Levitate Magazine Issue 5

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ISSUE 5

L EV I TAT E THEMED DOSSIER: ALONE AND TOGETHER



L EV I TAT E ISSUE 5

L E V I TAT E LI TERA RY M AG AZ IN E ©


Copyright © 2021 by LEVITATE Literary Magazine All rights to the material in this journal revert back to individual contributors after LEVITATE publication.

LEVITATE Literary Magazine c/o Creative Writing Department The Chicago High School for the Arts 2714 W. Augusta Blvd. Chicago, IL 60622 www.levitatemagazine.org LEVITATE accepts electronic submissions and publishes annually. For submission guidelines, please consult our website. ii


2021 Staff Editor-in-Chief Gwendolyn Henson-Myers Managing Editor Susanna Lang Lead Art Editor Mia Dusenberry Lead Creative Nonfiction Editors Amelia McCabe and Lonye Scott Lead Fiction Editors Allan Ayala and Alex Friedrich Lead Poetry Editors Gray Dawson and Valerie Hooser Publishing Intern Kayla Nierva Design Geoff Gaspord Contributing Art Editors Amaya Baylock, Skye Bruner, Fotini Maris-Asimakopoulos Contributing Creative Nonfiction Editors Mia Dusenberry, Gwendolyn Henson-Myers, Amelia McCabe, Fotini Maris-Asimakopoulos Contributing Fiction Editors Melanie Abarca, Amaya Baylock, Isaiah Ortiz, Joshua Phillips Contributing Poetry Editors Skye Bruner, Micheal Brown, Ania Swift Social Media

Allan Ayala and Amaya Baylock

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Table of Contents Cover Kenneth Ricci I Am Leaving Creative Nonfiction Marco Etheridge The Tennis Instructor and the Tolling Bell 1 Max Forstag Those I Wonder About 6 Michelle Muñoz Breadcrumbs 9 Art Ilaria Cortesi Alexey Adonin

The Mind Still Travels Man on the Beach

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Poetry Fasasi Abdulrosheed Oladipupo At Lampedusa 14 Kathleen Kirk Cassandra Predicts the Melting of the Glaciers 15 Cassandra Makes a List of Baby Names 16 Kyrah Gomes valkyrie 17 Ololade Akinlabi Prayer for the Memory We Cannot Hold 19 Kaci Skiles Laws The War 20 Veronica Nation Turning the Lights Off 21 Brylee Russell Skinny Moms 23 Noah Stienecker You Have One New Notification 24 Heidi Speth Meant To Be 25 Roxanne Thibault The First 27 R. Nikolas Macioci Jesus in the Afternoon 28 Gale Acuff At church everybody wants to die and 29 Abigail E. Calimaran Elegy II 30 You Are Holden 32 Art Anne Cécile Surga

Marble Sculptures

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Fiction Julia Laurie My Brother and the Bulls 37 Helen White Good Bones 49 Allison Whittenberg Why Didn’t You Call Me September 11th? 58 Cynthia Moritz Wedding Dance 66 Art Emily Rankin Jawbone 80 Heart of Hearts 81 The Bloom of Night 82 Emel Karakozak Flower of Life 83 Themed Dossier: Alone and Together Kerri Fisher Gatherers and Hunters (essay) 85 Qrcky Art let my people go (oil on canvas) 90 Bennie Herron the nickel song (poem) 92 mama and them (poem) 93 Sharon Kerry-Harlan My Brother’s Keeper (quilt) 94 The Great Pretenders (quilt) 95 Nicole Kim Smoke and Fog (charcoal on paper) 96 Hilary King Two Women Carrying a Ballot Box (poem) 98 Karen Anderson Servant Leader (digital image) 99 Courtney LeBlanc The Usual Things (poem) 100 Nancy Cook In the Midst of a Political Convention I Find Refuge in Quarantine (poem) 101 Lauren Scharhag Women Alone (poem) 103 Brendan Connolly battleship (poem) 105 Salena Casha It Takes Practice (essay) 106 Kenneth Ricci Made For Each Other (collage) 108 I Am Leaving (collage) 109

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CREATIVE NONFICTION The Tennis Instructor and the Tolling Bell Marco Etheridge In 2018 I wrote a personal memoir about a chance meeting on the Vienna U-Bahn system. It was just another day, just another ride aboard the busy subway system in my adopted Austrian hometown. I could not know that a brief encounter with an American couple would have a profound impact on my life, or that I would still be remembering and writing about it more than two years later. We were four human beings brought together by whatever forces bring people together. During the brief few minutes we shared, these strangers told us a heartbreaking story. Their words collided with my world, forever altering it. More impactful for me is that these same horrible events have played out again and again, tragically and senselessly, over the intervening two years. Here, in part, is what I wrote: *** My wife and I are onboard the U-4, one of the U-Bahn lines that make up a part of the miraculous Vienna transit system. The U-Bahn would be the New York City Subway, or the London Tube. The sun is shining into a man-made canyon formed by two block stone walls that tame a small river, the Wienfluss. The silver passenger cars rattle and sway along the river. The concrete and stone canyon is dappled in sunlight. The scant flow of the river shines a bright ribbon. We are below the street level; stone building façades parade past above us. A young Austrian couple is sitting opposite us, our knees almost touching in the space between the opposing seats. We avoid direct eye contact, following the social protocol of public transit. The train rattles into the darkness of a tunnel, wheels screeching against the tracks that curve into the Karlsplatz station. We are under the old city, the Opera House, ground zero for the masses of tourists that flood into Vienna. 1


An automated voice announces the station in Deutsch and English, reciting the many possible connections to trams, buses, and other U-Bahn lines. The young man and woman rise from the bright orange plastic seats. The train makes a final lurch as it stops. Departing passengers sway against the inertia, suspended from yellow hand loops. Righting themselves, they spill out onto the busy platform, replaced immediately by an equal flow of passengers waiting to board. Two people fill the vacant seats in front of us. They are obviously Americans; I know it before they speak. Their clothing is a mix of subdued pastels, colors carefully matched; American brand names clearly state the country of origin. They are a couple, a man and woman, middle-aged, upper middle class, tan and fit. The man is wearing a bright yellow wristband, one of those silicone bracelets that feature a motivational slogan. I lean my head close to that of my wife, murmuring in my school-boy German. There is a smile, a direct look, perhaps on the part of this man sitting with his knees almost touching mine. I do not remember now, yet the silence is somehow broken. Then we are speaking, the polite questions of travelers. Where are you from? Ah, Seattle, really? I am quick to point out that I live in Vienna, married to the lovely Austrian woman sitting next to me. The American woman mentions a daughter living in Vienna; they are regular visitors. Civility requires a question of me. I ask the couple where they are from in the States. Parkland, the man answers; Parkland, Florida. The wound bound to that name is still fresh, unhealed and raw. One of the deadliest school shootings in a string of such tragedies. The name is far too potent to escape memory. They are both quiet, solemn. They have seen the recognition cross my face. On February 14th, 2018, Nikola Cruz walked into the Freshman Building of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Cruz was nineteen years old, a former student of the high school. He was armed with a high-powered rifle. The young man climbed to the third floor of the building. At 2:21 PM, he opened fire on students and teachers, gunning them down methodically. When he stopped firing the weapon, seventeen students and teachers lay dead. Another seventeen were wounded. As police converged on the scene, Nikolas Cruz left the dead and dying victims behind. He was arrested 2


in the nearby town of Coral Gables soon after the shooting, but not before he stopped to purchase food from two fast food restaurants. The man is speaking now. Yes, he says, Parkland. The groans and rattles of the train car fall away. The man’s voice is not loud, but it fills my head; there is nothing else. He tells us that he is a tennis instructor. A portion of his work is teaching tennis to the students at that same high school. He describes that horrible day, the lines of law enforcement vehicles blocking the road to the school. He speaks of the flood of frantic phone calls and text messages from students and parents, people trying desperately to connect with a loved one, to tell their parents that they are safe, or to hear that their child is still alive. I see the pain etched across the man’s face. He tells us of the call he received from one distraught mother. Her daughter was missing, unaccounted for. The daughter was one of his students. Hours later this young woman would be listed among the dead. The man has stopped speaking. The story is over; the We are separated by nothing, dead are still dead. I hear my own each of us parents, each of voice: No parent should have to us sharing that darkest, go through that. No, the woman most dreaded fear. says, no parent should have to go through that. She looks up and away, far away, as if looking to a distant shore across the Atlantic Ocean. Her gaze returns from that far off place, her eyes on mine. We are separated by nothing, each of us parents, each of us sharing that darkest, most dreaded fear. An automated voice fills the crowded car, announcing the next station. The train shudders as it slows. This is our stop. I feel as if we have been on this train for hours, yet we have only passed four stations. We make our farewells, rise from the orange plastic seats. There are no degrees of separation now, only a raw and abraded commonality. My connection to these two people shatters any imagined boundaries, scattering the useless splinters to the floor of the train car. Then we are walking on the platform, weaving through the shifting crowd. The train pulls away with an electric whine, bearing the two Americans to their daughter. Gossamer threads run between all of the people on the platform, shining strands from them to me, and from 3


me to them. I see it, this shimmering net of silver filaments that moves as we move, binding us all together. The actions of one of us send a pulse through the shifting web, a signal to all of us. I feel the signals reverberate, feel them pulsing through my chest. It is as much as my heart can bear. *** I revisit these words two years later, trying to make some sense of where they fit in this world. In my mind’s eye, I see the American couple sitting across from us as if it happened only yesterday. Yet in the passing of a few short years, the story these people told has not become a distant tragedy. Rather, the horrific murders at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have become another senseless tragedy in a long and mournful tolling of funeral bells. The news reports scream out at us from the television screen, from our smart phones, from our computers, again and again. Children gunned down at their school, or shoppers murdered in a department store. University students slaughtered on campus, or concertgoers mowed down while the music played. The deadly toll goes on and on and on. The words I wrote after that fateful meeting have become redundant. They are as meaningless as the empty calls for thoughts and prayers that are meant to somehow assuage the horror of our collective madness. These acts of madness continue to rise up in what feels like an all-engulfing wave. The ill-fated year of 2019 saw more mass shootings in the USA than there were calendar days to contain them. The wave breaks over me, threatening to pull me down into the depths of despair. To embrace despair would seem justified, yet I know it to be as worthless as trying to stop violence by merely thinking or praying. The words of the poet John Donne reach across four centuries, pulling me back from the deep. “Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.” Yes, I am involved, for I am bound to humankind, and glad to be so. The gossamer threads I wrote of still run between all of us, shining strands that link us all. Madness and violence may tear at the silver net that holds us, but the net will only fall away 4


if we allow it. Knowing that we are inextricably bound together, I understand that the human beings around me are not strangers. When a parent sends their child off to school, not knowing if their son or daughter will return, it is my child they send. When a spouse sends their beloved off to work, uncertain, it is my beloved that walks to the bus stop. It is not they who go out into the world, but rather we. It is not they who are gunned down, but we. When one of these falls under a madman’s bullets, we all fall. I hear words spoken that are as deadly as despair. They are words meant to lull us into an acceptance of what is unacceptable. Couched as talking points, they become almost as deadly as the bullets that cut us down. There is nothing to be done. Pandora’s box has been opened; the evil is loosed on the world. It is too late. My despair is replaced by anger. I accept anger over despair, having nothing else. Perhaps the time will come when I find motivation in love, but for now, anger is the goad that moves me forward. To say otherwise would be to lie. In my outrage, I reject the voices of inaction, of resignation. I reject them utterly and completely. We are capable of amazing things when we embrace what holds us together as one. I believe this as I believe in gravity or the air that we all breathe. Human beings, linked by a common cause, can become a powerful force for change. And what could be a simpler, more of a common cause, than the desire to have our loved ones come home to us at the end of the day?

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Those I Wonder About Max Forstag In middle school, my classmate George had the unsettling habit of whispering my name during study hall: “Maaax,” he’d call out repeatedly, each time more elongated. George was quiet, distant, socially awkward. Tall and slender, he had cold, expressionless eyes and a sinister smile. Despite his behavior, there was something off about George, for which I felt sympathy. When I could no longer ignore his taunts, I’d turn to face him, Convicted of voluntary “What, George?!” to which he’d laugh nervously. It was a laugh manslaughter at 13, his childhood was over. that carried a lot of pain and was unaccustomed to being heard. That I never saw him again. summer, George shot his father in the back of the head. Following a decade of physical and verbal abuse, he’d had enough. Convicted of voluntary manslaughter at 13, his childhood was over. I never saw him again. Many years later, I was completing a teaching practicum at Portland Community College. One of the students in the class was named Abdulrahman. He was like many of the Saudi male students to whom I’d taught ESL: self-assured, outgoing, and eager to please. Abdulrahman loved reggae music and bore a resemblance to Bob Marley, an image he likely cultivated upon arriving in Portland. For a reading assignment, he chose Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father, which he discussed with passion and credited for having greatly expanded his worldview. One afternoon after class, I was preparing to walk home, when Abdulrahman pulled up in his gold Lexus. “Teacher, get in,” he offered cheerfully. A month later, Abdulrahman ran over a 15-year-old girl driving that same car at double the posted speed limit. Two weeks short of his trial for voluntary manslaughter, he was covertly whisked out of the country, never to be seen again. When we moved into our apartment, the other tenants were passively friendly: Jane was an urban planner whose moans reverberated 6


through the building whenever her girlfriend visited; Kendra was a massage therapist we affectionately called “The Giant” due to her leadfooted stomping on the floorboards above. But the tenant we were most drawn to was Larry. Unlike the rest of us, Larry was a local who worked construction and loved waking at the crack of dawn to go fishing. He was the only one to offer us a housewarming present: Three pounds of frozen walleye that he and his brother, Trent, had caught in the Columbia River. We learned tidbits about Larry and his sort-of girlfriend, Tina, while smoking on the front porch or grilling on the back patio. Often, we were joined by Trent, who was effortlessly conversational and clearly admiring of his older brother. One summer evening, Larry casually referenced his prior incarceration. Not wanting to probe, we filed the thought away without a word. That Halloween, we were watching the horror film Cube in Larry’s apartment when he broached the subject again. Without elaborating, Larry went to the kitchen to pour himself another drink, leaving us in uncomfortable silence. “He was busted for dealing,” Tina murmured through clenched teeth, her wide eyes stealing a furtive glance toward the kitchen. She looked paler than usual. That spring, I was roused by an early morning text from Jane: “Are you guys okay?” Getting out of bed, I crossed the living room and flipped open the Venetian blinds. Larry was slumped on the curbside in his boxers, head bowed, clutching a machete in one hand and a Rambo knife in the other. Across the street, a dozen police officers had their guns drawn, all pointed at Larry. Tina was nowhere in sight. A paralyzing standoff ensued as the police tried to negotiate with Larry, who gesticulated wildly, swinging the knives at whatever demons were inhabiting his thoughts. Eventually, he stood, extended his arms to the side and dropped the weapons in each hand, before slowly approaching the police, falling to his knees, and being taken away in handcuffs. We’d later find a loaded handgun on the back patio and a trembling, swollen-eyed Tina in the upstairs apartment, which was littered with shattered glass and a cache of empty bottles. Trent came by the apartment the following week to move Larry’s belongings out as he awaited trial. When he saw us, his usual jovial expression had been replaced by one of anger and disappointment, but 7


not shame. “You don’t get to judge my brother,” he warned. “You don’t know what he’s been through.” To this day, I can’t help but wonder about Larry. And Abdulrahman. And George.

