Crests of Waves Sydnie Kobza Photo
Over the Hills and Far Away Sydnie Kobza
Photo stylized by Richard Boneski III Cover title handwritten by Holly Slocum
ÂŠ2019 Salmon Creek Journal Salmon Creek Journal, a student-run media platform, encourages, publishes, and elevates the visual and literary arts of WSU Vancouver and the surrounding community.
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Crests of Waves Sydnie Kobza Photo
Captain’s Log A route scouted through many spyglasses is much less likely to encounter rough seas. In Spring 2018, Salmon Creek Journal began placing emphasis on democratic decision making. It has been our goal to not move forward without group input and consensus. Choosing symbiosis as our Travel Cafe theme was one of the first decisions we made as a team last year. In response, photographers from our campus community set out across the country and around the world to capture their interpretations of symbiosis: people and things mutually benefiting from each other’s close presence. At the same time, creatives from around the Pacific Northwest and as far as India, Thailand and Ireland submitted art and literary works aimed at our divergence theme. As editors joined our crew, we joked that they could help us decide what divergent meant, but really, our journal was making significant divergences. For the first time, our journal was open to public submissions. The sheer volume of public (non-WSU affiliated) submissions posed a challenge as only a handful (10 percent of this year’s journal) of the hundreds of public submissions could be selected for publication. The quality of the student submissions stood up to this level of scrutiny. Student, alumni, staff and non-affiliated professional work stand side by side in this 2019 journal. SCJ aims to elevate campus creatives and their works by better involving the creatives from our broader community. The elevation of the journal to a wider audience occurred as SCJ staff and volunteers showcased this journal at the Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference, the largest writing and publishing conference in the U.S. The more we consider the efforts and values of communities outside of our own, the more our ability to expand our world view and potential grows. In this way, symbiosis strengthens our ability to make divergences. As Jacueline Steffanson said of her photo “Layered” on page 34, when works come together they create beauty greater than the sum of each individual work. Subnote: We are focused on including a “contributors” section in next year’s journal and are excited about finding a way to do so while balancing the exposure that we provide both members of our campus and the public. We want to highlight the notoriety of public creatives while not overshadowing our campus creatives. All public inclusions are marked with an asterisk in the table of contents. To read about this year’s contributors, please visit: bit.ly/scj19contributors.
Alexander W. Duffield Editor-in-Chief
Contents VISUAL & DIGITAL ARTS A Clutter N.A. Doss Mandala Troy Scott Forest Sunset Grace Walton Bye Lanes Troy Scott Edificio Joseph Colombo Layered Jacueline Steffanson Raku in Snow Elle Marander Jordan Basin from Goat Rocks Wilderness John Bower Grand (Hidden) Prismatic Spring Maggie Handran Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye Laura Dutelle Painted Soul Sydnie Kobza Ocean Skin Holly Slocum Photographer’s Paradise McKenzie Wells The New Waterfront Faun Scurlock Backyard Volcano McKenzie Wells Beatty Sierra Swearingen Terry on the Beach Kim Bare Antelope Canyon Terry Bare Snow Geese Terry Bare Foggy Lake Morning Terry Bare Untitled (Relief ) Terry Bare Untitled (Acrylic Flow) Terry Bare Pink Boat Meakia Blake Noam Chomsky Lisa Padilla* Closeted Kassidy Young School Bailey Granneman Standing with the Stars Joel Lindberg Center Meakia Blake Just Chewin’ Richard Boneski III Trail Runner David Joel Kitcher* Veiled Holly Slocum Ask and You Shall Reveice Jason Cardenas Purple Yellow Red and Blue Sydnie Kobza Support Sydnie Kobza Red Moon Christine Aletti* Ravening Julia Waters Blue Vase Elle Marander I am Here, I am Here Now Jason Cardenas Hang Son Doong Cave Stay Giovanni A. Scarpelli Wave on a Rocky Shore Jake Palmer Dock Sunrise Dale Strouse
6 14 16 24 26 34 35 36 38 41 42 48 50 51 52 54 60 61 62 64 64 65 66 69 70 75 76 79 80 84 87 89 92 93 95 98 100 101 104 105 107
Wreckage Bailey Granneman Regrets (2011) Tim Zielke The Sinking Wreckage (2016) Matt Buris Fading Wreckage Steve Scholle* FallWinterSilk Sharalee Chwaliszewski Feywa Lake Sterling Fletcher Tranquility Chad Lipka BLUE Guilherme Bergamini* RED Guilherme Bergamini* Greenest of All McKenzie Wells Nature Talks Cierah Alferness Take a Closer Look Cierah Alferness Windows Men Guilherme Bergamini* Back to Safety Jobana Leon Morning Snowflake Maggie Handran Rounded Sunrise Faun Scurlock Echinocereus Triglochidiatus Jacob Bloomer Intricate Details Sarah West Before the Change Elizabeth Bolton Larkin* Emerald Crown Faun Scurlock Red, White and Bowl Sierra Swearingen Dreams Do Come True Cierah Alferness Dreamlike Meakia Blake Before the Day Elizabeth Bolton Larkin* Relic Dale Strouse Forgotten Laura Dutelle Joan Julia Waters Serenely Forgotten Troy Scott Man Made or God Made? Sierra Swearingen Delta N.A. Doss Bad Beans Richard Boneski III What the Duck? Sierra Swearingen Frogs on a Log Sierra Swearingen Division Bradley Uravich The Unsung Hero Brendan Reardon Grandpaâ€™s Rifle Colton Davis Little Things Bailey Granneman Untitled Elle Marander Memory Cafe Troy Scott Lâ€™e Clair Katie Babb Ice Sierra Swearingen
109 112 112 113 116 118 119 120 122 125 126 126 128 130 133 134 137 141 143 146 149 151 153 156 159 163 170 172 173 178 179 170 170 186 187 188 189 195 196 197 204
POETRY Sometimes the Swallows of Salmon Creek Ian Frederik Caton* Blank N.A. Doss How to Make Fog Randal Houle You are the Golden Sea, Even Its Gods Would Agree Z. Warnke
15 25 39 49
Faintless Phantom Nikki Johnson The Blue Absorbent Towel Charles Southerland* Identity Pt. I Abbie Bambilla Am I a Person or Am I a Race? Zonisha Brown Identity Pt. II Abbie Bambilla The Disease Grace Walton Repeat Betsy Hanrahan Shipwrecked Jennifer Schwartz Cracked Alkaid Tsuki Naive Krysten Stewart Wildflowers Emily Lozier Joyful Joy Joy Spreadborough Floral Dreams Mallory Hobson Orientalism Roxane Hong Memory Nikki Johnson Tomato Soup Zoie Lopez Fade Away Abbie Bambilla
53 67 78 88 94 99 106 110 117 127 131 138 142 150 152 157 171
PROSE A Road Steeped in Blood Kierra Fears B-52 Bar and Lounge Nikki Johnson Concrete Candy Natasha Cauley Venus Ginger Clarke Rattle Samantha Bunch Untitled Jennifer Barnes This Be a Demon Alkaid Tsuki Missing - One Good Woman Cynthia Cendagorta SENT 12:40 AM Abigail Hughes Jonathan Mallory Hobson Jabberwocky Samantha Bunch Pregnancy and Childbirth Elizabeth Ryan Final Jenna Seng Dig Randal Houle Fin(al) Cory Blystone Litâ€™l Sun Paul Summers Love Letter Lisa Walz Preferred Pronoun in Four Parts Randal Houle The Barlow Jim Cole* Itâ€™s a Dangerous Time for Men Anonymous Forgotten Amber Leckie The End/The Beginning Damon Day Divergences James B. Nicola* The Last Knight of Silvergrove Tyler Garrison The Unsent Letter Nikki Johnson White Hands Marina Rubin* Your Name Alkaid Tsuki
7 17 28 43 55 71 81 85 90 96 102 114 121 123 129 135 140 144 147 154 160 164 174 181 190 198 205
A Clutter N.A. Doss Monotype
A Road Steeped in Blood Kierra Fears
Her once heavy dark veil of hair some thought to have been woven by silkworms, now sits frayed and greying. She cups her now crinkled tanned face. Her thinning lips pulled tight over her yellowing teeth, two orbs of a greying eclipse scrutinize the cluster of children huddled on the knotted carpet patterned in red and blue. Their pale solemn faces with eyes as dark as their hair await patiently. The anniversary of a momentous occasion, and yet unlike so many anniversaries, there is no celebration, no laughter, no joyous moments. The air is thick with the sorrows of those with us, and millions before us. We are adorned in black on this marked day of unrest and mourning. A grandmother sits before her grandchildren prepared to steal away their innocence, the way the wind snuffs out the light of a flame. And so, she does in grieving greet her darkened memories, memories of such atrocities leaving only heartache in their wake. There, in the sitting room, the heart of her home, sits a group of solemn faced children, eager to hear stories of their ancestor’s struggles and triumph towards an independent Armenia. The grandmother with her lemon-pinched face, with a sigh, begins to tell her tale. “It began like this, many years ago. In a once powerful land called the Ottoman Empire… There were many a people there, both Christian and Jew. Many of us lived segregated, surrounded by only our own and nothing more. Some in wealth, though many lived poor in the countryside. I remember it clearly, though sometimes I dreamed and even prayed that I might forget, that I might one day find peace. The peace came, but the horrors never left, haunting me in my dreams both day and night.” “The rough charcoal colored stones protruding from the outer walls, pulling against my clothes as I play with my friends, weaving through houses and alleyways. Peaking behind a stone building stifling my laughter as I attempt to hide, my giggling gave me away. My friend Yeva racing after me as I dash towards the field of amber, my only escape from surrender. Each shallow breath aching, I run towards safety, towards home. I made it. Victory is mine! Yeva and I say our goodbyes as Mother orders me to wash up and get out of my dirty clothes in preparation for dinner.
The orange flames heating up our chilled home as mother’s lavash fills the air with warmth and belonging. Father wraps his arms around Mother from behind. As she prepares dinner, he kisses her cheek. Ari and I set the table, placing ceramic plates painted with vibrant red and blue flowers in front of each seat. We sit at the table with a feast before us and giving thanks to God for all he provides. As we fill our plates, an anxious knock disrupts us, beating against our wooden door. A man at the door speaks with Father, he looks important. Worrisome whispers follow between the two, as Mother and I both peer at the stranger and Father in concern. It is not until our night-time prayer, that Father finally elucidates what has happened. With a solemn sigh, he divulges, “earlier today, in Constantinople, several hundred of our leaders, poets, and teachers were arrested and deported from the capital.” There is only somber silence as there is no need to question what is happening or why as we are considered second class in the Ottoman, regardless of how hard our people try as they might for equality. April 24th is the day our lives changed forevermore, and in rapid decline. The months that followed the purging in the capital are like the greying ash of a volcano. No longer is there laughter or exaltation, no longer do my friends and I play childish games of tag and hide-n-seek. The air around us grows thick and heavy with sorrow, and though the leaves continue to grow, the fruit grows disgustingly distorted. The pomegranates are no longer colored carmine and succulent, instead, the pomegranates are withered, rotting, and black. The sky never shown blue, as the sun hides behind blankets of slate. Father is recalled to the capital by an officer in a moss green uniform. He has been conscripted to the army- a labor battalion to help with the war effort, to support our allies, or so he says. Ari remains silent, but I can see the glistening in his eyes. I see it when he attempts to wipe away runaway tears. I know that he too is troubled and filled with sorrow as our father leaves us behind. Tears run down Mother’s face as she tightly holds Father, she keeps trying to find some way around this order ever since Father had been conscripted. She wants us all to stay together, as that is what family does. I run and leap into Father’s arms, he holds me in a suffocating embrace, and tells me to stay strong, to be brave for Mother. The door gently closes behind him with a soft shudder, with the three of us staring holes into the door and holding our breaths. Deep down in the confines of my soul, I know that this very well will be the last time I see my father, and with that thought, I break down into a sobbing mess, like a raw nerve, collapsing to the floor in anguish.
Despite the lack of Father’s presence, life continues on as it has these last few months. It is not until Sunday service that I notice the true extent of the war and all those affected by it. Our congregation is much smaller than it used to be, by at least a hundred if not more. I notice plenty of women and children, and even elderly persons, but much to my dismay, I notice a surprising lack of fathers and young men. It appears as though all eligible men, including fathers, have been forced to participate in a war that is not our own. It is sad to think that many of them will never come home, that so many wives will have to mourn their loss of love, and children that will have to be raised without the love and guidance of a father. Spring bleeds into summer. The village is quieter now, almost eerie in the silence. Each day, at precisely eight o’clock, Mother gathers Ari and I, the three of us venturing off to the post office. I see the hope in her eyes, the shine to them never diminishing no matter how many times we go with her to find no reply from Father. Each letter sent, marked by a stamp in big red letters “Return to Sender.” We spend our days doing chores, clipping laundry to the line, carrying ceramic jugs of water from the pump. In the evenings, Mother tells us stories from the Book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stay faithful to our Lord, refusing to bow down to false images of worldly idols. Ari and I listen intently as she tells us all about how God protected them from the fires. She urges us to remain faithful, and promises us that for our faith, God will protect us. In the afterhours of the night when ancient heroes light up the sky with their stories, it seems a night of possibilities. With only the light of the moon missing from the night sky, there are only mythic heroes to light our way. Perhaps that is why we did not see them, nor expect them, not tonight of all nights. When you think of tragedy, they never happen on a new moon, a night of peace and new beginnings. The horrors always take place on a full moon - that is when the vilest of creatures come out to commit heinous acts. It is when people are at their most chaotic, it’s as though a switch is flipped leaving madness in a once-sane mind. Yet here, on this night shrouded in darkness, is a new beginning, yet not of the delightful sort. The wind whips through the trees, as the wolves howl, critters scramble; a new light forms. It brightens the streets and alleyways much like the sun, though, unlike the sun, this light is carried by men. Hurriedly they rush like death did throughout Egypt, entering each home and sparing no one. This empire, our home, is no Egypt, and unlike death, these foul-some beasts do not spare those whose doors are painted in blood. No, these men, they tear through every home; raping, murdering, pillaging, and finally burning homes to the ground. Like
Herod’s men, not even children are spared the harsh realities of this life as these men, some soldiers, steal away girls and women. The imagination need not be stretched far to glean what awaits those girls, their only crime being Armenian. It is nearing midnight, that I am pulled from my sleep by my Mother gripping my arms in a bruising hold. Shaking each of us like she does our laundry, in rapid succession. “Mariam, you and Ari need to hide” she utters in a strained whisper, “Now into the closet with you both. Everything will be alright, just stay quiet and don’t come out.” Neither Ari or I protest, as we obediently follow Mother’s orders. I know she said that everything will be all right, but I don’t think I believe that. I can see the concern in every movement she makes, in the way she crushes me, leaving me breathless and kisses my forehead. It’s as though she is saying goodbye. Ari and I sit on the floor inside the closet, the boxes and bags shielding us as a banging at the door rouses me completely. There is shouting at the door, as the banging grows louder in chaotic fervor. Ari’s arms wrapped tightly around me, our hands clasped together, tight as two magnets, no space between us, my breath held still with a hand over my mouth to silence it. A lantern shines brightly as the door splinters. Through the cracks in the closet, I see three men in moss green uniforms. I watch as the scene unfolds before my eyes, the greatest of atrocities occurring right before me. I feel helpless and guilty for my cowardice and inability to change this event, to keep it from taking place. I watch from the confines of the closet, hidden safely away. They rushed after mother, the three soldiers in their moss green uniforms, while Ari and I were hidden away in the closet shaking and petrified. Mother tries to run, but one of the men grasps her by the hair and yanks her back to him causing her to yelp with tears forming in her eyes, while the other two men look on and laugh. I feel disgust as a pit forms in my stomach weighing me down, and in the dark recesses of my mind I know what will follow. I do not understand the cruelty of humans, and in particular men, how indifferent they must be, for so many to look at violence against women with such amusement. One man holds Mother against him, whilst gripping her hair, with the other two are tearing at her clothes, ripping layer after layer away from her form, and when they grow impatient, they rip the remaining clothes at the seams. Groping and grabbing at her- pulling her head this way and that while she refuses to look at them, refuses to give them the satisfaction of seeing her break. Mother’s eyes remained closed as did Ari’s, but mine do not. I want to remember their faces, to have them ingrained in my mind, so that one day I know that justice will be served, and if not justice, then vengeance will do just as well.
They shove her down, over the kitchen table, each taking their turn with her, all the while taunting her, threatening her with death and potential future encounters. They call her an Armenian whore and tell her that an animal such as herself should feel honored and lucky to be graced with their touch and affections. They continue to try and force her eyes open, to get some reaction out of her to no avail and when they are finished, they leave her broken bloodied form to collapse to the floor. Her eyes remain squeezed shut, perhaps she thinks that if she does not see the event take place, then she can banish it from her mind and trick herself into believing that it never happened. I watch as she is huddled up on the floor, shaking as tears run down her face. The men rummage through the house taking what they want and destroying the rest, with one last look at their handiwork, they exit through the same door that they entered. Ari and I stay rooted there on the closet floor despite the aching joints and muscles. I know not to move, lest someone beyond the walls of our home hear my stirring and search us out. Mother covers herself with her remaining clothes, but dares not move beyond her spot on the floor. We stay like this, in silence, for what feels like hours, each of us daring not to move in fear of what might lurk around the corner. I do not know how much time has passed, as Ari begins to stir beside me, finally opening up the closet door to what is left of our living room. For a moment, I stay where I have been these last few hours, to see the wreckage of what is left behind. I see overturned furniture, paintings and pictures ripped from the walls, and shards of glass coloring the floors. I exit slowly, with one last glance around the room before I quickly get to work, fetching a blanket to cover my Motherâ€™s trembling form. I go about collecting water into a bowl, and a wash cloth to help Mother clean away the touches of those vile monsters. I see Ari off in the distance gathering what little items the men in moss uniforms left behind; he collects the remaining food, water, and clothing into a small suitcase while I begin to help clean mother. As I gently scrub my Motherâ€™s body, attempting to still my shaking hands, I feel pressure in my head as tears begin to fill my sight. There is a smattering of puce colored bruises, some in the shape of what looks like finger prints. I help her dress in some of the clothes that Ari has gathered for us, and once she is finished, Ari tells us that we must go now before anyone comes back. I can tell she is exhausted, maybe even delirious after the events of this night, but she proceeds to nod as best as she can. Ari and I help her up as we quietly make our escape, an arm around each of us so that she might lean on us. Through the dim streets of our
village, bodies of young and old lay strewn across the cobble stone streets. Splashing through crimson blood-like puddles of rain, we pause behind walls and in doorways whenever the light of a lantern comes near, we duck and run, so much like a game of hide and seek, and yet so different. Our beloved village of charcoal colored stones and beautiful gardens now burning, thick black smoke fills the air around us, as does the screams and cries of our people. We are filled with fear and sorrow as we rush quietly like ghosts in the night, through our village towards the now browning fields. There was no prophet, no warning from God. Nor were we told to paint our door in blood. Each home was entered, and none left unscathed as the men in moss green came for us today. We miraculously make it into the field and finally into the forest, unnoticed by all, each of us exhausted, though we dare not rest, at least not yet. Blisters begin to form on my heel as my shoes rub against my exposed skin, each painful step necessary for our survival. It is not until the sky begins to darken once more that we finally sit down in the dense woods against a large tree to rest. Mother and I have a few sips of water and some bread before the darkness consumes us. I donâ€™t remember falling asleep, only waking in the early morning hours to find myself clinging to Mother while Ari had stayed up all night keeping watch over us. For the next few hours, I stayed watch, as both Mother and Ari slept on the forest floor. Sometimes my mind played tricks on me, the sounds of rustling leaves and the cracking of twigs leaving me paranoid. I constantly look over my shoulder afraid of what might be lurking in the shadows beyond my vision, terrified that I might once again see those same men, or men like them that prey on those they view weaker and lesser. For several hours my mind haunted and abused me with these thoughts of horror and terror, until I thought I could not handle it any longer, that I might scream or throw myself on the ground and sob. When I thought that the darkness in the crevices of my very being might consume me fully into madness with thoughts of those same soldiers at the center of them. I imagine their bodies strewn in awkward and unnatural ways, their screams filling my ears and instead of terror, I feel only satisfaction at their suffering. A light appears, burning away fears and these violent thoughts of mine, and this light leaves only hope in its place. We spend weeks on the run, hiding away from the outside world and stealing what little food left is behind in abandoned villages. Some of the villages that we come across are hollowed out and empty, likely pillaged by those same people that came to our village, or at least by people like them
that wish to erase our people from existence and from history. All valuables have been snatched, as have the clothing, while hand painted dishes are left in pieces along the floors. Some of the villages that we have come across are filled with the stench of decaying corpses, with our people left behind to die without a shred of dignity. On those days we pass by those villages, not a one of us daring to utter a word. Each of us trapped inside the confines of our minds, dissecting the details and events that likely took place.” Back here, in the sitting room now icy despite the blazing fire, sit teary-eyed boys and girls as they ponder their grandmother Mariam’s tale. She continues to explain the importance of today, “We were lucky by comparison to those that were left behind. Many of them were marched towards the desert, towards their death. We managed to escape, to avoid the continual turmoil that our people faced for years to come. A kind family smuggled us out of Turkey, while others helped us along the way into the U.S. All Armenians suffered in some form or another in this ethnic cleansing; many were raped, and an estimated 1.5 million were murdered, others, mainly women and girls were forced to abandon their culture and adopt another in hopes of survival.” “On April 24, we march in remembrance for all who were lost, and for all who have suffered.” Mariam somberly asserts, “Most unfortunately that is not the only reason we march. We do so to honor the lost and the broken, but also for justice. So few countries around the world recognize our suffering for what it was, an intentional ethnic cleansing meant to erase our people from existence; a genocide in the truest sense of the word.”
