Volume 49 Spring 2020
The Emerson Review is an annual literary journal by undergraduate students at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. All genres of original, unpublished writing and visual art are considered for publication. The reading period for the 2019 issue ran from August 1st through February 1st. All submissions are handled anonymously. Materials can be submitted to The Emerson Review through our online submission manager, http://emersonreview.submittable.com. Complete guidelines can be found on our website. General questions and comments should be sent to email@example.com. http://pages.emerson.edu/organizations/emerson_review Design by Sam Kiss and Haley Brown. Printed by Flagship Press. ÂŠ2020 The Emerson Review
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
Victor Morrison (Fall) Lily Doolin (Spring)
HEAD FICTION EDITOR
Lily Doolin (Fall) Nicholas van Orden (Spring)
ASSISTANT FICTION EDITOR
Nicholas van Orden (Fall) Abigail Michaud (Spring)
HEAD POETRY EDITOR
Owen Elphick (Fall) Alana Scartozzi (Spring)
ASSISTANT POETRY EDITOR
Alana Scartozzi (Fall) Kelsey Day Marlett (Spring)
HEAD NONFICTION EDITOR
Brooke Angell (Fall) Sean Etter (Spring)
ASSISTANT DESIGNER Haley Brown
HEAD DESIGNER Sam Kiss
Malik Selle (Fall) Cassandra Koenigsburg (Spring)
Kaitlyn Shokes Julianne Meyer (Fall) Andrew Taets Michelle Moroses Kelsey Day Marlett (Fall) Cassandra Maxim Leah Kindler Wilheminah Thomas-Proust (Fall) Sean Etter Lauren Everhart-Deckard Lily Hartman Cassandra Koenigsburg Olivia Lusk Abigail Michaud (Fall) Rachel Stern Olivia Loftis (Spring) Haley Brown (Spring) Andrea Cruzibarra (Spring)
1 STONE PATH B Guilherme Bergamini 2 RAIN BEFORE SEVEN B Barbara Saunier 4 KOSHI NAGE B Anni Wilson 5 UNNATURAL PICNIC B Hugh Findlay 6 MONSTER LETS GO. B Sebastian Santiago 8 SELF PORTRAIT WITH BELL’S B Samantha Steiner 9 WHERE NIGHTMARE BEGINS B Marisa P. Clark 11 BOX TURTLE B Matthew J. Spireng 12 BOUNTIFUL COLOR NATURE’S EYE CANDY B Timothy F. Phillips 13 FLOOD B Karl Zuehlke 14 APARTMENT 103 B Lee Zumpe
15 A DIABOLICAL LIGHT B Scott Allen Roberts
49 PS752 B Emma Miao
16 THE CONTENT WRITER B Derek Andersen
50 FACES (2) B Andrew Furst
26 YOU TOOK ALL MY SWEET, YOU THOUGHT IT WAS NEAT B Scott Allen Roberts
51 POP QUIZ B Timothy Kelly
27 YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE RAIN B Kelly Emmrich
52 AUTOMATIC DIGITAL PHOTO COLLAGE OF 28TH AND BROADWAY B Tommy Mintz
28 WELCOME B Brenton Rossow
53 NED B Madison Welborne
29 DIARY OF A TEENAGE HEROIN ADDICT B David Poses
59 MODERN AMERICAN GOTHIC B George l Stein
37 BAT DREAMS B Brenton Rossow
60 I DROWNED MORTIMER GOTH IN THE POOL AGAIN TODAY B Karah Kemmerly
38 ROOM #3 B Rachel Roth 41 FUSCA RED B Guilherme Bergamini 42 DRIVING JOSH B Sacha Bissonnette 47 HONG KONG HORROR SEQUENCE B Karen Zheng
62 BRA SHOPPING WITH MY MOTHER AT 13 Carrie George
S TO N E PAT H
Gui l h e r m e B e r g amini 1
RAIN BEFORE SEVEN Barbara Saunier
Rethink disappointment when you wake to the sound of rain. Sunny and dry may only be Hallmark working an angle. Instead, choose to practice your guitar— the acoustic—or a breathy alto sax. Sit by an open window where rain can sweet-talk your hands. Then brush the dog. Or write a letter. By hand. Choose a pen that draws across the page like rain draws down glass. In your letter describe the rain trilling in the gutters. Do the dishes. By hand. Let the cloth browse over the plate and mug. On the stove, nothing above a simmer—flame just to cradle a pot you don’t need to watch, maybe stew. Or mulled cider. For now, choose the TV to be silent and dark. Leave the vacuum in the closet. Instead, fold laundry. Whittle. Knit. Keep the lights low and sketch your first love. Or your last. Or your best. Learn a poem by heart. Welcome any reason to go outside. Throw some bread crumbs to the birds. Dead-head the begonias. Even—crazy thought— wash the car. Walk to the corner to mail the letter, and on your way back cut flowers for the table. Carry an umbrella if you must, but know that toweling dry your face and hair when you come in is prelude to the pleasure of soup and dry clothes. 2
You know how the old saying goes: Rain before seven stops before eleven. Something about the heat of the sun burning off cloud cover. So come late morning, listen for a thinning in the rainâ€™s conversation with pavement, with sod. When skies threaten sun, taste for salt wrung into your own creases. There will be time enough then to crunch the numbers for your new campaign, to run the vacuum. Plenty of time then to make your calls.
KO S H I N A G E
Anni Wi l s on
U N N AT U R A L P I C N I C Hu g h Fin d l ay
MONSTER LETS GO. Sebastian Santiago
I. Monster sat on the rocks looking out into the water. Little lame houses rested along the edge of the lake; Window lights like sleepy fireflies through the mist— An island which rested at its center housed a single tree surrounded by moss-covered boulders. He wondered if when the lake froze over during the winter, whether children would walk out to the island to see what was really there. II. and so Monster decided to leave self. To undo the stitch and spin of the I; that weave so deep, that which keeps in the soul. With each release it breathes; The wounds’ wheeze as the spirit calls from within its viscous cave. And as Monster began walking into the lake of his creation, he washed away who am I? and why am I here? From his fur he cleansed I’m sorry for hurting you and I swear I’ll change.
As he undid the sutures of his self his flesh hung slack as he freed each piece of me, his red washing ashore; That streak so bleak, feet sinking deeper into the muck, seaweeds entangling his limbs. From the lake emerged a boy shivering and afraid. Behind him followed a man on horseback. The boy climbed atop, whispering vicious secrets into his ear, digging his spurs deep into the hind legs of the horse as they rode away. Monster, now afloat; A rosebud flayed apart, spinning in the eddies of the lake.
S E L F P O RT R A I T W I T H B E L Lâ€™ S S am ant h a St e in e r
WHERE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
Marisa P. Clark
If I were cruel, my love, I’d wake you, shake you to share my dream instead of blinking in the dark with my heart drumming hard. It was Halloween, middle of the night: a small town, a monster invasion and proliferation, and then a shadowed forest, a shack of rotting wood, a group of us hiding inside. Tropes from a horror flick, yes, but this was real life and I was not frightened. Naturally, there was a young woman, once pretty, though never in your league. Events had left her stringy-haired and haggard. Her face sagged like melted wax, and when I saw her crumbling yellowed nails, I grew suspicious: Was she one of them? The monsters, you see, took possession from within, stripped victims of their skin. It would peel away in fungal flecks, and victim turned to monster, as sometimes happens in waking life. Even so, I held my tongue. I didn’t want to cause alarm or call the woman something she was not when we were all just trying to survive. The forest stirred with skittering steps— shapes flashed among the pines. We pressed our backs to the shack’s damp walls. I was the one who discovered singing could ward off an attack. It’s hard to sing in the face of a threat—the throat closes around fear, if you don’t know. Our group took solo turns—some croaked their notes, but oh, my voice was strong and bold. You know me, I like to be the hero in my dreams. But I digress. 9
With the monsters stilled by singing, we darted tree to tree, deep into the woods. A cabin appeared, the monsters’ home—like us, they’d been trying to get there all along. A red rottweiler, ember-bright, stood guard. Inside, a bearded woodsman lived, the source of all evil. We had no plan except to kill the devil and his dog. As we closed in, I woke. Turned as if to touch you—always a temptation. In the green glare of 4:21, I saw smooth sheets, pillow plumped, the bed free of all memory of you. I don’t know how the dream ended. Lack of resolution, that’s where the real nightmare begins. Now your ghost floods the room, and I cannot beat back terror or despair. I think I’ll rise and watch the dawn. Swallow scream. Force song.
