UPROAR Volume 1
Uproar is the literary/arts journal 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. As the deadline for submission is early November, works can be submitted in the spring for publication the following year. See the submission form at the back of the magazine for more information.
Greg Oaks David Miller
Erick Ceron Ruth Doughtie Philip Feldwisch. Rachel Primeaux
Ryan Moyer Mirium Patrick Jennifer Sheets
Cover Art: Koi Fish
Uproar Table of Contents
Skin Like Whiskey by Joseph For nes …………………………………………….
Wholesome by Ruth Doughtie……………………………………………………..
Soul Mates by Ryan Moyer ………………………………………………………...8 Drift by J ames McAuley…………………………………………………………..11 Pots by Rachel Pr imeaux…………………………………………………………..13 Tie-First Place Prose Winner Sea of Green by Tr aci Luker ………………………………………………………20 For Ma by Br enda Recchini……………………………………………………….21 For My Father by Benjamin Compton…………………………………………...26 Second Place Poetry Winner It’s Time by J ulie Russell………………………………………………………….28 Third Place Prose Winner Psych Ward by Kather ine Ar mstr ong……………………………………………..30 Necks by Allen Stor m………………………………………………………………32 A Drop of Calm by Allen Stor m…………………………………………………...33 Lakeshore Sky by Allen Stor m…………………………………………………….34 Redhead by Casey For tune…………………………………………………………35 Those Moments by Cecilia Pham…………………………………………………. 36 Against the Airbrush by Ryan Moyer ……………………………………………..37 Standing Alone by Ryan Moyer ……………………………………………………38 Nightfall Gradient by Angela Pham……………………………………………….39
Work by Br enda Recchini…………………………………………………………..40 Family Reunion by Kimber ly Gaskins……………………………………………...41 Tie-Second Place Prose Winner Polymerase by Michael Alose……………………………………………………….49 Home by Ana Madr id………………………………………………………………..50 Entropy by J er emy Davis…………………………………………………………….55 Tie-Third Place Poetry Winner Micro by J ennifer Sheets……………………………………………………………..56 I Have a Poem Due in English Today by Mylin Bar r ette…………………………..61 Not It by Hannah Andis………………………………………………………………62 Fragments by Rachael Sander s………………………………………………………64 Tie-Third Place Poetry Winner Second Thoughts by J er emy Davis…………………………………………………..65 Tie-First Place Prose Winner La Playa by Rachel Pr imeaux………………………………………………………..69 After Emily by J amesMcAuley……………………………………………………...70 Tie-Second Place Prose Winner Contributor’s Biographies………………………………………………………….74 Uproar Submission Form…………………………………………………………...76 Acknowledgements…………………………………………………………………..77
Skin Like Whiskey Joseph Fornes
12:17 a.m. There are 384 dots in each panel of acoustical ceiling tile. Specks, really. More like little upside-down craters. I know this because …
8:37 p.m. “I’ll be waiting right outside, okay honey?” I say as they wheel her into the operating room. “I love you.” …I’ve been counting them. This forsaken room has twelve panels across and ten deep. Assuming every panel is the same, that makes 46,080 dots, craters, whatever. That’s not including the fractional panels that loiter around the boundaries and corners of the room. It’s hard to get a count on those unless I sit under each one and add them to the 46,080. The panels are blindingly white over the fluorescent lights that hang between every two. White ceiling, white lights, and white floors. At least the walls have some kind of color. Unsettling works of abstract art line up on the same axis every six feet. Strange combinations of yellows, reds, and oranges. Except for one brown and blue one. It seems out of place in here. Earth and sea, amongst the fire and flower of the other pieces. One weary eyebrow lifts as I ponder the necessity of all this pseudo-vomit. It’s not the brown and blue that’s out of place. It’s all the others. Six months ago, I was drunk and puking up appetizers and cheap wine on a tree outside the clubhouse while my mother’s sixtieth birthday party raged away inside. The sounds of casino games and salsa music filled my ears. Kari was ablaze with nostalgia in her black and silver dress and a black and white boa around her shoulders. One stiletto heel, the shoes that I had begged her to wear because they made her legs look sexy, caught on some trim at the doorway. She went down hard and snapped her ankle. I rub my eyes with my fingertips until sparkled shooting stars appear under my eyelids. I get up to get another cup of the black death they call coffee in this hospital. The doors that lead to the operating room whisper open and Kari’s doctor walks towards me. Her Croc’s squeak on the shiny acrylic floor. For a second, my breath squeaks in response and hides in my chest.
