UPROAR Volume 3
Uproar is the literary/arts magazine of Lone Star College-University Park. It is published every spring. Any Lone Star College-University Park student may submit pieces or join the staff. See the submission form at the back of the magazine for more information. Faculty Advisors:
Greg Oaks David Miller
Kari Breitigam Mary Anne Figueroa Sharon Miller
Angelique Barber Erick Ceron Christy Tucker
Lauren Bigbie Hessami Hernandez
Alonso Blanchet Nichole Kyle Leanessa May Jasmine Silva
Amy Hirsch Hayle Lopez Paulita Rodriquez Kara Vigants
Tiffany Cuevas Faith Morey Brittany Lempicki
Sarah Marin Courtney Reed
Amy Hirsch David Miller Greg Oaks
Erin MacMillan-Ramirez Kristy Musgrove Brian Reeves
â€œFlamingoâ€? by Angelique Barber
Amy Hirsch Paula Khalaf Sarah Ray
Table of Contents
Father Patrick, Penguins and Punch by Kar a Vigants
First Place Prose Winner
DJ Fish by Stevi Alsdor f
First Place Poetry Winner
Stranger from the West by Chr isty Tucker
Essential Grit by Br ittany Lempicki
Majestically by Raghad J azair y
Parts of Me by Hessami Her nandez
Shrimp by J or dan Reid
Kandinsky Bug Realization by Radly Per alta
Third Place Poetry Winner
Rodeo by Natalie Gr ajeda
Third Place Prose Winner
National Geographic June 1985 by Nar gis Saber
Seeing Blue by J asmine Silva
Today the World is Quiet by Raghad J azair y
Cafeteria Crush by Angelique Bar ber
What the F-stop? by J oanna Gar cia
The Girl with Glasses by Thu Long
That Stare by Thu Long
Aurora with Big Dipper by Nicholas Gr ay
Suisaiga by Ana Dominguez
Porthole by Leanessa May
To Converse by Leanessa May
It’s Been a While by J ackie Ottman
Second Place Prose Winner
The Bridge by Leanessa May
Bimbos and Wedges by Hennah Saber
Second Place Poetry Winner
Your Move by Sar ah Mar in
The Ultimate Answer by Laur en Bigbie
There Is No Boat by J eff Bur ge
Dark Places by Nichole Kyle
Tides by Diane Williams
Falling Off the Beam by Hayle Lopez
Suburban Discourse by Radly Per alta
Greyish by Cor y Campbell
The Men You Date Online by Hennah Saber
My Morning Kahlua with Coffee by Er ick Cer on
Father Patrick, Penguins and Punch Kara Vigants I look over at Trudy and grin, grabbing her hand as we twirl in our new white dresses, our skirts billowing out like bells around our knobby knees, our veils playing catch up behind us. I could spin all day, watching the sun glint off of my white patent leather shoes and feeling the breeze in the red curls that Mama spent so long making perfect. I tilt my face up and feel the warm sun on my face and wish I could do this forever. I make Trudy go faster and faster and just as the world starts to feel wobbly and I think I might fall, Mama is there beside us, her hands on our shoulders telling us it's time to calm down. It doesn't work on me, but Trudy, my twin sister (who's seven too, but doesn't look like me at all) stops twirling right away and smiles sweetly at Mama. “I'm sorry,” she says. “It's just so exciting!” She gives Mama a little hug, careful not to crush the white paper flowers glued on to her missal. “I'll be good now, Mama,” she adds, straightening out her dress and smoothing the veil that covers her long black hair. I roll my eyes. Trudy is a pretty good sister most of the time, but boy, can she suck up to grownups. All she has to do is give them that innocent little smile and open those big blue eyes of hers and they all melt. Then they look at me with my brown eyes and my knees scabbed from climbing Mr. Johnson's apple tree and their eyes narrow. Just like Mama's do now. “Don't go getting your sister in trouble now, Isobel,” she says. I can tell she means it too, because there isn't any sparkle to her eyes when she says it. Usually they sparkle just a little when I get in trouble, and sometimes the corner of her mouth tries to twitch up when she scolds me. But there isn't any twitching now. “Girls,” she says, “it's almost time to go in.” “Yes, Mama,” I sigh. What a waste of a good twirling dress. When we go in, we're going to have to behave and be perfectly quiet and not even swing our feet when we sit down or Sister Agnes and the other penguins are going to get mad. And I don't know about you, but a mad penguin is pretty scary. We join the other girls outside the doors, and Karen (who thinks she is smarter than me but isn't) is busy telling anyone who'll listen that her dress came from the Montgomery Ward catalog and that her veil is made with real Belgian lace. “Your dress is real pretty too, Isobel,” she says to me, “especially for being homemade and all.” “Thank you,” I reply sweetly. Then I shake my head, thinking about how sad she's going to be when a glass of Mrs. Melanson's famous red punch gets spilled on that store bought dress of hers later at the party. Yep, she'll be heartbroken, devastated even, and maybe, she'll have to leave early to go home and clean up. Wouldn't that be nice. Before you know it, Sister Agnes, is herding all of us through the wooden doors and into the cool dimness of the vestibule. I like that word, “vestibule”. It sounds important, like you're someplace special. It's really just a lobby though, and not nearly as fancy as the one in Warren's Theatre, where everything is dark red velvet and shiny gold. You can't get popcorn here either. As we crowd in, you can smell the sweet, spicy scent of the peonies Aunt Sophie brought to fill the vases that sit on the table under the big wooden cross on the wall. Sister Agnes tut-tutted when Aunt Sophie and I brought them over yesterday afternoon. “Pink,” she complained, shaking her head in disapproval. “Don't you have any white ones?” Aunt Sophie smiled. “These are the prettiest, happiest ones I have,” she said. “They're just right for a celebration. Don't you think so, Isobel?” I nodded my head in agreement. 1
“First Confession is a very serious moment in a girl's life,” Sister Agnes huffed, taking the flowers from Aunt Sophie. “It is by no means a celebration.” She looked down at the lush pink blooms again, her mouth tightening. “Well, I suppose these will just have to do.” I looked over at Aunt Sophie and she rolled her eyes at me. I tried not to giggle. Mama says that Aunt Sophie and I are like two peas in a pod. I like the sound of that. Trudy sidles over to me and takes my hand as Sister Agnes opens the door. We walk in slowly, solemnly, two by two. I look up and the sun pouring through the windows almost takes my breath away. It's like the room is filled with all the pretty colors in the world, red and blue and gold, and it dances on people's faces and shimmers in the air. As we walk down the long aisle, I turn my head searching for Mama. There are so many people in church today that it takes me a while to find her, but there she is, sitting with her arm around my little brother Charlie, holding him close, so he'll stay still. Daddy's sitting beside Mama on the wooden pew, but I can tell that she's still mad at him because her shoulders are all stiff and she's making sure that not one part of her is touching him, and that's hard to do when church is this full. It takes some real effort, because people just naturally kind of squeeze together on days like this. Daddy hasn't been the same since he came back from the war and he and Mama seem to get cross with each other an awful lot. Mama says that when men come back from the war, they're a little bit lost. She says that they saw a lot of things they wish they hadn't and that makes them sad. I know she's right, because my Daddy's eyes used to spark like firecrackers on the Fourth of July when he saw me, but now they're just as dull as dirt and nothing I do can make them shine. When we reach the altar we all stop and stand soberly in front of Father Johnson. Trudy squeezes my hand so tight that it hurts and when I look over at her to tell her to stop, I see that she is biting her lip, her eyes anxious. I lean against her just a little and squeeze her hand too. “Don't worry,” I whisper. “It'll be ok.” I look past Father Johnson, to the dark, carved wooden doors of the confessionals and I swear my heart skips a beat. I can feel it. There's a little jump in my chest and for a second I can't breathe and all of a sudden it's my hand squeezing Trudy's real hard. I know there's really nothing to be afraid of. Sister Agnes told us what to expect so we wouldn't be scared and while she was telling us I wasn't, but now that it's almost time for me to go, I am. Just a little bit. I feel Sister Angnes' hands on my back pushing me forward. “Isobel, why don't you go first?” she says, with a hint of steel in her voice. I always knew she hated me and this proves it. I try to move, but my feet are stuck to the floor, just like a fly stuck in molasses and my heart beats even faster. “Surely you aren't frightened?” Sister Agnes says, with a mean little smile on her face. “Really, Isobel, I'm surprised that such a feisty little girl like you is so easily scared. Perhaps someone else should go first?” Her voice sounds like she won something and her bony fingers dig in to my shoulders, hurting me. “Heck no! I'm not scared, Sister Agnes,” I say, as I shake free of her claws. “I'm not afraid of anything,” I add, looking her straight in the eyes. “Not even penguins.” Trudy gasps and Sister Agnes stares at me, her cheeks turning red. “Very well, Isobel,” she says, her voice as cold and icy as a January morning. “Go ahead.” I take a deep breath and walk slowly, to one of those big heavy doors. It's covered in twisted vines and flowers and I think it's supposed to be pretty, but it looks kind of tortured to me. I reach out and grab the handle. The wood's faded and worn smooth from the hands of all the sinners who held it before me and I wonder what they did wrong. Did they hit their brothers and sass their Mamas? Or did they do something really and truly awful? Trudy and I've been practicing what to say all week. Trudy says she's going to tell the priest about the time she took the last cookie from the cookie jar, the one that was supposed to be Charlie's. When he got up on the chair and put his chubby little hand in the jar and came up empty, there was hell 2
to pay. He went crying to Mama that someone stole his cookie, and Mama (who believes anything he says) picked him up and dried his tears with soft words and kisses and then marched into the kitchen to seek retribution. Mama blamed me, because it was a molasses raisin cookie (my very favorite cookie in the whole world) and everyone knows I'll do anything for one. Except this time I didn't, because Charlie is the baby and even though he's an awful tattletale, that just wouldn't have been right. You'd think that Trudy would have told Mama the truth, wouldn't you? But no, she just let Mama blame me. Sometimes, I swear that girl is just pure evil. Still, I guess that she must feel just a little bit guilty if that's what she's going to confess. Except, that's the only thing she's going to confess, like that's the only thing she's ever done wrong and I happen to know that there are plenty of other things she's done and most of them are worse than taking a cookie. I decided that if I had to confess my sins, I had better make it worth my while. It seems to me, that Father has probably heard about a million little girls tell him that the only thing they've ever done wrong was taking a stupid cookie from the cookie jar or fighting with their sisters or sassing their Mama's. So I've decided to make my confession special, but now that it's time to tell him, I'm just a little bit nervous. I open the heavy door and peer into the confessional. It's like a dark closet inside, only spookier. Everything is made of the same dark, heavy wood as the door and the only light comes from a small candle that's sitting in a scarlet glass globe, filling the tiny space with an eerie red glow. I sit down on the hard wooden bench and on the wall, just above my right knee, is a brass grille, a kind of a window, I guess. I try to look through it, but all I can see are shadows. I lean back against the cold wooden wall and try hard not to swing my legs. My feet don't quite touch the floor and it's hard to keep them still, but this seems like a place for stillness. I look down at my lap and try to smooth the stiff white fabric of my new dress over my knees, hoping to cover the scabs and scrapes that even a good Saturday scrubbing couldn't erase. I nearly jump out of my skin when a voice floats through the grille and hangs in the air before sinking into the dark corners of the confessional. “Welcome, my child,” it says in a lilting, musical way. “You may begin whenever you are ready.” “Oh, I'm ready now,” I say. “I've been practicing.” “Go ahead then,” the voice says. “I'm listening” I sit up straighter and put a hand over my heart. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” I begin dramatically. “It's been...” I pause. Sister Agnes told us that you always start your confession by telling how long it's been since your last one, but since I've never done this before, I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to say and I never really practiced this part, only the exciting part where I got to tell about all the important sins I did. I can't say it's been three weeks since my last confession (that's what Sister Agnes always says) because that would be a lie and then I would have to confess that too. “Keep going,” the voice prompts. I search for inspiration and when I find it, I put my hand back on my heart and begin again. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It hasn't been three weeks since my last confession like Sister Agnes always says it is, because this here is my first one, so It hasn't been any time at all really. Is that okay, Father Patrick?” I ask, peering through the window to make sure he's listening. When he doesn't answer right away, I tap on the fancy scrolled brass to get his attention. “Father Patrick? You there?” I hear a sigh and then the window slides open to reveal Father Patrick. He's sitting there in his robes, his dark hair shining in the candlelight and his blue eyes looking like the sky. He really is prettier than peacock, just like Aunt Rose says. “You're not supposed to know it's me child,” he says, his voice rising and falling like the sea. “Of course it's you, Father Patrick,” I say. “I could tell it was you straight away because of your voice. Aunt Rose says it sounds just like music and she's right, it does too. Mama says it's because you're 3
from Ireland and all, but Aunt Rose says she doesn't care where you're from, the sound of your voice still makes her weak in the knees. I don't quite know why it makes her knees weak, but I think it sounds real nice just the same.” Father Patrick puts his head in his hands for a moment, but when he looks back up I can see that he's smiling. He clears his throat and says, “Why, thank you, Isobel. I guess that's just about the nicest way anyone has ever told me I have an accent.” “You're welcome, Father,” I say. “Are you ready to get down to business?” I sit up straight and my legs start swinging in anticipation. Now that I know it's Father Patrick, I'm not nervous at all and I can't wait to get started. “Just let me get comfortable here, Isobel,” he says, rearranging his heavy robes and leaning back on his bench. “I have a feeling this might take awhile.” He looks me straight in the eye. “Seeing as you've been practicing and all.” Then he rests his hands on his Bible and grins. “Anytime you're ready to talk, I'm ready to listen.” I take a deep breath. “Well, Father,” I say, “You already know that this is my first time here, so I'm sorry to tell you I've got a lot of sins to confess.” “You do?” he asks. “Why, yes. I've been collecting them for as long as I can remember,” I tell him. “I'm always getting into trouble and doing something wrong. Sister Agnes says she's never seen a child who could cause as much mischief as me.” I look up at him, with the most woebegone eyes I can muster, like a puppy trying to get that last piece of morning bacon. I lower my voice to make it sound mournful. “I'm a terrible sinner, Father,” I say, hanging my head. “Probably the worst you've ever met.” Father Patrick chuckles. “Oh, you'd be surprised at the stories I've heard,” he says. “I don't think that you're really that bad. No matter what Sister Agnes says.” He leans towards me. “Just between you and me,” he whispers, “I think she needs to have a little fun and stop taking herself so seriously.” I gasp, my mouth open so big it could catch flies. I've never heard a priest say anything like that before. “But don't tell her I said that,” he says, winking at me. “Or we'll both get in trouble.” “Oh I won't, Father. I promise.” I can't hardly imagine what Sister Agnes would do if she heard such a thing. She'd probably get so steamed that her wimple would pop right off of her head. I smile just thinking about it. “Well now,” Father Patrick says, interrupting my happy thoughts. “What all do you have to tell me.” I look him straight in the eye and decide to start with a good one. “Father,” I say sadly, “I'm afraid I've taken the Lord's name in vain thirty-seven times.” He looks at me in surprise. “Since yesterday,” I add. “The day before I did it forty-three times.” “My, my,” he says, his voice real solemn. “That certainly is a lot, Isobel.” “I know,” I say proudly. “And last week, I spent all day Thursday worshiping false idols. Until Mama called me in to supper, that is.” “Really?” he asks. “The whole day?” “Yep. I almost missed getting a fried chicken leg, I was so busy doing it. Everyone says Mama's fried chicken is the best in the county, and Trudy, Charlie and I, we all like chicken legs the best. And you know how it is, Father,” I say seriously. “A chicken's only got two legs.” He nods his head in agreement. “Truer words have never been spoken. Anything else?” Just as I'm about to tell him a really good one, there's a knock on my door. “Isobel?” I hear Sister Agnes hiss. “Isobel Driscoll, you open this door right this minute, or you'll be in big trouble.” I roll my eyes at Father Patrick. “I'd better get that,” I say. “You know how she gets sometimes.” “I certainly do,” he agrees, sympathetically. 4
“I'll be right back,” I say, scooting off the bench and opening the door just enough to stick my head out. “Yes, Sister Agnes,” I say, politely. “What can I do for you this fine day?” Her face is bright red. “Isobel,” she whispers loudly. “Get out here right now. The other girls are waiting. You've been in there long enough.” “I'll be out in a minute,” I say, closing the door on her sputtering face. I sit back down on the bench. “Sorry, Father Patrick,” I say. “I don't think I'm going to have time to tell you all my sins after all. Sister Agnes is getting mighty anxious out there.” “I think you're right,” he says, with a sigh. “And I was so enjoying our little conversation. Well,” he adds, his voice brightening, “I bet you have time to tell me one more, Isobel, and you'd best make it a good one.” “You bet, Father,” I say. “I've saved the best for last.” He looks at me, his eyes bright with curiosity. “I'm ready, Isobel. Time to get it off your chest.” I lean forward, getting so close I can see the gold flecks in his eyes. “Father,” I whisper, like I'm telling him my deepest secret, “I've coveted my neighbors wife...” I look around to make sure no one else can here, then I lean in even closer, “a lot.” Father Patrick throws his head back and laughs until tears fall down his cheeks. Wiping them off, he fights to catch his breath. When he's finally got it, he looks at me, and smiles. It's a good smile, the kind that grows slowly until it reaches all the way to the back of a person's eyes. “My darling child,” he says, “that is the best confession I ever heard.” I grin back at him happily. “Now say three Hail Mary's and four Our Father's for penance and I look forward to seeing you soon.” “Thanks, Father Patrick,” I say, opening the door. “See you next time.” As I walk out into the church I feel everyone watching me. I smile and give a little wave to the other girls before going to sit down on the front pew where we're supposed to wait until everyone's finished. Sister Agnes glares at me, but I ignore her and look to Mama instead. She's got her head hidden in my Daddy's shoulder and her shoulders are shaking. At first I think she's crying and my eyes fly to Daddy's. He gives her a little nudge and she raises her head and I can see she's smiling. She looks up at Daddy again, and I can see him smile too, a for-real smile that makes his eyes sparkle and shine. I haven't seen that sparkle in such a long time, and it makes me feel all warm inside, like I've swallowed one of Mama's fruit tarts, fresh out of the oven and steaming with goodness. I turn around happily, swinging my feet and admiring the way the shimmery light bounces off my shiny new shoes. As I wait for Trudy to come join me, I can't help but think of the party that's waiting for us in the church basement. My mouth waters thinking about all the wonderful things there'll be to eat. There'll be hot dogs and soda pop, Aunt Rose's coconut cake and fresh-made chocolate ice cream. I think ice cream has got to be just about the best thing in the whole world, and chocolate is my absolute favorite. And of course, there'll be Mrs. Melanson's famous red punch. My feet stop dead and my eyes open wide. The punch! I feel my fingers tingle in anticipation and a grin takes hold of my mouth. I just can't wait to see Father Patrick's face next time when I tell him about the punch.
First Place ProseWinner
DJ Fish Stevi Alsdorf
Professor mimes swimming, explaining this weekâ€™s assignment. Opera sounds through the wall and all I can think about is the Past, how I used to raise my voice in dramatic song, give that Pitch vibrato. Pitches love vibrato. Now breathy air invades the Space between the waves, the notes slip out of tune, they sound Kind of blue like a scratchy old vinyl record spinning somberly at Thirty-three rotations per minute. Spinning as life does, in circles and Cycles, doomed to repeat until the DJ has mercy and graces your Ears with the next movement. All I ask is that He plays something Danceable, something fun, something that breathes life into this Tired body, this weary spirit who longs to crack this hardened shell Around her heart and swim like a fish through shadows deep, Salty ocean hurting wounds to heal, back into the light.
