FRACTAL Vol. 1, Issue 1
Vol. I, Issue I
Established in 2012, Fractal is a literary magazine founded and edited by students of the University of Southern California. Fractal publishes fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction in print and electronic format. Jackson Burgess, Editor-in-Chief Dalton Banh, Creative Nonfiction Editor Kelly Belter, Fiction Editor Sonali Chanchani, Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Editor Shelby DeWeese, Poetry Editor Winona Leon, Fiction Editor Submit your work and visit us online at uscfractal.com. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover art by Werner Wittersheim Design by Winona Leon Printed in the United States of America Copyright 2013 by Fractal Magazine. All rights reserved.
We welcome you to the inaugural/editors’ issue of Fractal. By presenting some of your work alongside our own, we hope to show what we’re looking for: bold writing that explores what it means to feel. We’re interested in passionate, well-crafted wordplay that opens new possibilities of empathy and imagination. The works in this collection vary widely in tone, style, and subject matter, but we feel they are constitutive of a new generation of writers— one that is on the rise. We say we write to “disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” Fractal strives to do just that. Thank you for your support.
Sincerely, The Editors
CONT FICTION 11
The Night Market
Kelly Belter Sonali Chanchani
ENTS POETRY Jackson Burgess
Dead Dogs Snowman Airplane
8 9 10
After the Fact you and i Something Else
16 17 18
Nikita Lamba Winona Leon
I Want to Plot Points Along Your Body
She Undressed You to Drown You Guilt
21 23 24
Anniversary of a Daughterâ€™s Death
Watercolor Black Ink
Farmyard Fairy Princess Poem V: For Sophia
Dead Dogs on the side of the road are always smiling like I wish I could. Their guts are warm and soft. I want to put them inside me and lie across intersections where drivers will have to swerve. What can I say about lifeless things that hasnâ€™t already been said? How can I scrape God out of my heart without first tearing open my ribs? The cars pull away with tufts of flesh and fur. The tires are warm. The dogs live forever.
Snowman It comes down like frigid dandruff—white flies from the sky. In the morning, I’ll be dead on a shoulder, beneath a lake. Watch me make a replica of myself from snow and mud. I’ll carve out my eyes with a spade. My fingers will splinter and stretch. When the sky opens up and God drags me away, I will leave behind a clone so exact that no one will even know I’m gone. It’ll smile too often. When I feel lonely, I’ll drop rocks into its head.
Airplane Diet Coke and pretzels over eggshell skies, clouds like broken glass, pressure in dark places: eardrums and lungs. Unaddressed love notes I clench like maybe I can wring out something soft and kindâ€” paper cuts between my fingers and under my tongue. Dried saliva, left on my cheek by a girl with nails for teeth and a voice thinner than air. The love notes are all the same. They say, You may be suffering from depression. The girl was a guillotine. She said, You may find it helpful to cry. I told her, I already knew that. I tell the notes, Leave me alone.
He recognized this scene; it was almost as if Edvard Munch had painted it himself, a sea of featureless humans drowning in their sameness, hands clawing at taut faces, their lips pulled back over teeth in a silent Scream. But the sky wasn’t that of Oslofjord, it belonged to Ashwick but depicted a slaughterhouse all the same, flashes of blue and red flooding the night and drowning out jealous stars. The sky hung heavy with sirens and screams, but the electrical gossip of overhead streetlamps was all that seeped into the man’s ears and rattled deep within his ribcage. The man stood motionless as if anesthetized, novocaine tongue thick and dry in his mouth as the students continued to stampede from the gymnasium doors, panicked pubescent girls stumbling in their mothers’ too-high heels and the boys’ once pristine white shirts freshly adorned in deep burgundy that bloomed like boutonnieres. Trampled corsages littered the ground, crumpled remnants of a night once filled with the promise of opportunity to shed one’s innocence like loose skin—not like this, ripped away and raw, a sore that would take years to scab and scar. He watched as yet another stretcher brushed by, this one slower than the rest, draped loosely in a white sheet and humanized only by the delicate stiletto that peeked out at the bottom. The man couldn’t help but breathe a slight sigh of relief at the sight of the shoe, one for which he didn’t even feel guilty as the panic deflated in his chest and he continued to scan the crowd. Suddenly the night began to melt away around the edges, a vignette centered on the pink striped tie being wheeled past: the same one that he’d wore to his own junior prom, the first night that he’d spread a pair of virginal thighs with a simple phrase he would learn to overuse starting that very first time that whiskey coated his vision in the most beautiful haze. But his son wouldn’t know any of that, not tonight,
because all he had was that fucking tie, ornamented with blood spotted and strewn like the constellations, and before he knew it the man was following the stretcher numbly into an ambulance as the buzzing persisted long after they had left the streetlamps behind. A shot to the head, close range, the doctor said. It’s incredible that he’s even alive, the doctor said. Fractured skull, parietal lobe, critical condition. The man knew the doctor’s tight-lipped look, the way he looked just past him as he spoke as if something interested him on the wall, as if he hadn’t examined that same wall in the midst of this same conversation that he’d had a thousand times before. The man sank back onto the hospital bench and looked to the other parents lining the hallway in search of small comfort but found only pale fingers tied in nautical knots and moist cheeks gleaming iridescent in the harsh fluorescent light as doctors shook their heads. Fear settling deeper into his stomach, he forced himself to look away, turning instead to the wall behind him to see what the doctor had so unconvincingly busied his eyes with: a large canvas print bordered by a cheap wooden frame, Munch’s projection of a man, skeletal and depersonalized, staring back at him in an infinite scream to match his own. A pair of navy uniforms down the hall caught the man’s eye, each held at bay by a soft-spoken nurse for whom the man was grateful; he knew nothing of what had happened and didn’t care to know anything but that his son would make it to next year’s prom. He laid his head back against unwelcoming tile and shut his eyes tight, the scene from the school replaying in a blurry eyelid movie, sirens whirling and red gowns twirling in a sickly slow dance far different from the one that had preceded it on the dance floor… The metallic clamor of the soda machine rescued him