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Breadcrumbs Michelle Muñoz I miss the inconvenience of breadcrumbs. Their idle discomfort lying between couch cushions or on tabletops waiting to be broomed, or wiped, or vacuumed. I also miss the smell of toast. Her toast. My grandmother would make buttered toast and Cuban coffee every morning, because American coffee “tasted like shit.” She would limp weakly on her walker from her room to the kitchen while scratching the tile floor. I miss her intentional silence. She would sit timidly at the dining room table facing the swampy view—mangroves and algae tracing the rim of our backyard pond. She would only talk if spoken to. I haven’t seen breadcrumbs in two months. The heart attack came three weeks before COVID-19 mattered—there was a time when it was just a rumor. The two strokes came a few days after that. It seemed as if tragedy came rushing in like the endless pit of algae sitting in the pond outside. You can try dredging it out, but you’ll drown before the water is clear. My grandma now sits still in an unintentional silence. She is bedridden. She can no longer move or get up to go to the bathroom. She can no longer make toast or use her walker. She is helpless. I look at my phone and notice the time: 9:49. At ten, we clean Ma. That’s what I call my grandmother, a slight homage to her being my second mom. Cleaning entails removing her diaper and wiping her feces clean. I rush downstairs and see my mom sitting helplessly in the blue chair outside of Ma’s room. There’s no metaphor to make out of the blue chair; the color theme of my house has been blue for years. “How long has she been awake?” I ask. My mom barely has the strength to look up. “About an hour.” “Do you want to clean her at ten?” “Yeah.” We head inside her room and it’s pungent like always. It’s the same dirty smell that stains elderly homes: pee and poop. Ma’s eyes 9


twinkle as she sees me. She has enough strength to muster a few words: “Hola, amor.” “Hola, princessa,” I respond and smile back. “Okay, roll her over,” my mother says. I roll Ma on her side. She’s lying on a hospital bed that the hospice provided. It has all the mechanisms one sees in a hospital bed, even the little remote that reclines the core and legs. I grab Ma’s hand and place it on the side rail of the bed. My mother begins wiping. It smells like shit. I look at my grandma. She doesn’t seem upset or embarrassed. Her dull expression appears content. Or lost. With blank eyes and hollow face, she probably has no idea what’s going on. Ten months ago, she would have cried with embarrassment that her daughter and granddaughter were cleaning her. Now her eyes have lost their gentle emerald glow. They’re more timidly green now. Her hair has lost its artificial dyed blonde. We let her go white. Her English has completely disintegrated into fractured words that she recalls from her novellas. She can barely speak her native Spanish in complete sentences either. Ma has endured a lot in her life. That’s what my mother always says. Marrying a man ten years older just so she could leave Communist Cuba—her mother wouldn’t have let her leave the country alone. I bet she could’ve done it though. Ma was always fiercely independent. She was a seamstress too. She made wedding dresses in a small New Jersey bridal shop when she first came to America. But her pricked fingers paled in comparison to the dread and abuse she endured from my grandfather. That, I know too much about. She still cried at his funeral two years ago when her mind was sound. I figured it may have been the regret of what was lost. My mother said that Ma was now barely a spark she and her brother endured in the forest that my mother the worst abuse. Every day they were beaten and screamed at by waited her whole life to my grandfather. My mother went burn down. through years of therapy to try to reconcile the lasting trauma. She spent years trying to rationalize Ma’s absence in her abuse. The lingering reality that Ma stood on the side while her children were beaten and abused. But I don’t think my mother ever truly let go of 10


the resentment. And as Ma got older, my mother’s anger never left; it spread. Instead of reconciling and understanding the brokenness of her childhood, the only person who could provide any closure was barely alive. Ma was now barely a spark in the forest that my mother waited her whole life to burn down. “Why don’t you ever make conversation when we’re in here?” My mother asks. “It’d make the time go faster.” “That’s what I hate, you know. Talking.” I shy away from my mother’s disapproving expression. She stays silent and finishes cleaning Ma. We roll Ma on her back and put on a new diaper. Then we turn on the TV and put on the news. And leave her alone. “Don’t you feel anything anymore about any of this? That’d you like to talk about?” My mother tries to invade my consciousness with her eye contact as we leave Ma’s room. I don’t let her and stay with my gaze facing the floor. “I feel too much,” I respond. That was something she had taught me well—feeling too much. “I just wish you’d be around us more. You hide in your room a lot.” The act of looking at something long enough can ruin it. So as I closed my eyes and isolated myself, it was never because of my timidness or disgust. It was because I didn’t want to ruin the image of Ma. “I understand,” I respond. I let out a helpful grin. It feels insincere. “I want to say something really terrible,” my mother trembles and looks away from eye contact. It looks like she’s about to throw up. “I’m waiting for Ma to die.” She looks up at me with her pupils expanded. Her brown irises have never looked paler. She expects me to disapprove. I understand. Little does she know that we are all waiting for our mothers to die.

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The Mind Still Travels Digital collage Ilaria Cortesi Using mixed media digital collage, I turn thoughts and feelings into surreal images by fusing vintage imagery with the natural world. The results are dreamy sci-fi landscapes and punchy collages inspired by the punk aesthetic of DIY, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes playful and cheesy. My pieces draw inspiration from music, society, literature, ukio-e and sci-fi. I often repurpose lighthearted vintage imagery to explore themes such as feminism, mental health and human interactions. Each piece begins the same way: with a single word or thought that evokes an image. I then (digitally) slice, layer and arrange pictures until a new visual narrative emerges, characterized by vibrant color and paper-like textures.

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Man on the Beach Oil on canvas Alexey Adonin I explore the point of convergence between abstraction and surrealism to create a channel of communication between my inner world and the viewers, not only to share my personal vision but also and especially to invite viewers to elaborate their personal interpretations and narratives, establishing deep involvement both in the emotional aspect and in the intellectual one. Moreover, I use a technique that layers oil paints to create a mystical, transparent look, reminding the viewer of Giorgio de Chirico’s works and highlighting the importance of the act of looking.

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POETRY At Lampedusa Fasasi Abdulrosheed Oladipupo Every day is a Halloween, everyone wearing a mask of despair, Faces asking questions about survival, about their dying mothers And their children waiting close to the door, where there is no home. At Lampedusa, children become rituals to be fed to the sea every day, Their mothers mourn and never wish to see the shore of Europe anymore, They want to go back home, even when it is a jungle play, They want to manage the dry bread with the rancid olive and a cold dinner offered by their husbands. They do not care if other villages are burning, for they do not want to be cast into the sea Like their children, they do not want to become a history That does not count, in the mouth of the fish, in the red bed of the sea. At Lampedusa, women gave up their dreams, for their children Not to be buried like crabs, for them not to become a body; an apartment in the dead of the sea. Note: The island of Lampedusa is a popular Italian tourist destination, closer to Tunisia (70 miles away) than to Italy (Sicily is 127 miles to the north). Beginning with the Arab Spring movements in North Africa, thousands of migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea to find a new life in Europe, which has struggled to absorb these refugees. Although arrivals have slowed in the last few years, the proportion of deaths has increased, and there has been an uptick in crossings during the pandemic year. Ships no longer conduct rescues in the Mediterranean, due to the politics of immigration and now the fears of contagion. On Lampedusa itself, the quarantine facilities are overflowing and the conditions for migrants heartrending. –The Editors

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Cassandra Predicts the Melting of the Glaciers Kathleen Kirk in Greenland and Iceland, Alaska, the Arctic, and, as usual, no one listens until it is too late. Her mythically dark eyes turn ice blue in empathy, and two guys in a kayak are almost swept away by falling ice, saying, “It’s the coolest thing ever.” They invite her out for a beer, but she’s still a virgin, still a prophetess, still can’t get them to believe her. She visits with the old man farmer who’s planting trees and barley and rapeseed. “Ice cools the volcano,” he warns; she knows, she knows. Everyone remembers and forgets the dark cloud that filled the sky when the volcano erupted. Everyone remembers and forgets the very thing that would save them. Cassandra floats out on a slab of ice calved from a bluegreen shelf, weeping her mini-ocean of salt tears. She tries to breathe in but not out. She dangles her frozen hand in the warming waters and comes up with mackerel, silvery and blue.

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Cassandra Makes a List of Baby Names Kathleen Kirk for her imaginary grandchildren, with categories for Girl, Boy, or Anybody. She avoids the names of the gods. She favors things of the earth: Rock, Lake, Sky, Summer, River, Ash. Geo for a boy, Rain for a girl. Strong names: Steele, Brick. Soft names: Mercy, Melody. She writes the names in sand and dust, better than blood. She enlists the aid of snails to write the names in silver on the trunks of trees, and fairies, in the dew. By the time she’s done, everyone she can imagine has a beautiful name, and still no one will believe her.

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valkyrie Kyrah Gomes i am chasing the rabbit and time is slipping through my fingertips, soft as silk like the dress i daydream of wearing. i long to feel pretty (desired?) and like myself again, a radiant fairy thing that hides her face. i know how i wish to be perceived but i was never certain of who i am and i think i’m peeling back the layers or maybe just fabricating new ones, subtly crafting myself into a new object for each person i wish to admire me. each night i pledge to shed my snakeskin, materialize an angel reborn, baptized by the moonlight, but all the angels and fairies and nymphs appear pale and paper-thin and pretty, all things i am convinced i’m not. so i watch them glide past clouds while i sharpen my siren blade. perhaps i am already an angel, with maimed feathers still potent, or maybe i never will be and that is a dangerous thought. fate looks me in the eye as i spread my valkyrie wings, plunge our scythe through odin’s immortal heart. ego spills across the marble floor 17


like a burst pomegranate, dripping bittersweet crimson juice. i dip my fingers in it and smile, sanguine and cheshire-like. the liquid clings softly to my lips and slips down my throat, burning, an elixir of the gods and mine alone. delicate and barbaric, i fly.

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Prayer for the Memory We Cannot Hold Ololade Akinlabi shall we pray for the souls long gone before us for the boy craving for home in his broken bones i hold this poem with tenderness same way i hold my mother’s monochrome our past is an archive with catalogues of moments we have survived my mother’s name sways in my throat i christen every silence after her a tomb is a detached memory and my body is the structural framework billeting grief i hold my breath for seconds it is a task imitating my mother a bird shrieks and soar high we all learn to grow with our wounds

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The War Kaci Skiles Laws Minutes before the war we thought we had arrived. In the late 1920s some people hoarded possessions, others money. A woman at ninety, said— it’s never been this bad, minutes before the war; she died of a stroke. We got what was left. I wanted it to be a distortion. A lie old people tell to scare us, not because they’re scared. We bounced a red ball, tried to get every jack. We wanted them to save us. My mother was a Christian minutes before the war; I wanted another answer, but she just closed her eyes and prayed.

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Turning the Lights Off Veronica Nation My mother keeps the names of people she prays for hidden in the pockets of her scrubs. She watches her patients grit their teeth as pumice polishes away their imperfections, watches their eyes close and noses crinkle underneath the high-pitched ringing noise of a drill. The ringing in her ears has gotten louder. It started after my brother left and sometimes I wonder if it is a way for her body to protect her from remembering the sound of his last words. Did he say, “I love you. I’m sorry. Oh, God—” Was there a sense of hurt in his voice? My mother’s wrists hurt from holding tools all day. They swell at the base of her thumbs. I catch her massaging them, making small circles with a look that shows discomfort for so many things. When I make myself known, she looks at me and says, with some sense of relief, “Hi, Baby.” Even in her sleep, there is no relief. I see my mother’s brow furrowed. She has bad dreams, wakes up before the sun, moves from bed to couch. At times, it’s like she is waiting to fall asleep and not wake back up. There is disappointment in her groggy eyes when she wipes the shadows of sleep away from them. It’s like she has been hiding her whole life. There are secrets kept hidden in the crow’s feet near her eyes. There is more there than she will ever share. 21


And there is nothing left to give her, nothing more to take. So when I am alone in the kitchen, grabbing a glass of water and I see her asleep on the couch, her mouth a tight line, I’ll grit my teeth, make my way back up the stairs. I’ll go to sleep.

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Skinny Moms Brylee Russell d r a p e d in my Mother ’s 90’s cardigan that swallows five-year-old me, but fifteen-year-old me would fill it out. Mother’s day out, they call it. what an un-inclusive name. Skinny Moms with bleach-blonde hair pick up the donuts they p r e t e n d to eat but never would out of fear of even their b i g t o e gaining half an ounce of weight. they c h i t t e r a n d chatter about their kids and “these days.” my p e e r s pull on their Moms’ legs as i pull on the cardigan t h e s e days, wishing my fiery red-headed Mom wouldn’t h a v e been the adventurer she was or she w o u l d be here today showing all those bleach-blonde M o m s w h a t a woman she was as she devoured those chocolatecovered donuts and i’d be wrapped around her leg and we’d be laughing at them. so i pull on this cardigan hoping it’ll be enough. Moms, Moms, Moms. how important they are no matter how fucked up they are.

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You Have One New Notification Noah Stienecker You have 2 new notifications. You have 3 new notifications. You have 4 new notifications. Alex has texted you, would you like to reply? Candy Crush would like you to install an update. Your memory is getting low, better delete some files. Your battery is at 15%. Charge it before it dies. You have 5 new notifications. Alex is texting you, text her back now. Candy Crush still needs an update. Come on! That update won’t install itself. Oh wait, I just did, I updated Candy Crush for you, You have to open the app before you lose all your progress. Your memory is dangerously low, so I deleted some family photos. Turn up the volume and brightness so you can hear me and only me! Wait a second, what are you doing? You can’t turn me off. You need me! Stop this now! * Your device has been turned off *

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Meant To Be Heidi Speth It happened fast Some would say that it happened too fast That’s what my parents said anyway My friends, who weren’t my friends after all, agreed I don’t know how it happened All I know is that one minute we were just strangers And then the next minute we bloomed Within a matter of days my life went sideways Everything I never thought would happen was happening Suddenly all of the songs I had listened to on repeat for years Had a purpose, they were about someone, they were about you Suddenly I didn’t want to be that girl The one who had spent her whole life hiding behind the curtain I wanted to be noticed by someone, that someone was you I never thought I would be able to fall for someone so quickly But with the blink of an eye I was yours Looking back I almost regret everything But that love, that love that was a fling but means so much more I wouldn’t trade that brief love for the world I wouldn’t trade that feeling of warmth bubbling in my chest I wouldn’t even trade all of the heartbreak it caused If anything I would go back and do it all over again Some call it stupid, others call it idiotic I call it Meant To Be

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Meant To Be doesn’t run away when things get hard Meant To Be stands by someone’s side during the worst times Meant To Be doesn’t let the opinions of the world reign over their life Maybe Meant To Be and I weren’t meant to be after all.

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The First R oxanne Thibault Trembling softly in pale glow, You reveal your Aphroditic self and I become a slave in worship. Night spent at your altar, I sacrifice myself to you as I drink from your love, Shouting my prayers in heavenly darkness, The morning bird flutters in, my prayers answered, As you wrap yourself around me.

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Jesus in the Afternoon R. Nikolas Macioci I’m driving down Main Street in Groveport. From the corner of my eye I catch a sign board on the Methodist church that says Jesus in the afterlife, but I misread it and think it says Jesus in the afternoon. I haven’t realized my mistake yet, so I start imagining Jesus at various stopping points in the village. I picture him at the Dairy Queen licking a medium-sized cone of vanilla ice cream while the very spot he stands on becomes sacred, and teenagers at picnic benches gape at the man robed in long flowing layers. A poster in the window of Ace Hardware announcing the reduced price of nails elicits his sardonic frown. He kicks the irony aside, continues toward the coffee shop, and orders a cappuccino. The waitress crosses herself from fear and offers the drink to the god-forsaken customer. He sips silently, blue eyes blinking away imminent sorrow. She wonders if the man in a robe and sandals is a lunatic or a robber and presses the button under the counter that notifies authorities. Police arrive with handcuffs dangling from their belts, accost the man standing in silky silence waiting for public influence to terminate him. The cruiser speeds away, its siren shredding air. In the morning thousands awaken to news of the vagrant apprehended in the coffee shop, the police superintendent offering no guarantees that it won’t happen again. 28


At church everybody wants to die and Gale Acuff go to Heaven but I bet nobody there really does, does want to die, I mean, which means that nobody goes to Heaven but also, I guess, that they don’t go to Hell yet they can’t just hang around Earth, their bodes will of course but their immortal souls go on, that’s what they’re selling at church and today I dropped fifty cents into the collection plate and whenever it’s passed my way I won’t be surprised to see someone’s noggin on it and once I dreamt I did and it was mine and winked at me so I gave me all my money, enough for a hot dog but not enough for fries.

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Elegy II Abigail E. Calimaran We make beauty into tragedy, and it leaves us asking Why? Must we turn tear-stained faces into shimmering lights? Must we kiss the rain? I suppose we learn to live like this: finding sustenance in a draught, finding love in hate, finding a way to live when all we want to do is die. But I find ways to die, even when all I want to do is live. We write tragedy into beauty. You paint me in shades of grey: It’s all I know how to do. It’s poetic. Someone please tell me to stop writing tragic poetry. No one wants to read your heartbreak. You wear it plainly enough on your snot-stained sleeve. Let them hear the story of how you fell in love. 30


Tell them about: your first crush, your first kiss, your first love, then your second, and your third. They don’t want to hear how you shattered. They want to know how you put yourself back together again.

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You Are Holden Abigail Calimaran You’re alone in a coffee shop, And you’re lonely. When are you not? The boys at the table beside you Do their physics homework wrong. If the world worked like their world, Velocity would always equal Zero. v=0. You’re running, and you’re never going anywhere. The barista’s name is Holden. You loved a Holden once Because he made you feel useful. He used you. You give Holden a 25% tip. Why not? You loved a Holden once. Forgiveness has never meant forgetting. You’re still running at v=0. You haven’t gotten anywhere. Holden told you you’d go far— He called you wonderful— But then he put you on a pedestal In a hamster wheel. You had a pet hamster once. You never saw him die, But he was gone one day, And he never came back. His name was Holden. Holden the Hamster. When you were older, Mama told you Holden died while running. His heart gave out. 32


You wonder if dying feels anything Like this. All our hearts give out. You wonder if Holden knew That he was not alone. You are not alone in dying; You are only alone in living. Holden asks, What can I get you? A small coffee. No room. Black coffee tastes like salt And loneliness and living.

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VISUAL ART

Untitled Sculptures Carrara marble Anne Cécile Surga

This specific series of sculptures is a way for me to explore feelings and how we express them through touch. I am trying to capture the essence that is born in the emotional and translated into the physical.

