tattoo. Some tattoos seem like a great idea at the time. But you may come to regret the chest tattoo of your crazy ex or the tramp stamp of a sparrow you got in honor of your estranged grandmother. And after a while, it might be difficult to imagine still having the thing while you’re trudging around a nursing home in your eighties. At one time, you probably intended for the tattoo to always represent a part of you. Tattoos are meant to be permanent. But if you desire to remove it, then it never was. Birthmarks are the predestined tattoos people don’t ask for. They write the preface of who we are, and to erase it is to erase a chapter of yourself. But they certainly don’t write the book. For so many years, I thought of my birthmark as nothing but an eyesore destined to scare me away from wearing a bikini in public. But to my surprise, it has done the opposite. People who see me may begin to know me as “the girl with the birthmark on her stomach”. But that barely scratches the surface of who I am. I’m not going to say that appearances aren’t important. They are the first part of a person that we come to experience, but they aren’t everything. Who we are is marked not by what’s given to us, but what we decide to do with it. A birthmark can either be something of an unsightly nuisance, or it can be one of the best things about you. The word “flawed” is so subjective. What I saw for so many years as a flaw has become one of my favorite things about me, because it is distinctly mine. Permanence is one of life’s greatest illusions. Everything falls apart, decays, and fades with time. Life comes and goes. But as individuals, we have a decision to make. We can let what marks us scar us, or we can use what marks us to leave a mark on the world, even after we’re gone.
footprints in the Florida sand.
Maybe someday I’ll be remembered as “the girl with the peanut butter tattoo”—and that’s okay, because that impression will last much longer than
The Big Toe Tale LASARA BOLES
In my grandma’s living room I peeked into the manila envelope containing her death certificate a week or two after she passed away. I had never seen a death certificate before. I had never seen her house so messy. Reading the bold letters “Death Certificate” made me uneasy. The only certificates I had ever received were for “participation,” “zero absences” or “most improved diver at summer camp.” It seemed sardonic: “Congratulations! Here is your official certificate. Cause of death (drum roll, please): Septicemia!” I remember thinking “septicemia” sounded like an evil word, like if I held the document for much longer, I too would become infected. I managed to re-seal the envelope without so much as a paper cut and returned it to its place on top of the thousands of papers and magazines, which seemed to multiply the very moment my grandmother died. If my grandma could have seen what a cluttered mess my grandpa let her house become she would have been furious. He replaced her CD player with a dusty record player. He sat on the front porch and sobbed while drinking beer and listened to John Denver records most days. He quit eating. He quit his job. I tried to continue to visit on Sunday mornings like I had when my grandmother was alive, but it wasn’t the same. Everything that would have been a tender memory of her was buried in junk. I hugged him, attempting to make a quick exit after breakfast together one Sunday, but he held me longer than usual and began to sway to the music crackling through the speakers. His beer-breath was unbearable and his wiry beard scrapped my bare shoulder. “Hold me like you’ll never let me go,” he whispered, echoing John Denver and kissed my neck. I shivered and left, intent on never returning. I’ve always found it curious how when someone dies we say we “lost” them. We are the ones who feel lost without them. It’s not like I took Grandma for a walk, became distracted, and she ran off or I left the fence open and she escaped. There would be no hand written flyers stapled to electrical poles with a description of her paired with the promise of a cash reward upon her swift was gone for good. Perhaps she is found wherever she is, returned now to her original owner. I don’t know.
