THE GROTONIAN Spring 2019
Somehow, in the process of narrowing down a hundred-something submissions to fifteen, we chose five pieces involving insects to some capacity. It is strange though, that of everything we read these pieces stood out among the rest. Maybe it is not a coincidence that during one of the grayest and rainiest springs, butterflies, crickets, moths, and bees reminded us of the potential of the written word. We hope that you take time to find small and simple joys, like chasing a butterfly or reading a poem. 2018-2019 Grotonian Editorial Board
Sophie Conroy Halle Livermore Gus Vrattos
Fifth Form Lucy Anderson Katie Reveno Charles Wahba
Cover by Sophie Conroy
Contents Monarch Alison Brown Moths in the Night Amy Lu Leaving Mikayla Murrin Self-Portrait John Donovan Alexander and Finn Eliza Powers The Moment You Became A House Amy Lu Turning Heads Sophie Park Eddie Mikayla Murrin Strumming to the Sun Elbereth Chen Plowshare Yumin Shivdasani Car Window Sophie Conroy Orionâ€™s Escape Mikayla Murrin Ancient Dreams Mixed with Present Elbereth Chen No One is As Brave As They Think Jared Gura Rough Start John Donovan The End Eliza Powers Circles at Night Teddy Deng Cricket Ishana Sen Das Rose Garden, Holland Park Cella Wardrop Watercolor Painter Alison Brown Royal Jelly Sandra Redjali Busy Bee Teddy Deng Walking Shadows Lilias Kim Floating Tyler Weisberg To the End of the Line Beatrice Agbi
5 6 10 11 13 16 17 18 23 24 29 30 31 32 40 41 44 45 51 52 53 61 62 63 64
Monarch Alison Brown I heard a story about men who give their lovers pressed butterflies as gifts. I imagine the men walking around wheat fields With blank books held open in their hands, Raised like an offering to the God of Sidelong glances and sometimes smiles, Praying that a butterfly will emerge And bumble lazily towards them So they can prostrate themselves before His throne. And as they bow their heads and bring their hands together The books snap shut, Turning the air and the wind into Something that looks like love.
Moths in the Night Amy Lu
Under the zapper that hung from my back porch, there was always a small heap of dead bugs that collected on the ground like black watermelon seeds spat into the grass. They were insignificant and unpleasant to look at, pests in death as much as they were in life. So when I learned that these legged specks were actually corpses, I didn’t take it too hard. That is, until I saw it happen before my eyes. One summer night, my brother and I were in the backyard catching fireflies when I saw a spark from within the zapper’s cage. Seconds later, what looked like a dried leaf fluttered onto the ground, and I, thinking it was a special kind of firefly, went to inspect the mysterious flash of light. As I got closer, I saw that it was just a dead moth. But when I bent down to brush the moth away, I realized that it wasn’t dead yet. Its legs and antennae writhed like a pianist’s fingers, bending and unbending in a spastic frenzy. The hum of the zapper and the bug’s faint buzzing seemed to form a haunting chord. Suddenly, one of its convulsing wings brushed my toes, and I wailed in terror until Dad came and picked me up, holding me in his arms and assuring me that there was nothing to be afraid of. Meanwhile, my brother volunteered to exterminate the monster that had terrorized his baby sister by crushing it with his sandal. As the shoe whipped down onto the porch floorboards, I could have sworn I heard the creature’s body snap. Its legs were torn away and twisted into curls, its innards ground up into a paste. Afterwards, only an olive-colored stain and eyelash-shaped extremities remained. Dad tried to clean up the mess while he was still holding me, but I sobbed harder and harder each time his hand left my back. 6
From then on, I knew the difference between dying and being dead. ... It was a pale spring. The snow had lasted longer than everyone had hoped, snuffing out any buds before they could bloom. Instead of the soft mud that made everything shiny in the sunlight, the ground was a dry husk, crunching underfoot with sickly grass and frozen puddles. Though the clear skies on the forecast promised better weather to come, we were all tired of seeing our breath in the morning. Yet I was still surprised to see that the front lawn was brown. Of course, I didn’t know that we were going to stop by the old house that afternoon, so I was mostly surprised to see the front lawn in the first place, but still. For some reason, it was never brown in my memories, even at this time of year. In my mind, the cold meant an angelic sheet of snow draped over the whole lot, and the warmth invited a screaming shade of green that almost hurt to look at. I guess I underestimated the power of the modern sprinkler system. The house had never taken me off guard before. Usually, I would convince myself that the drive from the city (just shy of an hour if traffic is in your favor) wasn’t worth it. But today, my mother and I were about to head back from a shoe store in the area when she remembered that she had accidentally shipped a package to the former address. Might as well check on things, she said. I nodded, pretending not to remember that my father was on a business trip for the first time since their divorce. At first, I was just going to wait in the car. But as always, my mother had to stop by the bathroom before she left (the most prominent symptom of her caffeine addiction), and lingered behind to sort through the contents of the fridge and throw away things that had expired while my dad was on a business trip (leftovers from TGI Fridays and an unopened jar of pickles). Before I knew it, she was giving me a half an hour to look around for any spring clothing I left behind when I moved in with her. Though there was a stairwell that led directly from the garage door to my bedroom, I decided to take the long way around the house. Perhaps I was subconsciously following my mother’s suggestion, but as I made my way upstairs, I paid 7
attention to the curves and edges of each room I passed through, noticing details I had forgotten I remembered. Two of the fluorescent lights in the kitchen still flickered (the ones closest to the garage). The living room couch had the same stains in its leather (two cokes spilled from each arm rest). Going upstairs, my feet knew exactly how many steps to take (thirteen). As I pushed open the door to my bedroom, I felt like I was walking into a museum exhibit. I hadn’t slept in that bed for months, yet the sheets were tousled into an extraordinarily mundane position, as if I had just woken up. The floor wasn’t a mess, but small items littered the floorboards enough for me to watch my step. A long supermarket receipt I had removed from jacket pockets before packing up. Hair ties from the last time I went on a run around the neighborhood. Two sandy flip flops I was too lazy to clean after I got back from a trip up to Maine. When I turned on the lamp on my nightstand, the switch clicked but nothing happened. Even after I unplugged the cord and plugged it back in—still nothing. Though I grudged having to fumble around in the dark, a part of me was glad. I always hated that light. Before we went on family vacations, my parents would tell me to leave it on for the whole time we were gone, so that burglars would see it through the window and think we were still there. Besides the toll that took on the environment, there was something intolerable about coming back home to a room that looked like someone else was living in it. The drawers of my dresser were too stuffed to pull out smoothly. The only one I could open with ease was the topmost, where I kept the shrunken and mismatched socks that I had left behind. Beside the dresser was a pile of t-shirts where I used to keep my laundry basket. I must have forgotten to put them back after the last load I did before leaving. By now, each one was wrinkled beyond recovery, and the scent of detergent had gone stale. Though I had no intention of wearing those shirts again, I began to fold them into a pile that I would place in the closet. Their creases smoothed out as I stacked more and more on top of each other, until eventually, you wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart from a new pile sold in a department store. All the while, I watched the light drain from the sky, tucking itself beneath the line of trees in the yard. I had never realized that my room was 8
perfectly aligned with the eastern horizon. Just when it was getting too dark to see clearly, I stood up to lay the shirts onto the closet shelves and heard my mother’s voice calling me from the foot of the stairwell. The half-hour was up. Instinctively, I walked over to my nightstand, only to remember the lamp was dead. I’m not sure whether I was going to turn it on or off. As we pulled out of the driveway, I listened to the distinct sound my mother’s BMW tires made on the suburban asphalt, different from the skims and snags of city cement. It’s a lower, scratchier rumble, like a knife scraping against toast. When I was little, I used to scuffle the soles of my shoes as I walked to the bus stop, spreading my imaginary butter on my imaginary bread all the way down. I lied. I always loved that light.
Self-Portrait John Donovan 10
Leaving Mikayla Murrin Promises to self: I will make a list of the freckles on the bridge of that nose. Hear again laughter echo so deep that I think I must have fallen into the sky. Again feel someone sit enshrouded in a haze of smoke, a dragon tracking me with its glittering stone eyes. Two questions: Would it be more painful to drive slowly? Drive. Drive away from home to get back to a house, a house made of bricks and not beauty. Would I fumble just as wildly? Banging my fingers against the grain, in search of a doorknob I canâ€™t turn, trying to get back in. How I am doing: Life is living in the candles lit after cigarette smoke and the violence of memories of waves pounding against my skull. Words are saltwater taffy stuck to the roof of my mouth, hard and chewy bursts I canâ€™t swallow. 11
What is certain: I know that when I play my knees will be torn on the asphalt but I donâ€™t really want to stop. All the same, after a while, I have become like a fall leaf shrivelled and crunched underneath the arching feet of responsibility. A dragonâ€™s cold eyes would look at me now and sigh, for I am an uninspired liar. Reason I left: The alluring, addictive, angry feeling of throwing my happiness away just so I could feel the pain of finding it again.