Troy Scott Ballpoint pen
Sometimes the Swallows of Salmon Creek Ian Frederik Caton Sometimes the swallows dance in clusters in the sky above the freeway overpass appearing all at once in the dusk as the sun descends behind the hills in the west as Salmon Creek turns the color of its namesake and the black swallows dart the sky chasing bugs in formation a geography that defies logic and sometimes I stand on that overpass and look down
Forest Sunset Grace Walton Watercolor
B-52 Bar and Lounge Nikki Johnson He stood in front of the door and sternly held the handle. The streets are awfully quiet tonight. Maybe I could slip away and no one would notice, he thought, scratching his face in further contemplation. Walking inside, his senses filled with the distinct smell of freshly lit cigarettes and stale potato chips. It felt familiar and almost calming. The bartender greeted him as he made a beeline for one of the empty stools in the back. “Hey Bob. I was beginning to wonder if I’d catch you tonight,” Charlie said while continuing to clean the countertop. Charlie was the owner of the B-52 Bar and Lounge. He had it up and running since the mid-sixties. Dead Lover’s Lane and other popular bands from that era got their start there whenever they toured. The bar quickly became a staple in the music industry. “Hey Charlie. Good to see ya,” he said solemnly. Bob’s face fell into his hands and released a putrid sigh. Being in this place felt familiar, yet laced with tremors of uncertainty. Sitting at the furthest end of the l-shaped bar, he surveyed the room. Tonight was different from most nights. Normally he was that old guy who sat in the corner with his back propped against the wall, enjoying the presence of pretty girls dancing next to the jukebox, while the young bucks failed miserably to impress them. This place was usually packed with people. There was rarely a place to sit, except for this spot, which had been reserved just for him. Bob sat in that spot since the night of the bar’s opening. It even had a funny little imprint on the seat where Charlie had it initialed. There was a night someone tried to sit there and Charlie shooed him away. Some guys just don’t get it, or are completely oblivious to signage. Bob came in every Monday and Thursday night and ordered his standard Old Fashioned, without the cherry, because sugared cherries had no place in a drink of this caliber. “What time is it?” Bob inquired. “After two,” Charlie said. Bob’s brows lifted in surprise. “Oh, it’s late. Aren’t you closed?” He quickly rose and turned to exit. “Easy does it, old timer!” Charlie exclaimed, setting down the
glassware to converse with his friend. “You don’t have to leave. I’ve got some work to do, so no need to rush out of here. Besides, you look like you could use a drink.” Bob pressed his face into his hands and motioned for Charlie to bring him something stronger. Bob became lost in thought, feeling things so intensely and in desperate need of an escape. His eyes looked up and saw their savior. Bob’s taste buds salivated as he inched toward the glass for inspection. Its caramel tones glistened under the florescent lighting as he brought it to his lips. A hint of vanilla and a few other sweet tastes imprinted a warm, delicious trail of heat down his throat. For a moment, he forgot everything that had transpired. Bob’s wife’s voice rang in the back of his head. Her voice elevated a few octaves as she shook him. He felt as though he were in a trance, a place somewhere between life and death. The shadows surrounding her reminded him of every scary movie he had ever seen about ghosts. One stood behind her, mockingly. Its face wasn’t really a face one forgets. It was half angel, half demon. Whatever it was, it was after him. Ruby grew tired of waking him from his drunken nights and caring for a man who could care less about himself. She left him, poisoned the kids against him, and now even they hated him. Bob could tell how repulsed they were by him whenever they stopped by for weekly visits. Of course, they were too polite to tell him directly. He was quickly reminded every time he got a glance of himself in the mirror. Bob’s face ashen, hair unkempt, with eyes blood shot from the sleep he rarely got to enjoy. He cringed to the poundings of the minions strong-arming his nerve endings. Bob discovered today after years of ignoring the signs of being in poor health, he was, in fact, dying. He assumed that his lack of coordination stemmed from bad genes, but never factored in the idea of brain cancer. What else did he have left to live for? Sure, he could work himself to death or just end it all and everyone would be happier. He may end up happier too. Bob took another sip from the glass, while his body slowly relaxed, and everything seemed to dissipate. He drank because it was the only thing that made him feel better and the only thing that made the headaches go away. The booze stroked his ego until he passed out. Some may say he had a problem, but for him it was a solution that made him realize that he couldn’t go about this alone. He needed his family, even if they didn’t need him. Bob spent too many years being a prideful man, the man who pretended not to care. If being in the Army taught him anything at all, it
was not to give up on your unit. His family was that unit and he would do everything in his power to make sure they were protected, even if it was from himself. Based on the level on sunlight that shun through the blinds, there was a lapse in time unaccounted for. One moment Bob’s drinking with an old friend and the next he’s waking to a drool soaked pillowcase. His head throbbed, lips chapped, and his tongue felt as though he had sucked on sandpaper all night. He slowly rose to check his phone. He had three missed calls from Ruby. She left him a voicemail. Even when pissed at him, she sounded beautiful. “Bob, this is my third and final call. It has been two days since I’ve heard from you. I called Charlie and Gary, neither have seen or heard from you. I’m getting worried. Please call me to let me know you are alright or I will call the police to conduct a wellness check.” Two days have passed? She wasn’t wrong. Bob remembered the way his kids looked at him. It made him sick. Their view of him was diminishing by the day and he hated it. The queasiness in the pit of his stomach returned and he held his mouth while running toward the bathroom. He clutched the toilet and yakked up the remains of last night’s binger, as well as the acids that broke down his meals. He couldn’t remember the last time he ate a full meal. The realization that his body hated him too made him want to pour the last of the whiskey he hid under the couch into another glass. No, this isn’t the answer... Bob called Dr. Gary Chavez. Gary has been his long-time doctor since he retired from the military. He was also a family friend. If he couldn’t tell him what was going on, then who could he tell? Luckily for him, Dr. Chavez had an opening that morning. The room began to spin again and he needed to get to the clinic. It took ten minutes to get there on a good day. Bob was beginning to feel ill again and didn’t quite trust his ability to drive, but couldn’t call Ruby to take him either. She would probably say no on principal. He needed to man up and do this on his own. Bob searched for his keys, and found them by the nightstand with a note underneath them. Bob, I am so disappointed in you. I was hoping to not receive any more calls from Charlie’s about one of your bingers. Boy, was I wrong. As always, I brought you home and helped you into bed. There is a glass of water with two aspirin by your bedside, take them. In the meantime, I will continue to stay at my sister’s
until you get your act together. This is the last time I will do this for you. xx Ruby Bob read the note and studied it hard as his fingers white-knuckled the paper, forcing it to crumble from the pressure. He was more determined than ever to get to the clinic and get back to being the man who Ruby used to depend on. He thrust the note into his pocket and rushed out of the house toward his car. Once there, he began to feel sick again. Remembering what Gary told him about the queasiness, it was a symptom of his illness and if he wasn’t going to medicate, he needed to breathe in and out. Slowly. After a minute or two, he began to feel better and started the engine. On the drive to the clinic, all he could think about was how much he wanted to get his family back. Bob was so distracted that he didn’t realize he ran a red light and was moving into oncoming traffic. A car that turned right honked their horn as they tried to swerve around him, but ended up t-boning him instead where he passed out from the impact. When he regained consciousness, the sound of machines beeping alarmed him. Someone squeezed his hand and he flinched. “Welcome back, old friend,” said a familiar voice. “Charlie?” Bob squeaked. “Hey, I got a call from the police about your accident. They said they found my contact information in your wallet.” “Good to see you when I wake up than Ruby. I don’t need her judging me right now.” “Why? Were you drunk?” Bob looked at him sharply. “Of course not!” Bob muttered. “I was on my way here when I got into an accident. Looks like I got the chauffer service this time,” he chuckled. “Good to see you’ve got your old sense of humor back. I missed ya, buddy, but I do think you need to call your wife,” Charlie said matter-of-factly. “Yeah, I know. I just don’t know where to start…I’m not ready. Please don’t call her until I get what I came here for.” “Alright, I can do that for you. Just don’t wait too long.” Dr. Chavez entered the room. “Look who’s awake. You sure did a hell of a number on yourself today, huh?” He chuckled. “Tell me about it,” Bob laughed. “Now lay it on me doc. What’s the damage?” “Well, you have a broken collar bone, so you’ll have to wear that sling for a few months, and in a moment, I’ll run some more tests. Other than that, you didn’t sustain any further damage from the accident, though
it may be too soon to tell. On a side note, I do need to run some more test on what we discussed last time you were in—in private.” Gary remained cryptic and looked over at Charlie sharply, ushering him to leave. “Oh! Yeah, I’ll let you catch up with the doc, Bob. I’ll check on you later,” Charlie said as he scurried out of the room. “Now that we have some privacy. Tell me more about this accident. Did you have another episode?” said Garry, appearing concerned for his friend. Bob told him about his nausea and migraines, which have caused more frequent drunken bingers. On top of all of that, Ruby left him, the kids mirrored her disappointment. Gary furrowed his brows, but other than that remained silent. “She still doesn’t know? Bob, you and Ruby have been married over 30 years. She deserves to know.” “I know,” he said sullenly. “I’ve thought about telling her, but every time I try, I stop. I don’t want her to look at me like some sickly.” “I understand, but this is something out of your control and would make this next transition much easier.” “Doc, I told ya last time we spoke. I’m not doing chemo. I’ve lived a long life. I’m ready to go wherever the good lord wants. The kids are grown and Ruby has them to rely on. She doesn’t need to know that not only do I have cancer, but I’m a drunk with a broken collar bone.” “That is the most cowardly thing I’ve ever heard you say,” Gary said angrily. “You have a wife and kids who need you. Who rely on you. You’re just going to give up all because life got hard?” Bob looked away bashfully. “I’m sorry,” he said solemnly. “I know I’m acting like a jack ass. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Dr. Chavez’s face softened. “Bob, it’s ok to admit that you’re scared. Men aren’t immune to fear.” Bob nodded. “I think I’m ready to call Ruby. Will you be here while I tell her?” Gary smiled. “I can even tell her if that makes you feel better.” Bob sighed. “Okay.” A couple of hours passed and Ruby stormed into his hospital room like a wild dog. Her face contorted when she saw him lying in bed, strapped to all of the machines. Bob’s skin had lost all color and a reddish-purple hue had taken residence underneath his eyes. “Darling, I was so worried! Are you going to be all right?” She ran to him and embraced him tightly. Bob winced in pain. “Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” she cried.
Bob tried to delay the impending conversation a little longer with a welcomed distraction of discussing their kids. Jack graduated with a Masters in Communications, while Molly recently married her high school sweetheart. His children were doing well for themselves, which made him feel better about his decision to not seek treatment. Gary and one of the rotation nurses arrived to examine Bob’s vitals and answer any questions Ruby had. The look on her face when the words brain cancer slithered past Gary’s lips were heart wrenching. Her eyes filled with unshed tears as she fought back the urge to cry. “How long have you known?” she managed to say. “A couple of weeks,” Bob said. Ruby looked over at Gary. “The excessive drinking, blackouts, queasiness—all of this is due to the cancer, right Gary?” “Bob tried to self-medicate, but yes that is correct,” Gary confirmed. “You knew for weeks and never said a word to me.” Ruby’s voice cracked as she spoke. The tears began to spill, creating mascara stained cheeks. “Thirty years, Bob. You couldn’t even trust me— ” “I couldn’t trust myself! I am ashamed for not telling you sooner. All of the time I lost with you and the kids kills me. At the time, I thought it would have been better to do this alone. Boy, was I wrong, Ruby!” He cried as his hands covered his face. Ruby stared into the silence for several more moments before comforting her husband. She slowly reached for his hand, holding it between hers and placed a soft kiss on his palm. “Bob, you are far from weak. You are the strongest man I know. We are going to get through this together, as a family.” Tears welled in Ruby’s eyes as she watched how her husband chose to spend his last days. She didn’t like how he spoke so solemnly, nor did she like the idea of living without him. It caused her to think a little too hard about what that would mean for her and the kids. Prior to Bob’s sickness, he had this light about him that everyone gravitated toward. The next several months were hard. Everyone pretended to not notice how weak Bob became. Bob’s body looked frailer, eyes and cheeks gaunt. He took frequent naps due to the lack of energy, until one day he couldn’t get out of bed. The weaker he became, the less the kids wanted to be around, often making excuses for why they couldn’t visit. Bob lay there for days. Ruby placed a bell by his bedside where he could ring it whenever he needed to get up to shower or use the rest room, until one day it didn’t ring. Ruby knew the worst had happened, but was afraid to check on him for fear of what she’d see. She didn’t want to see him
like that, so Gary offered to go in her place. Gary was in the room for several minutes before he came out. His eyes puffy from freshly shed tears and refused to make eye contact with her. “Bob’s gone, Ruby,” he whispered. “I know,” is all she could say.
Bye Lanes Troy Scott Photo
Blank N.A. Doss
A _______ is but a dream A fragile thing Sometimes gone the moment you open your eyes. A _______ is like a knife A tool of life Blunted and chipped by each and every use. A _______ is but a lie Condemned to die Just like those who built it. A _______ is all we need Just a little seed But few will ever plant it.
Joseph Colombo27 Photo
Concrete Candy Natasha Cauley I read a story once about Druids who were entirely made up of beautiful women who worshiped the moon. When the moon was full, the women would dance all night naked and pick a man, since men weren’t allowed inside their village. Sometimes with only the light of the fire they would conceive a baby. The children never knew who their father was, but these children were considered special because they believed the babies came from intense love and had strong magical powers. Much like these children I also had no father. My parents might as well have been the sun and the moon. I liked to imagine sometimes that secretly I could be one of these moon children, a special child who was accidentally left behind. My reality was much less fantastical. As a child I was afraid of everything, the fear is bittersweet. Childhood is a strange event. While it happens nothing seems out of the ordinary, life is normal, and some accept everything in it without question. These events do not seem strange at the moment but sometimes turn peculiar once you look back on them with an adult perspective. It’s as if they had happened to someone else in a dream; perhaps a much different you, and yet it is you. When you think back in your mind, you leave your body for a moment like you’re in a time machine, hovering over unreliable memories, static. Floating in a foreign world of fragments and secrets. The pieces that are lost comeback to you in broken bones and fleshy scars. You carry those scars onwards with you, to your new friends, your jobs, your spouses, and then finally pass them on to your children. The scars open up and heal repeatedly like a big blue ocean of memories washing and crashing on the part of your mind that keeps your memory guarded. The ocean of my own memories was only matched by my grandmothers sweetness, like the candy she always kept in her pocket. A reminder to always stay sweet. It tastes like black licorice. Of all the people who have come into my life, my grandmother is and continues to be one of the most important. Not because she did radically important things in the eyes of the rest of the world, she was a mighty woman regardless. To me she was comparable to legendary figures such as Cleopatra, Boudica or Queen Elizabeth.
Since my birth, it was as if an invisible weight was tied to my ankle; perhaps my grandmother could see it there, acting as both my father and my mother. She held the weight up to keep me from drowning under the waves of my circumstances. Instilling in me resilience. My grandmother found a place for me in her world, creating a home for me. This gift she gave me is insurmountable to any other; she gave me a chance in this world. She was a warrior in her own way. My early childhood was mostly spent inside her home which resided on Twelfth Avenue, just a few houses down from my mother’s. So much time was spent under her roof that I cannot recall what the inside of my own house looked like, or the many houses and apartments after it. I remember only that my mother’s house was like a battlefield. Now I deeply despise the sound of country music, it sounds like terror. I flinch at the sound of a stalling pickup truck. The smell of beer makes me queasy. Someone like my grandmother never learned to drive a car. Instead she preferred to take public transportation. She would sit across from me, offering me chunks of cold leftover rotisserie chicken wrapped in paper napkins as we swayed and moved with every bump of the road. My grandmother and her sister (my aunt) had lived through the Great Depression. I wouldn’t know until later in life why she held on to so much, even leftover chicken bones; to her anything could have purpose. Today many would call my grandmother a hoarder, but I never saw it from that perspective. Her house was fraying around the edges but was always full of new and interesting things to explore in the clutter. More importantly the fridge and cabinet always was stocked with food. The heater was always on in the winter. The AC blew in summer and the TV was tuned to our favorite morning cartoons. My grandmother had learned her collecting behavior during days of hardship and war, reusing and conserving everything. These memories are the most vivid to me as if I could still see them now in Seattle, 1993. My old haunting grounds now are continually sticking like magnets to lost seasons. My grandmother’s backyard belongs to someone else’s memories now and we are all left digging for pieces of dreams. Poverty swallowed my family, chewing us up in its mouth. Digesting us slowly in the bowels of White Centers streets like a monster. My grandmother protected us from this monster with kindness and values. Religion was important to her, she made every attempt to demonstrate and instill in us a strong Christian faith in a faithless world. She spent many hours downstairs in her basement clipping and collecting trinkets to create scenes like Noah’s ark, Moses and the Ten Commandments. It was a “hands-on
children’s museum,” she called it. In between teaching Sunday school, she worked on her projects in the basement as if by some higher calling. She spent many hours in that dingy room, and I was all too eager to assist her, gluing pieces of plastic fruit and animals to cardboard backdrops, creating little artificial biblical diagrams. “It’s the end of days, an apocalypse is coming soon dear,” she’s always telling me in a comforting way. I wait for the end of days, but it never comes. I find God in other ways, I see him through the words and pages of literature of other’s great works. My grandmother encourages me to journal, to record what I see, what I feel. Books become precious escapes. She does everything to bolster my creativity, she feeds it as if it were able to devour. I was starved, but through books, she eagerly supplied me nourishment. Every painting, story I scribble down, birdhouse I built, comes with a proclamation of how proud she is, telling everyone about my creativity. “She’s such a talented girl, so creative. She’ll probably be famous one day,” she would say so enthusiastically to anyone who would listen. She beamed with pride with every lumpy clay pot and recital of bible verses I repeated from memory. Her calm Scandinavian demeanor is equally matched to my boisterous Italian grandfather. He spent those days ringing a bell or screaming her name from the back bedroom whenever he needed a meal brought to him or the newspaper; after being practically bedridden from a stroke. He came out only to water the garden along their apple-red picketed fence. My grandparents had made a handsome pair. She had been a beauty when she was young. She had been a navy cook and he a dashing navy sailor while both stationed in Hawaii. They had that sort of old world beauty you saw in pictures during wartime, the hard lines made them seem marbled and ancient even in their youth. “Here I come, here I come Buzz!” She would reply to his shouting with his childhood nickname from the kitchen, carrying trays of little yellow Pyrex bowls filled with spaghetti and jello. Her voice still rings so clearly in my mind like little bells. She endured a difficult life and a difficult marriage to my grandfather. Life for us had been difficult as well so my grandmother tried to make the pain hurt less, like a morphine drip. She patched up the fabric of our troubled lives with lovely little stitches of affection and attention. A model of resiliency. Once, for seemingly no reason at all, my grandmother took me
during the summer to see Jurassic Park when I was seven years old. More importantly than seeing a movie in a real movie theater was that we went just the two of us together. I had to share everything in life, there were very few things I could claim as mine. I learned quickly there is no room for sentimentality. Toys, bedrooms, clothes, food, and even parents all were shared like rations in a war. For years and years I have vivid dreams of my teeth falling out of my mouth and into my hands but I never understood why. The scars are placed one on top of the other like a stack of Jenga blocks, poised for collapse. During the movie I was frenzied with excitement, bouncing up and down, spilling popcorn and shoving milk duds into my mouth like Tarzan in the jungle. The two hours are spent shrieking uncontrollably, hiding from the raptors with my little brown hands. My grandmother makes me swear to tell no one about our day out. She lets me run up and down the theater’s crimson red carpeted stairs while we wait for the bus. After the movie we stop in front of a buzzing bright pink neon pizza sign. They hand me a giant slice of cheese pizza through a dirty bulletproof window. Looking back now, I can see by the look on my grandmother’s face that day she had relished in my excitement; to her that was her reward, more than the actual day out. She was quietly observing me, never telling me to be still. It was a memory she wanted me to have that was simply mine. In only a few more years my mother would finally have enough of Seattle and take us away to new towns with unfamiliar faces where I no longer felt permanently rooted. Where there is no more protection from monsters. I am suffocated and yet lonely, afraid in the dark, I tell my mother but she doesn’t hear me. She leaves me alone in the therapist’s office, she doesn’t believe me. Coming back to my old neighborhood streets you would never know my grandmother’s house had been significant to anyone. Twenty-five years later I am a stranger on broken concrete, alien. Ghosts seem busy haunting the street lamps and chain-link fences, dancing like those naked women did under the moonlight. Everything in my mind is still the year 1993 and yet nothing is. My old childhood home no longer sits where it once stood. I stare and stare but nothing comes back, I think for a moment it’s not the right house. Was it one more house down? Or two? The geography is all wrong. The reality is it has been condemned, bulldozed and forgotten. Now replaced with a model home. I am secretly angry that it hadn’t been torn
down by my own hands and destroyed root and stem. The concrete feels as though it has been shrunken inside a dryer. The street where I pulled precious possessions in my little red Ryder wagon radically altered, upside down. Stores and beloved restaurants among the Highland’s hills are replaced or erased entirely, nothing is familiar; it’s as if I am walking through static electricity. My grandmother’s house is now a shell of its former self. It’s swallowed up by the overgrown brush, the flowerbeds all dried up and reclaimed by flesh-colored weeds. In the backyard sits an old red picnic table where family gatherings took place, the same table is now weather beaten by the heavy northwest rains. The inside of the house has been eaten away by by termites, its bones are now brittle and worn with age. Mildew hangs heavy in the air, matched only with the heavy dust choking away the oxygen. Parts of the floor are soft, rotten and pitted, collapsing in like a junkie’s veins. In the basement, the color of the walls going down the narrow stairs are an unnatural bright green: out of place like I am. The pieces of my grandmother’s children’s museum lay in cardboard boxes to be taken away to the dump, too damp and black with mold to be saved. Nobody seems to remember what has been in this room but me, the members of the congregation are too young to remember it fondly. A lifetime of newspapers and religious clippings of journals sit in high stacks as if they were arms acting as beams holding up the roof. We dig through drawer after drawer of random papers, receipts and old cards, some with names and faces no one recognizes. There are cards and letters from before home computers and Email. I find a picture of myself with enormous glasses too big for my face. I am standing in front of the red picket fence of the front yard, now the color of rust. In a bottom drawer are pictures of father figures and stepchildren we spent summers and holidays with; faded into the world never to be seen again. Drawings from elementary school and black moldy books are littered everywhere. My grandparent’s bedroom has been emptied out but for their bed. For the first time I step into it without hearing my grandfather’s bell and my grandmothers cooing response. I stop to hear their voices but it’s silent now; the house’s heart has stopped beating and is now in a rapid natural flow of decay. I try and absorb it all into my body, I want to remember everything here like a photograph, but it all turns into negatives upon entry. I feel as if I’m being swallowed once again. “The house cannot be saved,” they say….“It is a sad thing to have happened,” they say…
In this corner of the universe which had also been my home, was a speck of dust in a galaxy, yet I have more memories in it than any other. Soon it too would disappear into nothing but gases and dust. I close the door and a flood of memories return. I will never return to this street, I think to myself, and this is the way it should be. I realize in this moment that everything ends, but memories live on inside the pages. My grandmother lives there too with every word I write, her fate is not interwoven to a house but to a story. Human beings, homes, and even childhoods collapse into tiny particles; but the stories of them are carried on. Something sweet but sometimes bitter in all this concrete.
Jacueline Steffanson Photo
Raku in Snow
Elle Marander Pottery
Jordan Basin from Goat Rocks Wilderness John Bower Photo
Grand (Hidden) Prismatic Spring Maggie Handran Photo
How to Make Fog Randal Houle And then, in a blink of an eon, rock cleaves from the cliff and suicides into the surf, piece by piece. An empire of granite crumbles; imperceptibly slow, like a growing tree; or slower, like a glacier; or slower still, like a mountain marching across its range. In contrast, the sand maintains its appearance, even as wind and wave keep each grain in constant tumult. Everything in motion, whether rock or sand ever-changing, yet appearing to remain unaltered to those with the handicap of birth and death. At low tide, biding its time, teasing, building, without prejudice or preference for stone or sand, the ocean works its seduction upon the shore. It tickles up the shoreline only to run away, coquettish. The waves launch at the cliff, churning sand and cleaving craggy boulders from the hillside. The sand is a ready accomplice, exfoliating the stone and grinding the tiny cracks wider. In and out, the tide ebbs and flows until it runs over with foam. Twice a day, at high tide, the ocean goes down on the cliff base.
And what of the cliff, and the sand, and the ocean, and the eternal dance? The dance churns the salt spray. Night and day, light and dark, heat and cold combine the water and air into fog. The fog rises and drifts, ambiguous and indifferent. Over the top of the cliff, high above the surf, stands humanityâ€™s greatest denial against eternity: a small cemetery thatâ€™s not even older than most of the trees in the nearby forest, its fate rests in the hands of its caretaker, a lone drifter getting high in the woods. They tell stories by firelight. The fog caresses the treetops. Kisses pine needles. Passes without notice. The fog continues on, further still, up a straight road, where a bungalow sits with its secrets behind a wall of arborvitae.
Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye41 Laura Dutelle Photo
Painted Soul Sydnie Kobza Photo
Venus Ginger Clarke The colony intercom began the day’s forecast in the unstilted artificial voice, marking the start of the decided morning: Limit outdoor exposure to thirty minutes today. Today’s recommended sun exposure supplement is forty-five minutes. Night cycle starts in thirty-one hours. The voice continued to drone on with smaller announcements, but Joan was a little too preoccupied tending to the rotary hydroponic garden to care about the various community announcements or the day’s meal special. Joan lifted a leaf with the edge of her finger, holding it for a moment before letting it drop and noting the growth progress and plant health in her tablet. “All good?” Nasha asked. She peered in through the other side of the circular gardening system, her bright brown eyes obscured by the bright light streaking across the color. Joan pushed her glasses up her nose and looked back down at her tablet, tucking back the few stray brown hairs that floated free in her vision. “All good,” she echoed, standing up and turning to the next garden. “We’re on schedule for the next harvest, and we’re making up for last month’s loss from the moisture leak, too.” “Think we could make the first surplus on this balloon?” Nasha asked, popping up on her feet to meet Joan’s eyes once more. Joan felt her heartbeat in her hands as she gripped her tablet. “We could make history.” “We’re on the first Venus cloud colony. I think we’ve already made history,” Joan said. “And don’t let the engineers hear you calling their suspension whatchamacallit device a balloon. You’ll never hear the end of it.” She moved on to the other sections of the greenhouse. Above, the Venus sky typically featured some warm shade of orange. Their colony hovered above the clouds, giving them a clear view of the sky every four Earth-days and a beautiful view of the stars the next four. Today seemed to favor a redder hue, meshing at odds with the bright white-yellow sun lamps to make for a kaleidoscope of warm colors. The refractions danced across Nasha’s light skin, now even a few shades paler than Joan first remembered the day Nasha arrived. With so much time indoors, the change could even be seen in the woman’s hair, the color dark and vibrant without the sun’s bleaching.