and safe return. She was dead. The Queen of the family, my partner in crime,
She had contracted a bacterial infection in a diabetic ulcer in her big toe on her left foot. Among other things, she was in end-stage renal failure, had loss of feeling in her hands and feet, was nearly blind, and had an enormous and prideful attitude. She was only 65. The neuropathy in her appendages had become so severe that she began to lose her balance and, like a clumsy drunk with shot coordination, would run into things. I would often imagine her like a little human pin ball, bouncing around the curved interior of her home, falling into hampers, being ejected from recliners and flung onto floral print sofas. Though she prided herself on being “thick-skinned,” the reality was that her actual flesh had become a sheet of delicate tissue paper, draped over bone, effortlessly torn by objects with the roundest of edges. She shamefully hid away the wounds of her worsening clumsiness beneath long-sleeved shirts. Refusing to bare the stigma attached to using a walker, she acquired a beautifully handcarved wooden cane that secretly stored within it a small sword. This suited her. To preserve her modesty and dignity, she insisted no one see her in a less than flattering light. One Sunday morning while having breakfast on her porch I told her excitedly, “You can have one of my kidneys, Grandma. I only need one.” “That’s very kind of you,” she smiled, “but your auntie has already offered.” “Oh?” “Yes, and I will tell you the same thing I told her: if I want a kidney transplant, I have to go through a colonoscopy first; and I’m not doing that. If there’s ever something wrong with my butt, I’m dyin’ of it.” I believed her. Grandma and I shared an enumerable amount of commonalities. Our coping mechanism, for example, was identical. When she came close to the end of her life, she had a doctor’s appointment to track the progress of the infection in her toe’s gaping hole. The doctor delicately informed her that her toe had taken a turn for the worse and would have to be amputated. He sealed his statement with an endearing, slow head nod, affirming the news. He spoke as if he were telling his six-year-old son why his goldfish had gone belly up and motionless. “Can I keep it?” my grandmother asked him, with no expression. Clearly confused, he jutted his head out toward her and asked, “Keep what?” “My toe,” she yelled, “after you lop it off!” Imagining the utter mortification on his face delights me even today. “Well,” she said, “It’s my toe, isn’t it? I think I should keep it. What would you do with a bunch of toes anyway?” “We have to send it to pathology, so I’m afraid I can’t let you keep it.” He turned NONFICTION
his back to her swiftly, hoping his haste would end the awkward conversation.
“I’ll give you fifty bucks for it,” she declared and swung her fist into her lap diplomatically. As he released the door knob from his sweaty palm, his head sunk
a little and he spun back around. “Mrs. Gardner,” sympathetically now, “I can’t let you--”, “One hundred bucks!” she interrupted. “It’s just that--” “Two-hundred and that’s my final offer,” she said. She was in a bidding war against herself. “I’m sorry, Sandra, you can’t keep it.” She later told me in exasperation, “Never thought I’d see the day where I would have to shell out over two hundred bucks for my own toe. Can you believe that?” “Despicable,” I said. She nodded in agreement. Grandma did get to keep her toe, but only because she remained attached to it, dying before it was amputated. The morning the surgery to remove it was scheduled, she became unresponsive, making the surgery too risky to go through with. The infection had become systemic and the overload of antibiotics had weakened her body to a point of exhaustion. Through the cloud of grief cast upon me I couldn’t help but feel happy for her getting to keep the toe; a little victory, if you will. As she was taken off life support and brought home to pass away in her favorite spot on her front porch, as requested, I imagined her returning from her coma state for just a brief moment. I had no doubt that she’d take that precious moment to say, “Take that, pathology!” and maybe give her doctor the finger instead of the toe. I never realized how close I was to my toes until I watched someone fight to keep all of theirs. On her porch, just before she left us, I looked through the blur of my tears down at my feet and tried to imagine one of my toes missing. I wiggled them. Then I tried to imagine life with my grandma missing, too. Both seemed tragic and unthinkable. Even through the morphine sleep, grandma remained sassy, modest, and prideful as she stubbornly hung on for two days. But beneath that I could see her pain; an occasional tear rolling down her cheek, teeth clinching, face grimacing involuntarily. With dialysis discontinued, her body became full, clammy and unrecognizable. “Do you think she’s still in there, Ma? There’s a song I wrote I wanted to play her before all this happened,” I said to my mother who took shifts with her younger sister by grandma’s side. Grandma loved to hear me play guitar. It reminded her of her little brother Robby, who she grew up listening to play and sing country songs. I plopped down next to my grandma, who was wearing one of her favorite sweaters. It was maroon and had a crisp white collar sewed into it so it looked
“I think so,” my mom said.