“Excuse me, sir?” I hear the question in the doctor’s voice but I don’t really register it as a question. It’s more of a statement that happens to have a pretty little uplift at the end. “I’m sorry.” I say, coughing to catch my breath. “Are you Mr. Kendall?” “Yes. Sorry, um, sorry, yes I am. Any news?” “Mrs. Kendall is in recovery right now. The surgery went well but there were a few rather serious complications. I was able to correct the fistula in her left leg but as we were removing the catheter from her femoral artery, she had an internal bleed and needed a transfusion. As she was coming out of the anesthesia, her blood pressure and her heart rate spiked significantly. Bottom line
is we will be admitting her for observation for a couple of days so we can keep an eye on her…” I hear her but it’s as if she is talking to me underwater. I understand her words but I can’t quite grasp their importance. So I nod as she shakes my hand and smiles. “When can I see her?” “A nurse will be out shortly to give you the details.” The doctor releases my hand and starts to walk away. She gets a few paces away and turns around. “She’s going to be okay,” she adds and continues walking down the hall. I walk over to the little white counter that they have set up for coffee and pour some of it into a little Styrofoam cup. I shake two packs of sugar between my thumb and forefinger like I’m
speed picking a death metal song, and I rip the tops off so I can sweeten the sludge. I pluck a stirrer out of its holder and stare at it for a second. It’s as if I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with it. And then it hits me that I am supposed to stir my coffee with it. Waiting rooms have a way of making you forget things you would normally do without thinking. It’s like that feeling I get when I stand in front of an open refrigerator and forget why I opened it. Stirring my coffee I walk over to the small three-foot square window that overlooks the dark and partially desolate parking lot. Half a dozen cars, including my own, remain scattered about at this late hour. At the edge of my vision is what looks like a garden. The flowers and shrubbery are indistinct but I can see one light and one stone bench underneath it. Someone is sitting there smoking a cigarette. I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman. All I see is a dark figure against the white stone of the bench. The smoke drifts lazily in the still mid-summer night air. I take a sip of my coffee and wince as it burns my tongue. “God, I need some sleep,” I say to myself even though I know there will be no sleep for me tonight. There’s too much to do. Feed the dogs, check the laundry, and grab some clothes and other toiletries. I’m like one of those circus clowns with the spinning plates, always rushing to the next plate to keep it from crashing to the ground. I hear the door behind me open and I turn around a little too fast and a little dribble of coffee
stains my shirt. “Shit!” The word tumbles out of my mouth carelessly. 2
“Mr. Kendall?” the pretty black nurse says. “Your wife will be moved into a private room shortly. She’s a little bit out of it right now, but if you’d like, you can visit with her for a few minutes before she’s moved to her room.” “Yes, please.” I say, throwing away the coffee and going through the doors that lead to the surgical recovery wing which is nothing more than a large square room divided by pale green curtains that hide the beds. “Third one on the left,” the nurse says while attending to a patient on my right. I walk over to where the nurse indicated and peek around the privacy curtain. Her skin is pale and her eyelids have a bluish tint to them. There are tubes in her nose and those little sticky
pads with wires connected to them are on her neck and arms. Little wires trail their way under her blue gown. There is a little chair next to her so I pull it close to her. I sit down and hold her hand. She opens one crystal blue eye and smiles just a little. “I’m here,” I say. “How are you feeling?” She shakes her head just a little and closes her eyes. “They’re putting you in a room for a couple of days. Just to keep an eye on you. I’ll go to the house and get a few of your things. Toothpaste, toothbrush, panties, stuff like that. I’ll be back before you know it, okay?” She nods her head very slightly. I get up and kiss her forehead. After 15 years of marriage I
should be able to rustle up a little more than a kiss on the forehead. I lean forward again and kiss her dry lips. “I love you, honey,” I whisper in her ear. She gives me that small imperceptible smile once again. As I leave her bed, I walk over to the pretty nurse who got me out of the waiting room. “Do you happen to have the room number where she’s going to be taken?” I ask. “I was just about to come get you and give you that information.” She hands me a sheet of paper with the room number and various other instructions. What to bring, what not to bring, where to park, how much parking is. “Can you let the nurse up there know that I’ll be coming back in about an hour with some of her things and I’ll probably be spending the night?” “Sure thing,” she says but I know the message won’t be delivered. They never are. I’ve heard variations on that theme over the last few months. Leaving the recovery room, I pass through the waiting room and head to the elevators. I hit the little button with the down arrow and look at my watch.