First Place Poetry Winner
Stranger from the West Christy Tucker I hear a thud that shakes me like a rain storm. Shortly after, I hear two men talking around the front of the house near the parlor. One of the voices is Jackson, our head servant, and the other voice belongs to someone unfamiliar to me. Through the sound of my footsteps on the wooden floor I can hear the gentleman say he just rode in from Montana to accept the ranch overseer position Daddy wired him about. Daddy is the Governor of Texas, Theodore Ruthford III. I turn the corner and see the man standing with Jackson. He’s tall, with dark hair, wearing dusty brown boots with brass spurs, worn out jeans, holstering a Colt .45 on his hip. His black shirt is unbuttoned a few buttons from the top exposing a part of his chest. He holds his brown hat in his hands and fiddles with the brim nervously as he speaks. “Gracie, this here is William Durant,” Jackson says. “He rode in clear all the way from Montana ma’am to see Mr. Ruthford about the ranch help.” “Thank you, Jackson. That’ll be all. I can take it from here.” Jackson nods and hurries on about his business. “Mr. Durant, my father is out dealing with a small crisis that has developed overnight and will be away attending to business matters. He has left me in charge, so please allow me to apologize on his behalf that he cannot welcome you properly to our ranch. I am sure you will quickly gather that we do things differently here. We treat our workers like family and impose no slavery upon anyone. Our overseers stay within the main house. Please allow me to show you to your sleeping quarters.” “Why thank you ma’am. That’s mighty kind of you. You can call me, William.” He says. “Think nothing of it, William. It’s the very least we can do. I imagine you must be exhausted from your travels.” “Why yes ma’am. I am.” Our footsteps out of unison clank on the hardwood floors. Light shines bright through the large windows at the back of the house, drawing the focus to the entertaining room. Ornate wood paneled walls embellished with tan and white wallpaper house books, photographs, US territories maps, Civil War Weaponry, and various other possessions a governor would own. Daddy’s favorite painting of her hangs over the fireplace and no matter the season he makes sure we fill the house with Hydrangea. The fragrance of them is so intoxicating, at times I become overwhelmed by it. It is as if through their aroma I can still hear her singing in the garden as she wipes dirt from her hands. “Do you like…” Before I can even finish my sentence I realize I am looking up at William from the floor. “You all right?” he asks with a smile, trying desperately to contain his laughter. I realize my dress was caught on one of the rusty nail heads sticking up through a loose floor panel. “I keep forgetting to tell Jackson about this nail,” I say. My mind was so distracted I must have forgotten to keep an eye out for it. William offers both of his arms and helps me back onto my feet. I can feel my face burning red from embarrassment. “Thank you, William. Now that you have helped me up would you be so kind as to pick up my pride as well?” “I think I see it there on the floor.” As I shake my dress loose we both begin laughing and continue down the corridor. “Watch your step, Grace. Wouldn’t want you to trip,” he says in solemn voice, as his shoulders move up and down from his silent laughter when we come to a set of stairs. 8
I stop and put one hand on his arm. “Well I do declare, William!” I say coyly. “Are you laughing at a lady?” Now upstairs, our footsteps are muffled by antique rugs beneath our feet. Burgundy, red, navy blue and gold patterns stretch to the length of the hallway. Gold framed photographs, porcelain plates, and candle light fixtures adorn the walls. Between the ten rooms, five rooms on each side with their doors open, there are antique arm chairs, tables, bookcases and bronze statues. Soft white light cast from within each room illuminates sections of the corridor in uneven diagonal lines. “William, you will be staying here,” I say gesturing into the fifth room on the right. “Daddy calls this room ‘the eyes of the ranch.’ I am sure you will be able to see why once you are inside. Here let me show you,” I say. I walk in with hurried footsteps that reverberate through the room. Bare hardwood floors stretch throughout the rather large room. Facing the doorway directly ahead is a wall full of windows that are delicately covered in pleated cream drapes with burgundy and gold fringed tassels that hang from the drawstrings. There is a brass wrought iron bed on the right side of the room with a forest greet blanket and gold decorative pillows, a small table and lamp. On the left side of the room a mahogany chest of drawers faces the bed, and a cream armchair and foot stool rests in the corner near the windows. Antique family photos, antlers, and a gold framed mirror hang on the walls. Walking over to the drapes, I smile back at William to make sure he is following me. As I pull the drawstrings to open the drapes, I watch his face, revealing a panoramic view of the estate. Wonder washes over his face while I begin pointing out various places. I begin with my favorite place on the ranch, rows of live Oak trees that seclude parts of the Pecos River, then the garden, servant quarters, outhouse, washhouse and other structures, barns and stables. “You can even see the Davis Mountains on the horizon,” he says beaming at me with a childlike gleam in his eyes. I turn to William and say, “I hope it suits you. Please let Jackson know if you need anything at all. He will be assisting you until my father returns to inform you of your duties.” That night as I lay in bed, I go over all the events of the day and find my thoughts drifting back to this stranger from the West. A part of him is so familiar to me. I hear the sound of his voice echoing in my mind, “Grace”. All of a sudden I can see Mama in her garden again, smiling up at me while wiping dirt from her hands as she stands to greet me. She was the only person who has ever called me that. Everyone else just calls me Gracie. “My Grace,” she would say. There was something about Mama. She could make anything seem special. Something as small and simple as my name became something tremendously endearing. With tears falling down my cheeks and visions of hydrangea and Mama, I drift slowly into a deep sleep. The next morning I wake to a bird singing on my windowsill and the sun shining bright into my room. I get out of bed and walk over to the window, brush the drapes back with one hand and see what kind of day lies before me. Just as I suspected, not a cloud in the sky. I take a deep breath in, close my eyes and exhale letting all of last night’s thoughts leave me. As I walk into the kitchen I am greeted with the aroma of bacon and fried eggs. “Mmm. This smells divine, Jana,” I say. “I hope you are hungry, ma’am. Me and Mary Ann have made enough to feed all of Texas,” Jana says cheerfully as she hands me a cup of coffee. Jana is overseer of the kitchen and cooking duties, and Mary Ann is her assistant. “Thank you, both!” I say as I lift my cup slightly, turning to make eye contact with both Jana and Mary Ann. Over the sound of our conversation and laughter, I can hear the faint sound of spurs and boots clanking on the hardwood floors. Jana continues speaking to me, but I can only barely make out the 9
sound of her voice over the footsteps that draw closer and closer. I begin to feel dizzy. It becomes very hot, and my heart begins to race. I have no reason to be nervous, but I am. The footsteps and the sound of spurs become louder, and as I look up I see Wayne, our assistant ranch hand. Wayne is in charge of the cattle and will be assisting William with the cattle and handiwork. “Gracie, ma’am, are you okay?” Jana asks. “Yes, Jana. I’m sorry. I don’t know what must’ve come over me,” I say shaking my head and sitting down at the kitchen table. “Child, you look like you have seen a ghost,” Jana says with a concerned look on her face. “Morning, ma’am,” Wayne says as he takes off his hat and joins me at the table. “Wayne, did you sleep well last night?” I ask smiling. “Like a baby.” “Coffee?” I ask. “That would be great,” says Wayne. Mary Ann pours Wayne a cup of coffee, and we enjoy our breakfast while exchanging stories of Wayne’s journey to Texas, how he met Daddy, then subsequently wound up at our ranch. After breakfast I decide to take my daily walk down by the creek to get some fresh air. Making my way down, I can remember when I was just a girl in the spring of 1898 walking hand in hand with Mama. Back then several of the oak trees were just big enough to provide partial shade. That was several years ago. Now, they act as a canopy. It is so beautiful. There must be around three hundred scattered around the ranch now. Their long branches intertwine and hang down to the ground, making a perfect resting place or spot to enjoy a book. Today I spread a blanket out on the ground, lay back and listen to the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind, the hypnotic sound of the stream, birds chirping, and feel the warmth of the day on my skin while the moss hangs and sways in the breeze. I feel so at ease here. I can be alone with my thoughts and my memories. Startled by the sound of twigs breaking beneath a horse’s hooves, I sit up to see William riding towards me. It takes me a few seconds to realize that I’m not dreaming and he is in fact here. All at once I am nervous. “Afternoon Grace,” he says tipping the front brim of his hat. “I hope I didn’t frighten you.” “I’m just getting the lay of the land and making note of all the repairs that need tending to.” “Who do we have here, William?” I ask as I stand and begin petting the horse, trying to act natural. “This here’s Jessie James.” As he says this, the horse nays, snorts and stomps his front hoof, as if he actually likes the name. With a chuckle and the sun shining brightly in my face, I tilt my head back slightly and give William a squinty look through one eye. “What? I’m serious!” he says grinning. “The Jessie James? Why hello, Mr. James. Been on any heists lately?” I ask the horse. “Grace,” He says while tipping the brim of his hat and nudging the horse with his spurs. “Leaving so soon?” I ask feeling a desperate yearning within my heart. I want him to stay. “I best be off. There’s work to be done.” “Oh William, don’t be such a bore. It is Sunday and you don’t start until my father returns,” I say. “All right,” he says with a boyish grin. William dismounts and holds the reigns in his hands. He takes out a sack of carrots from one of the saddle bags and begins feeding the horse. Handing me a couple of carrots, he smiles warmly. It is at this moment that I notice his eyes for the first time, the way the sunlight makes the colors catch fire. 10
Flecks of amber, brown and hints of green. Somewhere underneath it all I feel as if I have known him for many years. There is something so familiar within his eyes, within him. I don’t care where he’s been, or the things he has done up until this point in his life. All I feel is that I need to know him. “I have always been fascinated by horses,” I say. “Ever ride one?” “When I was just a girl, but I don’t really remember it much.” “He likes you,” he says. “How can you tell?” “He is eating the carrots, not your fingers.” “He’s done that before?” I ask surprised. “He is an outlaw,” he says smiling and shrugs his shoulders. We spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying each other’s company, walking along the creek and laying around underneath the canopy of live oaks, talking about the West, Mama’s tuberculosis, Daddy, life on the ranch and anything we can think of. Time seems to stand still within our words. With the setting sun the ranch and everyday life seems to fade away in the distance. Fireflies dance on top of the water, and a million stars shine in the sky. Knowing this will soon come to an end when Daddy returns, tears fall slowly down my face. “I know,” He says softly. “But we will always have this night.” He brushes the hair back from my eyes, and his hand tenderly wipes the tears from my face and puts his arms around me. I begin to pull away, then give in and lean into him allowing him to hold me close. We are lost within the emptiness of the night. As our bodies dance in the moonlight, our souls tell stories no words can ever describe. Nothing may ever come of this, but somehow just knowing him, I know that my life will never be the same.
Essential Grit Brittany Lempicki I slammed on my breaks, almost hitting the car in front of me. Texting and driving. Yeah we all know the fucking statistics. Luckily, today, I wasn’t one of them. I threw my phone down and cursed its existence. I threw my head back towards the headrest of my posh Mini Cooper that made all of my friends and colleagues swoon. I don’t know if I was more annoyed at my actions, the light being red, the asshole in front of me who decided yellow meant stop (not speed up) or the crappy Nickleback jam session the guy two cars over was having. I just wanted to get home. I just wanted to be in a place that was safe and comforting. I just wanted to be free of all responsibilities for thirty fucking minutes. This light was taking forever. I could feel someone gazing at me. I looked to the left, at the corner of the street, and noticed a woman. She was probably no more than 20, but with all of the soot and dirt that had collected over her body for only god knows how long, she looked 45. Her clothes were tattered and her face sunken in. She held a sign that was so beat up you could barely make out the words. It didn’t matter what they said though. If you didn’t know what she needed, you clearly weren’t a human being. I looked back at the light. I never give into these people. They take your money, cigarettes or food and wait for the next chump to give them more. I looked back at her, staring. She caught on to my observation and hung her head. She was burning a hole into the cement when I rolled down my window and asked her to come over. She did so, very, very slowly. “Do you have kids?” I asked. Her response was simple, “Naw.” At this point the light was green, so I threw on my hazard lights and said, “We don’t know each other, but I think I know exactly what you need. If you trust my judgment, get in.” Her face was full of confusion, but she smirked as she darted her eyes across the angry spectators. I could tell she had no idea what she was getting herself into, but she wanted the cars passing by in disdain to shut the fuck up and see what this girl had to offer her, so she left her perch and got in. She reeked of old booze, meth, body odor, feces and puke, but I didn’t seem to give two fucks at this point. We went about a half a mile down the road to a bar that always reminded me of the crappy dive bars back home in a tiny city in Texas. The setting felt right. “Do you drink?” I ask. “Can you think of a reason I wouldn’t?” she replied. I had to admit, I loved her grit. Getting in a car with some stranger and not kissing her ass because the stranger was offering her something she so desperately wanted. It was pretty badass. “Two bourbons on ice and two hamburgers well done,” I said to the bartender. There was no perplexing look as he took our order and she sat next to me. I loved this town. It was pure blue and no one gave two fucks what you did with your time and money. I remember when I first moved here and thinking that all the hippies were ruining the great state known as Texas, but since then my views on politics and the treatment of others changed. Maybe it was the day too. I wasn’t sure. I took a sip of my bourbon as she chugged hers. I waived to the bartender to get her another. I said, “Jenn. You?” She extended her hand. “Jasmina.” I accepted the shake and asked the obvious. “So, Jasmina, where are you from, and how did you end up on the corner of 71st and Lamar?” She looked at me as annoyed as I felt listening to Nickleback only 20 minutes earlier. I went on to say, “I’m not here to convert or argue with you. I’m just having a rough day and trying to understand a difficult situation, is all. You don’t have to tell me anything. You can drink the booze, eat the hamburger and be back on the corner, but I would have regretted not asking you how you ended up in your current situation.” 12
She thought on it—I mean she really thought on it—but her answer was simple. “Once you stop trying, and you just let go, like, really let go, the easier it gets to lose yourself. Before you know it, you’re on the corner asking for whatever you can get.” I thought on this. I lit a cigarette and found myself with tears on my face. “Ma’am, you aint got to feel sorry for me,” she said. “I appreciate what you doing and all, but I don’t need your pity.” I laughed and said, “For someone so well versed in the art of needing, you sure can’t see when another needs, can you?” At that moment, she put down the hamburger she had been inhaling and stopped to stare at me. Her eyebrows rose in surprise. It shocked her that these tears of pity were for myself. “What happened?” “Aww, nothing. Don’t worry about it.” The bartender asked if I need anything else. I said, “No, just the tab please.” I stared at the tab. I couldn’t stop staring at it. What should I tip? I always over tip, but today was different. I looked at the bartender and said, “Actually, I could use something. Are you hiring by any chance? I just got laid off from my job today and don’t want to lose myself.” Jasmina looked up, smiled from ear to ear, held up her glass, clinked it with mine and we both took a sip. No words, no tears and no pity were needed. Just two women with grit and persistence.
Majestically Raghad Jazairy
Majestic Mountains pierce through fog. Hold the heavy smoke and gray bog. The valley soaks in the morning dew. The river runs northwest in crystal hue. Cypress trees hang on to the river beds. Honeysuckle flowers bloom in tint of reds Oceans speak to the calming winds. Carrying love and burdening sins. Salty air cries out for anticipation. The sand dunes shift by in recreation.
(To be read forwards and backwards.)
Parts of Me... Hessami Hernandez I stood in my classroom right in front of the center aisle and made sure all the desks are straight. I walked through each aisle of chairs and desks, straightening, pushing and pulling them until they all lined up perfectly. I grabbed my feather duster from the hook on the wall and brushed it across the surface. All the drawings the kids had done that day were in a neat stack on the right side of my desk. The wire cup holding my pens and pencils sat in the middle of towards the front. The left side was completely free. I looked over at my bookshelves and noticed that a few books were sticking out. I pushed them back in and stepped back to make sure nothing was out of order. I walked to the door, picked up the can of Lysol and sprayed the entire room, walking from the back to the front. I put the can of Lysol back in its place in and picked up my purse. I walked to the door, then turned around and looked at the room. Nothing was out of place. I smiled as I closed the door and walked out of the building and headed to my car. As I stepped out of the building, I saw two Hello Kitty backpacks on the curb in the area designated for parent pick-up. I wondered who the backpacks belonged to. I looked at my watch, and it was four thirty-five. No students should be here at this hour. I heard muffled voices coming from the side of the building. I walked around the corner of the building and saw Mya, a five year old from my kindergarten class, with an older girl who looked like she could be her sister. The older girl was holding Mya's hand with her head held low while they were talking. Mya let go of her hand and ran towards me. “Ms Fuentes! Ms Fuentes!” she said while hugging me. “Hello Mya, what are you still doing here?” I held her hand and walked over to where the other girl remained standing. “I'm with Luz. She's my big sister and we're waiting for our mommy.” Huge hazel eyes looked up at me. “Are you waiting for your mommy too, Ms Fuentes?” I smiled at her. “No, Mya. I'm not waiting for my mommy. I'm old enough to take myself home.” We reached the spot where Luz was standing. “Hello, Luz. I'm Ms Fuentes, Mya's teacher.” She looked at me holding Mya's hand and said, “I told you not to run off like that Mya.” She pulled Mya's hand out of mine and took a few steps back. She pushed Mya's corn silk hair behind her ears as they started walking back to the parent pick-up area. “Hold on a minute,” I said as I started walking back with them. “Thanks, Ms Fuentes, but we're just waiting on our mom. She'll be here any minute.” They got to the curb and sat down next to their backpacks. I had already decided that I was going to wait with them until their mom came. There was no way I was getting in my car and leaving them behind. I spread my handkerchief on the curb and sat down next to Mya. Her little tummy rumbled. In my purse I found two granola bars and a protein bar. I gave them each a granola bar and watched as Luz put hers in her backpack and shared the other one with Mya. Another glance at my watch told me it was 4:45. School was dismissed at 3:00. This mom was an hour and forty-five minutes late. If she didn't get here soon, I would have to take them inside and then the school would call Child Protective Services. “Hey, guys. Does your mom have a cell phone?” I held mine up for them to see. “Try calling her to see if she's on her way?” Just then a loud vroom made me look away from the girls to the driveway. There was a yellow Chevy Camaro, the bumble bee version, and it stopped in front of us. An older version of the girls, same hazel eyes and corn silk hair, came out from the passenger side of the car. She held on to the door, pulled 15
herself up, and said, “Hey, babies. Come on now. Get in the car.” She straightened her knee-length dress as she looked at me. We had met once before on Mya's first day of school, but she had never attended any of the other PTA or student orientation meetings. I stood up at the same time as Luz and Mya, and while they were picking up their backpacks, I walked towards their mom who was still leaning on the car door. The driver never bothered to get out. I could see a baseball cap over dark hair but that was all. “Ma'am, are you aware that the administrators of this school will call Child Protective Services to pick up students whose parents neglect to come get them on time?” “Well, hello to you, too.” She finally stood up straight and using both hands she tucked her hair behind her ears. “Don't you worry. I'm here now. Aren't I?” I wanted to slap some sense into her, but I took a step back because the girls had made it to the car. I turned and smiled at them. “Okay girls, have a great night and I'll see you tomorrow.” “Bye, Ms Fuentes,” said Mya and gave me another hug. Luz just looked at me for a moment and then said, “Thanks for waiting with us. I told you she would come.” They climbed in the backseat of the car, and it took off with a loud vroom while the mom waved at me in the mirror. I watched the car drive away, and I felt a burning sensation in the palms of my hands. I opened my hands and looked at the red, nail shaped crescents there and exhaled. I walked over to the curb, picked up my purse and finally got in my car. I don't even know how I made it home. I couldn't get Luz and Mya off my mind. I sat in front of the television with my dinner and tried to focus on Peaky Blinders but I couldn't. I placed my half eaten salmon in Hunter's bowl, walked to the den and turned on my computer. I pulled up the school's database and typed in Mya Henriquez. Her sister Luz was nine and they both lived with their mom Lydia, a widow of three years. Their father had been killed in a car accident on his way home from work one night. Lydia, once a stay-at-home mom, now had to leave the home and go out to work. She was a typist in an insurance company. So the guy in the car wasn't their dad. I shut down the computer and made my way to the kitchen. I did the dishes, sanitized the counters and put the trash outside. I sprayed the entire kitchen with Lysol, then placed the can back under the sink. I stood at the entryway to the kitchen and looked over everything. Nothing was out of place. I smiled and turned off the lights. I pulled into my parking spot at the same time as the principal did. I was usually here before her, and I was annoyed that we got here at the same time. I really didn't want to have to speak with her. She smelled like the inside of a pet shop and I knew she lived with six cats. Hence the hairs all over her clothing all of the time. “Good morning, Ms Fuentes,” she said while locking her car. “Lovely weather we're having.” The weather was lovely on this August morning, not too hot or humid, just sunny with a cool breeze. “Good morning, Mrs Peachtree. Yes, the weather is really nice.” I held my breath for this entire exchange, and I was happy when she waved and walked away. I let my breath out and started walking towards the school. When I reached my classroom, I opened the door and looked inside. I sighed with relief. It was exactly as I left it. I hung my purse on the hook and picked up my feather duster and dusted off my desk. There was about fifteen minutes before class was scheduled to start so I logged in to my computer and looked at my lesson plan for the day. I thought if the weather stayed like this then I could teach a part of the class outside. “ Good morning, Ms Fuentes.” The first of my students started to come in. I greeted them all as they came in and kept looking up for Mya. When she came in, she was very quiet and just went to her seat. I smiled at her and she smiled back. I went to the corner of the room and picked up the globe. I put it on my desk and asked the children to come up and show me where America was located on the map. One by one they came up and showed me where they thought or knew America was. When it was Mya's turn, she came up to me with an eight by eleven drawing in her hands and placed it on my desk. “What's this, Mya?” I picked up the drawing. 16
“ I made it for you, Ms Fuentes.” She pointed to the drawing. “It's us, me and you and Luz. Do you like it?” “Its beautiful, Mya.” I looked at the drawing of Mya in the middle with Luz and me on either side of her holding her hands. I felt a ball in my chest. “Why did you make this for me, Mya?” “Because you didn't leave us, Ms Fuentes. Mommy is always leaving us.” She looked up at me with those trusting hazel eyes. “Your mommy has to work, Mya, so she can take care of you and Luz.” I placed the drawing back on the desk. “No, she doesn't. She just leaves us and goes with him.” She put her hand on the globe. “There's America, Ms Fuentes.” As she stood there and smiled at me something amazing happened. Her straight yellow hair changed to brown curly hair and her hazel eyes became a deep brown. I was looking at myself, twentyfive years ago. I shook my head and held on to the desk because even though I was sitting down the entire room started spinning. “Go back to your desk now, sweetheart, and thank you for the beautiful drawing,” I said and gave her a quick hug. She skipped back to her desk and sat down. I told the class that we were going to have quiet time for ten minutes. They all folded their arms and put their heads on the desk. I picked up the phone and pushed 0 for the operator. When she came on the line I asked for a teacher's assistant to be sent to room 309. When the TA arrived I quickly told her that I needed a few minutes and left the room. I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. I pulled the tissues from the dispenser with quick, jerking movements and realized they were tearing before they came out because I was pulling them too hard. I slapped myself twice on each side of my face and watched as the flushed pink hue flooded my face. I smiled and walked back to my classroom.