like she was wearing a button-up shirt underneath it. My mom and aunt had cut it open from the back then pulled her arms through it and tucked it behind her like a fashionable hospital gown. One dressed her while the other held up a sheet and looked away. I set my red guitar in my lap and finger-picked a new set of silk and steel strings great uncle Robby recommended I use when he visited a few months before my grandma was hospitalized. My song had no words; only a clear and smooth, hopeful and peaceful sound. I played it two times, then three times, then four but grandma did not move or make a sound. I’m not sure what I was hoping for. Unsatisfied I strummed “I’ll Fly Away,” though my grandma was not what I would call a religious person. Regardless, it’s a beautiful song and a very appropriate sound track to death. She still didn’t respond so I put my guitar back in its case, buried my face in her chest and sobbed until my eyes were swollen shut, leaving me no other option but to fall asleep. On a Thursday afternoon in April, her heart stopped, her last breath was exhaled, and her eyes popped open, just like in the movies. In real life it’s bizarre and haunting. I wondered if she was still in there or if this was another involuntary action typical of a dying organism. I think it comforted my family to believe she wanted to say goodbye or record our faces one last time. Without moving her head, she gazed around the room at all the people who were there that would witness her most vulnerable moment. Somehow knowing it would be our last moment with her, we all reached out and touched her body. I placed my hand on her foot. We love you. We love you. We’re all here for you. Then she was gone. For a short time after she died, I wondered why she was so attached to her toe, a thing so filled with disease, only causing her pain and death. The spreading infection reminded me of the pride she couldn’t release. Would she be less of a person one toe less? Was it the principle that everyone should keep all of their toes that mattered so much to her? It was like she spent her life holding onto a hot iron she couldn’t let go of no matter how it scorched her flesh. It occurs to me that she may have been just stubborn enough to die before enduring whatever would happen if she let her vulnerability or surrender show, as if the choice was
hers to make.
My Bragging Right MADELINE MATTHEWS
You may have seen it advertised on TV or online. You’ve likely heard the stories. You might even have an ongoing ancestral investigation of your own. With an extensive online database of public records and old photographs so easily accessible, it is awfully tempting to satisfy our human desire to know where we come from. What information, however trivial,1 is out there for us to find? I have acquaintances related to politicians, a friend whose greatgrandfather played professional football, and another who proudly claims relation to Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. Don’t get me wrong. I would brag about these people to anyone who’d listen if the connections were mine. I can admit to being a little envious, and I want a tool like Ancestry.com to direct me to someone famous in my family. But famous or not, I’m curious to see what I would find. Perhaps my four-greats-uncle was a recluse who lived in the woods and spent all his time penning literary masterpieces. Or maybe my fifth cousin twice removed survived the Titanic. What compels this curiosity? I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but is there really a point to it all?2 Sometimes it starts to feel more about the one doing the bragging, than their ancestor who actually earned that right for them. Oral tradition used to be sufficient, and most of the people I know with notable ancestors didn’t need Ancestry.com to tell them about it. My question, then, is why should anyone put in the time, money, and effort? If there were something important, they’d already know, right? I suppose, if we are unsatisfied with what we already know, we’re prone to seeking out something more valuable. I didn’t used to be satisfied. Like I said, I’m envious of others’ lineages, and want a bragging right of my own. In the past I’ve started a free trial on Ancestry.com with no significant outcome. I know names as far back as my grandparents’ grandparents—just the names. Even what I know of my grandparents is limited to my memories of what they were like when they took care of us. I can list what they did for a living, but this
Okay, it’s not trivial. It matters on a personal level. It feels like we’re searching for meaning. As if we need something to be recognized for, or something to brag about. 1 2
knowledge isn’t particularly Earth shattering. On the other hand, how much can
we expect public records to offer other than lots of surface details? Not much in terms of what kind of people our ancestors were. In our living relatives, we may have a much better source of information. While they may not be able to tell us much beyond their own experiences, the stories at least have the potential to be much more personal than birth certificates or marriage licenses. I’ve always had five grandparents. My paternal grandmother remarried before I was born. So in addition to my mother’s parents, I had Grandma Mae, Grandpa Doug, and Mae’s second husband Fred. They weren’t famous. One might say they lived mediocre lives. Making the money they needed to make, and feeding the families they needed to feed. You won’t find them in history books, or anything of the sort. From what I know, Grandpa Doug’s career was somewhat blue-collar. Fred owned a chain of department stores in Minnesota called The Dahl House. Grandma Mae was a teacher, whom many of my teachers either had or worked with.3 I guess that made her famous within the city limits of South Saint Paul. But their professions were simply practical; their lives were nothing extravagant. There was little on the surface to boast about. Grandma Mae and Grandpa Fred had two homes: a quaint cabin on Balsam Lake in Wisconsin, and what still feels like a modest mansion in Northfield, Minnesota.4 It didn’t matter which house we were at. My favorite activity to do with Grandma Mae and Grandpa Fred was feed stale bread to the ducks. Now, I could anthologize many of my childhood memories under the title Unfortunate Experiences with Animals, Hazardous Encounters with Water, and Other Recollections. The book would be dense; filled with slightly5 dramatized accounts such as the time a dog kicked me down as a toddler, a peacock bit my finger, a llama spat on me, my pet turtle ran away, I got mildly electrocuted, or the several instances of me falling into every body of water I came across. That sums it up well. My Grandma Mae was partially blind in an eye from trying to break the seal on a ‘catsup’ bottle with a fork. Her ring and middle fingers on one hand, I don’t recall left or right, were cut off at the middle knuckles from a farm accident when she was a toddler. I can’t imagine her being anything but graceful, but perhaps realistically speaking, I had gotten some of my accident-prone tendencies from her. Though she did learn to water-ski at fifty. She seemed a hundred years old at the time with her small frame and concaved posture. Her pants, which fit at the waist and nowhere else, hid any
figure she had. I always imagine her wearing a bold scarlet shade of lipstick, too.
