a publication of Rowan University’s Master of Arts in Writing
featuring broken paths calm amidst chaos the loved and the lost
Cover art: “See” by Nam Nguyen
EDITOR IN CHIEF Katie Budris
The staff of Glassworks magazine would like to thank Rowan University’s Master of Arts in Writing Program and Rowan University’s Writing Arts Department
MANAGING EDITOR Cate Romano
Cover Design & Layout: Katie Budris
SENIOR EDITOR Myriah Stubee
Glassworks is available both digitally and in print. See our website for details: RowanGlassworks.org
ASSOCIATE EDITORS Elizabeth Dandrow Mosolovich Georgia Iris Salvaryn Marissa Stanko
Glassworks accepts literary poetry, fiction, nonfiction, craft essays, art, photography, short video/film & audio. See submission guidelines: RowanGlassworks.org
FICTION EDITORS Scott MacLean Georgia Iris Salvaryn Marissa Stanko
Glassworks is a publication of Rowan University’s Master of Arts in Writing Graduate Program Correspondence can be sent to: Glassworks c/o Katie Budris Rowan University 260 Victoria Glassboro, NJ 08028 E-mail: GlassworksMagazine@rowan.edu Copyright © 2021 Glassworks Glassworks maintains First North American Serial Rights for publication in our journal and First Electronic Rights for reproduction of works in Glassworks and/or Glassworks-affiliated materials. All other rights remain with the artist.
NONFICTION EDITORS Ed Benkin Connor Buckmaster Christina Cullen POETRY EDITORS Aleksandr Chebotarev Sam Fine Angela Faustino MEDIA EDITORS Julianna Holshue Thomas LaPorte Dom Marconi
glassworks Spring 2021
MASTER OF ARTS IN WRITING PROGRAM ROWAN UNIVERSITY
Issue 22 | Table of Contents Poetry
Barbara Alfaro, The Circumference of Something | 3
Niccolo Bechtler, Glass Highway | 18 Matt Bullen, In Which a Crow Becomes a Sign... | 30
Serenity Has Left the Produce Aisle | 29
Phil Huffy, Amid a Pervasive Gloom | 39
Kevin J. McDaniel, Daddy’s Cars | 16
Daddy’s Purpose | 17
Kaitlinn Rose, Enough to Build Your Castle | 36
Instructions for Sobriety | 37
T. Dallas Saylor, Traverse Town | 67
Claire Scott, In Which My Mother Teaches Me | 5
Sharon Lee Snow, To the Old Man in the Walking Boot | 52
Adam Tavel, Road Flares | 69
Terin Weinberg, After the Kindness | 40
Seahorses | 41
Fiction Rebecca Dimyan, #happy | 6 Piper Gourley, Petra | 54 Alexandria Reid, Planting Acorns | 32
Jennifer Berman, Italy | 43
Chelsea M. Carney, False Starts | 20
Art Michelle Engel, Astral Travel Interrupted | 38 Flight of Fancy | 53 Whimsy in Blue | 4
C. Christine Fair, Covid Lungs: The Beginning | 19
Covid Lungs: The Reckoning | 28
Covid Lungs: The Renewal | 42
Shannon Kernaghan, A Murder | 68
For Life | 51 I am Crow | 31 Nam Nguyen, See | cover
The End | 14
Britnie Walston, Bolt of Energy | 66
Cool and Refreshing | 35
The History of Glassworks
The tradition of glassworking and the history of Rowan University are deeply intertwined. South Jersey was a natural location for glass production—the sandy soil provided the perfect medium, while plentiful oak trees fueled the fires. Glassboro, home of Rowan University, was founded as “Glass Works in the Woods” in 1779. The primacy of artistry, a deep pride in individual craftsmanship, and the willingness to explore and test conventional boundaries to create exciting new work is part of the continuing spirit inspiring Glassworks magazine.
The Circumference of Something Barbara Alfaro
There we are, lying on the soft carpet, me child-size, you a young woman, pedaling invisible, nonexistent bicycle wheels imagined in the air. You, who held me too tightly and loved lilacs, told me the boy next door would never ask me out if I kept beating him at basketball. Years later, I hocked my wedding band rather than borrow again. Mother, why is it I see the screened door and your silhouette but not your face when you call me in from play?
Whimsy in Blue Michelle Engel
In Which My Mother Teaches Me Claire Scott
I would like to write a poem About how my mother taught me to cook. How she tied a red checkered apron around my waist, Patted my curls and put her special recipe For angel food cake on the counter and off we went Sifting and measuring. She taught me how to crack eggs Separating whites from yolks. She guided My hand with her steady one, folding The flour and sugar into the stiff egg whites, Saying it was like angels folding clouds. But that is not what happened. No apron, no patted curls. My mother mostly Watched me, sipping from an endless glass of scotch. She yelled dumb fool when I spilled the sugar. Her hands shook while she cracked an egg, Dropping yolk into the whites. She stormed Out of the kitchen yelling I was too stupid To teach. I heard her bedroom door slam. There was no angel food cake that day. I played Pretend with my dolls, dressing them in wings. Today I show my daughter. We move slowly, taking our time. Soft rain spatters on the kitchen windows. She cracks an egg and shells fall into the whites. Oops, we laugh and start again. We measure And whip and fold, spooning batter into the tube pan From twenty years ago. I tell her we must be quiet And not peek for forty minutes. We play go fish. The cake is perfect she says, looking proud. I see an angel in front of me. I know she will rise.
The night before I kill myself, I post a picture on Facebook. In the photo, Jazmine and Azalea wear matching pink princess dresses. Jazmine has her arms around her little sister while my husband laughs, tiara-clad and grease-stained nails painted a shade of bubble gum. A gaggle of stuffed animals and dolls surrounds the three of them on the floor, each wearing various dress-up accessories for what Jazmine has declared is tea party time. It’s a wholesome portrait of an average family which I appropriately caption #girldad #typicalfridaynight. The post gets over a hundred likes. Missing from the photo is the pile of laundry on the couch, the bits and pieces of crackers flecking the living room carpet, and the dirty dishes towering in the sink. The kitchen looks like one of Jazmine’s drawings: colorful chaos—old food scribbled on countertops, mixing bowls, spoons, and partially opened boxes of pasta strewn about the surfaces, not put in their proper places—like the limbs she gives the people she creates. Unopened mail, mostly bills, are flung about the table like forgotten confetti. My husband’s scowl returns after the picture is taken and the sound of two girls screaming in frustration fills the air. The TV plays Peppa Pig
in the background as Raffi and I resume our argument about everything and nothing. When my first daughter was born, I felt drained. It was like all the energy and sunlight inside me had been sucked out, and I was left in complete darkness. The sound of the baby crying was awful, a tea kettle screeching and ignored. Before Jazmine was born, we went out all the time: glasses of wine after work, brunch on Sunday afternoons. But then the baby came. The baby came and wine nights, like sleep, seemed like a relic of an ancient past. Simple tasks became overwhelming. The house was invariably covered in dust and toys and crumbs and laundry. The bed was never made. If I had posted these pictures with fitting hashtags like #failingatmotherhood #fucklaundry #neaterwithoutme, no one would have liked them and everyone would have criticized. Worse than the messy house and the lack of free time is the way I feel when I look at my babies. Numb. I remember thinking when Jazmine was born that she doesn’t make me smile the way all the moms do in Instagram pictures and advertisements. That perfect, teeth-filled smile that dominates their faces. It’s a reckless, loving, stupid, unflappable smile. The authentic kind of
“Trying to stay sane feels like running drunk with
a stack of fragile plates. #PPD #justkiddingImfine
There is no point in telling anyone how I feel. How could my friends, with their perfect jobs and relationships and manicured nails, possibly understand? Trying to stay sane feels like running drunk with a stack of fragile plates. #PPD #justkiddingImfine. Women are supposed to love their children from the moment they are born. Women are powerful creatures; we create life; we can do anything. At least, this is what I’ve heard. Of course, my own mother didn’t exemplify these
attributes. Mama took her morning orange juice with vodka. Mama said a messy house built character. Mama said it was important for six-year-olds to cook their own meals—it taught self-reliance. Mama said bedtime stories were for babies and invalids. In the hospital, I overheard the new mom in the bed next to mine saying to her mother standing giddy beside her, “How could anyone hold their baby and feel anything other than overwhelming love? Isn’t she just the most perfect thing you’ve ever seen?” Baby only hours old with any traces of waxy white vernix covered by a floral headband that matched her swaddle and her mama’s floral-print robe; both were Instagram-ready. #Imahotmess I remembered looking down at Jazmine suckling the rubber nipple of the bottle, little gulping sounds filled the air. I felt nothing at all. Except the sting of failure. She had trouble latching, and I wasn’t successfully breastfeeding. My nipples were probably not the right shape or too large for her. It was obviously my fault. I had only been a mother for a few hours, but I was already failing at it. Sweet photos of other women holding their babies, some covered in elegant wraps, others exposing the baby
Rebecca Dimyan | #happy
smile that can’t be faked, filtered, or edited because it’s so real, so genuine, so contagious that it makes any face beautiful. It’s a mothers’ smile. In the hospital, I grabbed a hand mirror from my hospital bag and practiced contorting my mouth, forcing it into that shape, but it never looked quite right. I tried again when I got home while Jaz slept in a Moses Basket beside me in the bathroom. Still, my lips were too tight or the muscles in my face were too tired. It just looked wrong—like a broken doll-face. #postpartumbeautyisamyth.