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FICTION My Brother and the Bulls Julia Laurie On the very day the announcement came that my mother’s second child would be a boy, my father pronounced him “Hiroto”— fly far. In the following weeks, my grandmother began knitting him a blanket decorated with bull faces. For my mother’s part, she sang songs to her belly in the evenings while cooking or hanging up clothes or even while washing my hair. These songs painted my unborn brother as a triumphant samurai or mighty warrior king. It seemed to me a bit ridiculous to ascribe such qualities to someone who wasn’t even the size of one of my shoes yet, but that didn’t stop her. Mom, he can’t hear you, I’d say, scowling. Don’t be silly, my little bean. Of course he can hear me, she’d reply cheerfully. I was always her “little bean” or her “little mushroom,” whereas he was her “little samurai” or her “shooting star.” At least that’s how it was for the first few years. As for me, at eight years old I was highly skeptical of a brother coming in and stealing my only child status. I wasn’t stupid; I noticed the way they anticipated him, and I knew my only card when it came to demanding my parents’ attention was the fact that there was no one competing for it. If a boy entered the picture, I wouldn’t be the most important one anymore. It’s not that I wanted some stupid name like “fly far.” And it wasn’t that I felt bitter that as a girl, I wasn’t supposed to be involved in bullfighting, our island’s one meagre claim to fame. Or I suppose “bull sumo” is a more accurate term. Unlike its Spanish counterpart, in Tokunoshima bullfighting the bulls fight each other, locking horns to push their opponent out of a ring. Either way, I couldn’t care less about the stupid sport, and I didn’t want to spend any more time among its muddy, smelly participants than absolutely necessary. But I did wish more than anything that I could do something that would gain the kind of pride from my parents that bullfighting surely would for my brother. 37


From elementary school I was always top of my class, and I began to win medal after medal in track and field competitions. But even the shiny gold didn’t catch my parents’ eyes for long enough for them to say anything other than, Well done, my little peach, and pat me on the head. This was a far cry from the visions of glory they heaped upon my brother before he could even walk. When my mother finally came back from the hospital with my brother in her arms, I was all set to make this miniature usurper my sworn enemy. But that was no match for an eight-year-old’s curiosity. Later that evening, while my mother was dozing in her armchair and everyone else was occupied somehow, I crawled over to where my brother was lying. I kneeled there, the tatami tattooing its weft onto my knees, and brought my eyes inches from my brother’s sleeping face. He had kicked his blankets off, and I noticed that his legs were still gently kicking in their babygrow stockings and he was also rhythmically squeezing his hands into fists and releasing them. I sat motionless for a while, watching these unconscious dream stirrings. The next time his hand opened, I slipped my finger into it, just to see what would happen. Sure enough, his tiny fingers squeezed down, and the moment they felt my index finger he froze, opened his eyes, and locked them firmly onto mine. There I was, clamped by the dual hold of his fingers on my finger and his eyes on my eyes. We stared at each other, and I noticed on the periphery of my vision that his legs had started kicking again, stronger this time, like he was trying to swim himself up some invisible river. I realized then, that all those things they said about him and anticipated in him, the future glory they heaped on him, had no connection to this small soft being who was gazing at me so intently, gripping tightly onto my finger like it was just us amidst the swirling rapids. *** Nowadays, there are times when I suddenly stop what I’m doing, as if stunned, slammed right between the eyes by some memory of my brother, unable to move or breathe until it subsides. Whenever he ate something he loved, especially dumplings, his face would break out into the purest expression of genuine happiness you’ve ever seen. He’d grin so much while eating that he couldn’t 38


chew properly, and half the contents of the dumpling would end up on his face or shirt. Also, whenever he ate something really delicious, he would hum while chewing, a buzzing monotone that lilted rhythmically with each chew. If he did that in response to anyone’s cooking, they’d consider their dish a success. Sometimes, when I had to leave for school in the morning, he’d attach himself to me, wrapping his arms around my leg and clamping himself there like a barnacle, the rest of his body ragdoll limp, forgotten. He’d gaze up at me with those same solemn, unflinching eyes he had had that first time when I put my finger in his hand as a baby, and just hang on. He never screamed or cried, just sat there, betrayed and forlorn, watching me walk out the door after we’d managed to pry his clamped but mercifully slippery fingers off my leg. When I say he never screamed or cried, I really mean he NEVER screamed or cried. Not when he hurt himself, not when I slid the door shut in his face after he begged me to play with him, not when my mother shouted at him for leaving the fridge door open again, or trailing wet feet across the tatami floor, not when my father bellowed at him to stop being so useless and to be a man or muttered that he’d been cursed with a stupid dud of a son. He never cried. Instead, he’d just stare with those deep, serious eyes, and if the shouting or bellowing or slamming or muttering was extra bad, he’d retreat backwards into them, leaving the outer shell of his body vacant and disappearing into some endless universe deep inside. When this happened, I’d go up to him gently and start to play counting games on his fingers and toes, clap his hands together, walk my fingers up and down his arms or draw pictures on the soles of his feet. Gradually he’d be drawn back into our world, as if pulled by strings up from a deep dark well, strings that wound around my fingers and his, connecting them. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that one day the strings would prove too weak, or that they’d snap, and shoot back up to me, and he’d be stuck down there forever. *** There was the before time, when I hated my brother-to-be while everyone else eagerly awaited his arrival like he was some kind of tiny 39


deity, and there was the later time, when I was the one who stuck by him after everything started to go bad. But there was a small sliver of time in between, from babydom This was when my father and through toddlerhood, when brought him into the bull ever yone doted on him with enclosure in his arms and let equal ferocity. This was when my mother called him her “shooting his pudgy fingers touch their star” and sang him songs of glory warm velvety snouts. while soaping him up in the bath. This was when my father brought him into the bull enclosure in his arms and let his pudgy fingers touch their warm velvety snouts. It seemed promising to my father that he showed no fear toward the bulls, smiling at their ferocious faces and rejoicing in the musky atmosphere of the enclosure. This one will be a fine trainer, said my father proudly, ruffling his wispy hair, just like his father, ne? Everything began to change when my brother was about three years old. I was eleven and long and lean, and starting to get serious about running. I was growing so fast that I needed a new pair of running shoes every few months, and it seemed that my parents’ dominant attitude toward my running prowess was irritation at having to fork out for expensive shoes so often, rather than anything resembling pride. It began to be whispered in various circles of relatives that it was a bit late for my brother to still be talking in gurgles and non-words, and why was he more interested in lying on his back banging his feet on the floor for minutes at a time than playing with real toys or other children his age? But the real problems started after my father’s prize bull won the final championship in the heavyweight category and it was time for the customary celebration, when all the people involved took turns jumping onto the triumphant bull’s back. At these times I hung back, sullen next to my mother, putting on my much-perfected look of indifference. My father didn’t pay much attention to me and my sulk, but he wanted my brother to have a turn on the winning bull. So the tiny bull whisperer, future champion, apple of his father’s eye, was raised high and placed on the sturdy frame. He should have raised his hands up to the sky, kicked his little legs and shouted with a grinning face. But he wasn’t used to the crowds and noise, they scared him, and I could 40


already see he was escaping away, beginning to hide behind the layers of his fortified mind. My father should have known, as my brother had done this before when faced with large crowds. But his pride was too great; he had to show the world the magnificent future he saw wrapped up deliciously in the magnificent present. As my brother’s weight sank onto the staunch backbone, his legs spread wide across the muscular shoulders, he went limp. His body was in an unresponsive slump, his eyes cast down, his hands vaguely gripping the short shoulder hairs. My uncles and the other men laughed, ribbing my father for having such a dim-witted son, then continued with the usual proceedings. My father glared at my brother, instead of at the men. He said nothing. Back at home, after I had managed to draw my brother back to us and he was running joyfully through the house, oblivious, his laughs catching in his throat as they did when he was excited, my father wouldn’t even look at him. My mother quietly served us dinner, also saying nothing. My grandmother kept up her usual prattle, not taking much notice of anyone. But I could see the worry in the corners of her eyes. *** I moved up to junior high school as my brother turned five. He could speak now, but still only in sentences of a few words each. Nevertheless, my mother turned fiercely on anyone who came close to suggesting that he had problems. My aunt said that perhaps he should go to a kindergarten that specialized in children with learning difficulties, and my mother told her to leave and never enter her house again. That was a joke anyway. As if there were such a kindergarten on this nowhere of an island. My mother washed the dishes extra loudly that night. He doesn’t need to go to kindergarten, she muttered. What’s the point of having a mother and grandmother who can look after him all day if we just ship him off into some other people’s care? But I knew that this was just her way of protecting him. I had gone to kindergarten. But she couldn’t protect him from elementary school. It was the law, and since he had never been diagnosed with anything, he went to the normal elementary school with all the other children in our neighborhood. I was scared for my brother, but I was also beginning to 41


get caught up in my own life. I had a crush on a boy in my track and field club, who had a serious face and a self-possession that I found wonderfully intimidating. In fact, I wasn’t quite sure whether I had a crush on him or was merely scared of him. But my actions never betrayed my feelings. I treated him exactly like I treated all the other boys, which is to say I ignored him completely unless circumstances forced me to do otherwise, which is how I know one of my three best friends was a two-tongued snake, because they were the only ones I ever told. And the reason I know that one of them told him, is because he came up to me after practice one day and told me that he couldn’t be my boyfriend because I was taller than him. I stood mortified, just managing to mumble that I didn’t even want him to be my boyfriend. He stared at me for a second, then shrugged and turned away, leaving me standing, hot energy pulsing through my body, wishing I could just disappear on the spot like when people teleported on TV shows: a flash gone, a few flashes there, then gone for good. I hung back from my friends as we walked home from school to do homework together (read: gossip and look at social media and dream about our futures), brooding about how to confront them. Maybe if it had been just that, I would have gotten over my anger, and it would have become just a little bump on our friendship road. At any rate, I wouldn’t have gone crazy like I did. We had to go past my brother’s elementary school to fetch him. He refused to walk home in a group with the other children from our neighborhood. It had only been a few weeks of elementary school, but already there had been concerned phone calls from the homeroom teacher, long discussions about his silence and inability to concentrate, how his work showed a worrying lack of mental ability and how he never stood up for himself when the other children teased him. He went silent more often these days, but he still came back eventually. Today, he was already gone inside himself when we arrived at the school gate, a small figure motionless in white shirt and cap, staring at nothing. I wondered for a moment if he also wished he could disappear, then realized that he didn’t have to—he was disappeared even though his body was still here. For the first time, I thought it might actually be nice to have such an ability, to be able to escape any situation you didn’t want to be in by simply switching yourself off. 42


But the pressing issue right then was to get him out of this state so we could go home, or failing that, to find a way to get him home anyway. I knelt before him and picked up his hands. I smiled at his blank face and pulled his fingers one by one. One, two, three. I counted. Four, five. What are you doing? asked Haruka loudly. What’s wrong with him? Momo brought her face down to peer at his, much too close. Hirotokun, genki nai no? Are you feeling bad? asked Sarina. Why doesn’t he answer? I ignored them, but I knew there was no chance of unearthing my brother from where he was buried with them standing around ogling over us like a flock of herons. So I turned around and offered him my back. Despite his conscious mind being packed away somewhere unreachable, I knew his body would be responsive enough to clasp his arms around my neck and wrap his little legs around my midriff. I carried him like this often. Even if his mind was somewhere else, his body knew what to do. He can’t even walk now? Haruka asked with an arched eyebrow. Is he sick? Momo-chan was dubious. Sarina giggled, with an offhand cruelty that no one can do as well as teenage girls. I wanted to punch her in her flawless face, but I said nothing. They soon saw that I didn’t want to talk and eventually lost interest, walking ahead of me in a little gaggle, whispering together and occasionally looking back at me and my brother and my steadfast face. At home, I deposited my brother with my grandmother, promising to come bring him back to life later. Then I asked my friends to come outside with me to the bull enclosure. At first it seemed like they wouldn’t come. Momo wrinkled her nose. I thought you hated bulls, she said. Haruka asked, What for? What are you going to do? Sarina just giggled again. Her face was in a permanent sneer. Rage rankled in my belly, but I stayed calm. Eventually, they came with me. They could see I was serious. I made them go inside the enclosure before addressing them. I know one of you told Ryuunosuke I liked him. All I want to know is who? Nobody said anything. You really won’t tell me? They exchanged nervous glances. You know all it would take for me to get Rambo here to ram you with his horns and pierce you through the heart is just a few words, right? 43


These girls weren’t cowards, but their fathers were respectively a teacher, a paper pusher at city hall, and a banker. Of course, they’d all been to the fights, but they didn’t know anything about how bulls’ minds worked, or what they could and couldn’t do. There’s no way you can make him do that. Haruka tossed her hair scornfully, though her voice betrayed a tremor of fear. They all eyed Rambo, who was grazing about fifty meters away. She can’t, can she? whispered Momo-chan. I smiled. You don’t think I can? Without breaking my gaze toward the three girls, I brought my fingers to my lips and whistled loudly. Rambo! I shouted. Rambo stopped, snorted, and began to trot toward us. He wasn’t even going that fast, but my three friends were already so on edge by that point that they flinched collectively. Sarina screamed. Momo yelled, Haruka! Haruka yelped. Okay, okay, it was me! I told him! I turned around and whistled again, this time in a different tone. Woah, Rambo. Stop. He slowed down and came to an ambling halt. He was so close I could feel his warm breath on my arm. I turned back to the girls. Get out of here. I never want to speak to any of you again. Run, before I set him on you for real! They wasted no time complying. After the bull incident, I gained a kind of uneasy reputation at school. As the story traveled along the broken telephone of teenagers’ mouths, it morphed and ballooned so much that by the time a week had passed, I had apparently been riding the bull and had chased Haruka and Momo and Sarina all the way down the road and I would have bucked them over had they not also been members of the track and field club, and therefore fast. I never said anything to confirm or deny the rumors and gradually people stopped asking me, choosing instead to simply stare every time I walked past, wide eyes tracking me as I strode down the corridor, my own gaze straight ahead. I had achieved impenetrability, and it suited me fine. As I was building myself a fortress of rumor, my brother was retreating deeper into himself. On more and more occasions, I found I couldn’t pull him out from his deep dark well. Instead, I’d talk to him as he sat there with his blank, liquid-deep eyes. I talked to him in much the same way as some people talk to their pets, as my grandmother 44


talked to her flowers and my father to his bulls. He had become a good listener, a receptacle. I understand why you go down there, I’d say. Why don’t you take me with you sometime? I also want to take a holiday from this shitty reality. At the same time, I worried that he was getting too filled up with my poisonous words, holding all my rancor for me, that it would affect him somehow. More than that though, I worried every time that this time, he would be gone forever. Sometimes, I’d go to sleep with him still like that. I’d pull him close, praying that the warmth of my body would reach through to the hard ice ball deep inside him, would thaw him and bring him back to life. And I’d wish, wish, wish, from the very atoms that made up my body, that he’d wake up tomorrow and be normal again. And when he did wake up, though it was always too early, I’d smile through my fug and let him breathe his hot sticky breath all over my morning face. And I’d squeeze him tight as he bucked and wriggled in my arms. I used to hate his wriggling. Now I treasured it. I remember the last time my brother was joyful. My mother often made pancakes on Sundays as a treat. It was on one such yellow-tinged Sunday, as my mother was sliding pancakes onto plates and humming, that my brother decided he wanted dumplings instead. My mother stared at him, her eyes bristling slightly. But then she suddenly smiled, as if she’d made the decision to be sunny today. You know what, she said, I’d like dumplings too! I think we were all just so relieved that he was with us and happy today, that we’d do anything to keep him that way. My mother dug in the freezer for some frozen dumplings, and my brother cackled in delight. When the first dumpling landed on his plate, he tried to slide it toward me as was his habit. No, thank you, I said. I’ll just be over here eating all of you mad people’s delicious pancakes. That made my brother laugh so much that he hiccupped. Then I said, I have an idea! I picked up the syrup for the pancakes. Would you like some syrup with your dumplings, Oh Honored Hiroto? I inquired, bowing deeply. Yes! he almost screamed, his face bursting with smiles. His experience of the syrup dumpling seemed almost rapturous. His eyes widened, his whole body vibrated with hums, and his face was plastered with an uncontrollable grin, so that bits of dumpling dribbled down his chin. We couldn’t stop laughing at him, which made him laugh too, which made him hiccup again, which made him choke. My grandmother 45


rushed to him and started hitting him on his back, and he coughed and coughed, finally shooting out a wad of chewed up dumpling wetted by sticky saliva and syrup, which hit my father straight in the chest as he stumbled into the kitchen, roused from his musty hungover sleep by our giddiness. Slowly, he looked down at the wad, which was slipping down his chest. Then he turned his gaze to my brother, whose mouth was still open and dripping slightly. He took a deep breath, turned his gaze upwards and shouted, as if to the gods, Am I the only sane one in this madhouse??? Is everyone here out of their minds??? His chest was heaving like the ocean. Then he turned, driving his dagger words straight into my brother’s chest. It’s all your fault!!! You have cursed this family!!! You have turned this house into a madhouse!! YOU ARE NOT MY SON!!! Then he turned and stormed out, having unleashed years of resentment onto his once-adored only son, leaving us hanging in space like dust particles, and my brother glassy-eyed. In the days following, my brother settled into a permanent stasis that was somewhere between his total absences and being fully alive and embodied. His body managed to perform all the actions required to keep him alive, but nothing more. He could eat, drink, go to the bathroom by himself, and be led from place to place. Well, there was one other thing. Whenever we lost track of my brother and then suddenly realized he was gone minutes or hours later, we’d find him without fail in the bull enclosure. My mother was worried he’d be knocked over or trampled, but my grandmother told her not to worry. She said they were his guardians now. I scoffed at this, but it was true that rather than simply ignoring him, the bulls had begun to treat him with the utmost gentleness. He would lean against the musty wall of their stable, and they’d nuzzle him with their velvet noses. I even saw him reach out to stroke them once or twice, which was much more of a decisive action than anything he did around us. My mother was getting so many concerned calls and visits from teachers that we all had to be extra cautious when answering the telephone or the door. We became a house of closed shutters and suspicious whispers. My father still shouted occasionally, but his shouts were hollow. I worried that we were all becoming paper-thin. I constantly had to check my arm against the light to make sure it wasn’t turning transparent. We had become totally separated from the rest of the 46