Throughout the day I tried really hard not to look at Mya. I didn't want to see myself in her again. But I couldn't do that to her. She was such a sweet little girl who only deserved my kindness. At the end of the day when I finished cleaning, straightening and sanitizing my room, I began the slow march to my car. Just like I suspected there were two Hello Kitty backpacks on the curb, except this time they were attached to Mya and Luz's backs. When the girls heard the door open, they turned around and when they saw it was me, Mya came running up with her usual hug. Luz waved to me me from the curb. I looked at my watch. Four thirty-five. I sighed and then smiled because I was already prepared for this. I walked over to the curb holding Mya's hand while she skipped along next to me. I sat down on the curb in between them and put my purse in my lap. I took out three bottles of apple juice, three roast beef sandwiches and three apples, all purchased from the cafeteria earlier. The girls eyes lit up when they saw the food, and I felt that ball in my chest again. “Looks like we're hanging out again today,” I said as I passed out the food. “Looks like it.” Luz took the food. “Thank you.” I watched as she did the same thing she did yesterday and put her food away. While Mya was chasing the birds as she ate her apple, I put my food into her backpack. Five o'clock came and the mom never showed up. I walked the girls back inside and took them to the administrator’s office. While we were waiting for the necessary calls to be made, we sat on the big, brown, leather couch that seemed to swallow you whole when you sat in it. “What's going to happen to us, Ms Fuentes?” Luz asked. “Don't worry, Luz. Ms Fuentes will never leave us.” Mya turned and looked at me. “Right, Ms Fuentes?” She was so brave. Braver than I'd ever been. “That's right, lovelies.” I pulled them in close, tight to my chest. “I'll never leave you.” Luz looked at me with so much doubt it hurt. I walked into the office to find out what was going on. Apparently the girls had a grandmother who was listed as their emergency contact and she was on 17
her way to get them. The office had no luck reaching Lydia. I walked back to the couch where they were sitting and told them the news. “Guys, your grandmother is coming to pick you up. She should be here in half an hour.” I knelt in front of the couch so I could look them both in the eyes when I told them. Relief flooded both their faces. Luz leaned back in the couch and closed her eyes, and Mya jumped on me and put her arms around me. “I love grandma Lucille!” She laughed and did a little twirl around the room. Her happiness was contagious and I laughed along with her. “I'm named after her you know,” said Luz while looking at Mya dance. “She's my dad's mom.” “She seems to really care about you and your sister.” I looked at her face. “We're the only grandchildren she has. She kept asking my mom to see us but she wouldn't let us go to her house.” She sat up in the chair and looked at me. “Ms Fuentes?” she hesitated. “Whats going to happen to our mom?” “Sweetheart, I don't know.” I took her hand in mine. “Let's get you all settled in at your granny's, okay?” When I saw the girls reunited with their grandmother, that ball in my chest broke and the tears flowed like dark, stormy clouds that loomed above and finally burst. She hugged Luz and Mya so tightly and hard to her chest there was no denying her love for them. As the grandmother signed the paperwork to take them home, Luz walked up to where I was standing. I wiped my tears away quickly. “I already saw them, Ms Fuentes. It's okay.” She put her arms around me and hugged me like she would never let me go. Just then her grandmother walked over to us. “Let the lady breathe Luz,” she said but then hugged me as well. We all laughed. “Abuela,” said Mya, “This is my teacher, Ms Fuentes.” “Senorita, thank you for taking care of my granddaughters.” She held on to both their hands. “I didn't think I would be seeing them anytime soon.” “Its no problem, ma'am. Anyone would have done what I did.” “But you, you're not just anyone are you?” She looked me straight in the eyes and smiled. After the girls left with their grandma, I picked up my purse, walked out of the building and headed towards the parking lot. When I got in the car something still didn't feel right to me. What kind of person just leaves their kids in a school? I picked up my phone and Googled Lydia Henriquez. Her address, phone number and some other useless information popped up on my phone. I plugged the address into my GPS and found that it was actually on my way home. My schedule had already been altered so a little detour wouldn't do much more damage. I entered the cul-de-sac on the tree-lined street where Lydia's home was and saw the yellow Camaro in her driveway. I parked my car a few houses down from hers and took off my heels and put on my Nike's. I put on a black hoodie, the one that I used at the gym, over my burgundy shirt and got out of the car. I walked for about two minutes and then I was in front of her house. I walked around the side of the house, crouched down and looked in the living room window. The television was on but no one was watching. Lydia was on the couch snoring, and the dark haired guy was sitting on the floor with his back against the couch. A half smoked joint and drug paraphernalia littered the little coffee table. “Hey what are you doing there?” I spun around and faced the middle aged man who spoke to me from across the fence. His eyebrows were furrowed and the corners of his too-wide mouth were turned down. He looked me up and down then shook his head from left to right. “I'm not doing anything.” I looked down at my Nike's. They were filthy. I had stepped in mud and didn’t realize it. In fact both my hoodie and my pants were smudged with dirt from leaning against the side of the house. “Then get out of there before I call the police.” He shook his cell phone at me as I stood up and stole one last look in the window. Nothing had changed. 18
I walked out of the driveway and didn't look back. I ran the rest of the way to where my car was parked and got in and drove home. I took all my clothes off in the garage and placed them in a large trash bag. I wasn't going to attempt to clean them. I felt like the dirt that was on them could never come out, not even in the wash.
Shrimp Jordan Reid
My mother was making shrimp tonight. She hovered over a pot of boiling water, looking at it as though the shrimp would reveal whether they were ready or not. “Sarah, hand me the tongs, would you?” I hopped off the counter, careful to avoid the giant alphabet puzzle pieces my little brother was moving around in no particular order. The three year old was still a “terrible two.” I opened the drawer full of a colorful mixture of oven mitts, spatulas, and small boxes of matches. I lifted out the metal tongs and held them out to my mother. She twirled them around the boiling water for a moment before picking out a piece of shrimp and carefully setting it on the coarse glass cutting board. The steam rose in the air and melted away. I gazed at the boiling water mesmerized by the angry bubbles making their escape to the surface. Shrimp was my father’s favorite dish to make. I could imagine him checking the shrimp over and over again to make sure he was not over-cooking his specialty. My Dad was a darker version of me. His green eyes and olive skin stood out against his black hair which he kept short to disguise the fact that it was curly. He hid all the pictures of the curly afro he had in the 80s under lock and key. I didn’t mention to him that he had missed one of the photos that was in one of the dozens of carefully made albums we had. I would sit on the counter, next to him watching while he boiled the potatoes for his special mashed potatoes and seasoned the asparagus that would go alongside the shrimp. I loved watching him cook. It was different than when my mother cooked. Everything tasted better when he was home. The food was effortlessly prepared, and everyone worked together to set the table and lend a hand with the beverages. My sister and I would race to set everything we needed on the table. She was a year older than me, but I was faster. She and I had a strict system that we would always remind each other of when the other would try to get out of cleaning duty. She and I would say in a sing-song voice drawing out the “I” and the “you.” “I got it out, you put it up.” It was a system we honored whenever it was invoked. My father would spear a shrimp with a fork and bring it up to my face. I would wrinkle my nose, and he would look at me with a mock hurt expression before I would smile and take the fork he offered. My mom was doing her best. Her splattered apron and new oven mitts were a testament to her valiant effort. She cut the shrimp in half and popped one piece in her mouth. “Hmmm,” she said, as she slowly chomped down on the tiny piece of meat. “I don’t think it’s done yet. Want to taste it?” she asked. “Okay,” I said. I picked it up and chewed it as best I could before swallowing. “It’s a little tough.” “I know,” she said breathing out a long sigh. “I think that means it needs to cook for a little longer. I’m going to put it back on the stove for another ten minutes and then we can check it.” “Sounds good,” I said. She lifted the heavy pot and set it back down on the hot burner. The water immediately jumped back to life. We prepared the mashed potatoes and green beans together. I poured the mashed potato powder into the measuring cup until my mom said “when,” and we mixed it with the milk until it was a nice smooth texture. “Go get your sister and tell her it’s time for dinner now.” I ran through the living room and down the hall. I stopped at the edge of my sister’s room and held my ear to the door. 20
“Hola, me llamo Senora Rosa,” I could hear the Spanish tutorial my sister had checked out from the library. “Hola, me llamo Senora Jessica,” she said, with her perfect accent. I needed to practice. At least she was trying to do justice to our Spanish roots. I pulled the door open and flew towards my sister’s bed. She was curled up with a ball of yarn, and her latest crochet creation was well on its way. I jumped on top of her and hugged her tight, trapping her arms to her side. “Sarah! You messed up my last stich!” she said. At ten years old, she was already acting like a grandma. We were sixteen months apart and two peas in a pod. At least, I made sure we were, whether she liked it or not. Sometimes I wished I was more like her, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t have the patience for language and fine needle work. “It's okay,” I said. “You can fix it later. It's time to eat. Mom needs help setting the table.” “Okay, Okay, I'm coming.” She turned off the CD she had been playing, and we walked together towards the kitchen. Mom had set out all the plates and utensils. Jessica and I grabbed the glasses, filling them with water and sat down at the table. Mom put my brother in his highchair, and we all sat down and held hands to bless our food. The prayer was always started the same way, “Lord heavenly Father...” My mom liked for us to have rehearsed things to say. She had us answer the phone in a uniform way as well, “Hello, this is the Reid residence, Sarah speaking.” It was really embarrassing once when I had picked up the phone and confused the two. The person on the phone, understandably, didn't know who I was calling her Lord Heavenly Father. I used that for my argument to scrap the rehearsed phone greeting, but it didn't work. My dad was a part of the church choir before he left. One of the only memories I had of him at church was when I was standing next to my mom and sister singing along with the worship song “Give and It Will Come Back to You.” The hand motions to that song were done by the whole church in unison. The image of my father on stage doing those made me smile anytime I heard that song. I couldn’t remember a specific time when he held me in church when I was tired, but I could remember what it felt like, secure and comforted in his arms. I took a bite of shrimp and looked over at my mother who was having her first taste as well. “Okay, you guys,” she began. “Just so y'all know for the future, overcooked shrimp has the texture of rubber so don't cook it longer if it starts to get that way.” My sister looked at me and we tried to conceal our smiles that were waiting just below the surface. “It's okay, mom. It still tastes good. I love shrimp,” I said. “Jessica can you pass me the cocktail sauce?” She passed it to me, and I put a generous serving over my shrimp. The sauce helped. Quietness settled over the table again. The chair at the head of the table was empty all the time now. The uniquely carved wood backing was taller and more elaborate than the others making its empty presence all the more noticeable. We lived patiently waiting for the visits we were able to have with our Dad, whose one year long contract with the U.N. in Bosnia had turned into two and now an indefinite amount of time. Every time we picked him up from the airport, my mom made it a huge ordeal. My mom, sister and I would put on our favorite matching outfits that our Grammy had made for us, and we decorated elaborate welcome home signs expressing our love in colorful, glitter covered signs with every kind of greeting and endearment. We would walk right up to his gate carrying everything with us and watch for his plane. The first time he came home for a visit, we were all gathered together with our signs held out for him to see. He came into view and gave all of us a wide smile. He'd let his mustache and beard grow out. He later told me that it helped him fit in with the people overseas because that's how all the people there kept their hair. We hugged him tight, and the time apart was forgotten. I always cried when I saw him. The emotions that I had felt for the past two months would flow out with my tears and he would pick me up in his arms and hold me tight to his chest all the way out to the car. Even now, I could still 21
feel the rough texture of his polo shirt against my skin and the feel of my face close to his. His scruffy beard would tickle my cheeks every time he turned his head. Jessica and I finished eating our shrimp, swallowing some of it quickly so as not to have to taste it. My little brother was concentrating on getting as much as he could on the floor before my mom stopped him. “Mom,” I said. “Can Jessica and I make lemon-bars?” “Okay, as long as you guys clean up after yourselves. I'm going to put your brother in the playpen in the living room. Keep an eye on him while I go lay down for a little bit.” “Sure.” Jessica and I gathered all the ingredients. We emptied the contents of two bags that were in the box into a mixing bowl before reading the directions along with the added ingredients. We had mixed the filling and the crust together before noticing. We cooked it anyways. I cut a large piece out for my mom and went to her room. I knocked on the door softly in case she was asleep. “Yes, honey?” Mom said. “Can I come in, please?” “Yes, come in.” I opened the door to her dark room and crawled up on her bed. Jessica came in behind me. “We brought you a piece of lemon bar.” My mom took the plate and brought it up to her nose. “This smells really good, girls,” she said. I could see that her face was blotchy red in some places and it had traveled to her neck and chest. “Did you girls mix the crust and filling together?” “Yeah,” I said. “We didn't read all of the directions before we started mixing it.” Mom took a bite out of it and waited a moment before smiling. “I don't know why there isn't a recipe that tells you to mix the crust and filling together because this is the best lemon bar I've ever had.” Jessica and I smiled at each other. “I'm really sorry about dinner tonight, girls. It can be hard sometimes without your dad here. I will make sure you guys get something decent to eat next time.” Jessica and I were making our way out of my mom's room and I ran back quickly and kissed my mom's cheek. “We enjoyed dinner just fine mom. Don't worry. The shrimp was good.” “Thanks girls.” I looked back. Mom sat up and sighed as she turned on the light on her nightstand and started to lift herself out of bed.
Kandinsky Bug Realization Radly Peralta To be trapped behind a glass frame, Shuffling, crawling through abstraction, Forever to wander land's geometric color. We're all the bathroom bug, The creature trapped in the frame of the print, An exoskeleton between intersecting isosceles. Why trudge? There is no escape. We'll all fall into landscapes of puzzles, perplexed at the sight of abstract expressionism. He was right to take up brush and oil, Smear the canvas with precise depths of the unconscious mind, meaningless motion. What does this mean to us? To share. Stare off into the canvas for our morning piss. Flecks of dew dry onto unstable legs. Lean against the wall and try for once. Try not to see what coffin of glass awaits. Just press on her, so she can press back. Such restless things we are, flesh and fire, Fragile bodies flowing down a river, floating on a vessel more fragile than the soul it carries. We move ourselves about and twist. We move ourselves so that we exist, A flickering flame falling beyond the river's bend. Curving, winding down with gravity's gentle embrace. Float on, float free, right over the edge of the earth, Into lands of pure abstraction, unbridled abyss.
Third Place Poetry Winner
Rodeo Natalie Grajeda I tried not to look but from the corner of my eye I could see her hand resting on the bleacher on which we sat. Take it, just grow some balls and hold her hand, I thought. I moved my hand closer to hers and just when I had almost reached it, she turned around and smiled at me. “Thanks for bringing me,” said Allison. “Yeah, no problem.” It was the beginning of summer and people flooded into our small pueblo near the city of Guadalajara from the United States every year. Mostly it was people like Allison who had family here and came to visit them. Allison’s dad had grown up here along with my old man, and he visited often but he had only brought Allison with him once before. I still remember the first time I saw her. We were six years old and she was the only girl who I had ever played with who was actually fun. I cried for days after she left, and to this day my older brother still makes fun of me for it. “Is he any good?” she asked as the first bull rider was announced. “You’ll see,” I responded and looked at Allison who glanced at me for a second. The crowd began to cheer and the thoughts in my head that told me what a pussy I was for not holding her hand became harder to listen to. You’re holding her hand by tonight, I told myself. Just as I had set my mind on this, the idea of ruining the great friendship that we had with my attempt to hold her hand crept into my head. What if she laughed in my face? No, she wasn’t the kind of girl to laugh at someone in a mean way but still the thoughts of “what if” circled around in my head. Allison turned around and attempted to look towards the setting sun behind us but her eyes squinted until they were almost fully shut and she looked forward again. “The sun is burning my back,” she said, pulling on her flowery dress that exposed the smooth, fair colored skin on her back. “It should get cooler once the sun goes down,” I said, suddenly becoming aware of how sweaty my hands were. I put my beer down next to my boots, and then I wiped my hands on my pants when she turned away. I stole a glance at her hand that was once again on the bleacher. Her fingers were thin and small. Her middle finger was probably the same size as my pinky. She had yellow polish on that reminded me of the pineapple filling that my grandmother used to make empanadas. “Oh my goodness!” she said as she straightened her back to get a better view of the bull rider who had just fallen off of his bull. “He looked like he was going to be on for a while, but he fell off after like four seconds!” “Yeah,” I said. “He usually doesn’t do too well on his first run.” Allison grunted. “Can you open this for me?” she asked. She was trying to open up a bottle of water but was struggling with the top. She handed it over to me and since I knew she was watching, I subtly flexed my arms as I unscrewed the lid. She thanked me and I tilted my head a little to let her know that it was no big deal. Since it had rained earlier this morning, the dirt in the center of the arena was settled and flat. Because of the rain, there was a fresh aroma in the air that reminded me of winter. “Look, Santiago!” said Allison, pointing at the cross-dressers that had just walked out onto the center of the arena in the absence of the bulls. “They’re men dressed like women.” I laughed. Surely everyone sitting around us could tell that she wasn’t from here. “I can’t believe it!” she said. “Hold my purse open. I’m going to take a picture.” She handed me her purse and opened it on my lap. She bent down over it and began searching for her camera among all the other things that girls usually carry. The wind blew and the scent of roses from her hair filled my nostrils. I leaned in closer to it and sniffed. “Found it,” she said, as she jerked her head up into my chin. “Ouch!” “Allison, I’m so sorry,” I said. “Are you okay?” She laughed. “It’s okay, Santi. I’m fine.” 24
With her camera in her hand, she began snapping pictures of the cross dressers that were now singing along to songs by Gloria Trevi and other Mexican female artists. “There’s so many people here,” she said, looking around. “The bleachers look like a sea of sombreros.” She looked up at the one I was wearing. “I like yours,” she said. “It’s black and simple. I like that.” I wanted to say thanks but the huge smile that had formed on my face didn’t allow me to so I nodded my head until we both turned forward to a girl who was sitting in the row below us. “Es tu novia la gringa?” asked the girl. I looked at Allison, and then I took a huge drink from my beer. “No,” said Allison, smiling. “Somos amigos.” The girl in front of us who I shared a class with in school opened her eyes wide. She didn’t expect Allison to understand what she had said much less reply to her in Spanish. The girl from my school eventually turned back around to her friends, and it was then that I realized that Allison was different than the girls that I went to school with. Although they were about the same age, there was something about Allison that set her apart, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Allison asked, “We are friends. Aren’t we?” “Of course,” I said. “I’m happy that you consider me a friend.” “You’re silly,” she said, nudging my shoulder softly with her head. This was my chance. She had somehow scooted closer to me on the bleacher, and her hand was almost touching my leg. I looked down at it, and then up at her. I couldn’t help but notice that the green flowers on her dress matched perfectly with her eyes. I’m gonna do it, I told myself,but just as I was about to lift my hand, she turned to me. “Oh wow, that bull has really long horns,” she said. “Can you imagine being stabbed with one of those?” “Well, they have those people dressed up like clowns,” I pointed at two men in oversized clothing and white painted faces who were standing along the edge of the dirt area. “You see them?” “Yeah. What do they do?” “They distract the bull when the rider falls off,” I said. “They’ve saved riders lives like that.” “My daddy had always talked about coming to watch los toros when he was young,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to come to Mexico to see it all for myself.” The wind blew and the red, white, and green triangle-shaped decorations that hung on the fence that was supposed to stop the bulls from running into the bleachers flapped loudly. The sun had gone down and the lights that towered over us began to turn on. Allison’s brown hair was extra shiny underneath the bright lights. She began to tell me that she was afraid of bulls, but that she was having a lot of fun. She said that in California, there weren’t many bull riding shows and that they’d probably be lame compared to the ones here in Mexico. Then she started talking about school with the occasional gasp in between words as bull riders would fly off of their bulls. She was talking a lot. I liked to watch her talk. Her lips looked so soft and I realized that I not only wanted to hold her hand but that I also wanted to kiss her. I remembered then what my father would always say, “Mijo, a true Mexican man doesn’t ask a woman for a kiss. He steals it.” I wiped my hands on my pants again. “We should go soon,” she said. “Daddy didn’t want me to stay out too late.” “Already?” I asked. We couldn’t leave. Not yet, not until I got the chance to kiss her or at least hold her hand. I had to buy myself some more time. “Look, this next guy is amazing. Let’s just watch him and then I’ll walk you home.” Allison raised her wrist to check the time on her sparkly watch and suddenly I knew why she was so different from the girls that went to my school. Allison was American. She was wealthy and she had a lot going for her back in the United States. There was no way that a girl like Allison would ever want to go around with a regular old brown-eyed Mexican like me. Not when there probably a bunch of educated, blue eyed guys where she lived. Besides, I had nothing to offer. I didn’t come from a wealthy family, and the job I had picking sugarcane in the field would never get me enough money to buy her a watch like the one she had on her wrist. 25
“All right,” said Allison. “We can stay a little longer.” I swallowed the excess spit in my mouth, and I felt it travel down my throat. We focused our attention to the next rider who was getting ready to mount a bull. They called him El V aliente because he wasn’t afraid of anything, besides God perhaps. He’d been riding bulls since I was a little boy, and I used to say that I wanted to be like him when I grew up. Surely he’d never been afraid to kiss a girl before. I saw him do the sign of the cross as he closed his eyes and moved his lips to say a prayer. He reopened his eyes and his eyebrows furrowed. He stood on the bars of the small caged area in which the bull was held. He lowered his body down carefully onto the bull’s back, and he grabbed the rope with his left hand and raised his right hand in the air. He nodded to the man who was in charge of opening the gate, and within seconds the gate swung open and the bull along with the rider on his back were released out onto the center of the arena. The bull kicked back and threw his body forward repeatedly. He tilted his head from side to side with his horns threatening anything in his way. The riders’ body looked like jello as he tried to follow all of the bulls’ movements with his own. The riders’ right hand swung violently in the air, and his sombrero flew off and exposed his untamed black hair. The bull jolted its body backwards, and the rider lost the grip of the rope, and the bull managed to throw him off his back. He fell to the ground on his right side, but quickly got up as the bull ran towards the clowns twho were distracting him by making waving gestures with their hands. The rider threw both of his arms up in the air and turned around to the people who filled up the arena. Everyone was on their feet, cheering and stomping their boots on the bleachers. I looked at Allison. She was standing up on the bleacher, clapping her hands with the wind blowing her hair all over her face. I turned my body to her and she looked at me. “That was,” she began to say. I offered my hand to help her down from the bleacher and she took it. I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her body close to mine. The skin on her back was soft and warm. She looked up at me, her green eyes met mine, and I leaned forward and kissed her. “Amazing,” she said.