Alexander and Finn Eliza Powers
The first day Finn wriggled through the hole in the wooden fence of Alexander’s backyard, the boy was crying. Alexander was frightened—strangers made him nervous, as he didn’t know if they would be someone who knew all the rules or someone confused about the rules. Alexander didn’t know which kind of stranger was worse: certainly, he did not know all the rules, nor could he teach them. “Is your Mommy here?” Alexander felt a comforted by this question, as he had asked it to himself five minutes prior when he banged his knee on his toy chest and received a large red scratch. It even bled a little bit, and was drying now, dark and crusty. Alexander hoped the other boy would notice. “No,” said Alexander. “She’s at the market.” The boy traipsed across the grass to stand two feet away from Alexander’s perch on the wooden porch steps. He was wiping his watery green eyes with the back of his left hand. “Why do you need her?” asked Alexander, sensing that the boy was in trouble. Alexander could have called for his father, but he knew boys were not supposed to cry. “I’ve scratched my arm,” Finn had said, tears dripping on the thin pink line on his forearm. “In the rosebushes, over on that side of the fence.” “I’ve got a scratch too. I banged it on my toy chest.” Alexander motioned to his knee, his eyebrows raised. But the other boy was unimpressed. “Does it hurt?” The other boy asked, his voice breaking. He sat next to Alexander on the porch. 13
Alexander was taken aback. This was not a question any other boy had asked him. “A little,” Alexander confessed. And then their knees were touching, and the pulsating pain radiating from Alexander’s knee softened. “I have an idea,” said Alexander. “Mommy says to make a cut feel better, you need to put a Band-Aid on it.” Finn followed Alexander into his house, his eyes curious and finally dry. “You can take your shoes off,” Alexander said. “But you don’t have to, because you’re a guest.” Finn sniffled and pulled off his sneakers. He wobbled a little, and Alexander instinctively grabbed his arm. Three years ago, when Alexander was four and fivesixths—not yet old enough to know what fractions meant—his family went fishing at the docks, and he had nearly fallen into the icy water. Daddy had been busy looking for trout, but Mommy grabbed his elbow right in time, to help balance him out. Finn smiled. Alexander felt proud that he knew where the Band-Aids were: in the plastic blue bin on the second shelf of the pantry, in between the Triscuits and Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Alexander was very careful peeling off the plastic strips on either side of the sticky. If you weren’t cautious, the sticky parts would entwine and tangle and shrink, and the Band-Aid would become a limp, tangled worm. “Just throw it in,” Daddy had said, impatient, that day they went fishing. “We can’t catch any fish if we don’t give them the bait, Alex.” “Why can’t we just let them swim?” Alexander had asked. “What’s the point of the waiting if you don’t get anything in return?” Daddy had snapped. “There,” said Alexander, as he gently laid the Band-Aid on the boy’s arm. “It might hurt when it comes off, so sometimes Mommy makes me take mine off in the bath.” “Why?” asked Finn. “Because when they’re wet, they’re softer.” 14
“Thank you,” said Finn. “I think it does feel better.” This was the first time Alexander got a good look at the boy. He still looked like a recent crier: red, puffy face, and slick eyes. His eyes, though, were the color green of Dino, who sleeps on Alexander’s bed. There was something shiny about Finn’s eyes that reminded Alexander of Dino, who has gold flecks on his ridges that shimmer at night, when the lights are out. Daddy had praised Alexander when he threw away his night light, but it had only been because he had Dino. Alexander did not say what he is thinking- that the Band-Aid giver is supposed to kiss the injury. “I’m Alexander,” he said instead. “My name is Finn.”
The Moment You Became A House Amy Lu I used to champion height. I still remember the day I touched the chandelier in the kitchen without having to stand on a chair. Now my hand does not stretch to grasp a plate in the cupboard, but it clings to the dust that has filled every dish. The summer I collected quarters, I was afraid that my brothers would steal them, so I buried them beneath the moss under the trunk of the willow tree. But then school started, and I had practice and lessons and homework and the moss just kept growing until I couldnâ€™t find the spot again. So I wept and I wept because I had only gotten 48 and I knew they were there somewhere. Now the moss has dried up, and I can finally see the ground, yet I still canâ€™t bring myself to start digging. My mother is always forgiving; the only time she has ever yelled at me was when I colored on my bedroom wallpaper using sharpies instead of crayons. She placed paintings and photographs and furniture so that no one would see the daisies I had engraved in fire-engine red. Now the drawings that once embarrassed me look so small and lovely peeking out from behind the dresser, shy but sweet in their corner of the room. 16
Turning Heads Sophie Park 17
Eddie Mikayla Murrin
Box One: Eddie’s first box bulged outwards from a chrysalis of cardboard. Music. But no golden-horned gramophone to spin the dusty disks upon; it had been old even when we had made use of it. Someone probably had sold it for him. The records remained silent as I flipped through the names of frozen melodies. I was mostly trying to hear Eddie sing along again in his warbling tenor to “Songbird.” Years ago, when we flipped to side one of Rumours, Eddie was convinced McVie had figured something important out. Fleetwood Mac was fine in general, but he closed his eyes each time “Songbird” came on. Out of reverence we seldom ever played it, except for the occasion one of my brothers thought fit to make a mundane night memorable. After dinner Eddie sank deep into his chair, the notes perfumed the room and stayed floating about even after our heads crashed into our pillows. I thought him especially curious watching him connect and I wished he’d explain how a love song could make an unmarried man feel understood. Box Two: I coughed off the dust that billowed from the junk and readied a trash bag. The floorboards creaked at me as I shucked his collection of chipping children’s toys into the garbage. I assume his childlessness is part of why his life had so little clutter. Having no children made things simpler materially. I would imagine it created all sorts of mental messes to be cleaned, though. The dolls made me nostalgic for his carpet on my bare feet, and I recognized the gifts he had brought for his “favorite dinner guests.” Growing up in the house next to Uncle Eddie had been like living beside Santa. But Eddie was not 18
jolly, even as a child I found him bland. Eddie showed up. He was always there for you and that was his thing. He came to dances, sports games, and sick days with the same expression and promise that he was and always would be reliable. As an adult, oftentimes our dry conversations would leave me scrambling to fill the voids he left. But he was so content to sit there, telling me once that being with people was enough. The way he was quiet wasnâ€™t dull like people who spend their time together in ceaseless prattle, that was too exhausting for him because of how deeply he always listened. It seemed to disappoint him when I flung words out like some life saver we could both hold onto to keep from really talking about anything. Box Three: Books. Musty, paradoxical, wonderful, thought-consuming books. Part of me wanted to leaf through each one and trace his careful annotations. He had made me love reading with that voice of his. I owed him that. The thought of his reading connected me to him as he told us stories; all of us huddled around his chair with eyes pressed upwards. He transformed into a person other than the shy man who lived alone; in this fictitious world he made himself into a character interconnected with every other. Eddieâ€™s words created soft explosions of color that erupted about my mind like the sweet bulge of raspberry seeds. More bewitching was on occasion when his lips were left slightly opened and completely still, as if caught up in a grand pause he conducted to pull me in. He had the appearance of being younger than his mind was, making puerile movements in an ache of restlessness while he recounted the tales. But his eyes were his betrayers, they lost their sure-footedness as though a layer of dust had settled between him and the world sometimes. Often when I listened to him I felt myself become transient. In those moments he was as concrete and connected as I longed to be, even though I was certain he would detach again once the book closed. Box Four: One of the larger boxes concealed the copper curves of a telescope. It sat dis19
assembled and caked with dust which I rubbed off from the clouded lens. Beneath the slim body of the device several large sheets of paper were carefully stacked. Each page contained a map of all things sidereal. Carefully sketched strokes of pen marked constellations that could be viewed from the widow’s walk of Eddie’s home. Eddie talked occasionally about traveling to Colorado, Death Valley, or even the park one day to see the sky, shyly suggesting one of us go with him. He told me that he was happy to watch from where he was, even if he might dream about other constellations. Nobody ever went with him, some things just don’t shake out, and thus all of the maps were from the only view he had. For whatever reason, he never left. Stargazing was a passion Eddie was always trying to share with us. He’d invite us up excitedly and point at what I struggled to see could be anything but discrete entities. On the contrary, he explained how each star was connected and formed great pictures with stories behind them. Beyond that, these stars brought us together with all of the people viewing the same sky from different sets of eyes, connected us to people of the past and the future who would watch the same darkness and wonder at how simply beautiful the stars were within it. Eddie saw empty spaces and strung together all those lonely beads of fire with an infinite cord he was also connected to. Box Five: Eddie kept all my mother’s leather bound journals after she died. At her funeral he said he wanted them, and since he hardly asked for anything, we gave him his sister’s memoirs. Around a dozen. The crash course was that my mother hardened herself to my father and he calloused back until the two barely knew each other. There was seldom any yelling, just a cold apathy for one another as my father spent the night on the couch and my mother drank another glass of red wine. She opened up to the sick contempt she felt for her husband and children. Ultimately, we were just something tangible to point at when she asked herself what all her unhappiness was for. Were we worth it? My mother was disgusted that she had become another cliche. She felt she had been warned, ignored the warning, 20
