This year, like every year, the spring issue of The Grotonian started off as a few hundred pages of anonymous submissions in our mailboxes. And this year, like every year, we loved reading your work. That this process comes during the AP weeks can seem like a drag, but it quickly becomes apparent to us that the timing is perfect: during a period of time dedicated to standardization and little gray pencil-bubbles, the six of us get to be reminded of the deep and refreshing creative wealth of our community. So: Congratulations to those of you who submitted this year, even if your work doesnâ€™t appear here. Your stories, poems, paintings, and drawings did what all good art does: they helped us lose ourselves in what you did. The Grotonian Editorial Board
Maggie Cheever Paul Michaud Nina Norton
Sophie Conroy Halle Livermore Gus Vrattos
Cover by Daisy Fey
Contents Whiskey Aubade • Michael Senko
The Renter • Sarah Conner
Art by Ben Calmas
Rest is Silence • Kochoe Nikoi
Art by Daisy Fey
Something About Two People Like Usual • Paul Michaud
Art by Phoebe Shi
Scheherazade • Alexa Beckstein
Art by Phoebe Shi
What Do I Do About the Dog? • Chip Pontifell
As I Rest My Head • Rajit Khanna
Romantic Holiday • Sophie Park
Sleepless • Amy Lu
The Lime Green House • Macy Lipkin
New Cats • Nina Norton
Genesis • Mikayla Murrin
Chicagoland • Michael Senko
Art by John Donovan
Scream City, USA • Beatrice Agbi
On Why I Don’t Trust Writers • Blair Donohue
Art by Halle Livermore
Heavy Water • Rajit Khanna
Whiskey Aubade Michael Senko
You left your whiskey on my bedside table, your hair curlers beneath the window, you left my heart feeling like glass. At least it felt like something. The hickory chessboard had all its pieces moved sometime— what is this smell outside my window? Your car exhaust? You smelled a lot like it, the exhaust. Do you work often, leaving things on strangers’ bedside tables? I think I want you for myself. Next time don’t arrange a car, spend all morning by the window looking for it. Your lips were rough like hickory— your nails as fresh and sharp as glass. Sometimes I pick up cruel shards of glass and cut myself, bleed long, trying to exhaust this vile emotion from my body, and hickory is hard to clean. When I pulled my sheets off the bedside I thought I saw you looking into my window. But that wasn’t anything. Never. Every time. Do you remember me? Do you remember the time I spent folded in you, staring at trees through the glass, the ebony, the birch, all through the window where I once saw your taunting car exhaust that filled my lungs with bile. At my bedside I puked; does the floorboard also hold you in hickory? The next morning I scrubbed the hickory floors with orange juice. Maybe this time you’ll leave yourself at the bedside and I will pour you a hearty glass of bleach. I’ll keep you in my car exhaust, always steaming up other house windows.
I used your hair curlers left under the window to burn your name into the hickory: Winona, Winona, Winona. I’ll exhaust it until I can’t see you in my window every time I stand on the hickory floor, on the broken glass. I’ll exhaust your name till it sinks into my bedside.
The Renter Sarah Conner The little red light on the answering machine blinked again and again until Mr. Green could no longer ignore it. Despite having moved to the other end of the apartment, he could see that the light continued to flash in the corner of his eye. He straightened one of her paintings near the window, brushing off pieces of dust that had settled on the edge of the canvas. The light flashed again. Sighing, he made his way to the table. Rifling through the morning paper, he listened as the automated voice alerted him of “three new messages.” “Hello, Mr. Green, my name is Lydia Thomas. I’m calling about the apartment; I see it’s been listed here for a while now, and I’m sure you’ve had other offers, but I was just hoping that…” He pushed ahead to the next message. “Morning, I just saw about the apartment listing – my name is…” That message had to be the fifth one of the week. He would listen to them later – neither of them sounded like the right fit anyway. Glancing at his watch, he grabbed the bread and set it on the table. Julie would be here any minute. He had been shopping that morning, making sure to fill the fridge this week, so as to avoid any more conversations regarding his well-being. Pulling out the ham and cheese, he settled his gaze on the bottle of raspberry preserves on the side of the door. He should throw that out, he thought. Trudy was the only one who ever ate them; there was no reason to keep it anymore. He twisted the bottle so the label showed and centered it on the shelf. Tomorrow, he decided, and shut the fridge. The lock rattled as a key turned and the door opened. “Dad, you really should call someone about putting in a railing on those stairs out front. I can only imagine what they are like in the winter.” Julie threw her coat down on the chair and set a bag of groceries on the table. “Well, I was heading to the store before I came here, and so I thought I would just pick up a few things for you, because last time I was here the shelves were so bare.” She opened the fridge and pushed the things he had bought that morning to the back in order to make space. He nodded and mumbled a thank you as he walked over to hang up her coat. “Oh, and I picked up your mail on the way in.” She slid a stack of glossy envelopes across the table. As she continued to unpack the groceries, he grabbed the stack of bills and tucked them into a drawer below the counter.
“Dad, aren’t you going to look through them?” She shut the door to the fridge and sat down next to him. “It’s almost the end of the month,” she said, crushing the brown grocery bag and tossing it aside. “The rent for the apartment across the hall is due on the thirtieth, isn’t it?” “I spoke with Peter on the phone this morning… and he said that he is sure that he could convince the landlord to let you out of the lease agreement early, considering the circumstances.” She paused. “And then you don’t have to deal with it.” She reached towards the drawer to pull the bills back out. “No.” She flinched as he pushed her hands away. Sensing he had hurt her, he stood up from the table. Creasing the shopping bag again and smoothing out the edges, he said, “No, there’s no need.” He turned away, his eyes surveying the room frantically for something to change the conversation to. The little red light flashed again in the corner of his eyes. “I-I found a renter this morning. She called and left a message. I was going to call her back tomorrow,” he stammered, without thinking. “Let’s call her now!” Julie’s eye lit up, and she ran to the phone to play the message. The next week a few boxes addressed to Ms. Lydia Jones, covered with large FRAGILE packing labels, arrived at his front door. She had called that morning to check if it was alright for her to send a few things along before she arrived later that evening, but, even still, he felt agitated at the sight of them. His hands pressed against the arch of his back. Pushing them across the hall, he wondered what could possibly be so heavy. The key shook in the lock; he hadn’t been into the second apartment – the one he hadn’t wanted in the first place – since Peter had flown in a few months before to help him clean out the rest of Trudy’s things. He had only intended to put the boxes inside and return to his own apartment across the hall, but the size of the place struck him. The sound of his laughter bounced off the walls of the tiny room. It was so small. Trudy had been so adamant that they lease this damn place. He remembered shaking his head at her and explaining how it made no sense to own two apartments directly across from one another. Walking towards the windows, he let the sun shine against his face. Those windows were what she had loved most: the way the sun streamed into the tiny room and engulfed every square inch. She had insisted that she needed a place to paint outside of their own apartment; after all, he hated the disorder and mess, she had reminded him. The day they had rented it, she made him press his hands against the windows she so loved, “Can’t you feel it?” she had laughed, “This is a place made for art.”
Because of Lydia’s insistence of a warm welcome, he left an envelope on the counter – inside, along with the key to the apartment, was a short note detailing how to light the fidgety burner on the stove, which day the trash was collected and, in case of emergency, she need only call. Closing the door, he told himself that he was happy to have someone new enjoying the apartment again. Later that evening, however, when he heard shuffling in the hallway, he couldn’t help but hurry to the door. Pressing his eye against the peephole, he felt his hot breath, watching as she struggled to drag her boxes from the dimly lit hallway into the apartment. Reluctantly, he stepped into the hallway. “Hello! You must be Mr. Green, I’m Lydia Jones. So, so nice to meet you. I was so surprised that…” Mr. Green couldn’t help but block out what she was saying. Her excitement irritated him. He avoided eye contact; looking at her made it all so real – he couldn’t imagine her, or anyone else, really, in that apartment. After pointing out the key and note he had left, making as little small talk as possible without being impolite, and saying goodnight, he slipped out. Leaning against the hallway wall, he squeezed his eyes shut, pressing the palms of his hands against his face. Maybe calling the renter had been a mistake. The little red light flashed; Mr. Green sat across the room staring at it. What if it was the renter calling? Taking a sip of his coffee, he rifled through the mail to distract himself. There was a large envelope from the renter; inside was a photograph of his apartment building. A pink sticky note attached read: “A small token of my appreciation - Thank you again for letting me move in on such short notice! See you around – Lydia.” What an odd gift, he thought, slipping the picture back into the envelope. The annoyance of the blinking got the best of him, and he pushed play. Mr. Green sighed with relief. It was only Julie calling to tell him she was going to stop by the next day to give him a new coffeemaker, which she had found on sale. He wasn’t sure what was wrong with the one he had, but he had decided long ago that it was best not to argue. He knew that it made her feel better to think she was helping. A rustle in the hallway pulled him, once again, to the door. He peered out. Where could she be going this early in the morning? For the past few weeks, he had heard her leaving at all hours of the day. She was always sure to slip out carefully, only opening the door a crack. Today, as she left, the gloomy hallway bulb illuminated the small room. Mr. Green dropped the mail in his hands and turned away from the door. The beautiful windows, the ones Trudy had so adored, were covered with large black sheets. Not a ray of light could enter. Why would she do that? Thank goodness Julie was coming tomorrow. She would see for herself what the renter was doing in there.