Matthew J. Spireng First seen, it’s trying to hide from the growl of the weed whacker’s engine, dug in the duff and leaf litter at the base of a tree, but then roused, it moves on, it seems, as I work in another direction. When I return, thinking the box turtle’s gone, it’s there, dug in again at the base of the tree on the far side. It hides, or tries to, though it is wedged, so it might better be moved. I lift it, expect it to retreat into its shell, but instead it moves its legs as if to push me away, and stretches its head, turns and studies me as I look in its eyes. Large for its kind, it must be old, perhaps older than my seventy-one years, and I wonder if we’ve encountered each other before, perhaps I in my youth, though I’ve forgotten. Does this box turtle, so intent on my face, remember a time we first met?
B O U N T I F U L C O L O R N AT U R E â€™ S E Y E C A N DY
Tim ot hy F. P hi l lip s
Kar l Zu eh l k e
they found her husk nestled between the bed and the wall blanketed by layers of apathy an empty, withered, dehydrated shell drained cigarette stubs collected neatly in a takeout box from the Chinese joint a few blocks down the street tissue paper tears shed like snakeskin scattered over the carpet faint shadows flocking in the ceiling corners like ghosts of whispers with no real intention and the dark wet pool creeping from her belly rippling regrets staining the room
A DIABOLICAL LIGHT
S c ot t Al l e n R ob e r t s
THE CONTENT WRITER
D e rek An d e r s e n
ACT I “I shall request a short black coffee with a splash of skimm’d milk,” Shakespeare declared. “Sure. That’ll be £2.10, sir.” Shakespeare presented the barista with his debit card. The barista ran it, and then once more, frowning. “Your card was declined,” he whisper’d, handing it back to The Bard. Cursing und’r his breath, Shakespeare poured his spare change on the countertop. To his chagrin, there wast not a quid in sight. With the gall of a cosset, he pushed the silvers into groupings. Behind him, a patron uttered a sigh of impatience, sending a tremor through The Bard’s fingers. “£2.08, £2.09, £2.10.” When he bequeathed the coins, his hand ling’red with the barista’s. In that fleeting moment, he consider’d the coarse, calloused quality of his companion’s hand. This wast a worldly touch that had, no doubt, known the hardness of iron and bronze and all makes of heavy machinery. “Wait, do I know you from somewhere?” Said the barista. Shakespeare met his gaze. ’Twas as if all his life he had been lost at sea, and anon the barista’s eyes—his crisp, blue eyes—were the shining stars that would guide him home. “I—er—don’t think so…” replied Shakespeare. “Yeah—you’re that prodigy! Your play premiered last night at the Globe!” “Oh, that little thing.” Shakespeare’s cheeks burned. 16
“I’ve never seen such a body count!” The barista turned, located the Chemex, and unfurl’d a pap’r filter. “And the language—the inventiveness!” He weighed the grounds and loaded them into the filter. “The beautiful turns of phrase!” With great care, he wielded his gooseneck kettle, pouring the boiling water o’er the grounds. “You’re going to be something special one day, Mister…” he turned. It did not escape The Bard that the barista could have simply decanted a pre-brewed cup from one of the large, silv’r tanks. Pour-over was usually a special ask. “Shakespeare.” “Shakespeare,” the barista teased the name across his pallet like the finest of wines as he dispensed the coffee into a little pap’r cup. He emblazon’d the eleven digits across the cup in elegant, sweeping cursive. Their hands intermingl’d, once more, as Shakespeare accepted the beverage. The musk-and-clove scent of the barista’s cologne teased The Bard’s nostrils. He smiled, stealing a glance at his companion’s nametag. He repeated those syllables in his head—those two wondrous, honey-soaked syllables—committing them to memory. Dustin. When they, at last, separated, it left Shakespeare so disjointed that he tipped the boiling coffee onto his hand. “Are you working on your magnum opus? Right here, in our humble Starbucks?” Dustin gestured to the laptop. Shakespeare’s lip did tremor beneath the weight of an impending scream. Tears did sting the corners of his eyes. His palm did sizzle with a madd’ning fury. But ’twas of tantamount importance he maintained his aloof manner. Hot! Hot! Hot! “Perhaps. ’Tis neither here nor there,” he said, and attempted a wink. But it actualized itself as a pained half-grimace. Hot! Hot! Hottttt! In one swift motion, he turned and shuffled to a table in the opposite corner of the room. The instant he sat down, he raided the napkin dispens’r, pressing a wad to the afflicted palm. Through teary eyes, he peered at Dustin who, mercifully, had directed his attention to the next customer. 17
Sniffling, Shakespeare booted up his laptop. He gazed longingly at the open window, “Macbeth.doc.” Then, sighing, he X-ed out of it and pulled up Indeed.com.
ACT II “Shakespeare, what’s your approach to writing search engine-optimized content?” “Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered,” Shakespeare indulged in a long pull of complementary Fiji water. “But mine is a methodically charted course.” Fran Stankowitz, Director of Content, made known her ballpoint pen with a menacing click. Her stare cut like the wind of a discontented winter. “I embark upon my journey by consulting a keyword planning tool—preferably SEMrush.” The Bard poked a finger under his polyest’r collar, attempting to create some breathing room. “I search my desired topic to gain a crow’s nest-view of keyword volume and competitiveness. Then I casteth off toward my desired keyword, shaping my content ’round it.” With another gulp of Fiji water, he stalled, trying to recall the rest of that HubSpot article. “Quality backlinks are my trusty crew—they establish credibility when search engines doth crawl the site. Once I’ve reached the shore, I load my content into WordPress, add images with alt tags, and craft a 155-character meta description. Then, ’tis time to post.” For a spell the words hung there, unaddressed. As Fran completed her notes, Shakespeare fought with all his might, the urge to loosen his tie’s violent chokehold. At last, Fran, with great delib’racy, set her pen down. “Well, that was quite…” She paused, furrowing her brow. “Verbose…” Shakespeare winced, bracing himself for the sting of rejection. She studied her notes. “But your SEO fundamentals are sound.” Her glare softened to a smile. “Thanks,” he murmur’d, masking his disbelief. “You’re currently an Intern at The Globe Theater. Why do you want to switch to a career at The Content Depot?” Because I envy the panhandler’s riches. 18
“Art thee kidding? The Content Depot is the most respected name in online content creation.” “And you won’t miss writing your plays?” “’Tis just a hobby, really—something to dabble in after work with a glass of red wine.” Fran leaned back in her chair. “Your writing sample was excellent, your SEO knowledge is strong, and your qualifications would bring a unique perspective…” She crossed her arms. “I guess my last question is, where do you see yourself in ten years?” Taking roses and und’rgarments to the face as I step onstage for the Macbeth curtain call. Waking up the following morning to a Times review that employs such language as “an emotional tour de force” and “the singular voice of his generation.” Smoking a fine cigar on a French veranda as I auction off the film rights. “Why, right here at The Content Depot,” he wrenched off his tie, gasping for breath, “managing a team.” *** Tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, creeps at a snail’s pace— Shakespeare slammed the “backspace” key. ’Tis wrong. ’Tis all wrong! “Snail’s pace?” ’Tis a vapid cliché. This monologue must outlive the gilded monuments of princes! It must reverb’rate through the annals of history with the undying— “Hey, Shakespeare, we need some content about The Bachelor—the season premiere airs in two weeks!” “Certainly,” Shakespeare said, and minimized Macbeth.doc. “I shall add it to my queue.” “Great.” Fran scribbl’d it on The Content Calendar—a sprawling whiteboard that traversed the south wall of the office. Seeing it all laid out at once—the millions of drudgerous words that lay ahead—ne’er failed to make Shakespeare wince. “Let’s keep the content machine churning!” This aphorism, “the content machine,” had manifested itself in the darkest catacombs of Shakespeare’s subconscious. It came thund’ring to him in his dreams, an industrial-era monolith dwarfing all that stood before it. A convey’r belt fed the machine globs of flesh extract’d from various fixtures of the human anatomy—love handles, 19
kidneys, and, in some cases, lungs. After a great deal of sputt’ring and whirring and smoke-breathing, long scrolls of parchment emerged out the other end, inked in Comic Sans. Gregorian Monks flanked the content machine on all sides, heads bowed in rev’rence. In perfect unison, they chanted “which Friends character am I?” These words reverb’rated through Shakespeare’s skull, drowning out all else. And then the chanting did cease, the conveyor belt did cut off, the machine did sputter to a halt. Only Fran’s footsteps had the audacity to break the silence. She emerged before him, clasping some unseen object behind her back, iridescent smile piercing the gloom. With a cackle, she placed it in his palm. A dagger. The monks began their chanting anew: “15 Game-Changing Life Hacks.” Shakespeare held the cold blade to his gut, squeezed his eyes shut, and counted down from ten. Three, two, one… ’Twas at this moment that he always shot awake, tangl’d in the sheets, drenched in sweat. The Bachelor’s 10 Hottest Hunks. Quiz: Which Bachelor Hunk is Your Soul Mate? Oh, No She Didn’t: The Bachelor’s 15 Feistiest Cat Fights Shakespeare jotted these titles in a Google Doc, dismayed by how eas’ly they came to him. Sighing, he gazed upon the long rows of writers, trapped in this diabolical fact’ry farm—oblivious to their own imprisonment, and developing seasonal affective disorder as the days crept by outside the windowless walls of the warehouse. Shakespeare witnessed not a summer day, nor beheld the darling buds of May. There was only cruel blue light and brick. The occasional cough cut through the din.