Third Place Prose Winner
National Geographic June 1985 Nargis Saber
He walked through a city of tents In the soft light of the weak winter sun. As far as the eye could see there were People, thousands of them pushed Our of their homes by a war that wasnâ€™t theirs. She was among a group of orphans He saw through his camera and Its lens refused to look away. Her eyes were the green of a deep ocean. They spoke of miles covered on foot Through mountains blanketed in snow, In constant danger of getting caught in gunfire Or of being blown up by the sudden drop of bombs. It was a story told by thousands but It was her face that showed up in our Mailboxes, in our magazine stalls. She made us look at her and we could Not look away. There was no hiding in Our peaceful cities, with our banal days. The thirteen-year-old Afghan girl asked us Openly: what were we going to do about The truth that was her life.
Seeing Blue Jazmine Silva I leaned forward on the side of my bed and stared at my fish bowl with narrowed eyes. “You’ve got to get rid of that dead thing, Victoria,” my childhood friend, Alex, said, sitting next to me. Her nose was scrunched up like that one time we’d tried to eat Oreos and found out the milk had turned sour. Mr. Bubbles lay upside down, floating near the top of the water. His eyes were as black as midnight yet his golden scales still shimmered from the reflection of my lamp. I could still see remains of the fish food I’d fed him yesterday morning intermingled with the rainbow colored pebbles at the bottom. There was something majestic about the whole thing. “It’s just a fish. You can get another one,” Alex said. “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” The corner of her mouth turned up, and she quickly covered her mouth with her hand to stop her laughter. “Sorry. I had to.” I looked up at her and shook my head. “I’ve had it for two years. So it’s not just some fish. This is MY fish. Okay. And…” “And what?” I didn’t answer but as I gazed back at the fish bowl, I noticed how much the light blue of the water resembled the cool, serene eyes of my grandfather. His eyes had been so full of life when he had handed me the clear plastic bag from PetSmart on my birthday, wrinkles fanning up at the corners of his eyes from a smile. I’d never seen such clear blue eyes on anyone before. I’d inherited my mother’s light brown eyes, but ever since Kindergarten, when given the chance to draw myself, I’d always give myself his eyes. “I’ll throw it out later, okay? We need to get to school,” I said, and leaned down to pick up my backpack from the floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Alex open her mouth to say something, then slowly close it. Even she knew when a subject shouldn’t be pushed too far. As we left my room, we walked toward the kitchen to say goodbye to my mother. My father had already left for work and my little weasel of a brother happened to “catch” some type of sickness at school. He was now locked up in his room, getting the so-called rest he needed, though I highly suspected a video game would light up under his sheets like the 4th of July. The clatter of dishes and the smell of leftover eggs and bacon awaited us as we turned the corner. “Hey, Mom, we’re about to leave,” I said lightly, while Alex eyed a box of cookies on the counter. I gave her the evil eye and she slowly retracted her hand, giving me a wide grin. My mom turned around slowly, her hands still deep in soapy water. “Okay. Don’t forget you’re going to help with dinner tonight. Your brother’s sick.” “Right, right.” She stopped cleaning for a moment and pursed her lips as she stared at me. A question seemed to hang in her eyes. “It’s still there,” I said, looking down at the tiled floor. “I’ll do something about it after school.” She nodded, “All right. Just wondering, hun.” “I know, Mom.” And with that we were off. I managed to drag Alex away from the cookie box, and we soon began walking toward our bus stop at the corner of our street. Fall had just begun to arrive, and loose dead leaves were scattered across the streets. While we waited for the bus, we entertained ourselves by crushing the leaves with our feet, making a dance of it as we tried not to touch the concrete.
“Remember when we were kids and we would make piles of leaves to fall into,” Alex said, her long raven black hair swaying lightly from a breeze, pieces of it gliding across her teeth. “I kind of wish we had more time to do stuff like that.” “We spend every waking moment together, Alex.” I said. I rolled my eyes with a smile and brushed off a leaf that was sticking to my jeans. Down the street, I could see the obnoxious yellow bus making a wide turn as it began to approach us. “Tori,” she stopped and smiled when I glared in response. I preferred my full name. Vicki and Tori seemed like poor excuses for names. “Victoria, we do stuff together, yeah, but we never seem to leave your house. We used to go to the park and the movies. I mean, it’s just not the same anymore. Not since—” “Not since my grandfather died, right?” She flinched, and I wondered how far I should go with this topic. I had a history test, an art project and a cute boy in my science class that I had to worry about. I didn’t need any more problems to deal with than I already had. I didn’t need to be reminded of what I already knew. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say it like that,” she said. Her dark eyes pleaded with me. The bus slowly came to a stop in front of us, the loud groan of its engine filling our ears. I shrugged and reminded myself that it was not her fault Grandpa was gone. “It’s okay, really.” She nodded. Before we went into the bus, I gently swatted away a piece of her hair that had made a mustache across her lips. We giggled at that. If there was anything I knew, it was that I couldn’t lose my best friend too. It had been a year since Grandpa had passed away, but oftentimes there were days like today where his loss affected me more than others. As the bus drove on toward our high school, I brought out my sketchbook as I usually did in the mornings, my ebony pencil already making its way between my fingers. The lines seemed to draw themselves sometimes, some wavy and some straight but mostly wavy as the bus carried us with the grace of an elephant. Beside me, Alex’s eyes closed, and she gently laid her head on my shoulder. A memory filled my mind as we continued our journey. My hands drew blindly across the page as I watched the neighborhood park pass us by. When we were younger, Grandpa would always take us out somewhere on Saturday. It didn’t matter that his bones were beginning to show signs of arthritis. He made it his mission to get us out of the house and “taste the air.” Usually the park proved to be the best place for that. So by the time I started learning about the atmosphere and all of its complexities, I proudly announced to my teacher that air tasted like pine and often times sweaty bodies. I left out the part of dog poop I’d found once under a bench because I thought that would gross her out. When we were about seven years old and on one of these outings, Grandpa had brought us some sandwiches from home and we took our places on one of the park’s tables to have lunch. “Which sandwich do I get?” I asked as Grandpa gently laid the bag of wrapped sandwiches on the table. My stomach growled in anticipation. “Yeah, which sandwich do I get?” Alex asked next to me. “I just said that.” “No you didn’t,” she said and crossed her arms, her lip in a pout. Grandpa laughed a deep laugh that echoed through his body. “They’re the same. Peanut butter and Jelly. Your mom’s special creation.” He winked at me. Alex leaned forward, practically coming out of her seat. “My mom can’t cook. She’d set the house on fire.” Grandpa raised an eyebrow and lightly nodded his head toward me. “I was talking about your friend Victoria’s mother actually. I’m sure she isn’t that bad.” “Oh no. She is!” 29
“She is,” I agreed, though I had never seen Alex’s mom cook in my life. Either way, Alex’s enthusiasm was contagious. “Is she?” Grandpa asked, his eyes widening. “Well, you know I don’t know if these sandwiches are any good either. Maybe I should eat them and find out.” He leaned forward on the table and wrapped his large arms around the food, bringing them close to his chest. His mouth began to hover over the sandwiches. Alex and I both gasped. “No, don’t!” I exclaimed, reaching out to grab his arm and pull it back from the food. Alex joined me as we both claimed an arm to hold onto. Grandpa let out a low roar and hunched his back even further. “I’ll eat it all!” We screamed at him to stop but our giggles made it hard to sound threatening. All we could do was hold him and promise each other that we would never let go. When he finally let go of the food, we were a bit surprised to see that our sandwiches had become flattened in the process. We ate them anyway, and by the time we finished our fingers were sticky with the sweetness of jelly and nuttiness of peanut butter. Even squashed, they still ended up tasting pretty good. As we left the table, Grandpa insisted that next time he’d take a bite out of our sandwiches for sure. The rustling sound of bodies straightening up in their seats interrupted my daydreams. The bus had slowed to crawl in front of our school. I glanced down at my sketchbook and noticed that my drawing no longer had any form. But I had a hunch that if I closed one eye and then tilted my head and then closed the other eye that it would resemble a pretty awesome giraffe. “Oh, nice. Picasso would be proud,” Alex, now awake, said. She rubbed her eyes with the inside of her elbow and winked at me. Memories I thought I had suppressed continued to pop up throughout the day. I had done a good job of holding them back with Alex around, but ever since I saw the abnormal stillness of my fish, the memories had begun to seep through the cracks of my mind, one by one. By midday I had begun to hear my grandfather in history class. I could hear his words of wisdom as he taught me right from wrong, as he taught me to learn from my mistakes. In science, I could understand his intellect as he showed me how a caterpillar could transform into a glorious butterfly. In English, I could cherish his passion for stories as he told me stories on rainy days. He’d take me out to the porch and let me sit on his lap. The rain would create music against the hard ground, the world calm for a change. In those moments it was as if nothing else existed. Only his voice and the stories he’d spin, the images flooding into my head as my imagination ran wild. Alex stayed wide awake all the way home from school. She didn’t ask me anything, but I caught her staring at me from the reflection of the bus window. My ebony pencil stayed hidden in my backpack, the nameless giraffe oppressed by blank pages. When we finally reached our street, I became increasingly aware of the silence that had fallen among us. We stopped in front of my door, and as I dipped my hand into my pocket, searching for my keys, I gave her such a big grin that it hurt. She stuck her tongue out at me in response, and I felt relief to see that the clouds of worry had faded from her eyes. At least for the moment. The house was quiet when I walked through the front door, the only sounds coming from the tick, tock of the clock and the churning sound of the washing machine from the garage. I walked toward the kitchen, letting my backpack glide across the floor. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the faucet in the sink was leaking, drops of water splashing against the handle of a spoon. I had just finished leaning over to shut it off, when I heard the patter of footsteps upstairs. This was it. My chance to rat out my brother.
I moved quietly and took the steps two at a time. However I stopped midway when the sound came to me. The distinct sound of a flush. With that one noise, I felt my heart skip a beat, my hands suddenly shaking. Reaching the top of the stairs, I found my 12 year old brother, Matthew, exiting the bathroom. He stopped at the door, and his face turned white when he saw me. “You didn’t,” I said. “Didn’t do what?” he asked and then remembering that he was supposed to be sick, coughed once for emphasis. “My fish.” Matt tilted his head and stared at me. His eyebrows furrowed for a second and then relaxed. “Oh, him? Mom was saying you needed to do something about that. I mean, no offense, but it’s kind of creepy you want to keep it there.” It was suddenly hard to breathe as I realized that half of Matt’s face was in shadow. The other half was coated in light from the room behind me. My room. I turned around and noticed that my bedroom door was open, the light from my window streaming into the darkened hall. “You went into my room?” I asked him, though I didn’t wait for a response. My stomach was swirling, and a cold sweat suddenly coated my body. I turned around and shoved the door open, the door hitting the wall with a loud clang. My eyes searched frantically for my fish as I stepped into the room. Matt followed closely behind. I stopped when I saw my dead fish in the same spot he was before. I lifted my hand to cover my mouth and closed my eyes as I felt a warm tear fall across my cheek. Matt moved to stand beside me, and I heard a gasp from him as he saw my face. “I-I didn’t meant to. I mean I just needed some batteries and I knew you had some. Don’t be mad.” “I’m not mad,” I said, but my words sounded distant to me. A knock sounded at the door, and my mother poked her head around the corner, a basket of laundry in her hands. “Is everything alright?” she asked, her eyes flicking between Matt and me. A lump in my throat made speech impossible, and instead I simply stared at her, my feet glued to the floor. My mother had light brown eyes. They weren’t blue but in that moment as the laundry basket hit the floor and my mother’s arms wrapped around me, I began to appreciate how much warmth they held. She brought my head to her chest and let my eyes dampen her shirt with tears. Later that day, I watched as my mother scooped my fish out of the bowl with a net and into a small trash bag. She stood with her back to me, and I counted to ten before she finally turned around. She gave me a small smile. “Do you want to do it or should I?” she asked. “It’s my fish, so I’ll do it,” I said, extending my arm out toward the bag. She nodded and handed it to me. “I’m so proud of you, Victoria.” “Me too,” my brother said. He stood at the corner of my room, with his arms wrapped around himself. He was three years younger than me and had not known Grandpa for as long as I had. Despite that, I couldn’t help but notice that he had put on his Mickey Mouse watch, the very watch that Grandpa had given to him. When he noticed where I was looking, he blushed and looked away, unable to hold my gaze. I smiled at that, and as a family we walked toward the garage, taking the stairs one step at a time. I kept the image of my mother’s warm brown eyes in my head as I threw the fish away. I had lost my grandfather but I still had my mother with me. My little brother. My father. Alex. I would always wish I had those blue eyes to look into but for now, I would cherish what I had.
Today the World is Quiet Raghad Jazairy Today the world is quiet. I sit here alone. Today there will be riots and stones will be thrown.
Today the world is quiet like a wool blanket on a bed, a thick gray cloak to cover the dying and to wrap the dead. Today the world is quiet. I sit here alone. I watch a young handsome fellow carve his own tombstone. Today the world is quiet.
Cafeteria Crush Angelique Barber For Taisie
Matt leaned back in the school cafeteria chair, with legs extended in front of him and feet propped up on a chair next to him that held his backpack. With earbuds in and eyes fixed on his phone, he was oblivious to the buzz of students’ voices around him. This was the third Wednesday we’d met for a study lunch after Chemistry lab, and each time I noticed he ate chili cheese nachos and drank a medium Dr. Pepper. As I walked up to the table, Matt’s attention was still fixed on his phone, until I set my red plaid lunch bag and water bottle down right next to his partially eaten nachos. “What’s so interesting?” I asked. “Sick Puppies,” he answered with his raspy voice. “Sick Puppies? – All the Same?” “Yeah,” he said, shrugging and grinning. I hadn’t really noticed the two adorable dimples that appeared on Matt’s cheeks when he smiled until now. I guess it was the way he grinned and looked at me, as if I was the only girl in the busy cafeteria that drew me in. It was then that I began to appreciate not only his dimples, but the way his wavy brown hair brushed the top of his eyebrows and the unshaven square jaw line that gave him a rugged look. My eyes engaged and fixed on his for moment, then quickly moved toward the vacant chair next to him. After he moved his feet and backpack, I sat down. Matt scooted up, took a sip out of his drink, and began eating his nachos as I unpacked my lunch. Our knees touched. The warmth from his knee gently pressing against mine seemed to momentarily bond us together as one. Then the warmth slowly moved upward towards my chest and face. He looked at me and smiled. “Nachos and Dr. Pepper? Every Wednesday?” I asked. “It works,” he answered. “Let’s go over the notes on atoms.” “Sure,” I answered, our knees still pressing slightly against one another. Still warm. He didn’t move his. I didn’t move mine.
What the F-stop?
Joanna Garcia 35
The Girl With Glasses
Thu Luong 36
Thu Luong 37
Aurora with Big Dipper
Nicholas Gray 38
Ana Dominguez 39
Leanessa May 40
Leanessa May 41
It’s Been a While Jackie Ottman I took three deep breaths and pushed open the heavy doors to the bar down my street. The rush of stale air brushed over my hair, and I stepped into the bar. It was dark, and the neon signs hanging on the walls of the lofty room irritated my eyes. It had been two years since I had stepped foot into this place, a place I had called home several years before. No one looked familiar. It wasn’t peak hours or anything. It was probably why I chose to come when I did, on the slight chance I’d run into someone I once knew I’d be out the door before they could even say a word to me. I walked right up to the bar. One of the things I used to love about this place was it was a straight shot to the bar. There wasn’t an obstacle course of tables and chairs to maneuver around. I didn’t recognize the bartender. Jess had been the bartender for six years when I frequented the joint. Who knew, maybe she had moved on to other places by now. She had always talked about moving to New York and opening up a really badass music venue. “What can I get you?” the bartender shouted with his back to me while he was stacking tumbler glasses on the shelf behind the bar. Then he pivoted around to look at me. I guess I expected him to look surprised to see me or maybe even give a look of disapproval, but no such look, just a blank old stare waiting for my order. I stood there awkwardly. The question shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I was in a bar for Pete’s sake. I combed my fingers through my hair, brushing it back out of my face. “I’ll take a Long Island Ice Tea.” The words came out like they were strung together with molasses slowly pouring out the spout of a jar. I took a seat on a stool and took another deep breath. My chest felt heavy, so much that my ribs were kind of sore. I perched my elbows on the bar and clasped my hands together. I gazed up at the TV on the wall where a golf tournament was playing. No wonder no one was in here. The bartender set the glass hard on the bar where it made a loud thump and stuck a black straw in it with a napkin and asked, “You look familiar. Have we met before?” My stomach lurched up into my chest when he asked. He didn’t look familiar at all but the thought of running into someone I knew almost knocked me off my seat. So why even choose this bar in the first place? Maybe I just liked the adrenalin rush of the whole thing. “Um no, I don’t believe we have.” I paused for a second. “I’m not from around here.” My cheeks felt warm. I thought maybe lying would help the situation not feel so real. To this guy, I could be whoever I wanted to be, not that same girl who marked up the middle stall in the women’s bathroom calling out Haley for being a home wrecker or the girl who punched a hole in the wall behind the bar because she couldn’t handle being told no. I gripped the straw between my thumb and index finger and stirred the ice around in my drink a little. I just kept my eyes fixed on my glass. “My bad. You must just look like someone I know.” He wrapped the rag he was using to clean out glasses around his fist. “My name’s Derek. What’s yours?” he asked setting his tattooed forearms on the bar with a grin. I started questioning why I hadn’t sat at a table. Making small talk wasn’t something I was especially in the mood for. I looked up at him and tried to give a genuine smile.