1:36 a.m. The elevator door opens and I tap the button with a capital letter L on it. It occurs to me that I should probably make some phone calls. Well, maybe not actual phone calls. How about a mass text? It’s a little late to be calling everyone. Her mother, my mother, the cousins, the friends. I pull out my phone only to remember that my battery died over two hours ago. “Well, that’ll have to wait.” My voice, echoing off the metal walls of the elevator. The elevator doors open onto the lobby of the hospital. When we got here there was a sense of humanity. There were ladies talking, doctors having cups of coffee at the little cart, and kids doing their damnedest to sit still under the watchful eyes of a parent. There was life. Now, at this ridiculous
hour, there is nothing. Other than the droning hum of a lone vacuum cleaner, the lobby is silent as a tomb. Stepping out of the hospital, humidity settles on my neck like a wet towel as beads of sweat pop up on my brow. To my left, I see the figure that I saw from the window upstairs. Now that I’m closer I see the old black man that was just barely a shadow from the waiting room upstairs. I’m desperately craving some nicotine so I decide to walk over and ask for a cigarette. “Excuse me, sir,” I say. “Can I get a smoke from you?” “Sure thing, young man,” he says to me with a voice smooth as midnight. He’s thin, dressed
in a brown pinstripe suit and a brown pork pie hat. Instead of a tie he wears a little black ribbon tied in a bow around his neck. He shakes a Winston out of the pack with one ancient hand. “One condition though. Have a seat and talk with me a spell. Keep an old man company for five minutes.” “I can do that,” I say, sitting down next to him. What have I got to lose? It’s a quarter to two in the morning, my wife is in the hospital, and sleep seems like a memory. He hands the lighter to me with hands yellowed by a million cigarettes. Gnarled and twisted, his hands look like branches from long burnt tree. He catches me staring at his hands with yellowed eyes and chuckles low in his throat. His laugh sounds like the bark of an asthmatic dog. “92 years old, son. You was wondering, right?” “Not at all,” I say, doing my best to maintain a semblance of sincerity. “Liar.” Again the throaty chuckle. “That’s okay. Ain’t no crime in lying to an old man.” He takes a long drag off of his cigarette. “Any lie told to me will probably be forgot before too long.” I laugh in spite of myself. Not low and throaty like Ol’ Pop here. My laugh is breathless and hoarse. It stutters and hitches. “Clayton Sherman,” he says and sticks out a withered hand. “Matt Kendall.” His grip is surprisingly firm and solid. More like petrified wood than the old branch I imagined. “Pleased to meet you.” 4
We sit, quietly enjoying the companionable solitude that exists when men sit on a stone bench in the middle of the night. The smoke hangs in the air and moves like a cloud across a moonlit plain filled with manicured shrubs and carefully planned flowers. “You ever seen a play?” he asks me. I nod. “This here, what we doing, reminds me of a play I seen once. ‘Waiting For Go Dot’ was the name of it.” “Godot,” I correct. “Oh?” He laughs again. “I guess that makes more sense. I always thought the go dot was the name of the bus line or something. Anyways, this reminds me of that. Two men waiting for something.”
I nod and continue smoking. After a minute or two he speaks. “I lost my wife today.” “I’m sorry,” I say, a little taken off guard. He sees the shock on my face and waves his hand. “She been sick a bunch. She beat cancer, a heart attack, and a stroke. The pneumonia got her in the end. She was a God-fearing woman, you know? She loved church. Every Sunday and Wednesday for sixty-eight years. Sixty-eight Easters and sixty-eight Christmas Eves. That’s a lot of church, you know? No matter where we was or what we was doing, we went to church.” I nod. Not sure what else to say or do. “I wasn’t much of a Godly man before we got married. Sure, I went to church but I wasn’t
saved or nothing. Not until we was married. Best day of this man’s life, that’s for sure.” I find myself drawn into the life of this old widower, seduced by his voice. He tells me about being born in a time where words that we now call hateful were common, words like “nigger” and “coon,” words that shame me and make me blush for my race’s sake. He tells me about being a sharecropper and leaving the Mississippi delta to move up to Chicago. Playing harp in juke joints so small that, on a quiet night, a whisper in one corner becomes a rumor in the other. “On the busy nights,” he says, “It’s like an ocean of humanity. All eyes, arms, and sweat.” He tells me about Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Robert Nighthawk, Willie Dixon, and Chess Records. And he tells me about Marie. “My Marie. She had skin like whiskey and a voice like warm honey,” he says. “When she smiled at me, it was like we was the only two people in the world.” Minutes pass as he shares his epic tale of love lost, found, misplaced, thrown away, gargled, spit out, and found again. They traveled the world from Chicago to New York, Paris to Tokyo, and back here. Kids born, grown, and gone. He went sober to junkie and back to sober. “Yep. She sure was something,” he says, a sob hitching slightly in his voice. 5
I take a drag from my cigarette and it burns my lips. I drop it and smash it cold with the heel of my boot. I notice the five other butts on the ground and look at my watch.