“Sure, but we could be local heroes or celebrities. At least for a week,” Nasha said. Joan could hear the smile in her voice even though she couldn’t see it. “I don’t know about you, but having an excess, even for a while, would be nice. Imagine a picnic outside, a date night or… date day with a bottle of synthesized booze and a nice large meal.” “Well, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy living coming here,” Joan replied. She found it hard to push away the idea Nasha brought to mind. She thought about laying outdoors once they finished their grass integration project, her head in someone’s lap, brushing their fingers through her hair, tracing along the surgical scars at her hairline. Not a flash of judgement in their eyes. “But it’s not that bad of a thing to strive for.” Nasha smiled a thanks. “That’s what we’re for, right?”
The six-hour long sunset was in its dying hour, the sun just barely peeking out from beyond the clouds below. The sky was red, slowly fading to black behind Joan’s back. She sat next to one of the air pumps, pushing at the recommended limit for outside time, but she wasn’t the only one. A few others sat outside. Some in groups of friends, others as couples. “This spot taken?” Nasha’s voice was instantly recognizable, but Joan still turned around in her spot to see her. Joan shook her head and patted at the spot next to her on the other side of the air pump. “It’s so beautiful. Weird to think it lasts so long here. Earth’s sunsets are so short.” “This is probably the first time I’ve seen one in months. Before you got here, it felt like I was always doing damage control on the greenhouse, much less giving enough time to lab work to get ahead of problems before they were, well, problems.” She ran a hand through her unruly hair, pulling it back against her neck. “I have you to thank for seeing this one.” “Have I told you what my first thought when I arrived?” Nasha asked. Joan shook her head. “Well, I was super nervous about coming on this project. I wanted to go to one of the Martian or Europan colonies – something established, you know? – and felt kind of like I pissed someone off because all I got was a recommendation to the new Venus project. It’s so new and needs so much work on it before anyone will recognize it as a real colony that’ll send families to, give more funding, make it more like a home than an outpost. But stepping out to see that sunrise - damn, the yellows and pinks dancing in the sky for hours… I can’t believe they didn’t have a picture of that at the recruitment office. I would’ve picked it in a heartbeat, even without all the extra incentives they were tossing around to try and convince me to accept.”
The sun had mere centimeters left on the horizon from their perspective, seeming to hang on just a little longer. Joan sucked in a breath, the chemical taste of the freshly filtered oxygen coating her tongue. “I arrived at night with the first batch assigned here after the construction was finished,” Joan said. She leaned back in her spot, using her arms to keep herself propped up as she kept her eyes focused on the dimming sky. “I picked this assignment. I needed some of those extra incentives. That’s not even mentioning the other colonies with their… expectations for permanent colonists. This one was the only at the time that was purely a terraforming facility with full support. No plans for establishing colony life yet.” “Oh, you mean the family initiative? Yeah, I can understand not being ready for that,” Nasha said. Joan shrugged, letting Nasha interpret it however she wanted. Nasha nudged her with her elbow. “But hey, you’re doing good work here, Joanie. This place wouldn’t be the same without you.” Joan could feel the warmth of Nasha’s hand next to hers, the other woman’s pinky straying from the formation of the other fingers to just barely touch Joan’s. Before she could stop herself, she said, “I wouldn’t be the same without this place.”
The nights strung by seamlessly. The new countdown was for Earth rising in the Venusian constellation, and each day that number grew closer to zero, the faster they received news from Earth. People sat around the long range communication console, waiting for news of reassignments or messages from family they left behind and to send some back, but Joan had checked out one of the lower powered telescopes, setting it up outside in the night cycle away from the crowds. Night had longer outdoor time limits due to the decreased radiation and lower temperatures. That also meant she needed an extra layer of thermal clothing, having gotten a little too used to the heat of the Venusian day. She felt just like those people back on Earth she’d make fun of, calling a tepid autumn day “cold.” Nasha sat on the ground next to her, her head staring up at the sky. She let her hair down today, but the winds continuously swept it in her eyes so that she was constantly tucking the hair behind her ear or tucking it into the collar of her jacket.
“Need a hairband?” Joan asked, hand hovering over her pants pocket. Nasha shook her head. “I’d just break it. Thanks, though,” she said. The slight smile on her lips hinted at something else that Joan was too scared to ask about. A few moments later, peering through the eyeglass and seeing the distant blue planet, she gestured Nasha over. She leaned in close, Joan only taking a single step back to give her space, the heat from the other woman rushing her way in the wind. “See it?” Joan asked. It was a stupid question considering she was the one who set it up, but Nasha hadn’t said anything for a long moment after taking to the telescope. “Oh yeah, sorry. It’s just so weird, seeing the Earth from here.” Nasha continued, saying something soft, too soft for Joan to hear it with the wind in her ears. Then Nasha pulled away from the telescope. “You know?” “Uh, yeah,” Joan replied, not knowing but not wanting to elaborate. “I feel weird, not rushing to the console like the others, but I’m glad to know I’m not alone in that,” Nasha said, shooting Joan a thankful yet apologetic look. Joan shrugged. “I’m glad not to be alone too. Besides, the things some of the guys from the engineering team do to take other peoples’ minutes are abusive at best. Best to just trade your time for something trivial and avoid the whole thing.” Joan looked into the telescope again, seeing the partial blue crest shining against the black background. She had stared at it so many times that it now felt like a novelty. Then Nasha asked, bringing Joan back to Venus, “Did you leave family behind?” “Kind of. Not anyone I really miss, though. You?” Joan pulled away from the telescope. “A few. My mom most of all, but I don’t think I would’ve left if I had so much to leave behind.” They sat in that statement for a while, neither of them moving, neither of them talking. Most of the people here probably had similar stories; they weren’t different or special, not in that regard. In other regards… Joan knew she was different. It was hard to avoid that feeling, even when no one else knew. Even though the point of all of it was that she didn’t want them to know, that she wanted to pass. She was made to feel like an imposter for so long on Earth that the feeling was hard to shake. “How long do you plan on staying here?” Nasha asked Joan.
“I’m not sure. Until I can’t stand it anymore? Is that an answer?” Nasha shrugged. “Better than any answer I could come up with. There’s that same part of me from Earth that wishes I was on Europa, but I’m really enjoying my time here. I like the people.” Joan couldn’t help the laugh that came from her after hearing Nasha say those words, followed by a snort that sent the cold air rushing up her nose and tickling down her throat. She coughed once, then twice for the tickle to go away. “I’m serious!” Nasha exclaimed. “I know the work is hard and some of the people are shitty, but there are shitty people everywhere and you’re well… you’re not. A shitty person, that is.” Joan couldn’t find it in herself to reply. She stood there, jaw slack, that itch in her throat coming back, and she swallowed to sate it but it only made it worse. She coughed into her hand, looking away for a moment and peaking back to see Nasha still looking at her intently, waiting. There was that fire in her eyes, the kind that hinted her words had more weight, more feelings hidden in them. That kind of fire was contagious and was hard to deny that Joan didn’t want to feel that fire burning in her too, but she had been burned before. “You can’t get on any fast track to a good colony with me,” Joan found herself saying, the words coming to her faster than she could pick them out individually. Unable to stop herself but unable to look Nasha in the eyes either, she looked down at her feet, stuffing her hands into her pockets. Her shoulder scrunched up defensively. “I’m not the kind of woman they want.”
You are the Golden Sea, Even Its Gods Would Agree Z. Warnke In the dawn, how provocative angles of you turn Some are wonted for me. In them I am interested, sorely elemental A series of potent memory floods your adjacent position, Light spreads on the sheet-less mattress Where I witnessed the colloquial noise of a nightingale in breed— Will a night of such latent tenderness ever be? Your reddish cheek bewilders me, I never knew a cause for such grief Why your memory is a stone’s Throw from thee. And if you are Duly beholden, Lest you ever kiss another man, I beg you not to be. In the afternoon, you unfold before me— Beautifully unwrapped by clear indecision, Your golden hue grows bright As the gods of sea. I am crippled by the sand, The sounds that unearth all around me For skin-to-skin. I must be ever so wistful I wish to never loath to touch; Or, beg my brittle heart I may now never know. Dawn and noon have passed, Yet in the last light You are the Golden Sea, Even its gods would agree.
Photographerâ€™s Paradise McKenzie Wells Photo
The New Waterfront Faun Scurlock Photo
Backyard Volcano McKenzie Wells Photo
Faintless Phantom Nikki Johnson I can hear you Your voice, a drone of sensations yearning. I can feel it in my loins A touch remised. Too hard to forget. This ache saturates me A poison, never-ending melancholy. When you look at her, do you see me? The sun shines upon a face so angelic A soft, dimpled smile of reprises The melodies of bird singing. Sometimes I follow along, too. A hint of glee in her eyes Oh, sweet baby How I adore you. There can never be enough kisses My body sinks Lower until the earth buries it Can you reach me if the sun hunkers behind the trees?
Sierra Swearingen Film Photo
Rattle Samantha Bunch Cybil isn’t morbid. That would imply that she’s obsessed with death; if anything it’s the opposite. She’s fascinated by the way things live, the particular struggles that are both imposed and overcome by selection. Birds’ eyes are almost completely enveloped in bone because they have no need to orient their eyes inside of their skull. Instead, birds twist their heads in the direction they want to see, it’s why you see them jerk their dorky little heads around so much. When looking to the sky she can’t help but see complex patterns of bones cutting their way through the air and landing gracefully on the black wires that lazily cling from pole to pole. The bird proceeds to flit several times, pip left twice, then right once; as birds often do. Then the shot rings out. It would normally be commonplace. Beatty is the sort of town to plaster sentiments about the second amendment on their lawns, cars, and baby onesies; however, as this shot ends the elegant black mass falls from its roost and smacks the dirt with a sound of dead weight. Her dad stands on the porch with a rifle perched between both hands. When she asks why he shot the bird her dad shrugs, “I just did.” It’s the sort of non-answer she’s received for the last eighteen years. It’s later in the evening that she chooses to admire the body of the dead crow. The sun rises in the mountains but that’s not where it returns. When the sun sets in Beatty it looks apocalyptic; the way it touches down on the eternity of flat ground and falls away makes her stomach drop to the floor of her pelvis. If she believed in God she’d fall to her knees and pray at the sight of it; instead, she’s on her knees looking down at a thing she use to have to look up to. The skull was unsalvageable, the shot ran right through the lower beak and out the left socket. Without a skull she decides it’s a bad candidate for articulation, and she already has enough miscellaneous bones floating around her room that a random disassembled crow would likely be an inconvenience. The puckered star just beneath her right clavicle does not have a similar exit wound. She doesn’t realize she’s running her fingers over the old scar, a regular tick of hers. The bullet is still lodged in her shoulder.
The .22 rattled around inside her, landing near her subclavian blood vessel. No reason to remove it and chance a clot.
She didn’t hear it when it hit her, but she felt it. First, just a terrible pinch, but when her hand instinctively clutched her chest it came back bloody. It’s a sight she’s used to seeing when it wasn’t her blood. The thin coat coagulated so quickly and molded to the tips of her fingers, almost as if it’s always supposed to have been there. Her father was shouting. She turned to face him, he’d already run halfway from the vantage point on the hillside to the patch of tall grass she’d been waiting in. When he reached her he crouched down on both knees, initially holding either shoulder then hugging her to his chest. He said it was just dumb chance. He said he was sorry. He couldn’t stop saying he was sorry. His breathing was heavy and the words came unevenly so that the same phrase sounded a little different each time. She had to remind him that she was going to have to go to the hospital. In the back seat of the Cherokee it was hard for her to focus on anything other than the pain radiating through the soft tissues in her shoulder. Each of her breaths shuddered on their way out as she listed state capitals starting from Nevada and spreading in all directions from there. She got to Iowa before her dad hit a pothole. “Fuck!” “Cybil? Cybil? Are you holding up?” “Mmhmm.” “I’m so sorry baby, everything’s going to be—” “Mmhmm.” “It’s okay, we’re there. We’re right there.” As he parked she listed to herself the bones in her body starting from her right clavicle and worked out to the peripherals. He pulled her out of the car, carrying her in both arms and walked her through the sliding doors of the hospital. Upon entrance, he yelled that he was holding a bleeding girl and she needed help. He sounded much more concerned than he had in the car. The panic in his voice reminded her of her mom’s final night.
Only a few moments have passed, but standing alongside the infinity of desert and sun makes it seem as though time is pressing itself deep into her skin. She looks out to the horizon and makes note of the lone Joshua tree her mom loved. The woman loved this whole damn desert, and now she’s a part of it. The dirt never stops looking like ash to Cybil. It would be nice to live someplace where the dirt looks like dirt and the air actually moves and bumper stickers say dumb things about coexisting instead of dumb things about shooting people and pretty birds didn’t get shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Someday, she thinks, she’s going to be nothing more than a pile of her bones and a single piece oflead.
She remembers when she was put under for surgery and how the little plastic cup pressed itself into her face. Fading and keenly aware of it, but less aware of the possibility of waking up. The sensation inspired images of her mom; blue-faced, eyes rolling back, jerking, and then a sudden calm. Quiet tears pooled down the sharp corners of Cybil’s eyes, “I don’t want to—” and like that, she was already gone. Post-surgery, the first thing she remembers is seeing her father leaning into a cheap vinyl chair. The extra flesh on his cheeks appeared to melt over the fist he was using to prop himself. Trance-like, he stared at the muted tv hanging on the wall, admiring the way the rolling closed captions methodically replaced one another. He wasn’t asleep, but it was hard to imagine he was really awake. Before she collected herself to say something to him, he beat her to the punch. “I’m beginning to think this Dr. Oz guy is a bit of a quack. Thirteen health benefits from chia seeds? Not buying it.” He looked at her with pale eyes and smiled, which only made him appear more exhausted. “How’re you holding up, kiddo?” “Kinda shit.” “But all right for being shot?” “But all right for being shot.” “Listen—” “It’s fine. I’m fine. Shit happens.” “No. If I’d lost yo—” “You didn’t.” “Id’ve done myself in”
“Why wou—” she hangs her head for just a moment. “Dad.” “I didn’t mean it.” The two were suddenly engrossed in whatever it was the captions might’ve been saying.
After spreading her mother’s ashes she asked if he believed in God. He met her with silence. When he posed the same question, she met him with the same answer. An atheist’s empty sky threatens to crash down more fiercely than any floor of heaven. It was later that same night, both drinking and telling stories about her mom. She wasn’t quite old enough to drink, but most people around here drank young; not much else to do. The stories started sweet. Her dad told her that when the two of them got married May walked down the aisle barefoot and wore a daisy chain around her neck. Cybil tells him of the time she read Where the Red Fern Grows to her, and made some minor edits to the end; the dogs lived and it turns out the boy can live with his family and the dogs after all, because God hates to see a family split apart. Dogs included. Until recently, the title never made a whole lot of sense to her. After that there was an edge to the stories, about how a whole room of people could love her and she’d still be completely alone. Her dad blames the drugs. Cybil blames the entire way her mom was. She also blames Beatty, but she doesn’t tell him that; he loved this whole ugly place, just like her mother. That’s about the time when she asked if he thought people get to live again, he told her, “I don’t believe there’s ever been a liquor heavier than the air that replaced it.” “What’s that even mean?” “Not answering you is an answer.” She still can’t tell if he was being thoughtful or if they were both just impeccably drunk.
The hollow way the crow rests in the dirt might be the thing Cybil resents most about this desert. Apathy is inevitable when there’s so much emptiness around them. There’s real rot here and it doesn’t mean a damn thing when it’s swallowed up in an eternity of nothing. She chooses to leave
the body just as it is and let the scavengers that dwell in the waste do what they do. Inside, her dad was sleeping on the couch; passed out while watching the TV sift through its collection of violently bright colors. He opted to sleep in the warm glow of Snuggie commercials instead of the queen he no longer shares. Cybil takes the love seat adjacent to him and wonders if he’ll look the same when she’s gone, as of now he still cooks for the two of them; would he still take care of himself without her? It isn’t a pressing issue yet, but the thought of her dad wandering through a house created for three makes something inside her pinch terribly. Even so, leaving can no longer be a question. Before getting herself to bed she chooses to leave his sleeping body as it is, letting him do what he does.
In Memory of Terry Bare October 26, 1965 - October 9, 2018
Photos Courtesy of Kim Bare
He was honest with himself, while always reaching higher. He knew what he valued. He was human, and a good one. -Harrison Higgs
He had such a passion for life, and never wanted to waste a minute! He taught me to notice the small things around you, and appreciate those things! -Kim Bare
Terryâ€™s passion for life was an inspiration; we all have become better people because he was a part of our lives. I deeply miss my friendâ€Ś we will never forget him or his smile. -Riana Vincent
He was a fine human being who I was lucky to have called my friend, and who I did not get to spend nearly as much time with as I wanted. -Dale Strouse
Terry Bare Photo
Terry Bare Photo
Foggy Lake Morning Terry Bare Mixed Media
Untitled Terry Bare Relief
Terry Bare Acrylic flow
Pink Boat Meakia Blake Photo
The Blue Absorbent Towel Charles Southerland When he fillets my leg and makes a flap above my knee of skin to sew it shut, there’s interns watching closely how the cut is perfect artistry, a suture map, a hemisphere I’m sailing into all alone. That pungent sea of flesh and blood and bone is sulking in a towel. The squall of Ahab, lashed and going down— the thud of Long John Silver’s peg of fiction frights me in the interim, the pale whale’s eyes in black and white turn blue. I feel the bites of consciousness, of coming-to with cries. I’m drowning in the sea, I’ve walked the plank. The sharks are smelling blood, its sweetness rank. Mother in the Dirt The sharks are smelling blood, its sweetness rank enough for bile to mingle on the floor. Yet, here I am, alive with less to bank on. Less the man, a mantra set ashore, repeated by the gods I fight with now in this estate. I ask him where he took my leg. He tells me Oregon— they book a train for waste and bury it, allow it to compost en masse with others’ fate– the arms and legs and hearts and brains, release them to our mother whence they came, abate it all with tons of dirt in common peace. I feel a twitch down low, a wanting urge to catch the train, rejoin us, reemerge.
Train Ride To catch the train, rejoin us, reemerge as one no worse for wear has been a thought Iâ€™ve had from time to time, a dulcet dirge I doubt a soul would want to hear. I fought with it a little, let it go, forgot about it for the most part, but it changed her too, enough so that she left one hot June day, same train it seems now, rearranged my life again. Somehow that lonesome rail keeps singing out to me as if to say: You lose old son, you lose, itâ€™s been that way forever and a day how things go stale. The blue absorbent towel is in my lap when he fillets my leg and makes a flap.
Noam Chomsky Lisa Padilla Painting
Untitled Jennifer Barnes My father was ranting, on and on about what ***** says about this, what ***** thinks about that. His new “friends,” the *****, who were filled with wisdom, love, and truth. Words poured out of him, words tinged with hate and judgment. Lisa sat on the couch, texting on her phone while my father and I stood in the kitchen, him carrying on, me saying nothing, just listening as I tried to conceal my expression of growing anger and shock. “You know what else gets me,” he continued, “and the ***** agree with me, is all this damn gay transgender crap going on in the world. Everybody trying to make it cool and hip or something. Nasty! It’s unnatural is what it is. I can’t stand it, really I don’t know what this world is coming to.” He cleared his throat and shook his head in judgment, decisively, like a bird. “Going around with men kissing men, and women doing this and that, and, I tell you what, when I see my brother acting like he does, how he is, I can barely look at him. He’s just so swishy and girly, and I tell you, it is unforgivable in the—” My hands trembled with unsaid words; I cut him off as he paused for breath. “Lisa,” my voice was dangerously calm as I turned to her, my youngest child, now almost an adult, “we need to go now. You know, I have to get some stuff ready for tomorrow. I have a lot going on at work—so let’s go, hey? How about you come say goodbye to your grandpa, and then can you go start the car? Yeah? Cool. I’ll let you drive home.” I pulled the car keys out of my bag and tossed them to her. Lisa’s face was unreadable as she darted past me to kiss my father on the cheek. Her dark eyes met mine for a moment; I couldn’t tell what she was thinking or if she’d been listening. He patted her on the back and stood woodenly. “Bye, Grandpa.” The door slammed and I heard her start the car. He continued on, eager to resume the diatribe. “You know, ***** was here yesterday and they agree with me about all of this. The ***** believe in purity and truth and the natural order of things. I just don’t see
why you are pushing back so hard about my decision to join them. They truly care. I wish you’d, uh, just come with me to meet them or something. You’d see. Yes. You would.” Dad rearranged his face into a mask of rational, pleading sympathy; he was going to yet again attempt to explain his ever-increasing devotion to *****, with a not-so-subtle call for me to come see how great they were. “And you’re not willing to try and understand--” My heart was beating so hard that I could feel my eyeballs pulsating. I had to speak now, there was no denying it. Would it be right to out her to him to force the issue? Of course not. I felt a momentary jab of anger toward myself for even considering it. In another situation, around different people, she would have already been accepted for who she was without question. The whole thing would be a non-issue. If he chose *****, then I would ultimately lose him. But I could not stand by idly as the damaging rhetoric spewed out of him, poisoning everything within its reach, extending tendrils of enmity toward Lisa, toward anyone who didn’t fit neatly into a pink-or-blue, check this-or-that box. “Dad,” I began, “I need to ask you something.” He tilted his head in a gesture of assent. “Sure.” “How dare you say that shit?” “What? It’s true. The ***** is fact. Plain and simple. ***** is the truth and the…” “Dad, what would you do if you found out someone you loved was gay? Not your brother, I mean someone else, just saying, what exactly would you do?” “What?” He shook his head. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to bring this up with you. I don’t even know. How do you think this kind of talk would make a person feel? Someone who is afraid, confused? And then you chime in with what ***** says about sexuality. Do you know how damaging that would be? How hurtful?” “Huh? What are you saying? You aren’t making any sense.” I bored holes into him with my eyes, willing him to understand, to see reason. “Dad. Tell me how you would react.” “Well. I would hope that the person would get, uh, some counseling, some help. There are groups for that sort of thing, you know. The person would, of course, eventually realize the error of their ways, I would hope, and then get back on track with the natural order of how they were
supposed to be, rather than, shall we say, subscribing to this silly trend of worldly openness, this exploratory phase, for what else can it be called, really—” He trailed off and looked out the window, going silent. I inhaled deeply, trying to find what to say next. We were on precarious ground and either step would lead to disaster. My father was in the middle of a personal battle, about to cave to the pressure of joining the *****, losing the desire to be an active part of his family’s lives. But Lisa would be a casualty of hatred if I did nothing. “Dad, can you just back away a bit, back away from the *****. You aren’t the same. You have no joy anymore.” I spread my arms open to indicate the empty, bare room devoid of any holiday decorations. “These are end times,” he stated baldly. “The choices I make will determine everything.” I took a deep breath and let them out, all the things I’d been waiting to say. A controlled explosion. “Dad, you know the ***** are just people. They are not more special than you or I. Not in the least. What we have, all we have, I think, is now, right here, right now, the choices we make that show what kind of person we are. What right does anyone have to try and dictate who a person loves? Who are you to judge anyone? And who are the ***** to publish and promote such filthy lying bullshit? I’m sorry, but the ***** are trying to brainwash you. It’s all fake, Dad. Try to see it for what it is: a teddy bear for scared adults. Not real, Dad. Come on. You’re drinking the KoolAid!” My hands were shaking; my voice had reached the volume it gets to when I am upset, where I don’t realize I’m shouting. No going back now. “No, no, no,” he began. “You see—no, you don’t. Sad, really, that you can’t try. This is the only option for me. For anyone. When the world ends, I have to know that I’ve made the right choice.” “And the right choice is hating people? Dismissing people that you won’t even try to understand? Even judging someone that you care about?” “I’m sorry.” He looked away. “But I have to choose *****.” A death knell sounded in my heart. “Dad—” “I think you should go now.” He backed away, looking at the counter instead of me, touching it stupidly, acting busy to avoid my gaze, aimlessly brushing away a nonexistent piece of dust. “Dad, can you please—”
He turned his back on me in arid detachment, patting tchotchkes on the shelf, lining them up, straightening them, like it was the most important task in the whole world. “I need to get ready for my study group. ***** will be here soon. You should go.” “Dad, don’t be like this. Please.” “I understand how you are feeling, but you just don’t get it. ***** is the truth in its purest form. The ***** are the only choice, the only choice that matters. You’ll see that. You’ll see it when it’s too late, much too late.” His tone was pedantic yet confident, one who believed he was speaking implacable, righteous truths. The moment of silence between us loomed over me like a monolith of doom. I felt tears threatening, the tears of the unwanted, the confused, the rejected, the final tears of those who also made a choice, to choose ending over beginning. To choose to end their life because of the exact judgment just pronounced by my own father. My children will never hear that judgment, never. My rib cage trembled; I could barely talk. He still wouldn’t look at me. I gave up. “Bye, Dad,” I said over my shoulder. I walked to the door slowly, trying to brush away the tears that had sprung up. Lisa would want to know why I was crying.