“Man,” I said. “You hear that song?” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty was playing in the background. It used to be one of my favorites. I could blast it on repeat in my car driving with the windows down, wind blowing in my hair puffing on a cigarette. Derek nodded his head. “Yeah, this song comes on in here all the time. I’m kind of sick of the same old music here.” I bit the tip of my thumb and looked to my left. The room looked so much smaller than I remembered, but the tables and chairs looked just as shitty and beaten up as ever. “I don’t blame you. I got worn out on old bar music myself.” I looked down at my drink, could tell my ice was already starting to melt. “I decided to take a break from it all for a while, but something about hearing a song I purposely avoided for so long.” I slumped down and folded my arms on the bar. “It moves you just the same as the first time you heard it. Only different. I don’t know.” “What did you say your name was again?” He furrowed his brow and stared at me intently. “I didn’t.” I looked him right in the eye. I was going for a flirtatious look but something about being stone cold sober sitting at this bar made me a lot more self-conscious. I grasped the glass with my right hand and took the straw up into my left hand. I knelt my head down to take a sip and a ringing of a bell sounded and a thud came from the entrance door. I slammed the glass down on the bar and whipped my head around to see who just walked in. Two white collared shirt men were walking in and headed for a table to the left of the bar. They were chatting casually and laughing about something. I grabbed my phone to peek at the time and noticed it was 1:00. Then I looked back at my drink. Derek disappeared into the back. My heart had stopped for a minute, and, when I could finally catch my breath, I took my phone out of my bag again and started to go to my contacts. Things were sinking in, but I couldn’t muster up the courage to call the person I most needed to call. I set my phone on the bar and rested my forehead in my palms. My head was spinning. I hadn’t even taken a sip of this drink yet, but I felt drunk. I couldn’t believe I let myself come back in here. Two years. Two years I had managed to stay away, stay away from this bar and all bars for that matter. I picked up that desire chip seven hundred and twenty nine days ago. I thought I was done. I picked up that chip and shut the door behind me to never look back. But here I was sitting in the same old barstool in the same old bar with the same old bar music playing in the background. The bar hadn’t changed, only the people who came through here day in and day out. Derek shot out the swinging doors behind the bar and headed over to the white-collared guys sitting at the table. His strut was fast and hard. His face was almost red. The swinging doors behind the bar were still swinging back and forth, and I caught a glimpse of a person standing back there. I had hoped he was just upset because his waiter or waitress or whoever wasn’t able to come out and take those guys’ order. I hoped that whoever I saw back there was another stranger who came in hung over or sick and couldn’t work. I strained to get another look in the back, but the doors had quit swinging. I had a choice to make. I could sit there and drink my melting Long Island or I could leave cash on the bar and get the hell out of there. I looked back at Derek who was taking the guys, order. He seemed to have calmed down. I could feel the condensation from my drink spilling onto the bar and hitting my hand. Never in my day had I let a drink sit out for this long. I’d have been on drink number three by now. Something about those seven hundred and something days had changed me. I got my life back. My old friends from my childhood were in my life again. I could go to a nice dinner with my parents again. Hell, I had even managed a half decent relationship for a while. Never had I ever had a relationship with someone for more than a month. I’d gone through guys like I went through bottles. Then Derek walked back over to the bar. He grabbed two thick mugs from the mirrored shelf and started filling them from the tap. “I hate working in the afternoon. No one ever comes in here be43
sides middle-aged white dudes on their lunch break or the occasional sad old guy coming in to watch golf and drink terrible scotch.” He finished topping off the second mug. “Hey, you want a different drink? You’ve barely touched yours.” “No, I’m good.” My cheeks felt warm again. “Those business dudes look thirsty. You should go serve them.” I nodded over in their direction. Derek shrugged his shoulders and took the mugs over to the guys. The door behind the bar swung open. It caught me off guard, and I jumped in my seat a little. Out came a figure of a woman in a tight fitted hoodie with the hood on over her head. She immediately bent down and came up with a crate of shot glasses and rested it next to the sink. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered as she grabbed her wrist and hunched over in pain. Her back was to me. “Hey are you okay?” I asked. “Yeah, yeah.” She straightened herself back up and wiped her eyes like she was fixing smudged eyeliner. That voice though. It was eerily familiar. Then it hit me. My heart jolted. “Jess?” Then I smacked my mouth. I wanted to shove the words back in my mouth but I kept talking “Is that you?” I knew why I was in here. It wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t run into someone I knew. She turned around and met my gaze. “Mother fucker. I can’t believe it. Jenny fucking Walker as I live and breathe.” She cocked her head out of disbelief. “Why the hell are you here?” she asked folding her arms. Her eyes still locked on me. “Uh.” My chest felt constricted. I couldn’t catch my breath. I just awkwardly stuck my hand up and gave her a wave. I couldn’t even smile, just clinched my teeth. I felt like my face was frozen. Then I sighed and words finally came out. “I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d come say hi.” “I seem to recall the last time you came to say hi to me.” She mimed air quotes after saying “hi.” “You were actually flicking me off telling me to go to hell and that you didn’t have time for this bullshit anymore and walked out that door.” She didn’t sound pissed. She just seemed amused by the whole thing. “Now some years later you just casually come in here to say hi.” She shot up air quotes again, “Because you were in the neighborhood?” Then she started laughing. I used to know Jess really well. She was basically my best friend for four years. I’d gotten her that bartending job here. I couldn’t believe that was the last time I’d seen her. You’d think if you’re that close to someone that you couldn’t just cut them out cold turkey. But I did. She was that kind of girl you had to cut off “cold-turkey.” “I got two years today.” I looked up at her. I clasped the side of my neck. My hands felt ice cold against my warm skin. “Two years. Wow.” She looked past me and then rolled her eyes. “Why are you are here, Jenny?” She brought her fist to her mouth and started biting the tip of her thumb and narrowed her eyes. “I got two years today and I feel like I got nothing to show for it. My last meeting was six months ago and I get up every day. Same old routine coffee, breakfast, shower and off to this stupid desk job I got through someone in the program. I come home clean and watch a goddamn TV show and go to bed and start all over.” It felt good to get it out, but useless at the same time because here I was throwing a pity party to some bitch I told to fuck off two years before in the same old dirty bar. She didn’t care. Why should she? She wasn’t the one who needed to turn her life around. Jess paused for a second and shifted her weight back. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. I really thought she was going to start laughing hysterically at my sorry ass, but she grabbed a clean glass from the shelf and filled it with water and set it on the bar next to my iceless long island. “I’m just going to take this here drink and throw it away. Drink this water and go home, Jenny.” She grabbed the over spilling glass and chunked it in the sink. She went back for the crate of shot glasses and took them to the back through the swinging door. 44
I looked back at my phone to check the time. My eyes stung. I hadnâ€™t felt this stupid since maybe the last time I was in this bar. I grabbed my bag, pulled out my keys and headed for the door. I wanted to say something to Jess before I left, but I honestly had no idea what to say. I pushed open the heavy doors of the bar and the bright hot summer sun blinded my eyes as I walked towards my car.
Second Place Prose Winner
The Bridge Leanessa May
The front door is cold against my back, and the bricks beneath me have long since put my feet to sleep, but I ignore the numb feeling. I’ve wanted to be at home with Harold ever since the studio called. But there’s a certain beauty in the dark clouds overhead, one that’s kept me out here for at least an hour now, waiting for the next wave of rainfall. Maybe it’s the way they hide the sun and cast a bluegrey kind of light over this small town. Maybe it’s in the fact that this storm only exists here and that the world is so much bigger than just here. Through the open gates of the lattice fence around the patio, I stare at puddles, watching the clouds roll across the surface of the water. Harold’s blue Colorado has been sitting in the driveway ever since I pulled up, so I know he’s home from his job at O’Reilly, and not working on his truck in the garage. I picture him in the kitchen, eggs frying, bacon sizzling, and tortillas in the microwave. Maybe dancing across the tile, belting out the chorus to Led Zeppelin’s, ‘All of My Love” with his microphone whisk. Then he slides his glasses back up on his nose, rakes a hand through his short thick brown hair, leans against the counter and continues to cook dinner. The wind grows strong, causing leaves to fly and trees to dance and my loose blonde hair to flick across my face. I look over at our bench swing as it groans with the force of the wind. Just a few days ago we were sitting there, gently swinging in the summer breeze. His arm resting across my shoulder as we tried not to laugh at the neighbors for backing into their mailbox again. Harold had had to turn away from the scene and hide his smile in his sleeve. I’d kept watching though, one hand over my mouth to conceal my own smile. He’d been staring at me again. I could feel it on my cheek, his huge hazel eyes piercing the side of my face. Suddenly, tracing my hands along the rough brick patio, I find myself amazed once again that it’s possible to feel the rainfall echoing through the ground before the rain itself actually appears. I close my eyes as the sensation grows stronger, filling me up from my fingertips. I look out at the dark clouds in awe, and the rain arrives, gradually cascading across the street, each drop painting the pavement a shade darker as they gracefully creep up to me. The porch protects me from the cold downpour, though I wouldn’t mind it if it didn’t. If Harold were outside right now, we’d be playing in it, two grown children that never really grew up, splashing in puddles, kissing in the rain. Storms are their own kind of beautiful. Looking back at Harold’s truck in the driveway, I pull my knees up to my chest so I can hold myself together. Six years ago, Harold brought me to this very house to meet his grandparents. I’d lived in the same neighborhood ever since I was born, but Harold, who moved here from California when he was younger, knew the whole town better than I did. Taking back roads I’d never seen or heard of, I squeezed his calloused hand in mine and asked him what California was like. Rubbing his thumb across my hand, he told me about his childhood home in Bakersfield, his friends and his old school, and the lack of Blue Bell ice cream. “Texas is better,” he said, with a big grin on his face. I looked out my window and watched as unfamiliar places disappeared behind us. “Could you ever see yourself moving back?” I asked. “No,” he paused. “Well it depends. Why do you ask?”
I whispered, “California’s where all the animation studios are.” In the silence that followed I analyzed his grandparent’s house, memorizing every diamond in the lattice fence around the patio. We were seventeen and had been dreaming of a life together, a ring on my finger, and a swing on our porch. I’d started counting bricks as the idea crumbled in my mind. Harold, telling me to live in the moment, just shrugged it off, setting the issue aside by saying we’d cross that bridge when we got to it. We moved in together a few months after finishing college and hung the swing as soon as we got here, sitting there together for hours before remembering to unload everything else. Taking a deep breath, I slowly stand up and brush myself off. Harold’s probably wondering where I am. I lean against the wall for support and shake the pins and needles out of my feet. Glancing at our bench swing, I wonder if he’ll decide that I’m reason enough to move back, to leave this house and hang our swing on the balcony of a new home in California. I shove my key into the deadbolt and hold it there as I press my forehead against the small window on the door. I remind myself to be happy. Turning the key, I whisper, “This is a good thing.” Then I stand up straight, put on my best smile, and open the door. “Hello?” I sing as I walk into the light blue foyer. I lock the door and toss my keys into an old crystalline candy dish on the small table nearby. The rain taps lightly on the roof, and bacon sizzles, a pop of grease, the scratch of the skillet on the burner. Harold reaches a sludge-stained hand out from the archway connecting the living room and kitchen. He slaps it on the wall, whipping his head out around the corner to see me. With his other hand, he reaches up to his face and seductively drags his glasses down to the tip of his nose. Looking straight at me, he says, “Why hello there, my love. Do you like my sexy librarian?” “Ha ha, very funny.” I smirk and walk over to him, my ratty old Chuck’s squeaking across the hardwood floor. “You’re tracking in mud, Sheryl.” He laughs, pulling me into his arms. “I’ll get it after dinner.” Right now I’m enjoying the warmth of his chest against my cold face, hoping I won’t have to go without it when I take the new job. He leans over slightly and gently kisses my forehead. “You mean, breakfast,” he says, letting me fix his glasses before turning back into the kitchen. “Yeah.” I start retracing my steps. “Breakfast for dinner.” Walking carefully, from one muddy foot print to the next, I step only where I had on my way into the house, like the clean floor is lava and I must avoid it. Avoid it like the conversation we need to have. Sitting in the foyer, I peel off my muddy shoes, and check to see if my giraffe print socks are wet against my cold feet. I think about telling him now while I can’t see his face. But I don’t know how to start. Should I just tell him I got the job? Maybe tell him that all of my hard work has finally paid off. “I-,” “Hey, I fixed your record player,” he says loudly, scraping the bacon across the pan. “Really!” I yell, thankful for the distraction as I stand and step around my tracks. “Sure did.” “So what was wrong with it?” I slide across the tile floor into the black and white kitchen and climb into a stool at the dining table. My feet dangle above the ground while I lean against the tabletop and rest my face on my fist. “You needed to flip the needle.” He laughs. “Just like last time.” “Yeah, I’m claiming that one a blonde moment,” I say, kicking my feet about like a child. “Why didn’t we get spinny chairs again?” “Too short.” “No I’m not,” I snap. 47
“I meant the chairs.” “Oh,” I whisper, watching the storm rage outside the window. I trace a cracked tile on the table, recalling the last time I sat here before his grandparents moved out. I eyed the thin cracks in the tile while Harold talked to his grandfather. And I was picking at them, when he said, once again, that he despised California. I glanced up at him and then back down at the table’s wound as I pulled my hands into my lap, letting the piece I’d just dug out fall through my fingers. That night he told me again, that we’d cross that bridge when we got to it. That’s all he ever said about it. “So,” Harold says in his best white girl voice, “like, how was your day?” “All right,” I say, grazing the cracked tile with my fingertips. “All right? Lame.” “Oh, hush.” “Excuse me,” he gasps with false shame and mutters. “Hush me? How could you?” I can’t help but smile at him as he gets back to work, shoveling bacon from the skillet to a plate nearby, as if everything is just fine. I watch as he takes the skillet to the sink and pours the bacon grease into a NASA mug on the counter before placing it back on the stove. He crosses the room to dig the eggs out of the fridge and carries them back, placing them behind the plate of bacon. “Okay,” he says loudly, causing me to jump in my seat. “What’s wrong?” Unprepared, I just sit there, gaping at him while I pop my knuckles beneath the table. “I mean,” he says, pointing at the spiral staircase in the far corner of the room. “I spent a whole hour up there fixing your record player, and you haven’t even gone up to play something yet.” “You spent an hour flipping a needle?” I ask, relaxing my hands. “Well, no,” he says as he starts breaking eggs into the skillet. “I got distracted,” he mumbles. “Zeppelin?” I start toward the staircase. “Exactly,” he grunts. As I walk behind him I giggle to myself, partly because of how ridiculous he is, and then because of how wrong I was to think he’d start the conversation. “Yeah, yeah, just pick a good one. Okay Sheryl?” “Okay,” I mutter under my breath as I climb the cast iron stairs. I grip the cold rail tightly, knowing I’ll have to tell him soon. Stopping on the top step, I try to just breathe, in and out as my grip on the rail loosens. The musty scent of the old cardboard sleeves that line one wall is crisp like the pages of the books lining the other. I walk further into the shaded sunroom and lift my hand to the shelf, letting my fingers brush against the old worn edges of the collection of vinyl records. As my hand stumbles over Harold’s albums, I mentally thank him for introducing me to classic rock. I need to tell him. I need to prepare for the worst and thank him for everything he’s done for me. I look back at the stairs. From up here, I can just barely hear him humming against the clatter of the rainfall. The thunder rumbles as I try to shake my worst thoughts from my mind and my hands ball into fists, knuckles turning white as my nails dig into my palms. “One thing at a time,” I whisper to myself as I kneel beside the shelf and drag the box of his grandma’s old records out from under it. Sitting beside the old box, I flip through the records until I find the soft torn edge of ‘The Debussy Album’, and gingerly pull it out. I run my fingertips over the faded cover as I bring it to the turntable. Handling the record just like his grandma taught me, one finger on the label and one on the edge, I put it on the turntable, place the needle, and listen as “Clair de Lune” spins to life. Then I crawl into my mother’s wing-backed chair, rest my head against one of its plush red wings, and hug my knees to my 48
chest. Staring at the wall, I watch the shadows of raindrops as they race down the windows behind me, traveling across the map that hides the broken mirror on the dresser. The first time it rained after we moved in, Harold scared the book from my hands as he thundered up the stairs yelling the phrase, “I got it,” over and over. Out of breath, he stumbled to me and grabbed my hands. “The promotion,” he gasped. “I got it.” He pulled me into his arms, cradling me as he spun us around and around. Eventually we collided with the dresser and the trifold mirror on top of it fell forward, shattering the biggest panel in the middle. We laughed until the storm drowned us out and stole the power. Then we waited in the pitch black for lightning to flash across the broken shards of mirror around us. In front of the mirror, a jar sits half empty full of spare change and dollar bills. My gaze gets lost in the ocean of tacks scattered throughout the map on the center panel. Most of the white tacks in California are from my trip last month when I went on a lone adventure, seeing the world of Disney animation from under my Mickey Mouse umbrella. I asked strangers to take my picture as I pointed up at the Pixar archway with a cheesy grin across my face. Then I took tours of every studio campus and dropped off my application and portfolio at each of them with no hesitation. There’s a skip in the track, a soft click in every revolution causing me to sit up in my chair. I didn’t think they’d respond so soon or that I’d have to decide so quickly. Staring at my pale reflection in a small side panel of the trifold, I stand up and gather myself. I have to do this. There’s no way I’m not going to do this. In the mirror I watch my steady hands straighten out the wrinkles of my shirt. The track fades to a stop, and the needle clicks back to its resting place. “Just do it,” I whisper to my reflection before starting toward the staircase. Taking the cold iron rail into my hand, I imagine our bench swing in the storm outside, creaking and rattling like the stairs beneath my feet as I head down into the kitchen. I watch Harold set the table, and the microwave beeps. “Hey, could you get the tortillas and plates and stuff?” “Sure,” I say, pulling a few paper plates out of the pantry by the stove. “Hey Harold?” I start, as I put the tortillas in-between two of the plates. He looks at me with curious wide eyes as I bring the tortillas to the table. “They’re making a new Disney movie.” At the stove I push the eggs into another plate. “It’s supposed to come out in about four years,” I say, grabbing the plate of bacon on my way back to the table. “Oh yeah?” He pulls two glasses from the cabinet by the sink. “Water or orange juice?” “OJ.” I set the plates on the table. Climbing into my stool, I look out at the storm. “I’ve been invited to work on it,” I say, watching leaves swirl in the wind before crashing to the ground. “I dropped off my portfolio on my trip this past summer, and, well—” I sniffle and graze my knuckles across my nose, “they really like my work.” “That’s awesome,” he says with a smile as he places my glass in front of me and takes his seat. “So what’s the movie about?” he asks, laying two tortillas together on his plate. He puts two pieces of bacon across each of them and starts scooping some eggs on top. “Harold, I’m taking this job, and I’m moving to California with or without you.” He freezes mid-scoop, his smile falling from his face as he lowers the spoonful of eggs to his plate. “Well damn,” he whispers. “I want you to come with me,” I say, reaching one hand across the table. “We just moved in.” His hands slide off the table as he leans away from me. “Actually, it’s been a year,” I whisper. “And three months.” “This is my grandparent’s house,” he says, pointing at the wall through the arch. “I helped my grandfather paint these walls when I was a kid.” 49
“Then why’d you let me paint over them?” I ask, dragging my hand back to my lap. “To make you happy, Sher.” He brings his hands to his face. “To make you want to stay.” “You think I want to leave?” I ask, my voice catching in my throat. “I’m only moving because animation is what I’ve always wanted to do and I can’t do it from here.” I watch him run a shaky hand through his hair and bring it back down to the table. “Harold, all of my family is here. I don’t want to leave them, but I am. I’ve already crossed that bridge and made my peace with it, now I’m just waiting for you.” “What about the house? Sheryl, what about my job?” he asks, rubbing his eyes under his glasses before setting his hands on the table. “Did you consider any of that?" “This isn’t new news. I didn’t up and want to animate overnight. We can rent out the house and you can transfer, just like you did when we were in college.” “But, Sheryl,” “No,” I say standing up. “I’ve been working toward this for the past ten years, and you’ve known about it for the past six.” Harold sits across from me staring at his food. Leaning into the table, I find the cracked tile peeking out beneath my empty plate. “You know what,” I whisper, “I’m not hungry.” I step away from the table. “I’ll be outside.” The bench swing is uncomfortable without Harold. Cold and hard, making my spine ache as I cradle myself up against the arm rest. There’s not much to see in the pitch black of the evening. The street lights are dull and most porch lights are off. Watching water drip from the gutters and splash down to ground, I pull my legs closer to my chest as the cold wind surrounds me. I can’t help but think I’ll be going alone. We’ll be too scared to break it off and end up trying long distance. Maybe it’ll work. That or we’ll pretend it is. The porch light flickers on and I hear Harold walk through the front door. I don’t look back. Instead, I watch leaves as they float against the night sky. Harold wraps a blanket around me and sits beside me on the swing. “You never told me what the movie was about,” he says. I look over at him. “Does it really matter what it’s about?” I ask, “I mean, I don’t care if it’s about an ant or a princess. I finally got the job and I’m not going to hold back.” “Good. I guess I’ll have to wait and find out about the movie when we get there,” he says grabbing my hand and gently squeezing it in his. He doesn’t give me a chance to think before he says, “So, hey, do you still have that picture of that ring you showed me when we started dating.” Smiling and confused, I shake my head. “No, why?” I ask. He stares at me with a big grin across his face, and then the swing shakes with his laughter. “I just want to make sure I get the right one,” he says, pulling me into his side. Laughing, I curl up next to him, burying my face in his chest and clinging to his warmth as he strokes my arm. When I realize what he just said ,I sit up to ask him about it. But in the spotlight of his hazel eyes, I decide against it. Choosing to live in the moment and melt back into his side, wrapping one arm around him as he wraps his back around me. Knowing that in this case, it’s better just to wait for the bridge.
Bimbos & Wedges Hennah Saber Before the show, Mother & I go to a restaurant to meet up With her sister & friends. Bimbos on top of bimbos Is what I like to call them. I’m introduced to the Housewives: Layla, Christy, & who-the-fuck-cares. They’re munching on calamari & Wedge salads. They savor the Cost, while rolling salty tentacles & frosts of green between high Pitched laughs & snipes. The housewives complain About how their nannies missed a mote Of dust or laid the children down too Early, while they throw back well-crafted Glasses of Merlot. They talk with manicured Hands & roll overly mascaraed eyes. Their forks & spoons clink-clink Together in a mandatory fashion. Even the menus buck for attention. They, too, try so hard to be Fine dining with bone white Backgrounds & frilly wording. I look around at the women. Once, They must have been young like me With an open world of possibilities, And I wonder where they forgot themselves.
Chances are, I’ll become them. But, For now I’m trapped in a perfectly cut Glass box. It isn’t to be Painted upon. Yet it yearns To be broken. Just to prove a point.