3:20 AM “Shit, I’m sorry, Mr. Sherman but I need to go. My wife needs some stuff from the house and I need to…” I stand and mumble some more distracted apologies. The old man smiles and nods. He understands. I stare at my boots as I shuffle my way back to the parking lot. As I pull the keys out of my
jeans, I fumble, and drop them onto the asphalt. Picking them up I notice the key ring that has a picture of Kari and me inside of clear plastic. The picture was taken at some tiny tourist trap down south where the shops were closed from Labor Day to Memorial Day. The smells of suntan lotion and rum fill my memory as I remember that week we spent, eating, drinking, and just enjoying each other’s company. I look back at the hospital with tears stinging the tops of my eyes. “How do we get back there?” I say to the picture not really expecting a response but willing to suspend enough disbelief to hope for one anyway. I put my keys back in my pocket and begin to walk back to the hospital, but not without a quick detour back to the garden.
“Any regrets?” I ask the old blues man. He turns around and levels his tired gaze at mine. “Tons” he says. “But don’t let the regrets keep you from being the man she needs you to be. You ain’t got to be perfect. Sometimes you just got to be present and accounted. Once in a while the good Lord sees fit to put someone in our lives that make us feel a little less alone.” He turns around and lights up another Winston and blows out a cloud of blue smoke. Walking back to the hospital, I don’t count my steps even though my boots crunch the gravel quicker with every step I take. Riding the elevator up to her floor, I don’t count the floors even though a bell rings with every lit button. Walking to her door I don’t count the rooms with their occupants in various modes of disrepair. Pulling a chair close to her bed I don’t count the years that have passed in constant movement. I hold her hand and her delicate fingers respond to my touch with the smallest bit of pressure. I kiss her lips and I breathe in this single moment. I realize for the first time, in a long time, I have no idea what time it is, and I’m okay with that. I lay my head down on her bed and let sleep carry me away.
Wholesome Ruth Doughtie
Autumn leaves Of fallen trees, Smoke dances Above the ash. This whisper of harvest Echoes beneath my feet. The coarse green vines Tangle around me, Twist and tighten, Pull me deep into thee. Earth wraps her legs around me. Sinking soundly, The sun grows speckled. The soil Cools my skin. Anchored here, Roots run wild. The earth is all
Soul Mates Ryan Moyer
My hand was hovering over the doorknob. I could hear my wife making an extraordinary amount of noise in the kitchen before I had even entered the house, and I decided right then that it would be best if I ignored it and went straight upstairs and waited for it to pass. It wasn’t that easy, of course. It never was, but somehow I was still surprised when I made it upstairs to the bedroom
and opened the door to the closet to find the lawnmower sitting there in the dark. I looked at it for a moment and then sighed as I pulled my coat off and hung it over the starter-lever. It wasn’t that I was overwhelmed or concerned for her, but it was because I knew. Lori may not have known what it meant when she dragged it up the stairs and rolled it into the closet, but I knew, and while I’ll admit that I was relieved to finally have a bit of closure, I was also deeply hurt. I hated myself then, because I knew that I had failed. I walked downstairs and went straight into the kitchen towards the cupboard where I took a glass from the shelf. Lori had pots and pans everywhere, and I could see her lower half sticking out from beneath the island counter where fumes of tangerines escaped. I went over to the refrigerator and tapped her gently on the side with my shoe as I passed to let her know I was there. I opened the door, and the cool air rushed around my face as I reached in to grab the gallon of milk. I heard Lori moving around behind me, so I started to look for other things that I didn’t want, just so I could waste time and not have to look at her when she started talking. “You’re in my way,” I heard her say. I grabbed the milk and closed the door so she could pass. I turned and started to fill my glass to the rim, all the while looking at the piles of forks, spoons, and knives nearby that were pointing in the same direction, the multitude of pots that had been stacked and grouped according to
size, and the food she was beginning to remove and organize from the pantry. “Rearranging again?” I asked. She didn’t say anything as she reached for the canned foods on the top shelf. “What was wrong with the way you had things last month?” And the month before that. And the month before that. “Every time I needed something, I couldn’t find it,” she said. “Want me to help?” “You’ll just get in the way.” I looked down at the milk and decided that if I wanted my head to hurt, I should probably
drink the entire glass it in one quick swig. So I did. 8 “There’s a lawnmower in the bedroom closet,” I
said through my teeth, feeling the sudden coldness of my breath as I squeezed my eyes shut against the pain in my skull. “I’m well aware,” she said, as she dropped a clattering stack of cans onto the counter. “I put it there.” A few of the cans rolled away from her and fell, banging against the tiled floor. She looked at them, and I could tell by the way her eyes burned that she was about to pick one up and throw it through the window like she had last time. I took a few hurried steps towards her and picked up the three cans that had fallen. “May I ask why?” She turned back towards the pantry and began sorting. “Didn’t you see that it had rained to-
day?” “Yes.” “And you had left it outside next to the garage this morning.” “I remember. I wasn’t finished fixing the blade.” “You can’t leave it outside in the rain.” “It’s a lawnmower.” “It will rust.” “Easily fixed.” “The rust will ruin the engine.”