“Leave her be, Dad! She’s the perfect neighbor: she never makes noise, never calls with questions. So, what? She covered the windows. Sure, it’s a little weird, but why does it matter?” During the day, it was okay. Mr. Green dusted and polished, read the paper, talked to Peter on the phone, and reassured Julie that everything was alright. It was nighttime that was the trouble. Lying in bed, all he could think about was those covered windows. She was ruining the best thing about that damn apartment. He could just ask her why the windows were covered. No, Julie would say that was invasive and none of his business. She would be right. Why did it even matter anyways? The apartment was hers now, he told himself. No, he thought, the apartment wasn’t truly hers; it still technically belonged to him. Trudy wouldn’t like it, of this he was sure. The next day he would talk with her, he decided. All he needed to do was explain how beautiful the sunlight looked pouring through the windows; he just needed to show her – the same way Trudy had shown him. It wasn’t even lunch yet, and Mr. Green had already finished all his tasks for the day. Maybe he would read the sports section of the paper, but he didn’t care much. He heard a shuffle in the hallway. She was leaving. Now was the perfect time – he should catch her on her way out. Instead, he flipped to the scores of last night’s games. The little blinking red light flashed. He thought maybe he would just let her leave and go across the hall by himself to see what was going on in there. No. The Red Sox had won. He would have to remember to mention that to Peter next time he called. But maybe if he just went in for one minute… she would never know, he thought. No reason to make a fuss over nothing – maybe he had imagined the whole thing, and the sun was shining into the room this very minute. After folding the paper, and creasing the edges, he slipped into the hallway. Knocking, he pressed his ear against the door, listening, in case she had come back without his knowing. Silence. Mr. Green turned the spare key he had kept, in case of emergency, in the lock. The room was pitch black, except for a small sliver of light from underneath the bedroom door. He made his way towards the windows, ducking to avoid unknown objects hanging on a line from wall to wall. He had only meant to pull back the shade, to bring a little light into the room, but the sheet was not hung well and suddenly it fell to the ground. Sunlight streamed in. Mr. Green blinked as his eyes adjusted to the intense light. Looking around, he stumbled back in horror. What had he done? He scrambled to rehang the curtains but his hands were shaking too much. It was no use, he thought, the damage was already done. This was a darkroom. He watched as white, harsh light flooded in and engulfed the undeveloped photographs clipped onto the hanging strings. Oh no. What could he do now? She would know what he had done. Even worse, he had likely ruined hours of hard work. What had become of him? Mr. Green sat by the door waiting for the renter to get home. He
regretted listening to his messages as the little red light had offered a distraction from the despair of waiting. Served him right, he thought. What kind of person does something like that? Desperate for distraction, he began rifling through his kitchen drawers. The pink sticky note caught his eye. He pulled out the photograph she had given him all those weeks ago. Now he understood the seemingly odd gift. It was actually quite beautiful, he thought, as he examined it more closely. Finally, he heard shuffling in the hallway. He wished he could stay in his apartment, watching from the safety behind his door. “I’m so sorry,” he said, stepping into the hallway. She was quite young, he realized, as he saw her closer up – probably close to Julie’s age. “Sorry? What could you be sorry for?” She continued to turn the key in the lock. Mr. Green cringed as she pushed the door open. “I’m so sorry. I have an extra key and I…” he paused. Mr. Green wasn’t quite sure of what explanation to give. He stepped into the apartment behind her as she surveyed the damage. “I wanted to know why it was always so dark in here.” He looked away, waiting for her response. Maybe he would tell her that she didn’t need to pay rent that month. Julie would be so angry with him. The sound of her laugh bounced off the walls of the tiny room. “I knew those pictures I took were terrible. Somebody up there knew they shouldn’t get developed.” Pointing towards the ceiling, she laughed again. “Mr. Green, I would have invited you in, if you had just asked.” After being assured that was she not angry at all and that no damage was done, Mr. Green invited her over for breakfast the following morning. She arrived with a bag of breads and pastries she had picked up, along with some of her photographs. They talked over coffee, from his new coffee pot, and she told him about the best spots to go to in order to capture the majesty of the city. Mr. Green pulled out some of his wife’s favorite paintings. Looking over her work together, they both agreed that the apartment across the hall was, indeed, a place made for art. After she left, Mr. Green unpacked the rest of the bag of treats. Opening the fridge, he slid the jar of raspberry preserves over, making room for the new jar she had brought. Mr. Green sat down, crossed his arms, and thought how nice it might be if the renter came over again.
Summer from the Bridge Benjamin Calmas
Rest Is Silence Cho Nikoi So I stand here, with skin and lips and eyes, on the top of a hollow Mountain, looking out over iridescent specks of dust in perpetual motion, with an open Cage at my feet; and I feel the heat of the day-sky warming my bones, cooking my yolk. And so I lie down, amongst the maggots and the ants, and I smile. I breathe. If this really is just Sleep, then, eventually I will wake. And when I wake, will I Be, or not Be? Maybe I shall become a being of translucence, listlessly wandering through the walls of my lonely Palace, forever in search of some sort of closure, a retribution that will not come? Possibly, from the wet earth I will sprout up towards the blue, opening my eyes to bees buzzing around my pinkish white, and Iâ€™ll know more than I have ever known. I wonder â€“ if I close my eyes and lie here, waiting, when will forever begin? When will consciousness become sleep Become death become eternal Nothing? Yellow light slowly morphs into white. Will it comfort me?
Something About Two People Like Usual Paul Michaud Tom had fully owned the gas station for two weeks now, ever since he and Jenny were married at a small ceremony with all their friends in attendance. After a week off—spent in bed, predictably—Tom had left Jenny with her parents and driven all the way up across three states to Lincoln, Massachusetts, where he had overseen the construction of the station, sleeping in his truck to save money. First, two huge trucks brought the gas tanks, which were even larger than Tom could have known they would be. Next were the pumps, and then a whole host of tubing material, which the truck guys (Ricardo and Ed) cut into manageable pieces with a pair of pliers so large it had made Tom laugh at first. The pliers looked like one of those huge inflatable hammers you can win at some town charity event. By the time the house was built and Jenny drove up with an assortment of monogrammed suitcases—a wedding gift from her parents—Tom had become so comfortable sleeping alone in the car that it was sort of disconcerting to climb into bed with Jenny the first night. He couldn’t fall asleep, and so he got up at three-thirty and climbed back into the truck in his boxers and slept there instead. Jenny found him in the morning. He was shivering a little but otherwise well-rested. She had considered for the first time that Tom might not be the husband her monogram-on-suitcase sort of family had prepared her for. Tom is thinking about all this on the morning shift. He says “the morning shift” as if someone is making him get up and sit in the wicker chair outside and watch the dusty pumps. As if someone will punish him if he just sleeps in and forgets all about going outside and sitting in the chair. Jenny has been begging him to switch their station to Self-Service. She says that people don’t like communicating anymore and Tom’s insistence on keeping his gas station completely Full-Service is losing them customers. Tom says What customers. Jenny says The ones who keep driving by our gas station and stopping at the Mobil down the street. Tom says Oh those ones. Jenny says Yes those ones. Tom has nothing to say but wishes that people still talked to each other while doing errands. Tom sometimes narrates his life to himself, sitting outside on the chair. Not quite out loud, just at a whisper that he knows Jenny can’t hear. In any case, she took the car today and went out to buy groceries, so he’s in no danger of her thinking that he’s gone nuts. Here’s Tom Christianson, 23, gas station owner, upright citizen, confirmed member of the Catholic Church (his father as sponsor), he thinks. Bored out of his
mind, he thinks. Tom figures that if his life were in a book, there would be a paragraph break right now and the next line would read, “But something was different that day. . .” He knows that that sounds stupid, though. Plus, how would he know that something is going to happen today? Jenny comes back an hour later with the groceries, which are in four plastic bags that she takes out of the car, their handles straining. There’s no milk and Tom makes a mental note to go out and buy some later. They go into the house next to the station, which contains a little store, then back through a door in the store to what Tom calls their Quarters, just a kitchen and a bedroom and half a bath. The shower is out back. Jenny makes lunch in the kitchen but says that Tom shouldn’t get used to it. She’ll go get a job once they’re used to the town and then Tom’ll be all alone. Tom hasn’t left their little curve in the road, next to the train tracks, for a couple days. He thinks that he is pretty used to life here now. After lunch Tom goes back outside to the chair and wonders if this is how their life will be: he and Jenny separate, coming together for a silent lunch. It seems too early to admit that all this was a bad idea. Tom could have worked for Jenny’s father. It would have been a little embarrassing to take money from the guy but he could have stood it. Just two weeks out here and he’s starting to think that he measures time by the trains that come by the station and rattle the house. They come at 50-minute intervals, each one right on time. He has gotten good at telling that they’re coming. His chair bumps a little and the metal resounds once they are in faint sight, their single headlight on no matter the time of day. If this were a book, Tom thinks, he might throw himself in front of the train because of the futility of the human condition or something. But that sounds stupid, too. It’s nice outside. The birds are silent but flying around. The sky is gray but welcoming. There’s no reason to throw himself in front of a train. An hour later, Tom is in the middle of a long thought process about whether his gas station would be a good setting for another adaptation of “The Shining.” He is on approximately the tenth “All Work And No Play Makes Tom A Dull Boy” when a car pulls into the station and next to the first pump. It’s a blue Cadillac with white-walled tires. Someone sticks their head out the window and asks Tom to Fill her up with the regular Please. Tom isn’t really sure what to do but runs to the pump and stares at the buttons. He figures it out after a little while and asks the guy in the front seat to open the gas cap. The guy says No problem. Tom tries to make conversation with the guy but the guy has picked up a phone call and gives Tom a polite excuse-my-busy-life-and-its-necessary-antisocial-elements smile. There is a finger
motion that goes along with this, like you’re holding a finger out at a dog who you really like but has peed on the floor. Tom goes back to thinking. If this were a book, he thinks, this is where I would snap and yell at the guy about how cell phones are destroying social interaction and they probably give you cancer anyway and could you Please interact with me Thank You. But the man looks too nice to do that to him. The pump clicks and Tom undoes the handle and the guy pays him a little extra and drives off before Tom can give him change. Tom wonders if that’s what a tip is. After the guy in the Cadillac leaves, Tom goes back inside and has dinner with Jenny at the little table they’ve bought. Dinner is reheated Indian takeout from last night. The Indian place just opened and Jenny thought it was important to support new business owners. Tom wondered if she hoped that the Indian couple would buy gas from him and Jenny from now on. He suspects that they won’t; the Mobil down the street has a nicer convenience store and the gas is a cent or two cheaper. Tom can’t even afford the prices he is offering but hopes that $2.42 a gallon sounds better than $2.45 and therefore builds him a reliable customer base who likes conversing and doesn’t talk on their cell phone. After dinner they go to bed like usual. In the little hours, Tom slips out into the truck again. One day, Tom and Jenny will probably have to give all this up. Tom will have to go the usual route if he wants to own a gas station—he’ll have to work for someone else and climb the ladder to the top. He and Jenny will probably sell this station to Citgo, which is looking for an edge in Lincoln. Citgo can afford to compete with Mobil. Their pumps will be neon red and tested by a focus group for maximum attractiveness. They will get a better convenience store and put Marlboro and Bud Light ads in the window. Citgo will pay a lot for the station, and Tom and Jenny won’t lose any money. They might even make some. Jenny’s father will be secretly happy that he’s still the successful businessman of the family. Tom can work for him. Everything is all right. There is no reason to do anything drastic. There never is. Tom and Jenny are comfortable in bed together but don’t touch. Tom feels like he might be a sad person but doesn’t know why.