from the scene, bringing the man safely back to the waiting area where a pair of young women spoke hurriedly in unsettled tones, too young to be parents but with creases that ran like fault lines across their foreheads nonetheless. Do they know who it was? Nobody’s said anything yet, but they have to, right? I heard he turned the gun on himself before they came. Can you believe it? That’s what all our students are saying, at least… How could a kid accumulate so much hatred in a mere sixteen years of existence? How much had been torn from him before the burden of loss was too great to bear alone? How many mornings had he woken up to a world in which nothing was beautiful enough for him be desirous of it every second of every day for the rest of his life? The man found his thoughts straying to the family of the shooter, wondering what kind of people could raise a child so horrible, so devoid of light that he felt the need to tear it from others as well. The kind of child that pulled the wings from bees, that tormented the family dog, that tore the heads off his sister’s dolls—how could they not see the signs? He quickly reproached himself for such an accusation as he thought of her, the empty bottles of cabernet that lingered on the counter and long days spent in bed, his continual daily escape to work in less-than-blissful ignorance, only coming home to find prescription bottles strewn throughout the bathroom and their young son playing alone in his room. The guilt closed in quickly with a centripetal force as his fingers were consumed by sudden and instinctive wanderlust, venturing subconsciously to the wallet in his front pocket. The picture was bent around the edges, dulled by fingerprints, but it documented her last smile—the last one that he could remember. Their son perched proudly on her lap as each held their new black powder rifle, his already adorned with superhero stickers: their first family hunting trip. I’m so sorry, their family would say later that year as they lingered
around the kitchen table featuring a single obligatory cheese plate, she seemed so happy, this is such a shock to all of us. The man would look out past the black dresses at his son, exiled to the backyard in a desperate attempt to preserve his naivety, but the boy was too busy playing with his water gun, warding off the impending sense of loss with a series of weak squirts, his new toy a sad substitute for stickered rifle that would now collect dust along with his mother’s on the top shelf in the garage. The signs were all there but man hadn’t foreseen his wife’s unraveling either, but even if he had—and if the shooter’s parents had—would it have made a difference anyway? His own son would wake—he had to—but theirs would not, always to be known as the Ashwick shooter, friends’ and family’s fondest memories drowned in the wake of this act, as incomprehensible as the number infinity, and they to forever be scorned for having done nothing to prevent it. Their friends would sit in the furthest pew at church; they would learn to shop for groceries at night. The man was comforted by the realization that they were the only ones who had it worse than he and wondered if they were relieved that their child was dead, leaving them free of all parental obligation to unconditionally love someone they never really knew. The man watched as a woman crumpled down the hall, a lifeless moth in the arms of her husband, as a doctor addressed both in a low voice, his gaze cast to the floor. The husband looked at the doctor with glossy eyes and lips that opened and shut like a freshly hooked bass, his face fish-belly white. His wife cried out repeatedly. Oh, God. Oh my God. The man tried to focus on the words on the tiny TV screen but they burned his eyes, melting together like hot wax. Each of her wails seeped deep into his skin, lingering just beneath the surface even long after the couple had gone. A set of parents across from the man clung to each other, her
face buried deep into his collarbone and his hand clenched tight on her knee, each in unspoken anticipation of news just as bad as the last. The man couldn’t tear his eyes away from that hand, wishing more than ever that he had one to cling to, the edge of the plastic chair a poor substitute. He thought again of his wife, her eyes like little earths, the kind in which he might have once liked to live but which became vacant, post-apocalyptic, and realized that even if she were there with him, she wouldn’t have been able to tell him it would all be okay. …a young, unidentified shooter leaving seven dead and nine injured. The reporter rattled off the facts, each just a statistic to him but an entire world to each of those who lined the hallway. The weapon that was recovered at the scene… It was at that very moment that the world stopped turning. The man could no longer feel his fingers yet somehow they were pulling at his face as the buzzing returned to his ears, louder than ever, and everyone around him evaporated into the tumultuous sky, the fiery air that cloaked Munch’s volcanic world. The doctor now stood before him, a new flicker in his eyes that the man wanted nothing more than to stamp out before the words could escape but it was too late. The woman across the hall offered a smile, weak and jealous of his good news—she couldn’t possibly know how much she could hate him if only she knew, oh, how he envied her ignorance, would give anything to trade even with the couple whose world had crumbled around them as he watched only earlier that day…. The man followed the doctor into the operating room, the sound of his son’s now steady heartbeat already burning in his ears, as the television behind him continued to flash the image of the old black powder rifle, ironically embellished with peeling superhero stickers.