ACT III The sun’s first rays bruised the horizon. London shimmer’d before Shakespeare, a crystalline jewel, cruel in its unattainability. At the edge of his vision sat The Globe, stately and unwavering. Through his floor-to-ceiling windows the light did break, tinging his marble countertops, his stainless-steel appliances, and his sharply-angled furniture a delicate purple. All the world’s witches could not conjure a more perfect morn’ for playwriting. He indulged in one last swig of coffee and click’d the “W” icon. And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to crusty death! 20
Sighing, The Bard opened Gmail. But he had not a single parcel, save for a 15% off promotional email from Starbucks. He refresh’d. Still nothing. He opened Macbeth.doc once more. ’Tis nothing more than a dumpster fire in iambic pentameter. He deleted the monologue in its entirety. I require a spark of inspiration. Shakespeare snagg’d his Mason jar of Purple Haze—a strain that, according to his dealer, would give him “dope-ass creative vibes.” Throwing on David Bowie, he grinded the herb into fine particles and, with ceremony, loaded them into his vaporiz’r. Just a couple hits—I must keep my wits about me. Inevitably, The Bard did find himself high as balls. Now, the monologue may well have been penn’d in Hieroglyphs. I suppose I must wait for the come-down. He glanced at the clock. Then, peeking o’er his shoulders, he dispensed three pumps of lotion and armed himself with two tissues. He open’d an Incognito window and typed: www.ManHub.com *** “Seriously?” Dustin broke from Shakespeare’s kiss, lip upturn’d in disgust. “What ails you, my lambkin?” “You’re not even hard.” Those four words pierced the evening like a dagger. For a spell, Shakespeare consider’d the bonsai in the corner of the room. He marvel’d upon the years it must’ve taken to train it into its current shape—a series of descending right angles, like a staircase. “Fret not!” Shakespeare clasped his companion’s hand. “Tonight, I shall play bottom.” “That’s not the point.” Dustin slung his legs over the edge of the bed. “What is the point? Enlighten me.” “You really want to know?” 21
“I inquired, did I not?” Dustin unleashed a long-bottl’d sigh. “You constantly complain that you’re too good to work at The Content Depot. That you’re this generational talent forced into a life of servitude.” “I am.” “But you haven’t even finished that damn play you started when we met. It’s been three years, for Christsakes.” “Great art takes time.” “I’m not denying that.” Dustin pulled his T-shirt back o’er his bronzed shoulders. “But when was the last time you earnestly worked on it? The last time you sat down at your desk and didn’t get stoned and wank off?” “Why, just this morning!” “Come on.” Dustin shot him a knowing look. “Your eyes are red as cherry tomatoes.” “’Tis my allergies.” “I tasted the lotion on you.” Shakespeare, again, regarded the bonsai. O’er the ceaseless beating of the decades, did it even realize it was being trained? Or did it, one day, with great shock and horror, find itself warp’d into this perversion of nature? “If you never finish Macbeth, that’s fine—I don’t care if you’re a famous writer.” Dustin kicked his feet into his pantaloons. “It’s the bitterness that concerns me.” “Bitterness?” “All you do is brood and fret and murmur half-baked soliloquies. It’s like you’re the lead in one of your own tragedies.” Dustin laced up his sneakers. “And God forbid you see so much as an upward curl on the corners of someone else’s lips.” His brow harden’d like a Grecian statue. “’Tis a blatant falsehood!” Despite his dismay, Shakespeare felt a swelling in his loins. Dustin was no longer a pusho’er—tonight, he was a great conjuror of tempests. “I was o’erjoyed for you when you won your kickboxing regional championship!” 22
“It’s CrossFit. I do CrossFit now,” Dustin snarl’d, turning toward the door. “And for the record—” Before he could finish, Shakespeare was upon him, kissing him with vi’lence. Almost instantly, Dustin acquiesced, body submitting itself to The Bard. Shakespeare tore Dustin’s T-shirt as he wrestled it off him. Dustin trembl’d and moaned as Shakespeare undid his belt buckle, whipped him around, and pinned him against the wall. *** In the stagnant hours of the early morn’, Shakespeare awoke. He laid his hand upon Dustin’s side of the bed, but ’twas cold and empty. The imprint of his body still linger’d. “Dustin?” Only a distant siren dared to break the silence. “Dustin?!” Shakespeare rose in a panic, darting through his apartment. The place suddenly felt foreign, cold with its aquarium windows, its disorienting paintings, its many hard edges. The all-white color scheme now seem’d institutional, as if he were standing in a hospital. Or perhaps an asylum. Frantically, he rifled through Dustin’s bathroom drawer, his bookshelf, his closet. But all traces of him had vanished.
ACT IV ’Twas the morn’ of Flannel Friday that Shakespeare first saw it. Or, perhaps, first register’d it. His hairline was no longer a lush thicket of brown locks. Alas, it had receded like the tide upon a pebbled sho— A Gmail notification rang out: Dear Shakespeare, It’s great to hear from you again! Glad things are going well at The Content Depot. I had a chance to review your manuscript. Though it had some great moments— particularly with the witches and the self-fulfilling prophecy—I regret to inform you that we can’t stage Macbeth at The Globe at this time. Please don’t take this as a statement about the quality of your work. We’re currently in a run of plays by a hot young prodigy and we simply don’t have the budget for anything else. 23
Thank you for thinking of us and we wish you the best of luck staging this elsewhere. Sincerely, James Burbage P.S. I think the “tomorrow” speech needs a stronger last line! With thund’rous keystrokes, Shakespeare printed the entirety of Macbeth.doc and deleted the file from his hard drive. He took the solitary copy of his magnum opus to the parking lot, sparked up his lighter, and watched it burn, visions of mewling infants and saw-spewing geriatrics and Dustin’s bronzed shoulders dancing in the flames.