Somewhere far away, yet also quite close by, the bottle of snake oil glimmered faintly in the darkness. It had accomplished its goal yet again; a family divided, the seeds of discord sown, hate propagated and nourished.
Two months later, his phone number was disconnected. It’s been over five years since we talked.
Bailey Granneman Photo
Standing with the Stars
Joel Lindberg Photo Travel Cafe 3rd Place
Identity Pt. I Abbie Bambilla I’m not as light as you, I’m not as dark as them I wont act like I don’t notice, I won’t claim ignorance to pretend That I’m between your world and theirs, that I don’t know where to belong I play the same melody, but I sing a different song You say it doesn’t matter, but I get a different sense No one tells you where to go when you’re halfway between color and its absence I’ve been taught your history, but I’ve lost my heritage I feel like an imposter, I’m a circle with an edge I was born on their planet, then raised on yours alone I’m tired of floating in between, it’s time to make this world my own.
Meakia Blake Painting
Richard Boneski III Photo
This Be a Demon Alkaid Tsuki What stood before Tyr was not a beast. It was not a monster, bearing bloody teeth and claws sharpened on the bones of man. It hardly seemed powerful enough to devour a songbird, much less Odin himself. What stood before him was barely a wolf pup, so tiny that he was almost perfectly camouflaged in the field of black lilies. He stared at Tyr, wide topaz eyes glowing with curiosity. His fuzzy black fur glowed in the Jotunheim moonlight, shimmering like the leaves that danced around him. Tyr put one leather-coated foot forward. The pup’s ears fell back, his eyes narrowed, and the tiniest growl crawled up his throat. It felt strangely like a child impersonating their parent to sound mature. He pulled his foot back. The pup blinked his big, round eyes and tilted his head. In place of the growl was a childish yip. He moved his foot forward again. A growl. Foot back. A yip. This is the beast Odin saw in his nightmares? It’s playing with me. A swallowtail butterfly flew towards the pup. Its purple wings beat in front of the pup’s eyes before landing on his nose. The pup leaned back on his hind legs and swatted it away. The butterfly flew away while the pup fell on his back, bushy tail waving to the clear sky. Tyr paused, then smiled, then chuckled. Like the snapping of a twig, the pup was back on his paws and growling. He arched his spine, the tiniest of hairs springing to life on his chubby body. “Get away, foul-smelling Æsir,” the creature spoke. “Enough of you have already filled my home with your stink!” Quite a mouth on the beast. “So you speak,” Tyr breathed, inching forward. “I’m quite impressed. Most wolves can’t speak until they’re much older than you are.” He leaned forward, his gloved left hand on his knee while his bare right hand hovered in the air. “Can you tell me your name, little wolf?” The pup took a deep breath and barked, showing off his baby teeth. “You’ll receive nothing from me, Æsir-beast!” he snarled. “Now leave me alone!” Tyr took a step back and crouched down. “Have I angered you, little wolf?” The pup took a deep breath and barked, showing off his baby teeth. “You’ll receive nothing from me, Æsir-beast!” he snarled. “Now leave me alone!” Tyr took a step back and crouched down. “Have I angered you, little wolf?”
The pup blinked and pounded his paws into the sod and flowers. His head inched closer to the ground, the blades of grass tickling his cheek and nose. “Go away!” he shouted. “The Æsir aren’t welcome here. Not after you took Jörm and Hel from me. Come near me and I’ll bite that pale hand of yours clean off.” He chomped down several times, showing off his canines. Tyr chuckled once. “If I offer you my hand, can I come closer?” he asked. “If you bite it off, I won’t fight you. I can tell you’re quite the powerful beast. If we fight, I’m sure you’ll beat me.” The pup’s tail fell some. Tyr slowly crawled towards the wolf pup. The pup sunk closer to the dirt, still snarling and growling. One front paw was digging into the grass, shoulder taut as the pup leaned to the opposite side. “I’m not going to hurt you,” Tyr assured him. “Don’t worry, little wolf.” When he was within two steps of the pup, Tyr detailed the little creature. It possessed the smoothest fur he’d ever seen on a wolf, with silver marks resting around the eyes. Similar lines coated his shoulders and haunches. His triangular ears were small, still tucked close to the head. His entire body was even pudgier up close, still growing out of the baby fat and making way for a more lean build. And his legs were short, a farcry from the monster that Odin had complained about. Still on his knees, Tyr reached out with his right hand. The wolf pup pounced. His paws caught Tyr by the wrist. His teeth sunk into Tyr’s knuckles. His back legs stumbled to keep himself at the boastful height of three feet. Tyr would admit to wincing just a little bit. The pup glared at him, hatred pooling in his fiery eyes, fur crinkled at the cheekbones. The siblings Odin had captured earlier that year wore the same face. Jörm especially, now known as the Midgard Serpent. While Hel, the little girl, had spat insults and curses at Odin for separating her from her brothers, sending a threat of death with but a single, dreadful glare, Jörm had taken to spitting poison at his wardens. The pillars of Odin’s home would never truly recover from the experience. With his eyes shut, Tyr reached out with his other hand and stroked the fur of the pup’s head. It was even softer than he’d expected. It reminded him of a fledglings first molting. “You must miss your siblings,” Tyr said in a whisper, stroking the pup’s head. “I’m sorry that you feel that way. You must be very brave to stay strong like this.” The pup whimpered. The fur beneath Tyr’s hand gained a more coarse sensation between his fingers. Tyr opened his eyes. The pup was gone. In his place knelt a naked
young boy with dark hair. Tears were pooling in his honey-colored orbs. One hand was wrapped around the bite marks on Tyr’s knuckles. The other was curled into a tight fist. “Give them back,” the boy said, raising his fist over his head. “Give back my family!” He slammed his fist into Tyr’s chest plate. The resounding clang hurt less than the broken expression the boy wore as he continued the assault. “Give them back to me! Jörm and Hel, give them back! You had no right to take them! No right at all!” His hits weakened. The tears in the boy’s eyes fed the grass beneath them. “Give my brother and sister back. Just give them back.” Tyr willed his face to be like a stone wall. This, this, is the beast Odin sent me to claim. I’m certain of it. But this beast – this boy – is nothing more than a lonely, frightened child. He undid the clasp of his fur cloak and placed it over the boy’s shoulders. The boy was buried in the fur of foxes almost immediately and he slouched a bit to better handle the weight. Tyr gently wrapped his left arm around the boy. He held him tighter. The cloak caved beneath his thick arm, pooling over his skin. “You were very brave, little wolf,” he said softly. “I can’t bring them back to you, but I can take you somewhere you’ll be able to see and speak to them once more.” The boy didn’t speak up. His head was low, buried between the fur lining of Tyr’s cloak and Tyr’s own large shoulder. “If you’d like, I can take you with me to Asgard. We have one there who can see all. He can show you where your siblings are and help you speak to them once again. Would you like that, little wolf?” The boy swallowed. “Fenrir.” Tyr tilted his head. “My name. It’s Fenrir. It’s not ‘little wolf.’” Tyr let his poorly built wall collapse. A smile crossed his face. “Will I really be able to see them again?” Fenrir still didn’t face him. “I’ll make sure of it, Fenrir. Heimdall will show you where your family dwells and let you speak to them once again.” Fenrir cautiously raised his chin. “What name shall I call you, foul-smelling Æsir?” He tentatively raised his eyes to Tyr. The distinct shade of soft honey made Tyr smile just a tad bit more. “Tyr, god of war, of law, and of justice.” Tyr stood up and proffered his calloused hand. Fenrir reached out. His palm was as soft as his fur. “Very well.”
David Joel Kitcher Painting
Missing - One Good Woman Cynthia Cendagorta She has been missing for some time, our sister, before anyone realizes she is gone. When asked to describe her, her friends use all manner of words to describe a good woman: smart, loving, loyal, funny and pretty. She would like all this, but she can’t hear this, where she is. How to describe her? She is tired, no more fight in her. She is excited, on the verge of something new. She is carrying her worry, and mine, on her shoulders; heavy on bare bones, familiar, like a scar. She travels light, she turns her back. She carries nothing. She is a white middle class woman. She is privilege defined in her gated community, a victim of no one. Still, she is marginalized, she has marginalized herself. She hates saying “#me too” but wants to tattoo it on her left arm, in that soft spot just beneath the elbow. She wants to scream, “me too mother fuckers,” just to show how tired she is of playing nice. She is married, she loves, she cleans, and she promises. She is me, my sister, my friend, my nemesis, my younger self, the oldest version of me. Before our sister went missing she was a good girl. She was just a girl. See her here, at ten years old, in those cut off shorts and the T-shirt with the strawberry on the pocket. She dribbles a basketball in the Reno sun like a pro. She is that good because she practices that much. She wins reading contests at school and is told she is smart. Because she is smart, she is a good girl. This is enough, at ten. See her here, our sister, at fifteen, summer of 1988, crying. Friends die at fifteen. They fall, just kids, splitting open their chests in school parking lots with their father’s pistols. They swallow river water blind drunk. Razors make tracks on young arms, blood soaks bathtubs with young life and parents cry. She loses her optimism and finds alcohol. She starts to lie. She never had to lie before, when things were good. See her at 22, our sister, dark hair down her back, flannel around her waist. She is Eddie Vedder now with the smoldering angst to match, smoking a Marlboro through the dorm window. She has forgotten the rules. She doesn’t care. She is on boyfriend number nine. She lights up love and burns it down, collapsing lifetimes into months and open mouths. She doesn’t call herself a good girl anymore, but doesn’t realize the incredible loss
of that term until years later. She is a time traveler with an amber ale in her hand, our girl, swimming in the past, using the broken tab to open the veins that need bloodletting. She can let go and cry and sleep with boys when she is drunk. She is too shy otherwise. College boys don’t want smart girls with smart mouths who can beat them to the line in man to man or turn them into good liberals. They want soft girls, soft pussies, mouths that say yes. She tells herself someday she will get her happily ever after back. She doesn’t realize the future is now. See our girl now, at 34, short hair bobbed, eyes smoky. She is married to a good man. She works to save the poor. She is a mother now, a loving one. Still, she will not call herself a good woman. Her friends, her real friends, ask her why this is the case. She can only tell them that good women don’t want more, they are happy with exactly what they have, and don’t have a list of men they slept with longer than their shoe size. She has forgotten how she really feels, how to reach out to touch her husband honestly. So much of her past is between them. She loves him, but she doesn’t know what love means in the present moment. She wants him, but she wants him in a thin past tense, wants to say, “We made love last night” instead of, “Make love to me.” She was a good girl once, before the good died young and her body became collateral in the war for her soul. She was a good woman before she became someone’s piece of ass, before she lost a vagina and gained a pussy. She was a good and happy wife, before she wasn’t. She is still a good daughter, a good mother, a good worker, and a good friend, but she only defines herself by who she fucked and who she didn’t. She desperately needs a better working definition of what a good woman is, but this is a revision to a narrative she can’t seem to make. Our lost sister, this good-bad girl, girl-woman, truth telling liar, girl who screws but wishes she made love, is trying too hard to make it all fit. She knows that women are liberated now, but liberation is something you fight for so that others can have it, not so you can be free from your past. Isn’t it? When I find her, I will tell her she is beautiful with that list of regrets held tight against her chest in a nascent insurgency. I will tell her that in every hero’s journey the hero fails before he triumphs. I will tell her not to get hung up on the fact it is called the “hero’s” journey, that there is plenty of room for hard living, hard loving heroines in this world too. I will tell her that so many things are good in her, things that are defined outside of what sex you are or what sex you had. I will tell her she is standing dangerously on the last glass ceiling, real sexual freedom, and that if she just listens to me she won’t fall right through.
Holly Slocum Photo
Am I a Person or Am I a Race? Zonisha Brown My skin is caramelized but to others it’s white. My skin is mixed deeply ingrained into Black and Irish descents. Yet, people who are not open-minded consider it an abomination. I was born a person not a race. I’ve been told that my race is what labels me. Even though that’s not true. I am a person how can anyone not see that? I have ten toes and fingers just like anyone else. My heart pumps blood just so I can live as a human. I am not a race. Sure my skin is colored but that doesn’t change who I am. I am a person not a race.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Jason Cardenas Oil Painting
SENT 12:40 AM Abigail Hughes I realize that you made it clear you did not want to talk to me during our “break,” but I have something I need to get off of my chest and now that it is impossible for you to automatically know what I’m feeling, I have been reduced to contacting you through one of your appendages’ social media accounts. This morning I woke up to silence. There was no dull, internal buzzing of a million discontinuous voices competing for dominance. There were just my thoughts. Alone. Bouncing off the walls of a pathetic, singular brain. I hope you understand how traumatic this was. I had something on my mind and was completely incapable of voicelessly sharing that something with you. Then it all came thundering down, the reality of it all, that no longer would I have access to your thoughts. Your memories. Your desires. I kept waiting for you to return. I spent hours concentrating on that feeling of togetherness I had grown accustomed to. When I realized you were not coming back, that it was indeed over - I cried. Hard. You did not see me at my best yesterday when I went into the cafe Yolanda works at. I was drunk, you probably smelled it on me when you sent the manager over. I know you infected him, I could tell by his watering eyes and concealed desperation. Lucky bastard. He was trying to scream, fighting over the control of his vocal cords when you told me, in his wavering voice “It’s over. Go home or I’m calling the police”. Oh, and I noticed that you were occupying Mike’s brain now. It was a mistake introducing you to him. The escapade is brutal in an entirely different way because this is not the first relationship I lost to the guy and I am positive it won’t be the last. I get it. He works an office job, brings home six figures and drives a Maserati. But let me ask you this, how many of you can fit into his car? Three? My van can lug seven of you around, easy. Ten, even, if two of you
lay vertically and one doesnâ€™t mind the trunk. I gave everything I had to benefit your mission. My cat, my brother, my landlord, my neighbors - you have assimilated everyone I know! Which, you can imagine, makes it obscenely difficult to get over you. And even though we are currently apart I swear if I find someone worthy of your consideration then I will send them your way without skipping a beat. I canâ€™t help it, I love you. I care about your goals. I find myself living in the past, trying to pinpoint exactly where I went wrong. The one event I keep circling back to is the concert. I am sorry, Hive, I am so sorry. I had no idea that my love of Ska music was strong enough to encumber your ability of replication and assimilation. I know how much you have always wanted to mesh with a bass player. If I had any idea that an entire crowd of concert-goers angrily screaming lyrics and crumping in perfect unison would alert the band of our presence then I would have suppressed the urge to do so. It is possible that I am overthinking things, but it is all I can do at this point. I am utterly alone with nothing but my thoughts. I remember when I first met you, in the eyes of a beggar. You looked so out of place. Disoriented. Manic. Inhabiting an old body that you clearly did not know how to navigate. I was having a smoke outside of the restaurant, lamenting going in and closing. Then you came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulders, leaned in for a vinegary kiss and heaved countless writhing lifeforms into my mouth. From that day on I knew I would never be the same. And today, I am certain of the same fact. Baby, I love you. I miss you. I will never forget you - especially because I see you on every street corner, grocery store and fast food chain in town. Plus, I am fairly confident that you have inhabited a news anchor on channel twelve. Which, I mean, congratulations. I cannot stand the thought of living in this world without a collective consciousness splitting rent inside my head. I am willing to change. Give me another chance. If not, I clearly am not able to force you, but I want you to know that I sincerely wish you the best of luck. You will make the greatest overlord of the human race, and I cannot wait to see what the new world of like-minded individuals terraforming this planet to fit the needs of your survival will look like. Call me. Text me. Inhabit me anytime. You know where I live.
Purple Yellow Red and Blue
Sydnie Kobza Photo
Sydnie Kobza Photo
Identity Pt. II Abbie Bambilla I must be an interesting sight Looking a little light, talking pretty white I wonder what you think of me I want to beg and plead Teach me my stolen history, tell me how I’m supposed to be Help me know where I come from But sometimes I feel out of place The second looks and the poker face Make me feel like I’ve fallen out of grace Before I’ve said a single thing I promise I’m not a poser Just want this confusion to be over Please let me come closer To the acceptance I need But there’s definitely a schism This thing called colorism is causing a division In the Community’s revolution.
Christine Aletti Mixed Media
Jonathan Mallory Hobson You can feel her there, in the hollows of your chest and your eyelids. In the blue veins that spider-web across your wrists. In the dark flash of heavy black wings, birds flapping from trees to wires, from wires to trees, back and forth before your windows. They look at you and caw raucously, and their voices hide her whispers. The walls are papered in twisting patterns, dull gold and vaguely reminiscent of old paperbacks. There are her hands in the dusty yellow, her fingers trailing down the hallway; there’s the swish and rustle of her skirt, swaying from shadows to the vine-like curls of the walls. Her steps are light on the dark stairs, and yours are heavy and slow in comparison. You’re in no hurry to reach the bedroom. You’re in no hurry to reach anywhere. You can feel her there. In the hollow of your ribcage, in the marrow of your spine. In the weaving twists of the wallpaper and the chipped carvings of the staircase. She refuses to leave, and you deserve it. You left the bedroom window open and now a crow is on the sill, larger than the birds seem from far away, black as coal and twice as dirty. Its talons leave thin scratch-marks on the sill’s paint; it cocks its head at you expectantly. “I’m sorry,” you say, to it and to her. You feel dull inside, like blunt metal and winter nights, but your words come out sounding rather more anguished: ragged metal and winter storms. It caws at you, and its voice hides her whispers. You can feel her there, in the room. In the bones of your ankles and the crystals of the hanging light above you. Her eyes are in the crystals, gleaming, glittering, raging, staring, staring, staring. Her eyes are in the crow, and you can feel her gaze boring into you. “I’m sorry,” you try again. “I tried. I—” you don’t know what you are, really, besides tired and hollow. You settle on repeating, lamely, “I’m sorry.” What more can you say? You can feel her there. Standing before you in a dress cut to her knees, half her hair shiny and smooth and the other half matted grotesquely with dark material. The crow caws from the windowsill. “I’m—” Again the words fail you, even as your voice rises in volume.
The crow keeps cawing, mocking you. “I’m sorry. Cora, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know—I don’t know what you want—I’m sorry, Cor—” You fall to your knees and wrap your hands around your head. It’s a desperate attempt to block out the bird’s voice and her whispers, but still she’s there, in the cut of your fingernails, in the shallow tightness of your breath. You can see her shoes, white satin crusted in brown earth, and you shut your eyes. Abruptly the bird falls silent. When you dare to look around again, it’s gone: only thin lines on the windowsill mark it as ever having been there in the first place. In the grey of the clouds, in the beat of your pulse, in the tiny form of a faraway bird…you can feel her there.
Waters Acrylic Painting
The Disease Grace Walton The calm spring day when our phone rang Your doctor spoke and family came My tears streamed in the morning light You whispered, “It’ll be alright” The summer day we laid in bed The scarf wrapped loose around your head You smiled when I brought you tea And I prayed this was all a dream A few months passed; I watched you slip The humid rain and morphine drip You gazed at me so helplessly I wiped the teardrops from your cheek The icy winter hit us fast The rain beat at the trembling glass The cold room where I watched you pass The phone rang but you were gone.
I Am Here, I Am Here Now
Jason Cardenas Oil: Acrylic & Graphite
Jabberwocky Samantha Bunch The girl babbles sometimes, but not in the way children often do. She has ever since she could talk. Her mother was mad, but not in the way that parents often are. The mother always felt terrible after, but she’d locked the girl in the closet or closed her up in the basement. Then she’d leave the girl there and flee the house for hours at a time, but it didn’t matter how far she’d get. She could still hear the babbling. The language, if you could call it that, was unrecognizable; whatever it was it contained violence and whimsy. It sort of crawled in her head, starting from the outside and moved in. It had a kind of will and carried it out with apathy. Something like a child setting ants on fire through a piece of glass. The most discomforting part of the experience is the broken sort of look that’d spread across her daughter’s face, the expression had no business being on someone so young. The girl’s face could almost seem jovial, which only made it all the more malevolent.
When they first arrived, they almost weren’t surprised. It’s not shocking that she’d do a thing like that to herself. The scene almost could have looked sad, a child shouldn’t have to stare at something as ugly as suicide. However, it didn’t take long to see the body had likely been hoisted up. Nothing kicked out from under her, and the ligature had been tied off far from the body. They knew the girl didn’t do this, not because she wouldn’t, but because she couldn’t. Inquiry with the girl was frightening. Vague answers told with the faked innocence you’d get from a kid who claimed they simply had no idea how that vase got broken, all the while the girl held a terrible smile. She knows something they don’t, and it’s some kind of joke being told at their expense. The whole exchange makes them want to crack the world in half and bury this room somewhere in the middle. They have a woman who would’ve killed herself but didn’t, and a girl who would’ve have killed her but couldn’t.
“Bleeding is the easiest thing there is.” That’s what the girl said when they found her. “It’s not exactly nice. But there isn’t much to it.” They want to know what she means by this. “It’s harder to avoid trouble, sometimes it’s nice when you finally
They adopt an unconvincing soothing tone and ask how the body got up there. “I don’t remember.” They insist she does. “Mom is like this all the time. She’s gone, and once she’s back she’s always so sorry.” The girl is verbally reminded that her mom is now a past tense. Then asked if she too feels so sorry. “For what?” Their eyes leave her to scan the macabre mobile in the middle of the kitchen, and then their eyes fall back on her. “I didn’t do that.” Which isn’t entirely a lie.
Hang Son Doong Cave Stay Giovanni A. Scarpelli Photo
Wave on a Rocky Shore
Jake Palmer Photo
Betsy Hanrahan Poety on Paper
Dale Strouse107 Photo Travel Cafe 2nd Place
Memories in the Sand Sometime during Fall Semester I started examining past Salmon Creek Journals to see what we have done in previous issues and compare that with what I was seeing in the submission inbox. Among the many discoveries were photos of the wreck of the Peter Iredale. When I compared previous entries to Bailey Granneman’s “Wreckage,” I started to wonder what continues to draw students to this shipwreck, this stranded bulk, this physical ticking away of time. Then, I was flipping through the 2011 Salmon Creek Journal, like any normal student in the middle of the day full of classes and homework and I saw Tim Zielke’s photo “Regrets.” It reminded me of what the Peter Iredale looked like and that the wreck was literally disappearing from my own memory. That Granneman’s Travel Café winner had replaced what I thought the wreck physically looked like. Finally, I came to the 2016 “The Sinking Wreckage” photo by Matt Burris. I remembered visiting the wreck in my childhood and remembered there being much more. I remembered being told not to go near it (for fear of getting tetanus.) I remembered being told that the ocean levels were rising. Soon the Peter Iredale would be under the sea. The three photos together: 2011, 2016, 2019 speaks to the decay of time and memory. Perhaps this alone is why students return to document its demise - to freeze and save it to memory – and why the Salmon Creek Journal keeps printing it. To capture its memory and document the decay, the editors of the Salmon Creek Journal are pleased to present this short collection of related works about the wreck of the Peter Iredale and the theme shipwrecked. Randal Houle Prose Editor, Salmon Creek Journal 2019 The Peter Iredale ran aground on the beach near Fort Stevens on October 25, 1906. And they left it there. Its bones naked in the salted air, sea-sprayed constantly - its human-manifested alloy vitrifying into its natural elemental form. Its existence is graffiti of a colonial/imperial state. Its disappearing is a reminder that all things must return to the earth.