world, a lifeboat adrift, a gaggle of birds that had lost the main flock. And yet, somehow I assumed with that hard, invincible optimism of a 14-year-old, that things would come right eventually. My father discovered that Rambo was gone before any of us noticed the absence of my brother. It was a Sunday morning, and his shouts coming from the bullpen woke us all up. It was then that I found myself alone in my futon, the sheet in front of me a cool empty space no longer filled with a small solid body pressing into mine. As well as calling the police, search teams consisting of cousins, neighbors, other bull trainers, and young healthy men of the community were sent out. I wanted to go searching too, but my mother forbade it. I’m not opening myself up to the possibility of losing two children today, was what she said. I screamed and cried then, more than I had ever done before, even as a small child. It was like I suddenly realized that he might never come back. I cursed my apathy. I vowed silently, that if (when) we found him, I would do whatever it took, but I WOULD bring him back to us, to himself, to his smiles and slobbers and sticky hands in mine. Eventually, I had no scream left in me and I let my grandmother take my head in her lap and stroke my hair, my face burning, my tears leaking out onto her pants. It wasn’t too long after that that my mother answered the phone. She came into where my grandmother and I were sitting, her phone still in her hand. Her eyes looked vacant. She looked at a spot somewhere above our heads and said, Your cousins have found him. They said… they said we most probably don’t want to see him. Then her phone slipped from her hand and fell to the floor as she sank down as if in slow motion, folding inwards onto herself. My grandmother rushed to her, leaving me dazed. I couldn’t understand what my mother meant. Anyway, I had already cried out all my tears and I didn’t know what to do with myself. But I took the opportunity of my grandmother’s attention being diverted to my mother to snatch the phone from the floor and call my cousins to tell me where to go. I wasn’t going to let them keep him away from me even at the very end. The cliffs at Inujofuta are made of ancient coral, calcified over millennia and subsequently lashed by the sea into strange and jagged shapes, hollows and dimples and asymmetrical curlicues that are thin 47


and brittle and yet dangerously sharp. The whole effect is quite beautiful, in a stark kind of way—restless, foamy waves hurling themselves at the rocks beneath the overhang of coral stone. I was never interested in most of the “scenic spots” of this nowhere island, but Inujofuta was a good place to run to when I wanted my surroundings to match my inner moodiness. When I got there this time, there was police tape everywhere, as well as a small handful of people whose hands reached out in an unconvincing attempt to stop me pushing past. But the cliff isn’t too tall, and I could see what was below all too clearly. A big black, hooved form, and right next to it a much smaller, child-shaped one, wearing flannel pajamas, neck twisted the wrong way, hair wet from the waves that now and then crashed over the perfectly still figures. After I saw his tiny, tossed body there, I felt liquid-hot rage burning up through my stomach all the way into my throbbing head. Rage at the world, at this stupid island, at my father, but most of all at myself. I began to run. Perhaps in some ways, I haven’t stopped. *** The night is dark. A few stars are visible through open patches in the clouds. The bull stable is familiar, filled with the soft snuffling of the bulls and their warm blanket of smell. A small hand reaches out to the sturdy body of the largest one. Perhaps the bull kneels his bulk downwards, perhaps the boy finds something to climb up from. Either way, in a few moments he is straddling the broad back, and they are moving. Out from the stable, out from the bullpen, down, out, away. The boy feels more connected to this bull than he remembers feeling with any human. And he’s more awake now than he’s been in a long time. He can feel the bull’s strong body moving beneath him, its soft fur on his fingertips and the salty breeze ruffling his hair. As they begin to move faster, this becomes a cold rush that whips his hair back and pricks his eyes. They are galloping at a breakneck speed yet making little noise as they flash through the night. They are two bodies connected, moving together in a perfect oneness of escape. After a life of being held back, cut short, Hiroto finally feels free. At last, he will live up to his name. He will fly.

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Good Bones Helen White She had always hated her father’s house, and that hadn’t changed even with his death. As the gravel driveway crunched under the car tires, Mara felt a familiar fluttering in her stomach and turned her head toward the passenger window. She stared intently at the thin trees that lined the driveway, bare in their early spring fashion, instead of the house emerging around the corner. Her mother put the car in park at the end of the driveway and Mara peeled her forehead off the cold pane of glass and faced her. Her mother’s left hand still gripped the steering wheel while her right rested on the gearshift. The faded gray clapboard of the house loomed in the background behind the driver’s window. “You don’t have to come in,” Mara found herself saying. Her voice cracked from disuse. “He left it to me. It’s my problem. You can go if you want.” Her mother pressed her lips together and got out of the car. Sighing, Mara followed. The gravel driveway ended in a circular patch of dirt and rocks spotted with the occasional stubborn weed or cluster of grass. Her eyes wandered over the wooden stairs that descended directly to the gravel and led up to a front porch that lilted toward them. The weight of the porch roof had begun to sink the porch’s foundations into the ground, creating cracks in the weathered wood slats and a slight incline to the front door. The whole house seemed in danger of collapsing, she realized. It hadn’t been this bad the last time she’d been here, nearly ten years ago at the age of eighteen, but then, her father and his family weren’t known for taking care of things. The siding of the two-story house was the same dismal gray as the sky, and the ancient Victorian details that adorned the roofline were chipped or broken in places. She wondered if this was the kind of house kids threw rocks at when it was empty. She felt like a teenager again, standing in her father’s driveway 49


with her arms folded, her mother standing stiffly next to her. It occurred to her that they had arrived just like this last time, parking her mother’s car just behind her father’s and her grandfather’s; this time the driveway was empty. Her mother entered the house and stared in combined curiosity and alarm, her head swiveling on her neck to take in every corner. The archway to the living room was just to their right, and a dark wood staircase going up was just beyond it. To their left was the dining room, empty except for a large table covered with a plastic sheet. The curtains were drawn throughout the house, giving everything a subtle darkness and a slight stagnant smell. Mara tried not to look at anything for too long. “The inspector said it needed rescuing,” Mara’s voice broke through the echoes of the creaking floorboards. “The foundation was his biggest concern, and the plumbing and electrical need updating, but he said it’s habitable. For now.” The house had been passed down to the oldest son in the family since an ancestor of hers built it a hundred and forty years ago. She was the first woman to inherit it, not that her father had much choice since she was his only child. “He said it has good bones.” It had been a farmhouse when it was built, functional and fashionable, hand-hewn and polished up with the money that had been left to the original owner, some great-great-grandparent of hers, when his parents died. They had divided their 1600 acres—endless rows of sweet corn—between their four living children, and all had prospered except the son who had taken this house. He was the oldest, and troubled, as her father had told her as a child, while thumbing through yellowed photo albums with Mara on his lap. “An odd duck,” he had said, then quacked in her ear, making her giggle and squirm. Like many of the family farms of the twentieth century, as technology outpaced the farmers, her father’s family had been forced to cut their losses and sell their land, piece by piece. By the 1980s, all her grandfather owned was this house, the driveway, and a scrap of backyard that backed up to someone else’s farmland. It had made him bitter and tough like a corn husk. She remembered how his hands had felt the same as a dried-out stalk on her skin: rough and full of surprising, sharp edges. 50


Her mother had stepped into the living room, and was frowning at the wallpaper. Mara remembered what the inspector had said when she told him she was planning to sell the house: You should really keep places like this in the family. She became conscious of the fact that she was clenching her jaw, and let her muscles relax as she stepped into the living room. Her mother had perched on one of the plastic covered sofas, staring out the front window. A squirrel was grooming itself on the front porch railing and looked up with a start when Mara noticed it, as if it could sense her gaze. She looked away and sat on the couch opposite her mother, with her back to the window. Against the wall, in between the sofas, a brick fireplace gaped with a cavernous, soot-blackened mouth. She was surprised at the fear that still took hold of her in this place. There was no father here anymore, she reasoned, no Eventually, like her father grandfather to rile him up and remind him of all the ways he had, they all returned to the had failed. She had seen years ago house and withered into it that there was no one who could like a cocoon, the mildewy anger you like a parent, especially smell of the wallpaper rubwhen you saw so much of them bing off on their hands until in who you were becoming. it was part of their skin. Many of the men who had owned this house had struck out into the world at adulthood, in an attempt to carve out the individual they could be instead of filling the same mold their fathers had filled; Mara’s father had attended college and lived across the state for several years, but his divorce from her mother had driven him right back. Eventually, like her father had, they all returned to the house and withered into it like a cocoon, the mildewy smell of the wallpaper rubbing off on their hands until it was part of their skin. “What do you think?” Her mother’s voice, injected with superficial positivity, didn’t fit the house and bounced off the walls. Mara paused, weighing her words. “It’s the same.” It wasn’t, of course—the few pieces of furniture left were covered with sheets of plastic, and the house had decayed another decade, but it was the same. 51


The spirit and the bones of it were the same. “It wasn’t this bad when you came here.” Her mother said it as a statement, but Mara heard the question underneath. Mara paused. “No,” she eventually agreed. Her mother stared at her while Mara stared at a crack in the wall just above her mother’s forehead. She had unconsciously begun to mirror her mother’s position, her hands folded in her lap with her ankles neatly crossed. Like this, she realized, they looked as alike as everyone had always said they did. Even now that Mara had chopped her hair into a short pixie, their wide-set jaws, full lips, and dark, slightly narrowed eyes were the same. Mara unfolded her hands and set them on her knees. “Do you think I should sell it?” Her mother pursed her lips. “That’s really not up to me.” She fluttered a hand across her face, removing a stray strand of dirty blonde hair. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?” Mara sighed, and leaned back against the sticky, crinkling plastic couch cover. “I lost my job, you know.” Her mother raised her eyebrows slightly. “Why?” Mara shrugged. “Just layoffs,” she lied. She let another moment of silence go by as she picked at a loose thread on her jeans. “I’m thinking I might stay out here. Fix it up.” Her mother raised her eyebrows. “What made you change your mind?” Mara shrugged again. “It’s not like I have anything better to do.” To her own surprise, Mara packed a suitcase and an air mattress from her small apartment in the city a few hours away, and moved into the house that she had dreaded for so many years. She thought about setting up camp in her former bedroom at the top of the stairs, but standing in it for more than a minute made her skin crawl. She retreated instead to the living room; still, she felt surrounded by ghosts all night. She could hear her father in the dining room, muttering to himself over a manuscript until he broke and tore up the pages, scattering them across the floor. She heard him get up and slam the front door as he left. She almost felt her grandfather bend down and caress her, to say 52


good night, as he sometimes did. She shivered under her blankets and squeezed her eyes shut until she fell asleep. Mara wandered into the town’s only hardware store the day after she moved in, reasoning that it was not an unfamiliar place; her grandfather had taken her there a few times in her childhood, to pick up various bits and pieces he needed for projects around the house. Mara had usually entertained herself in the garden section, spinning the decorative metal pinwheels stuck into large plastic buckets and listening to the classic rock radio station echoing off the metal walls of every aisle. It was the same station her father always listened to at home. Even now, as she wandered up and down the aisles, grabbing whatever looked important to her renovations, she realized the station still played the same songs. Her father had filled the house with music like that in good times and in bad. When he was happy, he would sing along and sometimes dance with her standing on his feet. When he was angry—when something he was writing on his loud, clacking typewriter wasn’t turning out the way he wanted, or after a fight with her grandfather—he would blast the music in the dining room and stare straight out the window into the corn, the muscles in his jaw flexing. It did not take Mara long to learn as a child that her father’s work was everything. The mood of the entire house rested on whether her father could string words together to his satisfaction. When she was a child, she had grown curious about the writing her father was always doing. Wasn’t it he who had said that she had inherited his wild imagination and creativity? Perhaps, she had thought, she would be like her father, a great and tortured writer. She had wanted inspiration. Unfortunately, her quest for inspiration had ended with her spilling her glass of cranberry juice over most of what her father had written that weekend. Panicked, she had tried to mop it up with a towel, only to smear the black ink further and ruin the towel as well. Later, she was sitting in her bedroom, trying to find shapes and pictures in the popcorn ceiling. She had almost let the guilt of the incident in the dining room slip away from her when her father appeared in her doorway. There was a moment of happiness at seeing him before 53


she abruptly remembered what she had done. He asked her, slowly, if she had been in the dining room today. She nodded. He asked her if she had seen what had happened to his work. Her eyes had started to well up with tears, which only seemed to infuriate him further. She was ready to be yelled at, the way he had yelled at her mother occasionally, but he surprised her. He picked up a small porcelain rabbit, a gift from her grandfather when she was a toddler, that rested on her dresser near the doorway. He turned it over in his hands and hefted it, testing its weight. It happened quickly but she remembered knowing what was going to happen before it did. He looked her in the eyes as he threw it against the wall and watched her see it smash to pieces through her blurred, teary vision. The tinkling of the pieces of the rabbit gave way to a stark, pressing silence that was broken when her father turned and walked away, the floorboards creaking under him. Later he had apologized and said that sometimes he just got angry, that it wasn’t his fault because of how he was raised, and that he knew she would understand because no one understood him better than she did. He didn’t even remember doing it, he insisted; his temper had taken over completely. He blamed her grandfather and Mara had said that she didn’t like him either, but for some reason that had made her father frown harder instead of relax. When her grandfather tucked her in that night, he was rougher with her than usual. Mara was headed back to the house feeling prepared, with her trunk full of tools and a hardware store receipt a mile long. She carefully arranged her purchases in the living room, and taped the paint swatches she had picked up on the wall near the window. She turned on the small color-changing speaker and put her phone on shuffle. She folded her arms and began to assess how much work there was to be done. A small panic was beginning to rise in her stomach; her heart started thrumming in her chest and in her ears. Her cheeks flushed and she felt as though someone was squeezing her lungs, keeping her from inhaling. She tried to take a deep breath and found the stale air of the house choked her even more. She tore out the front door and sat on the porch steps, nestling 54


her head between her knees. She saw fat droplets of water strike the steps underneath her and realized there were tears pooling in her eyes and dripping out. She had a sudden memory, of storming upstairs to her room as a teenager, screaming down to her father at the bottom of the stairs, “Once I’m eighteen I’m never coming back here, and you won’t be able to make me!” before slamming her bedroom door shut so hard her windows rattled in their panes. Look at that, she thought. You found a way to make me come back. “Have you made much progress?” Her mother sounded distracted through the phone, as though she was folding laundry or watching television. “Some,” Mara lied. So far not much had happened. She had cleaned up the extra junk lying around, but most of her father’s personal items had been sold off in an estate sale before Mara even came back into town. Most of her time in the house had been spent moving from room to room, picking at bubbles on the wallpaper, and staring out the windows. “What have you done?” Somehow just the sound of her mother’s voice exhausted her. “Do you want a list or something?” “Just thought I’d ask,” her mother said evenly. It was nearly impossible these days to get a rise out of her. Every time Mara’s sharp, angry words bounced off her mother’s collected exterior, they seemed to rebound on Mara and make her even angrier. “I didn’t get laid off, you know.” Her mother paused. “What do you mean?” “I got fired.” Mara hoped the words were hitting her mother as hard as she was throwing them. “I was working on a graphic design project and I didn’t like it and I kept trying new things and I still didn’t like it and then the computer crashed so I smashed it and I got fired.” Static crackled through the phone line. Mara wondered if she’d finally broken her mother, if her mouth was hanging open in horror and she would start to yell and scream, but she only sighed. “Oh, Mara.” It only took the softness of her words for Mara’s anger to collapse around her like a sandcastle pushed over by a wave. She wondered 55


sometimes if her mother did it on purpose, stayed stoic and emotionless to make Mara hate herself for her anger. “Sorry,” she said, her voice cracking slightly. “We all make mistakes,” her mother recited. “Mara, I have to head back to work. Call me anytime you need anything, okay?” Yeah, I’ll call you anytime I need to be reminded what a piece of shit I am, Mara thought. She immediately regretted thinking it. She chewed her lip after she hung up the phone. She hadn’t told anyone what had happened at her job yet; she had burned her bridges there in a fiery blaze her father would be proud of. She had hated herself in that moment, staring down at the shattered computer screen, not only because this action cost her the job, but because she had already forgotten doing it. She had always told her father that not remembering was a terrible excuse. Mara tried to shrug off the familiar cloud of self-hatred that surrounded her, but the urge to mentally spiral clung to her like a child to its father’s leg. She paced around the house, the sound of creaking floorboards like white noise to her now. Stopping at her bedroom door, she examined the wallpaper once more, and noticed, for the first time, how faded the light blue background patterned with little yellow flowers had become. She had hated it as a child, but she found now that she didn’t mind it. She hated that she didn’t mind it. The motivation seized her suddenly, fueled both by her anger toward herself, and a deeper, simmering anger toward her house that was finally rising to the surface. She grabbed the broad knife that was gathering dust in the corner of the room and allowed the rubbery plastic to settle into the curve of her palm. She scored the wallpaper starting in the corner, and used the broad knife to slowly begin peeling it away. She laughed when, after peeling up about a square foot of the stuff, she found another layer of wallpaper underneath. This one had worn, pale green vertical stripes, and was harder to peel off. It came up in little slivered ribbons, sometimes bringing with it chunks of a third layer at the very bottom. She touched a piece of it as she uncovered it, her fingers brushing over the beige damask that had faded to almost no pattern at all. She wondered if it was original to the room built more than a hundred years ago, and 56


realized that this paper probably hadn’t seen the sunlight in at least fifty years. It made her sad, a little, that someone had spent all that time making something only for it to be covered up. Her arms ached as she scraped along the wall, moving up and down, as high as she could reach to crawling along the baseboard. She occasionally gouged the wall in places, but she didn’t care. The wall, she reasoned, could be patched up; the wallpaper had to go. She worked into the night, sweat beading on her forehead and crushing chunks of discarded wallpaper under her bare feet as they piled up around the room. Outside the house, the fields of corn that surrounded her continued to rustle and sway even as darkness fell, as constant as ever in their cycle of growth and decay.