ACT V “So do our minutes hasten to their end,” Shakespeare said, and gazed out his office’s slit window, watching a marshal of bulldozers assemble in the courtyard. Growling with menace, the machines surrounded the little arboretum christen’d after the CEO: “Birnam Wood.” “Soon you’ll be counting royalty checks in a Kensington high-rise,” his old cubemate, Doug, had told him, all those hump days ago. “Sure as Birnam Wood still stands.” The backhoe raised its shovel to the sky, throwing an eerie shadow o’er the courtyard. The story had been all over the papers—a tourist had released an invasive beetle species in the arboretum. Slowly, methodically, the insects gnawed through the rare trees—Japanese Maples and Katsuras and Little Poncho Dwarf Dogwoods—leaving gnarled branches in their wake. The once-vibrant ecosystem was now an incubator for a great plague. The op’rator took a long drag of his cigarette, relishing the anticipation. Even Birnam Wood was doomed to face the scythe. Shakespeare’s calendar alarm dinged, jolting him from his trance. Q4 Content Planning Meeting He stepped out of his office, admiring the ranks of writers sitting at attention. Each was ready to charge into the uncertainty of the blank page. To risk Carpal Tunnel and Scoliosis on his command. 24
“Happy Monday.” Shakespeare uncapp’d an Expo marker. “The season premiere of The Great British Bake Off draws near. Does anyone wish to write a piece on that?” “I got it.” “Andrea, thank you kindly,” Shakespeare added it to The Content Calendar, whose scrawls now engulfed all four of the office’s walls. *** When Shakespeare return’d to his office, Birnam Wood was no more. A barren pit of dirt sat in its place. There were no signs that the contractors had been present—not even a stray tread mark. A single Dogwood flower whipped in the wind, smoldering orange in the slow burn of the sunset. The Bard sat at his desk, preparing to copy edit a Peaky Blinders quiz. But, alas, he could not muster the focus. He could hear only the deafening roar of computer keys and mouse clicks. It drowned out all semblance of thought. The Bard tried to silence it with noise-canceling headphones but, alas, ’twas futile. This was the sound that tormented him in the small hours of the night, rend’ring sheep-counting impossible. This was the sound that, when he did sleep, rumbl’d just beneath the confines of his dreamscape. This was the sound of his legacy. A life’s work measured in “clicks.” Shakespeare open’d the bottom drawer of his desk and removed an oversized Ziplock. Inside was a pillow. Dustin’s pillow. The last relic of The Bard’s youth. He lower’d his blinds, cracked the bag open, and inhaled the scent like a drug fiend. As he exhaled, a line came to him, as if summoned by an incantation. Opening a new Word doc, he let it flow: It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Y O U TO O K A L L M Y S W E E T, Y O U T H O U G H T I T WA S N E AT S c ot t Al l e n R ob e r t s
YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE RAIN Kel ly Emmr i ch
Bre nto n R o s s ow
D I A RY O F A TEENAGE HEROIN ADDICT
D av i d Po s e s
Journal Entry # 144 Dark brown carpet on the floor and halfway up the walls. Frosted sconces with snowflakes etched into the glass. Bible-bibles and AA bibles in the lounge. Offices with placards on the doors. Names and titles. Therapist. The rapist. Green bedroom. 4 beds. Popcorn ceiling. Unbreakable bathroom mirror (can’t slit wrists). One narrow, rectangular window; the kind you crank open (crank missing). Frost on screen. Random footprints in snow. Wall of pine trees. Industrial smoke overcast sky. I exhale onto the glass, draw a smiley face in the condensation, and watch it evaporate in deafening silence. My eyes are heavy. They refuse to close. I don’t know how to go to sleep, only pass out. What if my body doesn’t learn to shut down on its own? What if my brain never shuts up? Why am I here? Journal Entry #143 A security guard snaps his sausage fingers into a surgical glove. Specks of talcum dust dance in a beam of sunlight. As the perfunctory welcome to rehab bag search commences, Ron—my counselor— plants his hands on the wall, stretches, and lays out the quote unquote “program.” 29
Working with God and with people whose existence can be irrefutably proven, I’m supposed to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I cannot accept, and work the 12 steps, the first of which involve admitting powerlessness over alcohol (it doesn’t matter that I can count my experiences with alcohol on one finger), believing that only God can restore me to sanity, and turning my life and will over to Him. Then I make a moral inventory, admit my wrongs, and ask God to remove character defects and make amends with whomever I wronged whilst in the throes of addiction. Finally, I’ll have a spiritual awakening and carry the message to other alcoholics. God. Santa Claus-for-grown-ups didn’t do shit for my Mom’s cancer, but He helps junkies, drunks and crackheads. Dave. Addiction is a disease. Mom didn’t choose to have cancer. I choose to stick needles in my arms. Depression is pain. Heroin is a pain killer. Depression is an excuse, Dave. You’re rationalizing. Is there another word for rational rationale? Ron gapes at me in teapot stance: hands on backs of hips. He says I’m here because Santa rescued me from some nebulous, figurative place called rock bottom. Unless you wanna end up dead in a ditch on the side of the road, you put your life and will in God’s hands. What if I get down with God and relapse? Will He take the blame? Dave. How can I put my life and will in anyone’s hands if I’m powerless? Dave. Okay, if I put my life and will in God’s hands, aren’t I still powerless? Dave. What if He’s a morning person with bad taste in music and a yin for backgammon? Dave. What if He calls me Dave? Elbow-deep in my duffle bag, Security goes. They yoink my Discman and CDs. Contraband. 30
Dave. Dave. Dave. If I call your folks, are they gonna say you knew we don’t allow music to be brought in? Why can’t we– Because it’s a trigger, Dave. Music is a trigger. I already gave up the only thing that ever comforted me. Now I’m giving up the only thing that came close. Journal Entry #142 Mom didn’t say where someone would meet me, only that someone would. Is this a test? I go downstairs to baggage claim. An older guy—Pete—has a sign with my name on it. My duffel is the first thing out of the chute. I follow Pete to a minivan at the farthest reaches of the frozen parking lot. No radio. Pete reads street signs aloud for half an hour. A Mazda with a car bra on its hood passes us. If the point is to avoid scratches and unsightly blemishes, why is this guy covering the space he wants to protect with something bigger and unsightlier? Got me, Dave. At a red light, Pete hits the windshield with fluid, fashions his hand into a visor, and watches the blades do battle with a splotch of bird shit. Then he looks at me. I got the disease, too. Just so you know. ? Yessiree, Bobeereno; looking for answers at the bottom of a bottle till God took me in His arms. Fuck. Journal Entry #139 No blood in the foyer. No broken glass or loose change. No idea what happened or why Dad randomly showed up last night. Thank you? Dave, the people you really need to thank are Howie and Joey. You wouldn’t be 31
going to Hazelden if Joey hadn’t made a phone call on your behalf. The garage opens in the middle of Dad’s spiel. Of course Mom cut her trip short. Mom knew. Joey is Aunt Jo. Jo was a junkie. Now she’s a lawyer. Mom and Dad on the couch, a cushion apart. Me on the floor. Hugging my knees. Digging into my cuticles. Trying to remember the last time the three of us were in the same room. Mom sobs and asks questions. Why? When? Dad clasps his hands behind his head and closes his eyes. I swallow hard and choose my words carefully. Rob had some heroin. I asked to try it. When, David? I don’t know. A couple months ago? Mom buries her head in her hands and bawls. Dad gets up and roars. He’s in the city every night, associating with club kids and known dope fiends. How did you not know he was fucked up? I want to say she didn’t know I was fucked up because I wasn’t fucked up. I want to say not taking Prozac was self-destructive. Heroin actually works but since it’s illegal, taking it is self-destructive and I’m a drug addict? I want to point out that the Declaration of Independence grants me an unalienable right to pursue happiness. This whole debacle happened because I decided to quit. Is rehab really necessary? Robin. Do you want to bury your son? Dave will be dead in a week if he doesn’t go. I agree to go. Dad says something about tracking down my car and leaves. Mom hugs me. Please. Promise me you’ll never do…I can’t even say it…that shit…again. I promise. Journal Entry #138 Bunny rabbits on TV, going bok bok b’kok like chickens/pooping chocolate eggs. Load up on Cadbury’s Crème Eggs. Easter is coming. I hit the red button next to the bed. A nurse appears. 32