After the Fact My lungs are filled with the ash that has fallen from his cigarettes. Going home is uncomfortableâ€” the house is too quiet and the garage still smells like smoke.
you and i
we are simple as a kiss we have been well-oiled we have been easily broken we have fallen to pale madness we will spend our days climbing searching for lost parents, buttons and dog-eared pages of books we believe what we believe we seek and find we will stand in front of paintings we will declare collar bones carriers of glitter of words of forgotten sentiments we will fall asleep on the couch we will forget to turn off the television we will travel we will spit in the ocean pieces of us will be everywhere
A dining room table without chairs becomes something else completely, like the child who becomes accustomed to falling asleep listening to breaking bottles. These arenâ€™t the kinds of stories strangers tell one another.
It’s already dark by the time they reach the schoolyard. She’s wading through the slush. Gliding her hand over the slide and through a layer of fresh powder. “You brought me here,” she says. “Yes,” says the young man with her. His back turned, he starts up the child-sized ladder. It stops three feet high. Leads to a crumbling platform, which lies in the shadow of a small tower. She looks on and pulls her scarf tight around her mouth, breathes into the wool to warm her face. Settled at the top, he plays watchman. Surveys the playground, sweeping past the icy blacktop, the baseball field, the fences and the houses behind them. She imagines he can see the world from there. “Remember the first time we were here?” he says. “When was that?” “It wasn’t snowing then. It was April.” He holds his hand mid-thigh, lets it hover there for a moment, “We were this tall.” “Oh.” “And I was sitting up here.” “I think I remember,” she says. “And I called out to you, and you laughed at me.” He laughs then, recalling the sound. As if doing so will make the memory more real. “I did.” She moves away from him, toward the jungle gym. When she looks down, she can see through the years like sheets of gauze—her sneakered feet tripping through the grass. They’ve left invisible tracks beneath the snow, and she traces them to the first metal rung. She grips the bar, but now she’s tall enough that her toes still dig into the ground. “I was here.” He glances at her. Nods. The corners of his mouth twitching upward, “And I called you over and we went to the
river to look for stones.” Her fingers skim the ice, remembering the coolness of her hands in the riverbed, prying up a stone to skip across the water. The ripples slow and silent and fading into the blue dark. She presses her heels into the snow and blinks up at him. “I’m coming up there.” She climbs the ladder two rungs at a time. Pushes herself up onto the safety railing, grapples with her balance and feels for the edge of the tower. He helps pull her up. She dusts off her jeans as he feels for the pack of cigarettes in his coat pocket. Lights himself up before turning the box toward her. She shakes her head. Maybe yesterday. Now that she’s old enough, it just doesn’t feel the same. The embers fall from his mouth and into the stale air. “You know,” he says, “When you find that one stone. And the weight feels just right when you turn it over in your hand. When it skips straight…nothing else matters.” She nods. “It doesn’t.” They watch over the schoolyard like statues. Staring out over the icy blacktop, past the baseball field, the fences and the houses behind them. The clouds of their breath bloom and vanish in the darkness. She already knows what happens when he finishes the cigarette. Their footsteps will trail back past the elementary school—up the hill, through the neighborhood, past the windless trees and to the house. She’ll open the door to that familiar warmth—to silver streamers and the twenty expectant smiles. They’ll gather around her as she watches the candles hiss and melt, pushed through layers of cursive and buttercream. In one breath, she’ll blow them all out. And like that, another year will have disappeared. “It doesn’t,” she says, “But once it sinks into the water, that’s it.”
I Want to Plot Points Along Your Body (an excerpt) I want to plot points along your body felt-tip pen dots trailing up your arms the back of your legs mapping the metro of veins underneath I want to untangle the thin blue lines and make something perfect I want to find your last frontiers and settle them I want to know every square of your skin I will not stop trying to make your hand fit mine in such a way that you fill the hollow of my palm so that it is no longer two warm hands clasped tight around dark and empty space I want to ride a train down the track of your lifeline through all the valleys in your hand and, later, the crinkled lines at the corners of your eyes bury me there in my Valley of the Kings
NIKITA LAMBA She Undressed You to Drown You She undressed you to drown you. She unbuttoned your shirt and untucked your tails she sat you on the edge of the tub and you only saw Her long hair, falling in her face Her lashes, thick from this angle Your head became light with the steam that slowly fogged up the mirror. You slid out of your trousers still sitting down one leg then the other. Your worn leather belt, forgotten still snaking through limp loops unbuckled but not unbound She noticed. She picked it up and pulled it out and folded your pants just so.