sucking at their teat lit up Facebook; #breastisbest haunted my newsfeed for those first few months. Another Tuesday morning, another ritual disaster, another baby girl. Or maybe it’s Wednesday. Sometimes, I lose days like I lose baby socks in the drier. I named this baby Azalea like the flowers my mother planted one year in front of the house on Pine Grove. We only lived in the small cape for six months, but I had loved the white picket fence and the backyard with an old swing set that belonged to someone else’s children. I helped Mama plant the pink shrubs. I loved them even when Mama told me once upon a time if someone gave you a bouquet of azaleas in a black vase it was considered a death threat. She continued, “If bees ingest pollen from azaleas, they make mad honey,” she laughed an energetic but mournful sound, a sound like old jazz, a sound I loved. “If you eat this honey it could make you sick or kill you.” These were the only kind of stories Mama told me, and I loved them even when they gave me nightmares. My Azalea arrived wrapped in a classic white, pink, and blue hospital blanket—not a black vase. She is a difficult baby who cries often. She makes hectic mornings more challenging. This particular morning Jazmine refuses to get dressed for school because her favorite pink and blue polka-dot
dress is dirty and the baby won’t eat breakfast or stop throwing food and Raffi doesn’t help with anything because he is late for work again. I don’t have time to clean the kitchen before getting Jazmine on the bus and the baby to daycare. I ignore the dirty, crusty dishes spilling out of the sink and dried food caked like paste on the countertops. The refrigerator is nearly empty except for hotdogs at the back of the freezer because I didn’t have time to get to the store over the weekend. The car’s gas gauge is on empty but it should probably be enough to get to work, and I have less than a half hour to get to the bar for my day shift anyway so no time to stop now. I see everything that needs to be done and feel nothing. I feel nothing except thirsty. So, before I drive to work, I drink a glass of vodka. The burning feels good. It feels good because I can feel it. Is this why Mama always started her day with vodka instead of coffee? I banish thoughts of Mama, take out my phone, and post a picture of Jazmine helping Azalea put yogurt on her little spoon which I manage to capture before Raffi starts yelling and Jazmine starts crying and the baby starts screeching like some kind of wounded animal. I post #justanothertuesdaymorning. The picture gets twenty-five likes before I start the car. Lana from work even comments how sweet the girls are and what a beautiful way to start
mailbox is full.” None of this is unusual. Raffi calls at least a dozen times a day, every day. #controllinghubby #momneedsabreak When I don’t go home, I drive to the bridge I used to love as a kid. It never gets a lot of traffic except for teenagers looking for a place to smoke and drink. Junior year of high school I smoked my first cigarette there with my best friend. Nirvana played from the car radio as we sipped coffee from Styrofoam cups. She couldn’t get the lighter to work, and I laughed at her, lighting and then inhaling like an expert. But then I choked and couldn’t stop coughing. I wish I could smoke first cigarettes and enjoy small rebellions again. #foreveryoung
Rebecca Dimyan | #happy
the day. She has two boys and her Facebook pictures always show hugging, laughing, adoring children. My eyes used to be a pair of blue sunny afternoons; now, they are overcast, encased in dark halfmoons—branded by too much vodka and not enough sleep. I don’t want anyone to notice so I wear my large aviator sunglasses. I’m incognito from my own life. I especially don’t want anyone to notice the smell of vodka on my breath at 10 a.m. so I chew peppermint gum until my jaw is sore. I check in on Facebook when I get to the bar and post Working the day shift today. Come have fun with me! Got eight likes, but no one showed. When I don’t go home after work, I get into my Toyota and drive to the gas station. I fill the tank so
“My eyes used to be a pair of blue sunny afternoons; now, they are overcast, encased in dark half-moons—
branded by too much vodka and not enough sleep. Raffi won’t need to worry about it. I also splurge on a bottle of Absolut. I think about running off to Norway to paint fjords like I said I had wanted to do when I was in college. I never even made it to Europe. When I don’t go home, my husband calls a dozen times, each time getting the automated “this voice
When I don’t go home, I drink half a bottle of vodka. I turn the music up in the car. N’Sync is on the radio. Bye. Bye. Bye. I switch the heat off even though it’s cold. I don’t want to waste gas. When the song ends, I get out of the car and walk outside. Bye. Bye. Bye. It’s so cold. But I don’t really feel it, I don’t
really feel anything, and so I remain, standing outside, on the bridge, not going home, watching the sun dip behind the hills. Everything is gold, and, for a minute, I consider going home. I think about Jazmine and how much she’d love this sunset. Then it is dark and home doesn’t really exist anymore. And then I think about how much easier their lives will be without me anyway; I can’t keep the house neat enough, I’m not organized, I’m always losing permission slips and vaccine forms. I even lost Azalea’s birth certificate once, but then Raffi found it under a pile of unread magazines on the kitchen table. Their lives would be so much tidier, so much easier without me. Mama would probably say this would be the ultimate lesson in self-reliance. Teach the girls how to take care of themselves. But #Iamnotmymother. And Raffi would make a handsome widower. He could easily find a better woman to raise our daughters. I imagine a pretty blonde who wears ruffled aprons when she bakes chocolate chip cookies. I burn everything I bake. She will wear Lululemon and bring the girls to Mommy and Me yoga classes and teach them how to wear makeup. I could never do those things. The water is dark but also blue and gray—like my eyes. Maybe I always belonged to the water. I could never be like the other moms—the other women with their cute outfits, clean, styled hair, their
organic snacks, and the rigorous schedules—the space of their days filled with swim lessons and music classes and homemade gourmet meals. Their houses were always so clean when I took Jazmine to playdates. “Why is our house messy, Mommy? Jessie’s house smells like oranges! I love oranges. Can our house smell like that, too, Mommy?”
“He knows I’m not happy, but nobody, especially me,
wants to say that out loud. No one wants to be the one who touches the
I am nothing like those other moms, those perfect housewives who have it all together. I see the judgment in their condescending smiles, hear it in their well-meaning questions. “What activities is Jazmine in? Is she taking swim lessons at the new pool?” I see the perfect images of smiling, happy kids in professional photos. And their mother’s faces, devoid of worry lines, glow on the screen of my iPhone. I scroll through the pictures they post in my online mom group: Tanya’s twin boys swimming in the kidney-shaped pool in their backyard. Beautiful, dark-skinned Ellie holding her six-month-old
sleep, but I drink. Often. Too much. Too often. A beer or two before I put Jaz on the bus in the morning. I need it to get going in the morning. A few shots during my shift. But my regulars want me to shoot with them, I’d rationalize. The drinks after work. Glasses of wine until closing with a few co-workers. I need to vent before going home. #shiftdrink #sheworkshardforhermoney Raffi told me a few months ago that watching me try to run the household is like watching glass crack slowly. He knows I’m not happy, but nobody, especially me, wants to say that out loud. No one wants to be the one who touches the cracking glass. We don’t want to step in a pile of shards. Then the glass finally shatters, all on its own. On a Tuesday or Wednesday, prompted by nothing more than getting out of bed. They say it gets worse with each baby. Makes sense. You have less sleep, less time. If I was dangling on the edge of a cliff before she was born, then her birth was the weight I could no longer bear. The pediatrician’s office makes an effort. They provide you with a questionnaire. Circle which applies—one being the least, five the most. I feel stressed. I have difficulty feeling happiness. I feel disconnected. It was a valiant effort, Doc. I can’t
Rebecca Dimyan | #happy
chubby daughter and laughing as she reaches out for the bubbles her husband Gary blows at the edge of the photo. Leah, dressed in a Ralph Lauren collared sweater and pearls, serving her husband and three toddler-aged blonde children what appears to be a pot roast. They may as well have fallen out of a Norman Rockwell painting. And I wonder, for a moment, if this is real. I think of my carefully curated pics and clever hashtags and the messy details just out of the frame. But then I remember, it doesn’t really matter anyway. Sifting through their social media posts like I’m bobbing for apples, I’m reminded of Mama again. I asked her once why we weren’t like other families. She told me that question was meaningless because storybook-perfect families don’t exist. It didn’t stop me from wanting it though—the mom who baked cookies and made delicious dinners and smelled of peppermint and oranges, like my best friend’s mom. Moms who did laundry and showed up to basketball games and read bedtime stories and who didn’t drink vodka or lose jobs every few months or forget to pay the heating bill. I didn’t believe her when she told me happy, perfect families didn’t exist, that they were like Bigfoot and Santa Claus because Mama lied almost as often as she drank vodka. I look at my reflection in the screen of the cellphone. My eyes are skies the sun had fallen out of. I don’t
admit this to my husband, my friends, the moms in our play group. Why would I admit these feelings to a pediatric nurse who probably doesn’t even really look at the responses? Each wellness visit plays out like the last one: Measurements are taken, baby and I snap a picture which I post on Instagram with #babymilestones #twentypoundsandgrowing #momhealthisanafterthought. The last hashtag remained an afterthought. The girls won’t understand this now, maybe not even when they’re older. But I can promise this—they are better off without me. I’d only make their lives more difficult and messy. They’d only cut themselves on the shards of me. This is the ultimate act of love. I won’t let them have my childhood; I will not become my mother. I will save them by leaving them. These are the drunk thoughts bouncing around my head. It’s not quite as cold as it was a little while ago. Tree branches stretch out in the dark like arthritic fingers—like arms reaching out for help and receiving nothing but still, dead air. The skies are drained, cloudless, starless. The trees are nearly dead. I think for a minute about bedtime stories. Jazmine loves when I read to her before tucking her in for the night. Even Azalea is soothed by the sound of my voice rhyming and repeating silly phrases from their collection of children’s books. “I love the way you read to me, Mommy,” she snuggles
onto my chest. Azalea babbles in what seems to be agreement. I take a few more swigs of vodka and start thinking about Kate Chopin. The twentieth-century writer was such a renegade. The Awakening is a favorite of mine. I remember reading it junior year of college. I had always loved English. That year my professor told me I was smart, and I might have even believed her if I wasn’t crushing on the cute guy who sat next to me. Raffi was thinner then and full of jokes and compliments. He hated the book. But I’m drunk and shaking a bit and maybe even a little nauseous now, and I’m stuck on Chopin and birds and symbolism which reminds me that I had a parakeet once. I loved that bird more than I loved almost anything about my life at seven or eight. I remember coming home from school on a bitter cold day to an empty bird cage. Mama told me the bird was sad so she let him leave. She said it’s cruel to keep a creature like that locked up. They belong to the sky. I think that maybe Mama belonged to the sky, too. I take the iPhone out of my pocket and toss it into the darkness. Just before the rush of cold, I feel again. My gut tangles, tenses, expands, contracts, and I almost throw up but don’t. I hear Jazmine’s voice—delicate, soft, a September breeze. My sweet Azalea—her cry like wind chimes in a rainstorm. And
Rebecca Dimyan | #happy
then, the sound of Mama’s voice— cigarette-muted and sharp like a crack of thunder. Her voice was a flock of geese flying south for the winter. There’s the sound of car horns and vehicles passing in the distance and the earthy, sweet smell of the water below.
The End Nam Nguyen
Daddy’s Cars Kevin J. McDaniel
Old cars are like tired men. They rot, down in a depression, right into the hard ground, if left feeling useless. I grew up around old cars Daddy towed from junkyards. He put a few on the road, red El Camino, purple van, Grandpa’s flooded sardine can. Others talked up as big projects got parked behind the house in a field where they withered in sleet, snow, hailstorms. A rusted frame is no good. Shot all to hell, from inside out, he said, when asked about scrap parts. He hadn’t bothered to overhaul himself in years.
Daddy’s Purpose Kevin J. McDaniel
“You want to live? You better figure out your life.” Arthur Miller, All My Sons A longing brings me here to fall on my belly beside Daddy in a cryptic jungle of Vietnam. I did not get called to dodge tripwire and landmines, or to empty government-issued M-16s jamming during clashes. I come to this place to hear my dead daddy speak, Presidents feed boys like bones through a grinder. I’ll pop slugs in all my sons’ kneecaps, before I let any pull a parachute overseas. Unlike him, I went off to school, read and wrote what I had to do. When I visit him in this position, he commando crawls past me. I feel my life paralyzed, even under ceasefire, though unlike him I am free to choose a trail.
Glass Highway Niccolo Bechtler
Granddad asks me about my motorcycle. I remind him I don’t have one and he smiles, his eyes the same gray-blue as mine. He says that I was riding it last night, down to Chula Vista. My dying Granddad can only speak complete sentences in his sleep. My aunt watches him lie flat in the dark, lips moving, lifted of knowing weight. He picks flowers from the blanket, whispers to his young wife beside him. She’s worried the kids are hungry without her. He pulls her into himself and tells her she’s with them every day. Mom thinks it all very sad, how his body fits like a worn sock, his knees petrified by years of tennis. I can talk again. Oh it is good to be able to talk. Hospice makes the bed just right, my aunt feeds him the lives of his grandkids. Mom asks God to take him gently, late at night. I hope he sees me on my motorcycle every night— a thousand miles away, moonlight on the glass highway.