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Why Didn’t You Call Me September 11th? Allison Whittenberg Jean’s body was drawn up in the cold. Her eyes traveled the room. Frugal, Tim kept the thermostat at 54. His nose was often red, right at the tip. It made him look like a drunk. She looked down the corners as she wondered for a moment where she was. She had one of those soprano headaches—huge and pulsing. Her brown body was on one side of the bed. His white one on the other. Not touching. Not on her belly. Not on her thigh. They were quarreling and while they did, Jean looked at the four walls. They were blank. The one picture he did display was downstairs. It was a bike trip he took when he was in college. She never asked him why that was special enough to put up, but she guessed it commemorated a time when he thought of the city as an adventure instead of a cesspool. “Jean, my brother said you should have called me.” “You weren’t even in New York,” she said. “I was in an airplane.” “You were in North Carolina.” “I was over North Carolina.” Tim Flanagan was taller than she was. Nearly 40, he wasn’t handsome anymore. Fallen-faced. He played golf for recreation, and his body wasn’t thin or thick. It was simply prematurely middle-aged. Jean was average height. She kept her hair well straightened with Dixie Peach and always looked somewhat older than she was. It was the gray hair that she did a lousy job at concealing. She had a block in the front that was solid white. Very much like Tim, with his salt and brown hair and his stiff gestures, his droopy, damp eyes, she wasn’t trying to appear youthful or vigorous. They had other things in common. Neither liked to do much. It was always dinner or a movie. Never both. Tim always paid but never bought her flowers, stuffed animals, or candy. He thought that was wasteful and meaningless. Tim worked as an engineer, and Jean was a psych aide in a ward 58


for abused children. They both went to bed early in order to get their eight hours of sleep each night. Intercourse once every other week was alright. Clothed intercourse with the lights off lasting only minutes in the standard position. Both were partial to quick kisses. Neither liked the tongue. Jean shivered. “Well, why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you check on me? All those kids I work with. I had to keep them sane.” “You know I don’t have your work number.” “You never asked for it, Tim.” “I never needed it. You have your mom if something really happened.” “And your brother lives right down the street.” “And he called me.” “To ask if I called you?” “No, Jean, he called to see if I was alright like you were supposed to do.” Tim came from a good-sized Irish Catholic family. His mother also, just two miles away in the house he grew up in. Two married sisters in Delaware. “If I was living with you, I would have called you,” she said. “Why would you move in here with me? This is an hour from your work.” “We could live together in some place.” “I’m not selling my house. Not in this market. And what about your mother? You can’t leave her alone after all these years…. So where are we going, huh?” He sounded irritated. The icy range in his voice. “Jean, what if I said I will marry you tomorrow?” A white chill bit through her. She folded her lips. “You wouldn’t ask me that.” “What if I did? What if I said, ‘Jean, let’s get married?’ What would you do then?” He turned to her. “Look, maybe I’ll get that new position. I’ll be able to telecommute. I’ll also make about $10,000 more.” “Then we’d see more of each other?” He lapsed into thoughtful silence. They lay silent as if watching a dying fire. No chasing after each 59


other crying. The arguments they had were never operatic. They were always like this, carefully modulated. She pulled the covers more tightly over her nightgown body. He seemed fine in his flannel pjs. Some people are like that, climatized. The next morning, Jean drove home, looking without watching, without seeing. She thought of all those glossy vacation brochures she’d been collecting, fantasizing about their imaginary honeymoon where they would both finally splurge and live it up. She’d also been scoping out children with olive complexions and straight hair. That’s how her pretend child looked. Straight-haired. No turn at all. She wasn’t a racist; she just liked that look. She believed it was prettier. Jean never thought she was particularly pretty. Her thick eyebrows dipped into a V. All throughout high school, her mother wouldn’t let her pluck her eyebrows. If her mother had let her pluck her eyebrows, would she have been more popular back then? Those were the crucial years for forming relations. All of the expectant widows of 9/11 seemed so well connected. Well into family formation when it happened. Several were into their ninth month of pregnancy. She stopped for gasoline and a Snowball. Jean liked to write down everything she spent through the day right down to the sixty-sixcent cupcake purchase. In her whole life, she’d never bought a bottle of wine or dry-cleaned an outfit. She had cassettes. No CDs. That would mean buying a CD player. Her clothes were from Clover’s. Sensible shoes, not too much heel. She really hadn’t changed her simple style of dress from twenty years ago. The sugar and carbohydrates plateau took away her headache. Up until that day, Jean had thought that he was the one. They had so much in common. Both were conservative people. Though it was mid-November and they’d been going out over a year, Tim wasn’t her boyfriend. They didn’t share. She never left anything over his house or felt like she could, or should. When Jean reached Calhoun, the small, nondescript borough on the outskirts of Philadelphia, her mother was about to leave for Presbyterian Church. Her blue-haired, gossipy friends were about to come by for her. The house was roasting. Her mother liked to keep 60


things at 77, fussing at her anytime she touched the thermostat. Jean immediately took off layers of clothing till she was just in an undershirt. Jean stirred some Tang into a glass of water and put the Eggos in the toaster. “Why don’t you have some oatmeal today, Jean?” “I don’t want oatmeal.” “You have waffles every morning. Have pancakes. It’s almost the same.” “I want waffles, Mom.” Jean’s mom had shiny black walnut skin and a Jeri curl wig that she started to wear after a bad relaxer. “What movie did you see? Did you see Collateral Damage? Is it worth it or is it a rental?” she asked her daughter. “It was alright, Ma,” Jean answered. Jean was an only child, “I thought they were hold- the product of her father’s ing that back because of all this.” second marriage. “They did. It was originally supposed to be released back in September.” “Well, I guess enough time has passed. Here it is November already. Does he get the terrorist that killed his family?” “Of course, Ma. That’s Hollywood.” “I wish you would have waited to see it with me, Jean. I like Schwarzenegger.” “We can see the next thing he’s in, Mom.” Jean was an only child, the product of her father’s second marriage. She had half brothers and sisters who were in their fifties and a whole cadre of half nieces and nephews who lived from 200 to 1000 miles away. It was hard to keep in touch. Her happiest days were behind her, when she was really young watching her father adjusting the Windsor knot of his tie. Wrapped in a quilt of her father’s memories, missing his large, big-knuckled hands—his laughter. He liked coconut-covered marshmallow-filled cupcakes. It was adult-onset diabetes he died of. He kept his sickness from her. He was that kind of father. Jean reassured herself that Tim wouldn’t break up with her with 61


the holidays coming. He was sensible enough to save himself the trouble of looking for someone new. Another whole generic year went by almost and Jean and Tim were on the same tepid schedule. Once a week dinner or movie, sex barely touching. But it didn’t feel like the relationship was winding down. It was just settling down like a stone at the bottom of a river. Eggos and Tang. Day after day, Jean went to work, came home and spoke to her mother and went to bed. International news varied in the next few months. It was either about anti-terrorist military squads or the INS or whatever. Yet it never seemed like the culprits would be precisely identified. Months later, the bad guys weren’t captured. They hid in caves. Jean didn’t read the New York Times. She watched TV and Peter Jennings told her and her mom about Afghanistan and other countries she’d never heard of. What was Al Qaeda? What’s a jihad? This vocabulary. This geography. Ten months passed; everyone was still asking deep questions about kismet. What’s kismet? Jean wanted to find a new job, but was unable to locate the resolve to do so. She didn’t even want to be in the educational field anymore. She never had. Obedient and logical, she had done beautifully in high school, but less so in college where her brand of spewing back exactly what was dictated to her wasn’t so well rewarded. Her paper would always come back with the same advice: “Put more you into this.” She should have gone to forestry school. That’s what she really wanted to do, but there were so few women in the field and even fewer Blacks. As a consolation, she volunteered at an animal shelter Saturday mornings and afternoons. She liked feeding cats and dogs. She liked helping the approved applicants to select just the right dog for adoption. She had her eye on a Labrador retriever mix. Just two months. Dogs stay in your life for a decade or so. It’d be like a marriage. She ran the idea past her mom. “I don’t want some dog,” her mom said. “It’s a small dog, Mom.” “Who’s going to clean up after it? You? Look how you keep your room.” 62


Jean listened to her mom as she’d always done. Her mom was now in her 70s. A little stooped, she took tablets for her osteoporosis. It was her house. Jean just lived there with her. Her mother set the thermostat high, saying old people have old bones. The first September 11 was on a Tuesday. This time it fell on a Wednesday. Jean called Tim. “Hi,” she said. “Hello,” he said. “I just wanted to call you.” “What? Why?” “Because I didn’t last year.” “Oh, that. You’re still thinking about that. That’s ancient history. I’m glad you called…. I have to go away this weekend. So we can’t get together.” She thought of how it would be, lying in bed with him. Not touching, not looking at each other in their frozen divorced compartments. “Isn’t it funny? Your brother got married to that girl who he’d known for six months less than you’d known me.” “That’s funny?” Jean was burning up in this hot house. “I didn’t get to the punchline—they still haven’t found Bin Laden.” “You’re acting strange.” “Aren’t you going to ask how work was today?” “You never asked me. Look, where is all this going, Jean? You call me in the middle of this week, and you’re all over the place.” “Have a good trip, Tim. I’ll see you the weekend you get back.” “Now you sound like yourself, Jean. Good night.” Then he hung up. Then she hung up. It was only eight in the evening. She looked around the room to see horse posters on the wall. They’d been there since sixth grade. Jean walked downstairs. Her mom was on the couch. Sunday paper was still out. Metro section strewn. A 9/11 retrospective of local residents lost. Coupons clipped. Her mother had coffee on a saucer. No longer hot, lukewarm. Cold. Jean wondered how she could stand sipping at it. Cold liquid that th

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was supposed to be hot. Her mom had her hands on the remote, scanning the channels. Press the bottom on the control, and the image faded. On this anniversary, Jean didn’t want to be alone. She went to the kitchen to have Ritz crackers with peanut butter then she went to the living room to be with her mother. A sofa and two armchairs formed a U around the TV. “I guess nothing regular’s going to come on tonight,” her mother muttered. A young, hot Latin singer did his hit single. Something about being a hero. It was clear that his vocal ability was lacking. He made it on his appearance. Tall, olive, romantic looking. “What kind of variety show is this?” her mother asked. Jean sighed, leaned in the doorway, and turned her eyes toward the set. In that chunk of time after her father passed away and she had started going out with Tim, she had questioned life. Obviously, those who die young never grow old, but how about those who grow old who never had the chance to be young? Jean was young when her father passed. Jean wanted a new life. She wanted death to be the one that she had. With any death, there would be rejection of the truth, depression from the truth, acceptance, then the reconstruction part. She needed to change towns and jobs. She needed to buy a place to live on her own. But she didn’t want to live alone. She couldn’t. When her father died, the world didn’t stop. TV shows weren’t preempted. Balding, overweight, always had a smile, joked a lot. He used to bring home Chinese food and Chinese tea and say, “Take tea, and see.” Upon his death, her legs buckled under, face frozen in disbelief. His laugh, big, throaty, and full. He was the life of the house. He lived 72 years, six months and twenty-two days. Jean’s heavy-lidded eyes watched the TV. She thought that she could try to find someone else on the internet. Log on under her America Online handle. Her middle name followed by the number 2. Perhaps she could meet someone who actually wanted to share. To get married and have a child and a dog. To start something that would be there. Always. It was the pop opera singer’s turn. The way this woman sang was 64


so emotive and clear. She reached her arms and delivered a song from the musical Carousel. “You’ll…never… walk… alone...” The camera panned the audience of Blacks, Whites, youngs, olds, Gentiles, Jews. The audience nodded in affirmation. They turned to their sons and daughters and sisters and brothers like this was just what they needed to hear. Jean’s right ear touched the flat cushion. Her shoulders sagged. She felt life pass her, and then she felt nothing.

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Wedding Dance Cynthia Moritz Carl and Marilyn Beverley had a mission—to get their son Mike married to his live-in girlfriend, Sunny. They knew he had been badly scorched when his first marriage, at twenty-two to his college sweetheart, had fallen apart within six months. He had sworn never to go through that again. But when, at age thirty-one, he fell head over heels for Sunny, they assumed it would be just a matter of time before the happy couple announced their engagement. Mike had explained to them over and over again that it was never going to happen. He was done with marriage, and Sunny, the child of a pair of latter-day hippies who never saw the need to legalize their relationship, hadn’t grown up thinking marriage was a necessity. But Carl and Marilyn knew in their hearts that Mike and Sunny would be better off married, like all of their friends’ children and Mike’s two sisters. Michelle and Mallory had graduated from college, gotten married, and were now perfectly happy, though there had been that silliness last year when Michelle told her husband, Kevin, to move out of the house for a while because of some girl he had been having an “emotional affair” with, whatever that was. But now they were back together and even expecting another baby. So the Saturday before Christmas, the senior Beverleys invited Mike and Sunny for lunch. Sunny voted to skip it, because recent visits to Mike’s parents had devolved into uncomfortable sessions where Marilyn corralled her to go through albums of her daughters’ wedding photos, while the men shot pool and Carl preached about the need for Mike to live up to his responsibilities. But Mike pointed out to her that they had been ducking his parents for months, so they really needed to suck it up and go. Carl and Marilyn ushered the young couple into the dining room, where each place setting included a champagne flute. A bottle of Moët & Chandon sweated in an ice bucket on a stand beside the head of the table. “What’s the occasion?” Mike asked, eyeing the spread with a 66


frown. “Take a seat, take a seat,” Marilyn ordered. “We’ve got something exciting to tell you. But first, let’s eat.” Everyone dutifully took helpings of something fancy that Marilyn had no doubt learned in her gourmet cooking class, though neither Mike nor Sunny ate more than a forkful, he because he was suspicious of what was to come, she because Marilyn’s culinary experiments always made her slightly nauseated. “C’mon, Mom and Dad.” Mike said. “We can’t sit here and eat like the other shoe’s not gonna drop. Spill.” Carl put down his fork and took his time wiping his mouth. Then he hesitated, like he was looking for the right words. “Go on,” “...since you two Marilyn urged, “they’re gonna haven’t done anything to love it. Tell them!” “Okay, here it is,” he said. plan your wedding, we’ve “We’ve decided to give you a done it for you!” And then special Christmas present. We’re she actually clapped her going to go ahead and pay for hands together, beaming at your wedding. The whole thing’s the younger couple. a done deal.” Sunny put down her fork, aligning it precisely with the knife. “What wedding?” Mike asked. If his parents hadn’t had their heads so far up in the clouds, they might have noticed the slightly threatening tone of his voice. “Well,” Marilyn answered, “since you two haven’t done anything to plan your wedding, we’ve done it for you!” And then she actually clapped her hands together, beaming at the younger couple. If it had been summertime, there would have been crickets. After almost a minute, Marilyn prodded, “So, isn’t it exciting? Are you ready to hear the details?” Sunny rose from her seat carefully. “Thanks for lunch,” she told Marilyn and Carl. To Mike she said, “I’ll be in the car,” and walked out. Her dramatic exit was marred by the need to pause in the hall to put on her boots, but a moment later, they all heard the front door slam. “Well, that was pretty rude,” Marilyn commented, “but since she’s going to be my daughter-in-law, I’ll overlook it.” Mike used his hands to pull at his own hair, to keep them from 67


shaking his mother. He tried to speak calmly. “For the thousandth time, Mom, she’s not going to be your daughter-in-law. We’re not having a wedding. Why can’t you hear that?” “Your mother’s only trying to help,” Carl chastised. “Look what a load she’s taken off your shoulders.” “Yes!” Marilyn chipped in. “We thought since you haven’t made any progress, so to speak, after all this time, maybe, you know, maybe you just needed some help getting the ball rolling. We thought once you saw it all laid out for you, you could just jump on board! All you have to do is show up!” Mike heaved a huge sigh. “Dad. Mom. It’s not that we lack time or money to plan a wedding. If we wanted one, we would plan one. But we DON’T FUCKING WANT ONE. CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? NO WEDDING. EVER. WHATEVER PLANS YOU’VE MADE, CANCEL THEM.” “Don’t you use that language with us, mister!” Carl yelled. “What language would make you understand?” Mike countered. “We’ve tried everything we can think of, but it’s like you’ve gone deaf!” Marilyn frowned and reached across the table, laying her hand on his arm, her face suddenly serious. “Is there something you’re not telling us, son? Are the two of you not happy together anymore? Oh dear, maybe she was just rude because she was trying not to cry, the poor thing!” Mike jerked his arm away from her. He got up from the table, and stood with his arms crossed, glaring at his parents. “Sunny and I are very happy together. We plan to grow old together. But we don’t need a license from the state to validate our relationship,” he said firmly. “But don’t you want to celebrate your love?” Marilyn cried. “We celebrate it every day,” he said. And with that, he made his own exit, pausing only to put on his boots. *** A few days later, once Carl and Marilyn had given up waiting for them to fall in line on their own, Mike and Sunny each received the following email:

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From: TheBeverleys
 To: Mike; Sunny
 Re: Your Happy Day!