Bailey Granneman Photo Travel Cafe 1st Place
Shipwrecked Jennifer Schwartz I lost my fragile heart that day. The immortal light in my veins Fading to black with each step Up towards the rocky throne Overlooking the sea Perched on the narrow peak Misty rain assaulting my face Carried on the swirling gusts I witnessed my loveâ€™s demise The cruel hand of fate I begged him to stay on land To remain safe by my side He ignored the dark whispers Of the aquamarine abyss Calling his name... My loveâ€™s ship was split open Helpless in the jagged rocks The violent waves relentlessly Beating Knocking Crashing Eroding the cliffs and my soul My arms crossed at my chest I screamed out his name But all sound was swallowed By the screeching, bitter wind Laughing at my vain act
The hands of grief tightened Everything seemed to slow Gasping for breath, weak All color and music vanished Feeling unsteady like I was Whirling
Into an unknown world It was too late to save the crew The vessel clawed fearlessly By savage, beastly waters My love would never again Be in my arms I can still feel his gentle touch Hear his honest call of devotion Waking me from restless dreams By swirling a feather on my cheek Igniting my lips with a kiss Daily I speak to my lost love At sunset on that tragic peak Releasing a single feather With a prayer that his spirit Finds peace in the depths The sea may have claimed it But truth be told, my heart Was a treasure stolen long ago It would always belong to him Never to return In solitude, there is vengeance The jealous Queen of Tides Shares his eternal night but We lived in the flaming sunrise When passion flowed like wine His eyes fierce with fire Burning with desire for only me
Tim Zielke Photo (2011)
The Sinking Wreckage Matt Buris Photo (2016)
Fading Wreckage Steve Scholle Photo
Pregnancy and Childbirth Elizabeth Ryan I hate kids. I always have. Even when I was little, in kindergarten, I was endlessly annoyed by the other children. I wanted to spend my time with the adults. I didn’t believe in peer pressure, I thought the word “peer” meant they “peered down” on you, and the only people worthy of doing so were the adults. Kids were obnoxious, loud, rude, and just unpleasant. My mother would buy me baby dolls, and I would stuff them in the bottom of my toy box. I didn’t want to have a thing to do with babies. I was never supposed to get pregnant. I was good with that. From the time I was a teenager, curling up on the floor wishing for death during my periods, doctors would tell me my body was not cut out for children. I knew, absolutely knew, that I didn’t want them, that I could not love a child. When my first husband broke my spine with a truck, I was warned: “Do not get pregnant.” My second husband was fine with the concept that we’d never have children. All he cared about was my happiness. Turns out, I’m a failure at birth control. I screamed when I found out I was pregnant. I was hysterical. I had been sick for several days, and my husband teased me: “Maybe you’re pregnant.” I told him I’d take a pregnancy test just to prove him wrong. Guess who was wrong? I contemplated abortion. My husband told me it was my decision, but I couldn’t go through with it. I told my OB that I was a high-risk patient, that I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant, that I shouldn’t get pregnant. I told her I had a fused spine, but I had no X-rays, please let me get X-rays. She refused. I tried to get her to give me more ultrasounds, she passed me off as paranoid. My insurance wouldn’t let me switch doctors because of a particular policy. I convinced myself that if I had a little girl, everything would be okay. I could play dress up, I could give her all the things I wanted growing up. During one of the tests, they told me I was having a boy. I was hysterical. I threw on my clothes and ran out of the office. My husband finally caught up with me three blocks away. At first, I was sick, but I had landed an internship at Oakland Zoo, and I couldn’t give it up. I worked hard, and it was tiring. Soon my body started shutting down on itself. My mother moved in with us. I reached a point where I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself. For the last three months of my pregnancy I was totally dependent on everyone else. With only two weeks away from my due date, I started feeling woozy. I couldn’t hold my head up, and everything spun around me. My husband had me take my blood pressure in regular intervals. I was too high, I was too low, I couldn’t get a good read. My husband called my doctor and off to the hospital we went. According to the machines, the baby was losing oxygen, and my blood pressure
wouldn’t regulate. My doctor induced labor. With every wave of contractions, I stopped being able to feel my legs. My doctor insisted I have my baby “naturally”. I demanded a c-section. She refused. I grabbed her by the shirt and screamed in her face. One of us was walking out of here, and it damned well better be me. My husband got a hold of the floor surgeon, and after speaking to me for a few minutes, he ordered the c-section. I fired my doctor. In surgery, they began trying to get the epidural in my back. They hit bone. Repeatedly they tried, repeatedly I screamed. The pain was so severe I almost blacked out. It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. The surgeon swore at the lack of x-rays. They finally got it in. I was laid out. My skin felt like ants crawling over my body. At first the surgeons were talking about their child’s basketball game. I don’t know why I’ll always remember that. But then they got very quiet. Something was wrong. It turned out, the baby was stuck sideways. My child’s head was wedged into my hip. He never would have come out normally. When they pulled him free, he didn’t cry, I heard nothing as the entire room was quiet. They brought him to me when they could, still on that operating table, my arms unable to move. I was put in ICU, my child in neonatal ICU. I could not regulate my blood pressure, they could not regulate my child’s oxygen levels. My husband was so distraught he had called his parents. They flew out on the first flight down and met me in my hospital room. I found myself worried over whether or not I could love my child. All throughout my pregnancy I worried. After my child was born, I cried. I cried and cried to the point I thought I would die. I was so worried I was going to die that I agreed to go on medication and see a therapist. For six months in the heat of my post-partum depression, I saw a therapist, talking through my panic, through my worries. I managed to come back to myself. For the first three months after my child was born, I couldn’t care for myself. My mother and husband did everything for me. When I had low moments, I felt better hugging my child. Sometimes I would hold him, just so I could breathe. For the first time in my life, I found a child cute. I can’t say that I fell in love instantly with my child, I can’t even say it was soon after. I had a history of emotional and physical trauma that made it difficult to admit to myself that I did indeed love my child. I began to see a different therapist for my other emotional issues, and I learned what love means to me. In general, I still don’t like kids. They’re loud, obnoxious, and crude. But I love my kid. He taught me that I am capable of loving a child. He’s the best kid that I could have wound up with. He has his bad moments, but he’s generally quiet and well-behaved. Although he has done some crazy things, like when he took apart a blanket and used the string to tie up his bedroom, I had to say he was mine, because I’d done the same thing at his age. Some days I wonder where I put my brain, and why I agreed to this mess, but I love my child, and no one can take that from me.
Sharalee Chwaliszewski Photo
Cracked Alkaid Tsuki Broken mirror on my wall, who is the sanest of them all? The beast that sought my raven head has taken a fall. He’s gone and dead. The hunter that claimed I was mad as a hatter? I’ve buried his axe head-deep in grey matter. And the mother that poured me that noisome black tea? Well, I’ve laid her to rest ‘neath a juniper tree. And let’s never forget the party’s dear Bell. I’ve tucked her away in a deep, earthen well. Mad as hatters, every one. Smoking clocks and unwound guns. My bloody fingers stroke the glass. They’re all gone; I’m sane at last. ... Bloody mirror on my wall, who is the sanest of them all?
Sterling Fletcher Photo
Tranquility Chad Lipka Photo
Guilherme Bergamini Photo
Final Jenna Seng It was the final night before we would set off, August 29, I remember the date because I had carved the numbers into a log I had sat on the fire that night. I wanted to remember the way wood felt, to remember the texture of the trees. I tried to remember what it was like before, when we could breathe in the fresh air that the trees provided. Now all we have is the rotting wood of tables, of chairs, of houses, all the things that trees provided us with before we had lost them. It was time to leave at 17:00 sharp. “ATTENTION!” I heard our leader yell, and it was at this moment I knew, the world was officially over. I pulled my oxygen mask back over my face, laced up my boots, and took my place in line. He had this look on his face like he was trying so hard for us all to be brave, but the reality of the harsh situation made it painful to watch him struggle. That was the last thing I remember seeing, ash floating in the night sky raining down onto earth like snow, the fire burning behind him with no need for us to put it out before we went, and that look of such transparent fear on his face. I put my head down and marched into the cabin of our ship. It always amazed me looking back. To be in such a time of chaos, and not to revert to anarchy, to stay true to our mission the whole way through. Things are better now, we left behind those on Earth who’s only care was for money and greed. The soil on our new planet is hot and dry, but with hydroponics we’ve been able to sustain ourselves here. We all have a role, mine is to teach the children History. I’m the oldest of our little nation, so I’ve lived through most of the history that I teach. I teach them why we had to leave, how it was only our fault, and that this is our fresh start. It’s a funny thing, trying to teach children about trees they will never climb, and about many different lands they will never see.
Guilherme Bergamini Photo
Dig Randal Houle To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves. â€” Mahatma Mohandas Ghandi
Thinking of Ghandi I grabbed a shovel went to the back yard and dug. I dug, ripping through carefully tended sod, roots a carpeted phalanx protecting the earth from what I was about to do. As I dug, I tried to remember why. He said, to forget this thing is to forget ourselves. Or was it, to forget that is to be something else. I dug and I dug and I slept in the hole and woke up again and, breaking fast with grubs, I took up my shovel again and dug. A few feet deeper, I found a clay layer. There, I dug a large round room, and then doors. Carving frescoed artwork with my shovelâ€™s edge. I began to dig into other areas, outward, inward; a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to make more dirt. I kept digging, down, left, right, round, down again, down, down, until the sun was only as big as the north star. I dug six days and through the Sabbath, my sweat and tepid breath coating the walls, while dirt and mud and grime clogged every pore. I kept digging round rooms, square rooms, tall rooms and short rooms. I dug clay and dirt and rock. I dug tunnels for miles and cavernous W E L L S.
On my final day, I knew I was done. I rose and ate nothing. I dug a final bed: six below, nine long and four at the head. Laid with my shovel, flat as can be and watched it all cave in on me.
Greenest of All McKenzie Wells Photo
Nature Talks Cierah Alferness Film Photo
Take a Closer Look Cierah Alferness Film Photo
Naive Krysten Stewart Secrets slip beyond my trembling lips You swallow them with your silence.
Guilherme Bergamini Photo
Fin(al) Cory Blystone Final sounds so, I don’t know, final, doesn’t it? I mean, I get that finality is a thing, but never really contemplated its relevance. But here it is. Happening. And happening to me, no less! I’d say finally, but this isn’t the final I anticipated when this journey began so long ago when my memory wasn’t a jungle. Stumbling over myself—words, limbs, pretty much everything at this point—I wonder how long I’ve known? When did I realize my final appearances were gracing the world? Alas, as I take my final bow on life’s stage, I am left to ponder the eternal question: What comes next? Somehow, I know I will never get the answer before it’s too late.
Back to Safety Jobana Leon Painting
Wildflowers Emily Lozier It’s funny, how sometimes you can feel more in a void. When I reached for my wallet, my pocket was empty. That was okay, though; She’d always liked the wildflowers anyway. So, past the store I walked, down the road and to the gate. You were there, but I didn’t see you at first. Instead, I crept into your garden and looked for something she would like. Big, pink blooms with glistening petals like her rosy cheeks? Blue like her painted nails? Yellow and orange like her first car? When my hands were full, you stopped me. You were the one who spent days and hours toiling at the flowers. I stole them. I stuttered and shook – they were for someone, I promise – I was sorry, I said – I never meant any harm, I would pay –
Instead, you asked me if she was worth it. I nodded. She was worth everything. Take me to her, you said. So you could be sure that she really was worth it. Your eyes were kind, but as we walked I looked down. How could I possibly say sheâ€™s gone? Itâ€™s funny, how sometimes you can feel more in a void
Maggie Handran Photo
Rounded Sunrise Faun Scurlock Photo
Lit’l Sun Paul Summers Lit’l Sun was from the mesa. The day she was born there were fierce thunderstorms that brought what seemed like endless rain. The moment she arrived, the clouds parted. Her presence brightened up the outlook of the tribe. Ibrey, her mother, and Puyall, her father, were joyous the Great Creator blessed them with such a spirit. They both worked hard to keep her safe, sheltered, clothed and fed. She is one of the happiest, most playful and loving little girls the tribe has seen in a long time. “Look, there’s Lit’l Sun skipping around outside again!” her grandmother would say with pride in her heart. After some time, however, her mother grew tired. She struggled with the day-to-day routines and responsibilities of raising a child along with contributing to the tribe. Each night, at sunset, she would dream of how she missed out on living the life she wanted for herself. She would drink and eat beyond her share; that was an escape for her. In her head, she yearned to leave everything behind and be happier on her own. This made Puyall scared and unhappy. Lit’l Sun would hear her parents say mean things to each other. This made her sad. One day she came home from gathering seeds. Her mother Ibrey was gone. Her father was angry. “Why did mommy leave us daddy?” Lit’l Sun asked. Lit’l Sun had such a big heart. She didn’t like to see her daddy unhappy. She put her tiny hand into his calloused palm, now trembling. She stared into his eyes, radiating joy until he spoke to her. First clearing his throat to speak, her daddy answered, “Your mommy doesn’t understand, in her head, how important and special you are.” There were tears pooling up in the edges of his eyelids. He saw, as only parents can see, that Lit’l Sun started to feel this was all her fault. That she believed that she had done something wrong. She got the idea that it was because she was bad that her mommy had left her daddy. Lit’l Sun began to cry, too.
“Not yet.” Lit’l Sun didn’t quite understand. “What do you mean, not yet, daddy?” “What I mean Lit’l Sun, is that … “ Puyall spoke gravelly through his clogged throat. He pulled Lit’l Sun by her hand. They took a few steps outside. He nodded his head upward, raising his arm up to point out from the vista where they stood together. Their home overlooked a great valley; one that their tribal family had lived on for generations. “Do you see the desert floor Lit’l Sun?” “Yes.” “Do you see the great forest growing upon the mountain in the distance?” “Yes, daddy.” “Do you think the desert is mad at the sun for shining too much, or the clouds for not bringing enough rain?” Lit’l Sun stared at the desert, then the mountain, and then the desert again. She could see, perhaps for the first time, that the desert had beauty the mountain did not. The mountain had beauty that the desert did not. “No, daddy, I don’t think the desert is mad at them.” “Then, why would you be mad at yourself that your mother has left? She is not ready to know what you already know. We will wish together that one day in her heart she will see what you can see.” Lit’l Sun stood quietly. Her thoughtful dark eyes squinted downward. They were fixed upon the last remaining leaves of sage that she had nervously pulled from the twig she had been playing with on the pink and red sandstone mesa top. Her head tilted slightly down and then up at her father. “What can I see Daddy?” “What you can see, if you look with the same eyes, is that you are precious. That you are loved, like the desert is loved and the mountains are loved. That the clouds and rain will come and go and then return again. But that we all need a Lit’l Sun.” Lit’l Sun smiled wide then gave her daddy a hug. He hugged her back with all his heart and emotion and strength. He wished to fill her with so much love that she would never ever need more. She rose up on her tippy toes to kiss his rough, bristly cheek abruptly before skipping off into the desert again to play with her friends.
Echinocereus Triglochidiatus Jacob Bloomer Photo
Joyful Joy Joy Spreadborough Poetry Slam Winner My name can always be found at Christmas time between the glittering letters of hope and peace, carved on ornaments, printed on shiny wrapping paper and on glowing lights of red and green. Joy is everywhere. It is the spirit of Christmas. But just because my name is Joy doesn’t mean that I’m always Joyful. “The name fits you perfectly,” a is phrase I hear often. Joyful Joy a friend calls me. He chuckles when he says it like he is so clever like no one has ever thought of it before. Like no one has sang the song “Happy Happy Joy Joy” to me, Or “Joy to the World”. Or “Joy to the World Barney’s Dead” None of them have ever thought that I wouldn’t want to be sung to. Or that maybe when I was a kid I liked Barney and didn’t want to be sung a song about how he was murdered and flushed down the potty. They all think that singing “Happy Happy Joy Joy” will make me happy. But I’m not happy especially if you sing that song over and over in my face. My friend calls me Joyful Joy and every time he says it I am screaming inside telling him that I’m not always happy that sometimes I am sad,
anxious and dare I say depressed. And sometimes I feel nothing, at all. But I don’t say anything Because that will ruin his image of me the image that I’m always happy that I laugh, and crack jokes all the time. So, I let him call me joyful Joy Even though, every time he says it I feel my insides rot. Even though, the nickname binds me to the belief that I can never be anything other than bright. When I am lost in thought people ask me what is wrong. Like it is some great tragedy when Joy is not smiling. So, I slap on a plastic Barbie smile, and a robotic laugh that mimics a chorus of Tickle Me Elmo’s giggling, giggling, giggling. I am Joy I have to be happy. Because people can’t comprehend a Joy that isn’t joyful. So, I wear a mask a mask that wears my smile and tells my jokes. I am joyful Joy.
Lisa Walz I’m remembering the day we met and my smile gets wider and brighter. This is why I call you my sunshine. When I think of you, I glow. I’m transparent when I am around you and I am at my best. I don’t have to be anyone other than me and I am not afraid to show you that. You are inspiration. I am so elated by you and your visions that I can see a very bright future that is engulfed in warmth and freedom with all the possibilities imaginable. Having you in my life is the greatest gift I have received. I’ve discovered myself and who I want to aspire to be and I know you are a big part of that discovery. You are beautiful. You give me something to hope for, attributes to look for, and a picture of a man who I am able to see spending the rest of my life with. You always think the best of me and never hold back in telling me so. I am so grateful for you that I cannot imagine my life without you in it. You are strength. Everything about you is the embodiment of “Heaven”. That is where I am when I am in your presence. My heart and soul fills with a passion that I have never had the pleasure of knowing until you. Imagining what it would be like to be held in your arms for the rest of our lives is my treasure, my hope for the future. You are Love.
Sarah West Photo
Floral Dreams Mallory Hobson Should you dream of me Dream not of violets, shy And shrinking under weeping Willow trees, nor dandelions Yellow and urbane, sunlight Condensed on city sidewalks, Nor the zinnias that leap like Fireworks, all colored sparks, Constrained by garden pots. Should you dream of me Dream not of these but of The roses, wild and rambling, Brambles clambering up the Ancient walls of this old home, No fireworks but ember-hues, Golden, ruby, muted, faded Shades of petals guarded by Those jagged, tearing thorns. Dream of me with their perfume: Cloying, sweetly savage, everPresent, wild, untouchable, Repeated in the patterns of The homeâ€™s now-peeling wallpaper. Should you dream of me, Dream not of other gardens, But of these: the rose petals, The piercing vines, the darkened House, and I.
Before the Change
Elizabeth Bolton Larkin143 Photo
Preferred Pronoun in Four Parts Randal Houle The Butterfly December 8, 2018. Gresham, Oregon. The human brain wants to complete, but no – it really wants to consume like a horned beast burrowing through a leafy stack1 – and that is the state of all things. You’ve no doubt heard of the butterfly effect,2 but have you heard of the cabbage effect? It supposes that the world is in fact a head of cabbage and we all: the hims, the hers, the its, the whats-not and the other – we all burrow into it.3 We cannot help but burrow deep into the leaves until our stomachs turn with too much kim-chee.4 The leaves of the Earth peel off like flaking continents in a time-lapsed film of the future. The leaves slough off the carcass of Earth and flap in cosmic brain-dust. They are called, each by their name: his, hers, ours, theirs, the others, mine, yours, theirs, theirs, theirs – there are not enough pronouns! The leaves fly out like butterflies until they fall back to earth and are consumed by the billions.5 The Billions They are because they are many. I am they to represent them. I represent them because they have no voice because their mouths are full of the wings of angels.6 The Party I met someone the other day that insists on no pronoun at all – not even you, your or yours. What’s more [preferred pronoun] - and here I digress to point out I have yet to identify the person, who is a doctor, a real accomplished human being, a kind soul of generous measure and someone you would prefer, in my opinion, on your side, than on someone else’s. But there we are, at a party and I ask, “Would you like another glass
of wine?” [Preferred pronoun] looks directly at me. I correct myself, “Would Dr. Ann Kennedy desire another glass of wine?” [Preferred pronoun] says, “In personal space such as this, you may call me Ann.” “Thank you, Ann,” I say and refill Ann’s glass. While Ann sips I ask, “How are things in Ann’s work place?” “When referring to matters of profession, I prefer Dr. Kennedy.” The Footnotes 1 A leafy stack refers to a head of cabbage. 2 If you are reading this, then I suppose you have not heard of the butterfly effect in which case, please search “butterfly effect” in your search engine of choice and after, return to it. 3 it = a head of cabbage = Earth. 4 Kim-Chee cannot be made in this way. For authentic recipes, point your favorite video app to your selected video and follow the instructions. 5 The billions are tiny, mighty, fat and starving. The billions die and themselves are consumed by the husk of the earth. The billions persist against all logic. 6 Wings of angels are made from cabbage as well, which is why among the billions, no one has seen one, because, as everyone knows, it’s impossible to fly with wings made from cabbage leaves.
Emerald Crown Faun Scurlock Photo
The Barlow Jim Cole This is The Barlow, The Perfect Barlow, in the perfect town. A marketplace where people drop their iPhones and they donâ€™t break because the ground is perfectly made from recycled tires; a place where every barista looks the same and the ones that look different look like the server at the brewery who looks like the cashier at the art gallery who looks like the hostess at the Spirit Works Distillery, where the local bourbon never makes you too drunk; yes, The Perfect Barlow, where moms give their sons 50 dollars every birthday and give their daughters 55 dollars, and where sons live with jazz musicians and write poems on the side and build drones as a hobby to sell on the websites they are building, too, and where daughters look like their mothers and each other â€“ not too skinny, not too fat, just the perfect plumpness, with rounded edges that canâ€™t hurt anyone, and where girls all wear two silver rings and a necklace and never break off weddings, and where all the coffee shop customers tip a dollar and all the young men have black beards and pre-washed baseball caps, and all the college kids have been to Manhattan and have a copy of Naked Lunch beside their bed next to a used book by Baudelaire or Toni Morrison, and where all the jeans are full of holes designed in Milan, and all the older men are bald and happy about that, and where grandchildren live just the right distance away, and where the trash never smells and the trees die briefly during winter but only for a few hours, and the winter solstice is not really all that short, and everyone wears leather shoes made in India and Vietnam from animals that never die because this is The Barlow, where everyone has a cousin in the Army, where every skinny kid is tall and every short kid is muscular, where every mother with depression has a therapist named Dr. Steve, where every husband
has already had his affair, every bride is like a virgin, every groom circumcised, where everyone has a job that’s a little unsatisfying but pays really well, every sister has straight teeth, every brother one Playboy magazine and a coin collection, every man played lacrosse at a liberal arts college, every girl has a bun and Nikes and aerobics tights and recognizes the Imagine Dragons song playing on the radio and sings along, The Barlow where no one drinks wine, just wine and cheese, and where no one says “but” or “not” and no one says “shit” when they mean “darn it,” where poetry only has to rhyme until you’re eight-years-old, where no one steals a kiss without asking first or breaks anyone’s heart without “still being good friends” and those who die are considerate and fast, and where Lily and I stopped for a whiskey, then a coffee, then a kiss, and everything was perfect inside and out because, yes, she had a boner and so did I, and our boners matched perfectly because we were in The Barlow.
Red, White and Bowl
Sierra Swearingen Pottery
Orientalism Roxane Hong When black is the sky and mine eyes doth close, There is a woman from Asia in soft silken clothes Who visits my table in brief sleeping visions, Bringing palatable love with her foreign provisions. How the sight of her beauty lights my chest aflame; Burning wisps of charcoal in my lungs do coil! My heart becomes a hearth, which deep within contains A pot of a most hearty broth, rapidly rumbling a-boil! Planting a kiss upon the mandarin tint of her cheek Leaves sweet citrus strands stuck between my teeth. The minutes are long that I sit and savor them so, For I know in due time it is away she must go. From my arms, her fragile frame began to flee, Melting into the air like steam from a dumpling. Fell I aback, for through her chest I could see! I wish this not to end, yet the sun continues rising. To the ground I swiftly kneel, praying she hear my plea: Permit me so, to have a nibble of thy delicacy-Let the flavor of thy lips linger until next I see thee! To my request, her head did bow, suggesting agree. Ah! The blissful moment her mouth and mine met-Such a taste! Gently of ginger, salt, and soy. In my dreams she is ever such a lavish banquet, But upon waking, I be but a famished English boy.