Covid Lungs: The Beginning C. Christine Fair
False Starts Chelsea M. Carney
In 2020, the amount of false starts I’ve encountered have been dizzying. Blame it on this Covid, this quarantine, this president, this year, but it’s like my brain is fragmented and I only have access to one compartment at a time. Whether it’s getting distracted by my phone three minutes into a Netflix movie, or anxiously re-reading the same work project over and over again, I can’t seem to finish an entire thought. As a writer, whole essays are taking up space in my head, but all I ever get out on paper is a single sentence, one after another, like a choose your own adventure to the threads in my brain. I used to be fuller, more articulate. Now I’m looking at a blinking mouse on a blank page, desperately trying to manifest an intelligible paragraph. It makes me feel less than, like I’ve been cut in half. That’s the thing about writing in quarantine. Living in quarantine. I’ve searched my room, my thoughts, my hard drives and churned up nothing but wasted one liners and badly-written paragraphs. My memories are bleak, too, shadowy. They bleed into my brain and mix with rage, with fear, with disgust, muddling together into a weird purplish blue that makes my temples hurt. Once sniffing out promotions and publishing deals, new restaurants in
the Village and shows at Union Hall, I’m now four inches tall, centering myself in a fourteen-inch screen, waiting to click a button that says, “Hey Chelsea, you exist now.” Taking inventory of all those single static sentences, each a start to an essay I’d hoped to write this year, I look for a thread. A way to come back to myself. To remember what it’s like to be bright without an on switch. ~ False Start Number One: At nine years old, I became obsessed with Mae West. I remember sitting in an office at Saint Joseph’s hospital waiting for my mother to finish up work. Her being a nurse, I knew it would take a while, so using one of those boxy computers from the ‘90s to research a homework assignment, I’d clicked on a quote: “When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better.” Referencing the black and white photo attributed to the page, I noticed a buxom woman with pencil thin eyebrows wearing a satin dress, dripping with furs and pearls. Instantly mesmerized, it wasn’t her celebrity I was enamored with; it was her lack of boundaries. Something so intoxicating about being exact-
In 2020, conviction isn’t lacking. There are so many people taking to the streets in protest, volunteering at polling stations, sending letters to get voters registered. My mom and
nowhere. Trying to use my art as a catalyst, I sit in front of my computer for hours, but my fingers stiffen and I’m unable to finish the thought. Let alone the page. Instead I pick apart my emotions. Indignation seems to be the headliner most days. ~ False Start Number Two: Fuck Tucker Carlson.
Chelsea M. Carney | False Starts
ly who you are. In a snap, I didn’t have to fit into a box or a stereotype. I could celebrate my anger, my lust, my individuality. She embodied me, emotionally, and if I’m being honest, I sometimes wonder if physically too—as if the ghost of Mae West and I met in elementary school and somehow fused. Today I have that quote on a magnet. A reminder that rules about how I should be, live, act, are arbitrary. Four inches or five-footfour, I am always me. I’ll glance at it sometimes and still wish I had that much conviction.
I’d wanted to write a scathing op-ed after reading a headline on the banner of my laptop: “Tucker Carlson argues that Breonna Taylor and George Floyd had it coming.” I’d submit it to a college paper. Maybe Buzzfeed or another liberal times.
want to help, to scream, to shout, to create
something—anything—impactful, but like the rest of
my false starts, it all goes nowhere. her wife volunteer at a soup kitchen; my brother-in-law, too. People in New York I’ve known for a decade are hiking The Adirondacks every weekend or opening up their own pop-up sandwich shops in Sonoma County. I want to help, to scream, to shout, to create something— anything—impactful, but like the rest of my false starts, it all goes
Instead, I muffled emotion into a pillow. My husband’s anger was louder; he shouted and yelled. I’m jealous. I want to be more like that but I’m trapped. Contained in a too-small cardboard box with an expiration date and a label. Womanhood, it says in big bold letters.
Pacifism is written on the side in black Sharpie. Docility is scribbled at the top. Softness. Sweetness. Sugar. Spice. No room, in these tight quarters, for rage. I can’t even cry. Then the label would be “Emotional.” Fuck Tucker Carlson, I type over and over again. I suppose there’s relief in being defiant. Coming from a line of powerful and complicated women, I’d always imagined myself a kind of warrior. Loud, brash, definitely part Mae. But as I found my footing in a world of Tucker Carlsons, I realized that in order to succeed I’d have to bury a part of myself. Sometimes that part was too much self-esteem; other times, it was weakness. Once, using a Band-Aid, it was the tattoo on my left hand.
The split DNA of being born to a liberal mother and a conservative father. The in-between area that exists from being planted in blood red Arizona and re-soiled in deep blue New York. Like the Zoom screen I’m constricted by, I am both sharp and in focus, and blurred at the bottom as I try to find the absolute version of who I am. Being gray isn’t acceptable. Neither is choosing a side. ~ False Start Number Three: I am fire doused in alcohol. Sides have officially been chosen. My older brother and I are in the middle of a Facebook fight. Eleven years older than me. Arizona born and bred. Made up of Coors Lights and half-smoked cigarettes.
“The split DNA of being born to a liberal mother and a
conservative father . . . I am both sharp and in focus, and blurred at the bottom as I try to find the absolute version
of who I am. Being gray isn’t acceptable. But the more things I buried, the more unbalanced I became, until I couldn’t quite figure out what face to show universally. I’d thought I grew out of that, but now in quarantine that feeling is back, and I think of all the ways I’m drawn and quartered.
Drives a truck and thinks it’s power. That’s my older brother. Vomiting up conservatism because that’s all he’s ever known. I vacillate between rage and pity, but all I can think now is how strange it is that he’s the firstborn sibling.
Closing my eyes, I go back to that ranch style house of my childhood. In that cul-de-sac near Central Avenue, with that ugly plaid couch in front of our TV. I try to remember if him and I experienced our adolescence differently. To pinpoint whatever it was that made us so disparate. If it was hot or cold in that room because we cracked the backdoor. If our cribbage board was set up on the coffee table, half-played or newly minted. We’d watched the news together one night and saw that a boy in Laramie, Wyoming was beaten and roped to a fence post, burned and left to die. I remember the news reporter asking if Matthew Shepard, barely twenty-one, had the
“gay plague.” When my brother and I stopped by a Circle K later to get gas, I’d read on the cover of a newsstand: Homosexual Disease Threatens American Family. Later when my mother came out of the closet, trembling and with unsteady conviction, I’d cried: “Why do you want to hurt yourself ? Why are you choosing to die?” That’s the perpetual story we’re feeding our children. This alienating anthem of reasoning and excuses. Their choice, we hear. Their indiscretions. Their fault. Twenty-three years after Matthew Shepard, I read the same excuse of a twenty-sixyear-old woman being shot to death by cops while asleep in her own bed. Back then, my brother was the first to touch my shoulder and remind me, “If Mom’s happy, so are we.” Now there’s no hand reaching out gently. Instead we trade nasty insults over social media, each convinced that our version is right. ~ False Start Number Four: I named my teddy bear Michael after the man who gifted it to me.
Chelsea M. Carney | False Starts
Once larger than life, tucking me into bed after his high school football games, he now seems small. A forty-five year old child stamping his feet about QAnon, when really, you know it’s because he needs a nap. “Come on, big brother,” I want to say. “You don’t really believe that bullshit?” But he digs in his heels because when you want what you want with no understanding of why— or worse, that survival is tiered and you’re on top—you know no other way. That’s what happens when you let something like a state, or state of mind, contain you. Tense, I sometimes wonder if that’s how I would have ended up if I was less pliant.
Michael, the bear, has a blue satin ribbon tied in a bow around its neck and tiny fuzzy arms that move up and down in
whatever position you want them. I’m the same. Hands straight. Fingers bent at ninety degrees. Day in, day out, sitting. I wake up and put on a pretty blue blouse with leggings because I’m only ever seen from the chest up, like a half-person. Bendable, fixed, stationary. These are also things that describe a lamp. That’s what the world wants anyway, right? A shelf of pretty, soft things; perfect, as long as they’re amenable. Michael, the man, liked to buy me ice cream. Tall and skinny, he wore button downs from the 1970’s with collars always too big for his delicate neck. A close family friend, he was one of the people who supported my mom after she came out. We’d go to parties at his house. Spend Saturday nights at the diner with him, rolling our eyes as he complained how the fries he was stuffing into his mouth would affect his weight. One time, he took us to the Renaissance Fair. At ten, I witnessed Michael accidentally cut his arm and bleed onto the carpet. My mom, the nurse, screamed for me to “GET BACK!” but I was steel in the doorframe, so she shot forward, hands crushing my shoulders as she shoved me hard against the couch. I remember Michael’s face turning rainbow shades as he vomited —green, red, yellow, blue— spraying the white linoleum floor
of his bathroom like a pea-green Jackson Pollack. I didn’t understand. I’d noticed how rigid and angular his cheekbones had gotten. The sallow color of his skin. I was angry no one would let me hug him. De-puzzling my own brain is like a mine field I’m running through trying to avoid the explosions, but… Mae reminds me of Michael. Like her, he was dismissed as someone singular and static. Dying from something we once classified as “the gay plague,” he was a man targeted by his label, erased by the same patriarchy that tried to contain such women. Women who knew exactly who they were and refused to let themselves be boxed. When Michael gifted me that teddy bear, in what I can only imagine now was a last ditch effort to be remembered as a person—the teddy bear I placed on the dark oak dining table as my mother and I sewed together his AIDS quilt—it’s only now I realize what he left behind. A part of him precious, to keep safe. ~ False Start Number Five: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead. My husband tells me from the spare bedroom of our new home. I’m on the couch, watching some Netflix show I don’t even like and
I used to volunteer at a Planned Parenthood in Arizona. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, ten thousand hours I spent in those drafty, brown offices. Everyday I’d walk through a line of circling picketers, armed with their signs. “Don’t go into the bologna factory,” one read and I remember whipping toward the well-driven roads of a man’s face and demanding of him (with powerful, sixteen-year-old conviction): “What right do you have to my body? What right do you have to any of ours?” He didn’t stop walking or picketing. He didn’t look me in the eye. He didn’t say one goddamn word. Agonizing how we keep doing that. Instead of learning from our past mistakes, we pounce. A game of Whac-A-Mole where each of us are armed with hammers, pounding
down whatever’s different. It isn’t loud women we fear. Gay parents. They pronouns. It’s otherness. It’s controlling otherness. My mother calls about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. When I don’t answer, she texts. I want to console her. I want her to console me. But unless I can reach through the black screen I keep in my pocket, shatter the glass and climb through limb by limb so I can hold her, I don’t pick up the phone. Not today, when my grief has outgrown my conviction.
Chelsea M. Carney | False Starts
then I’m stung in all directions by a heard of angry wasps. “What?” I ask. My voice is a rattle. “RBG died,” he responds. I unconsciously touch my own abdomen, wondering how long it will be until someone takes away the rights to my insides. Not that they already haven’t. The lower half of my body, ornamented in flat black lycra—the half that’s perpetually invisible, even outside of 2020— seems to be a manifestation of this moment.
This year of 2020 seems to be one false start after another. A never happening beginning where the shotgun keeps getting closer to my ear and the finish line keeps getting further and further away. In this exercise of deconstructing myself, I stagger. Sometimes I feel whole again, put back together. Mostly I stare across a field at my shadow as it dissipates away from the light. “Did you know my greatgrandparents immigrated from Spain to New Jersey to give your grandmother a better life?” my mom recounted one day. “But instead of settling down in Garfield and getting married like
they wanted her to, she stuck up her thumb and hitchhiked to Phoenix, Arizona in the 1940’s to become a nurse.” “Why are you telling me this?” I ask. She pauses. I realize. They are the thread that binds me. Powerful, strong, unwavering women who despite their complexity and mistakes, have shown bravery in the face of complacence.
sky. The saguaros, butting up against the mountains, stand, defenseless; hands up in the air to prove they’re unarmed, exposed, naked, helpless. Damp, unrooted earth seeping between your bare toes; lightning in tangled silver flashes as electricity splits the ceiling. Then the rain comes. It doesn’t fall or trickle in or drip like the soft, romantic rainstorms you see in movies. It drums the roof and pounds the asphalt. It shatters windows and floods into rivers,
“They are the thread that binds me. Powerful, strong, unwavering women who despite their complexity and
mistakes, have shown bravery in the face of complacence.
The reason I exist.