Your shirt on a hook your pants, a neat pile your hands reach for the last, lingering obstruction.
The moment I realized that fireflies are nocturnalâ€“ and thought back to so many mid-morning burials.
Last night I dreamt of callused hands, bare legs, and Eskimo kisses. I dreamt of the northern lights, connect-the-dots, and puppet strings. I dreamt of your mouth. Under a crumpled paper moon, Under a pillow Where Daedalus had spun all his faith. I awoke with the feeling of fallingâ€” Drenched in sweat, still clutching the sun in my hands. Feathers of a dream scattered beneath me.
WINONA LEON Chiaroscuro Circa Yesterday night, tomorrow afternoon, or today, always. Let’s scour The day, obliterate the night, leave the air Empty-handed. Tangle the stars in our hair. After that first time, I Relished the sight of the sun stretched over the arc Of your back as you watched Horus From the window carry the morning across the sky. Is It a dream—the way the contrast between you and me can be realigned so Readily? It was a battle that could have lasted for hours. When the dawn finally touched our lips, our mouths tasted sour. You told me we had drunk the ichor Of the gods. You told me, Or perhaps it’s just the taste of us. I traced your skin where the shadows under your collarbone had left a scar. You were a smoky outline with an auric Silhouette, and I was still trying to decipher what it all meant: a rash Decision or a torrid display of what would come next. Oscuro, Obscure. The light in your eyes left so Much more still yet to be unearthed. Only now does it occur To me that we sketched the future–it’s ours. Circa then, now. Here. Anytime. Really, there’s no rush.
The Night Market
When I was young boy, I found my mother’s musical voice charming. Her ethereal, loose blonde curls. Her translucent skin. The way she always dressed in white as if she had stepped out of the clouds—all of it was a reminder, an indicator of what she had been before my father brought her to Bellfall. Alive. Unstuck in time and from another world. Her off-key laughter filtered through my ears as she responded to my dad’s drunken disparagement of the Night Market. Once upon a time, that laugh had been a soft, melodious sound. Like wind chimes being tickled by a soft breeze. “That market’s nothing but a bullshit scam. Pah!” He swilled his Bourbon in his glass and took another gulp. “Run by freaks and full of half-wits that think all that shiny crap and all those colorful fruits are worth something.” The Night Market was supposed to be a “one-of-akind,” “lose-yourself-from-this-world” kind of place. It had arrived on Wednesday evening and tomorrow would be its last day here before it packed up and moved elsewhere. An article in the town paper had described it as an “utterly unique” experience, in which a bazaar, a circus, and something “heretofore wholly unknown to mankind” merged to create “this dazzling world of its own.” My father described it as a migrating rag-and-bone shop run by bums and gypsies. That evening, my mother perched on the couch next to him while we sat in the living room and waited for dinner, pretending that we had worthwhile things to say to one another. Her hair hung in limp curls and her once white dress sagged over her frame as if it, too, had given up. She chuckled at my father’s description of the market—a raspy sound that tried and failed to recover its past melody. That’s how it was these days. “Oh, of course, dear,” she murmured. “A dreadful place.” Her gaze drifted to the side, staring into the bright, pulsating flames that licked the walls of the fireplace. My fa-
ther looked at her sideways, a relaxed smile on his face. He still heard the tinkle. He took another swig, draining the dregs of his glass. My grandparents were assembled on the couch opposite him, side by side, looking as though they were sitting for a formal portrait. Perfectly upright and unsmiling. Sitting near each other, but not daring to touch. They looked away from my father, pretending not to notice how he peered into his glass to make sure none of his whiskey had gone to waste. Maybe they were remembering what an excitable and curious boy he’d been, intrigued by antiques and foreign markets, eager to travel the world. Maybe they were wishing he had done that. Of course, he hadn’t. He had settled, and years of working at the funeral home had sucked the life right out of him. They’d thought setting him up with Cecelia—my mother— would bring back that verve. When she was younger, she, too, had longed to traipse the continents. But that had never really been an option. She settled, married, had kids, and eventually, she had wilted as well. Of course, there was no indication of any of this on my grandparents’ faces. Outside, they were saying everything was fine. My grandfather in his three-piece gray suit with a pocket watch clipped to his vest, and my grandmother in a floor length, dark purple suit skirt and jacket. They were the picture of composed propriety. As if attuned to my thoughts, my grandfather opened his mouth and offered my father a compliment about what a fine job he’d done redecorating the house: the oak-wood furniture he had picked out was such a rich color, so full of life. My mother offered up a general smile—it tried to look airy and light, but instead it just looked pinched. “Dad, another refill?” My father eyed his father’s empty glass. My grandfather shook his head once. He was done for the night—one glass of whiskey before dinner, and then no more. It had been that way for the last forty-five years. Inside, he was thinking that my father should have known better than to even ask.