Dreams Do Come True
Cierah Alferness Film Photo
Memory Nikki Johnson The cloth placed firmly over my eyes. My mind races to the sound of her little cries My senses kick in as her tiny limbs brush across my dusted skin The softness clings long after her departure A smell of “brand new” that turns me into the lone-archer Every night before I shut my eyes I pray to the skies and ask the good Lord, why? Something. Anything. I just want to hear her one last time. My mind can’t phantom the permanence of never Fragments of the future makes my rusted heart “pitter-patter.” We hang on to these false memories Our mind’s defenses to a shared remembrance A face one tries so hard to get right Become the very corrosion we’ve tried to hide. Somewhere, deep down Between the grime and muck A little girl will run Screaming, “mommy, up!”
Meakia Blake Photo
It’s a Dangerous Time for Men Anonymous It was the night B and I ordered Thai food. The sweetness of the drink and the spiciness of the noodles was a special treat; my stomach had been an empty pit that consumed my every thought for days, and feeling full for once was close to intoxicating. Looking back, I remember the whirl of colors like a burnt-orange and lime-green kaleidoscope. We’d been laughing, there in the study lounge with the weathered seats, as the night pulled the sun down. The hours passed with ease, and though I didn’t want to leave, when the morning drew near I packed up my things. “Text me when you get to your room,” B said. I nodded, laughed, and told her I would. I walked down the grey stairwell. It seemed washed out and disconnected from the rest of the vibrant building. I replaced the fading colors with my headphones and kept walking. Outside, it was cold. I was wearing my black rain jacket, and to protect further against the dark autumn air, I pulled my hands into my sleeves. Cold Little Heart played, and gave me a sense of hope and contentment. My stomach was still aching with the glow of laughter. I walked around the side of the building, back toward the trail, just before my dorm hall. It was only about three blocks, and I walked quickly to keep myself warm. My breath curled out in front of me like a little ghost. At first, it almost felt like a branch of a low-hanging tree had gotten caught on my hood. And then, more force. There was a pinch at my back, a pulling at my throat where my jacket caught, and a sharp pain all over my head. I felt the kind of adrenaline that makes you intensely warm and relaxed, but utterly useless. My music stopped. My forward motion was cut short by the person pulling on me from behind, and then I was pushed and falling forward. The scream I released was unintentional, raspy, and painful. I can still feel it in my throat. My hands came out of my jacket as I fell, and I used them to catch myself. I could feel the man’s hand in my hair, his other no longer grabbing the back of my coat. He told me he had a knife in his hand, and that, so long as I was quiet and didn’t scream again, he would only use it on my clothes.
His breath smelled sour and strong. He was warm, and with my face on the cold, wet concrete, he seemed immensely powerful. By then, I knew what was happening and it felt like my chest collapsed. As he put his foot on my hair to hold me down, he used both hands to reach up my jacket. He ripped into my body and didn’t stop. He told me that next time, I should bring a friend. He asked me how I liked it, and as I cried and screamed it only seemed to give him joy. When he was finished, he ripped his hands through my hair one last time and gave my face another shove into the concrete. My hands and wrists were sore, my face and hair hurt, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. My body was left in splinters. I didn’t know then that I would continue to bleed for days. I didn’t know then that my most important relationships would dissolve, despite my confused and embarrassed attempts to keep them afloat. I didn’t know then that, even a year later, I would choke on words like they were a thick black bile in my throat that brought everything back. I didn’t know then that I would hide it all from my closest friends, my family, even my therapist, to avoid having to talk. I didn’t know then the ways it would become a part of my identity, yet somehow only make me a statistic. My legs felt shaky and the time I spent lying there on the concrete still feels covered in a haze. The trees above me had lost their leaves and hung like skeletons around me. When I got to my room, my roommate was sleeping. The lights were turned off, and I slipped into the bathroom. The yellow light let me look at my swollen face. It was red and splotchy, like wine spilled across a table. I turned on the hot water and curled up underneath it. I saw my phone go off through the clear shower door, and it was B, reminding me of my promise to text her when I got back. I told her I was safe and okay, and thanked her again for the wonderful night. But yes, I nod silently in agreeance with him after he goes on a red-faced diatribe. It is a dangerous time for men. My head is full of the thick, black bile.
Before the Day
Elizabeth Bolton Larkin Photo
Tomato Soup Zoie Lopez I watched my mother spill soup on the tile floor Its color like plump tomatoes splitting under summer sun Yesterday I might have thought I’d help her clean it up Now how strange to think of pushing it back inside her bowl I can almost taste it though, sharp on my tongue like unripe fruit And warm and spicy in my stomach Look. I occupy so much space. Here is my stomach Why else would I not be able to fit beside her on the floor As a happy toddler, I feasted on red bauble fruit Which grew like a vein on our fence in the sun Two small hands, that look like her small hands, together make a bowl And if hers is cracked, is it mine I should offer up My mother always cooked for us as we were growing up She would pour her heart into her child’s stomach How cruel we must have seemed to not empty our bowl How shocking for her soup to now be splashed across the floor Why are ceiling lights fluorescent, please let’s be in the sun Sit with me awhile, teach me again of the pleasure of our favorite fruit Our bodies are so sweet and delicate just like a fruit Mine almost bruises when you pick it up Maybe something grows when we stretch them in the sun Maybe something dies when we hold our seeds inside our stomach Sometimes I don’t understand how what gives you life can also kill you The nature of the thing changes once it slips outside your bowl
My mother found candy lies hidden in a bowl Too sweet sugar brings wide his eyes, sugar that is his fruit Until he slumps, hot breath on legs, kneeling on my floor And I think he’s hungry, please wake up. Sometimes I dream rivers flow through my stomach And my starlight waters touch countries in the sun Cities in the summer can seem black and white under a too intense sun It’s when tomato soup feels too hot inside its bowl At times I would choose to talk to the animal growls inside my stomach Or wander sleepy streets and push inside me my neighbors’ fruit The world as wide as a twelve-year old’s stride is as small as I was up Though I could imagine so very high the blackness of a glitter strewn floor I wonder if she ever wished for a son, a reason less to fear of “out there” bruising her delicate fruit Once with trembling hands she bathed me in a bowl, and I never got bigger, the world did as I grew up Which I did, scalding soup in my stomach, watching her kneeling on the bathroom floor
Dale Strouse Photo
Forgotten Amber Leckie At first, my mother’s beautiful brain began to fall away slowly. Then by pieces. Then by chunks. Soon the simple acts of writing labels on objects around the house and practicing her memory flash cards daily were no longer beneficial. I could write a million post-it notes, attach them all over my body “Son,” “Ben,” “Benny,” “Your only child,” and her face when she first sees me every morning, would still be muddled with confusion. As soon as I wake up, I notice my room is not how it should be. The dresser’s been moved, my jewelry case is gone, my husband is not snoring loudly next to me. I push my feet into a pair of slippers and make for the stairs. I see my husband standing in the kitchen, pouring two cups of coffee. I was unaware he knew how to make coffee. I note the repulsion on his face as I pull away from our morning kiss and I can feel myself sink down. I was married once. Years ago. We fell in love young. It was my decision to move back in, the wife was against it, but it’s hard to argue someone who simply wants to take care of their aging, forgetful mother. It was amusing to me to see my wife’s view of my mother completely shift over the course of about four months. They got along so well before my mom got sick, almost too similar to one another. Too smart, too beautiful, too neurotic. I think what pushed her over the edge was my mother regularly confusing me for my father. She was never a fan of the occasional “morning kiss,” neither was I to be honest, but it’s easier than starting something. You never know how my mother will react. My wife never understood my desire to stay and at some points, neither do I. Why stay for someone who wouldn’t even know if you were gone? I’m unsure if I dislike having no name over having someone else’s identity entirely. At least then I get the spark in her eyes as she hobbles down the stairs towards me. Only if it was actually for me. I sometimes let myself daydream. Always a mistake. The idea of one lucid day where my mother is all smile, grace, with intelligence shooting out blindly. Then I remind myself what it would be like, for her. Waking up conscious in a world you haven’t seen or smelled or touched in twenty years. She’d despise herself for all the things she’s missed out on. Dad’s death. Multiple graduations. One wedding. I walk into the mirrorless bathroom and I reach down to caress my
belly. The wrinkled hand isn’t what causes me to scream, though it’s certainly of concern. My supposed to be round, dense stomach is now flat and squishy. My body moves much slower than I will it to as I paw at the railing, urging my legs to fly up the stairs to my bedroom. My bed must be covered in blood. I should be to. How did I not notice sooner? I make the quick decision to intervene this time. I don’t always. The terror in her screams is what gets me moving. My mother has had all sorts of breakdowns, even before her diagnosis. Each time, whoever it was that went in to comfort her, would feel all her wrath, full throttle. She was never the woman who hid her emotions. If she felt them, she wanted you to feel them too. I grab her coffee, her prescription bottle, and have to motivate myself to even begin climbing the stairs. The more I look around the first floor of the house, the bigger a twinge of guilt inside of me begins to grow. There are papers everywhere, dishes not only in the sink but on the counters as well as the kitchen table. The only thing in perfect array is my collection of remotes sitting on the coffee table in front of my couch-bed. Every once in a while, mother gets lucid enough to want to clean. She used to be inexplicably tidy, everything had a spot and a correct order in which it entered that spot. As a kid, she’d come in my room to wake me every morning at 7:05. If my room was clean, she’d give me a kiss on the head and stroke my hair until I woke up, but if it was messy, a couple shirts on the floor, some stray cups, she would pour a glass on cold water on my face My mother’s intense change in her mind, seemed to spark a change in my body. I would not go as far to say that I was ever in shape. My love handles, my fat fingers, my belly that blocks my feet, those have been present since puberty. Being kind, I’d say I’ve gained fifty pounds over the last ten years. If you asked reality, it’d probably tell you it’s closer to 100-150. Each step up the stairs feels like an enormous effort. I usually sleep on the couch. I order all of our food, I work on a laptop I keep inches from my pillow. If asked, I say my mother is too much of a handful for me to ever leave her alone. My mother used to have a large mirror in her room. Gold, with a frame of intricate shiny flowers. She smashed it about four years ago. Angered by the reflection it showed her. After that I took all the mirrors out of the house. Even the bathroom. I’m not really sure what I look like anymore. I enter my room crying, but I forget what it was for. I can hear large footsteps coming up the stairs. They’re not my husband’s. His steps go almost unheard, while these boom with each approaching step. I pick a lamp off of the oak table next to my bed. I hold it closely, leaning against the wall. Waiting.
I’ve been in a fight before. Never with a lamp. My head aches and my vision becomes fuzzy. I make no attempt to get up, that’s hard enough for me to do when I’m not bleeding from my scalp. I can feel the warm blood crawling down my forehead. I can hear my mother on the phone talking to 911 about a break in. It surprises me how her being on the phone, talking to the police, irritates me more than a hit on the head with a lamp. The fact that she can remember how to make a phone call, can remember exactly who to dial and what to say, but hasn’t even the subtlest recognition when she looks her son in the eye. She can talk calmly with a police officer, can give her address and home phone number without a second thought, but can’t walk into her bedroom and feel guilt and longing for the son who’s done nothing more than take of her. All the thanks I get is a bump on the head and a reminder that I’m too fat to get up on my own. If the paramedics ever manage to get me off of the damn floor, I’m moving out.
Forgotten Laura Dutelle Photo
The End/The Beginning Damon Day FADE IN: SCENE NAME: DAY OF PARTING Narrator: (The Narrator is female, middle aged, with a very sad tone to her voice.) This is the story of a Beast and a Hero it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Hero would set out on his journey, the Beast would stop him, and the Hero slayed the Beast, the end. Naturally, the Beast didnâ€™t like this story very much, so the story would play out again. The Hero would set out on his journey, the Beast would stop him, but this time, the Beast slayed the Hero. The Beast still didnâ€™t like this story, and so, the story would play out again. Scene description/opening: The stage is set in a foyer of a ruined castle, while the sound of a battle rages outside. Two people stand opposite each other on either end of the stage, a man and a woman. The man has short dusty brown hair with fine features, he is wearing fancy armor like a knight, but has a ragged and dirty appearance. Overall, he is very handsome. In his hand is a single long-sword. The woman has long white hair with bright gold eyes. She is wearing dark armor with sections cut away to reveal skin. All in all, it is a very typical overlord wear. BEAST *Crackles evilly* So, we met again hero! So, what will it be this time? Any sayings or poets to quote? HERO No, but I will offer you a quick death instead, monster! BEAST *Snorts* That was worse than your last one! At least put some effort into this banter! HERO Enough talk! Have at you!
BEAST At least try to come up with better comebacks! Scene description: They fight. The Beast is using ancient magics and partial body transformations to attack, such as transforming arms and feet into claws and talons. The Hero is using his sword and various items to defend himself. Eventually, the two clash, and they skid to a stop, opposite of each other. HERO *Begins to cough, leans over, using his sword as support.* Good… shot. BEAST *Laughs slightly, a trail of blood down her lip as she holds her side. The Hero’s sword drips with blood.* Haaa…Same. HERO Guess you got me… BEAST *Slowly walks over to the Hero, who begins to collapse from his wounds.* I guess we got each other... *Kneels next to the Hero, taking him into her arms.* It always ends this way, doesn’t it? Oh well… guess we both deserve this… HERO *Smiles weakly and closes his eyes,* Always so melodramatic… BEAST *Smiles slightly and closes her eyes as the world begins to turn black.* I love you so much, you stupid hero… FADE Narrator: And so, the story plays out again. SCENE NAME: DAY OF MEETING. Scene: A library with lots of people mulling about. It’s very bright and warm. A young girl with bright red hair and gold eyes can be seen pouring over books. GIRL Come on, come on…stupid freaking expo dumps, just get to the good stuff! I don’t need this “moon cycle” stuff, just the important bits! Scene: A young man with messy white hair approaches the girl. He is very handsome, but a bit dull looking. He has plain looking armor on, a mix of leather and cloth, and has a large sword at his hip. It looks VERY FAMILIAR. BOY There you are, the headmaster wants to speak with you.
GIRL I’m sure that he can wait a few moments, seriously. I’m so close to finishing this text. Can’t you stand guard for me, like you’re supposed to? BOY No, now get going. GIRL *Snorts* Sourpuss. Scene: The girl closes her book and gets up. The book is labeled, *Myths and Legends and How to Break them.* The boy notices the book but doesn’t say anything. As the girl walks away, he gives her a look of longing, but looks away quickly and leaves. The girl glances back at him but turns just as quickly. She rubs her face, which is now bright red, but also quite sad looking. GIRL *Sighs sadly.* Will this time be different? *Blinks* Wait, what am I saying? Like I like that stupid idiotic farm boy with really nice hair... *Leaves.* Scene description: The Girl and Boy part ways with their shadows forming the outlines of the HERO and the BEAST. Narrator: And so, the story begins again. SCENE NAME: DAY OF REMEMBERING. GIRL *Clutching her head in great pain. Her hair is disheveled, and she’s wearing what appears to be a sleeping gown with a coat haphazardly thrown onto it.* Uggghh…* BOY *Walks in from Stage Right to Stage Left. He is still wearing his armor but has a sleepy look to him as well.* There you are, the headmaster ordered lights out hours ago. *He notices her state. He quickly goes to comfort her.* Is something wrong? *He hugs her.* GIRL *Closes her eyes.* This stupid war…it’s driving me insane. BOY …You mean you weren’t already? GIRL *Laughs slightly* Oh, so now you tell a joke. Wow. The world really is ending. BOY It’s not ending, we just need to kill the monster that threatens our home.
GIRL …Can you? BOY That’s what the legends say. GIRL *Pushes the boy always slightly, but she’s still in his arms.* That’s not what I’m asking! I’m asking if you have to! The last time we fought, it ended with both of us dying! BOY The last time we barely knew each other, this timeScene: The two stare at each other for a moment, a light lowers, causing their shadows to appear as their previous selves. GIRL ….Last time? BOY I…must have misspoke. GIRL Right…I should go to bed. Good night, sweet prince. BOY Heh, same to you. FADE OUT SCENE NAME: DAY OF BREAKING Scene: The Girl and the Boy are standing across from each other, the Boy is holding a large staff in one hand, and a sword in the other. He is dressed in armor with long robes woven in. All in all, he looks like a warrior mixed with a wizard. The Girl, on the other hand, is more like a wizard mixed with a warrior. She’s holding a spear with various runes on it and has robes with plates attached. Unlike the Boy, she is holding a helmet in her free hand. The Boy’s gaze is sad, but steely, while the Girl’s expression is clearly pained. GIRL Does…does it have to be this way? BOY It doesn’t! *Steps forward.* GIRL *Steps back in fear.*
BOY *Notices this and stops in his tracks.* I… *Clenches fist.* I know that the headmaster wants you killed because of your bloodline, but…he doesn’t have to know thatGIRL What? Are you planning on faking my death or something? He’ll know I’m still alive as long as that candle burns. I can’t believe this… This entire war, all because he and his want to stay in power, so they conjure demons to fight. Only my kind… BOY And your kind is the ones who are the ones who are SUPPOSED to stop them. GIRL This is all just so…stupid! *Throws her hands up in anger.* BOY I know, but that’s why you need to come with me. Together, we canGIRL No, we can’t! So long as bastards like him are in power, there’s nothing we can do. Better to burn it all down and start again… BOY And what about everyone else? The people who are just trying to live their lives! Your plan…it’s just too risky! GIRL I know that! It’s just…*She looks at the helmet in her hands.* I just can’t think of anything else to do. BOY *Reaches out* Then let meGIRL Do you have any plan that doesn’t involve me being subjugated to a corrupt court? Any plan that doesn’t involve a book written by an unsteady hand?! BOY *Is silent for a time.* BEAST *Snorts* Yeah, that’s what I thought. *Dons the helmet. It’s reminiscent of a Bear’s head. Giving her the appearance of a BEAST.* Do what you gotta do…Hero. HERO …Same to you, Beast.
Scene: They give each other one last look, then, a moment passes between them. The Beast goes up to the Hero and gives him a kiss. They hold that pose for a minute, then break off. The Beast turns and leaves, not looking back once. The Hero touches his lips, then turns to leave. Their shadows start as the PREVIOUS VERSIONS but become their own as they move further and further away. Narrator: This is the story of a Beast and a Hero, two forces, always meeting, always parting. One a protagonist, the other an antagonist. The roles change sometimes, one might be a VILLIAN, the other might be a BEAUTY. One might be a DEVIL and one might be an ANGEL, but the two will always meet. And the story will play out again. THE END
Julia Waters Graphic Design
Fade Away Abbie Bambilla I thought I could be Who I wanted to By looking for me In a reflection of you
Serenely Forgotten Troy Scott Photo
Man Made or God Made? Sierra Swearingen Film Photo
Divergences James B. Nicola Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. . . — Robert Frost It’s not two roads that diverge, Mr. Frost, but two a day, at least. And the wood’s not just yellow but black-and-blue as well, particularly when the sun is swallowed by night, rain clouds, or thickets of unfriendly foliage—even crimson at times, when the forest’s afire as with pangs of impetuous passion. And the ground underfoot might be of quicksand and mire and swallow you whole—or of lava, and scorch you before it burns you up. That’s what a day’s stroll is like today, Mr. Frost, in the forest of life. Often you don’t even know when you come to a crossroads, especially if the woods are dark, until a friend with a flashlight comes by and shows a better way, just off to the side, suddenly rendered obvious. Or the path might be lit, but you’re heading toward the darkness, needing only a fresh pair of eyes to blink and blurt, “Look over there!”
I met Brian, a superb stage manager with a sweet disposition, during summer stock. We were just out of college a year or two. That fall he landed an entry-level job at a national cable-TV channel (still a new phenomenon) and made the big move to New York: in his case, Jersey City, a quick commute during daylight hours. One of the anchormen at the station— telegenic, friendly-if-not-flirtatious, and married—was noticeably nice to everyone, but particularly nice to Brian, who fell heels-over-head-over-heelsover-head-over-heels. He shivered when he told me of his unrequited affection. As in the Dorothy Parker poem, his sun went dim and his moon turned black because the one he loved didn’t love him back, only appreciated him, albeit a lot, while filling his world nine hours a day. Brian could not stop the shiver, and I grew concerned. I asked him if he ever had chills and sweats, too. “Every night.”
“And you feel like you want to throw up for no reason?” “Every day. How did you know?” “What you’re suf- fering from is called anxiety. How long has this been going on?” “Six months,” he said. “You’ve been shivering like that for sixth months, non-stop?” Almost choking, he nodded, big. “You’ve gotta get a new job.” “It’s a great job.” “Not if it makes you feel like that.” I knew because I had had a few friends in college who’d been mired in similar situa- tions with charming and handsome males who were sexually ambiguous, thirsty for adoration, and insensitive as vampires to the untried hearts they pierced, mutilated, and destroyed. Several of my friends were psychology majors and told me about anxiety attacks: “They arise when anger is misdirected toward oneself that should be directed elsewhere.” Such an attack would subside, but only with time and distance, which my friend sorely needed and sadly lacked. Now, this television host could have just been a very nice, very attractive guy. But attractive people are called that because they attract. When such a person is your boss and clasps your elbow tenderly and whispers, “Really good job, Brian,” so softly in your ear that the scent of his after-shave lotion makes your breath skip and your heart miss a beat or two or ten or a thousand; and later, when he discovers his mug has been surreptitiously filled from the pot of coffee he knows only you could have brewed, so from across the studio he mouths you a silent THANK-YOU with that certain smile and oh-so-secret wink.... Well, you can understand how big-hearted, virginal Brian fell as he did from the cliff into the abyss. Then I got a telephone call in the middle of the night. Brian had swallowed a whole bottle of pills. “What pills?” “Aspirin, I think. I feel like I’m going to die.” Cab fare was not accessible at night (this was before ATMs), and Queens to Jersey City after midnight, via subway and PATH train, proved to be a very long trip. But finally I got to his apartment. I buzzed. No answer. I buzzed again. No answer. I held the button in. The door buzzed back. Thank God. He had simply fallen asleep. We called 911—I made him dial, as if I knew he’d be needing the practice—and I went with him while he got his stomach pumped. At dawn he seemed grateful, possibly even receptive to another blast from my flash- light of common sense. “Get a new job.” “But I have a great job.” “Not if you end up dead.” “It’s a really great job.” The crossroads was new; the dialogue, painfully old. But I did im- press upon him the danger he was in. “There are other jobs you’d be good at. Great ones, even.” “I love my job!” “At least you’d be alive.” That shut him up.
I pointed out his other options. The safest and smartest was to quit his current job cold turkey, like a bad habit. He had friends (like me) who could help tide him over with funds, even a couch to flop on, if finding another post ended up taking a long time. He re- jected this with “I’m repaying college loans.” “You won’t be repaying anything if you’re not around.” He didn’t argue that point, but neither was he convinced. “At least start sending out resumes.” “It really is a really great job and I really do love it,” he stammered, his mantra finally fading into the unreal nonsense it really was. But Love, even unrequited Love, does not give up without a fight, for just then his shivering swelled, not unlike a distant thunder- roll of doom. The Black Bog Monster was smacking its lips and drooling. I began noticing a pattern in myself, though, laced with its own darkness. You see, Brian was not the only friend that year to call me in the middle of the night while contemplating the final act. Years earlier, those psych-major friends suggested to me that, though I might have made a terrifically compassionate therapist, I did not have the temperament for the profes- sion. For when a friend told me their woes, sure, I would listen—till the wee hours of the morning, if necessary. But, alack-and-alas, I would get upset, too, as if I could ease their misery by assuming some of it the way a sponge absorbs moisture, crazy as that might sound. Friends used to tease me for my uncanny knack of finding the saddest person at a party, plopping down next to them, and invariably ending up wretched, or nearly, myself. But a shoulder worthy of being cried upon, I was beginning to realize, could not be made up exclusively of sponge material; it needed at least a skeleton of steel, which, in my early twenties, I lacked. Sponge, after all, can get waterlogged and soggy as any bog or quicksand; steel, which makes up the casings of most flashlights, can withstand a surfeit of such moist things as tears, blood, and spewing guts. There was something else about my temperament that cast a deep shade: I would never forgive myself were I to lose, even through no fault of my own, a patient, client, or friend. And Brian’s situation was way out of my league. Think of that midnight phone call. He had asked me to come to his apartment to hold his hand, or whatever, and I couldn’t say no. But all the time he was waiting for me, he was in danger! Why hadn’t I the common sense to insist he call for an ambulance as soon as he told me what he had done? I later learned that my pattern of behavior defined a psychological archetype not unknown in shoulder-to-cry-on personalities: the persona of the Rescuer, or Savior. Well, I didn’t want to be an archetype or a persona; I wanted to be a person.