Scheherazade Alexa Beckstein
1. yesterday I was unspooling and I no longer recognized my own name.
plucking out his own feathers until the tide came in and swallowed him whole.
on a diner countertop, the words “somebody’s someone” poisoned my vision until I escaped through a final closed door.
4. at least Icarus touched the sun.
space with nothing holds more than space with light. time is the only notion I hold onto. I’ve moved forward but I haven’t moved on. 2. if only I was born with a mouth gracious and full of forgiveness, with eyes of midnight like saltwater, without bones predispositioned to decay. I am the undoing. the house darkens. 3. last night I dreamt of gulls swarming a coast. at first glance, I saw the tender flesh of a heart pulled apart, tendon by tendon, yet when I blinked, the birds turned on each other, beaks pecking out eyes and clipping wings. I looked once more and all that remained was one lone gull
What Do I Do About the Dog? Chip Pontifell Just listen for a moment please. I need you to listen to me. I need to know that you are hearing me. I need your help. Your help will be useless if you aren’t paying attention. So please concentrate. Please. What do I do about the dog? People react to fear, not love. When I was fourteen, Henry told me it was time to stop. Time to stop school. Enough wasting time with books and stupid teenagers. “You have talent,” he said. “You need to concentrate on your talent. You need to focus on your body. You have what it takes to fly. You owe it to the art. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to ME.” Henry, or actually Henri, was literally swinging a stick when he said this. It was two centimeters by two centimeters and one meter long (3.2808 feet). It was not round. It had edges. The edges were ragged from decades of corrections. It was Henri’s rod. He hit me with it every day. He didn’t beat me. Nothing for the authorities. Just corrections. Tête Relevée. Tête relevée. Whack— and Henri’s rod knocked the back of my head. “My rod and my staff, they comfort you,” he twisted. And my head moved into line. Henri had a French name, reminded everyone that he had a French passport, that his family was from Orléans. But, regardless of his past, he had become a permanent resident of Astoria, Queens. The Frenchness to which he aspired, no matter how he “identified,” was rusty. Not a fine antique—more like vintage flea. He came to New York when he was nineteen having had to leave the Paris Opera Ballet because of an injury. It’s amazing how much “French” you can lose in fifty years. Basically everything except your accent. And even the accent wasn’t clean. It was enveloped in Queens. Not the Queen’s English. Just Queens. Yes, Henri’s voice was a tapestry of mispronounced words from every angle. And a big stick. Most people think dancing is all about the feet. But that’s not true. It’s also about your legs. It’s also about your back. It’s about your chest. It’s about your lungs. It’s about your arms. It’s about your fingers. It’s about your head, your chin, your hair, your smile… it’s about your eyes. Some people see on their own. Some people see when they are shown. Some people never see at all.
My father was blind. Aggressively blind. Not just blind as a bat, but blind as a bat out of hell. He said, “Look. All I can expect is for you to do the best you can. That’s all. Do the best you can and then chuck it.” But then he brought me for so many lessons. So many, many lessons. Whack— but Henri never touched my bun. So tight on the top of my head, sprayed so tight with glue, coats of glue, I could not breathe. So tightly wound. Even if he were to whack it, it wouldn’t, it couldn’t budge. A budgeless bun. It’s amazing how many feet of hair fit into a bun. I bet you can’t guess. Come on. Guess. How many feet? Well, he never touched the bun. The bun was sacred. My buns, on the other hand, they got whacked a lot. “Oh, I see you visited your favorite trough last night. Back to Pig Heaven. Pork buns. Steamed pork buns. Christ, you are a pork bun.” Yes. Pig Heaven on 81st Street. Whack. How many steamed pork buns can a girl eat before they start to show. “I see you’ve put on a little weight,” Henri twisted, “That’s not going to help your moves.” When my father told me “do the best you can and then chuck it,” he was lying. Blind. The spoken and unspoken corollary was Henri: Listen darling, sometimes your best isn’t good enough. Tears come from the heart and not from the brain. Bottom line: I left school. No. Scratch that. I left a good school and landed at Th Professional Children’s School. A school for professional children where reading, writing, math and science were optional. You should have seen the talent. One boy’s profession was chess. He was a professional chess player. What? I was told I had talent. But really I had stamina. By thirteen, I had danced in David H. Koch’s theater 140 times. David H. Koch is an attractive guy— A right wing, neo-conservative, anti-everything- beautiful guy who loves the cement architecture of Lincoln Center so much he had to put his name on it at any price. Lincoln Center is widely considered to be one of the ugliest structures in the world. In any event, I put in my ten thousand hours there. I was a mouse. I was a party girl. I was a soldier. I was a candy cane. Never made Marie. I was a forest fairy. I was a small swan. I was a big swan. I was a jewel. I’ve inhaled more stage smoke than Robert “I love napalm in the morning” Duvall. The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions. So yes. I’ve got a few hours under my bun. And I’d been taught to smile. Smile. Smile back. Smile. Smile back. And, by the way, sometimes your best isn’t good enough. I was good, I put in my ten thousand hours. But who’s counting? Being
good— but not good enough. Being Great— but not Great Enough. You know, as much as anything, it’s just about luck anyway. Luck of the draw. Henri knows what I’m talking about. He’s in his seventies— staying alive in Queens. His dancing days were in the days of disco. For as long as he can remember, he’s been a Queen in Queens with a stick. He’s a Grand frappé with rich corinthian leather and that’s what he’s been since 1968. He knew. But he had ends to meet. He had to make ends meet. And he had a stick. Yes, it’s just the luck of the draw. Do you think he honestly thought he was Leonardo da Vinci and my name was Mona? I think that when he looked at me he thought: Some people see on their own. Yeah. That’s me, Henri. Some people see when they are shown. Yeah. That’s the pork bun girl. I can show her… And I’ve got to make ends meet.
Backstage, you greet smiles with smiles. I have a smile that wins. The audience. The grateful audience comes in herds backstage. Smiling herds. I saw the pattern when I was about ten, when I was first recognized in a restaurant by strangers. Smiling strangers. Really very very nice smiling strangers. My photograph was on a giant illuminated sign in the arcade in front of Lincoln Center. The same photograph was on the front of the Arts section of the New York Times, above the fold. You can absolutely recognize me. I am leaping in a frilly dress. Flying, blonde curls (no bun yet). Genuinely happy. Genuine smiles. You know how sheep smile. Remember Babe? Sheep are stupid animals. The smart pig never smiles. The genius pig herds sheep… and talks. The genius pig herds sheep, talks, and worries about his future. The genius pig saves the day. A hero pig. A hero pig that saves the day and never smiles— Bacon. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Fritz loved bacon. Fritz was Frank’s Schnauzer. Frank smiled at me backstage. I smiled back. Like a sheep. Fritz… I mean Frank… works for David Koch. David Koch likes cement architecture and Donald Trump and the ballet. Frank is young, has a mouth full of pearly whites. And love, as I know it, is simple. Whack. Jambes bien droites. Frank is young, has a great smile, and is very steady… very steadily seeing someone named Stewart. Stewart is from Connecticut, works as a paralegal, and went to Pine Manor. So, yes, she’s female. Stewart likes The Nutcracker - a lot. Some people never see at all.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication… unless you’re dumb like a box of rocks. But what am I saying? I stopped school when I was fourteen and now I’m walking Fritz for beans. So show me the genius in the room. Let me say it again: Tears come from the heart and not from the brain. Some people see when they are shown. Fritz loved bacon. Show him bacon and he’ll put an end to global warming. He also likes to fetch. A rubber ball against the wall. Whack. A rubber ball against the wall. Whack. A rubber ball against the wall. Whack. When Stewart and Frank went away for the weekend, I took care of Fritz. When Stewart and Frank went on a vacation to the Mill Reef Club, I took care of Fritz. When Stewart and Frank had a dinner date that looked like it might go late, I took care of Fritz. Fritz and I were friends. Who says dogs can’t smile? Beyond a doubt truth bears the same relation to falsehood as light to darkness. A rubber ball against the wall. Whack. A rubber ball against the wall. Whack. A rubber ball misses the wall and finds the open window. Splat. We have now lost all hope of ever solving global warming. Right here right now I need to know: Are you still paying attention? I asked you one favor. Just listen for a moment please. I need you to listen to me. I need your help. Please. What do I do about the dog? I won’t be able to talk my way through this one with Frank and Stewart and a smile. N sheep, not even the best sheep, could fix this with a smile. Best is to leave. Best is to take the empty Walgreen’s bag shoved behind the counter in the kitchen. Best is to take an entire roll of Bounty, the quicker picker upper. Best is to leave. Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence. The good news about Fritz and Frank and Stewart’s apartment on the seventh floor, is that it is on the seventh floor. Fritz felt no pain. He felt no pain and perhaps, for a moment, one bright, smiling moment, like Babe the talking pig, he thought he could do something impossible— he could fly. The other good news is that the mess is not nearl as bad as I feared and I am able to make short work of getting Fritz off the sidewalk and into the bag. God bless the quicker picker upper. Fritz and I have only one thing on our mind— getting out of Dodge. The bus on the corner looks great. Normally you cannot bring a dog on a city bus unless it is a licensed service animal. But today it’s not an issue. Riding up Third Avenue I see Pig Heaven. I can taste the steamed pork buns. I remember Babe whose best actually was good enough. And I am still waiting for your
advice. What do I do about the dog? N.B. The aphorisms are from The Notebooks of Leonardo DaVinci. He is widely recognized as one of the sharpest knives in the drawer. Though Philip Johnson clearly looked to the past when creating his design for The New York State Theater (to Michelangeloâ€™s Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome to be precise) itâ€™s not clear whether he was able to see at all.