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” I had been looking at my father through narrowed eyes, but they instantly snapped wide, my sarcasm taking me by surprise as much as it had everyone else. I hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Every head snapped in my direction—well, except for my mother’s. It attempted to swivel slowly and fluidly, as if blown by a breeze that only she could feel, but the motion was jerky. Broken. My grandfather’s voice was sharp as he reprimanded me. “You know, boy, in my day, young folk had more respect for their elders.” Somehow, my grandmother managed to look me in the eye, while still appearing to glare down her nose at me. Her stare fixed me with the warning that hung unspoken behind my grandfather’s words. Now, now. Not you too. You’re no Alex. Behave. “Like he could ever be disrespectful. He’s the good son!” My father guffawed loudly. We looked at him, startled, but his moment had passed. He quietly stood and poured himself another drink. All Bourbon, no water. A quarter tumbler full. That was his drink of choice these days. I had picked up my glass of wine—the one I had been nursing for the last hour—to take a sip, but now, I looked down at it and set it to the side. “Oh, I think Julian’s a marvelous boy.” My mother’s delicate fingers flitted across my cheek in a gentle pat before coming to rest atop mine in my lap. They were sallow and gray against my red shirt sleeve. “So spirited.” I squeezed her hand gently. She glanced around the room and my grandparents offered her the reassuring, placating smiles she was looking for. My father’s lip curled in a half-smirk and he looked at me. Then, he glanced back down and took another sip from his tumbler. I sighed to myself. I just wanted to take them all, shake them by the shoulders, and tell them to snap out of it. Of course, I didn’t. Instead they moved into their banal conversations
and I sat and listened, fiddling around with a little piece of wood and a small carving knife. It wasn’t a terribly exciting hobby, but it was something to do. The shavings fell noiselessly into a basket by my side. My grandmother talked about all her old cronies, my grandfather about the people back in his day, my father grunted and hiccupped and sipped from his tumbler, and my mother chimed in every now and then with a brief, “Oh, how delightful!” A few months ago, when I still had Alex here, I could have stomached this just fine. But he’d packed up and moved out. His departure had been loud—a thunderstorm tearing its way through the inside of our house. My father yelled, my grandfather scolded, and Alex had mocked as he always did. Unflappable. He was a wall that they just couldn’t tear down. And then he was gone. Gone as far away as he could go. He hadn’t even asked me to come, but I didn’t blame him. Maybe if I had been the older sibling, I’d have done the same thing. Had the brashness to cut myself loose before this flytrap caught me too. I cut through the wood harder, faster, shaping it without stopping without breathing. And then, my hand slipped. The carving knife poked into my finger and drew blood. My grandmother was talking about a friend of hers that had glaucoma, but I had my excuse. That was it I stood up and left my tools on the floor, sucking slightly on my wound to stop the bleeding. “I’m going out for a walk—to Mrs. Mender’s for a bandage. We’re out.” My grandfather frowned and glanced down at his pocket watch, noting the time. Eight o’clock sharp. Dinner time. “My boy, this is highly irregular.” “Yes, we’re about to eat.” My grandmother’s frown reflected her husband’s. The warning was there again. Sharper this time. You better come back. Maybe, I thought. My mother frowned, too. It was a wrinkled, ugly thing that wanted to be subtle, but couldn’t. “It’s so cold out there.” I hesitated. That’s what she had said to Alex before he left. A last ditch effort to stop him from leaving. Of course it hadn’t
worked. He hadn’t even blinked at her words. I felt a small crack form in my chest, and I looked at my father. He said nothing, choosing to stare into the depths of his glass. I wondered if he had even heard me. My grandparents pursed their lips. My move. I shook my head, turned, grabbed my house keys and my jacket, and bolted. The cool, crisp air cut clean through my fogged senses as I left the house. I felt as if I were exiting an opium den. I took a moment to revel in the feeling, and then started heading in the direction of the town’s center. I didn’t know quite where I was going, just that I needed to be outside. The cut on my finger was throbbing. The frosty air bit at my ears. I popped my collar and hunched down, shielding myself from the brunt of the bite. After a couple minutes, I paused. I thought I could pick up on something that sounded like trumpets or some kind of fanfare playing in the distance. I cocked my head, straining to listen. Bellfall was the last place you’d expect to hear any sort of music—especially after dark. Large cottages ringed the outskirts of the town, and closer to the center lay a small little village of Mom-and-Pop shops. By this hour on a Saturday night, they were all sure to be dark. But who knew? Maybe Bellfall was finally coming alive. It’d certainly make things more bearable. I resumed walking, and then, when my eyes picked out the bright glow burning at the heart of the town’s center, I realized where the music was coming from. The Night Market. I quickened my pace and came to a stop at the outskirts of the center square. The Market sprawled over everything. It took up the entire town center and even spilled into some of the side streets; it was a giant, sweeping pinwheel. The main circle was fenced off along the perimeter, with large, intricately wrought golden fences. They themselves were so bright they seemed to emanate a soft, warm light. It completely dwarfed our lackluster town, which lay dormant beside it. The red bricks of the shops and cottages were the brightest things in Bellfall, but they faded into a musty brown, con-