I want to go home. Nurse basically moonwalks into the hall; gets Dr., who says the relapse rate is extremely high for heroin addicts who don’t complete a detox blah blah blah blah. How long have you been on the smack? About three years; started in the summer between 10th and 11th grade. And your folks just found out? It’s not hard to hide. Who thinks the captain of the tennis team is a junkie? You do a lot of other drugs? Just heroin. I yank out the IV and leave. Dr. follows, whisper-yelling disclaimers. United Hospital isn’t liable if I leave against medical advice and something happens. He makes me sign a form in the lobby. I call Dad from a payphone. Journal Entry #137 Thought I was dreaming when I heard Dad’s voice. Switchblade authority. Wake up and smell the coffee, Robin. Your son’s a dope fiend. I start coughing. Everything hurts. This fat guy comes out of the kitchen, scratching his inner cheek with his pinky nail. Hey, yo. Bob. The dope fiend is up. Dark outside. Clock says 6:06. AM? PM? Dad appears; phone cradled in his neck. All gray hair. Narrow-eyed once over. Bob. Whaddaya want me to do? I don’t know, Howie. Sit on him so he doesn’t try it again? Howie tackles me to the floor and plants his giant ass on the base of my spine; hot dog and bad coffee breath. I squirm and laugh. I cough up bile. My nose starts bleeding. Howie peels me off the floor. He rubs my shoulders and nods at a broken glass jar and loose change at the end of a trail of blood from the kitchen to the front door, on the tiles and the mat, caked into the grout. 33
How much dope did you think you’d score with that? Dad returns. I take it the ex-wife wun’t too thrilled, Bob? She can’t help it. It’s hard not to sound batshit crazy when you’re batshit crazy. They carry me out of the house like a cheap rug and throw me in the back of Dad’s BMW. A blur of strip malls and dirty snowbanks. It’s still dark when we pull into the ER entrance @ United Hosp. Dashboard clock: 7:45. PM. Dad lets Howie and me out under the overhang. Columns. I remember Mr. Tacelly in 5th grade. Doric. Ionic. The other one. A nurse cuts off my clothes without explanation and gives me a gown that leaves little to the imagination in the rear. She puts me in a wheelchair and rolls me down a hall. Phony wooden placards on doors; names and titles etched in white. Therapist. The rapist. Third floor double room. Turquoise shower curtain in the middle. My moaning roommate watches The Price Is Right on mute. Nurse sticks in an IV with a sympathetic grin. You might feel a slight pinch. Howie says, you think this is tough? Try kicking in a friggin jail cell around 20 hard motherfuckers. Dad. Out of breath. Hunched over. Hands on thighs. Nurse says to get comfortable. You’ll be here a few days unless– Dad says, yep. Joey’s on it. He looks at Howie. Foamy white ceiling tiles with Rorschach pattern water stains. Florida, no panhandle. Does anyone see the narwhal on the ceiling? Crickets. Mom would’ve seen the narwhal. Mom would’ve found other things, too. Everyone leaves. Last time I was here, Mom had cancer. The first time. Dad took Daniel and me to see her after surgery. Who says, probably when their kid asks if his mother is going to die? Nobody was in the booth where you pay to get out of the parking lot. Dad tried to drive around the 34
gate and cursed up a storm. Daniel and I cheered in the back seat. Corinthian. The third column. Journal Entry #136 Electric currents course through my body. Ants march up and down my spine. Air is a frozen razor, slicing my tight, moist skin. The last vestiges of dope race from every pore and orifice. My half-dead eyes watch from the bathroom mirror. Sunken cheeks; pale, pasty skin; short, brittle, dyed orange hair. Seconds take hours to pass. My bones ache. Head is stuffy. Sore throat. Sex Pistols cranked on the stereo. Bodies. Johnny Rotten screaming about a squirming, gurgling, bloody mess. I remember the empty bag in the trash under the kitchen sink, fish it out, scrape. Why do junkies in movies go through such an elaborate process to fix a hit? Powder + distilled water. Spoon. Mash with flat end of register. No heat. No drawing back and pulling blood out of my body for no reason. Vein pops. Slam the needle in. Phantom taste of dope in my mouth. Body temp normalizes. On TV, a kid hits a baseball over a fence in a little league game. His proud father charges onto the field and tousles his hair. Cut to McDonaldsÂŽ for a Happy Meal. I close my eyes. This has to stop.
BAT D R E A M S
Bre nto n R o s s ow
ROOM NUMBER 3
R a ch el R ot h
he chipped white door with the rusty handle located in the Red Wood Motel belonged to room Number 3, and it was the only space Kaleb had ever called home. It was not a prestigious motel and the room was not welcoming. Its faded flower wallpaper had been peeling off since 1979, and only a blind man could have ignored the mysterious red stains perfunctorily removed from the carpet. The cheap wood of the bathroom floor was discolored in several areas and had a habit of sticking to your feet wherever you stood, but the strongest memory trapped within the room was the closet door that had been savaged by a corroded axe. People came and went but the room never forgot. “Open the goddamned door or I’ll break it down!” The room reeked of cigarettes and dog hair from the many Labradors and Pit Bulls that had rolled their bodies against the filthy carpet despite the “No Dogs Allowed” sign hanging in the lobby. The canines would stink up the room while their owners chain smoked in front of the outdated television, brainstorming their way out of whatever luckless situation that landed them in room Number 3 of the Red Wood Motel. “Oh, please God, I didn’t mean it, forgive me, I didn’t mean it.” No one stayed at Red Wood unless they were either running or hiding, all except for Kaleb, who had once loved its bruised walls. He’d taken his first steps and first breath in that very room. Even with years separating his adult self from the innocent boy of the past, in his vigilant dreams he saw the room exactly as he’d left it, with the same 38
blood-stained carpet under the same water-stained ceiling surrounded by the odors of a thousand dogs now dead and gone. The only clean object inside, the white twin-sized bed positioned on the right side of the wall, had never been moved. Not a crumb nor wrinkle marred its perfection, nothing but a single gun and seventeen polished knives his mother lovingly petted every night before she made her prayers to God. Naming them after every man that’d both loved and hurt her, including Kaleb himself, she slept with them tucked away under her pillow like a horde of entombed lovers. The dream never changed and like every other time Kaleb stepped inside for a visit, he ventured through the memory very much awake. He’d never thought of himself as a lucid dreamer but as a wonderer able to voyage into the less secured locations of Hell. A pile of bricks was stacked against the wall, identical to those piled atop the unmarked grave behind the building. Kaleb watched as the entire wall became boarded up with dark red bricks full of worms and other insects squirming inside the holes along the cemented lines and watched as they all collapsed. A large hole broke through, showing a dimly lit tunnel leading to places unknown. But that was a lie. He knew where the tunnel led and backed away before temptation lured him any further just as a low whine came from deep inside. Kaleb shut his eyes, wishing it’d fill on its own as the whine turned into the voice of a pleading woman begging for someone to help before she flipped her two-faced soul on its tail’s side and began laughing. Kaleb turned around so his back faced the wall, but on the other side of him was another hole leading underground. He already knew what he’d see inside; an exact replica of room Number 3, joined by a mirroring image of Kaleb himself. Down below, his mother laid asleep in her bed that was as neat as how’d she left it, laying on top of the covers: The way she always slept. Kaleb backed away, falling over a lone brick that had crept up behind him. “It wasn’t me. They were wearing my face.” Landing on the floor, he turned his head and saw his mother had moved from sleeping in the bed to hiding underneath it. She was still as stone, only looking back at him. 39
“There’s someone in my bed,” she whispered. The weight of fear pinned him to the floor as the woman crying for help finally stopped. His hands were heavy with the memory he wished they could forget. The weight lifted for a moment and though he couldn’t see it, Kaleb felt the tormenter’s silhouette creep through the room, approaching the bed and lounging back where they didn’t belong. “There’s someone in my bed.” Kaleb opened his eyes and saw the room exactly as he left it.