As I Rest My Head Rajit Khanna As I rest my head Against the French window Looking out on my yard I wonder. As families pushing strollers Or runners in bright green Tread on the bike path, I think of Where she is, my grandmother. It is two in the afternoon. She is likely asleep, in a Room with no air-conditioning. I remember the man Who caught my cart Before my luggage fell into the street And proceeded to scold me. I see the samosas Dropped into the oil And then parcels placed in my hand For twelve rupees. Outside our home, The dog, covered in fleas Scavenging rubbish To fill its belly. A veranda with brick floors Whose corners bear a garden. From which my grandmother Plucks pomegranates and mangoes. But then my mother calls And I sigh and trudge upstairs, Walk into my room, And lie on the white comforter.
Romantic Holiday Sophie Park Francesca has been following me around the museum. I don’t really know why—any of the other students would gladly talk to her—but I enjoy the company. She’s much cooler than I am—she tells me that she has a boyfriend, whom she’s not speaking with right now because he’s noiossisimo, and, like any proper Italian, she uses a lot of hand gestures and strings her words together like music, syllables flowing into melodies. Along with the boarding school kids, the program has a bunch of local Italian students who hang out with us to practice their English and Latin. They’re also supposed to teach us Italian, but most of them are too shy. However, Francesca loves to talk. “That man in the painting,” she whispers gravely, “To the left, he is like Stanley Tucci.” “Haha, no kidding. Oh wow, that’s a creepy baby.” We laugh and marvel at the artwork crammed into the cool monastery. She’s probably been here a million times, but she gazes upon the pieces as if for the first, eyes shining with wonder. I translate the Italian on the information plaques, asking for vocab every third word. She laughs when I mispronounce things but not in a mean way. We have lunch alone together because everyone else ran off to eat french fries at an overpriced restaurant. I’ve been trying to save my cash, and I wanted something light, so I got her to come with me to a bar for sandwiches. She eats very deliberately—it takes a while for her to finish a prosciutto e formaggio panino, and I appreciate the consideration she puts into each bite. Usually I scarf down meals in five minutes, but I attempt to match her pace so that I don’t have to sit there awkwardly as she eats. Although I try to take dainty nibbles, the creamy mozzarella and the bright, acidic tomato embraced in thick slices of crusty ciabatta goes down quickly, and I finish well ahead of her, so I order a cornetto filled with Nutella from the gruff old man at the counter. He smiles at my mediocre Italian, which is tinged with a slightly Mexican accent (the ghost of my middle school Spanish career), and he hands me the pastry scantily clad in a thin napkin; the greasy scrap barely separates my hand from the luscious ribbon of filling oozing out of the side. Quickly I sink my teeth into the tender, buttery layers, and I think of how much Anthony would enjoy Nutella if he weren’t allergic to nuts.
I’ve only been here for three weeks, but it feels like I left California centuries ago. Today, Francesca and I wander around the medieval quarter of the city, exploring strata formed by generations of buildings stacked upon each other and pushing up through the heavy summer haze. It reminds me of a leftover cake, sagging in a pastry case at the end of the day, with an outer coat of frosting lightly perspiring and the exposed inner layers drying out, the onset of outright staleness delayed by the confection’s high sugar content. The clouds sluggishly churn then suddenly accelerate into an inky vortex, going from creamy parchment to ripe grey, blinking away scraps of pale blue. Fat drops burst on the cobblestones, one after the other, until a constant rush falls from the sky. We sprint through the flooded streets until Francesca ducks into the only non-residential building around—a bookshop with a large, dusty display crammed full of fat tomes on art and linguistics volumes. The storefront looks like it’s peering at us curiously through thick spectacles. As the door creaks open, a noble looking lady with a wild mane of dark hair and bright red lipstick peers up from her book behind the register to the left of the door. “Ciao, ragazzi!” she chirps. “Ciao, Benedetta!” Francesca sings back. “Salve,” I add politely. Benedetta smiles and returns to her book. Then Francesca grabs my hand and leads me to the back. We’re soaked, and I take care not to drip on any of the books. The store is basically an aisle lined by shelves jammed full of novels with a spine of displays running down the middle. Francesca drags me up a dark wooden staircase. Once we reach the top, she flicks a switch. “This place is for the special people. Pretty cool, no?” “Woah…” We’re in the kitchen of an old apartment with scuffed parquet floors, dated cabinets, and stacks of books shooting up from the floor. There’s a sink full of espresso cups, a charming little stove, and aluminum pots hanging from hooks connected to the ceiling. A glass jar filled with crumbling biscotti stands on the counter with the top not fully twisted shut. Francesca signals for me to wait then vanishes into the next room over; she returns with two faded cushions and a carton of Parmalat milk. I open a bunch of cabinets looking for two mugs—I only find one— and she grabs the jar. Finally, we settle down to our snack. “What is it like in California?” “It’s afternoon all the time—sort of sleepy and sun-bleached.” “Is everything big? It is big in the television.” “Everything is really far apart. There’s a lot of space between stuff—the roads are super wide—but the buildings don’t seem as tall.” “Why do you come to tiny Viterbo? So full with nothing to do.” “There’s lots to do here!” “Only because you are new and interesting. For example, usually I don’t think 28
upon street names—they’re boring—but always you ask me why they are, so I pay attention and learn new stories.” “Haha, I get what you mean. I feel the same way about Santa Clara. It’s big compared to the other places around it, but it still feels really small. I went to New York to visit my aunt, and there’s… so much more.” “You still have not answered question.” “Right. Um, I guess I’m here because… well, my Latin teacher—she’s really cool, and she’s friends with a bunch of other Latin teachers, and she goes to a conference every year. This time, when she came back, she asked me if I’d like to go to Italy to study Latin, and I said yes, and she helped me get a scholarship, so now I’m here.” “That was some better answer, but I don’t believe it to be full.” People usually don’t pay attention to me for this long. Francesca’s persistent interest feels like a bonfire on a brisk evening—delicious warmth grazes my face, and I lean in to extend the sensation. The closer I get, the more my skin prickles.If I’m too close, I’ll burn, but I also can’t pull away, so I keep inching nearer. “I guess I came here to learn about… I went to this party—I definitely shouldn’t have gone to the party. I didn’t want to in the first place, but my friend Anthony wanted to go, and I thought it would be a good thing. It was loud and boring, and when I decided watching a movie and throwing popcorn into Anthony’s mouth sounded way more appealing, I found Mira, captain of the swim team, occupying his popcorn catcher. The kiss was three seconds—he didn’t even use any tongue—but it was still a kiss. It was rattling—seeing someone I thought I knew so well making-out with a mermaid. Once I registered what was happening, my first instinct was to tear him away from that slimy, beautiful siren and save him from drowning in her shallowness. Instead, I lost my voice and walked home. What was I thinking? I know Mira is nice—she can be kind of fake, but she isn’t a monster, and Anthony isn’t some damsel in distress. He clearly had things under control, and he’s allowed to kiss whoever he wants. Just because I had nothing better to do than hang out with him didn’t mean he didn’t have other plans, so I made other plans, too. Long story short, I need to find a better past time than pretending the universe revolves around me, and being in Viterbo is way better than spending the summer awkwardly avoiding Anthony.” “You are interesting person.” “Ha, not really. Sometimes I’m just good at reflecting interesting people. By the way, why are we allowed up here?” “Benedetta, she is my cousin. She lives here with the boyfriend and lets me eat his nonna’s cookies. She thinks he must lose stomach.” I’ve had three cups of milk and five biscotti at this point. Francesca is working on her third biscotti and first cup of milk. I need to slow down. Outside, the rain no longer falls in torrents—it is gentler now—and the seconds trickle in gentle rivulets. I tell her 29
more about California—no, I don’t see a lot of celebrities, yes, I smoked pot once— and she listens intently to every word. By the time the rain stops, I’m sleepy, and it’s time for me to go back to the dormitories for dinner. “You have free time this weekend, yes?” “I think so.” I definitely do. “You will come to the birthday party of my friend? It will be better than other party you went to, and it is big—he will be of eighteen years!” “Sure.” “Buono! I will come to school at seven in the evening.” I ride to the party on the back of Francesca’s Vespa. It’s against program rules to travel in or on anything other than the bus accompanied by a teacher, but we’re running late, and no one’s looking. Besides, it makes the party seem more like an adventure. When we arrive, the host plants a quick peck on Francesca’s cheek (lingering longer than necessary) and hands me a flimsy disposable cup brimming with cheap champagne. He seems offended when I try to decline. A few other kids from the program are here—a bunch of Italians and a few boarding school students who don’t handle alcohol very well. Sometimes they come to class clearly hungover, but the teachers never call them out for it—better to let sleeping wolves lie. Francesca flits through various clusters of kids, all of whom introduced themselves earlier, but I don’t remember their names. She smiles at me, and my skin prickles a bit. Someone offers her a cigarette. She hesitates then takes a puff—tendrils of smoke coil around her and strangle my focus. “Can we go outside? It’s getting kind of stuffy.” I’m practically yelling over the throbbing murmur and music. “Sure thing, this way.” I take her offered hand, and we wind through the dancing teenagers, a mass of bodies stifling the stunning villa with noise and hormone laced sweat. Finally, we reach a balcony where tattooed boys roll joints and tease each other. There’s a set of stairs that lead down to the garden, so we descend into a fragrant thicket, bathed in moonlight. As we wander, we don’t speak—just listen to the gurgle of fountains and the vibrato of insects. The only traces of the party are the occasional echoes of drunken laughter and my plastic cup of champagne. I finally relax and taste the libation. It’s gone a bit flat and lukewarm, but I drain the rest down my throat. We drift to a stone bench hugged by unruly thyme bushes. To pass the time, we make a list of all the places she’s going to show me before the program ends. The rush of possibilities bears me away, high above the dull clamor of the unextraordinary. I’d forgotten how intoxicating good company can be. “There is something in your hairs,” she points out, leaning towards me to