and proceeded to do just as the rest of the world had done for years. Everything she thought was love was just a desperate attempt to achieve belonging. She planned to get a divorce. My mother never divorced. The next entry read thus: I have become disturbingly aware of how caged we are; upon closer inspection life is hollow and inescapable. The earth spins its course in silence and the quavering creatures of its surface are typically not upset by this. But I am jaded. I want all of the billions of people to lose their minds the way I do, to unravel as I am. People walk around desensitized to how meretricious their relationships are. They forget to feel how they actually feel, not how they want or are supposed to. There is just a gaping emptiness on the inside there is no fleeing from. It is as if invisible walls crash in on all sides of me, and although some people may press against the barriers they cannot reach me the same way I can’t them. I only realized my prison when I began asking questions that had alarming, convoluted answers. Did I really love anyone? Did anyone love me? Was it better to be alone? Was love even real? Why did I want love? Was this all for nothing? Is this all nothing? What did I hope to accomplish?—happiness—but how to achieve it? What did it mean? I found one definite truth amongst all tired life, weighed down by corny questions the scholar scoffs at but cannot answer. The cliche that shades all the universe within its umbrella is that everything that’s been done will be undone. Whatever comfort there is to find in that. Box Six: Black and white pictures adorned the box in towering stacks that would need to be perused. Each captured moment had the front of being halcyon. People he had known, wearing different times, and clothing, and expressions, mixed amongst photographs of us children. When the camera came out, some people crashed into each other and others stood posed in neat rows. The best were the apparent candids, catching people in as natural a state as anyone ever was. The photographs 21
were like netting a firefly and placing it in a jar. Once indoors the glow of beauty vanished, ugly spindly legs and beetle-like frame scuttled about; I could see the fractures forming beneath faces and people when I looked too close and too long. Eddie kept photos of all of us. He framed many moments of our sports triumphs and well-dressed Easter Sundays. He never had a real camera, my mother and father would send us to his house with little envelopes filled with memories. Eddie appreciated the gifts. The best photo I found of him was a quiet portrait of all of us gathered together while he read a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. He smiled brightly from his chair and I could practically hear the prosody of his voice again. I was glad to have that photo, and I realized that nobody ever thought to just take photographs of Eddie. He had no wedding photos, no children to pose with, no doting partner to demand a photo for their bedside. Eddie at best appeared in the background. The one photo would have to do. Box Seven: Empty. Dust powdered the air and my eyes burned a little. The last box to sort through of all Eddie’s uncluttered life had nothing in it. Fitting. The man boiled down to an empty box. He was unable to communicate the simple honesty he needed from people. But he was always hopeful, to the point I felt sorry we had all moved away from his empty house, and I wondered if he regretted sacrificing companionship in search of something real. He always showed up but sometimes his pretending seemed half-hearted, like it was too tiring for him to act the part. Eddie was never snobbish, it was just the way he was. His whole life he tried and that became his whole life. After moving all the boxes to the bottom of the attic’s ladder I looked around a last time to make sure nothing had been missed. Tucked in the corner behind where I’d been facing, I saw the regal curve of a golden gramophone, mostly concealed by a gauzy, white sheet to keep the dust from settling. Smiling, I carefully carried it down the ladder steps, pushed the rungs into the ceiling, and closed Eddie’s door behind me.
Strumming to the Sun Elbereth Chen
Plowshare Yumin Shivdasani This wind is feral, but just enough to know it. It bays deep in the evergreens, skittering snow over the fields – my breath canters – the mind finds that nothing can be said, only the body lurks here. I step onto the dark silhouette of the dock. Through a wild fumble of branches the stars aware back of me – (eons of me, or something very alike. I and they, birthless and endless. I. Age 0; Florida I was born into a blue-and-red, stars-and-gashes dreamland, and though my mother sang sacred Hindi lullabies into my small chest, my father spoke the same sounds as everyone. – without my awareness, English unfurled its hooked legs in my mouth. (When I began calling for Daddy instead of Papa, no one stopped me) – – intellect seeped through heartbeats, reorganizing and compartmentalizing my mind: 24
English disseminated springs and wires but left no room for ancient, embroidered words, and no room for my mother. (While Hindi hummed its songs, softer still II. Age 14; Georgia Room being abundant – therefore nonexistent – in Georgia, I withered further deaf. (How did everyone subsist on the faint strains of pines behind stucco? Somnolent muscles in me ached for the recklessness of teenage summers.) Surrounded by people who rushed interminably toward ends no star will remember, I perused the words of Shakespeare and Dickinson, writing my own English, straining for their gold pedestal, rushing away from my mother – – in gaining, I had lost unimaginably. III. Age 16; Plowshare, New Hampshire listening to how heavy the june air settled between New Hampshire forests. Leaf-budding sweat grew thick under my collar – grit chittered on my palms – as people around me strummed grass blades in a sweeping concerto. Every footstep onto a branch creaked its word, every strain of the muscle savored those syllables – I learned through the rough hew under my fingers and the scratches on my knees, 25
of sweat. Was this new language teaching me how to think? (Maybe I had succeeded, finally – in driving myself outward at knifepoint until I erupted into the state of the living – When august air distilled itself into winter, dinners stretched their long warm bodies through the hours and, after, laughs swelled into each other around the kitchen counter. Maple sap roiled in the woodshed; ;saccharine steam meandered under my window. As summer raised its ebullient head, the pond taught me how to run to it when houses simmered under july fire, how to long for it at midnight and aware of the stars as I marred their watery reflection with my body – But because thoughts of fame – in a human’s world – pervaded my dreams, IV. Age 17; Massachusetts I apply for boarding school. The clangor of Groton drives me to mindlessness until – at nighttime – I run to a hedged-in square of trackless snow where the gaunt boldness of a lone tree beckons – – I climb under the stars or collapse to my knees, staring transfixed at the moon (clouds seep and retreat like the ink in my dreams) – and I can’t remember what I have been striving for.
Have I already forgotten water between my toes and the ache in my shoulders, ancient lullabies flowing through the soughing of maple trees? I find meager dirt between Grotonâ€™s pavement and relish its feeble grit on my palms. I listen to Hindi songs in my empty dorm room, again and again, while winter rages thinly outside. (Amid lost languages, I beg my fading thoughts to accept my repentance of what I have foregone.) Finally, finally, V. Age 17; Plowshare, New Hampshire I return home. A branch of orange leaves rifts outside my bedroom window, thick and existent. Nothing could ever matter but that branch, which, here, is the heart. Amid Grotonâ€™s demands for intellect, I hear the mumbles straining for success: Will that orange branch ever aware of my poems? The stars, I know now, are nearsighted. No literary fame below would make them quiver more than they already do. Here, at the dock of the pond, I live and die. Deaths of stars, unknowable, teem above me. 27
In my mind, that briar of language, – which has come to appreciate endings – I am watching the swim of a summer night superimposed on the ice, (I hear laughs and summer love, faintly) and I am replaying the German saying I learned yesterday: “Wenn es am schönsten, ist soll man aufhören. When something is at its most beautiful, end it.” My littleness under the stars tells me that I am alive to live. (English and Hindi grapple with intellect and heart, but I know this for certain: I will leave Plowshare and return to Groton under the stars and their timely ends.
Car Window Sophie Conroy
Orionâ€™s Escape Mikayla Murrin
set the heart down like a solid beating stone. to lighten the burden until the homely load grows legs and begins its haunt. then crack the stone with scorpion stings or arrows of resistance. attempt futile thrashing against the liminality of stars. admire how they serve a stronger cage than ribs and they keep their own key. upon no release: run. rock ever hunting after heel.