Second Place Poetry Winner
Your Move Sarah Marin
There was nobody outside, but I could hear lots of voices and see the lights on inside. I walked next to Adam, my gold wedges making me feel like I was on a tightrope. As I took a step up to the door, my stupid shoes tripped me. Before I could get remotely close to the ground, two hands caught my waist and my arm. We stood in a stasis, before Adam pulled me up onto my own feet. I brushed a bit of hair back behind my ear and giggled. “Thanks, Adam.” He smirked down at me. “No problem, Isabella.” Adam moved one of his hands from off of my waist, and I stepped back, but he didn’t let go of my hand. I looked away, at the ground I had almost become friends with, but neither of us did anything to loosen the other’s grip. We walked the rest of the way up to the door, Adam putting his fist up as if to knock on the door. It looked like wood but was probably just plastic or something made to look like the real thing. There was an old-fashioned bronze knocker that Adam ignored and the number 213. “You ready?” he asked. I nodded and Adam knocked on the door, not letting go of my hand. They fit together well, our hands did, with the fingers interlocking perfectly like puzzle pieces. Adam’s skin was warm, and it was a little exhilarating to have so much skin-to-skin contact with him. It opened after a few seconds, and a shorter version of me with hazel eyes and brown hair smiled pleasantly up at us. “Hello!” she said, waving a small wave with both hands. Vivian, my younger sister by almost five years at the age of 19, smiled. It had the makings of a warm smile, but for me it was only superficial. I could tell--it didn’t reach her eyes. “Hi, Vivian,” I said. “Isabella. Why don’t you introduce your boyfriend here?” she replied, snark in her voice. “Oh, Adam’s not my boyfriend,” I said hurriedly, shaking my head. “What?” she asked. Vivian pointed at our hands, and that’s when I looked down and remembered that Adam had been holding my hand and I had been holding his. I quickly tore my fingers away, immediately regretting the move at both the sudden coldness on my skin and the intense awkwardness from Adam. “No, I’m just her friend,” he said in that voice. The voice void of all emotion that he only used in mock courtrooms or when bothered. “Oh,” Vivian said, her eyebrows raised. “I see. Well, why don’t you come in? Please.” She stepped back and made a welcoming gesture. I stepped in first and felt Adam followed me closely. Vivian waited until we were fully inside the hall before closing the door behind us. She grinned up at Adam, completely ignoring me. “Adam, why don’t you go on and try some of the homemade watermelon water and mingle with my other guests? I need to catch up with my dear sister.” Vivian gripped my bicep with her thin fingers and manicured nails, digging the tips into my arm to the point of pain. She smiled sweeter than the fake sugar in soda. Once Adam had nodded at her, not making eye-contact with me, Vivian turned on me like a snake just waiting to bite. “Who is he and why were you two holding hands?” she asked rapidfire, her eyes glinting with a light of malicious accusation. 53
“He’s a good friend, from school. We’ve been taking classes together since I started law school. No one else was available to come tonight. Besides,” I added, putting my hands on my hips decisively, “you wanted me to bring someone hot, Miss I’m-engaged-to-the-best-man-ever.” Vivian blushed and glanced around. “Not so loud! I am engaged, after all. I only meant it as a boost for you, my dear.” She patted my shoulder, looking at me like one would look at a puppy with no more treats. “A boost?” I asked, not bothering to hide my shock. “What on earth would make you think I need a boost of all things?” Vivian looked behind her and nodded her head as if someone was talking to her. “Sorry, sis, but I think I’m needed. You know, to help with the festivities.” I made my way over to the refreshment table. Even the few people I thought I recognized weren’t worth stopping for. At least, not enough to stop and say anything. “Excuse me,” I mumbled to someone standing in front of me. “You’re excused,” he said, nudging me in the ribs. About to protest, I looked up to find Adam smiling at me. I rolled my eyes and gently shoved him out of the way. I filled a cup with watermelon water and sipped from it. “Let’s get out of the way,” Adam suggested. He grabbed my elbow and directed me to the only bare patch of wall without any furniture or decorations. “What is this party for again?” Adam asked me, looking around at the various young men and women mingling and talking with each other quietly. I sighed, taking a sip from my cup of homemade watermelon water. “Supposedly it’s celebrating her engagement, but she had an official engagement party just last month. I think it’s actual title is Proof I Can Satisfy My Future Husband’s Crowd.” Adam laughed, rocking back on the heels of his expensive-looking shiny shoes. I glanced up at him, but right before his blue eyes could meet mine I looked away. Most of the other people wore black and white tuxedos and gowns or the occasional dark blue and green three piece. Adam and I stood out in his silver suit and my mint cocktail dress. “Isabella dear, could you come with me real quick?” my sister called from across the room. Adam and I made fleeting eye contact, his eyebrows raised while I rolled my eyes. I started to walk with Adam in tow, parting through the now-quiet crowd. Once I reached her posse of similarly dressed women--all in conservative dark evening dresses--Vivian gave Adam a wave of dismissal that conveniently showed off her glittering engagement ring. “Oh, Adam honey, I think my fiancé requires your assistance over at the punch table.” He gave me a look, one that said we could have been hanging out with our friends instead of this, before turning around heading the way we had just come from. “Now,” Vivian touched my arm in a dainty manner, leaning in as if to tell me a secret I really didn’t want to hear, “spill. Tell us all about your man.” I almost stepped back in surprise, looking at my sister and each of her friends in turn. They were nodding, one even blushing. “Please do. He’s positively yummy,” the blushing woman, with a large wedding ring on her finger, giggled out. “Oh my, I do so agree. I swear, straight out of one of those little romance novels from back home,” drawled a redhead in a Southern Belle sort of accent, her youthful appearance contradicting her diction. I knew Vivian had surrounded herself with wannabe debutante’s, but I had no idea it was this bad. “He’s not my man. I mean, we’ve been friends for a few years, but we’re not together,” I said. They shared a look, all of the women standing in front of me. 54
“That is beyond ridiculous. Why ever not?” the redhead asked. Her hand flopped backward in what I guessed was supposed to be a wave. “Because we’re just friends? If there was anything else, he would have made his move before now,” I said. Unconsciously I had allowed a big insecurity of mine to slip out: that if Adam returned any sort of affection he would have acted before now. “Simply that,” Vivian said, “he has moved. You just haven’t seen it from his eyes!” Her friend who thought Adam was yummy picked up on the bandwagon, saying “You two walked in like the perfect couple, even more picturesque than Vivian. So tell us all about him.” “Well,” I started, not sure what the hounds wanted, “he and I are students together in law school at Fordham.” Squeals of delight met this information. I didn’t have a chance to say anything more before Vivian took over. “Isn’t that just wonderful? A future lawyer, not to mention a wealthy one. Have you seen his suit?” More sounds of admiration followed that, and I twisted my neck to look for the topic of conversation. Adam was standing with Aaron, helping pour more soda into a huge glass pitcher. With the two of them there like that, I felt like I was in a perfume commercial, one of those on the internet with all of the models lounging around seductively, and someone speaking in French in the background. Except all I heard was the annoying tittering of my sister and her people as they lauded Adam, or more accurately, his “pedigree.” “What about you, Isabella?” I jerked back around, the expectant looks slowly morphing into disapproval. “Beg pardon, I wasn’t paying attention. Could you repeat the question?” I asked. Vivian scoffed, rolling her wrist. “I was asking about your marriage prospects. How are things looking with Adam?” I sputtered, and the only coherent thought I had was that I was grateful I hadn’t been taking a drink from my cup like I had previously wanted to. “Marriage? Adam? We aren’t even dating yet! Did you hear nothing I just said?” I stammered. I could feel the heat rising in my face. The women in front of me all giggled, their hands in front of their mouths. “Oh sweetie,” Vivian started to say. I stopped her with a raised hand. “Don’t sweetie me, Vivian. I’m your older sister, and it is not your place to match-make me. I am choosing to be sensible and make a career for myself before getting married, unlike some others. Adam and I are not even dating, let alone looking to get married. If he wants to,” I had to take a breath, “if he wanted a relationship with me then he would have acted long before now. I thank you for not interfering in my life, as I have tried not to interfere with yours.” I abruptly handed her my cup, the liquid almost sloshing out. Vivian took it out of reflex, her eyes, the same color as mine, wide. Her mouth moved like a fish’s, opening and closing as she attempted to find suitable words. “Thank you for the invitation. My friend and I will be leaving now.” I nodded at her friends, and made an about turn. Adam caught my eye as he ran a hand through his already mussed hair. I shook my head and pointed at the door with my entire hand, not trusting my shaking fingers. He met me by the door, getting there in enough time to open it for me. He said nothing as I stalked out into the cool night air, practically stomping. I looked up at the dark sky, closing my eyes. Tears burned underneath my eyelids and I gulped, trying to keep them in. 55
“I’m almost offended you thought I would fit in with her vibe,” Adam said quietly from behind me, referencing our conversation in the car on the way there. I laughed wetly, looking at the ground and shaking my head. I raised the palms of my hands to my eyes and pushed hard. The pain was refreshing, in a sense, like a wake up call to reign in your emotions. A warm, heavy, hand fell on my back. I jumped and automatically moved away from him. Adam stared at me, his eyes aimed down and a look of consternation on his handsome face. “What’s wrong, Isabella?” he asked. “Nothing, just something Vivian said,” I replied. Adam shook his head and stepped forward, raising a hand to my head. I stepped back, stumbling a little at the sudden change from concrete to grass. He jolted forward and had his hands on my arms, steadying me. “What did she say?” he whispered. I looked at his shoulder. It didn’t help, only served as a reminder of how broad his chest was. Adam ducked his head to look me in the eyes, but I turned the other way. He followed and we went back and forth a few times, until Adam moved his hands, slowly, inch by inch, until they cupped by still head. “What did she say?” he asked again. I swallowed hard, drawn into how sincere his eyes were. “She, well, one of her friends, said that...that, we looked like a really nice couple when we walked in, and that, that it was such a shame we weren’t one. A couple that is.” Adam hummed low in his throat. The sound vibrated and I closed my eyes, trying to breathe. “And why did that upset you so much?” he asked, in the same low tone that was quieter than normal but still so Adam, so artfully void of emotion. “Because, because, well,” I swallowed again, all of the moisture gone from my mouth and throat, “because I sort of maybe kind of agreed. Then I said how if you felt the same way that you would have made your move by now, and Vivian agreed. Then she basically said we should get married. Married! I told her we weren’t dating, or even like that, and they all acted like it was a disappointment, or a, a, how do you put it?” I couldn’t stop talking, my eyes still closed. The words were flowing, flying, out of my mouth now that I had started being honest. Fear of something, I wasn’t sure, though rejection was a definite, wouldn’t let me stop. “Anyway, they treated me like a child or a kid who has a hopeless crush when I’m older than them all! Then Vivian tried to act like she was better off than me and--” Adam interrupted me by placing his lips on mine. I squeaked, and my eyes popped open. Adam’s eyes were closed, and he pushed closer, bent over a little. I let my eyes flutter close, and just enjoyed the kiss. Our first kiss. Adam’s lips were warm and insistent on mine, his breath tasting like the punch from inside. An intoxicating thrill swept through my body, and my hands moved on their own accord to thread themselves in his hair. I smiled, his lips moving against mine in his own smile. He started to pull away, and I followed him, not wanting it to end. We both took a deep breath, virtually in sync, and started to giggle. Actually, I giggled, Adam more of chuckled. “That was...unexpected,” He said. His voice was deeper and husky, not like normal, but in a good way. “Unexpected is a word,” I murmured, not looking him. I was ashamed at how breathy I sounded to myself. “It sure is,” Adam said, putting a finger under my chin. He pushed my head up, forcing me to meet his eyes. “Does that count as a move?” he asked. 56
I pretended to think about it, as if my heart wasn’t beating a mile a minute. I looked Adam in the eyes and pushed a couple of strands of hair off of his forehead. “I think,” I said quietly, “it does.”
The Ultimate Answer Lauren Bigbie
The weight of existence overwhelms me, The stars, moon, planets, stretching endlessly, tirelessly through infinity, not knowing where it ends or begins, if it spins or wins in my lifetime.
Great questions find no answers, Searching, living, dwelling, beyond me. Who, what, where, why? What happens when I die? If I perceive or believe, will it be? Manifesting within me, in me, lacing itself through my mind. What will I find? Numbers dripping, letters ripping, time is gone. Fooling the eye of the blind to it all, like waking from a dream. So surreal. When I die, do I fly through an endless space? Let me see, and be, while I breathe And touch the bottom with my feet. Beyond me lies a vastness too blurry. Is the knowledge in there, been there, forever? Let me crack this Rubikâ€™s cube of solitude and never be alone with my thoughts once again weaving in and out, in search of the ultimate answer.
There Is No Boat Jeff Burge Black sheep need black sheep because lambs will never understand them. My brother, Joey, for example, mistakes me for a homosexual because I dress with style and turn my head when the baseball gets close to my glove. Fortunately, I found a niche with the other free-spirits in college. I came home mid-semester this year for Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving dinner, I walked behind the garage and fired up a joint to relieve the tension that had built up while I watched my family battle for interstellar dominance at the dinner table. Giraffes stretching their necks to avoid the elephant in the room: me. “Jack!” I froze up like a dream-sicle and slowly turned my head to my right where my mom stood gawking at me near the corner of the garage. “Mom.” “Oh, God,” she said. I took another puff to buy some time. “Mom it's tradition. The pilgrims and Indians smoked after the first Thanksgiving. Ask grandma.” I tried to pass it to her. “Here.” She screamed and hurried back inside. This snowballed into a family intervention on Thanksgiving Day. They surrounded me in the living room where my family voiced their opinions to the tune of Saint Monica, and I voiced mine to that of Martin Luther. My demented Grandma Jean insisted I undergo electric-shock therapy, a valid suggestion for her age. Despite Grandma Jean's persistence, my parents decided on an inpatient drug treatment facility my Uncle Thump attended for his drinking problem. I drank myself to sleep that night, making the most of the last bit of freedom I'd have for a very long time. The next morning, my parents loaded me into the car, and the whole family waved goodbye as we pulled away. I pretended to be busy on my smartphone. After the long drive to the rehabilitationfacility, my parents dropped me off, and I walked up to the front desk with my head tilted down into my phone. “Hi,” said a raspy voice from behind the counter. “Can I help you?” I lifted my head and found a smoky old woman with dyed red hair in front of me. I looked back down at my phone. “I’m Jack,” I said. I felt her eyes studying me. “Oh,” she said. I watched out of the corner of my eye as she pulled a worn handkerchief out from under the desk and coughed something up. “The twenty-year old. Glad you made it.” I caught a glimpse of the yellowed lump in the handkerchief on the counter. I turned to the side, let out a dry belch, and gagged on my tongue for a moment. She laughed. “Don’t worry, hun. That’s just side effects from the withdrawals.” I wasn’t so sure. I filled out some paperwork while she went on about how the center worked. There were five transitional houses and each house had a purpose. During my stay, I would visit my counselor for a one-on-one each week while I attended different kinds of group sessions throughout the day. By the end of my stay, I should be prepared to live on my own again. After I finished the paperwork, I walked outside onto the sidewalk and followed it to the first house. A group of patients stood outside smoking cigarettes. A long-haired man in sandals and a tie-dye t-shirt met me as I walked up. He took a drag off his cigarette and put it out on the ground. “What’s up?” he said. “My name’s Dale, bro.” 59
“I’m Jack,” I said as I reached out to shake his hand. He looked at my hand and then up at me. “Nah,” he said with a smile. “We give hugs around here, bro.” He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed tight. I stood still and waited for him to finish. "You're a big fellow aren't you, bro," he said as he stepped back and bobbed his head up and down as if to say right on. "Let's get you settled in, huh?" I followed him through the house. The wood-framed bunk beds in the rooms made the place look more like a summer camp than a rehab facility. The off-white linoleum in the bathroom had yellowed around the toilet, and the moldy caulk line in the shower was coming undone in the corner. "Nice digs, don't you think?" he asked. I looked at him. "Better than being homeless," I said. "Fuck yeah, bro." He put his hand on my shoulder. "Let's get you fed, chief." I mostly, slept and ate in the first house. One night on my way back to bed from the bathroom, I found a housemate standing wide-eyed in the kitchen not moving. I tried to catch his attention, waving my hands in the moonlight coming through the window. His pajamas darkened with urine and he fell hard on the ceramic tile. I froze for a second and watched his eyes roll back into his head. I yelled out to the house manager for help while he lay writhing on the kitchen floor. The EMS came and took him off to the hospital. I’d never seen a seizure before that. A couple days passed. I went to meet my counselor, Greg. I walked across the facility to the faculty offices and knocked on his door. I heard a deep voice say, “Come in.” I opened the door. His desk faced the side wall where he sat reading a file. He wore a red polo and his shorts ended mid-thigh exposing a forest of leg like the tree line on a mountain. “Please, sit.” he said. I sat in the chair next to him with my back against the rear wall. “What’s up?” he asked. I looked at him, confused. “What?” “What’s up?” he asked again with a flat expression. “I don’t understand. You’re Greg, right?” “Maybe.” “Umm.” I scratched my scalp. He turned his head to the side and started laughing. Then he looked back at me and started laughing harder. “Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I’m Greg." “Oh, cool,” I said. I crossed my arms. He looked back at the file. “So you’re Jack?” “Yeah.” “Glad you made it.” Greg talked for the rest of the hour. He laughed at himself every time he made a joke. He told me I was his “mirror,” that if I chewed tobacco I’d be a “spitting image” of him in his youth. If I didn't laugh along, he’d give me a look like keep living kid. A week passed and they moved me into the second house. I started reading a lot. The living room had shelves filled with books on meditation, religion, and addiction, all with frayed corners and pages falling out. I found some self-help workbooks patients had already written in, too. I avoided the Bibles. I’d been baptized three times already. The first and second time were nice, but no one showed up the third time. Dale always bragged on his multiple attempts at rebirth. He claimed religion was for people who are afraid to die. A month passed. I sat with my parents in the visiting area near the first house. My mom’s face soured at the sight of my cigarette. “What happened to your face, honey?” she asked. 60
I smiled. “I got hit with a volleyball.” “They let you do that stuff here?” “Yeah.” I knocked the excess from my cigarette and watched the ember recede back beneath the gray ash. “Your father and I were so worried about you, sweetie. Weren’t we?” She looked over at my dad who was busy typing on his smartphone. I heard a noise from under the table. My dad winced and redirected his attention to the conversation. “What’s Joey up to?” I asked. “He couldn’t make the trip, honey. You know how he hates airplanes,” She said. “He still with that one bitch?” I asked. “Jack.” My mother’s mouth fell open as if she was surprised to hear me say it. “You shouldn’t say things like that.” “Yeah. My bad.” I took a drag off my cigarette and exhaled. My mom covered her nose and mouth with one hand and wafted the smoke cloud away with the other. “Anyways, I graduate from here two months from now. There’s a ceremony and I’m supposed to give a speech and shit. You guys should come.” “Of course, sweetie.” My mom looked at my dad, dripping with care and concern. “We’ll be there. Won’t we?” I looked past them and saw Dale with some new patients acting out how I got hit with the volleyball. I laughed. “Why are you laughing?” my mom asked. “Nothing,” I said, still smiling. Another month passed. Dale had graduated and got a job at a movie rental store down the road. Greg took an offer from a large corporation as an occupational therapist, and I had moved through the third and fourth houses into the fifth house. I spent a lot of time thinking about life. They assigned me a new counselor, Ron. We spent our sessions outside the faculty offices smoking cigarettes and talking about the world. “Did you ever do quaaludes before they got outlawed?” I asked. “Yeah.” Ron laughed as he lit up a cigarette. “That’s how I met my first wife.” I smiled and puffed on my cigarette. We stood still for a moment and watched clouds drift aimlessly in the blue sky. “I spent most of that marriage in a fog,” he said. “Don’t remember much of it.” “Damn.” I finished my cigarette and lit a new one. A few more seconds passed. “Doing things in moderation is unnatural for people like us, you know,” he said. I looked at the pavement where my finished cigarette lay with its guts out. “What do you mean?” A few more seconds passed. I started blowing smoke rings towards the sky. “We spend most of our time obsessing over something that’s not there,” he told me. “I always thought I had to find something or be something. For a long time, I thought I’d missed the boat, but there never was a boat. There's just life and we're swimming in it.” I looked at him, then back at the sky. Ron never gave me practical advice, but I liked it better that way. Graduation day arrived. I walked up to the front desk of the facility wearing rubber gloves and carrying a box of tissues. A new guy sat to the side of me filling out paperwork. “Hey, beautiful.” I winked at the dusty, red-haired lady behind the desk. 61
“What do you want, Jack?” She coughed and went for her handkerchief. Before she could grab it, I pulled out a tissue and held it up to her mouth. She hacked up something yellow and I quickly wadded up the tissue and tossed it to the new guy. He turned to the side and gagged. I looked back at the old lady. “I’m graduating today. You going to be there?” I asked. She looked at the new guy heaving in the corner and laughed. “Sure, hun.” I left and went back to my room to prepare for my speech. My parents called to inform me they couldn’t make it. They “had to go to Florida on business.” The graduation ceremony was held in a large meeting hall that night. Other graduates and their families sat at the front with me. The patients, faculty, and alumni sat behind us. Ron hosted the graduation. He called up the graduates one by one, handed them a plaque, and let them say a few words. I got called up last. He handed me a plaque, hugged me, and sat down on a metal chair next to the podium. I set the plaque down and looked out into the crowd. Suddenly, the fire exit door on the side of the building swung open and Dale strutted in wearing a happy face t-shirt. He looked at me with a goofy smile and pointed at his shirt. I laughed and gestured him towards the front row. He bobbed his head and took a seat near the back. I put my mouth up to the microphone. “Hi, I’m Jack.” Some of the children had fallen asleep along with a handful of patients. “Hi Jack!” Dale yelled. I cleared my throat. “I’m honored to be up here. I want to thank everyone that showed up.” A knot hit my throat as I looked across all the faces in the audience. I gathered myself. “So. Like. I’ve always felt like there is some profound truth the world kept secret from me.” “Hell yeah, bro!" Dale yelled and bobbed his head in approval. I looked back at Ron, then at Dale who was still bobbing up and down. Fuck it, I thought. “You know what," I said. "I don't give a fuck about most of you people. " Mothers started covering their children's ears. "But I saw a guy have a seizure three months ago and I don't know if he lived and..." "No worries, bro!" Dale raised a thumbs-up in the air. "I saw him last week!" A nervous heat rushed over me and my body froze up. I felt Ron's hand on my shoulder as he leaned in towards the microphone. "Thank you and congratulations, Jack." No one clapped, except Dale. I put my head down as I walked away from the podium and out the back door where I quickly lit up a cigarette. Dale came outside and hugged me and lit his own cigarette. "The acoustics in there are great, bro. You sounded awesome," he said. I laughed. I took a long drag of my cigarette and leaned against the side of the building. "Thanks for coming," I said.