Gui l h e r m e B e r g amini
S a ch a Bi s s o nn e t t e
his story is inspired by the real life events of a boy and his nurse. ***
I don’t think anybody would die in the winter if they were given the choice. If you’re from Canada, you most likely know the feeling. If you’re from Ottawa, then you definitely know the feeling. You know how the winter and its cold finds their way in; how days without sunlight change people and the beautiful sheets of immaculate white turn into that of sloppy grey, and slowly you begin to believe that the world has actually ended and that you exist on a post-apocalyptic Earth created by Cormac McCarthy. I call it “Northern Gothic.” Our winter grabs hold of you and lets the cold seep in. Last year we recorded our longest winter in history. It was laughable, watching people equip themselves with anti-winter hazmat suits, bundled head to toe, so as to not let the deadly cold in. Our winter does that: it seeps in and kills the unsuspecting... kills the young and the old. Last year was also when I met Josh. Josh was dying. He told me he was dying the first day that we met. He also told me he was fifteen years old and that it was my job to care for him. He said it so matter-of-fact while thumbing the controls of some racing game, his eyes peeled on the virtual road in front of him. I have worked as a nurse for most of my career. A few years before meeting Josh, I applied to transfer internally within the hospital. I was switched into a section for terminally-ill children and youth. That was difficult, to say the least. It’s not the kind of thing you’re ever really prepared for. I mean, people die all the time in the hospital. It’s not 42
like in nursing school there were courses that taught us how to deal with witnessing all the hope and life drain out of a child and watching them accept that they got handed the shittiest deal. Sure, there were bereavement courses, grief courses, but nothing that prepared us for this. Maybe that’s why I never thought about having kids; it’s hard to move forward as a parent. I see it, over and over. Leukemia is evil, Josh’s dad tells me. He explains that Josh was diagnosed with the chronic version of it. That chronic leukemia happens only when some of the affected blood cells stop functioning normally, causing a slower degradation. The five-year survival rate for all diagnosed patients is just over sixty percent. This of course I know. This, I was taught in nursing school. But I let him talk anyway. Every word was articulated in a way that indicated he was of an intelligent man who just wanted to shut off, or trade places. He told me that Josh has fought a long and tiring battle and that before Josh got sick, he was an avid reader. “Josh loved his books, like father like son,” he says, mustering what little joy he still can, half a smile forming on the right side of his face. “He was always nose-deep in his Hardy Boys collection. He had them all perfectly placed on the long shelf in his room. All fifty-eight copies were released as the original canon. Do you know the Hardy Boys?” he asks, with most of the color gone from his face. “Yes, of course,” I answer. I don’t have the heart to tell him I was mostly a Nancy Drew type of girl. Like mother like daughter I guess. My copies were separated into two boxes in her basement. I know that focusing on reading has become increasingly hard with Josh’s new pain management program. Now he spends most of his time silently thumbing the controls of that silly racing game. That evening as I showered and lay in bed, I thought about the conversation I had with Josh’s dad. Something wasn’t sitting right about it, something seemed weird. During the time I had cared for Josh, not once did he mention books or ask to be read to. I wanted to know how a boy whose dad had described him as an avid reader—a bookworm—was so taken by a silly racing game. The world of books had always been an escape for me. I was curious. The next day I popped into his room to check on him. He was in his usual state. “Why are you always playing that game?” I asked. Josh looked at 43
me, smiled weakly, and turned back to the screen. “Isn’t there something else you might like to do, like go outside or something,” I pried. “My Dad said you like the Hardy Boys too,” he responded, eyes still fixed on the screen. “Do you remember what happened in volume 6, The Shore Road Mystery?” I made a face as if I was trying to remember. “Well, if you were a true Hardy Boys fan, then you would know that Joe completely destroyed his motorcycle.” I was trying to figure out where Josh was going with this trivia. “And because this happened, Joe and Frank ended up buying a yellow convertible,” he continued. “That thing was so freaking cool!” he exclaimed, his eyes bright and wide. Then as quickly as his face lit up it fell blank again. It clicked, I understood, and immediately I felt dumb. “I’m never going to be able to drive,” he said, with a few tears running down his face, the two of us staring up at that not-so-silly racing game. In the following two weeks, Josh’s cancer went from bad to worse. With the assault of his sixth cycle of chemotherapy on his healthier cells, normal functions became increasingly difficult. He slept constantly and ate less. When he was lucid, he was in a fog, only sometimes making sense. And, of course, there were the violent episodes of vomiting. That sound is impossible to forget. Josh’s parents were constantly by his side. Visitors increased while visiting time decreased. Family flew in from all over the country. Teenage girls and boys were either sobbing or showing Josh their toughest face when he was awake. The doctors predicted that at best, it was a matter of weeks. My hospice care course taught me that often, just before someone passes, they may experience a surge of energy and positivity. A deceiving surprise, that throws families for a loop. I was afraid to tell Josh’s mother. So when Josh started eating again, when his mood got better, I just administered the usual pain medication and forced a smile, hoping this time would be different. On a wet and slushy Tuesday evening, Josh was in a particularly upbeat mood, he was walking around, eating a bit and playing his racing game. Josh’s parents took this opportunity to go home, shower and change, eat something decent, and take a breath that wasn’t hospital air. Josh’s father was due back for the overnight shift. That gave 44
us a few hours to ourselves and I had a plan. I waited exactly forty-five minutes after his parents left and the nurses shift changed for a clear opportunity. I took my keys out of my coat pocket and aimed towards Josh. “Think fast!” I shouted as I threw my keys at him. He caught them with his right hand. “No fucking way!” he shouted in return. “Shit, sorry, I didn’t mean to swear, but is this really happening?” I was breaking so many rules… and the law. “Well, if you think you’ve got the strength and can look perfectly normal, then let’s get to the parking lot.” I handed him a sweater, a jacket, two pairs of sweatpants and a toque, all that I had snuck in a while before and shoved in the back of a supply closet, hoping for the right moment. Against doctors’ orders and my better judgment, I helped Josh bundle up head to toe. He winced, holding in some pain. We snuck out of the hospital like a scene from the Hardy Boys, inching from room to room and making way towards the elevator. There weren’t too many people around to foil our plan, except for Mary, who was at the front desk. We had to improvise, so I lied to Mary about Josh wanting to get some air. To this day, I have no idea if she believed me. Then, Josh took control. He pressed on the keys and my car honked and lit up. “I’m sorry it’s not a yellow convertible. It’s an automatic beetle,” I said, disappointed. “Who cares, dude?” He grinned, walking as fast as he could towards the car. To be honest, I was nervous. If anything were to happen, I would lose my job… or much worse. I caught up to him as he was trying to slide into the driver’s seat and I helped him into position. I buckled him in and walked around to the passenger side. I had never been a passenger in my own car, though sometimes I fantasized about a handsome man driving me across Canada someday. Instead, I was here with Josh, an excited teenager. “These are the rules, ok? We don’t want to get into even more trouble. I want you to—” before I could finish my sentence, Josh switched into drive and immediately stepped on the pedal. I had been parking the furthest away in an almost empty lot for some time now, hoping for a moment like this. He took off jerkily but confidently, pressing in and easing off the gas, but never stopping. He started doing circles, wide 45
at first then getting tighter and tighter, getting used to the feel of it. I was getting a bit car sick but I kept that to myself. Josh drove for what felt like an hour in that slushy parking lot. I even let him drive onto the small roads leading to the different hospital wings. He drove, smiling ear to ear, cutting it as close as he possibly could to his father’s return. Josh parked crookedly, but proudly. As I went to help him out, he grabbed me and hugged me tightly. “Thanks,” he said. “That was so freaking cool.” I held his arm as we headed back to the hospital. Mary just stared at us as we walked through the sliding doors. Josh’s father checked-in about thirty minutes later for the overnight shift but Josh was deep asleep. His father kissed him goodnight on the forehead. Josh died two days later during the worst snowstorm of that winter. Several years have gone by and I’m getting older. Now, when I care for sick children and when the temperature drops just a little too low, I think of Josh. I’ll probably always hate Ottawa winters but just like Josh, I’ll bundle up and go out there. Maybe I’ll never have kids either, because I’m a witness for kids like Josh, and I’m starting to believe that’s enough. I get to look at life in such small and exciting bursts. Like in my car on that slushy Tuesday, I saw the end of a boy’s life who, for a short while, was so completely alive. During the evening when Josh died, I sat on a chair next to his bed, stared out of the window, and watched beautiful sheets of white cover all the tire marks in the parking lot. My little red beetle got covered as well, and I pictured Josh walking as fast as he could toward it.