Hi, you two. Hope you are feeling better. Since you didn’t wait around long enough to get the scoop, here it is: Your wedding will take place
Saturday, June 18, 6 p.m.
Webley’s by the Lake
Ceremony to be followed immediately by a reception.

“I hate Webley’s,” Sunny said. “So what,” Mike answered. “We won’t be there.” “I know, but they could have at least picked someplace better than that cheap-ass wedding factory.” “I’ll be sure to let them know,” he cracked. The message went on: Sunny, be sure to tell us your bridesmaids’ colors, so we can incorporate them into the decorations. And both of you, we will need a guest list soon! Love, Mom & Dad

“This is beyond bizarre,” Sunny said. “Do you think we should call someone?” “Like?” “Like a mental health professional. They’re delusional. We’ve told them clearly and repeatedly that we’re not getting married, but they’re still planning a wedding. They’re spending money on it. And even at Webley’s, that’s a big chunk of money.” “You know how controlling my parents have always been. Did I ever mention how my mom used to try to tell the teachers in grade school who to seat me next to each year?” Mike said. “Yeah, you did,” Sunny chuckled. “But my favorite was the thing about her calling you at college every night to make sure you brushed your teeth before bed.” “Oh my God, my roommate would not let that go. And by the way, I’m pretty sure Kevin didn’t just come back to Michelle on his own. I think my dad dangled a loan to get his consulting business going.” “Sometimes my parents are so hands-off, I almost feel like they don’t care,” Sunny reflected. “Like, my mom doesn’t bother with Christmas gifts, just deposits money in my bank account—but when I compare them to Carl and Marilyn, I want to get down on my knees 69


and thank God.” “You know, if there’s one thing my dad considers himself, it’s a smart businessman, so I may be able to get to him through his wallet,” Mike mused. “Webley’s probably has a deadline for refunding the deposit. Maybe I can get them to cancel this whole mess before then.” It turned out the deadline for getting the deposit back was three months before the event, so Mike had time to work on his parents. He pointed out what a tremendous waste of money it would be, since he and Sunny were never going to change their minds. But his mother just smiled and said, “Oh, you’ll show up. God won’t let me down.” So Mike turned to his father, whom he hoped would be a little more rational. “How are you going to feel when you have all your friends and family there for our wedding, and we don’t show up, Dad?” Mike asked. “Well, isn’t that on you, son?” Carl replied. Then Mike appealed to his sisters. “Mom and Dad are paying for your wedding and you’re complaining?” Michelle said. “What do I get for just doing it and not making a peep?” Mallory, ever the parent pleaser, said, “Well, is it really that important to you to not be married? I mean, you love each other, right? So maybe you could just go along to make Mom and Dad happy. You could always get divorced secretly. They wouldn’t have to know.” “Unbelievable,” Sunny commented when he reported back to her. He and Sunny contacted all the people they knew would be invited, to tell them to ignore the invitation—there would be no wedding. Some thanked him for the heads-up. A surprising number replied that they would go just so Carl and Marilyn wouldn’t feel bad. More than a few echoed Mallory, saying, “Why don’t you just get married, since you’re together anyway? What’s the harm?” “Yeah, why shouldn’t the Jews in Nazi Germany have just worn those six-pointed stars? What was the harm?” Sunny ranted. “That might be a little harsh, babe,” Mike chided. “Sorry.” Sunny sighed. “This whole thing is getting to me. And it’s the kind of pressure your parents were hoping to create.” “I don’t think my parents are that Machiavellian. But whatever. We just have to put up with this for another few months. Then it’ll all 70


be over.” “But will it?” Sunny asked. She plopped down on the couch next to him. “Lately I’ve been wondering what happens after this whole debacle. Do they start more actively trying to break us up? If they can get rid of me, maybe they can find someone for you who would be more amenable to their wishes.” “Find somebody for me? Thanks a lot, honey,” Mike said. “You do know how tough I’ve had to stand to become my own man against my parents, right? They tried as hard as they could to squeeze a lawyer out of a carpenter, but here I am, making furniture for a living.” “Yeah, I know,” Sunny said. “So if I’m tough enough to withstand all that pressure, why would you think that they could break us up? Do you really think my parents have that much influence over me?” Sunny shrugged. “No, I know they don’t. It’s just getting to me. I’ve never had to stand up to anybody like this. You know how laissez-faire my parents are. As long as I support myself and don’t become an axe murderer, or at least don’t get caught, they’re cool.” “Why do you think I love you so much?” Mike joked. “I pretend they’re my parents too.” “But there’s another thing,” Sunny added. “Until recently I guess I thought if anything, your parents were neutral about me. They’ve always been friendly, if not exactly ‘Hey, you’re part of the family.’ But since this whole wedding thing has taken over our lives, I’m realizing that they probably don’t really like me. They want you to hook up with somebody more traditional. And I’ve always thought I was a tough chick, but that hurts me. And it makes me afraid I’ll lose you.” Mike took Sunny’s wine glass and put both his and hers down on the coffee table that he had made. Then he drew her into his arms for a long minute. Kissing the top of her head, he said, “Sweetheart, you’re everything to me. I hope it never comes to that, but if I had to choose you or them, I’d choose you every time.” He held her away from him so they were facing each other, and grinned. “Besides, you carry the health insurance. I’d be crazy to give that up.” ***

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On a Thursday in May, Sunny took the afternoon off work for a dentist appointment. As she left Dr. Dexter’s office in a small strip mall, she turned to her left and paused in front of Monique’s Bridal Boutique. Then she went in, registered herself as Anne Johansen, and started trying on dresses. She tried on knee-length, tea-length and long dresses. She tried on one dress with a train (“Maybe on someone a little taller,” said the saleswoman with a tiny frown.). She tried on A-lines and ball gowns and one mermaid shape. She tried on dresses covered with lace and dresses dusted with pearls, and one bedecked with Swarovski crystals. Then she tried on a dress that was somewhat plain and fit just about perfectly. It caused the saleswoman to proclaim, “Oh, now that could work,” and hand her a fake bouquet to help her picture the complete look. Sunny studied herself in the full-length mirror for almost a minute. The saleswoman snapped a picture with an ancient Polaroid camera. Then Sunny went to the dressing room, took off the dress, hung it up, patted it once or twice, and climbed back into her own clothes. As she was leaving the store, the saleswoman handed her the Polaroid, which she shoved into her handbag without looking at it. “Shall I save the dress for you?” the saleswoman called out. “Yes, I’ll be back with my mother next week,” Sunny answered. Then she got in her car and drove away. *** “What the hell?” “Huh?” Sunny said without taking her eyes off the Netflix movie they were watching. Mike had been rooting through her purse for the throat lozenges that were usually somewhere in the mess. “Sunny, what is this?” Mike said, his two-glasses-of-wine softness suddenly gone. He was waving a piece of paper in her face. She paused the movie and grabbed it. “Oh, crap, I forgot all about that,” she said. “It’s not what it looks like.” “It looks like you in a wedding gown.” “Well, yeah, but it was just kind of a joke.” “Not from the look on your face. You look kind of … happy.” 72


“No, I don’t, it’s just a bad picture.” “Sunny, where did this come from?” “It was just … it was a mistake. Could you do me a favor and just forget it? It’s nothing.” “How is it nothing, babe? Here’s you, who’s always said she didn’t have the teeniest interest in getting married, in a wedding dress, looking like somebody would have to tear it off your cold, dead body.” “It’s nothing! It doesn’t mean anything. Please just throw it away and forget you saw it. I forgot I even had that stupid picture,” said Sunny, her face bright red. “But why do you have it?” Mike demanded. “When were you in a wedding dress? Is this recent? What does this mean?” “It means you were going through my private stuff without asking! Why can’t you ask?” she griped, grabbing her purse and throwing it under a couch pillow. “Oh no, you don’t get to do that,” Mike said. “Not after telling me a million times if there’s something I need in your purse I should just go in and get it. You can’t change the rules now.” “I never realized you would go in and open every piece of paper and inspect everything!” Sunny said. “From now on, I want you to ask.” “You know damn well that’s not what I was doing,” Mike answered. “Come on, Sunny. This isn’t about me going into your purse. It’s about this picture.” “What about it? It’s not like you found porn or something!” She turned back to the TV and clicked to un-pause the movie. Mike rubbed his face hard with his hands and sighed. Then he looked at Sunny, who was ignoring him. “Okay, I guess we’re not gonna talk about this now,” he said. “I’m gonna go do some work.” Then he stomped out to the barn behind the house, which housed his workshop. By the time he came back in several hours later, Sunny was in bed, pretending to sleep. The next day, as often happened, they didn’t really see each other until dinner. Sunny left early for her office, and Mike spent the day putting the finishing touches on a chest of drawers for a new customer he hoped to impress. When he came in from the barn at last, tired and hungry, he found Sunny standing over a large box. “It’s from your aunt and uncle in Florida,” she said. “A wedding 73


present.” “Oh no. Did we leave them out of the no-wedding, no-gifts directive?” “That’s not the worst part. Here, read.” Mike took the card with two fingers as if it might burst into flames. “Dear Mike and Sunny,” it said. “So happy for you on your special day, and sorry we can’t be there. We chose something from your registry, so we know you’ll like it. Enjoy! Uncle Rick and Aunt Judy” “Fuck! Fucking fuck fuck! I hate my parents!” Mike screamed. With each expletive, he gave the box a kick, causing it to rattle. “Geez, Mike! Watch it. What if you broke it?” Sunny cried. “I hope I did,” Mike said. “Serve them right.” “Rick and Judy? They haven’t done anything to us.” “I mean my parents. We should make them pay to return it.” They circled the box a few times, but finally decided they were too hungry to deal with it, so they ordered pizza. Once their bellies were full, they were drawn to the box again. “I wonder what it is,” Sunny said, kneeling down to shake the box gently. “What if it’s something cool?” Mike stared at her. “Okay, first, my parents have a lawn jockey. What are the chances of anything cool having found its way onto the registry they made up? And second, who are you? First, you’re trying on wedding dresses, and now you’re obsessing about wedding gifts? What the hell?” Sunny stood up. “I’m just wondering. I mean, you can’t deny a new Keurig would be great. Or one of those instant pots? Jessie got one for her wedding, and she says it’s the best.” Mike took her by the shoulders. “Do you hear yourself? You’re turning into Wedding Barbie!” “I am not. I’m just having a little fun.” “A little fun? Next thing I know, you’ll be saying you want a bridal shower!” “Well, you have to admit, it would be great to get all new stuff for free,” Sunny said, eyebrows raised. “We could have matching towels for the first time ever.” “I think you really want to get married. You want the whole thing—the walk down the aisle on your father’s arm, him symbolically 74


giving you to me, the—the—fucking garter toss, everything!” Mike said with a hint of panic in his voice. Sunny laughed. “Mike, calm down. You know I’d kick you in the balls if you ever tried to take a garter off me while you made cheesy jokes to your friends. And no, I absolutely would never want my father to do something corny like give me away. And he wouldn’t even if I asked him to.” “Okay,” Mike said, taking a deep breath. “But Sunny, the real question is, have you changed your mind about getting married?” Sunny plopped down on the couch. “You know, Mike, before your parents came up with this whole crazy scheme, I don’t think I ever gave it any serious thought. My parents aren’t married, and a lot of their friends aren’t married, so I just assumed I would never get married. It’s probably the same way that most people grow up thinking they will get married because their parents are. So all these things—me trying on wedding dresses, daydreaming about having matching towels, shit like that—are just me trying on the idea to see what it feels like.” “Well, I’ve been there, and it didn’t feel good.” “Yeah, but that was with the wrong person. You told me that even before you got married you knew on some level that Bethany wasn’t the right one.” “God, no. What she really wanted was my dad’s version of me. On our honeymoon she tried to talk me into applying for law school.” “So if we did make the decision to get married, hopefully it would go better than it did with you and her.” “Except that the whole experience showed me that the marriage thing is just a lot of bullshit. I would go into it with a bad attitude.” “Even if it was with me?” Mike hesitated, but at last said, “Even if it was with you, Sunny. I just can’t see doing that again.” Sunny made him wait for a minute. Then she flashed her biggest smile. “Well, you’re in luck. Because I was just trying it out to see what all the fuss is about. Turns out white’s not my color.” *** About a month before W-Day, the flood of emails from Mike’s 75


parents slowed almost to a stop. It was too late for the bride and groom to furnish a guest list, likewise to choose colors. The guests would be mainly Mike’s relatives and his parents’ friends. (Sunny’s parents were invited, but promised not to come.) The colors would be lavender and yellow. (“Just coincidentally, your mother’s favorite colors,” Sunny pointed out.) Mike and Sunny tossed around ideas for what they should do on the big day. They briefly thought of going on vacation to remove themselves from the field of battle, but they were already committed to a trip to Cancun with friends later in the summer. They couldn’t afford another trip too. *** The day itself dawned as a beautiful summer day. “A perfect day for a wedding, goddammit,” Sunny grumped over her morning cup of coffee. “Or for a trip to Niagara Falls!” said Mike. “Pardon me?” “I’ve actually never been to Niagara Falls. Why not today?” “Why not indeed,” Sunny agreed. They hopped in the car and drove two hours up the Thruway. Thanks to a cancellation, they were able to get on a tour that got them access to everything—American side, Canadian side, Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, the works. Later, as they sat on a bench eating hot dogs from a cart and gazing at the other tourists leaning over the railings and taking pictures, Mike said, “You know, this used to be a huge honeymoon destination.” “Really? Did not know that,” Sunny answered. “So I guess your parents would say we’re putting the cart before the horse.” “When in fact, we’re putting the cart without the horse. Or something.” He laughed and kissed her on the cheek. “Come on, let’s go look at tourist junk.” They spent an hour browsing in one of the souvenir shops that sprouted along the roads near the falls, looking for a tchotchke to remember the day. The winner was a snow globe-like contraption that, at the pull of a handle, sent a tiny man in a barrel over a miniature falls. 76


When you turned it over, the barrel floated back to the starting point. On the way back home, they made small talk, but the question loomed: Would they drive by Webley’s and check on the festivities? They pretended to debate, but the answer was, of course, yes. They would at least make a swing through the parking lot. It was almost nine o’clock when they pulled in, and the parking lot was three-quarters full. “Wow,” Sunny said. “I didn’t even think this many people would show up.” “Lots of people like to see a car crash,” Mike replied. “Should we peek in?” Sunny was afraid of being caught, but Mike had already turned off the car and hopped out, so she grabbed her sweater against the cooling evening air and rushed to catch up. Webley’s was well set up for summer events, with the banquet room opening up to a huge deck jutting out over Larkin Lake. Mike and Sunny crept along the unwindowed and unlit side of the building until they could see a slice of this deck, where a dozen couples in their fifties and sixties gyrated to “Let’s Twist Again.” “My parents really went all out. Paid for a live band and everything,” Mike said. Then he snickered. “Geezer Prom.” Carl and Marilyn were in the center of the action, twisting as if their lives depended on it. They couldn’t have looked happier, he with his tux coat off and tie loosened, she with a yellow corsage on her lavender gown and her hair piled high. “At least they’re having a good time,” Sunny said. “I think they’ve forgotten all about us.” “Yeah, I guess they have.” He turned away and started to walk back to the parking lot, his hands shoved in the back pockets of his khaki shorts. “You seem kind of upset,” Sunny said. “Are you actually disappointed that the old folks are enjoying themselves?” Mike shrugged. “I guess. A little.” He looked sheepish. “I don’t know, I thought we’d maybe see them sobbing about how wrong they’ve been. Instead, they’re just dancing away like they didn’t try to force us to live their life.” He shrugged again. “I know, I’m being an idiot.” “Yeah, but you’re my idiot,” Sunny said. “Hey, let’s dance.” 77


“I don’t feel like it.” “Come on. It’s our non-wedding day! Just one.” She kicked off her sandals and grabbed his hand. At first she had to drag him, but he let himself be persuaded, and in a few seconds, they were twisting their hearts out. “Let’s Twist Again” became “Rock Around the Clock” became “At the Hop” became “Chantilly Lace” and Mike and Sunny jumped and twirled in the dark, making up their own steps to dances their grandparents had never taught them. Finally, the band brought the tempo down with “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” and they fell into each other’s arms. Sweaty and winded, they swayed to the music, eyes closed, and Mike whispered into her ear, “I love you so much, babe.” “Me too,” she breathed back. “Want to consummate this non-marriage?” “Now?” “Why not? It’s dark. Nobody knows we’re here.” In answer, he slid down the straps of her sundress. She tugged his T-shirt up and lifted it over his head. He laid it down, along with her sweater, on the grass, and nature took its course. Then they lay curled together and silent in the dark, taking in the smell of the freshly cut grass, the stars above and the happy end-of-evening sounds as the guests drifted to their cars. “Sounds like pretty much everyone’s gone,” Mike said eventually. “The coast is probably clear.” “Yup,” Sunny said as she felt around for her clothes. She had trouble finding her panties in the dark, scooping them up just before she and Mike tiptoed out from around the corner of the building—only to run into Mike’s parents, carrying the top layer of the wedding cake in a plastic container. Carl, at a loss, held out the container. “Cake?” he asked. “Uh, no thanks,” Mike said. Sunny moved the hand holding her underwear behind her back. “What the hell were you doing back there?” Marilyn asked. It was tough to tell whether she was angry or just tired, or some combination. Her yellow corsage drooped on her lavender breast. “Just looking in to see what was going on,” Mike said. 78


“Well, it’s late. Everyone’s gone,” Marilyn answered, moving toward the parking lot. “Thanks for letting us down.” “It looked like you were having a great time,” Mike countered. “Dancing up a storm.” Marilyn stopped and turned toward him. “You were here long enough to watch us dancing?” “Yup.” “But you didn’t come in.” “Wasn’t our party.” Marilyn heaved a bone-weary sigh. “You are the stubbornest kid God ever created, and that’s the truth.” She started once more for the parking lot, then paused and shot over her shoulder, “Sunny, dear, you should put those undies back on. It’s getting cold out.”