“I can fix that too.” “And the bathtub?” “I’m working on it.” “The porch light?” “I haven’t gone to the store to get new bulbs.” Suddenly she turned around. My chest tightened, and I stopped breathing. “You can’t fix everything,” she said, her eyes piercing through me. I could feel the prison that we had built around ourselves like an electrical charge. The strange thing was, while she wanted out, I wanted more for the both of us to stay in. “You don’t know that.” “I do know that.” I leaned over the sink and looked out of the window into the back yard. The roses I had planted around the garden swing during the spring were already beginning to die with the onset of autumn, and the patio I had swept yesterday was again littered with brown leaves. “Maybe if I had someone to help me,” I whispered. Lori moved towards me and laid her head against my shoulder. Her breathing was light, and every part of me prayed that it wasn’t the last time she’d touch me. Finally, she said “The roses. I
remember watching you plant them. You told me they would last, and I believed you. I wanted so 9
much to believe you, that I fooled myself—the both of us.” “They’ll come back next spring,” I said, my voice wavering. I put my arm around her, trying to pull her close enough so that we could become one person, each inside the other. “Not this time,” she said, and her warmth left me as she turned and walked away from me, leaving the kitchen where the sound of her quiet steps ascending the stairs echoed inside my head. It had been five years. I suppose, when the two of us first met, I knew somewhere deep inside me that we would never last—could never last. Yet, I tried, because I had always loved her, but she had never loved me. She wanted to, I could feel that, and I knew that’s why she had
stayed for so long, even though she had already given up while I kept on trying. It wasn’t fair. We had given everything for a lawnmower in the closet.
Drift James McAuley
Jeff’s skeg slices behind the shoulder, like nothing’s happened. We bob. We wait, then we push, fast. First wave, second set, trenched and pulled and gone between the crunching avalanche and the slow blue rise of a rolling
alp. And then, burnt nose stinging behind my eyes, topside which way in the wash and tumble air? Ankle yanked, pulled. Second wave, second set, break, tumble, wash, air. Third: wash, rinse, repeat. This is not almost drowning. According to Jeff, almost drowning is shitting your wet suit. The sea calms when I am pulled out past the breaks. Beat by the sun and a stomach full of beer. There’s a keg and a few slices of ample tit on the beach, Kelley among them. I watch the grill flare up. I dive off my board, try to touch bottom. Twenty feet down, the water flips a frozen switch. The water, too dark to bother scratching my eyes to shit. On the surface, a shiver
cramps my toes. A weight moves beneath me. Or does it? I lay flat and paddle. High tide has ruined the break, I come in clean, walk a mile up the beach, towards a beef & pot homing beacon. Jeff tells me I should have taken the six-footer. He’s always trying to get me on his six-footer. He slaps my lobster shoulders white and plays self-defense. My heart11kicks a frozen switch.
I grab my hoodie from the truck, a burger from the grill, a beer from the keg, my girl from the gaggle, a seat from the sand. I lay my head in the nest of her lap. The sun sets yellow facets in her green eyes. She says mine are red. I reach and brush a line of sand from her cheek bone. This is not an us or we. According to Jeff,
us and we are words for winter. Later, after Jeff ignites a stack of pallets with my gasoline soaked towel, after passing a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream between sips of beer, after Jeff acts out his face-first encounter with a Humboldt squid, after Kelley drags me into the midnight shallows, after we stand waist deep, drunk and cussing the stars, after she jumps out of my arms and pulls her bathing suit on—something large and slow brushed past her—after Jeff is snoring, and the girls have gone inside, after Kelley is asleep on my elbow, when there is only the warmth of her body on my skin against the frozen switch inside, I wonder if she can warm my empty waters. She farts in her sleep. Something moves behind my heart, large and slow—it drifts towards the surface beneath the break of my laugh.