HONG KONG HORROR SEQUENCE
There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. A pregnant woman is trampled, lying on the floor, bleeding baby, screaming smiles around her. There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. A TV is ripped from the wall mount and hurled downstairs, landing with a splash in the central fountain. There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. The fountain stops. There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. A man starts breaking glass windows with his iron rod and others follow, scattering jewels everywhere. There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. People smoke. With gasoline. There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. A red flag is raised. A red flag is burned. There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. Someone pulls out a gun and shoots— There are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. at a group of kids huddled in the corner of a burning candy store— T here are a lot of people in the mall. Please be careful. scared. 47
商场有很多人。请注意。 一名孕妇被踩踏，躺在地上，流血的婴儿，周围尖叫的笑容。 商场有很多人。请注意。 电视从壁挂架上扯下来，向楼下投掷，降落在中央喷泉中。 商场有很多人。请注意。 喷泉停止运动。 商场有很多人。请注意。 一个男人开始用铁棍打破玻璃窗，其他人跟随，珠宝散落到各 处。 商场有很多人。请注意。 人们抽烟。用汽油。 商场有很多人。请注意。 一个红旗升起。 一个红旗被烧。 商场有很多人。请注意。 有人拔枪瞄准-商场有很多人。请注意。 一群孩子挤在一个燃烧的糖果店的角落里 商场有很多人。请注意。 害怕。 48
Emma Miao after the Tehran Crash Black box sheen, blading onto the smoking deck. Convents of bones, jetting to land. This is a muted fleeting: a silent wail, a cracked clock, a frozen hand. Give me sugar to ease my tongue. Give me a runway pocked with holes. It’s a jammed newsreel — Hear the lodged sheathing of home: of melted candles, of torn photos, of ghosts; I kiss the ground in Vancouver and your heart thuds six thousand miles away. You’re crawling in voices, whispering, folding — I cock my head, tasting your sweet silhouette on my tongue. Moving is the opposite of dying, so I listen; wait. Gazing into emptiness. Two eagles circle the bulldozed ruins, calling out, dissipating into nests. Who isn’t powerless in the dark? Give me the sweet taste of an engine in flames. Give me a golden platter of knives. The snow drifts over my fingertips. I hum softly of departure. Here, reach for my pale hands. Come, accept this bouquet. You are only as pliable as your thoughts. Here, home is nothing at all. The night ebbs, the night flows. January 8, 2020 49
FA C E S ( 2 )
An dre w Fur st
You are out in public minding your own business when you recognize a familiar face. They reach you and say â€œHello!â€? and then they ask how you are doing. What is your response? I Am ______ a. A ghost without a home b. Feeling like the morning after the final call, when grief is welcomed c. Wondering if there is more to do than just survive the day d. Okay
EXTRA CREDIT Say your response like it is insignificant, as if you are telling someone you completed the household chores, walked the dog, or did some yard work. 51
A U TO MAT ED D I G I TA L P H OTO C O L L A GE OF 28TH A ND BROA DWAY To mmy Mint z
G e t t ing my t ub e f lu sh e d t h e d ay b e fore it w a s tak e n out .
Ma di s o n Welb o r n e
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder
’d been in inpatient treatment in Arizona for about two weeks, and I didn’t want to get better. Actually, I didn’t think I was sick, even though I was fifteen and hadn’t had a period in two years as a result of my body being in Starvation Mode. But the osteopenia and depression and heart condition and exercise addiction and malnutrition and “dangerously low weight” and screwed-up labs and my mountain of lies meant nothing to me because I didn’t feel thin enough. In Starvation Mode, all I thought or dreamt about was food, even though eating terrified me more than anything. I didn’t care about anyone or anything except losing weight. It was like the line between human and animal became so thin it collapsed. I was gone. I was starving. I was addicted to starving myself. I went feral for a little while. I remember Ginger, my nutritionist, sitting me down one day. “Madison, we need to talk,” she said. “Ohhh-kay…” It wasn’t our scheduled appointment time. I thought, Did she find the gristle in my sneaker? Have I gained weight? Did the video-cam catch me doing crunches last night in bed? Ginger pulled me into the small nurses’ station in the basement. We sat on the metal chairs. “Your metabolism is on fire,” she said. I hadn’t expected this. I said to Ginger, “I don’t understand.” Ginger placed her palms on her thighs and took a deep breath. “Because you starved yourself for so long, your metabolism shrank to nothing but embers. Now that we’ve been re-feeding you, we’ve added more fuel, and the fire has heated up.” 54
I scrunched my nose. “No, it’s a good thing,” said Ginger. “It means your metabolism is working again.” Her office was cold, and I didn’t like the direction in which this conversation was heading. Ginger cleared her throat. I must’ve had a blank look on my face, because she said, “I’ll put it simply: you’ve lost weight. And it’s not good, Madison. I can’t risk you losing any more. You’re supposed to gain. And your current weight is lower than when you were first admitted here two weeks ago. At this rate, you won’t be able to leave within sixty days…” “Ohhh-kay,” I said again, pleased with my weight loss. But I think I knew what she was hinting at, and it horrified me. Ginger said, “I’m recommending the feeding tube.” I don’t remember what happened next because the anorexia was screeching and plotting in my head. Fucking Hell—you’re already fat—you can’t trust anyone—Ginger’s a fat cunt— These thoughts were so loud that I couldn’t hear myself. I knew what the tube meant: two thousand extra calories each night, your stomach eating while you sleep, weight gain, the taste of peanut buttery fluid called Jevity in your mouth each morning, heartburn, night sweats, nausea, cramping, constipation, dragging your pole if you have to use the bathroom, weight gain…weight gain….weight gain in your stomach and face, fat in all the wrong places… “Madison?” Ginger said. “Madison, are you hearing me?” I shook my head. “What if I refuse?” Ginger crossed her arms, and I sensed war. “You can’t refuse,” she told me. “You’re a minor. All I need is your parents’ consent.” *** There was lubricant on the thin yellow nasogastric tube. The nurse held it in her hands. Both the tube and her gloves looked like little animals. A snake and two starfish. “Which side?” asked the nurse. “I mean, which nostril do you want it in?” I thought about how I sleep on the right side of my body, so I said, “The left.” 55
I sat on the exam table holding a cup of water in my right hand and Amanda’s fingers in my left. Amanda was my best friend in treatment so far. We had the same food rituals and fear foods. We were the same height, 5’9,” and even shared a Goal Weight. Amanda had blonde hair past her breasts and jeans that threatened to fall from her hips at any time. She stood beside me and said, “It’s going to be okay,” which we both knew was cliché and a lie—no one could know whether I’d be okay—but somehow it still helped to hear. She had a light, nasally voice and spoke quietly, as if she thought no one wanted to hear her. Amanda’s arms, neck, and cheeks were covered in fuzzy, blonde hairs. I had that too; it’s called lanugo, a fancy name for animal fur, the kind babies are born with. It grew to insulate us where we didn’t have fat, which was just about everywhere. Amanda technically needed a tube, too, but since she hadn’t refused the staff even once she was allowed to gain her weight back on Ensure Plus drinks. She was the perfect patient, unlike me, who could only eat one Lay’s potato chip at the Meal Experiential and who refused meals and hid food and exercised in secret obsessively. Before I could say no, the snake and two starfish were headed for my left nostril. “Sip through the straw when I tell you to,” said the nurse, “and don’t stop till I say so.” “Will it hurt?” Amanda squeezed my hand tight. The nurse said nothing, and I knew that meant yes. Inside the tube was a stiff, metal rod. It forced the flexible tube upward into my nasal cavities. “Ah!” I leaned back. “Get it out!” My nose was on fire. “Squeeze my hand,” said Amanda. “You can do this.” But she couldn’t even watch. I could see her looking away. The nurse shoved the tube further and further up my left nostril. I kept moving my neck back, trying to make space between me and the snake that caused what felt like a terrible brain scrape. I expected the tube to feel softer sliding up, not like this. Not like sharp pain. Shit, I thought, maybe she missed. Maybe it went up the wrong way. 56