brush it away. As she comes closer, I lean in and kiss her. My mind goes blank. After a few seconds, I pull away, slightly shocked by my boldness. I’ve never kissed a girl before. I’ve never really kissed anyone before. Francesca’s eyes beam like piercing spotlights. Already the moment is melting away, though it happened seconds ago. I wish Anthony were here. Dammit, why did I just think that? On winged feet, I bolt back to the villa, abandoning poor Francesca, and then I lock myself in the bathroom. Prior to our friendship, Anthony was just the new kid, who moved to the neighborhood in third grade after his dad sold a travel company for gobs of money. He has a magnetic personality—if he stands still for long enough, someone is bound to come up and start a conversation with him—but he’s restless. Until he started to swim seriously, he never hung out with anyone for very long. There’s always a brighter shore beckoning him, and he follows the call dutifully. Everyone else I know follows paths forged before them by generations, spanning back to before our parents. Sea-soaked children grow up together, get married, and have more sea-soaked children. That’s never really been my jam. I should have known that Anthony would make it to solid land, but cosmic forces tossed him onto my floating island for a spell, and we had a marvelous time. He started talking to me almost four years ago—the only two freshmen in a Latin class full of juniors and seniors. Our teacher usually taught French, but, somehow, she convinced the administration to let her teach Latin from that year onward. Most of her old disciples immediately signed up, but younger students didn’t get the appeal. I was there because I despised Spanish, and Anthony enlisted because he was practically fluent in all the other offered language courses. Although I was kind of cold at first—I put on airs to make sure no one doubted my capability—that didn’t deter him. He insisted on sharing jokes with me, and eventually I cracked. He was the only one who ever wanted me to be louder. When we had Latin for the last period of the day, I waited for him to pack up his sprawl of notebooks and colored pens at the end of class, then I walked him to swim practice because the pool was on the way to the library. We joked, and I practically suffocated from cackling so much. I left the library early to walk him home after practice, and we discussed trivial things like what movie we should see next Saturday and passages we had translated in class. He carelessly scattered his preferences and childhood memories throughout our conversations, and I diligently stored away each insignificant scrap of information. Hours later, when I lay in bed, I reviewed what I had learned that afternoon as if I would have a quiz on it the next day. Then we drifted apart. Practically overnight, Anthony became a really good swimmer, and he started to compete in meets that were farther away. He remained at the pool far longer than the library stayed open, and he didn’t come back in time to
watch movies. To make up for his absence, I planned out my day to make the most out of all our interactions. Even though I don’t chew gum, I always had a pack on hand if he ever wanted some. Did I have enough flashcards for the both of us in my pencil case? Should I text him about the homework, or was it posted online? Should I bike over to his house to drop off his earbuds or wait until I saw him at school tomorrow? I don’t know if he ever noticed, and that was fine. I wake up to a thundering on the door. Someone really needs to use the bathroom, so I migrate to a parlor with a giant window, a dusty piano, and an old couch. Crushed cups and puddles litter the floor. I’m curled up on the couch, and, as I mindlessly scroll through the pictures on my phone, Francesca slinks over. I awkwardly smile, but she doesn’t flee in horror. “That didn’t really mean anything,” I blurt. “I just had a little too much to drink, and I’m a bit out of sorts, and I have no clue what came over me. It was completely inappropriate, and—” She cuts me off, “It’s okay. No hard feelings. Can I ask you something?” “Sure! Fire away.” “Really, it’s ok. I’d run away too if I kissed someone who smoked the cigarette as shitty as mine… who is that you look at on the phone?” “This is Hadrian. He’s a Pembroke Welsh Corgi—” “Not the dog, the boy.” “Oh—that’s Anthony.” “He is your boyfriend.” “Funny you should ask.” “You want him to be your boyfriend.” “Ha, I’d be a fool to think he could be my boyfriend.” “Does he smoke horrible cigarettes, too?” “Probably, but I’m not the person to ask.” “Then it is good how you let him go!” “I’d follow him to the end of the world, but I can’t keep up with him.” “Ridiculous! You are fastest person I know—fast at walking, speaking, and eating. It must be Anthony that cannot keep up.” I don’t reply, so she sighs and continues, “When you want, we can leave—I did not drink tonight.” On the journey back from the party, I try to apologize for what happened, but she keeps her eyes fixed on the road, and eventually I fall silent. A dreamy mist settles around me, and I rest my head on her shoulder; it is cool and steady, a place to anchor myself as distant celestial bodies gallop past midnight, and rosy-fingered dawn hastens to touch the flowering countryside. Announced by the church bells, we charge
into town. Once inside the walls, Francesca threads the bike through narrow alleys. With a final tug, she finishes stitching reality back together, stopping at my dorm. I slowly dismount and begin to climb the stairs, as if Iâ€™m moving through honey. I proceed about three steps until the clap of running feet turns my head back, and sparks flash before my eyes as Francescaâ€™s lips meet mine.
Sleepless Amy Lu On nights like this, the stars are cold. I am plunged into silence that fills my room like a tank with water. My breaths become bubbles that collect on the ceiling, my eyes stung wide open with salt and chlorine. On nights like this, I am both the infant and its grandmother. While my limbs creak like floorboards and my skin sags like drapery, my mind wails through the hallways until the whole house has its lights on. On nights like this, I am not haunted by nightmares that electrify my body like a tree struck by lightning. Instead I am seared by the static that rings in my ears, drowning in the uproar until the light of the morning.
The Lime Green House Macy Lipkin There’s a lime green house across from a one-way street. A dark blue tarp compresses an old sedan on the grass beside the empty driveway. Recently, a tall wooden fence went up in front, almost (but not quite) hiding all the ugly. For years, my mom and I have come right up to it, stopped at the stop sign, and wondered: who lives there? Why is the house lime green? A The house is owned by a lovely neighbor named Agatha. Agatha’s wispy white hair frames her heart-shaped face, and she relies on a sturdy maple cane to get around. Well-polished photographs of her love-filled life are arranged in chronological order on the fireplace. On the left, Agatha’s parents getting married. All the way to the right, Agatha’s grandsons playing catch outside their California home. And right around the middle, Agatha’s wedding to the love of her life, George. George had tritanopia, a rare form of colorblindness. When George and Agatha moved to the house on Hairpin Road, it was a pleasantly bright yellow. Agatha thought it was the color of sunshine. But to George, the yellow was somewhere between a pale pink and white. “I’m used to it,” George told Agatha when she suggested painting the house a color he’d enjoy. “But you deserve to like the color of your own house!” Agatha insisted. And so, after much poking and prodding, Agatha convinced George to pick out a color to paint their house. George’s sky blue turned out to be the rest of the world’s lime green. Agatha never told George how ugly the house was. “Your house is horrendous,” a neighbor said, just as Agatha came to the door. “It’s diminishing all of our property values. It makes this neighborhood an eyesore.” “The green keeps my husband sane,” she said, furrowing her brow. “It’s driving us all insane!” By the third time, Agatha just smiled, revealing a shiny new set of dentures. “Everyone sees the world differently,” she said, closing the door gently. “Besides, I like it,” she told the empty foyer. As for the car, Agatha doesn’t drive, so she’s been preserving it since George’s death—partly because she doesn’t know how to sell a car in this digital age, and part-
ly because she just likes having it there. B Or maybe George has schizophrenia. When he bought the house in 2008, he enjoyed its cozy size and the nice path from the backyard where he took his morning walk. But twice that summer, drivers crashed into nearby businesses, and it wasn’t long before his hallucinations ruined the little house on Hairpin Road. It wasn’t safe. He saw cars barreling down the one-way street into his house, destroying everything he’d ever called his own, wiping out Agatha in her sleep. He awoke amidst shattered windows and splintered floorboards, his kitchen table overturned and his grandmother’s upright piano rolling across the living room. Agatha suggested lime green paint, and it seemed to work. George’s mind calmed, understanding that the neon house could not be overlooked. But eventually he got used to the color of the house, and assumed that everyone else had too, so the hallucinations resumed. Every night, George’s world was ravaged. He awoke to the sound of his plates shattering on the tile kitchen floor. Sometimes his bed would light fire after the crash. He hasn’t driven in years; he’s too scared. He’s trapped his old Saturn to the ground with a tarp, so it can’t harm him now. Just last month, George put up the fence. Part of him knows it won’t make him any safer, but part of him hopes it will. C Maybe Agatha and George live together in the lime green house. Maybe Agatha and George fight all the time because the green makes Agatha want to puke but it’s the only thing keeping George dry at night. Maybe George put up the fence while Agatha was at work. Maybe Agatha works full-time and then some because George can’t; that’s why you never see a second car in the driveway. Maybe Agatha has another man on the side, and that’s why you never see her car in the driveway. Or maybe it’s just Agatha living alone, and maybe Agatha has really poor taste in colors.