sumed by darkness in the shadows of the Market. From behind the fences, the music was still very faint. From where I was standing, though, I could see people animatedly moving about—a medley of children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents all filtering in and out of the market. Every face my eyes passed over seemed utterly and completely enraptured. Warm glowing cheeks, bright smiles, sparkling eyes – the works. It was like they had all been taken to Never Never Land. As I passed through the front entrance, I half expected to find clowns and a Ferris wheel, but instead, I found myself deflating slightly. I exhaled the breath I’d been holding and stopped. The walkway was lined left and right with rather innocuous looking charms and trinkets. They were small, unassuming doo-dads that did little to earn the attention they were receiving: tiny rings and earrings made of dull gems, simple bracelets crafted from plain hemp strings, unremarkable statues and sculptures, vintage post cards, old cola bottles—it was as if every unimpressive garage sale item had been accumulated and dropped into one venue. It had all the charm of a sub-par flea market. The vendors behind the tables were dressed in simple pants and t-shirts, looking like they had just rolled out of bed. They scratched their heads, yawned, and stared off into space. A couple did try to grab us in, leaning forward with shining eyes and toothy grins, but otherwise, nothing. The air was stagnant, filled with a dank musk that just begged for a little wind, a little ventilation. Still, visitors to the Market were enticed. Little kids reached out, oooing and ahhing and grabbing at whatever they could. Their parents leaned over their shoulders, encouraging them, smiling, marveling, asking earnest questions, and trying to barter down prices, which most vendors responded to with bored indifference. But then, my eyes froze as I found myself drawn in by a vendor with an eerily familiar face—my face. I moved towards him slowly and tentatively, as if nudged forward by the wind rather than propelled by my own two feet.
“Hello, sir. How do you do?” He smiled at me. He was cheerier than the others. Up close, I recognized, of course, that he didn’t actually have my exact likeness; his hair was a shade lighter, and his eyes a deeper blue. But in age, skin color, and stature it would have been easy to mistake the two of us for the same person. My gaze dropped to his table and I inspected what he was selling: a bunch of miniature figurines made out of coiled and looped wire. They ranged in intricacy from crude and simple stick figures to complex decorative designs, and while they weren’t jaw-dropping, there was still a certain charm about them. “They don’t look like much, I know,” he said. I looked up, startled. I hoped I hadn’t muttered anything aloud. “But they’re just a little hobby. Whenever I’m not working, I try to take a couple days to just escape somewhere, and I sit there and I sculpt. This is the product of my wire-phase. Before them, I was big into terra cotta.” He gestured to them and shrugged. “I showed them to a couple of the Market vendors when they passed through my town a few months ago, and just before they left, there was a knock on my door, and voila.” He waved at the tent that cocooned him. “Amazing,” I murmured, leaning in for a closer look at his little sculptures. They weren’t anything spectacular, but then, he hadn’t been trying to create anything great. It’d just been a hobby. I ran my thumb over the cut on my finger. It stung and I pulled back. “Isn’t it? At the very least, it gets me out of the house.” He chuckled. “They travel to all sorts of wild places, you know.” His eyes were bright and clear as he spoke. I smiled, nodded, thanked him for his time, then turned to the rest of the Market, unsettled, but unable to explain why. A mixture of curiosity and disappointment at the lack of splendor pushed me on, compelling me to head deeper inside and driving me closer towards the exit at the other end. But as I moved in the direction of the Market’s heart, the atmosphere began to shift. The music crescendoed with ev-
ery passing step. The jewelry on display was growing steadily more impressive—rings adorned with gems that each seemed just a little more vibrant than those at the table before; bracelets and bangles more intricately woven out of fine wires, colorful strings, and rich metals; statues and sculptures that could have only been carved with the utmost patience; wraps and clothing in colors so bright and with patterning so involved that they looked as if they were hand-painted by a single-haired brush. Everything came from another world, another time. Ancient India. The Persian Empire. Babylon. My steps slowed until, eventually, I stopped. I couldn’t move forward. My eyes darted everywhere, hungry to take in everything, but fearing that if they stared too long at one vendor’s tent, all the goods from the others would disappear before my eyes had the chance to consume them. The throbbing in my finger had vanished. The music was almost deafening now—the rapid, upbeat sound of a circus. Instruments that hopped and flew over their notes, dancing. Alive. And in between every few tents stood performers of all kinds, moving to the sound. A contortionist garbed in blue there, a dancer wearing white over here, a mime between those tents back there, a juggler directly behind me, a unicyclist to my left—I had never seen a unicycle before. All at once, I didn’t know which way to look or where to stop, and so, I looked everywhere, my gaze stopping briefly on everything before moving on, afraid that if my eyes settled on one thing for just an instant too long, everything in their peripheries would vanish. And then I picked up again, slower than before, continuing on, further and further into the Market. As I did, it offered me another shift; charms and trinkets gave way to fresh vegetables and baked goods. It was a market like I had never seen before. Everywhere colors, lush and vibrant. Greens, reds, yellows, oranges, and warm browns that had no place in a town like Belfall. They made the bright red of my shirt look as if it were a pallid gray. They had names, too, that I had never heard of before. Jackfruit. Durian. Rambutan. Miracle