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VISUAL ART

Jawbone Acrylic on canvas Emily Rankin These pieces make up a part of an ongoing series, Fluid, which seeks to capture the ways in which a fluid moment in time might be fixed in the mind. I’m interested in the way the momentary motion of liquid paint can be captured and pinned to canvas.

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Heart of Hearts Acrylic on canvas Emily Rankin

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The Bloom of Night Acrylic on canvas Emily Rankin

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Flower of Life Photography Emel Karakozak The “Flower of Life” makes a reference to reality and is a recreation of reality with the existence of illusion. I dress my models in nothing but light, using their bodies as a canvas, combined with a series of geometric patterns to celebrate the beauty of the female form. The models move in front of a black background while complex, digital patterns of light are projected onto their bodies, so that the bodies ripple through space alongside the projected motif. I press the shutter at exactly the right moment to capture instants of absolute beauty, sculptural works somewhere between figurative and abstract.

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THEMED DOSSIER: Alone and Together Our themed dossier, Alone and Together, focuses on the meaningful and intimate yet isolating reflection of art and writing. This year has been filled with moments that have brought us devastation, grief, and loneliness. Still, it has also given us the gift of self-reflection, and connections across the world. We have spent many hours, crafting, deciding, and growing together to bring you a collection of pieces that will help us all understand what it means to be “alone and together.” Our editorial team has walked a path through art and writing that shaped us as editors, artists, and empathetic beings. During this time, being alone and together seems like the only thing that has been familiar to us. We wanted to expand our experience by discovering art and writing that reflects this universal struggle and new way of life by touching on subjects such as the Black Lives Matter movement, our intensely fought election followed by the insurrection at the Capitol, the global pandemic, and life in quarantine. This year has been especially challenging for us all. It has given and taken, healed and harmed, but we are still able to appreciate and create a space for creative expression. —The Editors

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Gatherers and Hunters Kerri Fisher When racism is the river and the shore and the total topography of your existence, one thing does not always stand out from the next. And if some moment of prejudice is given special dispensation, it mostly means it was the river rock you finally kneeled down to take hold of, inspected and brought along with you—a memento of your time on some otherwise ordinary day, not much different than any other save that something finally grabbed your attention. I have such a stone that I carry around in the form of a story that for many years I referred to as the most racist thing that ever happened to me. It wasn’t. But it is a sort of capsule memory, one that holds within it every element needed to convey the broader theme of a moment, person, place, or relationship. Katie was my friend. And not a friend from small-town Belton, where I grew up. She was an Obama-loving activist pal, a fellow helping professional, a young person, and a woman. She had all the requisite qualifications for wokeness, and so I mostly believed that she was. If our friendship had a volume, it was loud—often yelling, with more than at one another. We were alternatively shaking our fists at poorly executed politics or religion, then coming out of our skins about the men we had and didn’t have in our lives. Of course, we were not always on the same page. We argued some. She, a red-head, had more evidence of fire in her blood. And she, a White person, was allowed to. This particular evening started routinely enough. I drove over to her house, hopped in her car, and we rode together to a new little restaurant and bar in town. It had a bowling alley that we did not intend to use but that seemed cool and hipstery and grown-up, for two gals who had just recently acquired adult jobs with adult paychecks. We talked about relationships first. We were both easily consumed, not just with romance, but with all human connection. Many an evening was spent dissecting the notion of chemistry. Katie believed it could be created with hard work—just developing the right proportions of x and y. I was more mystical in my approach, always bent toward less 85


math and more mystery when it came to love. After a while, the conversation shifted to current events. Katie began to describe a news story she had seen recently. A Black man in his fifties was being released from prison after thirty years. New evidence made his innocence clear. I felt deeply and immediately depressed by this news. It was hard to connect with any future joy for this man, knowing all that was lost over three lonely decades. Katie was eager for hallelujah, but I could not get there. “I can’t,” I said. “I can’t hear about this. It’s just too sad for me.” And then, in an effort to match the levity she had obviously been hoping for, I offered what, in the moment, seemed like a silly secret shared between friends. “You know, I know this is crazy,” I faux-whispered through sheepish giggles, “but sometimes I am actually scared of going to prison. Like, sometimes I tell myself, ‘Hey, remember, don’t go to prison.’” Katie rolled her eyes and laughed as I had hoped she would. I wish the evening had ended there: I make a strange confession. The waiter comes with our check. We shift to discussing next weekend’s plans. Our friendship remains unmarred. That would have been lovely. Instead, Katie attempted to return the favor with her own silly little retort. “Weeeeeeell, c’mon, Kerri,” she said with a raised eyebrow and mischievous grin. “You’d do A LOT better in prison than me.” My heart stopped. Converted, in a second, from flesh to stone. Heavy. Then somehow, heavier. The room went silent, blinking momentarily out of existence I did the calculations that Black people do in moments like this. Could I have misunderstood? What have I misunderstood? This moment? Or all the other ones?

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There was absolutely no metric by which I would have had it easier than Katie in prison. I was more sensitive, more fragile even, not prone to aggression, and not nearly as comfortable with sinners or with sinning as my friend across the table. So when I wracked my brain, it seemed she could only mean that I was a better fit for life behind bars because I was a Black person. A Black person with a black body, better suited for dark places. Some people’s default settings in moments like this are to fight. Others flee the scene immediately—a “fright” response. I, however, am a freezer. I become so flooded with emotions that every word I have ever known abandons me, and I am left with neither tool nor weapon with which to protect myself. I stared at Katie in shock, waiting for any phrase or sentiment to come back to me. “I think” (pause) “I’m not comfortable” (swallow) “I don’t want to talk about this…” “Please.” I believe I saw a flash of regret in her eyes, but that was just before they filled with white-hot rage. “Oh, Come Ooonnnn, Kerri.” She said, her voice dripping with disgust. “You know this is true. They kill the White girl in prison.” “They.” I thought. “They kill the White girl.” And, I, was, apparently, that they. I stared forward, shaking my head. “Please stop,” I heard myself eke out after a minute or so. She didn’t. “No! Just tell me, are there, or are there not, more Black people than White people in prison?” “I don’t know,” I said, looking down. She leaned over the table, bringing her face closer to mine. “You think I’m wrong?” “I don’t know,” I repeated again. I pictured her car out in the parking lot. It would take me away from this place. It would get me to my car back at her house. And my car would bring me home. The waiter eventually came to save me from the silence. “Ladies, I have the check here for ya.” This chipper interruption brought some temporary relief. I handed him my credit card and signed the receipt. “She’s going 87


to calm down, now.” I thought. “She’ll apologize. I’ll forgive her. We can pretend this never happened.” When she was done paying, I got up and lunged toward the door, desperate to get out and into the It was as though, at that natural light, but just as I reached the other side, she stomped in moment, our ancestors had front of me and whirled around risen up within us, and we now even more emboldened than couldn’t push them down or she had been indoors. “You always try and make off to the side any longer. me feel like a racist.” She yelled at me in the middle of the parking lot. “And you know the difference between you and all my other Black friends?” “No,” I said calmly. “I don’t.” I hadn’t even known I was, in fact, part of such a category in her brain. “They would have laughed at that joke! No,” she paused and made sure to look me straight in my eyes. “They would have been the ones to make that joke, And I wouldn’t have had to!” We were both shaking now. It was as though, at that moment, our ancestors had risen up within us, and we couldn’t push them down or off to the side any longer. Her master blood and my slave blood were suddenly and overwhelmingly the only parts of us that were available. And we were stuck. The two of us, alone together, for the long ride home. After a while, she spoke up. Her voice was different, not calmed exactly, but managed. She said that she would be willing, from now on, to avoid these conversations since they seemed to irk me. “We all have little quirks that we are sensitive about, and if this is yours,” she offered…. She thought I had a “quirk” about not being criminalized. She would do me the favor of indulging my quirk because that is what good friends do, and she was a good friend. She thought that she should settle it and imagined herself as the bigger person for having extended this offering. Master Blood. I looked down, practiced restraint, imagined my escape. Slave blood. 88


In the shower at home, I cried, and then in bed and then when I woke up the next morning. When racism is the river where you gather stones, little by little, until you have a collection, a cairn—eventually as currents shift, and the landscape changes, you must decide what to do with all these little weapons you’ve been gathering for a lifetime.

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let my people go Oil on canvas Qrcky Art Empathy is in the eyes of the beholder. My art explores the loss of empathy for something you’re not familiar with. Everything we see hides another thing, and we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict between the visible that is hidden and the visible

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that is present. That conflict is the artistic product of Surrealism. What lies beyond, what hides, is the very opposite of the visible. Through symbols, their elements transform and change before our eyes, but they have been touched, transformed, by other things, other signs. Surrealism is what is formed through the coexistence and opposition of things. It is a total image of things without one of them being seen, not shown, not expressed. In all its works, my work is trying to see beyond the visible. The process is then not a reflection, but a transformation, a reaction, a flow of feeling from Surrealism to the spectator, as if the spectator were the creator of what appears to him. My work has become a way to reach the Truth; it has developed within me the ability to reflect and respond, even to betray myself and to show other things. The painting has been consumed by the subjective consciousness, the mirror has been corrupted and the image distorted, but it has still remained. What has not disappeared is still there, it is waiting to be transformed.

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the nickel song Bennie Herron jimmy had a nickel he didn’t have it long ‘cuz all his friends found out that jimmy hadda nick

ul

jimmy hadda nick

ul

jimmy hadda nick

ul

too… i knew my mother was in a good mood when she sang this song to me. i have no idea where she got it from but the nickel part of the song was accompanied by a bounce and hug tandem. mama sang this song with her eyes closed and a scent of brown liquor on her breath. she somehow was able to make the words to the nickel song fall into the pocket of a robert cray rhythm section. i liked this song. it was a sign that bills were paid, the refrigerator was full and her baby boy was in her lap.

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mama and them Bennie Herron i’m remembering... whole chickens sacrificed in deep oil, i’m remembering, august 1983 and mama’s battles with bourbon-eyed, gin-rummy players that spit too much when they talk they cursed to the music in my head, eating fried bird while telling lies about how small they used to be and how big hips come from knowing too many children they sat around a kitchen slash hair braiding table calling out card names under sam cooke’s voice the cards were sticky trapped in brown fingers damp and limp from escaping cigarette smoke men had no place in this circle mothers kept its shape that night men only needed arms and lips for an occasional hug and nape kiss. then back outside to the hemp smoke and fight stories occasionally a bible verse would enter the sanctuary just to remind the circle how it came to be mama and auntie forgot stories pushed one another off clouds jockeying for position while ice cubes danced in shallow dark pools they never finished any conversation each name event and place led to another name event and place. this circle was loud and silent a dance from storytellers’ lips that used the volume from experience to carry its rotation 93


My Brother’s Keeper Quilt Sharon Kerry-Harlan

As an artist, I have a sense of obligation to leave a mark behind—to let future generations know what is happening and how it’s happening. It’s important to preserve information from a variety of sources, not just those in power.

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The Great Pretenders Quilt Sharon Kerry-Harlan

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Smoke and Fog Nicole Kim Charcoal on paper

Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison: I read this book for the first time last year after a friend had recommended it to me offhandedly. As I do with all my books, I observed the cover art first—it was simple, black blocked letters over a green and

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yellow background. I didn’t think much of it at the time, yet my mind always trailed to its narrative when I couldn’t think of anything else to read. The raw, emotional, and blunt showing of Ralph’s experience through the eyes of a metaphorically-invisible man opened my eyes to the unique experiences that other people of color endure. “Smoke and Fog” is meant to encapsulate the invisibility that Ellison, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frank B. Wilderson, and others describe in their articulation of the “double-conscious” state of mind that is intrinsic to the Black experience. Instead of harboring my attention toward polishing the lines, I wanted to let my strokes run free to visualize the free-flowing, natural movements of a shadow. I opted to keep the piece black and white by using charcoal to reference the racial binary that is often referenced in critical race theory. As an artist, it is my intention to make the intangible, tangible. The feeling that hangs in your stomach after you say something you regret, the euphoria that overwhelms you after you hear good news, or the soft buzz that never quite leaves the side of your brain. As a person of color myself, I hope that my work surrounding race and critical theory open up the eyes of observers in giving them an opportunity to empathize and see experiences through different eyes. I also still have a lot to learn, and I use my art to continue documenting that journey.

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Two Women Carrying a Ballot Box Hilary King You in your stylish and practical dresses this won’t be the last time you save a republic. This won’t be the last time you look around a room as everyone else is panicking out the door and on your own way out take one last look one last scan with tired busy eyes and find keys phone stuffed animal democracy. you will always be the one as guns boom down the corridor looking for what is left behind and who.

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Servant Leader Digital image (Illustrator and Photoshop) Karen Anderson This image of Congressman Andy Kim cleaning up the trash from the Capitol riots shows him alone, surrounded by statues of former great men.

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The Usual Things Courtney LeBlanc Quinn says we can pick the thing we fear, choose our anxiety. Our brains are going to focus on something so we may as well choose which direction it goes. I think of the eight-foot-tall animatronic clown that stands by the gas station closest to my house. Its white skin and red hair, the sharpened teeth and the way its arms and head move jerkily from side to side. I stare at it as I wait for the light to change, always look away when its head swivels in my direction. I’ve never seen the movie, the previews alone were enough to make me tug my dog’s leash when she moves too close to the storm drain—I know this is where evil lurks, even in my nice neighborhood. And the Exorcist stairs, the ones the priest was thrown down, those are less than five miles from my house. I’ve run up them, there are 75 steps and they’re steep. It’s another movie I haven’t watched, that scene where the little girl spider-walks down the stairs backwards is enough to give me nightmares for weeks. But maybe now is the time to watch them, to give myself something otherworldly to fear. Because it’s the eve of the election and a close friend has a brain tumor and it’s been two months since my dad died. All of these things crowd my brain and fight for attention, the anxiety and fear climbing each day. So maybe I should watch the scary movies: that evil clown with the razor teeth, the girl with the spinning head, the boogeyman in the closet. Everything will still be there when we turn the lights on, after the popcorn is eaten, and the credits roll. But maybe that night I’ll worry only about the storm drain, I’ll check under the bed and behind the curtains, I’ll go to bed haunted, but not by the usual things.

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In the Midst of a Political Convention I Find Refuge in Quarantine Nancy Cook after Fernando Pessoa I wish to remake myself. It’s time. In the solitude of quarantine I can be myself. Entirely myself. What if I were to crave no other existence? Is my alternate reality any more frightening than what I witness in a populous world? Am I more alone than people I see standing on sterile stages, divorced from truth, being swallowed by flags, cheered on by sterile audiences? Am I less connected than corrals of groupies, in frothy bubbles of immunity, united in flag piety? I am married to truth. I have a family of truths. I own a flock of truths. I live in a community of truths. 101


My everywhere family, my flock of books, my community of oneness will sculpt the new me. The entirely myself me. In solitude. In true solidarity with all with all who are.

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Women Alone Lauren Scharhag After the divorce, we moved to an apartment on the other side of town. I loved our new home. Even at five, I understood the difference between a peaceful home and a home where abuse dwells. My mother’s relief was palpable. Our next-door neighbor was an old woman named Dahlie. Dahlie had Parkinson’s. She didn’t seem to have any children or grandchildren. No one ever came to visit her. Her husband was ex-Air Force who flew TWA, so he was always gone. Dahlie was a painter, her walls covered in pastoral scenes that were exotic to this city kid: Maud Lewis barns and sheep, windmills, snowy fields. Her house smelled like coffee and turpentine. Her easel stood in the corner of the kitchen, table heaped with tubes of paint, sketch pads and pencils. For my sixth birthday, Mom made me a coconut cake decorated with jellybeans. She had me take a piece to Dahlie. Dahlie invited me to sit with her while she ate it, exclaiming over the rainbow colors on white, pouring me a glass of lemonade. I remember how the fork trembled in her hand, flakes of coconut drifting down onto the placemat. She gripped her brushes in a tight fist. Her paintings shrank from broad canvases down to postcards. I don’t know if she was ever in a show or if she sold even a single piece. I used to feel sorry for her, but now I understand how precious solitude can be for women. That was the year my mother laughed. For Easter, she and Dahlie painted eggs together and hid them 103


in the yard. They shouted Warmer! Colder! as my brother and I searched. Now I understand how, for the ill, independence matters. You grasp it in your fist to stop yourself from shaking. You step outside the world. You invite the exotic into your kitchen. You eat cake and eggs and summon serenity with a brushstroke.