New Cats Nina Norton “So we got new cats. I’ve told you about the new cats, right? I know I’ve told you about the cats.” “Yeah. Yeah, I know the cats.” “Right. So the cats. They were new like...six months ago? And in cat time, that’s like...a lifetime, basically. But Jesus Christ, they still have so much energy. Like, is the tassel on my favorite pillow that interesting? But whatever. They’re great. So anyway, last Wednesday I got surgery.” “Oh right. How was that?” “Fine. Whatever. Not really a big deal.” “Wait so what happened with the cats?” “Oh right. The cats. I was about to tell you that story!” “Jesus. I fucking hate your stories.” “Oh stop. You’re fine.” The second girl rolled her eyes. “Ok, whatever. Anyway, so I got surgery on Wednesday, and on Tuesday I get this call from the doctor, and she’s like ‘You have to remove all your jewelry beforehand. Also, you can’t wear contacts.’ Which totally wouldn’t be a problem for me, but I just got that new necklace...you know, the one from my dad.” “Right, yeah. I know that one.” “Right, right. Anyway. So I was kind of like ‘Do I have to? Because I have this necklace that really means a lot and I really can’t lose it...’ and the doctor was like ‘Yes’ so I passive aggressively sighed a couple of times while she went over the insurance stuff.” “Mmm. You really showed her.” “Yeah. So whatever, I have to take off this necklace, which I know doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I just really can’t lose it. I just really can’t lose this necklace. So all night I’m thinking about taking off my necklace, and I can’t sleep, but I can’t take any goddamn ambien because of this freaking surgery. I’m going crazy--I mean it. I was really going insane. I almost called the doctor to cancel a couple of times. This goddamn surgery.” At this point the first girl paused to take a sip of her coffee. It was bad coffee, but it was overpriced, and therefore the only place anyone went for brunch. Today was no exception: the surrounding tables were full, and there were at least ten people waiting by the coat check for the rare open table. The first girl swallowed her mouth-
ful of coffee, winced slightly at the taste, and returned her focus to her friend. “So anyway, after getting literally no sleep that night, I wake up and realize that I had fallen asleep in my contacts--” “––Which you always do––” “––Yes, which I always do––so I take them out. Because I had to. But just as I threw them out I realized I lost my glasses––” “––You lost your glasses years ago!” “Yes, I lost them years ago. But I always forget! So there I was, blind and alone in the bathroom, trying to remember where I keep my spare contacts when I realized I never ordered new contacts. So I’m totally fucking blind––no glasses, no contacts--and completely alone. And I’m late, on top of everything.” “Oh my––” “––And I was starving! Because I hadn’t been able to eat for the past eighteen hours. God, it was awful.” The first girl took a second sip of coffee. She gulped it down, not bothering to taste the bitterness, crossed her legs, and smiled for the first time that day. Nothing made her happier than talking about herself. “Oh my god. I didn’t even mention the worst part––I had to wear loose clothes. I wore something of my dad’s from when he was fat.” The second girl looked through the paned glass windows and thought about how glass was, technically, always moving. She thought about how silly that sounded, and she remembered how the first girl’s father had brought it up at that exact restaurant as a fun fact during a particularly awkward dinner between the three of them. She smiled into her eggs benedict as she remembered how she used to have to be the neutral third party during the first girl’s weekly dinners with her father after the first girls’ parents divorce during fifth grade. The fights between the first girl and her father were legendary for getting them kicked out of almost every restaurant close to the first girl’s mother’s apartment. The second girl always got along better with the first girl’s father than the first girl did. “...tossed the necklace onto the sink, put on a huge coat to cover the fat-divorced-dad-who’s-kind-of-given-up look I had going on, felt my way to the door and somehow found the elevator button, and had the doorman grab me a cab. I showed up at the doctor’s office twenty minutes late––but at a doctor’s office that’s like ten minutes early. So it was all fine.” “And how did the procedure go?” “Oh, fine. Honestly, I didn’t really think about it after the fact. Except when I had to get new contacts overnighted to me. I certainly thought about it then. Honestly, there was no reason for me to take them off. I don’t understand why the silly doctor had me do that. Sounds like a ‘no cell phones during flights’ type of deal to me.’ But
whatever.” “Who picked you up afterwards? To take you home?” “Oh God, nobody. I just grabbed a cab home.” “Not to point out the obvious or anything, but you were blind and drugged. You needed someone to help you home.” The first girl closed her mouth and swallowed slightly before she smiled again. “It was so fine. The cab driver thought I was hilarious.” “Mm.” “Anyway, I accidentally tipped him $40 for an $8 cab ride, so even if he was unamused during the ride, he wasn’t afterwards.” The second girl knew it was stupid to push the point that the first girl had put herself in a compromising situation, not because it was none of her business, but because it was––more specifically, it was and it hadn’t always been. The second girl became uncomfortably aware of the way her relationship with the first girl had shifted in the past year: the way she still grimaced at the bitterness of the coffee while the first girl gulped it, the way she noticed the glass and how it warped over time while the first girl always chose the seat that faced the bare wall. “Anyway, I got back upstairs and in my haze of drugs and blurred vision somehow remembered that my dad used to leave a spare pair of his glasses in the office. They’re a bit stronger than my prescription, but they did the trick––I mean, they gave me a headache, but at least I could find the pain meds I needed, because I was feeling awful at that point. I took some of the extra strength tylenol I picked up the other day and passed out on the couch. I woke up at eight, starving, confused, and in the worst pain of my life. It took me a good half hour to make it off the couch––I could barely move my back––I took another four tylenols, and ordered a pizza. And then I remembered I hadn’t fed the cats in like, a day. So I opened two cans of that awful smelling stuff––Francy Banquet––” “––Feast.” “What?” “It’s Fancy Feast. Not Fancy Banquet.” “No one gives a shit. Anyway, I couldn’t bend over to put in on their tray, so I just left it on the counter, which I’ll regret later, because they’ll never go back to the whole eating on the floor thing, but honestly I didn’t think I would make it back up if I went down. Anyway, the pizza comes, and I was so hungry I didn’t even bother with plates or the table or anything. I ate on the counter next to the fucking cats, wearing my dad’s ugly fucking clothes from his fat years, barely able to stand up. It was a fucking mess. Anyway, as I’m eating I realize my free hand is kind of grazing my collar bone where it meets my neck, and at first I’m like ‘what the fuck?’ but then I
was like ‘Oh shit, I totally forgot to put back on my necklace!’ So I kind of hobble to my bathroom, because I left it on the sink, right? And I get there, and it’s not fucking there. The necklace. It’s not fucking there. And honestly, I can’t even tell you exactly why, but I really just, like, lost it? It was just like, everything I guess. Like, the entire year?I don’t even know. Maybe it was wearing his clothes? Or still having all his stuff everywhere? It’s like he’s only on a business trip. It was eating next to the goddamn cats, and not having anyone to pick me up, and not having anyone to avoid, and not having to prepare to fight him every time he got back from Rotterdam, and also the pizza was kind of cold. Also I had a headache from his glasses. Like, it was all fine, obviously. But the point of all this is that the crying made me shake a bit, which made me feel a bit nauseous, so I had to run over to the toilet to throw up––which was totally disgusting, by the way. Freshly chewed pizza. Awful. Anyway, just as I did the first big heave, I see this shiny thing in the toilet.So I finish all the throwing up, and I reach into the toilet, through all the vomit, because clearly I have zero standards anymore, and it’s the goddamn necklace. I left the bathroom door open, which, in hindsight, was like, very stupid––but I was late! And blind. And the cats played with it, I guess, because it’s shiny and the door was open, and they’re cats, so what else are they gonna do? But I found the necklace. Do you know what I was thinking when I thought I had lost it? I kept on thinking ‘He’s going to kill me when he finds out I lost it.’ And then I realized, obviously. He can’t kill me anymore. And there was a split second where I felt––a little relieved. And then...and then I felt much more sad.” The second girl nodded. The first girl reached for her coffee, but she had already drunk it all. She leaned back in her chair and stared at the space a couple of feet above the second girl’s head.
Genesis Mikayla Murrin the brutality of the storm outside callouses the boy to the horrors of living like Lightning. he is a child burdened with eyes each designed as delicately as insides of dragonfly wings. distress forces the fearful pair to flutter out from below his sainted and swelling bed sheets used to cower behind, their irises reaching with sticky palms for the cadence in his motherâ€™s voice. memory of her murmuring floating unsteady within his stomach, swirling around his bedroom ceiling like a cauldron of dark syrup, plunging out of the rain clouds and staining the earth with the blood of its trees. so sudden is the detonation of brassy thunder from outside his cocoon, that shock blows apart his lips like dainty dandelion seeds. his childish dreams consist of imagining the shadows of her smile, which pitch his gaping eyes into a dampness like green moss on grey rock, choking up the nightmare so it does not spill out of the soul. he was hopeful it would not leave him drowned and forever floating, smothered in blankets swaying beneath the heaviest of oceans. this sound of the snap of his Fatherâ€™s belt across the universe, and that sorrowful elegy of a mother with bruises beaten into her heart, that is what the boy learns to be the static shock Life creates when he strikes the world. and from that chrysalis will he be born, from the covers he will emerge, something grown to worship the Lightning.