fruit. Now, it was no longer just an assault on my sight, but an assault on all my senses. The air was all at once filled with the sharp scent of spices and the soft aromas of a garden, the warm musk of a bakery and the crisp bite of an apple. My stomach growled, remembering the dinner I had forced it to skip out on. My senses were heightened as they had never been before. I could see everything, I could smell everything, I could taste everything. But then, just like that, I was at the exit. Before me stood the same golden fences that had greeted me. Beyond its bars, I could see the dead and barren streets of Bellfall, slouching in the shadows, just out of reach of the Market’s warm glow. I paused just before the exit and checked my watch. It was late. I should have been back with my family. My eyes lifted and I looked out past the fence for any signs of the life that lived within the Night Market. I found nothing. Hooked to the rail of the fence was a little basket with a collection of cards inside it. I leaned forward, scrutinizing it. It was a list of all the dates and towns that the Night Market would visit. I reached out to pick one up, but my fingers stalled mid-flight. I thought about what would happen if I picked one up. I would follow the Market wherever it went. I would revel in the way it overloaded my senses day after day. I would be free like Alex. I would make and sell little figurines like the vendor at the Market’s entrance, whittled out of wood. There would be color everywhere. Life everywhere. I thought about it. Then I thought about my family, back at home. My parents fading away and my grandparents stuck in an outdated history. I thought about leaving them. My mother would have nobody to pat on the cheek and call “marvelous,” my father would stop his loud, already sporadic guffaws altogether, my grandparents would have no one to issue their sharp reprimands to. Alex’s departure had already sucked out so much life from them. What would mine do? Everyone would waste away. Wither and wilt into the shadows until they ceased to exist. I didn’t pick up one of the
cards. Instead I pushed on, through the fence and back into my town. I could swear I felt the warmth leave me as I passed under the gate. This time, when the cool, crisp air hit me, it didn’t defog my senses—they were already clear. Instead it just settled in my bones with a spiteful sting. Icy. Brittle. Unwelcoming. I stared purposefully at the hard gray ground as I skirted the edge of the Market and headed back to my house. The music still reached my ears and it pushed me on, but as I left the town center, it faded away. The walk back was much longer than the walk there— slow and laborious. I got back to my house and everyone was still awake, back in the living room, talking about their usual topics: the neighbors and the old days, with an occasional grunt or raspy laugh thrown in. I knew they heard me come in, but I didn’t call out to them and they didn’t call out to me. After the disruption I had caused earlier, I was better left unacknowledged. I crept into the kitchen and tiptoed over to the bar along the back left side. I eased a bottle of whiskey off the shelf and headed up to my room. Once there, I slipped into my gray checkered pajamas and lay down on my bed, staring at the ceiling. Every so often, I took a swig from the bottle. Like father, like son. After a while, I felt the warmth of the Market pulsating back through my veins. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine again that I was there, amongst the colors and the smells. Alive. Downstairs, my mother said something frivolous, and I swear, it sounded like music—like the fanfare of the Night Market.
HARVEY BROWN Anniversary of a Daughter’s Death I shared a piece of her heart today Without intention She being her daughter Recording death as a back seat passenger Only yesterday, years ago And I’m sorry unconsciously after the phone call Until then, a close friend and a closer friend still I passed on the wine and the chocolates It was almost like a happy birthday without sympathy without intention A generation apart our English makes sense inhaling the same cremated dust with donated lungs that shouldn’t belong to us unused
I. An ancient castle lies on the darkest side of the mountain, above the pale lagoon where the water rushes against the unforgiving rocky shore. A place only partially illuminated by the moonlight and where the ephemeral flash elucidates the stormy eclipse. The moist mist must be just a memory as it fills my lungs with a familiar air. Iron cages are degraded by the oxygen, catalyzed by fear and the forlorn. On the other side, bones crumble, minds break and spirits stumble into a bleak, dusty dark. We gasp and suffocate, grasp and grab nothing but fleeting colors. Pitch-black The piercing isolation of a mental prison Where the faces of clocks melt And contort to form a formless shape Where the walls close in from all sides And we are forced to stare at a reflection but all we see are distorted faces. II. Embark upon a journey into a lush green forest, never look back as you leave behind a trail of illustration that springs to life upon inception and surrounds youâ€” maybe you donâ€™t want to find your way back.
Yellow butterflies float gracefully around you Bluebirds chirp and build cozy nests for their young A fawn patiently grazes in a patch of grass, next to a field of dandelions. Sakura, a white wonderland of petals spinning an elegant dance of life Drifting in the air, as the breeze sweeps them up, suspends themâ€” but eventually they fall. A stream flows steadily towards a mountain spring where all life originates where the water is colorful and the blind artist paints the portrait of the dreamer dreaming a dream.