Pots Rachel Primeaux
It was five a.m. on a Saturday morning and the TV flipped on to an early morning Torah reading for shut-ins program. My grandmother had been dead for three years, but the TV still turned on at five a.m. every Saturday for synagogue. Part of the broadcast was prerecorded in Israel in the 80s. It could be present day, but I couldn’t really tell. The other part looked like it was filmed in the
basement of a learning annex in the Bronx. At first I thought she had it programmed, but I found no settings and figured that an eighty year old woman couldn’t be responsible for programming much of anything. I suppose I could get a new TV or even move, but the smell of bergamot was the only thing substantial left from her, aside from the television, and I knew the Make Ready crew would get rid of it and then Bubby would really be gone. I got up and walked into the living room, pulling my long unbrushed hair up into a haphazard bun, turned the TV off and put on water to boil for coffee and washed out Bubby’s old stainless steel French press. I used to try and go back to sleep on Saturdays when the TV turned on, but I would always find myself awake, thinking of the last year with Bubby. It wasn’t as if there was much to tell, but I still found myself thinking about all those Trivial Pursuit games we played together. We played on her set from when she was a college student which was a good forty or so years older than me. I think she said at one point that it was the original edition. My knowledge of Charlie Chaplin, WWII and Harry S. Truman was more than most of my peers could stomach or even boast that they knew. Seeing Bub’s undeniable delight when I jumped up yelling “Lawrence Welk, Lawrence Welk!” is what seems to be keeping me from buying a new TV. “Atta girl,” she’d
say. After the first month of the TV flipping on by itself, I tried unplugging it when I went to bed. But it still turned on. Of course, when it did, I would check to see if it was plugged in, and it always was. So I resigned to thinking that she was a ghost in my apartment or I only imagined that I was unplugging it. Frankly, I had a suspicion that it was the TV and even if I moved, I could never throw out the TV. I did hair in the village Tuesday through Saturdays, so I started taking early clients on Saturdays as I was up at five anyway. But unless it was Mrs. Schwarzlose, my first client wasn’t until 8:30. So I took to painting the clay pots my roommate, Denise, discarded or brought home with her
from her studio. Sometimes I painted the pots a solid color, one that I thought might go with my 13
mood. Other times, I painted Georgia O’Keefe type flowers but then find my lack of knowledge of vaginas kept them looking like flowers a five year old girl would paint. One morning, I was still drunk from the night before and I painted swastikas on one of the pots with a portrait of Hitler in the middle, blood running from his eyes down to the base of the pot, then left it on top of Bub’s TV. My roommate found it while I was at work and she called me at the shop. “Hey,” she said. “Yeah, what’s up?” “Did you paint pots this morning?”
“Yeah, of course. Why?” “I’m just not sure how your Bubby would feel about you painting Nazi Propaganda pots and leaving them on her TV.” She cleared her throat. “I’m surprised the apartment didn’t burn down.” “Fuck,” I said. “I think you should see somebody.” “Yeah, I probably should,” I said, and nothing more. There were only two pots this morning and they were small. I painted both deformed pots glossy white, then tried my hand at china like imitation flowers with blue ink and a superfine brush. Those looked like vaginas. I stopped by Mrs. Schwarzlose’s apartment with my rollers, ready to do
her hair, but she had gone to Long Island to see her grandson the day before. So I moved on and opened up the salon, like I always do on Saturdays, and read the obits, like I always do on Saturdays, until my first customer came in. I looked at my schedule and the name “Kirk” was penciled in for a two hour space. “Kirk,” I said to myself, tapping the pencil’s eraser against the book. I couldn’t think of anyone named Kirk, but I figured it was one of Denise’s Upper West Side gay friends that she referred to me. She did that often enough, and I was grateful because my schedule was still half filled with Bubby’s friends from the synagogue and her Canasta group. I leaned on the counter and finished the bagel that I was eating, then went to the back to do inventory. I was still in the back when the bells chimed on the front door. “Kirk,” I said to the bottles of volumizer I was putting back on the shelf. I walked out to the front and he was standing just in front of the door. He was tall, more than six feet, but not much. And he wore a faded green skull cap. “Kirk?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, turning to face me. “You ready?” “Yes.” “Nancy,” I said to him, extending my hand.
“Awe, that’s my ma’s name,” he said, then immediately cursed himself. “I’m sorry.” 14
“For what?” “I’m just hearing my dead grandmother’s voice telling me not to compare pretty women under thirty to my mother.” “All is forgiven.” I winked at him. “I’m thirty-three.” He shrugged his large coat off and hung it in the corner on the coat rack. I pointed him to the chair. He sat down and I stood behind him. He looked at me, bashfully, in the mirror and slowly pulled his cap off. Blue. Blue hair.