Chicagoland Michael Senko And, after, when we returned To the field of our nurturing mother, Those neighborhoods spreading out The gentry like a common cold, We thought we had become better, In the ways that our shoes fit, How we actually knew our shirt sizes, The fact that we rode the metro. Two months in you stopped sleeping, And started smoking again: Right back to where we started; I held you too tight, too close, Commandeered alone this ship You hated to call love Because the greatest virtue We had was our independence. In the earliest hours of your 27th I found you standing in the dark, Facing our mirror that reflected you With a dollar store zippo lighter, The shadows painted your face As some prehistoric cave painting Of desire and her demons Standing in cruelest nihilism. When I asked why, what, stop You said youâ€™d start with the fringes And trap us all in fire; You talk about our time out West, The orange petals that covered Our eyes shut before bed every night, Tokens for tomorrowâ€™s ferry to Nirvana.
Now our apartment is crashing down, Me, and you, and the neighborhood with it: Run, Elouise, back to the fairgrounds in Ohio. Do not return to these esteemed fields. Here is purgatory, and we shades lay in wait For the savior that comes at the first sight of love.
John Donovan 44
Scream City, USA Beatrice Agbi Sitting on a hill, Liza watched as the sun set over the squat town of Scream City, USA. She always found herself in this spot, on the days when Hilda Broombin and her gang weren’t chasing her into the gates of her house. She would sit on the grass and watch the light the setting sun cast on the gaunt buildings of her hometown. For a brief moment in time, the light illuminated each building giving it a life, a story, of its own. The last light to go out was always the sign that read, “Scream City, USA: We wished we were filled with as many thrills as the sign says!” Or at least, that’s what Liza imagined the sign said. She had no way of confirming the strange symbols on the sign to be true; she only knew the sign said, “Scream City” because her father once told her that when people happened to drive through the long road that cut right through her town, they knew exactly where they were because of the sign that actually said, “Scream City USA! Stay for thrills, leave with chills!” Sometimes they took pictures, and that was as much tourism as the town received. When the stars tucked the sun into bed and the moon finally rose, Liza would rise, dust herself off and head back down the hill and towards her house. Walking down the street she would pass Phil’s candy store, Auntie Carry’s pharmacy, Andy’s car repair shop where her dad used to work, and the abandoned school house. Liza always stopped here to gaze at the boarded-up windows and the steps to the giant double front doors. She liked to imagine the school open and filled with light. Maybe, there would be kids filing through the front doors with a teacher there to greet them. Maybe, she would be one of those children. Maybe, she would have a seat by the window and maybe that window would have a view of her sunset hill. And maybe, within those schoolhouse walls, she would learn how to read, write, and tell tales of a town that was silently screaming for some more light. But as Hilda Broombin so often reminded her: dreams and wishes were for sissies. Liza would then continue down the road, passing all the other houses until she finally reached the last one, hers. Her shack of a home was the barrier between Scream City and the rest of the world (which to Liza was the highway that stretched far beyond her line of sight). On this particular evening, her father wasn’t home. He was most likely out at Auntie Carline’s house, enjoying beer and drunkenly exchanging stories of Scream City’s better days: when he had a job, before Joe’s beer pub went out of business, and when her mother, Janie, was still alive. In those days, their
shack was a house coated in fresh white paint that had a beautiful front garden, a tire swing, and a front porch. Liza’s mother would often sit on the front porch singing, with little Liza in her lap. If Liza closed her eyes, she could sometimes remember her dmother’s hands stroking her hair, humming a familiar song. And with this familiar song in her heart, she entered the house humming. There wasn’t much on the inside. There was one giant room with a kitchen in the corner, a dining table, some couches for the living room and a tiny hallway with one bathroom and one bedroom. Inside the bedroom, across the bed, taped onto the wall, was a flyer that her mother loved to admire. It was of a couple in a roofless convertible, with their hands in the air and carefree smiles plastered on their faces. No matter how many times Liza would ask, her mother never really had an answer for why she loved that flyer so much. Perhaps it was because those people on the flyer were going somewhere, while Janie’s life seemed to have been put on pause. Janie and her husband, Bruno, lived in Scream City their whole lives and to them, the town was never given enough light to grow. They couldn’t recall the days when Scream City had a mayor, its own grocery store, and a schoolhouse bustling with students ready to learn. They weren’t old enough to understand that when the crops failed, everything else died away with it; the schoolhouse, the money, and the people. The only things that were left after the great fall of Scream city were those that couldn’t afford to leave, and the lifeless buildings left behind by those who could. No one took up the mantle of leadership the mayor left behind and no other city knew enough about Scream City to save it, so the town remained dead. The responsibility of the schoolhouse thus fell upon those that remained and they lacked the zeal to pass on the knowledge of letters to their offspring. If any child wanted to indulge themselves in literacy they could take a trip to the nearest library, which was a seven-mile walk. By the time the next generation rolled around, ABCs were replaced in lessons in cooking, cleaning, and anything else a future housemaid might need to know. For Janie, however, the time she spent bent over kitchen counters and crouched on floors was deadly. After 36 years of standing still, with a daughter and a husband, Janie often found herself in bed staring at the smiling faces of that faded flyer. When voices occupied every corner of Janie’s mind, she admired their arms; tossed in the air holding the heavens. As Liza and Bruno sat by her on her deathbed, Janie looked at that poster as if waiting for the car itself to hop off the poster, into the room, and drive her soul down an eternal highway. And it was on this bed on the nights when Liza was the only light at home, where she liked to imagine that her mother was still there, humming a familiar tune and stroking Liza as they fell asleep. This was how Liza slept tonight, curled up in bed dreaming of bruising sunset 46
skies and her family driving down that eternal highway, far away from Scream City. The next morning, after Liza finished up her chores, she decided to head over to Auntie Carline’s house for tea and some ingredients for dinner. Her father was fast asleep on the couch, and Liza figured she would be back before he became suspicious. As she was walking down the street, she was stopped by Hilda Broombin and her lackeys: Jojo and Denise. “And where do you think you’re going Lil’ Liza?” Hilda spat through her bucktooth. Liza cowered beneath Hilda’s intimidating stare as she stuttered trying to find an answer. “Is your brain so small that yo’ dumbass can’t find an answer?” Denise mocked. “Come on Lil’ Liza, we won’t hurt ya if you answer our questions,” Jojo coaxed. Liza knew she didn’t have much of a choice. “Auntie Carline’s house,” she managed to push out of her trembling lips. “That ol’ bat? What she gon’ give ya, some tea and stories of ‘em good ol’ days? ’Erbody in town knows she’s the fattest, dumbest liar there is,” Hilda teased. Deep down, Liza knew this was the truth. Auntie Carline lost her mind to the thief that is time and its partner in crime - age. But Liza also knew this: Auntie Carline was the closest thing she had to company in this miserable speck of a town. So, knowing the outcome, Liza shoved the fear building up inside her into her back pocket and bellowed out: “The only liar in this town is you three!” That sure did it. Jojo and Denise held her down while Hilda delivered a punch to Liza’s right eye. As she fell, the three bullies ran off. Liza rose, covered in dust and drenched in her own tears and snot. She ran home; the pain and hurt on her mind erasing all hope of visiting Auntie Carline that day. She burst through the door, sobbing and looking for solace in someone’s arms. But, as usual, she found none. Her father asked, “What you cryin’ up in here like that for?” “It was Hilda… and… Jojo… and Denise,” Liza released in between sobs. “Again? How many times is yo’ dumbass gon’ come in here sniffling ‘n cryin’ ‘till you finally decide to muscle up and do something?” Her father yelled. “I’m not gon’ get my hands dirty, dealing with a bunch o’ little bullies. I’m tired of yo’ weak self coming through these doors every day with somethin’ new to cry ‘bout. I don’t wanna see those tears no more, ya hear?” “Yes, Dad,” she responded. And with that, Liza’s father exited the room, leaving Liza alone to deal with her tears. In truth, Liza was tired of Hilda, Jojo, and Denise. She was tired of her father, who turned away her tears every single time. She was tired of herself and of 47
her weakness. She was tired of her tiny world that only occupied a small stretch of an eternal highway. Most of all, she was tired of standing still when everyone else wanted her to move on. With these feelings swirling around in her mind, Liza walked out the house and down the long stretch of highway that lay beyond. Fueled by her tears and frustration, she kept going for seven miles until she arrived at a big white building in the next town over - the library. The moment Liza set foot inside the public library, she was immediately hit with wonder. Never before had Liza been surrounded by so many books. In her eyes, each book held an answer to a question that she had yet to ask. But in each book the answers were written in a code she couldn’t decipher. This fact didn’t stop Liza’s curiosity, however. Her feet led her all around the building from section to section with her eyes admiring each book cover. She explored this library for a few hours until, in the nonfiction section, she was stopped by a tall woman with dark-skin that mirrored Liza’s own. “Hello young lady, are you looking for something?” she asked, peering down at Liza through her round glasses. “Uh, no. I mean…I’m not sure, I don’t know why I’m here miss, uhh...” Liza said, panicked. Meanwhile, the lady stood still, expecting an answer. “The truth is, miss, I can’t read,” Liza confessed. “I see.” The lady said, adjusting her glasses. “And what’s your name, young lady?” “Elizabeth Green, but ‘erbody calls me Liza.” “And how old are you, Liza?” “12 years old.” The lady studied the girl before saying, “Would you please come with me?” She led Liza to her office located in the back of the library. Her office didn’t have much; it consisted of a desk, a personal bookshelf and some couches where she ordered Liza to sit. The woman then walked back to her desk, picked up some paper and pencils, and plopped herself down next to Liza. “My name is Ms. Carter.” “Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Carter.” “Could you please write down your name for me, Liza?” “No can do miss. I told ya I can’t read. That includes anything to do wid letters,” “So, you don’t know your ABCs?” “My A-B- whats?” “We have a long way to go then, Little Liza,” Ms. Carter said with a sigh.