The reason I exist. The reason my brother does. Built on a foundation of dissent, instead of obedience. ~ Last False Start: I miss the way the creosote bushes permeate the air after it rains in Arizona. Pine, citrus, rosemary dipped in chlorine. To release the smell, you can spit on them, crush the flowers between your hands. If you’ve never seen an Arizona rainstorm, the clouds roll in like smoking fingers, gripping at a glowing, half-brown
feral and divisive. Wet. Dark. Deep earth. Relentless. Impossible. The saguaros, toppled over, are alone. Broken, unprotected, and with the creosote bushes wet, the air is permeated in their fragrance. It seeps into your skin. Melts into your pheromones. It’s inescapable, the smell of Arizona when it’s angry. I don’t want to be a lamp. I don’t want to be a half-person, fixed and stationary. I want to stand in the rain of Arizona while it thrashes, prop up the saguaros when they break and
bend, throw my body in front of theirs. Remind my brother, my state, who the fuck I am. Remind myself. I am not fourteen inches of screen, subdued by this quarantine. I am not a half woman in a pretty blue blouse or a flower you can crush between your fingers. I am Ruth. I am Mae. I am the foundation my grandmother built for me— dissent instead of obedience—and the fortitude of a mother who raised me to breathe flames. I am a whole person, full of joy and mistakes, that you—or I—don’t get to excuse because it doesn’t fit into some narrative. Fire, doused in alcohol. Smother me and I grow.
Covid Lungs: The Reckoning C. Christine Fair
Serenity Has Left the Produce Aisle Matt Bullen
having discarded a few heads of watercress flopped under the spray bars, and in its wake absconds with all of the tissue paper, every bottle of disinfectant, the refrigerated fresh meats, the frozen meals and meal kits, the frozen meats, and almost anything dried or canned. The shelves sit as silent as a poppy seed escaped by rolling into a corner. People grip their carts with a reptilian stagger to their gaits. Lines of tape slink over the tiles into a hastily assembled diagram: beige masking tape, blue construction tape, the violet and salmon of arts and crafts. Velvet ropes, repurposed, guide the exits. So many people can’t measure distance without a visual aid. I can’t measure the distance from what was to what is without a visual aid. The radius of sight abruptly halts at the black rag wrapped around my mouth and neck.
In Which a Crow Becomes a Sign of Immediate Expertise Matt Bullen
The fledgling crow has made the dubious decision to rest by a public hedge. We mill around it like baffled cats, at a sensible distance, fingers swiping at phones for a wildlife sanctuary still open after hours. You can tell it’s learning how to fly, and we nod, knowingly, pleased by this reassuringly factual claim, never having seen one this close before. We are now experts at attempted flight. The down on its back isn’t glossy yet, the feathers are still too short and soft. It’s a dead giveaway. We are now experts of the dead and the given away. A terrier on a leash yaps in alarm. The crow glares behind its beak, stretching the fingers in its wings, disconcertingly thin, spreading wispy spikes, batting at the uncooperative air.
I Am Crow
Planting Acorns Alexandria Reid
At forty-two years old my father flat-lined during a simple procedure to remove a hernia in his stomach due to an accidental slice from an overzealous surgical knife. This resulted in a loss that landed my mother with a $400,000 settlement and the ability to file her taxes as a widow. After the incident, nearly all remembrances of my father’s existence were removed from the house and piled neatly, and quite possibly chronologically, into a pair of red plastic bins that I carefully dug through before I moved out at the age of nineteen. To my surprise, although two years had passed, dust hadn’t yet settled onto the lids. Yesterday I began packing my things to move for a new job I have been offered across the country and I came across a picture I had stolen from these bins just a few short years ago. It was a picture of my father and me sitting side-byside on my grandfather’s farm in Georgia. Seeing my eight-year-old self as an uncontrollable tuft of red tangled hair brought me back to the day it was taken. “Hey look who it is.” My father tickled my side and pointed over my shoulder. “There’s Mommy! Tell her what you’re doing, sweetie.” “I’m planting acorns!” “You’re not planting acorns,” she says.
“You’re planting oak trees.” My mother had always been that way—precise. I once overheard my father refer to it rather as being a heartless bitch, but I don’t think he ever really understood her. It was nine years later that my father would pass. I remember my mother’s wiry lips neatly pressing together after she told us the news. Her once green eyes now appeared to be a still grey pond. My brother, who had never quite gotten along with her, mistook this as a trait of apathy, but I caught on to the gentle break in her voice that gave her true heartache away. In ten days I leave to Connecticut, and that puts me roughly twothousand miles away from Levi. “Babe, we can make it work.” “Sure.” My hand was pressed lightly on his knee. I couldn’t meet his gaze—his eyes were too gentle. His shoulders relaxed and he let out a slight chuckle. “It’s going to be fine,” he said for his own benefit. The day I received the job offer I purposely avoided speaking to Levi. During the phone interview the bubbly voice on the other end didn’t seem to exactly connect with my dry humor and no-bullshit attitude. “So I see you’re currently the
“Six months was a long time. Long enough to
let the distance tear us
But, when the phone rang I couldn’t resist. It’s not that $6,000 more a year was all that enticing, but I was really sick of doing the same thing every day. When I did work up the courage to tell Levi, it was more of a goodbye than a howcan-we-make-this-work type of deal. His enthusiasm was hard to shoot down.
“Connecticut?” He stared quietly for a second, taking it in. “I could do Connecticut.” “What?” “Yeah.” He started nodding his head, already believing his plan. “I’ll start looking for jobs, I bet I can get out there in six months.” I half-heartedly agreed. Six months was a long time. Long enough to let the distance tear us apart. Last night he came over to help me pack. I had a system going: things I was going to take went in the living room, things going in storage went in the kitchen, and things that were getting thrown away went on the porch. We worked into the night silently communicating with only points and nods when he held something up in question of which pile it belonged to. In my head, I had already organized what things belonged in which pile, I only needed the man-power to make it work. Levi held up a trinket from my trip to Costa Rica and I pointed to the porch, simultaneously I packed kitchen knives into a small box. He held up my college diploma, I nodded towards the piles near me in the kitchen. This worked, until he held up a picture of us. I’m not sure if it was meant as a joke or a test, but I was so lost in robot-mode that I
Alexandria Reid | Planting Acorns
event manager at a planetarium. You must be oozing with neat trivia. We’re always looking for new talent at our company’s monthly trivia outing.” I hated that word, oozing. Or maybe it was the way I imagined her eyes slightly rolling back as she eargasmed when she said it. I mean, her inflection was completely unnecessary. I had this terrifying vision of walking into work every morning to the sound of her voice. I panicked. “Like you don’t actually explode in space you just swell up and suffocate sort of stuff ?” I could faintly hear an uncomfortable throat clear and a slight chuckle. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting an offer.
barely even noticed I said “porch” and continued packing until I felt his gaze, hot and poignant, burning into me. “Porch,” he repeated. My jaw hung slightly, hoping the words to make it better would find their way out. He waited for a response, but finally I gave up. I returned his anticipating gaze with empty eyes and a slight shrug. He stared down at the photo of us, it was from nearly eleven months ago, before I ever dreamed of moving to Connecticut. He set the photo down. “Well then.” He waited for a moment, still hoping I would say something, and finally left. After a few more hours of sorting, my take pile consisted of three medium-sized boxes and a carry-on bag. I planted them carefully in the backseat of my car and headed for Connecticut.
Cool and Refreshing Britnie Walston
Enough to Build Your Castle Kaitlinn Rose
I take out the sweater I borrowed from you in November, Charlotte Tilbury perfume still fastened in the stitches—a smell with hands that scratches its way through. I return to your sun flooded living room where you told me you’d go to Morocco one day, once you get better. You brought it up again, driving on NY-27 to Montauk, as I stare at the waves desperate to overcome the bluffs. We reach the lighthouse and you told me how fucked up it is that traffic makes it so difficult to get somewhere so close. You love this island, wish you could bottle it up and take some home. I remember the day you stopped wearing the perfume and bought soap to strip the smell of chemo. I would bottle the world from Montauk to Morocco for you: the way the ocean freezes for animals to walk on. Until I do, I bring lunch bags full of sand to pour over your grave.
Instructions for Sobriety Kaitlinn Rose
Recite this to yourself as your voice trickles to a hum. Fall asleep. The sinking boy does not need your help. You must let the sailors save him. Forget the spell now. Conjuring will only sweep off the dust. Make music out of the bombs and call it drums so you don’t have to hide. The detonation will light the home making for easy evening reads. It will appear the flames have ceased, but it is only smoke concealing the blaze. Repair the trees, put branches back. They don’t need to go where they were before.
Astral Travel Interrupted Michelle Engel
Amid a Pervasive Gloom Phil Huffy
Petulant clouds stand rocklike in opposition to the sun, denying the slimmest rays safe passage to a waiting woods. The cabin seems always damp, a temple of humidity, and today might as well lie deep within the pond itself. The rain begins in earnest, targeting every branch and leaf, sloshing every root and stone and daring anyone to walk outside. It will be a day for puzzles, correspondence and some red wine, for no canoe or kayak will see a paddler very soon. And how one wishes the clothes left hanging out last evening had been safely gathered in, a precaution now foreclosed.
After the Kindness Terin Weinberg
In conversation with Jan Beatty’s “The Kindness” The elk herd is bedding down for the night, blowing hot breath into the ground. I remember what it feels like to cup my hands, hush into them, until I could feel again. They say: to beat hypothermia, you need another person’s body heat, huddled up next to you, beside you. I’m back to the woods, to the campsite, the hammock I slept in on the Potomac riverbed. It rained all night and the elks’ thick fur held their heat as the first sika deer called into the morning fog. I didn’t know yet, how bare my body was/how fragile/how it needed your warmth.
Seahorses Terin Weinberg
for Aunt Beth (March 5th, 1963- August 30th, 2019) Beth’s seahorses can’t swim anymore—they are floating, bellies bloated toward surface. They got word of her cancer & began to rot at the thought. Their dorsal fins used to beat 70 times per minute to keep them afloat. Beth’s heart beats near a cage of crowded lungs, radioactive lungs. + Beth’s seahorses can’t swim now, they are trying to grab ground. Their tails anchor them to coral & hold fast to seagrasses. Beth grips the bedrails tight, pulls herself out of bed, rises. Her seahorses drift the current grabbing at the ocean floor, trying to take hold. Her lungs are walking the floor, swallowing what they can & her seahorses can’t hold on, they are letting go.
Covid Lungs: The Renewal C. Christine Fair
I’m sitting on a wood stool at my mother’s kitchen counter, watching her prepare us tuna fish on toasted English muffins with sliced tomato and red onion. I’ve just arrived by Jitney—the bus from Manhattan to Sag Harbor. It’s my first time at the house all summer. She had a series of houseguests and when the last had gone I asked if I could come out. “Oh, sure, hon,” she said. “Just remember I never know how I’ll feel.” She’s the opposite of how the other members of the support group I attend at Gilda’s Club describe their parents: needy and demanding since their diagnoses. Mom might call my sister and me when she’s in the city to ask if we’re free for dinner. Rarely, she’ll invite us to come with her to a doctor’s appointment. But like when Rachel and I—now thirty-eight and forty—were children, she needs her space. My mother puts the mayonnaise back in the fridge, reaches for a sliced strawberry in a colander, takes a small bite and makes a face. Since chemo, she doesn’t know how something will taste from one day to the next. Today strawberries taste bitter. But other than that, she’s feeling good. And she doesn’t look sick at all. Her hair is not the straight auburn
bob from before. It came back curly after chemo, and she’s colored it brown. She compensates by playing up her large green eyes with shadow and mascara, like the snapshots of her from the ‘60s, when she was still married to my father: pale lipstick, silver hoop earrings. She still wears them sometimes. She’s wearing—as she says—all of her jewelry now, but not all at once. No longer saving anything for a special occasion: my great-grandmother’s diamond brooch, double strands of amber beads, a round red relic of St. Francis on a thick gold chain. We’re Jewish, but my mother is eclectic in her spirituality. A picture of Padre Pio, the Italian saint, hangs next to her bed. A sitting Buddha meditates on a small table against the opposite wall, eyes nearly closed. Outside the bedroom door, at the top of the stairs, stands Quan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion. My mother calls her “Quannie.” The house was originally built as fishermen’s quarters in the 18th century. Upstairs, the three bedrooms are small and cubby-like. She’s extended the downstairs beyond the kitchen to a screened-in porch at the back of the house, so she can be inside and outside at the same time.