My throat let out a long, strung out, “How?” “My sister is in hair school, or uh, cosmetology school,” he said. “And I let her practice on me.” “And you’re opposed to just shaving it off?” “Yes,” he said as he looked down at his lap, his hands wringing the cap. “Okay,” I said, not prying further, “But, we will have to cut some off. It’ll fry.” “That’s all right,” he said. I was in bed with a headache for the third day when the TV popped on at five AM. It was a
headache because it was just that. Not a migraine. Just a headache. I didn’t have the body aching and sensitivity that generally come from migraines. I had a headache and a lack of will to get up. I considered taking one of Denise’s Oxycontins and going back to sleep, but I figured this was Bubby’s way of telling me to get up and face the world. I sat in bed for about twenty minutes, leaving the TV on. I closed my eyes and tried to forget the night my parents died. Bubby carried me into her room and tucked me in her bed, turning the TV on as she left. I heard her talking to the detectives on the other side of the door. Things like, “I’ll take responsibility,” and, “No siblings.” I just stared at the TV and tried not to listen. I knew what had happened, but I was eight and didn’t want to think it was real. So I sat and watched Lawrence Welk introduce the next polka dancers. The same TV sits in my living room as I listen to the blaring Torah chants from my bed. Denise came in, half dressed. “What the fuck, Nancy?” “What?” I asked, rising up on my elbow, turning to look at her. “You’re just going to leave the TV on this time?” “Sorry.” I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and put my slippers on. “I didn’t think you ever heard it. You never woke up before.” “Nance,” she said, putting a sympathetic hand on my shoulder as I walked by her. “You’ve
never left it on that long.”
I didn’t shrug her hand off or anything, didn’t roll my eyes. I just kept walking past her. I didn’t turn the TV off either. I just found another channel and turned down the volume. Not up for French pressing coffee or pot painting, I nuked a cup of premade cold coffee that I think Denise got from Whole Foods. It had a bright green frog on the bottle with large dilated eyes. I stared it in the eyes on its perch on the top shelf of the fridge. I grabbed it and set it on the counter before it could blink or jump out at me. I burnt my tongue, which I expected. I’d microwaved the coffee for over three minutes. I didn’t flinch. The rigidness of the black coffee and the burning sensation on my tongue felt amazing and all, a real gear starter. But damn if that wasn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had. I checked the label
on the bottle again as I put it back in the fridge, trying to memorize it so I would buy it or remind Denise to get it again. “Here,” Denise said, handing me an unsealed envelope. It had my first name written on it in a practiced, wide cursive script. “Mrs. Schwarzlose came by, huh?” Dearest Nancy, I came by the salon to give you payment for last month and you were not there. I was very concerned as I feel you are always there. When I came by your apartment, Denise said you hadn’t left the bed in days… I quit reading for a moment and glared at Denise. I have become very concerned. Please come by my place when you are feeling better… my hair is falling absolutely flat! Your most loyal client, Doris Schwarzlose. I folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope. “You couldn’t have told her something else?” “Like what, Nancy?” “Nothing,” I said as I got up off the couch. I walked into my bathroom with my coffee, slamming the door behind me. I hovered over the sink, hands propped on the porcelain edges, and stared at myself in the mirror. I looked down where the sink met the wall and made a mental note to re-caulk it before the whole unit fell off. I heard a second voice and set of footsteps through the old wooden door. I assumed it was her girlfriend, Cerise. Especially the way they were talking about me like I couldn’t hear. I turned the shower on, not wanting to hear them anyway, and yanked my toothbrush out of the cup, knocking it into the sink. I left the cup there and put toothpaste on the brush, stuck it in my
mouth and got into the shower. I spit blue toothpaste in the bottom of the tub just after I wet my hair 16
all the way through. Blue. Kirk had asked me to have coffee with him and I had said no. I wasn’t sure why. Just that I had been saying no for the past four years. For some reason, I quit dating when Bubby moved in with me the year before she died. I knew I wouldn’t have her much longer and therefore spent all my available time with her. He’d written his phone number on a scrap of paper just in case I changed my mind. I jumped out of the shower, toothbrush clutched between my teeth, shampoo still in my hair. I grabbed a towel to cover myself, clutching it at my chest, consequently covering only over the front of my body. I found my purse tumped over on the floor just outside of my closet and began digging through it. Finally, after dumping the contents out on the floor, I found the scrap of paper that was torn from a