My parents picked me up at the front of the facility. They got out of the car to greet me. My dad had on a colorful Hawaiian t-shirt and my mom was wearing flip-flops and new sunglasses. "How was your trip to Florida? Productive?" I asked. My mom looked at my dad and turned red. "Listen, sweetheart, we..." "Don't. I just want to go home. Okay?" I walked towards the car. My father put his hand on my shoulder and looked me in the eyes. "Is this our fault, son?" my dad asked. My mom put her face in her hands and started to cry. I paused. "No...it's not your fault." I hugged my mom and gave her a kiss. We got in the car and drove off.
An hour went by. I watched outside the window as green pastures passed us along the countryside. Barbed-wire fence lined fields for miles. My mom turned around in the passenger seat. "Do you want to put on some music, sweetie?" "No. That's fine." A herd of cattle grazing in the gentle, spring sun passed by. I felt a warm satisfaction. "So, Mom, how’d you know I wasn’t just smoking tobacco behind the garage when you caught me?" "I know a lot of things," she said. I laughed and looked back out the window at a flock of lambs. A black one had its head sticking through the fence. We locked eyes for a moment. I looked back at my mom. “Weird.”
Dark Places Nichole Kyle Darkness covered Edwards Air Force Base as thick as fog and twice as gloomy. The only light to look at was outside the window, the distant soft orange glow of a street lamp at the end of the cul-desac. There was nothing to hold onto in that empty room but the frightened six year old little girl that was in my arms, who was trying to recover from her latest nightmare. It was the same one every night, the one I had to promise wouldn’t come true, knowing all too well that I could be lying to her. Just last week that nightmare came true for Rachel Nelson and her three kids. I watched from my porch as the base police car pulled in front of their home and the chaplain and an NCO walked slowly to Rachel’s door. In that moment I wished I had been more neighborly, wished I had even introduced myself. I wanted to help her but fear kept me frozen where I stood. A soft whimper brought me back to the task at hand and the child I must comfort who was cuddled as close to me as possible as if she too was holding on for dear life. Six months ago it would have been her daddy that she wanted to chase the bad dreams away. When her small body was wrapped up in his broad shoulders and muscular arms, she would feel protected and safe again. I needed to protect her now. In the silence I softly started to sing her lullaby, the one that had gotten us through many nights together since she was born. “Stars shining bright above you, night breezes seem to whisper I love you….., “ she began to drift off. “…… but in your dreams whatever they be, dream a little dream of me”. After she fell asleep, I slipped out of bed. Our master bedroom has an en suite but to be safe I headed for the bathroom down the hall. Each room I passed held a thousand memories but I shut them out just as I had the day before and would the next. Although my eyes had long adjusted to the black night, each room felt darker and more empty then the last. I reached the bathroom and slowly closed the door behind me, twisting the knob so that I could let it go gently when it locked in place. I slid down to the bathroom floor and pressed all my body weight against the freezing tiles as if the cold could somehow revitalize me. I let the tears flow in hushed sobs, and in a whisper I prayed, “Please, Lord bring him home.”
Tides Diane Williams
You are the moon And I am the sea. Even at Earthâ€™s darkest hour You pull me close to you, But only as close as the stars will allow. My waves try to reach out to you But collapse back into themselves, Unable to resist gravity. Over time, a dark shadow Has eased across you, Silently unveiling your humble light to me. Your face now illuminates my shore Revealing all sorts of treasures and gems In secret morning tide pools. Metallic seahorses glint under my water and Reflect your soft glow, And vibrant spotted crabs tiptoe Gracefully across my sand, Dancing to quiet melodies they werenâ€™t aware Could be sung.
Falling Off the Beam Hayle Lopez
At the time it all happened I was 17. I had just committed to the collegiate level of gymnastics at U.C.L.A. on a full ride scholarship. When I was a little girl I wore sparkly rainbow colored leotards and learned to love balance beams. I’d do cartwheels and handstands around my backyard while my mom and dad planted tulips and roses in the flower beds. I was the best in my tumbling classes. I could do back and front hand springs without a problem. It came to me just as easily as breathing did. I had goals. I wanted to compete at the highest level possible. I envisioned myself in a red, white, and blue leotard receiving roses at the podium of the Rio 2016 Olympics, with my hand placed over my heart, proud to call myself an Olympian, my gold medal around my neck. My plans, however, quickly disintegrated after a stupid drunken night. “Blair, hurry up we need to go to your appointment with Dr. Straus,” my mom said in frustration from the upstairs hallway. She pointed to her watch and grabbed her purse from her bedroom doorknob. “We’re already running late.” “Yeah, I’m coming,” I said. I got up from my bed and dropped Skittle wrappers and an empty bag of powdered donuts. I searched through my two week old laundry in an attempt to find my baggy green sweater. My room was a pig sty and I had no intention to clean. It had been six months since my world turned upside down. I reached for my pink flip flops from my closet. The big brown box that held my leotards, medals, athletic tape, and glitter for competitions sat there holding what was supposed to have become of my future. The sun reflected off the glossy University of California, Los Angeles Gymnastics brochure at the top of the stack. “Hey, Blair. Mom’s getting pissed in the car,” said my sister Kara as she lunged herself onto my bed and picked up a bag of stale donuts and started to eat them. If anyone ever expected one of us to screw up we all thought it would be her. Kara wore black clothing and purple lipstick every day. She submerged herself in Goth culture, and she skipped class on a regular basis to smoke cigarettes behind the blue dumpsters at school. “Yeah, I know,” I said. I looked through multiple piles of clothes that once used to fit me and still couldn’t find my heavy sweater. “I don’t know why you still wear it,” Kara said. She scrunched her nose from the smell as I tossed my laundry around the room. “Because I need it.” “Blair, it’s been six months,” she said. “The whole town already knows.” “I don’t care about what the town thinks,” I said. “Obviously you do, since you won’t stop wearing that ratty old thing every time you leave the house,” Kara said as she got up from the bed and jumped over a pile of laundry to get out of my room. I remembered I’d left my sweater at the kitchen table for easy access whenever I was heading out. I walked down the stairs as slowly as possible. I looked to my left and stared at the pictures of me in my glory days. The first one was a picture of me on a balance beam. I was four and wore a pink leotard and a matching bow almost as big as my head. I stood on the beam grinning from ear to ear with my hands in the air. In another picture I was ten and had just won my first gold medal in my floor routine. My dad carried me in his arms proudly while my mom kissed me on the cheek with Kara in her arms. A knot started to form in the back of my throat. I picked up my pace going down the stairs. I heard papers being shuffled and cabinets being slammed shut in my dad’s office. I stopped to peek inside. 66
“Hey Daddy,” I said as I knocked on the glass door and stared at my feet on the brown wooden floor. “Um, do you want to go with us to-” “I can’t, Blair,” he said as he pushed his glasses closer to his nose to keep them from sliding back down. “I have to get these accounting papers back to my boss by tomorrow.” “Oh okay, maybe next time,” I said. As I started to walk away I noticed him look at the picture of Kara and me on his desk. In the picture we stuck our red tongues out at our parents. They had bought us cherry snow cones after one of my successful competitions. Kara wore my silver medal around her neck. My dad sighed as he took off his glasses and brought his hands to his face. Six months and the look of disappointment still remained. I felt the tears begin to form in my eyes, and I quickly blinked them away as I picked up my sweater from the table and walked outside to the car. The drive to the obstetrician was always the worst. My mother spent the entire time flipping through radio stations and pointing out random things in town. Last month she mentioned how lovely the new coat of red pint looked on my old gymnastics gym. She stopped talking when she remembered we never spoke of the gym anymore, not since I had gotten pregnant. “Blair, did you call Eric to see if he wanted to come?” my mom said as flipped through the radio. “Mom, how many times do I have to tell you,” I said. “Eric doesn’t care about it.” I’d met Eric in my English class. We were assigned to the same group for our Crucible project. He had messy blond hair, light brown eyes, and he was captain of the hockey team along with senior class president. After a stressful week of working on my cross walkover on the balance beam, he suggested I blow off some steam and relax at a party held at his house after every game. After one too many beers, one impulsive decision led to another. When I told him two months later I’d gotten pregnant, he said he would pay for everything. I started to picture a baby room full of diapers, a crib, and tiny purple leotards, all the baby necessities taken care of. When he said everything, however, he meant all the expenses it would take to get rid of it. Eric said it was the best decision for the both of us. He wouldn’t jeopardize his chances of getting into good college and I had a gymnastics career on the line. When I declined his offer, he said he didn’t want anything to do with me or the baby. Within the next few days at school, he’d transferred out of my English class. “Okay, I was just checking,” my mom said when she pulled into the parking spot at the obstetrician. “Well, stop checking, mom,” I said as I got out of the car. “My answer has been the same this entire time. He hasn’t changed his mind and he won’t.” I speed-walked into Dr. Straus’s office and sat on the chair closest to the door in the waiting area. Whenever the framed pictures of storks carrying babies swaddled in blue and pink blankets became too much for me, I would leave the office and sit on the cold and rusty bench outside. I looked to the magazine rack on my right. I always hoped to find a magazine that didn’t have a pregnant woman smiling as she caressed her stomach or a newborn baby on the cover, but I never did. “Blair, you can’t keep running off like that when I’m talking to you,” my mom said slightly out of breath as she walked in and sat down on the chair next to mine. She started to pick at a hangnail on her thumb. My mother’s finger nails looked red and sore since they’d lost the battle to her teeth. She had been a nervous wreck ever since she I told her, taking it out on her fingers leaving only tiny nubs. “I’m sorry,” I said as I grabbed her hand to stop her before her thumb became a bloody mess. “I just hate when you bring him up.” “Okay, well I’ll try not to,” she said. “But you won’t be able to avoid him forever, no matter what he said.” “I know that,” I said. 67
Another pregnant lady with short black hair walked in. She looked like she was in her late twenties and as if she could pop any day now. I noticed her feet were purple and puffy from the swelling. She sat down a on a chair two rows to the left of the magazine rack. She glared at me and then at the bump underneath my sweater and nodded her head in slight disapproval. “Blair Stevens?” Dr. Straus said from across the room. She motioned for my mom and me to follow her back to the consultation rooms. “How have you been feeling, Blair?” she asked once I’d lain down. She pulled out the cool gellike liquid to rub on my stomach for the sonogram. “Have you felt anything unusual?” “No, I’m fine.” I said as a shiver went up my back. My mom sat on a blue chair to my left and grabbed my hand. “Do we want to know the gender this time?” Dr. Straus said with a smile on her face. “Or should we wait for next month?” I had been putting this off every visit. The less I knew the less real it seemed. I hesitated and looked at my mom. For once she relaxed her shoulders, gave me a half smile, and squeezed my hand. “It’s up to you, Blair,” she said. “I want to know,” I said. “But I also want to know how long it would take me to get back into gymnastics after I have the baby.” “Blair, we’ve already talked about this,” Dr. Straus said as she stopped the sonogram. “It’s different for everyone and might take over a month of recovery.” “You also need to figure out if you want keep the baby,” my mom said. “You have packets of possible adoption families at home you haven’t even looked at.” I remembered the packets sitting at my desk at home on top of the manila folder that held my old scholarship forms for college. One particular family had stood out, the Grahams. On the cover of their packet was a happy couple. In their packet, they featured pictures of their home. They had a children’s playground set up for their future kids in the backyard. Along with the playground was a nicely decorated room for a little boy. Giraffes and elephants painted on the blue walls, a stuffed lion and kangaroo on the white rocking chair. “I don’t know what to do,” I said. My head began to throb as tiny beads of sweat formed around my hairline. The blood pressure machine started to beep as my heart rate began to pick up. “Gymnastics has always been my life. I don’t know anything about babies or how to raise them.” “It’s a tough decision,” my mom said as she clenched her jaw in attempt to hold back tears. “But your dad, Kara, and I will support you in whatever you decide.” “What is it?” I asked as I looked at Dr. Straus and then at the sonogram machine. “It’s a boy,” she said. A part of me wished Eric could’ve have been here. Would he have smiled or grimaced at the thought of a boy making the same mistakes he had? I began to feel all warm and giddy inside with excitement. The images in my head immediately vanished when I remembered I’d never seen any gymnasts at competitions carrying around baby bags and extra bottles and diapers. I looked at my mom and back at the black and white image on the monitor as I heard the palpitating heart beat. The baby was lying on his back as he sucked his thumb. I pictured a two year old boy in red overalls giggling as I chased him in the same backyard I used to do cartwheels and front flips in. Then I pictured the same little boy four years later in a red helmet as he rode his bike down a black pavement, my dad at his side as he held the handle bars to keep the little boy steady from falling to the ground, while my mother laughed and recorded the whole thing on her camcorder. My vision of balance beams and shiny gold medals slowly began to fade in my head as new ones formed, new memories that didn’t involve the Olympics, but a future with the little boy whose heart was beating inside me.
Suburban Discourse Radly Peralta
Winding streets of labyrinthian maze. Grid systems within systems of grid. Fences close the borders in geometric order. 2.3 kids, a house and a barbeque pit. A blistering wife smiling and swollen with child to be, now part of the family. Shoot the shit with reluctant neighbors. It's mandatory. Discuss weather, local sports teams, and more weather. Ignore your wife's resentment and talks of commitment. Ignore the job you dread, ignore the thoughts of leaving. Ignore the rising pile of bills and your family's bitterness. The All-American Dream. Here son eat some ice cream. The repetition, the monotony, the ever tedious ennui. Same school, same friends, same girls you'll never fuck. Shut up, eat your food, go to bed, go to school. It's just me, myself, and this T.V. Flickering electronic reproductions of life. Iridescent glows through curtain windows.
Greyish Cory Campbell My head bounced against the window every time we hit a speed bump as we pulled up to the church. “You can’t take that inside with you,” my mom said, referring to my uncle’s lighter that I took from his room when we went to clean it out. I rubbed over the crudely engraved name on the back with my thumb. I shoved the lighter back into my pocket when my mom rolled down the window to speak with Aunt Karen, who carried a purse under one arm and my uncle’s ashes under the other, and a haphazardly gift-wrapped present in her hand. Standing at no more than five feet and three inches (five foot five if you ask her), she stood on the curb to be able to see inside my parents’ cartoonishly large truck. “Well, hey there, strangers,” she said with a chuckle. “We’re going to Olive Garden afterward. Want to join?” “Macaroni Grill, Karen.” I couldn’t see him, but I could recognize the condescending tone of my aunt’s husband, Ross. “Yep! That’s the one. Are you in?” she asked, ignoring the attitude behind Ross’s words. “We’ll see about it,” my mom said. “Maybe we can get everyone to come.” “Better get a head count and reserve a table,” Dad added. My aunt looked to me in the back seat and yelled, “Heads up!” just before what was obviously a pair of socks wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper collided with my forehead. “I know it’s late and the paper doesn’t really fit the occasion, but happy seventeenth birthday!” she said. I attempted my best fake smile and told her I’d open it later. We parked the car and fought our way against the wintery gusts before making it inside the church. Everyone who was coming to the ceremony was standing in the lobby, all fourteen of them. Not even the whole family bothered to show up. My cousin was over near the corner of the room doing the Heisman pose, right leg up, left arm outstretched in front of him, and my uncle’s urn cradled in his right arm. One of the priests laughed quietly to himself before opening the ceremony room doors. “If I could please have everyone come this way,” he said. “We can get this show on the road.” I sauntered into the room behind everyone and sat down in the very back by myself. The pews creaked and groaned especially loud as the larger members of my family rested themselves on the cold wood. We spread out as if we were trying to still fill the room, which really just made it seem like even fewer people were there than there already were. Our loving family couldn’t even sit together in one room without finding the farthest point from one another. “Christopher was a very dear member of our congregation,” the priest said, lying to us all. My uncle hadn’t been to Saturday mass in five years, because he would come pick me up and take me to work with him on the weekends. “He battled with personal demons. Addiction and substance abuse plagued his heart,” he said. “But through the grace of God he triumphed over these evils in his life. We ask that you, dear Lord, that you guide him to the gates of Heaven, Lord and we ask that you accept his gracious soul into your kingdom.” The priest uttered a short prayer in Latin and directed us out the doors towards the cemetery plots in the back. “That’s it?” I asked. Everyone put on their best judgmental scowl as if I was the one that had done something wrong here. My mom mouthed something at me and my dad’s eyes widened as he motioned for me to stand next to him.
We made our way towards the open grave. One guy stopped to have a smoke on the way. The rest of us weaved through tombstones and dead flowerbeds until we got to the tree line at the back of the cemetery. I reached into my pocket and started to rub my fingers over the engraving on the lighter again. Without saying a word the priest and an Hispanic man in blue jeans and a denim jacket began fiddling with a lever and pulley system that they clearly hadn’t ever used before. After sloppily tying a strand of twine around the urn, the two began to lower my uncle into a small hole the denim undertaker had dug. The priest rushed over to an iPod that was hooked up to cheap battery-powered speakers and played “I Did it My Way” by Frank Sinatra. I gripped the lighter so tight that the hinge on the back began to dig beneath my skin. I had nothing against Sinatra, but this whole day had been so heartless and cliché that every little detail left me in a nervous sweat. So I turned around, shoved my way past the protruding stomachs of the middle-aged family members behind me, and I ran, tripping over various graves and crunched frozen flowers with the roughed leather soles of my nicest pair of shoes. I rounded the corner of the church building and instantly ran face first into the barrel chest of the man who stopped for a smoke earlier. “Slow down, boy,” his low voice echoed in the corridor next to the side door of the church. “Where you heading off to?” I stuck my hands deep into my pockets. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know. I just can’t be here.” “Why’s that?” he asked, after a long drag on his cigarette. “It’s them. They act like my uncle was nothing but a fuck up,” I said, wiping my face with my sleeve. “Well, if he wasn’t a fuck up, then what was he?” I looked up at the man, then down at my feet. I played with a little bit of grass that had sprouted up between to sections of concrete. I started and stopped several sentence before I said, “You know what he did with his first paycheck that he got from his job after leaving the halfway house? My in-and-out-of -jail, alcoholic of an uncle went out and bought a brand new car to replace his mother’s beat-down Mercury.” The man put one hand on his left knee and slowly lowered himself on to the stone bench behind him, without taking his eyes off of me, and lit up another cigarette. “Every Christmas until I turned fourteen my brothers and my cousins and I—” I cleared my throat and wiped my runny nose again with my sleeve. “We’d get Wal-Mart gift cards from him worth eleven dollars and forty two cents because he bought a pack of beer with them before giving them to us as gifts. Last year, after he got out of jail, we got full gift cards, which doesn’t sound like much, but it meant everything to us.” I fell backwards onto another stone bench across from him. I ran my hands through my hair and pulled hard. I thought the pain may distract me enough to keep me from breaking down and crying. “Yesterday, when we were cleaning out his room in my grandma’s house, we found these wooden boxes that he had made from scratch. Each one had the initials of all of the kids in the family, and they all had a handwritten note inside, telling us how much he loved us, and that he wouldn’t ever let us down again.” I took a deep breath and paused for a minute. “He sounds like he had is priorities pretty straightened out,” the man said, inhaling each word to make sure no smoke left his lungs. “Yeah, he did. We opened up the bottom drawer of his desk to find hundreds of AA chips he had gotten throughout his time in jail and the halfway house. ‘One day sober’, ‘two weeks sober’, ‘four days sober’, another ‘one day sober’, and ‘two years sober.’ The struggle of a lifetime, hidden less than two feet from the foot of his bed.” 72
“So what’s the problem? He sobered up.” He brushed off some ashes that fell onto his knee. “Nothing he did was ever good enough to please anyone in my family. No one ever stopped giving him shit for his past. He still tried and tried, but he’d still get yelled at at every Thanksgiving and every family gathering. But the worst thing is that I never told him that I was proud of him. I never told him that he had been the best example of what kind of person someone should turn out to be.” The man stood up and stretched out his hand. I reached out with mine and he yanked me up to my feet. “I met Chris in the halfway house,” he told me as he stepped on his finished cigarette. “Most people coming through there don’t last long because they don’t have anyone to keep sober for.” He pointed two of his rough round fingers at my eyes and then back at his own. “If he could get back on the wagon after falling off a few times, all while taking the shit your family gave him, when all he wanted was a little redemption, then trust me, he knew he had someone rooting for him, buddy.” The icy concrete crackled under his weight as he took a few steps, nodded at me, then turned the corner and walked toward the bus stop over by the street. I pulled out the lighter and stared at the letters of my uncle’s name. The silver had no more shine to it. I rubbed my thumb across the sharp ridges of his name again. I waited for the rest of the family to make their way to the walkway near the bench that I was on. Only a handful of them actually came back together. Most went straight to their cars to go home instead of attending the awkward parking lot goodbye that always seemed to take half an hour. When they walked past me, no one said anything. I couldn’t help being angry still. I stood up after they had passed me and then matched their pace so I wouldn’t accidentally catch up with them. “So, we’re all going to Fuddrucker’s now, right?” My aunt looked toward Ross waiting for another remark about the restaurant. He grunted and walked away before leaning on the cane he seemed to only use when he knew people were watching. “Fuddrucker’s sounds okay to me,” my mom said. Everyone nodded in agreement and broke up into small groups to talk about the funny thing their cat did, something about some sport, or some story that everyone had heard about two hundred times but we all sat and listened to it anyway. From a full parking spot over, I said, “Fuck you.” I said it in a low voice. Everyone went silent and turned towards me. My mom cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me, but that’s no way—“ “Just shut up.” I didn’t care to hear what any of them had to say. “All of you just shut up.” I loosened my tie and took a few steps closer. “All of you came here to bury your brother, your uncle, or your son. This isn’t right. None of this is right.” My grandma grabbed the handkerchief out of her bag and started walking towards an empty parking spot on the other side of my dad’s truck. My aunt and her husband looked over at each other before nudging my cousins towards their car. “Maybe we’ll just go out another night. It’s too early for dinner anyway.” My dad cleared his throat and unlocked the truck. I pulled myself up into the back seat and made sure I slammed the door behind me, just to make sure it was clear that I was upset. My mom hopped into the front passenger’s seat and my dad walked my grandma to her car across the parking lot. “Some people don’t like to think about it.” My mom fiddled with the heater vent. “Your father was tough on Chris. He never let up on him because he didn’t want to watch his little brother go back down the path he was on,” she said. “And your Aunt Karen said that this is the longest time that Ross has gone without crying about your Uncle Chris this week.” I just looked out the window at the empty parking lot, pretending that I didn’t hear her. “Your cousins just don’t know any better yet, and your grandma just watched her youngest child get buried. It’s hard for her. She doesn’t want to think about how she has to live alone now that your uncle is gone.” 73
My shirt kept feeling tighter the longer we sat in the car, waiting for my dad. I grabbed the knot in my tie and loosened it some more to fit it over my head. My dad stepped into the truck, rocking it back and forth as his weight shifted about in the driver’s seat. Without turning to look at me, he said, “I know you don’t get it, but not everyone grieves the same way. I loved my brother. We all loved him, and we’re all going to miss him. But not everyone deals with losing someone the way you deal with it.” He paused for a moment and looked at me through the mirror. “Okay?” he asked. “Sure,” I said as I picked at the frayed leather on the back of my mother’s seat. “I get it.”