I walk into the hall Rows of eyes against me Staring, threatening, judging. I look down and away, ignoring instead Absorbed into my thoughts like a sponge dipped in a viscous liquid Thick with the stuff dreams are made of I fall into a distant land, one of promises and regrets. Burning, soothing thunder. The trees sway gently as the breeze flows through the leaves. A feather drifts away into the morning mist Lost forever, but destined to be found. Squirrels scamper across branches miles above ground, Pigeons peck at whatever wonders they find in the dirt. The sky so serene, the fields so peaceful. Thereâ€™s nothing disturbing the world, but me. The moment I fall into existence, the delicate balance is shattered. It spirals out of equilibrium, into utter chaos. Glass shards slice into the darkness, which splatters into a black gooey mess And descends into infinity, stealing the light from anything in its path. Destroyer of worlds, I call to thee: Begin the universe once again. The rain starts to fall, The air is thick. The quilled porcupine desperately takes shelter. Lightning strikes Something burns.
Glorious flames, oh heavenly combustion! The black smoke rises to the skies. A dark liquid drips down the trunkâ€” The golden sap of vitality.
SHELBY Farmyard Fairy Princess
A farmyard fairy princess in faded overalls and a plump pink tutu both bought at yard sales and both worn for my first day of first grade and my first failure – a reading test. Even though I’m the best reader in my class! Because no one told me the Great Illustrated Classic wasn’t Heidi’s full story and this isn’t my full story, but it’s one about scaling haybales, brave, until frogs flop underfoot and I shriek at them dead in the driveway. It’s the story of weaving potholders and picking asparagus and husking corn, of taking dips in muddy ponds and playing dress-up in crocheted vests and sparkly leotards and the pink satin heels worn in my mother’s wedding. It’s a story about middle school plays and middle school dances. I prefer the former because for dances, they don’t teach you the choreography ahead of time, and they especially don’t teach what step comes after the part where I get stood up again.
No fancy footwork can repair the fallen heart of a freshman in frills, and now it’s the story of more failed tests on integers and functions and derivatives – what is Calculus even about? But never failing reading anymore – Friends don’t let friends Read without double checking ISBNs and I will close read the bajeezus out of you and write a college essay about finding solace in story and in sisters of the same name and trying not to forget that farmyard fairy princess whose biggest fear is still frogs.
Poem V: For Sophia
I hear you as I sleep Your presence, your movement around the room, The quiet weight of each footfall as you try not to wake me. You gather your things, get dressed. I wake but remain still, Hoping for a few more moments of you alone Not the you that you are for me. In these moments, your skin and your hair and your movement Are all so deliciously your own That I cannot help but smile at the you that I never see But I always love.
CONTRIBUTORS JACKSON BURGESS Jackson Burgess writes and studies in Los Angeles, where he co-edits Fractal and Red Sky: a Literary Journal. You can find his poetry in places like Sundog Lit, Atticus Review, Vector Press, and bathroom stalls across the country. KATHERINE MONTGOMERY Katherine Montgomery is a sophomore at the University of Southern California studying Creative Writing and Public Relations. She’s originally from New York, which is what people from New Jersey say when they don’t want to admit they’re from New Jersey, and plans to pursue a career as a skydiving instructor. ALICIA BANASZEWSKI Alicia Banaszewski is a writer from Detroit, Michigan. Her poetry has appeared in The Light Ekphrastic, The Fat City Review, 4and20, and others. Her ten-minute play “Bread Hands” was a Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival national finalist. KELLY BELTER Kelly Belter spent her childhood traversing midwestern snowdrifts and play-acting in manicured cul-de-sacs. However, she currently resides in Los Angeles, where she studies creative writing and French at the University of Southern California. In addition to her editorial work with Fractal, her other credits include positions at Neon Tommy and D Magazine. NIKITA LAMBA Nikita Lamba studies film and art history at USC. She grew up all over the world but currently lives in Los Angeles. Nikita feels uncomfortable around cats, has no sense of direction, and enjoys lying to people she meets at parties.
WINONA LEON Winona Leon currently studies creative writing and fine arts at the University of Southern California. She is originally from Fort Davis, Texas, where she grew up entranced by a sky full of stars and all the words that could describe it. SONALI CHANCHANI Sonali Chanchani edits for Fractal and works with the indie publisher Kaya Press. She likes Bleak House as more than just a paperweight, and while she loves playing with words, sheâ€™s terrible at Scrabble. HARVEY BROWN Harvey is a foreign language educator, busily trying to master English. He enjoys playing broken chords on his Gibson guitar when time allows. Playing life by ear, he finds that he is able to hear better in the evenings. The rural life has been kind to his sinuses. DALTON BANH Born and raised in the desolate windy wasteland known as the Mojave Desert for his entire life, Dalton Banh now lives and studies in the culturally diverse South L.A. He co-edits Fractal and frequently writes poetry and other absurd musings out of existential ennui and for sheer self-amusement. SHELBY DEWEESE Shelby DeWeese found the smothering humidity of Tennessee unbreathable, so she fled to the most logical destination: the smoggiest city in America. She co-edits Fractal and Teen Ink, and her poetry can be found in those very publications. (Coincidence? No.)
FRACTAL LITERARY MAGAZINE MAY 2013
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