3 4 5
I can’t tell you how many times I heard “Oh, you’re a Matthews?” from teachers or friends’ parents. The Northfield house had a beautiful view of St. Olaf College from the bottom of the hill. Slightly—okay, incredibly dramatized.
It completes my 1950s-housewife-turned-gray image of her. She kept her white hair short, resting in a fluffy cloud atop her head, sometimes beneath one of her many sun-hats.6 I don’t know what time of year it was. Late winter? Early spring? It was cold enough to be wearing the matching gray sweatpants and sweatshirt I owned with a pink heart patch and pastel green ribbon sewn on it.7 Meanwhile it was warm enough not to need a jacket. The ducks had returned north, too, if that helps set the scene. We frequented the parks so often that we’d convinced ourselves we knew the ducks. There was often a solid white one, which my big sister had claimed was her favorite—as if it was the same one each time. She made it her job to ensure that Whitey got something to eat. My older brother probably thought he was too cool to claim one, and I’m quite certain that my duck was imaginary. I described it as mostly ordinary, but with a giant turquoise patch on the back of its neck. Whether I actually saw one like this once, I don’t know, but I looked for Eat-TooMuch every time. Having only had the opportunity to know one of my grandmothers through my teens, and the good Lord willing, thus far into adulthood, I greatly appreciate the memories from my years with Grandma Mae. Because I only knew her through the eyes of a child, there was never a moment I grew embarrassed by her.8 All of my memories are pleasant. I never had to watch her be sad or in pain, and while she seemed ancient to my young mind, I have the knowledge now, to know she never grew old. Nor did she suffer. Though it is incredibly sad to think about her abrupt death. How unnecessary, unwelcome and unexpected it was. Bread in hand, we approached the water’s shore—which I remember being a pond, but now I know it was the Cannon River. I tore a few chunks from the slice I held, grabbed them one by one, extended my arm back over my head, and released with a jerky pulse only to see the bread land at my feet as the ducks swarmed toward me. Grandma grabbed my shoulders and pulled me backward, away from their lunch. Once they realized the bread was gone, we were no longer needed, and the ducks headed back to the water. I don’t know how this next part actually unfolded, but somehow stuff like this always happened9 to me. Please take this description with a grain of salt. I can only run through it in my mind as though
My cousins and I loved to play dress-up with those hats. I think we all wanted to be Mae. This combo is hard to forget. I can still feel it bunched up and soaking wet as it clings to my body. I remember having taking a nap in it once, and wetting the bed. 8 Would I have accepted embarrassment if it had meant more time? Of course. 9 Happens. Even in adulthood I manage to be clumsy. I fell into the Des Moines River freshman year. But that’s another story for another time. 6
I’m watching my young self in a movie. I hear my five-year-old self belt out a blood-curdling scream. I see her violently flapping her arms against the water’s surface. I feel her drenched auburn locks forming a tangled web across her face. My siblings stand on the rocky bank, pale-faced and panic-stricken. The ducks, too, find themselves in a similar state of panic as they flea the scene. The splash of a dozen ducks taking flight out of the water is something I wish someone had photographed that day. I could have been cropped out. “Mae!” screams Grandpa Fred. Fred, as I’ve noted, is my step-grandfather. Though his relation is slightly more complex than that. The love I have for him is the same as any of my grandparents, and his love for us is the same as any of his many grandchildren.10 That being said there is not a single doubt in my mind that my dad’s father, Doug, was the love of Grandma Mae’s life. I don’t think it’s strange or inaccurate for me to say that. It is a little odd that I think I knew this as a child, even though she was married to another man.11 “Grab my arm!” Grandma called to me from the water where she stood waist deep. I was still in a panic. Once the hysteria was over, Grandpa Fred had scolded Grandma. It