Ancient Dreams Mixed with Present Elbereth Chen
No One Is As Brave As They Think Jared Gura It’s weird what you remember and what you don’t. I feel like I should remember certain things from that day that I can’t recall for the life of me, but there are other things that I remember vividly that are really of no importance. At first, this inability to focus on what mattered upset me, but I soon came to realize that our minds are beyond comprehension. They can drive great people to do inexplicably horrible things. Or maybe those great people weren’t really great in the first place. Anyway, back to my original point. One thing that keeps popping back in my head about that day is why I agreed to take the coast road all the way up to Palos Verdes, instead of just going straight through Rolling Hills. Had I done this, the outcome of the day, and, in fact, my entire life, would have been drastically different. But the events of the nights before had drowned me in tiredness and fatigue and had caused me to miss an essential turn in my life, quite literally. The previous night had been full of excitement due to the incredible amount of energy generated by my three best friends: Santi, Mike, and Jalen. The four of us couldn’t be more different, but I guess that’s what attracted us to each other. Santi had it the hardest between all of us; he had been raised in Compton in the worst of times, with the government’s “War on Drugs” in full effect and gang violence at its highest. One time as we were walking to his house, a gun was fired from around the corner. As I crouched down in fear, Santi just kept on walking, entirely unfazed, which made me realize that things like that must have been a rather regular occurrence for him. Fortunately, Santi’s situation improved significantly when he got a scholarship to the school that I ended up going to and where we all met, but in his early years he had endured enough hardship for a lifetime. Jalen, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. Jalen lived in a high-rise apartment in Downtown Long 32
Beach, with a cardiologist father and a corporate lawyer mother. All that really can be said about Jalen is that he had it good, and in my opinion, was not subject to the persecution that he claimed to be under on account of his dark skin. I guess it’s not really my place to make that presumption though. Mike and I were the most alike, and not just because of our shared pale skin color. We lived in the same neighborhood and grew up in essentially the same way. We both attended Millikan High before going to Augustine Classical Academy in Lakewood for high school, where we met Santi and Jalen. We played basketball for the same AAU team and both got jobs at cashiers at a local McDonald’s for a couple of summers. Once we all met, we almost instantly become friends (despite our rather large age differences) and spent our summers hanging out together as much as we could. On this particular day, we decided to make our day a little more interesting than usual, which, in hindsight, was an extraordinarily bad idea. We had stayed up late that night, having watched the midnight viewing of Pulp Fiction, which had been released just one month prior, and then going back to Mike’s house to get high. We ended up getting to bed at around 4 am and had to wake up early to make it to our friend’s house in Palos Verdes by 8:45. At around 8:20, which was 45 minutes after our planned departure time, we got in my black 1990 Impala, which I had driven over the night before from the movie theater. Jalen, who was sitting next to me on that fateful day, turned on the radio, and Warren G’s voice on Regulate filled the air. “Man, I hate this song, Jalen. His voice is so weird, and it’s not even music,” complained Mike from the backseat. Jalen glanced at him with a look of disgust. “Dude, are you serious? Bro, Warren G’s the bomb. And he’s from Long Beach too. How could you possibly not like him? Oh yeah, it’s ‘cause you’re into that punk shit, like what are they even called, Green Day?” “Come on, man. Give them some respect. They just released this dope album that I’m saving up to buy.” Now it was my turn to enter the conversation. “Shut up, Mike, you know nothing about music. Really, none of you know anything about music. I bet y’all 33
don’t even know who Nas is.” Santi, having heard enough about this West Coast trash, screamed in his raspy voice, “Of course I know Nas, Jack. Everybody’s listened to his album. But y’all tripping! Only one who makes real music is Kurtis Blow. That man’s in touch with God, I’ll tell you that.” As a self-proclaimed intellectual, I couldn’t let Santi get the last word in this debate: “Santi, God ain’t real and you know that! You were here for the riots, man: What they did to Rodney King? What they’re doing to O.J. now? If there were a god, no way he would’ve let what’s happening right now happen. “Jack, you of all people should know -- God works in weird ways,” Jalen said with a grin, eliciting laughs from throughout the car. “Yo, what’s that supposed to mean? You better not be talking about Hannah, because God had nothing to do with that.” More laughter ensued. At this point, we had reached the USS Iowa Museum on Harbor Boulevard and I took a left toward the ocean. I remember dreaming of sailing that giant and bulky silver battleship into the horizon with Hannah, and then almost immediately laughing at myself for having thought something so ridiculous. My naval reverie was interrupted abruptly by Santi, who, having taken a moment to collect his thoughts, re-entered the discussion: “God has a part in everything -- I’m sure of it. God saw the injustice that we and Jalen’s people were facing, and he delivered our brothers in South Africa from oppression and appointed a black man as their leader. It is His way of letting us know that He is with us. Without Him, we are nothing; we would have no reason to go on. Evil would overrun the earth, leaving no room for Good.” “Ok, now you’re just trying to sound all philosophical and failing. I don’t believe in God and I find meaning in life. A lot of people do. You shouldn’t look beyond for answers and purpose; it’s all right here, my brother.” “Y’all don’t know what you’re talking about. None of you know what it’s like to be black,” Jalen declared angrily. This seemingly random comment made everyone laugh, which made Jalen even madder. Mike, who had been quiet since his comment about Green Day, said com34
plainingly, “All right, can we stop talking about this? You’re giving me a headache.” Everybody was already done with the conversation anyway, and we didn’t really want to start another one. So for the next ten minutes, we drove through the backstreets of San Pedro in blissful silence. Driving through San Pedro, I remember reflecting on how messed up LA was. LA is spoken about as if it has solved all of the world’s problems: it has a perfect tax system, residents are provided for, there are great hospitals, and are the city is environmentally conscientious. Of course, this is merely the façade of the decrepit metropolis. Obviously, the media and the outside world don’t see the true LA: the people living on top of refineries, giving them asthma and cancer, the innocent African-American and Mexican families systematically tortured by the LAPD, the Crip and Blood carcasses that can occasionally be found in a particularly sketchy alleyway. Teenagers all over the country turn up the volume when they hear Ice Cube or Slick Rick and they think it would be cool to be one of them. They don’t understand that the rappers are not promoting where they come from; they are rapping as a way to explain to the world the misery of their communities and the life that they’ve had to live to make it by. And as I was nearing the end of my critique of our unjust society, it happened. I was looking out the window at the ugly 1960s houses that lined the edge of the street as we made a turn onto Woodland Drive. Of course I should have been looking in front of me as we made the turn, but my eyes were transfixed on a girl who looked a lot like Hannah, the aforementioned girl who had recently rejected me. She had the same blond hair, hazel eyes, and even had a similar gait. It saddened me that someone who was even close to as beautiful as her should be living in such a depressing area. My calmed mental-state was interrupted first with a sudden shout, and then a split-second afterward by the combination of the sound of a forceful impact and shattered glass. In shock, we exited the car to find a young girl who was barely conscious and bleeding badly on her forehead. It turns out -- from the small amounts of information that I was able to glean from Mike, Jalen, and Santi -- that the girl was running across the street while examining a toy she was playing with and didn’t bother to look both ways. Regardless, in those 35
moments I placed no blame on her, and instead, a combination of shock and guilt overwhelmed me, and I just stood there staring. However, after a couple of minutes in petrified shock, my mind drifted back to Hannah and her golden hair. I was crouched down next to a girl who was near death and I was thinking about a trivial crush. Like I said before, it’s hard to explain our minds. I’m not exactly sure what happened next, partly because I suffered a severe blow to the head in the following minutes. Santi, in a state of hysteria, was screaming at the top of his lungs for everybody to get back in the car immediately. Jalen and Mike, who had never seen a dead body in their lives, stood fixed in their spots, watching the life drain out of the poor girl on the asphalt road. I, on the other hand, had returned to reality and was shakily dialing in 911 on a nearby payphone and telling Santi, Mike, and Jalen that we had to do something to save the girl. “THERE’S NO TIME, JACK,” shouted Santi, “WE HAVE TO GO NOW OR WE’LL GET ARRESTED!” “Santi, we can’t just leave her here to die,” I whispered with tears in my eyes. “She’s dead, man! There’s nothing we can do about it. I’m not going to spend the next couple years in a jail cell. What’s done is done.” “How can you say that? She’s going to die and it’s our fault. I’m not leaving.” “Fine, Jack, then we’ll leave without you. I have a record, you know.” “You have a record? What the hell? What did you do? “Doesn’t matter now, I’m outta here,” said Santi angrily. We moved in unison towards the car, with me moving to block his path and him approaching the car with a violent look in his eyes. But before I could move to stop him, he punched me square in the nose. In a renewed state of shock, I backed up into the car and fell to my knees. Santi raised me to my feet and took me to the car, and I offered no resistance. Mike and Jalen, scared of being the only ones found at the scene, dazedly got back into the car too. Santi took the wheel and sped off to Point Fermin, where we got out. Mike had finally come back to life and it was clear that he was now process36
ing what had just happened, as a look of pure terror spread across his face. “D-d-d-d-did we just kill someone, Santi? And w-w-why are we here? They’re going to find us, a-a-aren’t they?” Jalen, who had also come back to his senses, then said, “No, they won’t find us here, man. There’s no way of them knowing it’s us, no matter what. The only way they’ll know is if one of us snitches.” “You’ve finally said something intelligent, Jalen. If anyone goes to the cops, I’m done. I already have two strikes, and if I get a third for this, then I’m in jail for life,” Santi added. Now, I was in a full state of shock: “Wait, I really don’t understand. You’ve been hiding from us that you’ve got two strikes. Dude, who are you?” “You know me, bro. I had it tough when I was younger, and I had to do stuff. They were nice about the sentencing, though, which is how I’m out so young. I’m past that now and not ready to go back again. You understand, Jack.” “Yeah, man, we understand. No snitching,” I said distractedly, feeling scared and sick about what was to come. But nothing did come. At least not that night. Santi drove us home and we all swore not to say anything about it. Unsurprisingly, I had a hard time sleeping that night, as I kept replaying the scene over and over in my head. I had at least one panic attack, in which I was feeling so drowned with guilt that I had a hard time breathing. The extreme anxiety that I was feeling melted away when I eventually drifted off to sleep, and I actually had a peaceful dream that carried on through the night -- of me and Hannah on a swing set on Venice Beach. When I woke up the next morning, I remembered instantly the events of the day before, but also my dream which made me feel twice as bad. I felt really guilty that I hadn’t dreamed of the girl and that somehow that was a betrayal. But then again, I had betrayed her badly enough already by leaving her to die. That day, I will not deny that dark, destructive thoughts crossed my mind. I thought of how nice it would be for it all to be over, rather than to live the rest of my life with such pain. I thought that life just wouldn’t be fun anymore. But deep inside of me, I had hope that things would get better, that there must be a way for everything to be resolved. Maybe she was 37
found and saved, and I somehow was able to repay her for all that I had done. I knew that it wasn’t fair to her to give up yet. So, for the rest of the day, I overcame the immense paranoia I was feeling and interrogated the nurses on duty at every public hospital in the Long Beach area and checked every morgue. The attempt was fruitless. So, I went back to the crime scene, which by now had been all tapedup, and looked for any place she could have lived and asked everyone whom I saw if they knew the victim. Again, fruitless. And that’s when the idea started coming into my head. It was terrifying, but something that I had to face. The idea, of course, was to turn myself into the police, directly disobeying Santi’s command. This course of action had two advantages: (1) it could possibly ease the guilt I was feeling and (2) it could provide closure for the family that I had ruined. After consideration, I realized that turning myself in would require a lot of bravery. I was 17, still a minor, but even a non-lethal hit and run is still a serious offense and would affect the rest of my life. I also knew that I would most likely buckle under pressure and give up my friends. As I felt that it was solely my fault, I decided that in no way would I ever put myself in a position where they would be punished for my sins. So, I guess that was my excuse for why I didn’t do it. That’s right, I didn’t turn myself in. Or do anything, for that matter. I’m writing this from my apartment in West Hollywood 20 years later and I haven’t heard a word about the fate of the girl. Since then, I have gone on to study at UCLA and then get a job at Oaktree Capital Management, making 200 grand a year. I’ve donated over $50,000 to charities that support low-income families in Los Angeles. But it does not, and will never, make up for the life I took when I was seventeen years old. Now you, the reader, might be thinking that I’m a coward, which I am, and that you would have handled it differently. You would have saved the girl’s life, even if it cost you a part of your own. But I’m telling you, as the former “good person,” it is not so easy. I was not the only coward in the car; neither Mike, nor Jalen, nor Santi attempted to atone for their sins as I did. Jalen, who was sitting next to me in the front seat, felt that the accident was his fault as much as mine, and as a result, he became a victim of life. He smoked heavily and was on and off morphine pills for the next couple of months. Jalen still lives with his parents, who, because of 38
their financial situation, were able to support him through adulthood. They never figured out what happened to him, though. No one ever figured out what happened to any of us, actually. Santi left LA when he was 24, and I havenâ€™t heard from him since. Mike and I have remained friends, but we donâ€™t really talk about what happened. He has enjoyed a fair amount of success, with a few startups that were moderately successful. The one thing that we all have in common, though, is our depression and our cowardice. However, as I have thought about the latter, I have come to the realization that most people I know would have responded in the way that we had, for people would much rather forget the truth than to face it. No one is as brave as they think.