“Long way to go ‘till what, miss?” “Until you learn how to read.” And so it went: five days a week Liza would walk seven miles to the library and stay there until sunset. Soon, Liza knew her ABCs, her 123s, and how to write her name in big, bold, letters. Eventually, Ms. Carter let Liza move on to reading. They started with the basics: The Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Giving Tree. They then moved on to chapter books. Liza’s favorite was Charlotte’s Web; she loved the way the book made her laugh, love, and cry all at once. Along with reading and writing her ABCs, Liza kept a notebook. In it, she wrote down all the new interesting words she learned from all the stories she had read. There was nostalgia, the feeling she had when she longed for the days when her family was made of three, not two. The feeling her father must have had all this time when he drowned himself in beer and Auntie Carline’s stories. Poverty, the word her shack, town, and family were shoved under. Brilliance, which described the displays of light the sun cast on her town at sunset. Every day, a new piece of code became available to her. She could now read the Scream City welcome sign, and the sign in front of the library. She now knew she lived on Interstate 90, and that the world was made up of much more than one long highway. And one day, long after sunset while lying on her bed, she read the bold text underneath the flyer of the people with unadulterated smiles. It read: “Tired of town? Then get away on a road trip across the USA!” These words moved Liza into tears. These tears weren’t made of sadness, or pain, or of anger. They were made of understanding. Liza now knew that her life, her mother’s life, and her father’s life had been incomplete; that her mother was waiting for something to come take her away; that her father was waiting for something to save him from sorrow; and that both of them had been silently screaming for the right words this whole time. The words that Liza had found in a world that lay seven miles down the highway in a beautiful white building. The words that had been taken from Scream City a long time ago. The next day, Liza had decided to show Ms. Carter her mother’s flyer. As she set out on her seven mile walk with her notebook in hand and her flyer shoved in the back pocket of her jeans, she was stopped by Hilda Broombin and her gang. “Whatcha, got there, ‘lil Liza?” Hilda asked. “It’s none of your business, Hilda,” Liza spat back. “You sho’ got some attitude today,” Hilda said as Jojo ripped out the notebook from Liza’s hands. “Now, what do we have here?” Hilda inquired as she opened up the notebook. Upon seeing the strange code written in the notebook that neither Hilda nor any other child in Scream City could read, Hilda’s face lit up with rage.
“So you think yo’ better than us, with yo’ fancy letters and such. That’s where you been all this time, walkin’ yo’ ass off to another town, fillin’ up yo’ head with this bullshit,” Hilda screamed. Liza ignored her and tried to grab her book back. “Oh no ya don’t,” Hilda said. “Come on, girls, let’s show her who’s boss.” The three bullies then punched and kicked Liza until she was knocked senseless and left lying on the side of the highway. When Liza came to, her notebook was gone. It was too late to go to the library, but it was just the right time of day to catch the sun setting over her favorite hill. Liza dusted herself off and didn’t stop to cry or mourn the loss of her book of words. She walked until she found herself on the summit of the hill, staring at the variegated colors of the sleepy sky. It was here that Liza found the perfect words to describe the beauty of this moment. She took out her mother’s flyer and the pen in her back pocket. Bruised but not broken, she flipped the flyer over and began to write a story of her own.
On Why I Don’t Trust Writers Blair Donohue You can spot the wild Writer if you are quiet and know where to look. At a cocktail party for example, he will be in the corner, shuffling a bit, standing too close to the basil-infused vodka dispenser. As he observes the masses, he’ll slide his thumbs into the semi-pockets of his semi-casual skinny jeans and contemplate Transcendentalism. Perhaps, if he is feeling particularly charitable, he will chat with Jean who lives on the second floor about how damn close he is to starting his novel, suitably titled, A Novel for an Age. Second floor/second rate Jean will nod politely before excusing herself to go find Carl, who for some reason has stopped returning her calls. The Writer, bless him, will hardly notice Jean’s absence, or Carl’s recent aloofness for that matter. The Writer has moved on. This time, to early 20th century Existentialism. Later that evening, when the Writer returns to Apt. 9B smelling like basil, he will click out Chapter One on his retro-cool but admittedly inefficient Remington & Sons type-writer. He will do so dutifully, unthinkingly almost—like a priest offering Sunday communion. Whether he ever stops to consider the consequences of his click-clicking actions, both for an age and for himself, is ultimately insignificant. He has made negative space out of blank space and this is unforgivable. His tragic undoing lies in the fact that no medium is more untrustworthy than ink. Put simply, ink lies. At its most primal level, ink manipulates. The Writer has phone bills that have been piling up since September. The Writer hasn’t purchased new socks in over two years. And, more basically according to Maslow, the Writer like really, really needs food. He has needs and these needs require money and this money is most easily acquired if he banks on human emotion. As our Writer knows, a spot on the New York Time’s Best Seller List is only as far away as the next tear-soaked manuscript. And so, in the edited version of his life, the Writer writes: Jean’s sister has cancer, and Jean is the only one who can donate a lung, and Jean struggles to choose between her life, her sister’s life, and the final cigarette in her jacket pocket. And, at some point in Chapter Three, a dog dies (three-legged border collie, registered pedigree). Also, Jean’s sister is deaf. Birth defect, or so he writes. The tragedy is enough to whip an entire brunch-themed book club based in Concord into mass, whimpering hysteria. It is enough to fund the Writer’s purchase of a second type-writer. With this new type-writer, comes a new element of falsehood; the reader should be warned that ink does not just manipulate, ink razzle-dazzles. When clever Writers become self-aware, alerted to their own innate Godliness, they stop writing. They start tap-dancing. They throw glitter, contradictions, and rhetorical excursions at
their readers in rapid-fire succession. In hoping to become quotable, all sense (and a good deal of sensibility) is lost. The ending of our Writer’s prologue, for example, is like an inflatable sex doll- incredibly suggestive but ultimately filled with air. The Writer, because he is a litterateur, describes the young Jean as such: Problematically, Jean did not know what she wanted. Or rather, Jean knew all too well what she wanted. Jean wanted Carl. She wanted to be wanted. She stared at the stars, wanting and wanting, but never having. She was pale and luminescent in the evening glow, exactly in the way that a black hole is not pale and luminescent. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, Jean’s inner confusion blossomed into outer, All-Consuming Uncertainty. Jean believed that life is not what you want, or even what you have; it is that terrible ocean of grey between these two dueling islands of possession. That night, and many nights thereafter, Jean unraveled. Like her mother. At some point, the doll deflates. All meaning is lost as the Writer hides behind his sophisticated use of the semi-colon. Like a drunkard sermonizing to other drunks, his popularity only increases as he intensifies his unintelligible speech. The literary critics especially, with their frequently opened whiskey collections and never before-opened Shakespeare collections, golf-clap wildly. Soon, the Writer begins to relax. He sits back in his swivel chair, felling smug and well-cushioned, knowing he is well on his way to Canon-hood. As he writes the next paragraph, he smiles. He has discovered the third and most unforgivable virtue of ink: ink concludes. The final page of a book is always the most untrue. Life never settles the way Writers tell us it does. At the ending of A Novel, the Writer writes, “Jean looked at her greying husband and said nothing. Things were good now. She had found a spool in Carl, and could finally stop unraveling.” This is treasonous. This is untrue. In the real world, which spins just outside of the Writer’s flat, Carl got antsy around Kid Number Three and started a thing with Stacy, who, because Carl is an asshole sometimes, was Jean’s best friend. When Stacy got pregnant with Carl’s baby, she moved to the city in search of love and a temp job. She found neither. Of course, the Writer won’t write any of this. He is too busy signing copies of his novel in a cult bookstore in Salem as part of his promotional tour and these (albeit true) blemishes would be bad for business. He has made it big in this world while Carl and Jean and Stacy are barely making it through.
And now—skid marks on the page—I’m afraid I must steer away from our
local lovesick characters. This essay is not about their untrustworthiness, it is about my own. Every grievance I have towards the Writer, I have towards myself. I have spent these last five years in English class learning how to craft the Perfect Personal Paper ™. I have learned that with well-placed emotional appeals, clever wordplay, and snappy conclusions, I can strangle away a decent grade. In the process, I’ve felt increasingly slimy. As I conclude the final writing examination of my high school career, I feel tired of the old gimmicks. (Even now, it took me 1,000 words of circumvention before I could speak the truth.) I am so used to regarding ink as a tool of hollowness, that I’m unsure how else to wield it. In the end, I don’t trust Writers because I am one. Despite my predicament, I remain optimistic. I don’t trust Writers, but I do trust writers. The first category of writers are those individuals who write for others, while the second are those who write for themselves. I am not a second category writer yet—my apprehension towards majoring in English in college may very well suggest that I will never be one—but one day, I hope to trust ink. One day, I wish to be brazen enough to write for myself. (Damnit.)
Heavy Water Rajit Khanna Rain tumbling down from the rafters, Here I am, but where will I be hereafter?
Thanks to: John Capen, the English Department, the CV Staff, Luke Pontifell, and everyone who took the time to submit.