A few weeks later, my phone rang again after midnight. This time I made Brian promise to dial 911 immediately, then call me right back to confirm that he had done so. That dawn, his stomach pumped for the second time, I suggested that I wasn’t doing him any good, since he was never going to take my advice and change the situation that was making him miserable. He wasn’t even going to try! When he didn’t disagree, I knew I was right. Unable to succeed as his savior, I had somehow become his enabler. The force of Brian’s inertia was so strong, I felt, if he kept reaching for my hand to pull him up and out of the pit, one of these days he would pull me down instead. I was at a crossroads of my own; I couldn’t make Brian come with me, but needed to find, for myself, a path with solid footing—and light. So once I confirmed that he was keeping his weekly therapy appointments, I told him two things. First, I thought that his doctor’s number was a better one to call in the middle of the night than mine. Second, I would not be seeing him again. The Buddhists call this cruel-to-be-kind-ness “ruthless compassion.” Through a mutual friend, though, I kept up on Brian’s progress. Within a few weeks—guess what—he got a new job. And stopped shaking. And I, at last, exhaled. Today, I still listen when people tell me their travails, but I no longer get morose myself. Rather, I steel up, try to be effective rather than emotional, and, if they ask for advice, offer it. Then I exhale. And when I do think of Brian, at times like this, it is with the fervent prayer that all souls overly fond of the dark manage to travel in woods that are verdant and bright, on foot- paths where the ground is solid and sure, and that the air there is sweet-scented, as by honeysuckle, after a rain.
Richard Boneski III 179 Graphic Design
What the Duck? Sierra Swearingen Colored Pencil
Frogs on a Log Sierra Swearingen Graphite Pencil
The Last Knight of Silvergrove Tyler Garrison Silvergrove was lost to the Gluttony. Barely two months after the wretched thing had first appeared, Dean Oakes lay in bed, staring at the ceiling as the window scattered morning sunlight into a fragmented spectrum across the stone walls. His attention sank back down to the lover sleeping next to him. He smiled and reached up to play with Cedric’s blond curls. For the last time, a cruel thought reminded him. His smile died. Despair couldn’t take root in his heart, though. He couldn’t let it. This was the last day the people of Silvergrove would see their earl or his protector. He doubted much could be done to salvage their opinion of Lord Seward, but Dean wouldn’t let their memory of himself be tarnished by the sight of fear. As he washed and dressed, he had a hard time shaking the resentment for Seward that he’d grown to share with the rest of the citizens. Obstinance and cowardice had ruled the earl’s decisions for the last two months, keeping them from committing to any attempt to escape the Gluttony. Now, with every other knight consumed by the thing, and only a paltry force of ordinary soldiers remaining, what hope they may have once had was withered. Dean had begun donning his armor, starting with the boots and working his way up, when Cedric woke. No words were spoken, even as Cedric helped Dean with the heavier and more complex parts of the platemail. While they set the breastplate in place, Dean’s gaze reached for Cedric, but the other man’s eyes slid away from him. The only sound was the shifting and clinking of metal until they finished and Cedric returned to the bed. Dean lifted his sword, and only then did he hear the tears. He set the blade aside and moved back to his lover. Cedric had his head down, facing away. Dean mounted the bed, its frame creaking as his greaves sank deep into the mattress. He shuffled up behind Cedric and wrapped his arms around him. Countless reassurances, confessions, and affirmations tumbled through his mind, each more unsatisfying and unfitting as the last. He had no words that could alleviate the pain radiating from Cedric.
“You’re abandoning me!” He pushed Dean away and stood up. “You’re abandoning Locke, and though she might never let it show, I know she’s hurting as much as I am. God, you’re abandoning the entire damn city! All to throw your life away alongside that senseless old bastard!” He turned away and looked out the window. Dean stood again and picked up his sword, watching the light sparkle and gleam off its pale silver coating. “I’m trying to give the people some hope.” “What, that they can perish with dignity?” Cedric huffed. “What they need isn’t a hollow show of pride. What they need is a leader.” A moment passed in the harsh, icy air. “That’s not me, Cedric. I’m sorry.” He sheathed the sword and left the room. The halls of Silvergrove Keep had an eerie, almost surreal sense to them as he walked to the throne room, his steps echoing more than they should have. To his left were tapestries showing the Silvergrove of past generations, bursting at the seams with people and culture and commerce under a bright summer sun. The windows on his right gave view to a desolate city under the same sun, but which had long since stopped bothering to even rebuild itself. Eight weeks prior, he would have been looking out over tens of thousands of people, and now barely a few thousand sat trembling in what homes remained. Beyond, fields of shining white flowers stretched out to the jagged ridge that formed a circle around Silvergrove. It wasn’t as though they hadn’t made an effort. They tried to kill the Gluttony, but its roiling, distended body was as much beyond their ability to vanquish it as it was their ability to comprehend. They tried to escape, but leaving the city walls during the day invoked the ravenous wrath of the creature itself, and attempts to leave at night were met by hordes of its pale-fleshed minions. Those would have been easier to slay, were they not wearing the faces and bodies of those who Silvergrove had long-since tearfully buried. So they gave up trying, and instead sat and waited, bound by the will of the earl and the threat of the shapeless thing besieging them. It appeared each evening without fail, and always from west, with the setting sun behind it. It would prowl and slither through the streets until it had devoured some arbitrary number of people. On days that they dared to retaliate, managing to draw some of its sickly, translucent blood, it demanded more. This earned it the only name any could think to give it: the Gluttony. Cedric was right, the only hope Dean could give the people was hollow, but the hope Cedric wanted to give them was cruel. They’d thrown their best at the monster and all it had done was deplete their numbers.
The time for hope was over. All that was left for them was to die on their feet. The throne room was as barren of life as the rest of the keep. The only people there to meet Dean were the earl himself and two of his few remaining retainers. They were helping him don his own armor, the red of the cloths wrapped into it bleeding into the reflective silver plating. Exhaustion weighed Seward’s face down, pulling the sallow skin into his thick, grey beard. “My lord,” Dean greeted in an even tone as he knelt. Seward approached, nearly fully armored, and gestured for him to rise. “You will never know how heartening it is to still have you by my side, here at the end of us all.” One of the retainers handed Dean the earl’s helmet, but Seward shook his head. “We both know that all this armor is just for... appearances. The people might as well see our faces as we ride out.” “The better to remember us with scorn?” Dean replied. Loyalty didn’t require civility. A single, creaking laugh fell out of Seward. “Perhaps, but I doubt they’ll even have enough time to curse our memory.” He turned and made towards a door that led to the stables. Dean began to follow when a swift stomping came up from behind him. The second he turned, a brutal force slammed into his jaw, sending him staggering. He looked up in time to see the fist that had struck him reach down and grab his breastplate, pulling him up to eye-level with a woman in fur-trimmed chainmail. “I suppose,” Dean grunted, “that was for what I’m doing right now?” Locke’s face was nearly as red as the hair reaching down to her chin, and her brow was a ravine. “In general, yes,” she spat. “I’d also give you what you deserve specifically for the pain you’re causing Cedric, but luckily you’re letting the Gluttony do that for me.” She pushed him away and crossed her arms. “Captain Locke,” the earl said with almost no inflection, “please don’t harm my last knight. Your service has been well-appreciated, but—” “I don’t want to hear one more goddamned word out of your cur mouth!” She very nearly drew her sword right there, but stepped back and took a calming breath. “I suppose you’re going to say the same things Cedric has,” Dean sighed. “Try and convince me to stay?” “Oh, no, I’ve done all I came down here to do. And staying wouldn’t do you any good, anyways. Since you’re dead-set on killing yourselves, we’re going to at least make use of it.” She sneered at his confused expression. “While you two face the Gluttony, the rest of the garrison and I will be leading the remaining citizens out of the city. A mad dash to the western break in the ridge while you engage the creature to the east.”
“You really think you’ll make it?” “Those... things the Gluttony sends out at night have never appeared during the day, and we’ve never seen the Gluttony in two places at once. I don’t know why that is, but if it means you can keep its attention while everyone else escapes, I don’t care.” “I meant, you really think I’ll last long enough for you to make it?” Locke’s glower intensified. “You’d better! You’re a knight, for God’s sake. And I’ll never let Cedric live it down if it turns out he fell in love with some wimp who can’t even fight well enough to keep an unspeakable horror at bay.” Dean chuckled for second, then blanched under Locke’s glare. “Now hold on, Captain,” Seward began, “you’re taking my people—” “I swear to the Lord above, if you open your wretched mouth one more time, I will crumple that crown on your head and shove it so far up your ass you’ll be wearing it again!” While the earl and his retainers stood in aghast silence, Locke stormed away, shouting over her shoulder, “Stay alive long enough that the rest of us don’t die, or Saint Peter himself won’t be able to stop me from throwing you out of Heaven!” Half a smile crossed Dean’s face. She might’ve given him a bruised cheek, but Locke had also given him purpose. Drive. Hope, even, even it it wasn’t for himself. Dean and Seward were nearly to the eastern gate when Cedric ran up to them. The robes of the earl’s chief librarian fluttered around his slim frame. He’d almost sewn up all the parts that had been torn when the previous chief librarian was killed. “Dean, wait!” Looking into Cedric’s face, it took all of the knight’s will not to jump down and rush into his arms. “I’m not going to try to dissuade you. I want to, but, with Locke’s plan...” His eyes dropped. “I’m so sorry.” Dean wasn’t sure he’d even spoken loud enough to be heard until Cedric’s gaze shot back up. “You deserve so much better than someone who leapt at the chance to sacrifice himself. If Locke’s plan succeeds, promise me you’ll find that person out there.” “Dean Oakes of Silvergrove, I deserve exactly what I’m looking at, and nothing less.” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “So I’m coming with you.” “The devil you’re not! The mere thought of bringing you anywhere near the Gluttony makes me sick. No, you’re going with Locke and, and...” Cedric was reaching up, his face set. “We both know you’re not winning this fight. The question isn’t
even if you’re walking away from it. It’s if they’re walking away from it,” he said, gesturing to the far end of the city, where Locke and her soldiers had gathered the people. “And regardless of whether or not they do, I don’t want to be with them. The only place I want to be is beside you. Or, behind you, I suppose, since you’ve only got the two horses.” Dean looked at the clear sky and bit his lip. He blinked away the tears welling up in his eyes and sighed. “Well, you’ve been behind me quite a lot before, so I suppose I might as well die that way, too.” Cedric grinned as Dean took his hand and helped him up onto his horse. He turned to let the earl know they were ready to go, but Seward had gone ahead while they argued. He was already among the silver flowers, slumped on his horse. They heard the poor animal whinny with fear as a great, shining mass rose up out of the ground before him. The Gluttony was all translucent flesh, the same color as the flowers, teeth and twisting limbs writhing about it, with a single, iridescent eye staring down. Dean’s breath caught in his throat looking at the thing. He’d seen it countless times; he’d watched as it devoured his friends and comrades and thundered through their shops and houses and oozed down their roads, soaking up blood and seeping out despair. Even at such a distance, his horse began to back away upon the sight of it. He wanted it to. He— He felt Cedric’s arms wrap around his body, and his chin rest against his neck. The terror drained from him, and he urged his horse forward. He reached up to caress Cedric’s face and twist a couple locks of his hair, turning so they could kiss as they passed through the city gate. Cedric whispered only three words into Dean’s ear as they approached their end, and Dean repeated them back to him. They were all he needed, and no matter what it consumed, they were more than the monster before him would ever have.
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The Unsent Letter Nikki Johnson It was days like this he couldn’t think. His heart scrambled for peace, while his mind sat, locked and ready to enact World War Three. Andy spent months following this blonde beauty whose name he later discovered is Claudette. Pretty. Claudette works for Perks coffee, a couple of blocks from his residence. Andy is there almost daily, and sometimes he doesn’t order coffee, but instead partakes in his favorite pastime, people watching. Something about analyzing people in their natural state intrigued him, such as when their face registered surprise or embarrassment. On Wednesdays, Claudette arrived at three, which was perfect, because he had another letter to give her and struggled with the idea of whether or not he should hand it to her or leave it in her locker, like the other letters he’s given her. Claudette’s not a full-time employee, like many of the other baristas because on her off days she attends the university. You’re doing it again, Andy. Stop staring. He quickly diverted his eyes and stared at the winkles in his palms before surveying the room again. “Hey Andy, can I get you anything?” she asked. “No thanks Clauds, but thanks for asking.” God, she’s so pretty. “Alright, just so you know, we close in 30 minutes,” she smiled that billion-dollar smile before heading back behind the counter, leaving behind the delicious scent of perfume in her absence. Several minutes had passed and people stopped coming in to order. Andy walked toward the counter to speak with Claudette, clenching onto the letter in his pocket. “Hey, I think I’ll take that drink now, if you don’t mind.” She didn’t bother asking what he wanted anymore, because she already knew the answer. Andy was a one trick pony and rarely ventured to new territory. He watched as she prepped a to-go cup with a fancy syrup and poured the coffee into it.
“Thanks m’lady, I’ll catch you later,” he said awkwardly and made a beeline for the front door. Once outside he sipped his coffee and searched for a good sitting spot. Seeing Claudette tonight got him curious. She wasn’t as talkative toward him as she usually was. Of course, she was polite, but she didn’t sit and talk to him as she had before. Today felt different. It always felt like they were on the verge of something, and it was gone. He needed to find out why. Andy retraced his steps to the first time he followed Claudette home. He told himself that he just wanted to make sure she got home safely, but the truth is he has been drawn to her since the day they met and he wanted to feel that closeness again. He would occasionally send her little notes with excerpts from some of his favorite pieces of poetry or plays. One month, he sent her an entire act from Romeo and Juliette and laughed to himself when she mentioned it during one of his visits. She never seemed bothered by it, until he mistakenly sent her pieces of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, and it put her on high alert to find the person who wrote the notes. He never understood how anyone could detest Poe, because the man was a literary genius, but understood that he needed to dial back this infatuation with her. Andy finished drinking his coffee and began walking in the direction of Claudette’s home. She wouldn’t be home for another seven minutes, which gave him enough time to get settled into his favorite hiding spot, the only thing missing was popcorn and he didn’t have time to cook a bag, so peanut M&Ms would have to do while he waited to give her a letter of apology, none other than in the form of poetry only Ralph Waldo Emerson could describe. Think me not unkind and rude That I walk alone in grove and glen; I go to the god of the wood To fetch his word to men. Claudette finally arrived, it took her much longer than her usual seven minutes to return to her place of residence and this time she wasn’t alone. She had a buffoon wearing a striped polo popped, hanging on her every move. Good god! Are those khakis?? He huffed. Andy’s face contorted watching them and watching his hand caress her lower back. His eyes flared with momentary anger before returning his gaze to her.
Barely conscious, a yawn escaped his hooded lids. The realization that she didn’t know he existed saddened him. He was drawn to her beauty, how fragile she looked and he wished his fingers were mimed with the beast, so he could feel her too. This boy was no gentleman at all, but a user of all things beautiful. How could she be interested in some meat head who probably couldn’t carry an intellectual conversation, unlike himself, who could speak to her the way Romeo spoke to Juliette during the balcony scene of Act II Scene II. He would recite every line to her with the purest of intentions. She was the type of woman who deserved to be romanced, not treated like an enslaved Cinderella. She was too entranced by the athlete to notice a nerd like him, nonetheless, he still wore the same clothes from yesterday. He gave them a quick whiff before yakking on his own stench. The thought of her with anyone but himself triggered him in the worst possible way, because when he entered that mindset again, it made him think about hurting others. Don’t go there, Andy. You’re finally free. Sadness hid behind steely eyes as he brushed a thick, spiraled curl away from his furrowed brows. I have to have her. I will have her. Andy contemplated whether or not he should give her the letter so he waited out front a little while longer before noticing the light from her bedroom window turned on. Claudette appeared in front of it with that man, if he could really be called that based on the way he groped her like some lovesick teenager. Andy found himself gravitating across the street to her door step, where he lightly jingled the handle and let himself inside. He had never been inside her home before and got a whiff of a pleasant, yet intoxicating scent that couldn’t belong to anyone other than Claudette. He wanted to explore the premises further while she was distracted, but was alarmed by the clothing scattered in a trail leading up to the top of the stairwell, where the sound of muffled passion took place. It enraged him. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t love him. They got along so well and had so much in common aside from their taste in authors. He felt he understood her, possibly more than she understood herself and this is what puzzled him the most. Andy reached into his pocket and pulled out the letter he was so desperate to give to her and angrily crumbled it as he reached for his pistol. He was quite certain what he needed to do as he stalked upstairs. He crept down the hall, careful not to touch anything, before stopping in front of the cracked doorway where the sounds originated. He cocked his gun and
quietly entered the room. Neither Claudette nor Mr. Popped Collar noticed his entrance as he walked passed them to sit in the lounge chair that shielded him from the light that shun through her bedroom window. Andy crossed his legs and watched their love making, while occasionally squeezing the handle of the pistol. “That was amazing,” Claudette mused as she leaned in for a kiss. “I couldn’t agree more,” said Andy coolly. He leaned forward, dangling his pistol around his ring finger, while his other arm rested on the armrest. Both Claudette and the Guido gasped simultaneously. “Oh my god, Andy! What are you doing here?” she screamed. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you and the better question is what is he doing here?” Andy’s eyes landed on Mr. Naked Popped Collar momentarily before scanning her body salaciously. “I don’t know who you are bro, but you better leave before I kick your creepy little ass,” said the naked man, whose voice quivered, preventing the effectiveness of his threat. “Claudette, who the hell is this guy??” “Tsk, tsk. Don’t be rude. We’re all adults here,” Andy said. The naked man laughed. “Rude? You must have been dropped on your head as a child if you think what you’re doing now isn’t the very definition of rude!” “Lower. Your. Voice,” said Andy sternly. “I won’t say it again. The next person that shouts or attempts any sudden movement will be acquainted with this pistol,” he said calmly, waving the gun around to show he meant business. From that moment on, they remained silent. “Now, I do believe Miss Claudette and I have some unfinished business. So, Mr. Meat Head, please close your ears while the real adults talk.” Andy laughed at the naked man’s revolted face. He waited for him to make a sound, move a little so he could shoot him. He really wanted nothing more than to shoot him, but refrained for Claudette’s sake. “Ok, Andy. Let’s talk. What can I do for you?” Her voice shook when she spoke as she rubbed her arms aggressively to steady herself. “Well, for starters. I’d like to know why you lead me on,” he said coolly, still dangling the gun in his hand. “What?!” she gasped. “Quiet now, Claudette. You wouldn’t want to upset me while in this condition, now would you?” Andy smiled sweetly. “You lead me on. I deserve to know why.” “I—I didn’t.” she said, genuinely puzzled. “Yes, yes you did. I’ve spent hours, days, months in that coffee shop. We’ve spoken countless times and you always knew what I liked to drink.”
“Andy, it’s my job to know these things. It’s company policy to give great customer service so people keep coming back to us,” she said shyly. Andy’s eyes flashed with hints of anger, causing Claudette to shake and her lover to flinch. “So, you used me?!” Andy screamed, flying out of his chair, the gun still in his hand. He raised it, pointing it at her. “Andy, no!” she sobbed. “I didn’t use you. I am so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt you.” “Yes, you did!” he shouted. “All of those letters I sent that you claimed to love. Was that also a lie?” Her eyes flashed with surprise. “What? You sent those to me? Why didn’t you say anything?” “Stop!” he raised his other hand in protest. “Stop lying! Don’t act like you didn’t know those were from me. The Oscar for the worst actress most certainly goes to you.” “Hey, asshole! She said she was sorry, so pick on someone your own size!” said the naked man. “Brian, stay out of this, please!” Claudette cried. “Ah, so naked man has a name.” Andy stated, soaking in the words before proceeding. “Brian, I think you should listen to the lady.” “Who the hell would want a freak like you, anyway?” Brian taunted. Andy smiled aiming his weapon at Brian’s forehead. “I’ve heard enough of your talking Brian. Now it’s time for you to leave.” He fired his weapon, the bullet entered into Brian’s skull, blood splattering across the back of the wall. His face briefly registered the surprise as his body went limp. “Noo!!” screamed Claudette as she tried to crawl to Brian. “That’s enough Claudette. I’ve had enough of your cat and mouse games and I must end this once and for all,” said Andy, not the slightest bit remorseful. Claudette’s eyes widened before closing tightly shut, contemplating how she would look dead, because she knew what was next. Andy raised his gun once more, this time aiming it at himself. “I wish you could see what I see Claudette. We would have been perfect together, had you given us a chance.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out the crumbled letter and tossed it onto the mattress. “Maybe in another life,” and with the pull of the trigger, his lifeless body hit the floor with a thud.