The Men You Date Online Hennah Saber
The Irish, who wants to have you In the backseat of his silver Impala, Wears a flat-brimmed hat. It’s A size too large, and has O’Neil Painted across the side. He doesn’t Know how to ask questions and Kisses with his mouth closed. You Tell him he’s a pup, whose having an Identity crisis, and to call you In a few years. The Italian, who has the nose Of a Beastie boy, is an English Substitute. He asks about your stance On politics and the human condition. Two times out of three, he stands You up because he says He isn’t feeling it. He talks in layered Sentences and quizzes you on your opinion Of The Odyssey. His hair Touches the olive colored nape of His neck and he suggests you try to Be more charming. The Venezuelan, who’s soft spoken, Takes you to play golf. He says you Have a natural swing, and promises He isn’t kissing ass. Well read, And well dressed his thin hairless Hands are always opening doors. He’s the guy who can meet your parents. You tell him he’s too cordial. That’s when He pushes you up against his bedroom Wall while Stinkfist plays In the background.
The American, who tries to convince You he’s part Native, has art inked all Over his body. He doesn’t take you To do anything. He just smokes pot and talks 75
About a future he will never get around to. Heâ€™s five-five, and when you tell him he has A severe case of Napoleon complex he Asks you what that is. The Dating Website, the human meat market, has nothing new. Yet, it entices you. After Each failed meeting you shed your nice clothes, Wipe off your face, grab stale leftovers and Log in again.
My Morning Kahlua with Coffee Erick Ceron
I had to sit down with my testicles and explain to them that I was giving them their pink slip. Sheila certainly wasn’t. Ever since she turned forty-nine for the third time she started giving me stupid reasons like, “We’re divorced, Mortimer.” Yeah, ‘Mortimer’ really didn’t help me get any action, copulative or romantic, when I was twenty. I didn’t get the idea to legally change my name until I woke up one day after the divorce next to a drag queen named Bella Donna. Funny thing was that she was an actual woman. Just gaudy. So much for trying new things. Today I woke up because I was dreaming that I was actually waking up with morning wood. As soon as I opened my eyes I literally balled up the sheets and threw them off and jumped off my bed. Problem was that I got really dizzy and out of breath. After I sat down to make my head stop spinning, I schlepped over to the bathroom. I brought the little guy out, but he was still sleeping. Feh. Probably didn’t have to go anyway. I went to the sink and grabbed the mouthwash. Fucking burned. Surprised my gums didn’t start bleeding. I spat it out, and as I brought my face up, I saw some schmuck in the mirror with an almost bald head. Well, it wasn’t that bad. I guess I could do what everyone’s doing nowadays and go buy some hair, uh, thing in a bottle. I flicked off the light and started shuffling to the kitchen. Today was one of those mornings for a nice hot cup of Kahlua with coffee. I made it and went to the living room and flopped onto my recliner. A bit too fast. Pain shot through my tailbone for a second. Damn it. It had been happening a little too often lately. I reached for the remote, but apparently I already had the TV on all night with the sound muted. PBS? Fuck you. Spike TV. Damn cat must’ve played with the remote. Speaking of the fucking devil, there he was. In the doorway, as fat and pissed off with the world as ever. His scrunched-up eyes made their way toward me and he meowed one of his hoarse meows. “Ed, you got to stop smoking,” I said after taking a sip. He sneezed and waddled to the kitchen. I turned up the volume. Bar Rescue. Whatever. I was paying more attention to the mug of Kahlua than to the women with the implants on TV. One was advertising Bud Light and the other one was advertising Hooters. Ed meowed again and coughed. That nasally little scratchy sound. I went in and found him glaring at his almost-full bowl. I grumbled a “yeah, yeah, hold on” and opened the refrigerator. Fuck. I needed to go shopping today. He gave one of those closed-mouthed meows, like he was frustrated with waiting. I flicked open a pizza box. Good. Had some sausage and extra cheese left. I pinched some between my fingers and put it on top of Ed’s bowl. He sniffed it, looked at me, and meowed like a smoker. “Don’t look at me like that. Go hunt a rat or something.” He narrowed his eyes a little more and sneezed. He didn’t complain though. He knew that pizza was going to have to keep him fed until three. I finished my “coffee” and put the cup in the sink. And then I just stood there, watching Ed. Probably weighed twenty pounds. How old was he, anyway? We found him as a kitten wandering in the lobby one night. Very late. Must’ve been when we came home after a therapy session. So, uh, maybe 77
five years after the wedding. Yeah, because three years after that we started the divorce process. And then after that… Ed sneezed again, and I felt my ankles wet. I looked down, and he was staring back at me. “Fuck you,” I said. And he just walked away. Poor guy. His allergies must be acting up. I went to my recliner again and grabbed the phone. I punched in Sheila’s number and turned down the volume with the remote. Some other blonde busty girl was advertising some other beer. “Hello?” Sheila answered in her own smoker’s voice. Probably gave the cat cigarettes while I was at work. “Hi.” “What,” she said rather than asked. “What? A husband can’t call a call girl anymore?” I felt a smirk crawl up my lips. She coughed. “I’m fifty-five, Mortimer. You got until the end of this cigarette to talk.” “So you’re not coming over?” “It’s Saturday half past one.” She exhaled. I could almost smell that wafting over the phone. “You’re still in your boxers, aren’t you?” I looked down. She was right. “Yeah. But only because I’m about to jump right back onto my little bedmate.” “Tell Ed I said hi.” I felt her smirk slowly spreading on her face. I couldn’t help letting out one of the half-assed chuckles which were really just my breath shooting out of my nose faster. “Well, unlike women of a certain age, men always have needs.” She gave a few half-assed chuckles of her own. “Two puffs.” I never realized how many old geezer commercials Spike TV had until I noticed the one playing now. I hoped I was just going crazy, because it just seemed like nowadays there were more of these “low -T therapy” commercials. “Last puff.” “Well, Ed has needs too.” “You’re trying too hard,” she said. I thought I heard the soft tapping of a cigarette against her glass ashtray. I readjusted my weight. “He needs his allergy pill.” I heard the chair from her end squeak a little. And then her sink faucet turn on. And there were gray-haired guys on TV doing those shitty little things they do in prescription commercials. Yeah. Like I’d definitely go out to my cabin on the lake and take a fishing boat out there. Who gives a fuck about fishing? Open a goddamned can of tuna. I heard her raspy voice say something. “What’d you say?” I asked. “I said I’ll be there in half an hour.” I glanced at the direction of where the front door was. “Don’t forget the meds.” “I don’t want to walk on beer cans.” She hung up. I put down the phone on the end table. Which happened to have an empty beer can on top. Damn it. Goddamned dishes. Fucking forks stabbed me. I had to spend twenty minutes to find a pair of rubber gloves, but these fucking forks still snagged on them. I should just switch to paper plates and plasticware. Sheila knocked at the door. I knew it was her because it sounded like the force of her grabbing a pizza boy passing by and latching her bony dry hips to his against the door. 78
I opened it and saw her inhale one last drag from her cigarette with her eyes closed, just like the way she used to finish our little games in bed. Maybe she really did grab and assault a random pizza boy. I hoped he had mental health insurance. She opened her eyes and her bony hand plucked the cigarette out of her lips. She looked me over up and down. Stopped at my hands. “You never wore rubber with me.” The smoke breezed past me when she walked. I closed the door and locked it. “Some broads don’t need them.” She kicked off her pumps. “Whatever gets you through the day,” she said, looking around the place like she did me. I stripped off the gloves and poured a cup of water to put in the microwave. “One sugar, or two?” “Just warm up the Kahlua in a shot glass.” Her voice came from the far end of the living room, along with the creaking of the couch. I set the cup of water down and took out two shot glasses. I poured the Kahlua in them and put them in the microwave. I leaned against the counter, rubbing my face. The only sounds in the apartment now were the buzzing of the microwave, the stupid nerds talking about some shitty museum of old tea kettles or whatever from the TV, and a little groan falling out of my mouth. One of those little groans I used to hear come out of my old man when he sat down. Fuck. The Kahlua finished and I brought them out to the living room. I gave her one, and she mumbled something that could’ve been “thank you” or “yeah, yeah.” I turned around and looked at my recliner. The knots in my back started aching. Probably were screaming something like “Mortimer you old fuck, just sit the fuck down like someone named Mortimer.” Again I heard that little groan when I eased myself into the recliner. I whipped my head to look at Sheila when I thought I heard her breathe out one of those half-assed laughs. But she was just sliding the shot glass across the coffee table. “You want more?” She kept watching the TV. “Got any Chardonnay?” I turned my head back to the TV and waved my hand toward the bedroom. “Tequila’s by my bed.” The couch creaked again. Guessed she’ll get it later. I downed my Kahlua and kept staring at the TV. Now these two fucking geeks were talking about some sort of Elizabethan something-or-other and kept saying words like “exquisite porcelain” and “rich history.” It was then I felt my back muscles settle even more into the chair. I put my shot glass on the end table and watched those two guys ramble on and on about stupid shit you’d only find on PBS. Never understood how Sheila could like bullshit like that. They were so boring that I found I closed my eyes. Eh, might as well. There wasn’t anything to see anyway. I could still hear their bullshit just fine. Next thing I felt was the fucking spray of an Ed sneeze in my face. I pushed his weight off my chest and opened my eyes, probably cursing him out. I opened my eyes and saw the wall clock say it was dark o’clock. I heard Ed croak, and I looked. There he was on the floor, glaring at me again. And Sheila’s crusty feet next to him. “About time.” Sheila’s toes moved around a little, like they were trying to crawl away from the cheap chipped red nail polish they wore. 79
I yawned and told her to fuck off while pulling the recliner’s lever to put it back into the chair position. I felt something scratch my feet. Bitch just tossed the foil bubble card with the allergy pills at them. As I picked it up and stood up, I heard Ed’s hoarse protests. She had him cradled in her arms, looking in his face and cooing. “Aww, little boy doesn’t look good. No he doesn’t.” He just laid there, purring. Purring like those old tricked out muscle cars whose exhaust pipes probably fell off. His tail coiled up and relaxed slowly. At least somebody liked Sheila touching him. “Mortimer,” she said. I found my fingers mindlessly fumbling with the packaging still. I finally got one out and started to massage Ed’s whiskers. He coughed and I shoved the pill in his mouth and held his jaw closed. He didn’t squirm around as much as he usually did. Probably Sheila’s baby noises made him want to sleep. Hell, I was a little sleepy too. Sheila bent down and Ed slipped out of her arms. He sneezed a couple of times and toddled away to his food bowl. Good luck finding anything, you little bastard. I made my way back to sit on my recliner when I felt Sheila hit me on the back with something. Well, it wasn’t like a pat on the back, but it also wasn’t like that one time she got drunk and missed the back of my head. I turned around and she shoved a bottle of beer into my hands. I sat, grumbling something that might’ve sounded like “thanks.” She mumbled her “yeah, yeah” like sound again. After I adjusted the lever and made the chair recline, Sheila made her weird little smirk. Oh boy, finally maybe she’ll stop being such a prudish bitch tonight. I took a sip of beer. And then she tried sitting between my legs on the part of the recliner that stuck out. And the broad fell. Next thing I knew, I was shot up into a sitting position and half my beer lurched forward onto her face. I heard Ed meow from the kitchen, but I also heard my gut-busting laughing. Sheila grumbled a “fuck you” and snatched my beer and downed the rest of it. “Fallen and can’t get up, can you?” I asked, out of breath now, slowing my laughing. She rolled the bottle away and grabbed the arm of the chair. “Isn’t it time for you to shove your Viagra suppository now?” A minute later she finally went to the kitchen. I heard her make her baby noises to Ed and the clinking of more beer bottles. Ed didn’t say anything back. Probably sick of being awake already. I called out, “Still doesn’t beat that fuck-up at that protest in college. I didn’t believe women actually burned their bras until I saw you throw yours in and try to light up your cigarette with the bonfire.” I felt the right corner of my mouth snap up in a smirk and the chuckles pumping out of my nose. “It was a joint.” I felt her pound my shoulder with the same kind of intensity as before. “But your hippie hair definitely wasn’t.” I took the beer and took a swig. Sheila walked past me, and I heard her give more of those half-assed chuckles and the creak of the couch again. “It was a wig and you know it.” “Whatever gets you through the day.” Our half-assed chuckles tapered out while those geeks on PBS were still rambling on about some other boring shit. It’s nighttime, give it a rest, you fucks. “I think my favorite Mortimer mess was that time you took me to that new bar and we ran into your dad.” She lowered the volume of the dweebs. “Most of that night you two were having a great time. Laughing here, joking there.” I felt a slight smile stretch across my mouth. “Too bad he couldn’t be nice to me without being drunk.” 80
The sound of Sheila’s bottle popping from her lips was somehow nice. “And then suddenly you both wanted a fisticuffs fight,” she said. A real chuckle passed through my mouth for once. “Turned into a vomiting match.” She laughed, and for a half a second she didn’t have her smoker voice. “I went home with the victor, didn’t I?” Our sounds tapered out again, and the only things we could hear were those smart-asses and the swishing of beer in their bottles. Then Ed walked by slowly, but not like the fat waddling. He just passed by, eyes forward, meowing only once. But it wasn’t as hoarse or labored. Definitely less snotty. Went straight to the coat closet with his bed. “Ed looks better,” Sheila said. I heard the couch creak again, and turned my head to see her standing, trying to balance herself. “You don’t,” I said, taking the last swig in my bottle. “My ass hurts. I guess it doesn’t have the padding it used to. Need to get home,” she said, resting a hand on her hip and the other on the end table. I tossed my empty bottle on the ground and found myself blurting out, “Stay here tonight.” Sheila shook her head. “Got some meds at home.” I stretched in my recliner before I got up. I stretched again, just waiting for what bullshit flies out of my mouth next. She seemed to have finally steadied herself and sighed. I made my way to the bathroom when I passed her by and heard the bullshit. “What do you have that tequila can’t cure?” I flicked the lights on and closed the bathroom door and pushed the toilet seat up. Just as the little fucker finally pisses today, I heard Sheila’s feet shuffling toward my room, grumbling again.
Contributorsâ€™ Biographies Stevi Rae Alsdorf is a lover of self-expression in all its forms, especially music, but she prefers to express herself through the written word. Angelique Barber is a creative professional, a non-traditional student, and cofounder of Clearpoint Group, LLC. She loves floating like a starfish and swimming like an otter.
Lauren Bigbie is a histor y major, a tr aveler and a dreamer. She is also a crazy cat lady. Jeff Burge is a guy on a gr avy tr ain with biscuit wheels. Cory Campbell loves science and plans to pick a major soon. Erick Ceron has a love for liter ature and fever dreams. He believes they are the most honest portrayal of a person. Ana Dominguez is an advanced sophomore Visual Communications major who loves to draw and play video games.
Joanna Garcia is a sophomore Ar t major who speaks fluent movie quotes and loves a good pun. Natalie Grajeda is twenty-two and will forever love Harry Potter. Nicholas Gray is a freshman Computer Science major who loves the outdoors and is an Army combat veteran. Hessami Hernandez is an Agr icultur al Science major and an ESL/EFL minor. Her favorite place to be is the kitchen. God is number one in her life and her family is a close second.
Raghad Jazairy loves to wr ite poetr y and is cur rently pur suing a geology major. Nichole Kyle is studying for an Associates of Ar ts degree. She is a wife and mother of one and loves special effects make up and reading.
Brittany Lempicki loves nature and is aspir ing to be an environmental engineer. In her free time she likes to read and paint. Haley Lopez is a sophomore studying psychology. She loves to read and r un in her free time. Thu Luong is a sophomore accounting major with a passion for ar t. Sarah Marin is a high school senior with aspir ations to become an English and Public Relations major, published author and a mom.
Leanessa May is a future visualization student at T.A.M.U. with a passion for the arts and imagination. Jaclyn Ottoman is afr aid of being bor ing. Radly Peralta is fully aware of the irony of his name as he rarely ever does anything “rad.” He only thinks in palindromic haiku and hates writing about himself in the third person. Jordan Reid is a sophomore environmental science major with a love of reading and a passion for the outdoors. Hennah Saber is a recently declared Finance major. She’s a writer of words, a tamer of horses, and a lover of monsters. Nargis Saber is a par t time accountant, full-time mother and avid reader. Jazmine Silva is a sophomore Computer Science major with a bustling imagination and a passion for success. Christy Tucker is a sophomore planning to tr ansfer to Sam Houston Univer sity to complete her bachelors in nursing. Kara Vigants is an “ahem” mature student who will be graduating from college at the same time as her daughter, Elizabeth. Remember, you are never too old to learn! Diane Williams is an out-of-the-closet bean enthusiast.
Acknowledgements The faculty sponsors and Senior Editor would like to thank Shah Ardalan, Lawrence Brandyburg, Mark Curtis-Chavez, Sarah Ray, and all the students at Student Life for their continued support of the magazine. This yearâ€™s magazine would not exist but for the help of Mary Anne Figueroa, who was instrumental at just about every stage of the process. Also, Dennise Barajas and Amy Hirsch deserve big shout-outs for all the work they put in. Finally, thanks to all of the students and staff who read the full 400 page packet of pieces submitted to the magazine this year. That was quite a sacrifice of time at the end of the Fall semester.
Selection Process All pieces were chosen anonymously by a selection committee made up of student staff, student editors, and faculty readers. The only staff members with knowledge of the writerâ€™s identities were the faculty sponsors. During the selection meeting, each reader, including each faculty sponsor, got only one vote on behalf of each piece submitted. The Uproar contest was judged by LSC-University Park faculty Amy Hirsch, Erin MacMillan-Ramirez, David Miller, Kristy Musgrove, Greg Oaks, and Brian Reeves. If you have any interest in becoming a staff member or reader for next year, please email David.W.Miller@lonestar.edu or Greg.E.Oaks@lonestar.edu.
Uproar Submission Form Contact Info. Name: Address: Phone number: Email: Lone Star—University Park Student ID Number: Please list the title of each of your pieces below: 1.________________________________________________________________ 2.________________________________________________________________ 3.________________________________________________________________ 4.________________________________________________________________ 5.________________________________________________________________ 6.________________________________________________________________ 7.________________________________________________________________ 8.________________________________________________________________ Your biography, to be listed in the magazine if your piece is selected. Example: James Bond is a freshman Criminal Justice major with a love of martinis and a license to kill. ___________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________ _________________________________________________________________________________ I hereby warrant that the works submitted with this form are my original works and that I own any copyrights that may be applicable to them. I authorize Lone Star College-University Park and the staff of the college literary/arts journal to mechanically and electronically publish the above submissions and display the art pieces as they determine to be appropriate, subject only to any additional written instructions, which I may furnish. ___________________________ Submitter’s Signature Requirements: 1.Deadline: Nov 5. Submissions r eceived after will be saved for the following school year ’s selection process. 2. Only LSC-University Park students who are enrolled in a credit course may submit. Magazine staff members also may submit. 3. As the selection process is anonymous, make sure your name is NOT on any of the written submissions. Place your name instead on the submission form and on the back of your art pieces. Use a separate form for art pieces. 4. Only original, unpublished works are accepted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted as long as you notify us if your piece is accepted somewhere else. 5. Maximum entries per person: six poems, three short stories/essays, and eight art pieces. 6. Short stories/essays should not exceed 3500 words in length. Word count must be included on the first page. 7. All submissions must be accompanied by a submission form. For submission forms, email Upemail@example.com, David Miller at David.W.Miller@lonestar.edu or 13.823 or Greg Oaks at Greg.E.Oaks@lonestar.edu or 13.811, or see the Uproar submission box in the Lone Star CollegeUniversity Park library on the 8th floor. Contest Information: every piece submitted will be entered into the Uproar Contest. Winners will receive gift card awards ($100, $75, $50) and the art piece used for the cover will receive a $100 gift card.