“Almost there,” the nurse said. “Now drink.” I took a sip of water. I watched the thin, yellow tube disappear into my nose. I was swallowing it into my stomach. When I swallowed, my throat pulled the tube down with it, and that hurt. I winced again when she pulled the metal rod out. My throat scratched. Did the doctors mess up on my case? Could I be sick? I really considered it. There was little space in my left nostril. It was harder to breathe. It was harder to eat. It was harder to swallow. It was harder to sleep; I had to sleep sitting up so that gravity would help me to not puke during the feedings. Feedings would start that night at two thousand calories. They’d increase until three thousand, then go down on my Sweet Sixteen. I’d be extended thirty extra days for ninety in total. The nurse taped the tube to my left cheek and tucked the tail behind my ear like it was a stray piece of hair. “That’s it? Am I done?” I said, eager to leave. “Almost.” The nurse held up a syringe. She opened the pink tube cap and squeezed water into my tube. “Don’t worry,” she said. “This part won’t hurt. Some girls actually think it feels nice.” When she flushed the tube, it felt like I’d accidentally sniffed ice water. She was sending cold water through to make sure that I’d swallowed it down properly. I shivered. “You did it!” said Amanda, smiling. I smiled back, but I wasn’t happy. “What will you call it?” Amanda asked, like I’d just given birth. I knew that naming your tube was a tradition in treatment. Some named it Diablo or The Bitch, but I hadn’t bothered to think of a name until now. Once it was settled inside, it was as if I’d known its name all along. It was as if the tube had named itself. I would name it for its intended use: “Ned,” I said. “For No-Eating-Disorder.” “It fits,” said Amanda. I had to agree. The nurse took her gloves off, and we stood up to leave. *** 57
Three months later, the tube removal felt like a stiff sour noodle being pulled from my brain. The nurse said, “Don’t look,” but I did anyway. At the end of the shriveled, yellow tube that had lived in my stomach was brown and black liquid, dripping as it swam out of my left nostril. I tasted stomach acid. Like before, the nurse gave me a cup of water. I swished and spit bile back into the cup. I started to cough. “Can I keep a little piece of it?” I asked the nurse. “No, you can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry.” Then she hid Ned. My face felt naked suddenly; I didn’t realize how used to it I was, seeing the tube taped to my cheek, and feeling it pull in my throat when I swallowed foods like bagels or tacos. We used to blow into the pink ends of our tubes then laugh at the funny noises our stomachs made from the air. Now there was too much room in my left nostril. I could breathe freely, and it didn’t hurt to swallow anymore. I don’t know why I wanted to cry.
M O D E R N A M E R I C A N G OT H I C G e o r g e l St e in
I DROWNED MORTIMER GOTH IN THE POOL AGAIN TODAY
the first time he died, it was an accident. the house I designed was luxurious, but the pool had no ladder. the grim reaper arrived before I even realized I had guests. (forgive me, I was fixated on the family indoors—the parents, who exercised obsessively & painted until they were experts while I commanded their teenage daughter to do her homework until she had As.) he didn’t deserve to die, the tuxedoed patriarch. he was my neighbor, even if (uninvited) he spun into a speedo & stepped off the edge of my backyard deathtrap. but I let it happen again & again. became addicted to the sight of a cloaked skeleton sliding over the lawn & a tombstone springing up from the ether. I was 12. I didn’t know much beyond my body (it kept changing) & other bodies (so much I couldn’t access). I wanted to find the edge of myself. I’m talking about a kid who used to play Harriet the Spy in her yard, who watched her actual neighbors through the fence and took notes on them. a kid who lay backward on her parents’ bed & stared upside-down in her mother’s vanity mirror until her face didn’t look like her at all. when my friends & I stripped down to our underwear in the living room & danced to Toxic by Britney Spears, I didn’t know what I was performing or who it was even for. I only knew that when the others looked at my body, they didn’t understand my want. mortimer was different. he was so confident 60
in his desire to swim, he would come back to the pool after every reload. how envious I was to watch him cheerfully do laps until fatigue did him in. envious enough to put his body on repeat: his simple pleasure & underwhelming demise. I didnâ€™t know then how much drowning there would be for me. how gently I would let myself go under.
BRA SHOPPING WITH MY MOTHER AT 13
In the mirror, Iâ€™m topless. My mother and I at the bra store, my breasts, ash heavy. My mother has been here before and doesnâ€™t blink at the stranger who wants to see me topless, who wants to string a numbered band around my chest, who wants to name the precise heaviness of this ash. Shame makes my nipples grow teeth. They bite at my mother and the stranger who see me in the mirror, topless. Both woman laugh at my teething. They are old enough to hold muscle, old enough to carry the heaviness that is new to me. But I am young and tearing myself in half. In the mirror, I wish I were topless, my breasts blown away by wind so heavy.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
On behalf of The Emerson Review, I would like to start by saying thank you to everyone who has submitted work to us this submission period and over the many years we have been working as a literary magazine. We value all of the work that you send to us, no matter if it is fiction, poetry, nonfiction, photography, or artwork. As you all know, the state of the world has shifted dramatically since January of this year with the spread of Covid-19, and we wanted to acknowledge the challenges that this crisis has brought. As a senior myself, I am heartbroken that I was unable to finish out this year the way I always thought I would. As we all travelled home over the month of March, there was still a lot of work to be done to finalize the magazine and get it ready for publication. While we knew we were not going to be able to physically publish the magazine on our typical production schedule, I want to recognize the dedication of The Emerson Review staff who continued to work tirelessly to make this magazine a reality. I am so thankful to have worked as a part of The Emerson Review for the last four years, and I canâ€™t wait to see what Volume 50 brings when we return to normalcy. To all of our readers, contributors, and staff members, I just want to take a moment to thank you all for your continued support during this unconventional, historic time. I hope you all stay healthy and enjoyed Volume 49 of The Emerson Review. With my sincerest gratitude, Talia Santopadre Editor-in-chief
FEATURING Derek Andersen Guilherme Bergamini Sacha Bissonnette Marisa P. Clark Kelly Emmrich Hugh Findlay Andrew Furst Carrie George Timothy Kelly Karah Kemmerly Emma Miao Tommy Mintz Timothy F. Phillips David Poses
Rachel Roth Scott Allen Roberts Brenton Rossow Sebastian Santiago Barbara Saunier Matthew J. Spireng George l Stein Samantha Steiner Madison Welborne Anni Wilson Karen Zheng Karl Zuehlke Lee Zumpe