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battleship Brendan Connolly jackie and i play battleship with hand-drawn grids on the backs of open mic sign up lists. the battle is long and many are lost, loved ones and strangers alike, my battleship going down early in the initial barrage during the skirmish, we talk about how the coming quarantine might help the earth right itself, skies had opened over china, the waters in venice were clear with rumors of dolphins, that bees could come back, how a break from us might be for the best in the end, we circle with submarines, evading each other deftly and with calm resolve, but the final hits strike true and i am at the bottom with all the rest of my fleet watching the silhouettes of dolphins swim above me

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It Takes Practice Salena Casha A week in, I started practicing my own death. I wondered if I would give myself over to religion, if in the hospital bed, the need to genuflect like a recovered Catholic would strike so hard I’d pull myself to stand just so I could kneel on the linoleum. At that point, it’d be everywhere, on my skin, sitting demurely on the starched sheets. I’d have nothing left to contaminate. I thought about the woman my husband would remarry and how, when he spoke of me, he’d murmur about his young wife of 29 claimed by the pandemic of 2020. How she didn’t bother with contacts at the end and always forgot to make the bed but recommended great books. How there’d be so many songs he wouldn’t be able to listen to for years, including the ones he wrote, until one day when everything was a little bit foggy, he’d find himself in his garden in Surrey humming, This year’s love is gonna last. That was how I passed the ninth night of lockdown, on the couch, pen in hand but unable to write until I turned the light out. Drafted a series of letters in my head and wrote the dregs in the margins of my to-do list. I had never felt the presence of death as such a certainty before, especially as a White person in her gentrified neighborhood where she’d never so much as shivered when a cop walked past. She’d wake up to it all, months later when, on a summer night spent in drunken social distance, a friend answered the question, Why now? with “Because for the first time, massive numbers of people (especially White people) are experiencing something they have no control over that affects them every day.” That July, I read The Splendid and the Vile and one of the most tragic deaths in the book wasn’t one from bombs let loose in the Blitz but when a fire killed a young group of boys on a train. A same devastation of feeling split through me about deaths unrelated to COVID, like the two Kennedys who drowned and the suffocation of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. And as we took to the streets to protest, it 106


made me wonder why the slogan I can’t breathe didn’t hit closer to the apathetic when 250,000 Americans could no longer suck air through respirators in hospitals across the country. But repeating my own death, Fifteen thousand dollars to putting it under a my sister. My record collection and teapot to my best friend. I microscope, in the acidic found that page in my journal bath of a dark room or the from that lonesome long night winter sunlight on Harvard and I thought I left her too much. Street, didn’t change the She could have survived with five coloration or the intensity. thousand dollars. Disgusted by my own naked jarring fear on the page, I brought it to my parent’s house and burnt it in their firepit, worried someone would find it years later and hold me to my promises. I drank a glass of whiskey in a long tongue of flame down my throat. I’d been damn good at repetition in my previous life. Practice was something I knew how to do. But repeating my own death, putting it under a microscope, in the acidic bath of a dark room or the winter sunlight on Harvard Street, didn’t change the coloration or the intensity. It only reminded me about how as a swimmer, I’d always feared drowning. And those nights I’d wake up from a quickly forgotten nightmare gasping like a beached fish with the sudden thought, Is this the end?

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Made For Each Other Cut/paste collages on hardboard Kenneth Ricci I work in a sort of literary/philosophical framework so within that context my reference points are the parables of Kafka, the films of Orson Wells and the aphorisms of Kierkegaard. Because elements determine content, the process of creation is both constrained and liberated by the available elements at any given time and it is the improvised procedure of choice, assembly and judgment that settles the argument.

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I Am Leaving (cover artwork) Cut/paste collages on hardboard Kenneth Ricci

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CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES GALE ACUFF has had poetry published in Ascent, Reed, Poet Lore, Chiron Review, Cardiff Review, Poem, Adirondack Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Roanoke Review and many other journals in a dozen countries. He has authored three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives. Gale has taught university English courses in the US, China, and Palestine. ALEXEY ADONIN is a Jerusalem based abstract-surrealist artist. He was born in Slutsk, Belarus, in 1973. Alexey graduated in 1993 from the State Art College named after A. Glebov (Minsk, Belarus). In the same year, he immigrated to Israel. OLOLADE AKINLABI is an emerging poet and prose writer whose few poems have been featured in the Muse of World anthology, 84 Delicious Bottles of Wine for Wole Soyinka, Citadel of Word by Word Rhymes and Rhythm, Atelewo poetry anthology, University of Ibadan, Tribute to Kofi Annan, Sabr magazine among others. He was a nominee for the Nigeria Writers Award 2017 and the winner of the second edition of the Ken Egba Poetry Prize, Calabar, organized by Poet in Nigeria. KAREN J. ANDERSON is an artist, writer, photographer, publisher and filmmaker. She uses a variety of methods to uplift, inform and educate African Americans and people of color. She has a Master of Arts in New Art Journalism from the School of the Arts Institute in Chicago. Her artwork has shown in online galleries for Shanti Arts in the group exhibition Phenomenal Woman in 2019 and as “A History” in Amuse-Bouche (Lunch Ticket) in 2020. It has been published in a group anthology of artists in the Genre Urban Arts No. 8 Print, in Lunch Ticket (as part of “Amuse-Bouche”) and in Wordpeace. Her Instagram page is BlackGyrlArt. Her website is uppcreative.com. ABIGAIL E. CALIMARAN is a full-time high school senior and parttime pre-K gymnastics teacher who, when she is not being those things, crochets while listening to Jane Austen audiobooks, consumes nearly-lethal amounts of caffeine, and dances alone to ABBA in her 110


room. She fantasizes about having her poetry published somewhere before she goes off to college in August or September—where, she has no idea, but she harbors dreams of escaping suburban Mississippi and unleashing her passion for learning and serving her community in the big city scene. SALENA CASHA’S work has appeared in over 50 publications in the last decade. She survives New England winters on black coffee, chips, and good beer. BRENDAN CONNOLLY writes stuff. He has been featured by Genre: Urban Arts, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, Gravel Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in New York City. NANCY COOK runs “The Witness Project,” a program of free community writing workshops in Minneapolis designed to enable creative work by underrepresented voices, and also serves as flash fiction editor for Kallisto Gaia Press. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been awarded grants from, among others, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Parks Arts Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, and Integrity Arts and Culture. Some of her newest work can be found in Channel Magazine, decomp journal, and the Michigan Quarterly Review. ILARIA CORTESI is an Italian digital artist based in Shanghai, China. Her portfolio can also be viewed here: https://www.behance.net/ilariac. She is on Instagram @icmanekineko. MARCO ETHERIDGE lives and writes in Vienna, Austria. His short fiction has been featured in many reviews and journals in Canada, The UK, and the USA. Notable recent credits include: Coffin Bell, In Parentheses, The Thieving Magpie, Ligeia Magazine, The First Line, After Happy Hour Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Dream Noir, The Opiate Magazine, Cobalt Press, Literally Stories, and Blue Moon Review, amongst many others. His non-fiction work has been featured at Jonah Magazine, The Metaworker, and Route 7. Marco’s third novel, Breaking the Bundles, is available at fine online booksellers. His author website is: https://www.marcoetheridgefiction.com/ 111


KERRI FISHER is a clinical social worker and a full-time lecturer at the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. As an educator, writer and presenter, her work explores intersections of identity, with particular attention to race, gender, and spirituality. Though she is primarily an essayist, she believes we should all write with the economy and imagery of the poet. She enjoys employing creative forms and hints of magical realism as she tries to navigate being Black in predominantly White spaces and the dual nature of biracial identity. Her writing has been recognized by the Writer’s League of Texas (Non-Fiction Manuscript Winner, 2013), The Mayborn NonFiction Conference (Third place, 2016) and through opportunities with the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota (2014, 2015, 2017) and as a Kenyon Fellow in Gambier, Ohio (2019). Her poetry has been published in Mockingheart Review (2020) & Apricity (2020). MAX FORSTAG writes personal narratives and short stories on self-discovery. Originally from Northeast Ohio, he has lived in South America and West Africa. He speaks passable Spanish and enough Twi to catch a Ghanaian tro-tro ride. Max studies creative nonfiction at the Attic Institute in Portland, Oregon. “Those I Wonder About” is his first publication. His second, a longer piece titled “Light Pole Cat,” will appear in volume 006 of the Buckman Journal. You can find more of Max’s work at http://maxforstag.medium.com/. When not writing, Max sings other people’s stories in a cover band spanning music from the 60s to the present. KYRAH GOMES is a 17-year-old student living in NYC who loves poetry, literature, making jewelry, and authentic self-expression. In her free time, she can probably be found making super specific Spotify playlists or daydreaming about travelling. BENNIE HERRON writes poems that speak from his personal growth and attempts to define and redefine himself as a Black man. He has published three full-length poetry collections, Greens, Word to Mother, and Music Made Me/Us Do This. He currently works as a writer and parent educator in Virginia. 112


EMEL KARAKOZAK was born in Mut, Turkey in 1974. Her adventure in photography began during her high school years; later she participated in many group exhibitions, received awards in various national and international competitions and also was a jury member in many photography competitions. Living in Adana, she is the first woman in Turkey to win a gold medal from the International Federation of Photographic Art. She is represented by Artgalerim Bebek Art Gallery and Lust Auf Kunst Art Gallery, and works as a delegate in the Turkish Federation of Photographic Art. SHARON KERRY-HARLAN moved to the Midwest as an adult, where she graduated summa cum laude from Marquette University, married, started a family, and worked as an Academic Coordinator at Marquette University. She also taught textile and quilting courses as an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. At the same time, she began taking classes at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, developing her body of work alongside her professional career. Now retired from the educational field and focused full-time on making art, Kerry-Harlan continues to create and experiment with fabric manipulation in her characteristic museum-scale mixed-media and painted works. Her works have been collected and exhibited by museums across the country and internationally. NICOLE KIM is a high school senior from New York. She works primarily with colored pencils and acrylic, and uses these mediums to create commentaries on societal divides. Her work has been awarded by Celebrating Art, Scholastic Art and Writing, Teen Ink, and many more. When she isn’t creating art, you can spot her reading, playing golf, or trying to perfect her spicy rigatoni recipe. Originally from Virginia, HILARY KING now lives in Northern California. Her poems have appeared in Minerva Rising, Fourth River, SWIMM, PANK, The Cortland Review, Blue Fifth Review, and other publications. She is the author of the book of poems, The Maid’s Car.

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KATHLEEN KIRK is the author of eight poetry chapbooks, most recently Spiritual Midwifery (Red Bird, 2019) and The Towns (Unicorn Press, 2018). Her work appears in many print and online journals, including RHINO, Poetry East, Redheaded Stepchild, Voices from the Attic, and Waccamaw. She is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life, an online magazine. JULIA LAURIE has spent most of her professional life teaching English to high school students on a small island in Japan. She recently returned to her home country of South Africa to complete an MA in linguistics. When Julia is not writing or studying, she is usually working on her next embroidery piece while listening to podcasts, exploring the ocean or mountains, or hanging out with her angelic dog and witchy cat. This is her first publication. KACI SKILES LAWS is a closet cat-lady and creative writer living in Dallas-Fort Worth. She is an editor at Open Arts Forum, and her writing has been featured in Fragmented Lines, The American Journal of Poetry, Harbor Review, The Broken Spine, Cajun Mutt Press, and AntiHeroin Chic, among others. She won second place for her poem, “This is How it Ends,” awarded by North Central Texas College’s English Department. Her published work and blog can be viewed at https:// kaciskileslawswriter.wordpress.com/, and her visual artwork and music can be viewed on YouTube under Kaci and Bryant. COURTNEY LEBLANC is the author of the full-length collections Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart (Riot in Your Throat) and Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press). She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog: www.wordperv.com. Follow her on twitter: @wordperv, and IG: @wordperv79.

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R. NIKOLAS MACIOCI earned a PhD from The Ohio State University. OCTELA, the Ohio Council of Teachers of English, named Nik Macioci the best secondary English teacher in the state of Ohio. Nik is the author of two chapbooks as well as eight books. More than two hundred of his poems have been published here and abroad, including The Society of Classical Poets Journal, Chiron, The Comstock Review, Concho River Review, and Blue Unicorn. Forthcoming books are Dark Guitar and A Feast of Losses. CYNTHIA MORITZ was for many years a writer and editor at a university, and is also trained as a therapist, but has always wanted to be a writer. She first started writing seriously a few years ago with the help of the Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse, New York. This is her first publication. MICHELLE MUÑOZ is a junior studying Creative Writing at the University of Central Florida. She has previously been published in Variant Literature’s sixth issue. Michelle currently interns at The Florida Review and is a volunteer reader for CARVE Magazine. She currently lives in Orlando with her three-legged cat, Levi. Born and raised in Colorado, VERONICA NATION has been in love with poetry since she was six years old. After attending Denver School of the Arts for Creative Writing, Veronica majored in Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry at the University of Colorado Denver. When she is not writing, Veronica is reading an assortment of books, creating digital art, and drinking far too much iced coffee. An aspiring author of her own book of poetry, Nation hopes to learn all she can about the craft of writing. Follow her writing journey on Instagram@ rainandpoetry or at veronicanation.com. FASASI ABDULROSHEED OLADIPUPO is a Nigerian poet and a Veterinary Medicine student, whose first love is art-making. His works have been featured or are forthcoming in Night Heron Barks Review, Stand Magazine, Louisiana Literature, Olongo Africa, Obsidian: Literature and Art in the African Diaspora, The Citron Review, Kissing Dynamite, Praxis Magazine, 115


433 Magazine and elsewhere. EMILY RANKIN was born in Riverside, California and attended university in Abilene, TX where she received a BFA in 2011. Her body of work ranges from Graphic Design and Scenic Painting to collaborative performances with Verstehen, an improvisational and interactive series which incorporates live painting, sound, and electronics. She is currently based in New Mexico. More information at eerankinart.com. KENNETH RICCI has spent most of his seventy years in New York City where he currently lives and works. It has only been the last five years that he has devoted himself to the creation of his collage panels. Though not formally trained, Ken worked in the art department at the Strand Bookstore during his student years and it was there that he familiarized himself with the works of his favorite artists, including Bearden, di Chirico and Tooker. After a career in the music business and a decade of teaching in NYC schools, Ken began creating his own original artwork in earnest. BRYLEE RUSSELL grew up writing her own song lyrics since before she could spell, and obsessing over those of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That love turned into writing poetry. She is currently a junior at the University of Oklahoma where she studies creative writing. Besides writing, Brylee enjoys filmmaking and spending time with her boyfriend, Jacob, and two cats, Purrcilla Alen and Desmond Shephard. LAUREN SCHARHAG is an associate editor for GLEAM: Journal of the Cadralor, and the author of thirteen books, including Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) and Languages, First and Last (Cyberwit Press). Her work has appeared in over 150 literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize and multiple Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about her work, visit: www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com. HEIDI SPETH is a student at Truman State University. She’s an avid student, reader, and poet with dreams of becoming an English teacher. 116


In 2020, Speth received her first poetry publication in the Route 7 Review. She plans to continue to write with her dog and a mug of coffee by her side. NOAH STIENECKER is 15 years old and going to Tippecanoe High School in Ohio, completing his Sophomore year. He also enjoys playing the piano and occasionally writing poems and stories such as this one. His favorite movies are Avengers: Endgame and Toy Story 3. He has absolutely no idea what he wants to do as a job but he will figure it out. His Creative Writing teacher, Ms. Noel, helped him to start writing again but all of Noah’s poems are still his unbridled creativity. Born in 1987 in France, ANNE CÉCILE SURGA lives and works between the south of France and Northern Italy. Following a Master in Business Administration in 2010 and a Master in Art History in 2013, she started working with marble and established her artistic practice in 2015. Surga is represented by galleries in Europe and the Americas, and she won several prices internationally as a recognition of her work. Her sculptures can be found in private and public collections around the globe. ROXANNE THIBAULT (pen name C. Wolff) is a poet who has been published by Disquietsarts and Q* Anthology of Queer Culture. She draws her inspiration from shadows and light. HELEN WHITE is a storyteller currently living in Madison, WI, and is excited to be published for the first time in LEVITATE. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time rereading the same six books, daydreaming, and trying to teach her cats tricks (unsuccessfully). She enjoys carbohydrates, looking at the moon, and existentialism. ALLISON WHITTENBERG is a Philadelphia native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer. She loves reading about history and true crime. Her other novels include Sweet Thang, Hollywood and Maine, Life is Fine, Tutored and The Sane Asylum

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