Between the porch and kitchen is a sitting room, where we’re eating lunch. She’s on the white linen couch and I’m sitting in the green rocking chair across from her. Between us, the green wood coffee table is covered with crossword puzzles clipped from the New York Times, which she’s started doing in an attempt to stave off deterioration. After the disease spread from her lung to her brain, she had two laser surgeries. Both were successful in shrinking the tumors and slowing regrowth. But the third failed, so next week she begins whole-brain radiation. We don’t know what to expect. Her oncologist in the city, responsible for her treatment plan, doesn’t think her mind will be affected. “You’ll always be smart,” he told her. But she believes her doctor in East Hampton, who says otherwise. As we eat, we pass the partially completed puzzles back and forth, filling in what we can. She’s much better than I and gives me tips: don’t be in a rush; come back to the same clue several times a day; think outside the box. Then she has me sit next to her and unfolds a map of Italy. With her finger, she traces the itinerary she’s planned for our trip. My mother is in love with Italy. She started taking Italian lessons in her early fifties. Now, at sixty-four, she subscribes to Italian magazines, only reads books in Italian—most recently Dante’s Inferno—and travels to Italy twice a
year. This is the first time she’s asked my sister and me to come. I’ve blocked out the dates in my calendar, but try not to think about it. The trip isn’t until October— two months away. I’m not sure my mother will be well enough to go. After lunch, she drives us to the beach with the windows open, my long hair flying. When we pass Oakland Cemetery, she says, “That’s where I’m going to be.” “Can you not sound so happy about it, Mom?” “I’m sorry, hon. I know you don’t like it when I talk that way.” But I’m just teasing her. I know she’s glad that she’s found a spot she likes, near Balanchine, under a big tree. It’s late enough when we get to the beach that we don’t have to wait for a parking spot. We each take a towel and folding chair from the back of the SUV and walk down the steps through the dunes. Usually I wait until I’m very hot before going in the water, but it’s my first time at the beach all summer and as soon as we unfold our chairs I say, “I’m going in!” I run into the water and swim past the waves to where I can float on my back, letting the water move me, listening to my breath like a meditation. Swimming back to shore I stop and tread water, looking for my mother, who waves to me like when I was a girl. When I return to her, she holds out a towel for me and we sit side by side in the folding
mother. I know she wouldn’t have invited us if she weren’t sick—but it’s something she wants to do before she dies. She wants to show us Italy, her Italy, the place that’s meant so much to her. When I get back to our spot, my mother’s chair is turned toward the sun, her eyes closed. I move my chair next to hers and she says, “When you were a girl, you’d go off by yourself and walk and walk. I’d watch for you until finally I’d see your little yellow poncho in the distance.”
Jennifer Berman | Italy
chairs, watching the water. But I can never sit still for long and announce, “I’m going for a short walk.” “It doesn’t have to be short,” she says, taking an Italian magazine out of her white canvas bag. “I’m very happy here.” I lift my sarong above my knees and walk in the water toward the empty part of the beach, where the mansions are set far apart. I think about how my mother is so much more relaxed now that she’s no longer worried about money. We were poor after my father left us. She went on food stamps and Rachel and I got
“I know she wouldn’t have invited us if she weren’t
sick—but it’s something she wants to do before she dies. She wants to show us Italy, her Italy, the place
that’s meant so much to her. our vaccines at clinics. No matter how much she had later in life, she always felt one step away from being a bag lady. Now she knows she won’t outlive her savings. And I think about how good it is to be here with her. After struggling with our relationship for most of our lives, we’re at a good place. She wants to bring Rachel and me with her to Italy! Growing up, we never went on family vacations. For her, vacation meant getting away from the burdens of being a single
“Did Rachel go for walks too?” “No, she’d go from blanket to blanket with her arms open asking everyone around us for hugs.” Mom reaches for her beach shirt and I wrap myself in both towels and the sarong until we admit it’s too cold for us to stay. We go home, eat dinner, and watch TV in “the red room,” a small room off the dining room. There’s only space for a chaise,
an antique desk and two small bookshelves. The deep red walls are covered with masks my mother brought home from Venice. She’s stretched out on the chaise, also red, and I’m lying on throw pillows on the floor next to her. She recently bought a new TV and her first DVD player, in preparation for when she’s housebound, I’m sure. She subscribes to Netflix and mostly rents Italian films and Masterpiece Theater, but tonight we watch a French film, Artemisia, about a 17th century Italian painter who studied secretly with her father when women weren’t allowed to paint. Throughout the film my mother comments on the Italian art of the period. I’m amazed by how much she knows. She tells me she was an art history minor in college. How could I not have known that? We eat Rocky Road frozen yogurt during the movie and my mother smokes a lot of pot. “Does this bring back bad memories from your childhood?” she asks. I hadn’t thought about it. I remember her drinking more than I remember her smoking pot, though it’s true that I hated when she did either. Both took her farther away from me. Last year, at her fifth AA anniversary, she spoke to the group about how a friend had recently brought her some pot. She said that even though cancer gave her an excuse to smoke, she got rid of it because she could feel it calling to her
the way that alcohol had. Now, she says, it’s the only thing that helps with the headaches. I believe her, but I don’t think it’s the only reason she’s smoking so much. I think it’s hard to die sober. I wish she wasn’t getting high. It’s been great to have her sober the past few years, but considering what she’s facing, it doesn’t matter. Whatever I feel about it I push aside. All that matters is that she feel as good as she can. And that we spend time together. In the middle of the night my mother gets up to pee and it wakes me, so a few minutes later I get up and go, too. When I get back into bed, she calls out in a singsong little girl voice: “Bafroom Time!” It’s so like her to slip into childhood like that. I laugh and shout down the hall, “Good night, Mom!”
erratic—only now she has an excuse and she’s
When I wake up my mother has already left for her AA meeting. I’m in my swimsuit sunning myself on the back patio when I hear her park her car, but she doesn’t come into the house. The front door
At a red light on the way to the beach, a man walks his dog on a patch of grass. “He’d better pick it up,” my mother says. Then out the window, “Hey buddy, I think you forgot something.” Either he doesn’t hear or he ignores her. “I think it just peed,” I say. Waiting for a parking space, my mother and I don’t speak. Once she parks, we each take a chair and towel from the back of the car, walk down the steps, scope out a place in the sand. “Those girls are talking,” she says. “Let’s go further.” I follow her down the beach until she stops and we both unfold our chairs. Then she closes hers and says, “I can tell those people are going to talk.” I follow her up toward the dunes. We settle in and she says, “It’s too hot up here.” She gathers her stuff and we go back toward the water. “They’re talking now. I knew it. I’m moving.” She stands and tells me, “Stay where you are. You don’t have to come.” She sits a few feet in front of me. I don’t know what to do. I get up, wrap my sarong around my waist, place my chair next to hers and say, “I’m going for a walk.” I head in the opposite direction from yesterday, to the next beach with a bathroom. Walking back, I tell myself I need to be more understanding with my
Jennifer Berman | Italy
sticks so we always use the back door—she’d have to walk past me. I realize she must have gone to Eileen’s, her friend across the street. Then I think I hear her on the stairs. Could she have used the front door? I go inside. She’s heading to the kitchen carrying her coffee cup. “Hi Mom.” She doesn’t respond. “Are we going to the same beach as yesterday?” “I don’t know, Jen,” she says. I can tell she’s in a mood. I should get out of her way, but like when I was a kid I don’t let go. “But you still want to go, right?” “Too many questions! I have five brain tumors. I can’t think.” I’m hardened against what I see as her melodrama. I don’t believe this has anything to do with the tumors. She’s always been like this—moody and erratic—only now she has an excuse and she’s milking it. “I kind of need to know,” I say. “Because my plan depends on what you do. If you don’t want to go, I can call a cab.” She walks by me to refill her coffee cup and brings it upstairs. I grab the yellow pages out of the hutch in the kitchen, bring them to the couch by the phone, and call the first taxi company on the list. I don’t know how far I’ll take this—if I’ll actually take a taxi alone to the beach to prove something to my mother. I’m on hold when she comes halfway down the stairs and says, “We’ll go! Give me ten minutes.”
mother. She doesn’t feel well. She’s dying. She’s out of whack with all the medications she’s taking. I have to be more patient. When I’m close to where we were, I look up the beach but Mom’s not there. Then I see her standing near the water, our chairs folded at her feet, hand on her hip. I wave and walk faster. As soon as I’m in earshot, “Ground rules! If you’re dependent on me for transportation you can’t leave for so long. I have no way of getting in touch with you. You know I don’t feel well. I wanted to leave an hour ago.” “It wasn’t an hour. I went to the bathroom—” “—You walked all the way to the other beach and used—” “—I didn’t know. Yesterday I said I was going for a short walk, and you said it didn’t have to be short, that you were happy—” “—That was yesterday! That’s why when you want to come, I tell you that I never know how I’ll feel.” “Maybe I should go home tonight,” I say. “People say they understand, but they don’t.” “It’s not good for me to be around you when you’re like this.” She takes a step toward me and I say, “And you can’t hit me anymore!” She stops and looks at me, confused, hurt, stunned. Gently she says, “I wasn’t going to hit you.” Of course she wasn’t. Where did that come from?
My mother spanked me when I was a child, slapped me across the face when I talked back as a teenager. It wasn’t what would be considered—then or now—to be physical abuse. I think what stayed with me was how powerless I felt. This was my way of saying she no longer had that power over me. “Go! Just go!” She stands still and waits for me to walk ahead of her. Then she catches up beside me. “This makes me very sick.” “It makes me sick too,” I say, as if we’re in similar health. “Don’t come to see me then!” “If that’s what you want.” “That’s not what I want!” We approach the car. I stand behind her as she opens the trunk. With her back to me she screams, “How do you think it feels to have five brain tumors and to be dying?” “How do you think I feel about your dying?” I say. As she pulls onto the main road she says, “When we get home, you’ll go.” She parks in front of the house and goes to Eileen’s. I strip the bed. I don’t know whether to put on fresh sheets. My mother is very particular about linens. The only rule I can remember is no florals in winter, but it’s August so that doesn’t help. I decide against the sheets and leave a note on the bed saying that I’m sorry and I love her, then go downstairs. “I made you a food bag,” my mother says, standing at the
There’s no chance she’ll
change her mind.
The next day, I leave my mother a message. She doesn’t call back. One week. Two. Almost three. Ordinarily I’d wait longer, but we don’t have the luxury of time. I send a card saying I’m sorry and I love her. I say I want
to get back to how things were between us before my visit—that we don’t ever have to talk about it if she doesn’t want to. I just want to be a support to her. Finally, I get a voicemail: “Hi sweetheart. I’m making contact, however feeble.” Her voice sounds weak. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but clearly you can’t come to Italy. I don’t think either of us can control it, unfortunately—” She gasps for breath. I don’t know if it’s the lung cancer or if she’s being dramatic. Maybe both. “I can’t talk to you for a long time. See you soon.” I know she’s said she’ll see me out of habit. It’s the part about not being able to talk to me that’s true. Rachel calls to tell me Mom has given my plane tickets and hotel rooms to a friend. That makes it final. There’s no chance she’ll change her mind. I delete the dates from my calendar. I want to tell my mother that we wouldn’t fight if she let me come to Italy. She said in her voicemail that we can’t control it, what happens between us, but I know how to be careful around her. We were so relaxed—the weekend began so well—that I forgot how quickly things can turn. I forgot to be vigilant.