wasn’t a moment he wanted to have to save two people, and she shouldn’t have jumped in after me. From her perspective, what else should she have done? Her grandchild, whom she loved and whose parents expected to be safe in her care, had fallen into a river less than a football field’s distance from a waterfall. But my memory holds that I had to have been further than a football field’s distance from the waterfall.12 It’s bizarre. It all happened so fast. I was in and out, but while I struggled to escape the water, I don’t remember being able to touch the bottom. I couldn’t have been far from the bank if it was that quick, but if Grandma felt the need to jump in after me, how close was I within reach of anyone who stayed dry? I don’t remember the initial shock of the water’s temperature on my skin. But the cold lingered as the wind tried to blow my clothes dry.13 If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my Grandma Mae, it’s that she was incredibly selfless. Growing up, I’d hear stories about how marvelous a teacher she was. To my dad’s friends in the neighborhood, it sounded like she was
He’ll even introduce my dad as his stepson. Though my dad was at least thirty when he married Grandma Mae. 11 I used to think Grandpa Doug was waiting to reunite with Grandma in Heaven, and Grandpa Fred was just holding his place for the time being. 12 But my memory also holds that my elementary school seemed much bigger when I was a kid than it does now. 13 Soaking wet. I’ll never remember that outfit any other way. Incredibly uncomfortable, bunchy, soaking wet.
a second mother. Everyone she met sang her praises—as if she’d somehow changed each of their lives. She would have dropped anything for anyone in need of help, and she always found a lesson in it. In that sense her career, while practical, was her passion. It was in her nature to be an educator and caretaker, and she never complained of burnout. Caretaker. That’s what she was for everyone. That’s what she was for Grandpa Doug. It wasn’t Grandpa’s death that broke the two up. It was divorce. To my young mind, Grandma was too perfect to divorce, so I never thought about it. It was something I couldn’t understand, because I saw how much they loved each other. I imagine she might not defend her character as my mother did, had she been the one to tell me the real story. If she were alive, she might have regrets or sadness. Maybe not though. Maybe she would be proud of her strength; proud of Grandpa Doug’s sacrifice. We lost Grandpa a few years prior to Grandma Mae. I had never known him to live anywhere other than a nursing home. His illness was physical in later years, but I know now that it went deeper. The love of Grandma Mae’s life and father to her four children was sick through most of their marriage, and throughout my dad’s whole life. Medicine had not advanced like it has today,14 but what they believed he had was something along the lines of Bipolar disorder and Schizophrenia. I knew none of this while Grandma was alive. Knowing it now has changed our relationship to no end. As we left the park, I remember riding on her lap in the front seat of the white Lincoln Continental.15 That’s something uncharacteristically careless of her, as it would have entirely disregarded my safety, so maybe it didn’t happen that way. I imagine both of us were shivering in our wet clothes, and I was likely bawling my eyes out in terror the whole drive back. I cried when I found out about Grandpa. Dad told me a little over a year ago, and what he couldn’t get out, Mom was able to finish. How strong Grandma was for Grandpa Doug, for her children, for everyone. If she was hurting, she never let us know. She truly loved Grandpa Doug. That’s why it was difficult to fathom them getting divorced. Even while married to Fred, she’d take us to visit Grandpa. We’d take him out to lunch, or perform small concerts for the other residents of the high-rise nursing home. He attended every Christmas Eve at the Northfield home. The winter made beautiful memories. When she was in South Saint Paul, she went by Mrs. Matthews. I don’t know if she legally changed her last name to Dahl. She probably did, but no one in town
This justification might just be my way of denying the reality of his diagnosis. Mae and Fred always had Lincoln Continentals.