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White Hands Marina Rubin I sat at a sidewalk café drinking warm apple cider on a hot summer day, a perfect recipe to keep cool, when my friend Rupert appeared out of thin air like a genie, and greeted me with an abrupt and surprising, “Are you still looking for a cleaning lady?” “I am always looking for cleaning lady,” I laughed. “Why? Do you have one?” “Yes! Her name is Violetta. She is terrific!” I fluttered with hope, like a caterpillar. My saga with cleaning ladies has been going on for years. I had made countless attempts to find reliable, hardworking help, the latest one being someone named Anka. I found her number on a bulletin board at Applebee’s. When I called her, she announced she could fit me in on June second. But it’s February, I stammered. It wasn’t just me who had the cleaning-lady problem. My uncle, who lives on Park Avenue installed cameras to watch his nanny with the kids, but what he discovered was that his maid liked to take breaks in the middle of the day, lie down, open her uniform, spread Greek yogurt between her large thighs, whistle to the family dog, the cherished Labrador Retriever, and watch daytime soaps as the gullible pup feasted on his dairy dish. There was also my unfortunate neighbor, Shoebox, who had her Cartier stolen by a reputable cleaning service. “And still they left the toilet bowl filthy!” she fumed when she saw me in the elevator. “I am in! Give me this magic cleaning woman’s number,” I demanded of Rupert. “Well, let me ask her first,” he said, trying to follow some protocols of courtesy. Sweet, gentle Rupert, with his timid smile and seventies glasses, he was only one-fourth of the gang. Four friends, always together, like four corners of the same rectangle, the Beatles, the four-leaf clover—Rupert, Maxwell, Eric, and Jonah. All in their late thirties, each attractive in his own way, not one of them married. Each had his own apartment, earned a living, lifted weights at the gym. Whenever there was a party, they came in separate cars. I assumed they were hoping they would get lucky, but they never
approached women, they just hung out together, talking, laughing, drinking. I always admired their kind of friendship, the male solidarity that surpassed any need for skirt-chasing. I met Rupert when I was still in college. Maxwell arranged the blind date. Rupert called me up and, in that aristocratic indecisive manner that I grew to love over the next fifteen years, asked me where I lived. When I told him Luna Park, he said, “Oh, no, it’s too far, I might not make it.” I wasn’t sure what that meant since he lived only fifteen minutes away. “But if I make it, I’ll call you from the payphone,” he assured me with new-found gallantry. He made it. His car was a big brown mass of scrap metal, and he asked me to get in the trunk and crawl to the front seat since the doors were sealed shut. We ate ice cream on the boardwalk. He told me he was on suspension from Fordham, pending disciplinary action for playing cards in the cafeteria. Rupert did finish law school but he couldn’t pass the bar exam, so he made a living deciphering legal mumbo jumbo for newly arrived immigrants. It didn’t require a license. “I’m going over to Maxwell’s, want to join?” I asked Rupert once I had finished my cider. “No. I must study for the bar,” he nodded with all the futility of his first brown car. I paid the bill and left the café. I called Shoebox from the train station and told her about the new cleaning lady, a woman named Violetta, who came highly recommended from a source I could trust. Shoebox, who got her nickname because she loved shoes and also because the word “box” was a part of her fourteen-letter last name, Chernoboxerski, began to chant hallelujah (she’d seen the disarray in my apartment), and then asked, cautiously, “How much does she charge?” I came into Maxwell’s pre-war building through a side entrance and took the elevator to his floor. When I rang the bell, I heard him yell through the door, “What did you forget?” “Nothing,” I wavered, when he opened the door. “Oh, it’s you!” Maxwell kissed me on the cheek and showed me in. “Sorry. My cleaning lady just left. Did you see her? Did you run into her in the lobby?” “No. I didn’t see anyone,” I shrugged, looking at the pillows scattered about on his sofa. “This cleaning lady...is she a friend of Rupert’s?” “Yes. Violet.” I liked how Maxwell gave this woman’s name a lovely transformation. But then again, Maxwell was a lovely man—tall, beautiful, with curly black hair and big blue eyes, an Ivy League grad, an only child, a
great catch for someone. I met him at Goldman Sachs, where I did my first internship and he was already a successful algorithmic trading programmer. We used to go to the cafeteria to eat half-priced food. He told me about his friends Rupert, Eric, and Jonah, the trips they took to Mexico, Canada, Vegas. One day Maxwell had an epiphany. He fell asleep on the train, and when he woke up he had no idea if he was going to or from work. “If I have no recollection of a day, it means I haven’t lived,” he tried to explain to me over a BLT. “It means I wasted a day. And what is my day really like? Lines of code rushing at me, like horses!” So he quit his job. At first he worked in real estate, said it was more important to be outside in the light than to make a lot of money. Then he was distributing fliers on the street. Then chopping lettuce at a salad bar on Wall Street, but it was just too stressful, so he quit that as well. “Would you like some coffee, or tea?” Maxwell asked, putting a kettle on the stove. “Tea would be great, thank you.” I watched him maneuver two mugs from a pyramid of dirty dishes, cups, and forks mounting in his kitchen sink. “I leave tomorrow,” he said. “These people are paying me ten gees to go to Bogotá, drop off a package, then go to Cartagena and pick up a letter. All expenses paid, first class!” I shook my head. “Isn’t that nice? You are now a runner for the Colombian drug cartel. How did ‘these people’ even find you?” I flexed my fingers in make-believe quotation marks. “I put an ad on Craigslist: “Available for odd jobs, no job too small or too odd.” He beamed proudly. “By the way, how are your lessons going with Eric? You think you’ll pass this time?” “Who knows?” I frowned. “It’s only lesson number ninety-five this Sunday!” When Maxwell learned I failed my road test, he introduced me to Eric—miracle worker, beast on the road, best driving instructor around. Every Sunday for six months I sat in the driver’s seat, turning the big wheel as if steering the Titanic, while Eric, disgruntled and potbellied, shouted directions at me. “Go straight...Signal left...Let him pass...Don’t block...Stop right here.” He would get out of the car and go into a KFC. I would sit in the parking lot and wait for him to come out with a bucket of crispy chicken. “Go right...Beware of blind spot...Left,” he would continue, ravishing a wing, sucking on a thigh. With his foot on the instructor’s brake pedal, he loved to talk about women—how they all wanted to marry a doctor. “Why would anyone want to date a driving instructor when they can date a doctor?” Before you knew it, we would pull into a Dunkin’ Donuts
and Eric, fuming with hatred for the imaginary doctor, would toss the bones in the trash, go inside, and return with a box of Glazed Munchkins. His foot back on the brake pedal and powdered sugar all over his chin, we would continue our tour of local delicatessens. “What’s that?” I asked Eric one Sunday, pointing to his backseat. In my rear-view mirror, I noticed a large container with a broom, a mop with macaroni-like strands, Lysol, Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner, and a pair of yellow rubber gloves. “I was giving my cleaning lady a ride. She was late for her next appointment,” he said. “Is it the same cleaning lady who is Rupert’s friend?” “Yes. Viola. She is great!” Eric smiled, sipping a Diet Coke. “I drove her to the Upper East Side last night. She was cleaning the townhouse of some old man. I asked her if she needed a ride back but she said not to worry, she’ll take the train. Such a sweet girl.” I stared at the approaching traffic light with the concentration of a helmsman on a sinking ship. “But she left her cleaning supplies,” I finally managed, turning my head back. “Eyes on the road!” he shouted, as a cement truck crossed in front of us. Who was this woman? I heard she was from Siberia, someone said she was from Albania, but maybe she was from Armenia. I left a message for Rupert asking how much she charged, while dust gathered on my bookshelves and lay there like the snow of centuries. I thought about rolling up my sleeves, giving the old feather duster a try, but that would be unfair to my future cleaning lady. I had to present her with an adequately dirty household. I owed it to her. I went to the gym and ran into Jonah, friend number four, in the area designated for very muscular men. He was lifting a barbell with five large plates on each side. This was the same scrawny Jewish kid who did my first income tax return in college, and then everyone’s tax return, until he bought himself a BMW. Of course, there was no money left over to take a girl out for coffee, and the BMW still had “this is an airbag” stickers inside. Rumor had it that once, on a weekend trip to Vegas when the boys had hired hookers, Jonah asked his young lady if she was Jewish and when she said no, he sent her back, called the escort agency, and asked them to please send a Jewish hooker instead. Nowadays he was a bodybuilder and a financial advisor who had recently purchased a home without a mortgage. “Looking good, mister!” I praised, as he flexed his biceps. “Thanks, doll. How’s everything?”
“Same, same. Have you seen Rupert? He promised to set me up with a cleaning lady.” “Cleaning lady? Oh, you mean V.” He lit up. “V?” I made a face. “Let me guess, she cleans your place as well?” “Yes, she does,” he confirmed. “Violetta. I call her V, like V for Vendetta.” “What do you need a cleaning lady for?” I screamed. “Your house has no furniture!” At the end of the month when I had lost all hope, I finally heard from Rupert. “I’m sorry,” he said, sheepishly. “I spoke to Violetta. She can’t take you.” “Why not?” I asked, disappointed but not surprised. “She doesn’t take women.” “What does that mean!?” I demanded, suddenly a victim of blatant discrimination. When I updated Shoebox, she played devil’s advocate, “It’s much easier to clean a man’s house than a woman’s. A man would hardly notice a shit stain in the toilet, or soap scum on the shower door, but a woman? OH, no! A woman would actually check under the bed to see if the floor was mopped down there, and God forbid she finds a button, or an orange peel. That’s why she didn’t want you as a client. Too much pressure!” It must have been around Thanksgiving when we all gathered at a Japanese restaurant for Rupert’s thirty-ninth birthday. It was our usual crowd: the happy foursome and me. And her. “Violetta Sergeevna.” She extended her hand to me, like Princess Grace of Monaco. “Nice to meet you.” I smiled at the young woman. “I’ve heard so much about you.” She was nothing special. She was no Sofia Vergara in a French maid outfit. She was no porn star in a summer-house/cleaning-lady fantasy. She had pale auburn hair and faint freckles, her eyes were the color of a dim pond, and she had a long thin neck that made me think of Swan Lake. But her hands. That’s what gave her away, the smooth white hands with a French manicure and rhinestones shimmering at the tips. Hands that never held a rag or a plunger in their life. We sat cross-legged in a booth with sliding doors and a wall-to-wall painting of geishas serving tea. The jumbo sushi boat rested in the middle of the table like a flower arrangement. As we each reached out with our chopsticks for our favorite piece and toasted Rupert with hot sake, I
watched the cleaning lady with the fascination of a binocular-clad tourist on an African safari. She complimented one man, caressed the sleeve of another, stared passionately at the third, and laughed heartily with the fourth. Ironically, it didn’t disturb the dynamic of the group, the male friendship was perfectly intact. She was just a dot in the middle of their rectangle, a centerpiece, and each man purred like a pacified jungle cat. It was later in the ladies room, applying lip-gloss in the mirror, when I finally asked her, “So, have you always been a cleaning lady?” “God, no!” she exclaimed, offended. Maybe it was the hot sake, or the fact that she has been spending too much time in the company of men, but she decided to make me her confessor. “I’m not really a cleaning lady,” she started. “I came here with my husband from Almaty. Rupert handled our immigration paperwork. My husband got a job in construction. We were doing just fine but—he didn’t like me sitting idle at home, said I was making a dent in the couch, called me Beloruchka.” She looked at me with wistful sadness. “So he put an ad on Craigslist: “cleaning woman available.” I didn’t even know until the calls started coming. Well, guess what?” She shook her head, agitated and a little drunk now. “I didn’t come here to break my back. I didn’t come to this country to scrub toilets. This is not my American dream!” She spoke briskly and severely, as if she were chopping wood in the forest. “I certainly showed him, hah? Now I have clients all over the Tri-State area, and some in Philadelphia.” Beloruchka. Even with my limited Russian I knew what that meant. Exact translation: white hands, signifying a woman who doesn’t like to get her hands dirty, someone who avoids housework at all costs. Clearly, housework was not the same as bed work. I stared at her. “What happened to the husband?” “We are still married,” she sighed. “I leave in the morning, Clorox and broom in hand. Visit my clients. I return in the evening with dollars, stuff them into the family savings jar. But I keep all the tips, and the gifts too,” she whispered, fumbling with the back of her dress. “Who knows? I might just land myself a new husband.” She turned around suddenly. “Shit! I think my hair is stuck.” As I attempted to rescue a long strand of auburn hair from the teeth of her zipper, I looked at her smooth, white, bird-like back sprinkled with tiny birthmarks, and I almost felt compassion for the Beloruchka. Then I remembered the weekend was fast approaching, and it was now clear that I would spend it cleaning my apartment—myself. “Here you go.” I pulled her zipper in an abrupt upward swoosh.
Sierra Swearingen Photo
Your Name Alkaid Tsuki 1918, Popov House He woke up to the sensation of sunlight stroking his bleary eyes and a whisper clogging up his ears. He turned away, hand pressed against his skull. There was a throbbing behind his vision. Just attempting to soothe it made his fingers feel numb. He pulled himself out of bed, waves of nausea filling his stomach as he peeked through a crack in his eyelids. The floor was bone cold beneath his feet, the walls were ice across his hands. He forced the nearest window open for a breath of much-needed air. The taste of clean aether crossed his tongue and filled his lungs. Then he rubbed his eyes until he found the strength to open them completely. Outside, frost licked the once green blanket of grass. The trees looked like freshly woven ice sculptures, a warm chill spilling through the windows. He gulped and rubbed one arm. It had been hot the previous night, long after the Checka had brought him to his new prison cell. It was the middle of July. Where did all of the ice come from? He blinked, rubbing his eyes once more, then opened them again. The ice remained. The sheet of frost was still there. A tall woman, taller than any man he’d ever seen, stood amidst the trees, gazing off into the horizon. With every warm breath of air, her silvery hair danced atop her head. Is that….? The woman turned to face the house and the boy inside. The woman bowed once, then turned back to watch the rising sun. The boy gulped and fetched the thick jacket from the desk. He threw it over his shoulders, shifting his shoulders to make the fabric a bit more comfortable, and silently stepped out of the house. The Cheka that watched him were still asleep. The boy was reasonably sure he saw the Sandman’s powder around their eyes. They weren’t likely to wake up soon. He opened the door to the outside and poked his head out. Contrary to the frost and ice, the air was warm, the breeze gentle. It felt more like the summer air he had left the previous night.
He closed the door behind him and stepped onto the grass. It was soft, like slippers, and gave without fight beneath his toes. Running was easier than it had been for some time. Nothing – neither abandoned branch nor blade of grass – grabbed him and made him stumble. The woman remained in the trees, surrounded by frost and growing snow. Her robes were made of the finest silks the boy had ever seen, dyed in a deep shady of ebony and embroidered with perfect snowflakes. Satin slippers covered her feet; pure white gloves protected her hands. The boy tried to look the woman in the eye. The woman wouldn’t turn to face him. “Are you Smrt?” the boy asked, surprised at the squeak in his growing voice. The woman cast a solemn glance upon the boy. “I am,” she answered with a slight tip of her head. “And what would you have me call you?” The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. Father didn’t say.” “I see.” Smrt looked back at the horizon. The boy followed her gaze. No, she wasn’t staring at the horizon. She was staring at Ipatiev House. The Romanovs were still in that house. “The Domovoy of Russia fell last night,” Smrt said. “He and his family painted the cellar red in blood.” The boy suddenly felt the chill of the snow. He looked up at Smrt, hugging the thick jacket closer to his body. “What?” he stammered. “What are you saying, Smrt?” Smrt turned her head completely. Even with her youth, Smrt’s long face bore heavy lines around the eyes. Her eyelids were swollen, colored a sickening shade of blue. “I’m sorry, child.” The boy stared at Smrt. If he dared to look away, the spell around him would break. The deafening silence, smothered only by the heavy beating in his heart, would shatter and stab him through. 1918, Ipatiev House Leonid knew what would happen if the Yurovsky’s men caught him sneaking around the hallways in the middle of the night. If they were feeling generous, they would kill him quickly. If they were angry – and they would be angry after being woken up in the middle of the night – he would be wishing for death by the time they were through with him. He opened the door to the Tsesarevich’s room and peeked inside. The room’s windows were still bolted shut, forcing Leonid to squint to see anything in the dark, dusty room. Alexei, he found, was buried in blankets, protected
from the splintery ground by the thick fabrics. His eyes were closed, but no matter how hard he stared – or attempted to – Leonid couldn’t tell if the boy was sleeping or only pretending to. Should I leave him be? None of them sleep well anymore. Leonid immediately shook his head. If he ran from this, he would never give himself another chance. Besides, the Tsar and his wife had been in Ipatiev House since April, separated from the rest of Russia thanks to the heavy hand of the Bolsheviks. Alexei and his sisters had been imprisoned there since May. It was the middle of July and their allowances as hostages were only growing lesser by the day. Soon, they would be deprived of everything, even the very light of the sun and the fresh air of a spring breeze. He crawled across the floor and shook Alexei’s shoulder. “Alexei,” he whispered. “Wake up. My prince.” Alexei opened one eye. “What’s the matter?” he asked in just as low a tone. “We were sent to bed hours ago.” Leonid looked at the door. He looked back to Alexei. “I heard the Checka talking,” he said. “They’re going to be sending me back to Uncle Ivan first thing tomorrow.” Alexei propped himself on his elbows. “So you’re saying goodbye? At this hour?” “This is your chance, Alexei. We can get you out of Ipatiev House.” “How?” Leonid grabbed at his dirty collar. “Change clothes with me.” 1918, Popov House Smrt let the boy collapse to his knees. “But that can’t be,” the boy squeaked. “Mama and Papa, they did nothing wrong.” “Those who seek to kill can find any reason for it,” Smrt said, bringing one long sleeve to her nose. Her deep lavender eyes fell shut as she heaved a slight sigh, so slight that the boy nearly missed it. “No matter what it costs their country.” The boy pressed his hand against his mouth and bit his tongue. The pain smothered the heat building behind his eyes, unclogged the blockage in his throat. “Smrt, will you take me there?” he asked. “I want…to see for myself.” Smrt pulled her sleeve away from her face and watched the boy wipe his hand across his swollen eyes. “Are you certain? I would not even blame the bravest soldier for wishing to avoid the sight.” “Please,” the boy cried again. “Please.” Smrt stared, then stood, then proffered her gloved hand. “Very well, then, my Tsesarevich,” he said. “But I warn you, it will be like a knife to your heart.”
He nodded, swallowing past a heavy lump in his throat. “Take me
there.” 1918, Ipatiev House Alexei removed his heavy shirt and handed it to Leonid. Leonid, meanwhile, winced at the cuts across the prince’s skin from the jewels. None of them bled, but all were swollen and ugly, a sickening shade of crimson. “All power comes at a price,” Alexei once told him. “Until I can become a proper Domovoy and Tsar of Russia, my body rejects all outside pain.” Alexei must have noticed the conflict in Leonid – how could the country prosper if the Tsar suffers for it? – because he pressed his hand against his back and willed the cuts to fade. They weren’t gone; most of them scarred over, becoming a web on Alexei’s weak back; but the hideous color was gone. “Are you certain that you wish for me to go?” Alexei asked. “You haven’t been able to see your uncle in some time.” Leonid nodded. “You’re more important, my prince,” he said, exchanging his thinner shirt for Alexei’s woven shield. “If there’s a chance for you to be free until the situation resolves, then it should be taken. You will be able to resume your studies and become a Domovoy this country will be honored to have.” Alexei glanced away. Then he pulled the proffered shirt over his shoulders. “It itches.” 1918, July 17, Ipatiev House The boy gagged at the smell in the house. Iron and gunpowder and rotting meat. He nearly choked at the sight. Walls were broken down, holes the size of children shot through the kitchen. Splintered wood peppered the floors like tacks. Smrt opted to carry the child rather than leave him to suffer chance. The boy kept his hands across his mouth while Smrt moved closer to the cellar. The woman needed to crouch to fit into the compact space. The smell was even stronger down below. The boy wanted to throw up. “Do you wish for me to turn back?” Smrt asked. The boy shook his head. “I need to see,” he said. “With my own eyes.” Smrt descended the stairs and entered the cellar. The smell of gunpowder, dust, and blood churned the boy stomach and made him gag. He covered his mouth with a handkerchief stolen from Smrt’s inner coat. There was so much blood. Puddles of black blood, dried by time. Blood on chairs, on walls, on the door behind him. Diamonds ripped from their clothes; he recognized the jewels from Anastasia’s necklace and Mama’s bracelets; scattered across the floor. Green and red jewels glittered near the smallest chair.
“Smrt, let me down,” the boy begged. Smrt did as asked. The boy hobbled across the splinters and diamonds and blood until he reached the chair. He fell to his knees and scooped some up. Jewels from his forage cap. 1918, July 16, Ipatiev House The last item Alexei gave Leonid was his forage cap. It had been part of his uniform while he stayed with the army at Stavka. It had been a symbol of what he was to one day protect, he said, with the cap growing heavy every time he put it on. The jewels his sisters sewed inside only made the cap heavier, enough to inspire a headache. He gave the same warning to Leonid, who only nodded and jammed it on his head. “Don’t worry, my prince,” Leonid said. “I’ll keep this cap safe. You have my word.” Alexei nodded and placed Leonid’s cap on his own head. It was much lighter than his cap, but also heavier in its own way. He looked at Leonid, now dressed in the garbs of a prince, and allowed a single tremble in the wrist. If one ignored the difference in their eyes – Leonid’s darker tones to Alexei’s light – it would not be difficult at all to mistake them for each other. “Leonid,” he whispered, “you’re giving me so much right now. Let me do something for you.” Leonid shook his head. “You don’t have to do anything for me, Alexei,” he said. “I just want you to be save and become the greatest Tsar our country will ever know.” Alexei ignored Leonid’s praise and touched Leonid’s forehead with his index finger. “If ever you need me,” Alexei said, “speak my title. Your eyes will become my eyes. My words will become yours. Speak my title and I will help you become the greatest prince of Russia.” Leonid’s face became empty as Alexei pulled his hand away. “Just in case the Bolshevik ask you something you may not know the answer to,” he said. “I’ll make sure you’re not caught. After all, that’s what friends are for.” Leonid lowered his head and finally allowed himself to pull Alexei into a hug. “Take care of yourself, my friend,” he said. “None of us can lose you. You have become the sunshine of all Russia.” Alexei eventually, hesitantly, returned the embrace. 1918, July 17, Ipatiev House The boy hugged the jewels close to his chest. “Why? Why did this happen?” he asked. “Mama. Papa. My sisters. Leonid. They didn’t do anything.” Smrt touched the boy’s back. The chill of her fingers swept through the boy’s bones. “I can speak no words of comfort, my prince,” she said. “Only words of action. Leonid gave you a chance to live. Your sisters wove you a shield so you might remain. Your mother and father cared for you and trained you to become the leader and protector of Russia they could not hope to be. Do not let their efforts be in vain.”
The boy didn’t speak, didn’t move, didn’t wipe away the tears spilling down his face. 1918, July 16, Ipatiev House Tsar Nikolai opened the door to Alexei’s room. “It’s time,” he said. “Leonid.” Leonid acknowledged the Tsar and helped Alexei to his feet. Alexei approached his father and allowed the man to place his large hand on his head. “Remain strong, my son,” Tsar Nikolai said. “Never forget what I told you about our family. We are Tsars, yes, but we are also the Domovoy to all of Russia. Become a strong emperor who will protect his people, no matter what.” “I will, Papa,” Alexei said. Tsar Nikolai hugged his son in commoner’s garb and let him walk down the stairs on his own. The Tsarina was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, just as she did for every servant. Tsarina Alexandra would want what little time alone she could be permitted with her youngest child. Instead, Tsar Nikolai turned to face Leonid. The slight quiver in the lip was not expected to be hidden away. “You’ve done a brave thing, Leonid,” he said. “More than worthy of the title ‘Domovoy.’” Leonid smiled, but behind his back gripped his shaking arm. “I’m honored, Your Majesty,” he said. “But I don’t deserve your praise.” Tsar Nikolai approached and placed his hand on Leonid’s head just as he did for Alexei. “Do not think so poorly of yourself, my boy. No matter what happens to us, know that the House of Romanov will be forever grateful for your sacrifice.” Leonid bit his lip. “Thank you, my Tsar.” 1918, July 17, Ipatiev House “We should leave this building, my Tsesarevich,” Smrt said, stepping back towards the stairs. “The Bolshevik may yet return and the Cheka at Popov House will soon awaken.” The boy stood up on shaky feet. “I know,” he said weakly. “But would you…honor me with a request, Smrt?” “Name it, my lord.” The boy turned completely around. The jewels cut into his tightly twisted palm. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to regain the crown of Tsar,” he said. “Maybe I never will. But in the meantime, I need to live and become the Domovoy of all Russia. I can’t do that with the threat of execution over my head. So for now, I think it’s best that Tsesarevich Alexei died here with his family.” “I see. Then what name will you hold from now on?” The boy gripped the jewels even tighter. Drops of blood spilled across
the floor. “Leonid didn’t die here. He was taken to Popov House the night before, where he was spared the punishment of the Romanovs.” Smrt bowed. “Very well then, Domovoy of Russia,” she said. “Let it be done.” The boy nodded. He glanced at the room once more, then followed Smrt back to Popov House. It was much colder outside than it had been the hour before. 1918, Midnight July 17, Ipatiev House “Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you.” Yurovsky’s words cut through the chilled air in the room like an executioner’s blade. Tsar Nikolai died first, dozens of bullets piercing his large body. Others fired, missing the Romanovs and destroying the walls of the room. Smoke and dust filled Leonid’s lungs. The gunshots blasted in his ears, leaving a hum louder than any insect. Alexei’s sisters cried and screamed, huddled up against the wall when they found they couldn’t flee. When the dust cleared, Leonid was their next target. Yurovsky shoved his men aside and pointed his gun at Leonid’s head. Leonid smiled once. “Forgive me, my Tsesarevich,” he whispered. “I couldn’t keep your cap safe after all.” Yurovsky pulled the trigger, a final blast before Smrt found and took him.
Russian Translation: Bolshevik – “One of the majority.” A revolutionist socialist political party. Cheka – The secret police. Smrt – Death. Tsesarevich – Heir apparent to the Russian throne. Domovoy – A small spirit that protects house and kin.
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Staff Photos Credit: Sydnie Kobza - Former Staff Photos Credit: Richard Boneski III
Former Visual Editor
Former Poetry Editor
Acknowledgements Raul Benjamin Moreno, Student Media Board, Office of Student Involvement, KOUG Radio, Ruth Lantz (Travel Cafe judge), Laura Stanfill, Leah Jackson of Angst Gallery, Kim Bare, Riana Vincent, Dale Strouse, Harrison Higgs, Renny Christopher
Colophon This issue of Salmon Creek Journal was produced during the 2018-19 school year at Washington State University Vancouver and was printed by University Publishing in Pullman, Washington. Layout was done in Adobe InDesign. Body and header text was set to Adobe Garamond Pro. The cover of the journal was remixed by Richard Boneski III with permission from Sydnie Kobza and is printed on 100# satin coated stock with a soft touch finish. The contents of the journal are printed on 70# Accent Opaque smooth paper. Other design elements were created by Salmon Creek Journal staff.
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