Jennifer Berman | Italy
kitchen counter. I open the small brown paper bag—like a school lunch—to find an apple and the remains of what I bought at the health food store: one frozen soy burger from a package of two and a half jar of Amy’s organic spaghetti sauce. “It doesn’t make sense for me to take this home, but I guess you won’t eat any of it,” I say. “No. There’s a Jitney leaving in twenty minutes.” “I know. Mom, I’m sorry we got in a fight.” She doesn’t respond. “We can talk about it another time,” I say. “That sounds smart.” I hug my mother. She says, “Bye, sweetie.” I leave quickly, not wanting her to see me cry. As I walk to the Jitney, I tell myself it’s going to be okay. She hugged me. She called me sweetie. My hands are shaking. I throw away the bag of food and get on the bus.
Weeks pass, the summer ends. It’s a bright Sunday in October and I’m wandering the East Village, walking up the stairs from a basement boutique when my mother calls. We’re awkward in our hellos, speaking at the same time. “I’m sorry, Mom. Go on. What?” “I want to send you anywhere you want to go in the world, since you’re not coming on this trip,” she says. “How about a ticket for the Jitney?” I offer. “What?” At first she doesn’t understand that I mean the bus to Sag Harbor—the bus to see her. Then she laughs. But she doesn’t invite me to visit her before she leaves for Italy.
To the Old Man in the Walking Boot Sharon Lee Snow
I have been you, cast alone in a cold waiting room clutching a resume like a talisman in a needful fist. Hoping the young manager overlooks the crow’s feet of a life spent searching, fails to see silver strung through dark strands, a badge you are as surprised to wear as anyone. Praying your infirmness is seen as temporary; not in the way of a passing mayfly, but in the way that all life’s tragedies and beauty grace these stumbling human lives.
Flight of Fancy Michelle Engel
It is my first day. I count my steps from the parking lot to the waiting room to the intake room to the nurse’s station. One-hundred-andtwo—twenty-nine—fifteen. There, they strip-search me, looking for artifacts of contraband, for razors, hairpins, scissors. I am clean. They offer me grape juice in an airline cup with a foil lid. I drink it. They take the foil away. And then my shoes, and my laces. I am in my socks and gym shorts and crewneck sweatshirt as my goods are processed. Penelope Worthers—a fifteen-year-old with sideways pigtails and a rope burn around her neck—gives me a tour of the unit. (Pen-el-o-pee. Four syllables.) The space smells like Lysol and ammonia and sweat. She describes everything as boring—the boring dayroom, the boring bedrooms, the boring white sheets and boring gloss posters and boring pale ceiling. Boring paint, chipping at the metal door frames. Boring food, half-baked, half-burnt. Boring tiles, which I count on the route—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. We stop in front of a pale bedroom with one vacant bed. Penelope gestures to the empty crash pad in the corner. Paper-thin sheets are drawn taut to each edge of the lumpy mattress. A girl is seated on the other bed,
turning her jagged bangs with her thumb and pointer finger, neglecting to greet me. At least the people aren’t boring, Penelope says, and her laugh makes my ears ring, like an echo in the back of a cave. I meet the girl—my roommate. Petra. (Peh-truh. Two syllables.) Petra is thirteen. Here from Russia. Her foster parents dropped her off in the parking lot and said they were moving to Reno and that they weren’t coming back. A month has passed since anyone has seen them. She says her foster mom is good at blackjack and checkers, and her foster dad is an asshole with a hooker mustache, and she’s glad that both of them are gone. She says she hopes they gamble all their government money and that their car breaks down on their way back to Texas and that they die of heart attacks having sex in an Antilla Studs. She is vulgar and unapologetic and she makes me nervous, more nervous than myself. Can I tell you a secret? she asks. We should get back to the day room. Before they come looking for me, I reply. We’re planning on running, Petra says. Running? Leaping over the fence. Like gazelle. Petra does not tell me the details of our departure. From her giddy tone, I know that the plot is not a
over Petra, casting the shadow of her tiny body into the plaster. ~ Day two, therapy group, and another collection plate of names. Nadine (Nay-dean; two syllables) and Emilie (Em-eel-lee; three syllables) are twins, teenagers; they climbed the local water tower when they were both manic and ended up on Channel-8 News. Their insurance company accepted the news footage as proof of a necessity to commit them both. Madeline (Mad-elle-in; three syllables) is nineteen, and she’s paranoid, super paranoid. She’s here because she tried to die on purpose, to overdose on aspirin, but she took too much Mucinex, instead. Overdosing on Mucinex doesn’t kill you; it makes your puke blue. And Diamond is ten (Di-mend, two syllables) and she is here because everything that is silent is loud, like corners, and walls, and pockets in the air. They want to know why I am here. I’m very good at counting. Too good, I say. My mom thinks it’s a problem. She is right. Some days, some weeks, all I think about are numbers—safe numbers, dangerous numbers—so much so that I am unable to be present, that I would prefer to count the six feet needed to plot my own grave, because in death, the numbers won’t exist anymore.
Piper Gourley | Petra
secret at all. Someone calls to her from down the hall, once, twice, and she jets out of our room like disclosing the remaining plot of the escape is of no importance, like I do not deserve to be let in on the full outline. Maybe I don’t. I am not even sure I deserve to be here, despite the latest swell of intrusive thoughts gnawing at the membrane of my breaking point, buzzing like hornets in a battered nest. I tell an orderly with a friendly face and long eyelashes that I do not belong here after all and she says kind and stupid things, like of course you do and we’re here to help you and we’re glad you’re here. They mean we’re happy to take your money and we’re glad you’re not dead, but they don’t say so. They aren’t as vulgar as Petra. They aren’t as eager to escape. They get to leave when their shift is up, only mention their abnormal career in passing rather than have it brand their medical records into maturity. We are stuck. Marked. Controlless. Even when we leave, this place will not leave us. It’s nighttime. I don’t sleep. I worry that if I don’t stay up counting, everyone there—and everyone who has ever known me and ever will know me—will die. I count the one, three, five, nine, twelve ceiling tiles above our heads. Petra snores. Every fifteen minutes, a flashlight passes over my body like a jet from a lighthouse, then falls
I don’t tell them this. I don’t tell them that I have spent years in mathematical freefall and scattered weeks in treatment centers and therapy sessions, trying to find a way to stop. Penelope reassures me that I am a superhero and that if she was too good at counting, she would count her lucky stars forward and backward. The therapist running the group explains to Penelope that she is being insensitive. Penelope tells the therapist to kiss her left ass cheek. Everyone laughs, except for me and Petra. Her silence is more chilling than her voice. We all get put on consequence. No talking for an hour. When the sixty minutes is up, I ask Penelope: Do you know that we’re running? Can you lower your fucking voice? When? Keep your ears peeled, fish. Everything here is word of mouth. I imagine peeling my ears from my head. Slicing them off with the dull ends of my nails, performing the act raggedly. I think about the peeling and the peeling and the peeling until I am sick. I run to the bathroom and puke into the porcelain toilet bowl. The orderly from the day before comes to my aid. She holds my hair, pats my back, whispers sweet nothings over the top of my head. Madeline ducks her head into the room, tells me it’s the staffs’ fault, to not drink any more of their poison juice. The orderly shoos her away.
I sit on the cool floor and count the bathroom tiles until I am safe again. I count until the Unit is safe again, until Mom won’t crash her minivan into the barricade of the interstate, until Dad won’t choke on his steak at dinner, until the faulty engine in my brother’s school bus won’t explode and splatter his insides on the sidewalk outside of our house, until our house won’t sink into the ground. I count the tiles back to my room, back to my bed, back to the ceiling, and repeat. It is two in the morning, and the numbers run away from me. Petra is awake. Diamond is shouting down the hall, conversing with her personal purgatory. The orderlies are talking sweet to her from the hallway, trying to soothe her. Petra is not talking sweet. She is shouting and cursing and slipping in and out of Russian and English, exhausting herself, as if she is tossing a softball back and forth between her vocal chords. At some point, I cannot tell whether she is furious with Diamond or the staff or the entire world, but I want to sink into the wall, melt into the plaster. I feel myself f-l-o-a-t-i-n-g beyond my body, drifting into the nowhere. Petra’s voice is foggy and dense and underwater. Blyat, blyat, you let this go on? Moodozvon, a pizdets! I’ll naveshat’ pizdyley, anyone, come in here, cowards! Past’ zabej, padla jebanaja! Zhri govno i zdohni! Cuchka derganaya! Crazy bitch!
Day three. Before vitals, Penelope steals a staff member’s thermos and we drink their coffee. I shiver from exhaustion until it kicks in. At breakfast, I sit next to Diamond and ask if she is okay. She is imagining clawing her face off. She has been for two days, that’s what she tells me, in between bites of Strawberry Pop-Tart. Ever since I showed up. Clawing until there’s no skin left, no skin at all. Petra chimes in, says that it’s the natural thoughts
Piper Gourley | Petra
The orderlies do not come to scold her or restrain her. Petra screams as if she knows that she is limitless, untouchable. I am frightened, but desperate for her level of control. I cannot feel my weight on the bed. It is a half-hour later when the shouting stops. I return to my body in pieces, pound by pound. Petra takes heavy breaths, staring at me like she is trying to decide if I am real. Newbie. They are animals. The orderlies? I ask. Whatever lives in her head, she replied.