ever called her that. That’s how she preferred it. These subtle actions, which at the
time seemed ordinary and unquestionable, speak volumes now that I know the truth. She loved Grandpa Doug. But she had lived her life taking care of him. It was time for him to let her go. Whether to stop being her burden to bear, offer her some sort of relief, or give her a chance to take care of herself—or be taken care of herself—I may never know. In truth, it’s probably a bit of each of these. It’s something that seems so painfully beautiful. Ultimately she had done plenty more than she needed to. Her strength and stability remain unmatched by anyone I’ve ever, and perhaps will ever meet in my lifetime. But at the time, their children had all grown up and given them grandchildren. She had been the mother and wife that her circumstances asked her to be. Her love for him was too strong to let go sooner, and I think Grandpa’s love for her was too strong to let her continue to hang on. She’d known Fred for decades; they had been good friends. The timing of their marriage was bittersweet. Aside from the divorce, Grandma Mae had suffered another incredible loss. Lea was Grandma Mae’s identical twin sister, and she passed away from a brain aneurism before I was born. Grandma Mae and Grandpa Fred mutually grieved Auntie Lea’s death, because Lea was also Fred’s wife.16 Her passing brought them together. It seems that was exactly what they needed at the time. I’m not sure anyone ever imagines their own grandparents in a romantic sense. The notion, to be honest, is sickening. Especially as children. Grandma Mae and Grandpa Fred were just cute. Even quirky. She poured her cereal into his leftover milk, because that’s how she liked to eat it. He did all the grocery shopping, while she did all the cooking. They often drove in two separate cars so she could stay at the cabin an extra day.17 Like I said, Grandpa Doug was the love of her life, and so I will only ever see this marriage as a necessary outcome of the situation. She needed to be taken care of,18 and Grandpa Fred needed her company. They had a beautiful bond. An incredible friendship. My relationship with my Grandma Mae, though she’s been gone almost twelve years, has forever been strengthened by this knowledge. I already knew she was wonderful. She made each of us feel like her favorite. She encouraged us to learn and express our creativity. So many looked up to and respected her even without knowing what she was going through. And now I have a new understanding of who she was. I can look at what she’d done for other people, how she approached I am aware of how odd it seems, from the outside, to marry one’s deceased wife’s identical twin sister, or to marry one’s deceased sister’s widower. But growing up it seemed completely ordinary, and even now the role Mae and Fred played in each other’s lives until death did them part, was beautiful. 17 The last time she did that, unfortunately lead to the car accident that ended her life. 18 Though by nature, she probably put a lot of energy into taking care of Fred, too.
her relationships, and how whole-heartedly she lived her life. I can see that I’d be undoubtedly lucky to be half the woman she was. Ancestry.com couldn’t do this for me. Not with Grandma Mae, nor with anyone else. I know there are other beautiful people in my genetic line. People like Mae don’t just pop up out of nowhere without having positive role models to raise them. But unfortunately, stories like these will inevitably be forgotten. My great grandchildren may place her name on their family trees, but they will never know the extent of what an extraordinary woman their Great-Great-GreatGrandma Mae was.19 It doesn’t come from public record, and my experiences alone weren’t even enough. Isn’t it remarkable? She’s been gone more than a decade. She has been unable to be an active part of my life, but I feel closer to her than I did when she lived. It’s strange that I can look back on that memory of feeding the ducks and have a completely different understanding of it now. She had protected me as she’d protect anyone else. Blood or not, she would have jumped in that river. That made the rescue much more beautiful than I’d seen it since it happened. Is it sad that she’ll be forgotten? It is. But the point is that it won’t matter. In a hundred years she may just be a name to my descendents, but there will be other people like her regardless. She leaves behind a legacy of beautiful souls that undoubtedly began even before her time. That’s what’s worth knowing. The world will always have their Mae Matthews in someone else, simply because she touched the right lives, and they went on to touch more. That’s all my future generations need to know. Those people will be worth more to them than Grandma Mae, because they will never get the chance of really knowing her. And that’s okay. An online investigation, while it wouldn’t be a waste of time, cannot replace what might be right in front us. I may never find a famous ancestor of my own, but I’ve seen for myself that I come from someone wonderful. That’s my bragging right. I wish I had a framed photograph from that moment: the splash of a dozen
And had she done something groundbreaking or made a name for herself, the situation wouldn’t be any different. 19
ducks taking flight out of the water and Grandma Mae jumping in to save me.