Rough Start John Donovan 40
The End Eliza Powers you say it. the other girl laughs as the car skids across the suburb corner, streetlights gushing past us; but i’m stuck, running through a target parking lot as acid rain sizzles against our sunburned shoulders, wrists aching from heavy bags filled with glittery peace-sign shirts. i am blinded in a chuck-e-cheese off the highway watching an arrow spin around a machine while you’re in the bathroom with diarrhea. i am back in a car, strapped to a scalding seat goldfish crumbs swimming in the sweat from the back of my thighs while kidz bop cd’s from mcdonald’s litter the floor and your hair tumbles around you as you turn to me to sing the chorus of the high school musical song we are playing too loud, to your mother’s dismay— i am buried in your mountain of stuffed animals booboo and paw and heather the cheap kind they toss during mardi gras, the ones daddy doesn’t let me keep. i tell you that my parents are moving to different houses and that 41
daddy won’t know what shampoo to buy and you swear, you pinky swear, that I can sleep on the left side of your bed next to booboo and we can have bowls of apple jacks and orange juice every morning. it’s easter so I eat too much rocky road ice cream and throw up icy cool vomit. you bring me a sprite, your pastel dress splotched with a chocolate stain across your left hershey-kiss shaped breast. my fingernails are covered with dead skin as i scratch my poison ivy, watching through the cabin window a girl crying by the lake. it’s the day you told the fat girl at summer camp she was fat. i’m in the scratchy grass singing hymns at our gay rock wedding which I thought was funny because they were rocks but— when you got suspended in seventh grade for sending allison’s nudes to the boy’s soccer team daddy said we couldn’t have any more sleep overs. i cried for you, shouted at him, baby by justin bieber pounded in my head and a little bunny rabbit clawed in my chest. we stand near a fence at my first high school party; your breath has soured. my head pounds as your chapped lips ask if I want to get pancakes with your sacred heart friends.
daddy’s voice firmly says no, but the eleven-year-old buried inside of me (the one who is scared of tampons) nods and we head to your car and you say it. (there isn’t any rap music in the background to dilute it) and i’m in a car that’s swerving down the road with a girl who, i now notice, has drawn a swastika on her wrist the same place we used to put temporary tattoos.
Circles at Night Teddy Deng
Cricket Ishana Sen Das
I could never place where I had seen her before, but it was probably in a movie—that’s the sort of face she had. She looked like some semi-famous actress. That is, she was not unbelievably beautiful, but her looks were distinctly familiar, though I’m sure I’ve never met anyone like her in my life. She was staring at me intently—well I should say I was staring at her—but then the thing happened, and she was looking at me. Her name was Cricket. I had just started at Elbridge Prep a few weeks before—my first real school, not counting preschool. My father had taught me everything I knew up to that point. He didn’t want to send me to any of the elementary or middle schools around, because he said he hadn’t learned a thing before he came to Elbridge. The schools before were all touchy-feely, no real learning. He’s an entomologist, that is, he studies bugs, and has the most marvelous collection of insect carcasses. Mom didn’t like them, actually, but that’s sort of a long story and I don’t really feel like explaining now. Besides, I’m talking about Cricket. She was the first face that stuck out, out of the four hundred other faces I met for the first time. She had that kind of face. And she was looking at me! I was the only new student in that math class, and even odder because I had joined in the beginning of April, so everyone was looking at me at first. But only she looked at me when the thing happened… no one else understood. I should probably explain the thing now. It happened like this: Mrs. Fennelsteignt pointed at the logarithmic equation on the board and asked me what the next step was. I hadn’t the slightest clue, but she kept looking at me with this hopeful look in her eyes, fully aware that I hadn’t done the homework in weeks but cocking her head to the side as though 45
she didn’t understand why I was struggling. Darn her! I didn’t give a hoot what that most abhorrent, loathsome teacher thought of me, and would have told her to bugger off right then and there, only I wouldn’t let her triumph over me in front of my classmates. They couldn’t know that I didn’t know how to solve the problem, so I scrunched up my brows, as if in deep concentration, and looked around the room for answers. They would think that I was a slow, deliberate thinker—most intellectual forces are. I couldn’t figure out the next step, of course, but as I tried feigning focus, her ears enlarged. I mean this in the literal sense. I had a strange feeling it was my fault, so I quickly relaxed my face, and the ears stopped growing. I frowned again, scrunched up my face and rested my chin on my hand like “The Thinker,” and her ears began to grow. Of course, I had to stop before they became noticeably big. Now it was my turn to cock my head to the side, examining my work. It was the slightest tidbit of a change, almost imperceptible to the naked human eye but of course I noticed because I had done it, and remarkably, Cricket saw too. She saw me. I knew it because she turned away from her notebook and looked at me intently with her grey unblinking eyes that in the moment, had an uncanny glow about them, like a pair of cat eyes in the nighttime. She seemed to want something from me, and I desperately wanted to find out what that something was. Mrs. Fennelsteignt cleared her throat. And so the stare-off began: she wanted me to admit that I was unable to solve the problem, and I would have clapped out the black board erasers into my face and inhaled the clouds of chalk dust until I suffocated and dropped dead before accepting my defeat. Cricket’s eyes were on me now, and I wouldn’t back down. Mrs. Fennelsteignt finally gave in and called on Bartholomew to answer the question. Bartholomew, the fool, immediately admitted that he hadn’t done last night’s homework, and Mrs. Fennelsteignt grinned like the Cheshire Cat, revealing her pasty white teeth. It’s funny how people who use teeth whiteners, who are self-conscious about their teeth, can be so blind as to what their teeth actually look like. None of that mattered now. Cricket had seen me and I hadn’t backed down. She tapped me on the shoulder after class. “What’s your name?” She asked in her sing-song voice, without the slightest 46
hint of timidity though it was the first time we had ever spoken. Don’t back down, her eyes seemed to whisper. “Octillus,” I replied, looking right into her eyes. She held out her hand. “Cricket Aurora Constance, nice to meet you.” She paused, allowing me a moment to say something else, and when I clearly had no words she said, “You’re different, aren’t you. You want to walk with me to the dining hall.” It should’ve been a question, but she said it as a statement. “Yes?” It should’ve been a statement, but I posed it as a question. She held her hand out, and I gave her my elbow, my heart thumping like a pair of shoes falling down the stairs, desperately hoping that she wouldn’t be able to feel my throbbing pulse on the place where her hand touched my arm. We hadn’t yet reached the dining hall when she left my arm and walked behind an old American beech tree. It had no leaves, of course, but I could tell it was a beech tree because of that smooth grey bark. Beech trees might be my favorite species of tree that grows here. We were behind the tree when she said, “Do it.” Her eyes had that strange glow again. “Do what?” I asked, though I had a feeling I knew exactly what she was talking about. “Make my ears big.” I didn’t know if I could do it again, because I had only enlarged ears once in my life, but God, how I wanted to please her. So I scrunched up my face like I did in math class, and focused as hard as I could. Her delicate ears were so small I could barely discern them. I concentrated all my strength on that sweet head of hers, so small, yet so full of beautiful thoughts. My whole world existed in that head. I had to try to fulfill her wish, the only thing she asked of me. Try I did! But in vain. I simply couldn’t get her ears to grow. A drop of water rolled all the way down her cheek, and fell from her chiseled jaw, sinking into the brown earth. “I want ears as long as a rabbit’s.” She said, her voice cracking. To say I was moved would do a great injustice to the powerful forces that ruled me in that moment. Dash it all! I would please her if it killed me. My body buzzed like a buzzard, if you will, and I felt marvelously out of control, allowing those higher 47