“I lay down but stay up, counting the seconds into hours, making sure I will make it out with the rest of
them; that I do not sabotage us all. Oh. Yeah. Poor kid. Yes. Bednyy rebenok. But if she is weak when we run, she will be left behind. A lump forms in my throat, chews at my breath. Everyone else here is established. If Diamond is the weakest, I am next on the rung. I am not sold on running, but now, I fear falling into the category of the left behind. Petra lays down, snoring within moments. I lay down but stay up, counting the seconds into hours, making sure I will make it out with the rest of them; that I do not sabotage us all. ~
of someone treated like a zoo animal—to rip away their human parts, their identifying features. She says this is why we must run. So we do not all become like the bednyy rebenok. Tonight, Petra decides. Tonight, we run. Is there an exit, or something? Petra says: We run at night. So it’s dark. All the doors are locked, I reply. We charge at dawn. Dawn is in the morning, not night—after Petra woke from deep sleep, from hissing all
through the witching hours. Dawn sounds nice enough, and I’m too exhausted to come up with a better word, so I don’t correct her. Madeline corrects her, anyway, and Petra says that Madeline doesn’t even know the difference between crimson Aspirin and blue Mucinex and that she’s colorblind and some other four-letter words and that she should mind her own god—damn—business. Nadine and Emilie both Ooo and Ohhh and Madeline starts crying, then Petra slaps her, and an orderly escorts Petra out of the cafeteria. Madeline wails. I leave my body again, drift through group after group, counting my way back into my skin. By nighttime, Petra is not back, so we do not run. Penelope talks a big game, even runs down a strategy—diving and looping to the fence, distracting the orderlies, splitting apart like baby pigs—yet, without Petra, we are performers with no choreographer. By nine o’clock, my counting is off. I worry I might vomit again. I imagine Petra has drunk the juice. I imagine she has been poisoned, euthanized. I sit up and listen to the hallway, in case the delay is a trick and they are planning on departing without me. I hear nothing. It isn’t until long after bedtime that Petra sulks into the room, sluggish and drugged. I cannot see her face in the darkness. She sits on the edge of the bed, perched, as if planning on leaping to
her death. A few minutes later, the beam of light offers the outline of her expression, and it is stony, stoic. I whisper her name like I am calling out to a stray animal. No response. She lays down and the bedsprings s-c-r-e-a-m. ~ Day four, and the psychologist wants to see me. Petra gets quiet when she comes into the room. As she searches for a free therapy room, Penelope tells me not to let them prescribe me anything that I can’t pronounce. With a faux lisp, Nadine announces that she hasn’t taken any medication in two weeks. The psychologist is called Jenni. (Jen-knee. Two syllables.) She is a brunette woman with plump lips and a warm affect. I am surprised that she is in khakis rather than scrubs; Skechers rather than orthopedic shoes. We skip niceties. She gives me a few multiple-choice worksheets, has me circle symptomatic facial expressions, asks me about my thoughts, about my counting, about why I’m there, about my counting, about how I feel when life goes topsy-turvy. The words and symbols blur together on the page, soupy and nauseating. Jenni is rushing. I wish she would let me make a spreadsheet. Explain that yes, I want to die, but it’s an ache, not an urge, and the counting keeps it in line, locked into feasible points in my mind. There is no time for this. The drifty feeling digs at
our water with these substances, and how it doesn’t matter what pills we take—drugs are drugs are drugs, and they are a part of everything. I can’t stop looking at Petra. She is a focal point in the haze. Madeline notices, then shifts gears—she is sure that Petra is a Russian spy. They make them smaller and smaller these days, she explains. Anyone at all can be a spy. Then, she decides Petra is an actress, or a police robot in a human shell. I think Madeline has watched The Truman Show too many times—or that she is on to something. Our eyes are on Petra—I am counting the stripes on her sweater, up to twenty-seven—as she flips the Clue board. I lose track of the lines. Petra screams, ripping the miniature manila envelope into scraps. She has guessed the wrong murderer. The staff shuffles us into the hallway as they corral Petra in the dayroom, prying the tiny Clue weapons out of her hands, one at a time: the little knife, the tiny pipe, the precious gun. In the commotion, more bombs begin to go off. Diamond starts to cry. She says that her face feels so peelable, that she’s sure she’ll feel better once it’s gone. Penelope tells her that every object on earth is peelable if you try hard enough, but that
Piper Gourley | Petra
me as I make my marks. At the end of our conversation, she prescribes me Seroquel and Lamictal. I wish they were not so easy to pronounce. Written in Latin, or Greek. I take my two pills at the nurse’s station before lunch—tongue up, tongue down, gone. Petra watches me like a vulture, then doesn’t speak to me for the rest of the afternoon. Hours pass. The numbers continue thrumming. I count the chairs, the ceiling lights, the magnets on the fridge, the posters, the tiles on the floor, the tiles on the ceiling—then repeat, performing the process for every member of the Unit’s safety, every relative, every peer I can conjure up in my mind. By late afternoon, I feel sleepy, senseless. I wonder if that’s the point of the medication—to exhaust me past the point of counting. It isn’t working. During therapeutic recreation, Nadine and Emilie play Clue with Petra in the dayroom. The twins are gesturing to each other with wild, angry motions. Petra’s rage is silent, tactful. Penelope and Diamond bug the staff running the snack counter, asking for extra Goldfish in exchange for a quiet evening. Madeline and I sit on the floor in the corner and color inky print-outs of fish, bubbles curling from their bloated lips, drowning in their lives. I tell Madeline my medicine isn’t working. She smiles, then lectures me about Forever Chemicals, about how the government is poisoning
doesn’t mean we should go around peeling everyone’s face off. Diamond says that she doesn’t want to peel everyone’s face off—only her own. The conversation makes me dizzy. The conflict makes me dizzy. Everything makes me dizzy. I drift, counting my breaths until I feel close to passing out. The staff has captured Petra. They stick her in a chair by the snack counter. They feed her Goldfish as one might feed a god ripe grapes. Petra says something to one of the orderlies, whispers a phrase, and they get this tender expression on their face. They reply to Petra in a hushed tone, something about how her foster parents would be very sad if she did that, about how she is a bright spark, et cetera. I count the rest of her stripes (forty-two) as she listens to the orderly, pretending to care about their pseudo-
“Petra and I are too much
alike—I, a calculator, she,
psychology. Then, they drag Petra’s mattress into the harsh fluorescents of the dayroom. She will be sleeping there tonight. I will not be sleeping at all. The crowd in the hallway breaks up, lines up for dinner. Pound by pound by pound, I end up at the end. Petra is confined to the Unit. She sits
on her mattress, bundled up in a thin sheet, more a mosaic than a person. Everyone gawks at her as we make our way into the courtyard between the hospital and the dining hall. Her eyes bore into me and I imagine that Madeline is correct—Petra is a spy. A device. A robot. A halfassembled person. Fragments of electricity in a body. Petra and I are too much alike—I, a calculator, she, a machine. As we go through the mess line, the staff says something about how this isn’t summer camp and how we shouldn’t be gossiping about one another because judgement is poison for the soul and will make us all sick inside. In the cafeteria, over burnt chicken nuggets and cold mashed potatoes, we decide that we are already sick inside. We gossip. What’s she doing? I ask. Petra? Penelope massages her temples, rubs her eyes, pokes at her potatoes. Can you pass me the pepper? I do. She cakes her food in the seasoning, enough to give an asthmatic a heart attack. We’re not leaving tonight, are we? Nadine asks. Penelope sighs. She’s stalling. Petra, so cold, so blunt, doesn’t strike me as a staller. I wonder what it is about the running that scares her—about getting caught, or getting free. After all, what’s a kid from Russia with foster parents in Nevada going to do in Houston?
as hospitals. Maybe Diamond is only as sick as this place is. She’s boiling alive in here—maybe I am, too. Suddenly, there is more clarity to Petra’s plan than I can handle. We charge at dawn, I think. The thought hits my chest like some great, blistering comet in the night. At dawn, At dawn, At dawn. ~ Day five—sunrise. The chicken wire over the window casts patterns onto the walls, setting the morning on fire. The flashlight dies after eight; the surveillance squad expects us to come to them. I sit up. I can hear the walls muttering like Diamond, raw and burbling, a stream shielded by concrete trees. The grip-socks on my feet fish for the ground, hook the tiles, but my body and brain float through vitals and meds, a collapsed vessel in a mushy cage. Madeline tells everyone I am poisoned. I cannot muster up the energy to disagree. I am enlightened. At ten, I meet my therapist. Dana. (Day-nuh. Two syllables.) She says insurance will cover two more days or less, so we have to make the most of our time. She says this as if she has made any effort to see me before now. She is frenetic and she trips over her words and drinks coffee from a ceramic mug that says BEST DAD EVER. I do not think she
Piper Gourley | Petra
She’s too young to work; too aggressive to get adopted. I try to imagine her in a two-story home with a suburban family from the Woodlands, or an artsy apartment West of Montrose, or a townhouse South of downtown. In every scenario I can conceptualize, the house is on fire. At night, I don’t sleep. Without Petra’s snoring, the Unit speaks to me. Walkie talkie static and whispers from the night staff and the occasional shout for an orderly from the RN’s desk. Madeline goes out for a glass of water, complains that the air is dry, that everyone is going to suffocate on their tongues. The staff shuts her argument down with a few mutterances about how essential a full night’s rest is for the mind; she goes back to bed without another word. A few rooms over, I hear Diamond talking again. I wonder if she is speaking in her sleep, yet I know she is awake, frantic, devolving. She’s speaking gibberish to the ceiling, to the walls. She doesn’t find the plaster as boring as Penelope. As she rattles off phrases of alphabet soup, I imagine Diamond’s flesh melting away from her face, peeling onto her neck. I count the tiles for her. Once, three times, a dozen. By the time the compulsion passes, she continues to speak as if I have done nothing to help. Maybe Petra is right about putting humans in cages, in zoos disguised
sleeps enough, is paid enough, or is stable enough for this job. I do not think I am stable enough for this session. By the end of our conversation, all we have talked about is how I’m doing in school and if I ever fight with my parents and if any relatives ever touched me as a kid. Good—Sometimes—No. She promises to come to see me again, real soon, like a manager bidding farewell to a customer who is passing through town. She is lying. There is no time. The hourglass is running out, rapid and diseased. Not two days. Nightfall. Dawn. The walls are talking me into the air, to the edge of the bubble, to the end of this world. We—charge—at—dawn. Dana will be left behind; not me. Petra’s mattress is back in our room. We have breakfast like the events that occurred the previous day with the Clue board and the tiny weapons are an urban legend. Still, no one will speak to her without a tone of distrust. Petra mutters in Russian. Diamond mutters in nonsense. I dig into the tail-ends of their sentences, fueled and frenetic by the prospect of escape. My appetite is gone, tossed to the paranoia. I muster my voice and ask Diamond if she wants any of my eggs. She covers her face with her hands. She cannot look at me, or the orderlies, or the room, or the cold food, or the locked doors. All this to say:
We are all ready to run. Only plans fall through. Petra and Penelope get into a fight over who deserves the solo ‘P’ name. Petra wants Penelope to go by Nellie; Penelope/Nellie disagrees. Both of them get put into isolation for the afternoon, into the evening. I go to bed alone. The darkness swaddles me as I calculate the ceiling. An hour later, shadow graces the doorway, a blurry silhouette of a girl, breaking free from the walls to consume me. No—it is Petra. She comes to bed, sits up, refuses to lay down. She says her side hurts from her brawl with Penelope. She doesn’t want to rest in a way that could make her stiff before our escape. I sit up, pitch forward, nervous and alive.
will have to escape empty,
pronounceable pills, the numbers rattling through
my mind like bingo balls.
It’s really tomorrow? I tried to get our shoes, she says. The closet is locked. Petra? Can you imagine staying another day? she asks. Can you even imagine? I-mag-ine. E-madge-in. I can’t even imagine imagine. I am too tired.