Eye See You
black & white photography | MARY PAT LAWLER
18x20 charcoal on charcoal paper | RACHAEL KRESKI
four-part linoleum block print on paper | STEPH WERNING
black and white film | MARY PAT LAWLER
paint on 29â€? timpani drumhead | MALLORY RASKY
Post-Modern Sentiment (This Is Shit)
handcrafted typography | NICOLE DYAR
bass woodcut print on paper | STEPH WERNING
WA RD S
Poetry Award SELECTED BY SUSANNA CHILDRESS
WINNER: “SUMMER TWENTY TWELVE,” CARLY NOYES The brawn and gusto of this poem is its tone, created in part by a particular diction, which I’ve heard is kind of important in poetry: the words here sizzle, feeding images that are as vivid as they are slippery, implications that work, indeed, on several levels; even in its address to another, the speaker seems to be investigating the self, yet without being over-aware (i.e. only one personal pronoun!). All this sends the poem flitting across assertions and sensory details, startlingly assured and still desperate for meaning—a feat to be sure.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: “DOS DE NOVIEMBRE: TODAY” & “CHILD’S PLAY IN LA BUFA”
ABOUT SUSANNA CHILDRESS Susanna Childress’ first book, Jagged with Love, was awarded the Brittingham Prize in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin and the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award from the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her second book,
Entering the House of Awe, was selected for the 2012 Society of Midland Authors Award. She holds a Master’s (UT-Austin) and PhD (Florida State) in creative released their first full-length record, The Necessary Dark, last year. She lives in Holland, Michigan.
writing. She and husband Joshua Banner make up Ordinary Neighbors, who
Prose Award SELECTED BY THOMAS MCBEE
WINNER: “THE BIG TOE TALE,” LASARA BOLES “The Big Toe Tale” is a big-hearted, funny, and genuinely moving character study of the author’s larger-than-life, 65-year-old grandmother and her death from an infection related to diabetes. With plainspoken honesty, gentle humor, and sharp sense of detail, this clear-eyed portrayal of the last days of Grandma digs at larger questions about the way we echo each other across generations and how best to be with our own grief, the death process, and the people we love that bring them both to bear on our (sometimes too-young) hearts.
HONORABLE MENTION: “STARS” “Stars” is also about loss, but this time our protagonist is Ron, a young man dealing with the loss of his older brother, Simon. Ron’s family is of little help, lost in their own grief, so Ron finds solace in his brother’s advice upon the death of their grandfather many years before. Through a particularly beautiful metaphor brought to us by Simon, “Stars” is about his brother’s realization of the impermanence of life and the power of the small moments that live on after we’re gone.
ABOUT THOMAS MCBEE Thomas Page McBee writes the column “Self-Made Man” for the Rumpus. His TheAtlantic.com, VICE, Salon, and Buzzfeed, where he is a regular contributor on gender issues.
essays and reportage have appeared in the New York Times and on
Art Award SELECTED BY BILLY SIMMS
WINNER: “SIBLINGS,” STEPH WERNING After looking at the work, thinking about work, and looking and thinking about it again, my selection is “Siblings” (the four part block print on paper). All the pieces are strong and demonstrate a great deal of skill and conceptual thought by the artists and I enjoyed all the pieces very much. In the end, I chose “Siblings” for three main reasons. One, I was fascinated by the abstract narrative that four panels create and the thoughts that they prompt in the viewer. Two, I was intrigued by the interplay of the images in the piece which work on several levels, geometric/organic, life/death, natural/man-made. The interplay of images led me, as a viewer, to constantly think about the piece. And three, the composition of the piece enhances the first to qualities that I have mentioned by allowing my eye to continually move around and letting my mind create more and more depth to the narrative that I was fabricating in my head and the interplay of the images in the piece.
ABOUT BILLY SIMMS Billy Simms is an artist who works in print making, sculpture, collage, and photography. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Theatrical Scenic and Lighting Design from The University of Maryland Baltimore County and a master’s degree in Special Education from The Johns Hopkins University. He has studied art at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, FL and Miami University in Oxford, OH. He has won several awards for his art work including the 2013 Drake University Emerging Writers Contest in Graphic Fiction and the Award for Excellence for at the 2012 Dayton Area Works on Paper Show for his book “The Clown Genocide: a novel in woodcuts”. Billy is currently completing a set of work on his next graphic novel entitled “Death Takes Holiday.” Billy lives in Hamilton, OH with his wife and two cats.
prints illustrating each chapter from James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” and beginning
SPECIAL THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING:
Board of Student Communications Amy Letter Jan Wise Dan Alexander Sofia Turnbull Mark Sanger Thomas McBee Susanna Childress Billy Simms
Published on May 16, 2013
Periphery is a print and digital publication out of Drake University in Des Moines, IA. As a student-run, annual publication, Periphery seek...