feelings to take over. Suddenly, elegant ears were growing from that tiny head, and they looked up to the sun and were long like rabbit’s ears, just as she had wanted. They were magnificent. No, she was magnificent. Later that day, my father took me out to celebrate the day of my conceiving (no, not my birthday—that’s nine months later). At dinner, I could hardly articulate an intelligible sentence—my mind was on her. “Now look here,” my father began as he cut into his steak, the blood oozing into his potatoes, “I want you to get to know Mr. Lemmphelt. He was in my graduating class with me, if you can imagine that! Now, you’ve got to introduce yourself. You just hold out your hand nice and firm, you know? Not like your usual, all shy and funny like a… you know, like an Elateridae, a click beetle, all jumpy. No, you’ve got to have a kind of confidence. You got that? Yeah, that’s what you need. That’s the good stuff.” I couldn’t help myself and began replaying the memory of her ears sprouting from the top of her head like little seedlings. I felt a jolt of excitement rush through my body and knock my cup of pink lemonade over. A squeak escaped my lips when the ice cubes slid off the table and into my lap, awakening me from my daze. “Now look here, what’s gotten into you, son?” He looked across the table at me, peering into my eyes as if for the first time. I quickly began pushing the ice cubes off my lap, letting them tumble to the floor. I tried to put the cup back up, but of course it was much lighter without the lemonade and all, so I uprighted it with too much force and it fell over and I picked it back up again. Father’s eyes didn’t move. He continued slowly, deliberately, “You know, I’m really glad you’re at Elbridge now. I was just like you once, if you can imagine. I had too much of that sort of energy. I was jittery all the time, as you are. It’s alright for a child to be jittery, but an adult? Well, that’s simply unproductive. Do you see? I never could have gotten into my studies if I hadn’t come here. I was just too damn jittery, too wishy washy. That’s what Elbridge is good for, though, things just shape up. You’ll shape up.” “Yes, Father, I am shaping up. I’m much less wishy-washy now—really, I am! If only you could have seen me in math class today, it was really something; 48
although, that might not have been the best time to assert my confidence, but you see it, was for this girl who I had to be confident for, and anyway I didn’t feel sorry because that math teacher of mine is no good, not that all the teachers here are no good, just her really… ” My father was holding his hand up. “A girl, you say?” “Yes, a girl… she’s lovely, Father.” God, what would he say now. What on God’s green earth was he going to say? I peered into his narrowed eyes, awaiting his next move. Oh I so wanted him to see me shape up. I would never see Cricket again, if that’s what Father said. I had given her the ears now, so she couldn’t want anything else from me now anyways. She was very pleased with those ears. “That’s good.” I could breathe again. Father stirred his straw in his glass of ice water thoughtfully. “Yes, that’s good. I was your age when I became enraptured with your mother, you know. Anyways, soon enough you’ll realize what is very necessary in your life and what’s not, but for now, that’s quite alright. Why don’t you introduce me to her when we get back?” Joy! Pure Joy! I felt like I was in a dream the whole car ride back home. Oh, the farm fields of New England, brown and barren in March, yet so beautiful and expressive, like my Cricket! We drove towards the last stain of color on the horizon - everything else was turning grey. Onward, onward to Cricket we drove! We reached school in the dark. I told father to wait outside and I ran into the library to Cricket’s usual study place in the corner. “Would you like to meet my father? He came to take me out for dinner. He’s just waiting outside.” She smiled so confidently it was almost a smirk. She hopped off her armchair and as we walked out I felt her take up my hand. She was beautiful in the light but looking at her in the darkness was an entirely different experience. Oh, how the moonlight outlined that angular face! My father was completely taken aback. “Hello,” she said, peering at my father through the dim light of the lamppost. She had to look up, as he was a great deal taller than her, but she was unintimidated as usual. They exchanged some words, then father pulled me aside, apologizing to 49
Cricket as he did so. “I don’t believe it… and those… those on her head, those ears. How can that be? How did you find her?” I had only ever seen father like this when he brought home an especially rare insect. “Do you really like her, Dad?” “Like her? Why, Octillus, I think she’s a real catch!” Father turned towards her again, and scooped her into a kind of embrace before dropping her into a jar. Cricket squirmed and screamed. “Wait, just a second” I protested. Cricket’s high-frequency squeals were barely audible through the thick glass. “Octillus, please! God, please! Tell him to let me out!” She threw herself against the walls of the glass. “Well done, son! You were right… you really have shaped up. I’m glad to see you so passionate, so focused on something for once. She’s magnificent. It’s inconceivable… surely a cricket, but with… with… well, they look like rabbit’s ears!” He handed me the jar. “Here, you can hold it.” I loosened the lid and opened it a crack, so that I could hear her. She was chirping. It was a dreadful sound, really. “Octillus, thank goodness! I’m very pleased with you, Octillus. Do put me down now.” My father came over and put his hand on my shoulder. I looked down at Cricket, who was smaller than my father’s thumb. I smiled sheepishly and screwed the lid back on.
Rose Garden, Holland Park Cella Wardrop
Watercolor Painter Alison Brown Scraping at the palette with my fingernail, I amass a little pile of pigment And then try to mix it with spit To make something resembling paint, But even with twenty two kisses of saliva And thorough stirring, The mixture is thick and grainy, And turns my gentle sunrise into Something my hand didnâ€™t wish for. A stink bug smashed against stained glass.
Royal Jelly Sandra Redjali 4:30 PM Eleanor’s hands were gentle as she stripped and scraped the tape away, folded back the cardboard flaps, and sifted through packing peanuts. Even as her fingers brushed the plastic bottle, she clung to the hope that she must be wrong—that her half-formed speculations were as meaningless as she often dismissed them to be. Her hands paused amidst the sea of styrofoam, still poised over that round, plastic shape—the shape that was more of a confirmation than an answer. Sweat from soccer practice and the bike ride home collected in her crevices and dripped down every now and then. The urge to claw rose in her with every sliding drop. Why had she opened the package? When Eleanor saw Cecilia Morris—her mother’s name—on the address label, along with the return address iForce Nutrition, Eleanor knew it would be so much easier if she just didn’t open it—if she set the package on her mom’s dresser and pretended that she didn’t know or think anything. If she pretended that she hadn’t felt her mom’s bones the last time they hugged or smelled the stink in the bathroom after the first package came. If she pretended for so long that it was almost true. But that urge was rising in her, and with it some sort of pointed discontent she could not explain. Eleanor found herself standing before an open package on her kitchen table and pulling out a plastic bottle. It looked like the vitamins she took when she was little, with the same child-proof lid and plastic wrapping. But instead of Flintstones Gummies, the label said Extreme Weight Loss Dietary Supplement. ~~~~~~ 53
5 Years Earlier As her mother pulled one of the mesh, wood-framed screens from its slot in the beehive, Eleanor watched with wide eyes. A few bees lingered on the glistening yellow wax that capped each hexagon. “If there are bees on the frame, just brush them off with the bee brush. Make sure you’re gentle,” Cecilia instructed, sweeping a wide, soft-bristled brush down the frame and sending the bees skittering back into the hive. “Alright, your turn El.” Her mother’s white teeth flashed through the netting around her face as she smiled. Eleanor clenched her gloved hands so they wouldn’t shake when she reached for the frame. Two cinder blocks raised the hive so the grass beneath had room to sway. The hive was low enough that she could reach the top of the frame, but high enough that she had to lift the frame high above her head to get it out. She stumbled and flailed as she did so, and her mom had to brush off the bees for her so she could hold onto the frame with both hands. Her face burned. Cecilia walked with her frame hanging effortlessly at her side, while Eleanor hoisted it up high in front of her so it wouldn’t drag on the ground. As they approached the honey house, Eleanor watched the bees crawl out along the platforms beneath each hive and launch into the air. Their iridescent wings seemed to shimmer in the sunlight and their yellow hairs were warm and glowing. Beautiful, she thought. “Where are they going, Mom?” “Those ones? They’re the worker bees—the female bees who go out to collect all the pollen for the hives.” Her voice was like the honey Eleanor often let melt in her mouth—smooth, sweet, and invigorating. “They don’t only collect the pollen. They clean the cells, and feed the larvae, and make the wax, and build the honeycomb, and guard the hive from intruders.” “What do the guys do then?” Cecilia laughed. To Eleanor, the laugh was full, and strong, and beautiful, just like those glowing bees. “Honestly, not much,” her mom said. “The hive is 54