my brain is dissolving, but I am ready for the sprint. At six, the burst comes—a great light. Steel doors swing open like a mouth. I break out of line. I am born again. We scream. Orderlies scream. Guttural shouts into walkie-talkies. My bare feet are staccato as I break across the court, pursuing the open fencing on the far end of the intake building. Twisting, turning, sprinting towards the open fencing. There is an order to the choreography, to bridging the gap between AstroTurf and metal links, to the few children screeching like caught hogs as orderlies grab their stomachs and put them in holds. The staff has had more to lose, but we have more to gain—our freedom. Our sanity. There are not enough of them to capture us all. I am counting my steps— onetwothreefourfivesixseven eight—and it’s making my brain ache, but I am running. I am too heavy to float. At dawn, At dawn, At dawn. Penelope and Petra are ahead of me; Diamond, to my right. They are blurred in my vision, in the dawn. Emilie has been captured, and Nadine has surrendered herself. Madeline is behind us, running aimlessly, sobbing, too malnourished to stay on course. I glance back as
Piper Gourley | Petra
I cannot remember when I last slept. Fear steals its way through my body, flushes my face, relocates vacant pounds onto my ribcage. In ensuring my placement, I have doomed myself. I will have to escape on empty, full of pronounceable pills, the numbers rattling through my mind like bingo balls. Petra lays down within a half hour, snores like a foghorn all evening. I lean against the wall and wait for the plaster to swallow me, eyes on Petra, burning in my cold sheets. I resent her and I am her, in control and beyond it. I count and count and count and imagine strangling her in her hospital-issued socks and count and count through the night. I am not safe. ~ Day six, six in the evening— Dinner is approaching at a rapid pace. It is not dark, but this is our one chance. We have spent the day awaiting the finale. Petra attempts to pilfer a key off of an orderly out of boredom, yet nothing more. Our plan is solid, steady, pulsing. Diamond promises that if she does not get out today, her face will be destroyed by bedtime. Despite my disorientation, my exhaustion, I spend every group, every meal, every moment of downtime memorizing her features. Her short nose, her fat freckles, her dark hair. Just in case. We have been chewing on anticipation all day. My body hurts,
she is caught around the waist by one of the orderlies from the boys’ Unit, all of whom are now after Petra, Penelope, Diamond, and me. My feet are stinging. Panic t-e-ar-s through my body as the numbers jumble, desert me, mix and spiral. I have not lost the rush, but I am in a bad way. My energy is too removed to care. The orderlies are catching up. We are a few yards from the fence, at most. Yards—feet—inches. Without notice, Petra juts her foot out to the right. Penelope trips over her toes, spiralling onto the asphalt. Diamond faceplants over her rigid body and goes stiff on the ground. I feel myself scream, or the air scream, or the pavement scream, and the world comes out from beneath my toes, only I fall rather than soaring. I crane my neck up. Petra has reached the fence. She loops her hands through a break in the wire cage, looking not unlike an animal at the edge of a field. I call her name. She steals a glance back at me, mouths a statement I cannot distinguish, then breaks through to the other side, sprinting like she has to make it to Reno by sunrise. By dawn. We are captured. Strip-searched, a second time, for rocks, sticks, weapons, then stuck on the couches in the dayroom, condemned to silence. I count the fuzzies on the carpet until my eyes are blurry. The twins are nowhere to be seen. Madeline cries, trying to explain a narrative of mass hysteria, yet she
is too hysterical to be coherent. Penelope is taken into a therapy room, shouting about how they can halt the revolution but they can’t imprison a dream. Something like that. I cannot hear her because I am drowning. Diamond is crying. She paws at her neck, her cheeks, with dull nails. Bednyy rebenok. Petra’s words play in my head like a distorted record, a song long expired. I restrain her hands within my own, holding them until I cannot anymore. We are separated, interrogated. We are both the left behind. My interrogator is Dana. She has made good on her promise to see me again. Her expression is now police-like, strict. I am frightened and I am angry and she is translucent, swaying, a hologram in the room. I want to talk about my numbers, about how my medication won’t make them dissolve like pills in brain fluid, about how I sabotaged the mission the moment I lost track of the onetwothreefourfive—but she does not want to talk about me. She wants to know who concocted the plan to sprint. I tell her about the whispers, and the actors, and the hissing. I do not blame Petra. This narrative is all I have control over. Petra does not deserve it. When I’m done talking, Dana walks me back into the dayroom, into the lion’s pit. Diamond is gone. Penelope is gone. The twins, Madeline—everyone is gone. Order-
Piper Gourley | Petra
lies ask me if I want water or food or a shower or to call my mom or dad, but their voices are hollow. When I don’t respond to their questions, I am stuck in my room to await our sentencing. I stare at Petra’s empty bed, her tousled sheets, her hospital-issued slippers and grip-socks by the doorway. She did not care about getting Diamond out, or setting the twins free. I know she will not be back. She will not let herself be recaptured, if they even bother looking for her. I doubt they will. No one will miss Petra. She has started a fire that she is not present to put out. We handed her the matches. The lights go out. The numbers circle me but do not latch onto my brain. I do not count. I listen for sounds of life, for Diamond, for the noise of her speaking to the ceiling or ripping away her flesh, centimeter by centimeter. Everything is silent. I close my eyes and recall Diamond’s face, once, two times, three times, down to the last freckle. She mutates. Petra’s figure invades my thoughts all night long: her smug expression through the shadow of the fencing, her body breaking free from the metal, my last hope—my greatest resentment—set to sea. I am drowning in my life, I whisper. Petra is not there to call me a poor kid. But it rattles through me, still, that blistering comet: bednyy rebenok, bednyy rebenok, bednyy rebenok.
Bolt of Energy Britnie Walston
Traverse Town T. Dallas Saylor
This one’s a par-two: you whack your plastic ball along the turf but it banks and rolls ten feet off. I’m 25 today—stable too. Go-karts race the lot, and inside our parents’ favorite video games blink and bleep beside lamp-lit billiards where sparkly teen girls pop solids, their hi-topped boys strike stripes. I’m so color drunk I’d almost say it’s enough: tonight let’s not play therapy, pack boxes, reach for each other’s bodies. I’ll birdie the next one—betcha an ice cream. You say, let’s fucking go.
Road Flares Adam Tavel
They sizzled red like cartoon dynamite— four incandescent sticks that marked the wreck. They sparked on shards of sleet, as if a prince had smashed his brandy at the candlelight on hearing that the maid he favored last had sank into a pond to drown the shame two moons had made. I braked, but passed too fast, and had to merge, to catch more than a glimpse— one desperate pump above the driver’s breasts. Three EMTs, all young enough to be my sons, were blurs. They may have winced, crackling through walkie-talkie static to relay she’s gone. Who knows. I dropped a gear to see one pumper’s thrust, the steam rise off his back.
Art Michelle Engel had some formal art training in high school and a bit in college but is mostly self-taught. She enjoys exploring themes of various world religions and mythology from several cultures. While she considers herself a pagan agnostic, she appreciates any and all belief systems that uphold the rights and dignity of those who believe otherwise or who believe beauty needs no deity/deities to explain or justify its purpose and existence. C. Christine Fair is a professor within the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where she studies political and military events of South Asia and travels extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East. Her books include In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-eTayyaba (OUP 2019); Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014); and Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States (Globe Pequot, 2008). She has published creative pieces in The Bark, The Dime Show Review, Clementine Unbound, Awakenings, Fifty Word Stories, The Drabble, Sandy River Review, Sonder Midwest, Black Horse Magazine, Furious Gazelle, Hyptertext, Barzakh Magazine, and Bluntly Magazine among others. Her visual poetry has appeared in Awakenings, pulpMAG, the Indianapolis Review, and Typehouse Literary Magazine. Shannon Kernaghan creates visual art from Alberta, Canada. Her art has been exhibited with galleries in New York City, Laguna Beach, Chicago, Palm Springs and more. Kernaghan’s passion is storytelling in all forms–she also writes fiction, poetry and everything between, in books and journals. More at: www.ShannonKernaghan.com Nam Nguyen is a multimedia artist who enjoys photography, writing, and filmmaking. He has been published in Jabberwock Review, Cirque, J. Mane Gallery, Sunspot Lit, The Ephimiliar Journal, The Esthetic Apostle, Cardinal Sins, Ember Chasm Review, The RavensPerch, Wild Roof Journal, Havik, The Paragon Journal, The Finger Literary Journal, The Write Launch, Glass Mountain, and Chestnut Review.
Contributors | Issue 22
Britnie Walston is a Maryland artist who has been passionate about art since her early childhood, and captures energy through light and vibrant colors. After growing up near the Chesapeake Bay, her landscapes and abstract work are inspired by the beauty of nature. Britnie received a scholarship to continue her studies in studio painting classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art and later received a bachelors from Goucher College as a fine and performing arts scholar, and studied abroad in Greece in the summer of 2012. She was also the White House Christmas Ornament Artist of 2008, followed by various other awards and honors. Her work has been featured in Mid-Atlantic and state wide shows, and published in magazines such as Chestnut Review, Sonder Midwest, Mud Season Review, Blue Mesa Review, Abstract Magazine TV, and many more. More of her work can be found at: www.BNWArt.com
Fiction Rebecca Dimyan is an award-winning writer whose nonfiction essays and short fiction have appeared in national and international print and online publications including Vox, xoJane, The Mighty, 34th Parallel, and many others. She is also an adjunct professor at several colleges in Connecticut. Rebecca recently completed a memoir about her experience with chronic illness. Piper Gourley is a professional ghostwriter from Houston, Texas, studying fiction at the University of Houston. Their work has been published in The Interlochen Review, Michigan Quarterly Review: Mixtape, Thought Catalog, History 101, Living 101, The Mighty, The Sun Magazine, and more. As a ghostwriter, they have published over 680 creative works across the web. Alexandria Reid is a Texas native currently earning her master’s degree in business and branding. In addition to writing short fiction, she helps brands craft their vision, purpose, and communications. She has not previously been published.
Nonfiction Jennifer Berman’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Morning News, Petside, and other publications. She lives in New York City. Chelsea M. Carney is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey with her husband and three pets. She is a graduate of The New School in New York City, as part of their Riggio Honors Writing Program, and has had work featured in Elpha and Teen Ink Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her camped out in her living room, guzzling coffee, and binging far too much television.
Poetry Barbara Alfaro is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Playwriting. Her memoir Mirror Talk won the IndieReader Discovery Award for Best Memoir. Alfaro’s poems have appeared in Poet Lore, The Blue Mountain Review, Variant Literature, and Voices de la Luna. Find more at: www.BarbaraAlfaro.net Niccolo Bechtler writes poems about old towns, barren landscapes, and people he does not know. He is interested in strong images and experimental forms influenced by technology and the environment. Niccolo is set to receive a bachelor’s degree in literature and journalism from American University in May 2021. In his free time, he enjoys making music, skateboarding, and riding mountain bikes. Matt Bullen is a graduate student in creative writing at Lancaster University in England. Previously trained in cultural anthropology, he also works as the CTO of a beach vacation startup company. His poetry focuses on observations about daily life in contemporary times; his poetic influences include the New York School and the French Surrealists. Phil Huffy is a busy poet whose work has appeared in dozens of journals and anthologies. He is quite Googleable and has published two full-length books of his poems.
Kaitlinn Rose is a writer and editor in New York City, where she currently resides. She recently completed her MFA at Columbia University, concentrating in poetry and cross-genre writing. Her poetry focuses on drug addiction and recovery, which she presented on during her TEDx Talk in March 2017 on Long Island, New York. Her work also appears in Shift Literary Journal and Sand Hills Literary Magazine. Her work is forthcoming in Blue Mountain Review.
Contributors | Issue 22
Kevin J. McDaniel is the author of three chapbooks and a book of poetry, Rubbernecking (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2019). His poems have appeared in Artemis Journal, California Quarterly, Cloudbank, Free State Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Ocean State Review, Valley Voices: A Literary Review, and others. He is the founder of Speckled Trout Review.
T. Dallas Saylor is a PhD student in poetry at Florida State University, and he holds an MFA from the University of Houston. His work meditates on the body, especially gender and sexuality, against physical, spiritual, and digital landscapes. His poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Colorado Review, Christianity & Literature, PRISM international, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Claire Scott is an award-winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and The Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry. Sharon Lee Snow, a Pushcart nominee, earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. Her short stories, creative nonfiction, and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in The Concrete Desert Review, Blood and Thunder, Underwood, South 85, Jenny, Typehouse, Gulf Stream, Bridge Eight, and other journals. She lives in Tampa where she works in administration and as an adjunct instructor. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @sharonleesnow and her website: www.sharonleesnow.com
Adam Tavel is the author of four books of poetry, including the forthcoming Sum Ledger (Measure Press, 2021). His most recent collection, Catafalque, won the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2018). You can find him online at: www.adamtavel.com and on Twitter at @fawnabyss Terin Weinberg is an MFA candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. She graduated with degrees in environmental studies and English from Salisbury University in Maryland. She serves as a reader for Gulf Stream Magazine. She has also been published in journals including The Normal School, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, Red Earth Review, Dark River Review, Split Rock Review, and Waccamaw. Terin received a 2020 Best of the Net nomination. Her work was featured in Z Publishing House’s “New Jersey’s Best Emerging Poets of 2019” contest issue & is in Rewilding: Poems for the Environment, a 2020 anthology.
C. Christine Fair
Kevin J. McDaniel Kaitlinn Rose
T. Dallas Saylor
Sharon Lee Snow
Adam Tavel Terin Weinberg
Nonfiction Jennifer Berman Chelsea M. Carney