even ruled by a female—the queen bee.” Cecilia opened the sliding door of the honey house with a forceful shove. The air, thick with heat and that palpable honey smell, wrapped around Eleanor’s skin and made her feel like she was in a sauna. As her mom lifted the two frames onto the long wooden work table, Eleanor asked, “If there are so many females, how do they decide which one is queen?” Cecilia removed her beekeeping hat and pulled off Eleanor’s too. “It’s all about the royal jelly.” Eleanor giggled as she imagined a bee with long lashes, a flowing yellow robe, and a bejeweled crown sitting on a throne, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Except instead of the customary grape jelly, the jelly was golden and glowing. “It’s not a joke!” Cecilia exclaimed with mock indignation. “All the larvae are the same, except one is fed only royal jelly. That one becomes the queen.” Cecilia showed Eleanor how to cut off the wax caps with a heated knife, but Eleanor was still giggling at the idea of royal jelly. “You better pay attention, young lady,” Cecilia teased as she pinched Eleanor’s side. “I need you to take over the family business someday.” Eleanor stifled her giggles and straightened her spine. Still, as Cecilia continued to demonstrate, Eleanor was only half-listening. She saw the way Cecilia’s slim but strong arms wielded the knife with expertise, how the heat had flushed her freckled cheeks and curled the damp hairs at her temple, how she moved with such certainty, and Eleanor thought, My mom is a queen. ~~~~~~ 5:00 PM Water from Eleanor’s hair dripped down her front and back, and every place where a droplet traced the curves of her body felt unbearable—so unbearable she wanted to rip open her skin and crawl out. She looked at herself sideways in the mirror, observing the way her round belly curved and rippled away from her hips. She poked one finger through the soft flesh of her abdomen until she met resistance and measured how much of her finger 55
her belly swallowed up. Then she squeezed her muscles as hard as she could and measured again. Next she looked at her arms. She held up one arm and poked at the loose flesh that gravity pulled down until it wobbled. Then she tensed her upper arm and probed the mound of muscle that formed there. Soon she was grabbing and fisting and clawing. She filled her hands until flesh bulged from the gaps between her fingers. When her skin was red and raw, she gritted her teeth and pulled on her clothes. ~~~~~~ 5:10 PM As she stood in the honey house, slicing the wax caps off screen after screen of honey, Eleanor thought about the pure and awe-filled excitement of her first time collecting honey. She thought about every time she had walked through the hives and the honey house since then, most often with her mother at her side. Not at her side, now that she thought about it—in front of her. Guiding her, showing her how to clean the hives, gather the frames, collect the honey, and bottle it. She had even shown Eleanor how to build a hive two months ago. In her toolbelt and work gloves, her mother looked right—more right than when she came home from the office in a blazer and pumps. But different aspects of the memory began to surface, and that pointed discontent washed over Eleanor with every thought. She had been able to carry one cinder block in each hand, but her mom needed both arms to carry one. And after three hours of sawing and hammering, Eleanor, who had never been so hungry in her life, had shoveled three bowls of chili into her mouth. Her mom had one bowl, and it wasn’t even filled all the way. And thinking about the cinder blocks and the chili made Eleanor think about every time her mom caught her frowning at her own reflection, especially when she hadn’t been prepared for it. When her reflection snuck up on her—in a store window, for example—Eleanor couldn’t stop herself from staring. Then she had to poke her cheek, or smooth back her hair, or adjust her clothes. It wasn’t like the need to claw that often consumed her when she was alone—when there was 56
nothing to distract her from how the water seemed to know what a curved, folded, dimpled thing she was. This feeling was more restrained—an uncomfortable itch she had to scratch. And whenever she saw Eleanor itch, Cecilia somehow understood that compulsion, even though it was triggered by thoughts buried so deep Eleanor couldn’t put words to them. She would brush Eleanor’s hair away from her face or lace their fingers together. “You’re so beautiful, El,” she would say. Every time. She could have said anything. You don’t have to be skinny to be beautiful. Your body is perfect just the way it is. Your strength is your beauty. Those were the things her mom had never said. Not once. And when Eleanor thought of all that could have been said but wasn’t, the heat of the honey house seemed to make everything inside of her boil and blaze. ~~~~~~ 6:00 PM Royal jelly consists primarily of water, protein, sugars, lipids, and mineral salts. It enables a queen bee to produce an abundance of offspring and live longer than the worker bees. Serena Williams eats a raw vegan diet during tennis season. She eats three meals and two snacks a day. Occasionally, she allows herself to have some of her favorite fast foods, such as moon pies and fried chicken. Simone Biles eats three meals a day and several snacks. She finds it especially important to get protein from foods like chicken and fish. After gymnastics meets, she treats herself to pepperoni pizza. Michelle Obama eats five square meals a day. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains make up most of her meals, although she admits that French fries are her greatest weakness. Common components of diet pills include caffeine, capsaicin, conjugated linoleic acid, chitosan, diuretics, and herbal laxatives. These ingredients are intended to boost metabolism and decrease appetite. However, they also carry the 57
risk of increased heart rate and blood pressure, liver damage, and disrupted bowel function. Eleanor shut her computer and picked up the package sitting on the kitchen counter. She walked down the street and hurled it into a dumpster. ~~~~~~ 8:15 PM A wave of light swept through the living room as Cecilia’s car pulled into the driveway. Eleanor was sitting on the couch with a book in her hands, staring at the words but not reading. When the headlights swept past the living room window, Eleanor tightened her grip on the book and breathed in deeply to slow her heart, which had jumped forward in her chest. She opened the door to greet her mom, as she always did. Cecilia gave her one of those smiles Eleanor loved so much and hugged her long enough for Eleanor to brush a hand down her mom’s back and feel the knobs of her spine. It felt wrong. “How was your day, sweetie?” Cecilia asked. “Good.” “Was soccer fun? Tell me as I start preparing dinner—you must be starving. I’m thinking lemon chicken with some green beans. What do you think?” Simone Biles would approve, Eleanor thought. “That sounds good,” she said. As her mom cooked, Eleanor sat at the kitchen table and talked about her day at school. “Hey, El, did any packages come today?” Cecilia eventually asked. She was preparing two plates. For Eleanor, she heaped up a large pile of green beans and two pieces of chicken. She gave herself one piece of chicken and five green beans. I bet Simone Biles eats more than that. “No,” Eleanor said. “Were you expecting something?” Cecilia carried the plates to the table. “Just some vitamins I ordered.” Lie. “Anyway, how many hives did you get to today?” She lied. 58
“Only three. I was tired from soccer practice.” How often does she do that? “That’s okay, we’ve got plenty of time this weekend. I’ll help you get to the rest of them tomorrow.” You were supposed to be a queen. Cecilia was almost halfway done with her food already. Eleanor asked, “Aren’t you gonna eat more, Mom?” After a brief pause, Cecilia lifted her shoulders in a poor imitation of a shrug, as if she were perpetually prepared to answer this question but had not expected it so soon. She said, “I’m not that hungry. I was just sitting in the office all day, anyway. It’s not like I built up much of an appetite.” She expelled a hollow breath that didn’t sound much like a laugh at all—not to Eleanor, who knew the beauty of the real thing. For the first time, Eleanor realized that if her mom ate like her, she would probably look like her too. She wondered if her mom had ever been told that she was strong. That she was beautiful in the ways that mattered. That she didn’t need to be skinny to be beautiful. She wondered if her mom would believe it if she heard it. She could tell her right now. “You are strong. You don’t need to be skinny to be beautiful,” Eleanor would say. It would not be hard. Maybe her mom would change if she heard it. But she knew what her mom would do; she would blush and duck her head and release that horrible, hollow laugh—God, it was the ugliest sound Eleanor had ever heard. She would say, “That’s sweet of you, El, but why are you flattering me all of a sudden?” So Eleanor didn’t say anything—not only because she dreaded the reaction, but also because that discontent had been honed into an enraged sense of disgust. She did not think her mother was strong or beautiful. You are weak. You are the reason I have never loved myself. Eleanor filled her plate with second helpings, both because she was still hungry and because she needed to hide the tears of fury burning her eyes. 59
I am strong, she told herself. I am beautiful just the way I am. Maybe one day it would be enough.
Busy Bee Teddy Deng
Walking Shadows Lilias Kim We outline long-grown shadows in the field where we lay; I set my gaze upon the apricot horizon. I glide through the grisly Augusta Bay. Pine nut and honeysuckle resound in May; my lungs clasp onto pockets of air. We outline our long-grown shadows in the field where we lay. The red eyes sway and lead me astray Juno orders Castor to cajole, capture, and case me into a black byway. But, I glided through the grisly Augusta Bay. Hellâ€™s shadows gainsay against Jezebel, the screaming demons that make me fall. We outline our long-grown shadows in the field where we lay. I know what you feel likeâ€”the touch, smell, and taste of your love But I crumble with your familiar touch. I glided through the grisly Augusta Bay. I still believe the world is a beautiful place, But my soles refuse to pick up the dust. So, We outline our long-grown shadows in the field where we lay; I glided through the grisly Augusta Bay.
Floating Tyler Weisberg
To the End of the Line Beatrice Agbi You are sitting in a New York City subway car rushing towards West 4th Street, on one of those two-seaters in the back of the train. You take up both seats, one for your bag and one for you. Your head is buried in books; you came home late last night from track practice and didn’t finish your English homework. Your tired eyes have trouble digesting the words on the page. You can still hear your parents yelling at you from this morning, their usual speech about you always waking up late. You have stopped listening to their words at this point, you have stopped listening to the screeching of the subway car as it bounds down the tracks, to the automated voice telling you this is your stop, to your coaches telling you that this is your ticket to college, to your teachers telling you that you need to start paying attention, to your mother telling you that she sacrificed everything and that the least you can do is succeed, and to your father who lists college names every time you get less than a ninety on a test. To you, everything is silent. You are currently three stops away. You won’t make it in time; you have ten pages left of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to read. Your head begins to pound, your hands begin to shake as you think of the pop quiz your best friend told you the teacher gave her class. You think of the words your parents will shout at you when you come home with a seventy on a quiz. The train has stopped at 14th Street and 6th Avenue. You are one stop away. Then, you hear something. Music has entered the train, a girl follows with it. It becomes harder for you to concentrate as the beat of Drake’s Get it Together fills the train. Shoes, hitting the ground, grow nearer. You look up, making eye contact with a girl who isn’t far from your age. Her body is moving, her long dreadlocks twirling with every step she takes. You think she is beautiful, with her shoulders back 64
and her bosom sticking out, wearing a crooked, white smile on her dark chocolate face as she twirls through the subway. For a moment you forget about the day that lies at the end of the long dark train tunnel and you feel the music in your chest, your heart beating in time with the music. She makes eye contact with you and doesn’t look away. Her eyes are studying your face and her body is inviting you closer… The train stops. West 4th Street. You check the time: fifteen minutes until first bell. You close your book and shove it into your bag. As you walk out the door she holds out at hat and asks you for spare change; you give her a quarter. All day you only hear music. The song is stuck in your head and you mumble it as you take your English pop quiz. You see dreadlocks around each corner, but they aren’t attached to any head. Your friends tell you to stop humming, your coach tells you to get your head out of the clouds, and your parents tell you to finish your homework then go to bed. You get up the next morning, and pack some extra change in your bag. You sit on the subway, excited for 14th Street and 6th Avenue. When the train gets there you wait for music, for long dreadlocks and for a crooked smile. You are disappointed when the train stops at West 4th Street and the girl has not come. You wait for her every day for three weeks; still, she does not come. Then, on the train ride back from school, you see her. It is almost 9 o’clock, and you are sweaty and tired and sore in the soles of your feet. But when you see her, your heart begins to dance with the music that comes with her. She notices you, swaying to the beat, and comes closer. She is less than a couple inches away from you, her hips swaying in time with this new song. Her eyes are filled with recognition. She reaches out a hand; this time there is no hat. You take the invitation. She spins you. You laugh. You feel magical and crazy, spinning in a near empty subway car. The few other people on the train give you strange looks but you don’t care. You dance and twirl with her until it is your stop. You press ten dollars into her palm, and walk away. By the time you get home, you are still uncertain on your feet. You come stumbling through the door and your parents ask you if you are drunk. You say no 65
and head to bed. You can’t concentrate on your World History reading; instead, your feet are still tapping in time to the beat and you like to imagine that she is somewhere, dancing. You see her the next week. She comes onto the train, soaked from the pouring rain outside. It is morning and 14th Street and 6th Avenue. Nevertheless, she dances. Her dreads are spraying water as she twirls, as if she is performing a ritual, baptizing the entire car with her holy dancing. The water annoys others, but not you. You accept her holy water, and say a little prayer to yourself. You pray your parents will forgive you for what you are about to do. The train stops. West 4th Street. You do not get off. You sit, and watch her dance until the end of the train line. At the last stop, when the train car is empty and she has stopped dancing, you approach her. She is bent over, heaving and sweating. You offer her a bottle of water. She drinks it all before saying thank you. You ask her name; she says Nia. She asks for yours; you say Renée. She smiles again, crooked and wonderful and your heart twitches. You ask her what part of the city she’s from. She does not reply, still breathing heavily. You ask her to teach you how to dance. She laughs, and it is the most beautiful sound you have ever heard. She stands up straight and looks you straight in the eyes. You realize her eyes are like pools of honey. You become trapped in their sticky amber glaze. Shouldn’t you be in school? She asks. Shouldn’t you? you retort. She smiles, and your feet become uncertain. Then, she presses play on her phone and music starts. The beat is moderate and simple, and she tells you it is tango. Then, she grabs you by the hand and draws you in close. She speaks in a low, smooth voice as she teaches you how to dance. The subway goes up and down the line about twice that day. Or maybe three times? You lose track as you dance to the beat, listening to the music and her voice. Your friends text you, asking if you are alright. You have fifty missed calls from your father, and a hundred missed calls from your mother. When you get home, you stumble again. This time with a smile on your face. Your parents scream. Your mother is crying. She says she did not give up everything for a new life in America just for you to mess up your chances here. Your father twists your 66
ear, yelling at you in his native language, saying something about the sacred blood of Jesus and the demons which lie within your soul. If there are demons in your heart, then they are the voices which whisper in your ear. They creep out of your bed that night, reminding you of all the assignments you must catch up on. You feel heavy and sad for a moment, but then you get up and move. You feel Niaâ€™s hands on your hips, instructing you how to move your body and your feet, and you dance all night to music only you can hear. The next day your parents drive you to school. You apologize to your coach and your principal and get on with classes. You take the train home. You sit in your usual corner, waiting for 14th Street and 6th Avenue. She comes, and you two dance. You begin to arrive at school late, and home even later. You tell your parents there is construction on the E line and that train traffic has increased. You tell your teachers you always get slowed down by the bus ride from the train stop to the school. You hold your adventures with Nia close to your heart; she is a forbidden secret, a truth to yourself that you dare not share. By now, you have learned jazz, hip hop, and some ballet. You have learned the way she tilts her head when she smiles, the exact type of honey which lies within her eyes, the feel of her hands on your hips as she teaches you how to dance, the sound of her laughter, the fades and tears in the dusty blue jeans she wears every day, the way she bows her head every time someone drops change into her hat, and the way she looks at you with such wild intensity that sometimes, you are taken aback. You have also learned that Nia is fifteen, like you. But unlike you, she has no home to return to. You have learned not to ask her these personal questions, that when you do she loses the crooked smile and the bright eyes and looks away. However, you realize that even when she is not smiling, still, she is beautiful. The whispers of the demons in your heart are drowned out by the music that is constantly in your head. You are humming, always. You wear a dreamy smile on your face, and you are always unsteady on your feet. Your friends worry that you are crazy. They say this after they catch you swaying down the halls, as if dancing 67
to your own music. You assure them that you are fine and happy. Your grades drop. Your parents threaten you with everything they can think of but you cannot listen, even if you tried. The music has become even louder now; it scares the demons away. One night, you become so entangled in the beat of the music and the wild intensity in Nia’s eyes that you miss your stop. You take the line all the way down. The car is empty and you check the time; it is 11:00. Nia changes the music to a slow and soft tempo. The notes fill the car, and the song reminds you of the night sky - dark and mysterious with sprinkles of light. It fills the car with a sacred darkness. Nia takes both of your hands, and draws you close. She is warm and her gaze is soft and inviting. She is smiling as she twirls you around the car and laughs each time you stumble. You feel like stardust, fleeting and weightless, filling the car with your own special kind of light. The song stops and still, you and Nia dance for a long time. She stares at you with such intensity that you think you are drowning in the warm honey of her eyes. She takes your face in her warm hands which used to hold your hips and she calls you beautiful. Your knees buckle and you stumble, but she holds you firm. You kiss. You don’t go home, instead lying in the car all night with Nia and the remnants of that song in your head. She holds you close, humming and telling you things you have never heard before. Beautiful, she whispers, you are beautiful. You can feel the cool breeze of the night sky against your skin even though you are underground. You feel a rough hand on your arm. You wake up. It is your mother. She is standing above you and Nia, fuming at your two bodies curled up on the subway bench. You begin to apologize but she says nothing, only drags you off the train and into her car. As you exit the train car you see Nia; her hand is outstretched with shock and worry on her face. You don’t realize this is the last time you see her. Your parents scream at you for most of the day. Your mother slaps you and cries while your father twists your ears and prays in his native language. The demons in your heart yell at you too. And you can hear them, because the music has finally stopped playing. 68
Your father drives you to school and back every day. Your mother takes you to church twice a week. The first time, you go to confession. You tell the priest all of your sins; you tell him about Nia. You tell him about her smile and her hips. He nods and blesses you, mumbling a prayer about you now being clean and pure. You never felt dirty in the first place. For a while, you search for dreadlocks and crooked smiles and honey and music that reminds you of the night sky. You find nothing. The demons in your heart whisper. They tell you that you are lost. They say they can help you be found. You listen, and you do your work. Your grades rise again; your smile and unsteady feet disappear. Your friends are happier to see you sadder. They like to see that you are back. You break records in track, and get recruited for Columbia. Your parents are happy and they display you to others like a trophy—plastic, large, and meaningless. You forget how to dance. — You are sitting in a New York City Subway car headed towards 116th Street Station—Columbia University. You are running late and only have 5 minutes until your very first class. Your hands begin to shake and your eyes begin to water. You remember all the times you have failed on the subway. You don’t want to upset your parents again. Then, the train stops and music fills the car. Three men hop on. They are jumping and laughing and they look weightless. You remember something: eyes full of honey, hands on your hips, and slow dancing in a subway car full of night. You feel strange. Weightless. You find yourself swaying. Your feet are tapping on the ground. One of the men takes note of you and smiles. His smile is sort of crooked, like hers. He holds out a hat. You give him a quarter. The train stops. The automated voice says, This is: 116th Street Station—Columbia University. Transfers here are… But you are not listening. You stay on the train, even after the three dancers have left and the car becomes empty. Humming a song of the night sky, you stay until you reach the end of the line. 69