Chinese takeout menu that had a phone number scribbled on the back. I caught site of my clock on my nightstand. 5:45 a.m. I laughed out loud to myself, laughing harder and harder as I realized my madness. My mad dash from the shower to find a phone number that I couldn’t decently call for another five hours was so hysterical I couldn’t stand it. Denise and Cerise, yes they do rhyme, came in and found me on my back, laughing maniacally, soaking wet and barely draped with a towel. Denise spoke first, “What is wrong with you, Nancy?” “Blue hair!” I laughed. “Blue hair!” “Blue hair?” Cerise asked as Denise shooed her out of my room and closed the door. Denise
picked up the towel off of the floor and handed it to me as I sat up out of my hysterical coma. She grabbed the crumpled piece of paper out of my hand and looked at it, then folded it neatly and placed it back into my hand. “I take it that’s not the number of the shrink you said you’d see.” “No,” I said, wiping my nose as I was half crying, half laughing now. Denise said, “Wait here,” and got up and walked out of the room. When she came back, she was carrying a large crate full of pots. Pots that I had painted. She sat the crate down, then left, then came back with another crate. She did this three more times. “These are from the first year I lived here. There are nine more crates.” “You saved them all?” I said, looking up at her. “They were too good to throw away. But then,” she paused, kneeling on the ground next to me, “They started looking like this.” She handed me two pots with images of Bubby painted on the front. Then she handed me two more where the image started to droop. Then another, drooping more. Each one she handed me, the image was fading and looked as if it was falling off the pot. Some looked like they were left out in the rain with the way the paint gravitated downward towards the bottom of the pot. Others looked like they were painted yesterday, with Bubby present for the sitting. 17
“I don’t remember painting these,” I said. I looked at the pot with the crispest image of Bubby, running my thumb across her face. “I know,” she said, her hand on my knee. I shifted, pulling the towel tighter to me. “I don’t understand.” “Put some clothes on,” Denise said, wiping a tear off my cheek. “And come out and talk to me. I’ll send C. home.” I shook my head and let Denise help me off the floor. She lightly closed the door behind her as she left. I looked around at the pots on the floor. I bent down to pick one up, but changed my mind halfway. I put on clothes like Denise had ordered. But before I walked out, I found my cell
phone and called the number on the back of the menu. It rang five times, then the voicemail picked up. “You’ve reached Kirk. Leave a message.” I hung up and released a pent up breath. At least he was real. The phone began to vibrate in my hand and I jumped. “Shit,” I said. I was going to not answer it, but then my voicemail would tell him who I was anyway. So I answered then hung up quickly. I waited a few minutes, to see if he would call back. But he didn’t. Then Denise knocked on the door. “Nance,” she said from the other side. “Coming!” I yelled back to her, like she was my mother summoning me from the kitchen.
I put my phone under my pillow, not sure why, but I did. I opened the door to find Denise standing there. I half expected her to be holding up a straight jacket to put on me, but she was empty handed. “Come on, let’s talk,” she said. We sat on the couch, and I saw that she had all the crates of pots pulled out and scattered across the living room. “We both know I’m not a therapist, Nance. But will you do me a favor, and look through these and tell me which ones you remember painting?” I nodded my head and began looking through the pots. After a few minutes, I said, “Solid pots and flowers.” “Thought so,” she said. “Does this mean I’m crazy?” “I don’t think so. You’re still grieving is all.” She rubbed the side of my arm. “The TV?” “Remember when you went to Florida for your aunt’s funeral?” “Yeah,” I said. “It still came on.” I smiled thinly at Denise. At this point I was hoping I was crazy. It seems like it would be an
easier problem to fix. I got up and went into the kitchen, put water on to boil, rinsed out the French 18
press, ground up some coffee, then stacked up the crates of pots onto the dolly sitting next to the front door. “If you like any of them, sell them. But either way, just get them out of here,” I said to Denise. “And for God’s sakes, don’t bring any more discards home.” With that, I fixed my coffee and went out onto the fire escape, and lit a cigarette I stole from Denise. The sun was slowly rising and the wind gently blew. I clutched one of the pots that had Bubby’s image painted on it, one that I supposedly did. Then I let it go, let it crash into the pavement below. “Goodbye, Bub,” I whispered to myself.
Tie—First Place Prose
Sea of Green Traci Luker
Muscles caught in the thicket of thorns from the wanderlust of days prior. The translucent green canopy smells much better
than the chemical caution that keeps the bugs at bay. The sticks crick and crunch underfoot. This is naked existence. No one controls the canopy. Life bursts out of the dirt despite you. The balance is blatant. The blackness swallows the bark up slowly, a smooth swarm
of black. Itâ€™s not dead, itâ€™s asleep. Twisted vines entwined up and down and all over the place, finding their own way. Watching the sky, we skid down ravines and look for forever and never. Sand seeps into our shoes. Sweat swims on the surface of skin.
For Ma Brenda Recchini
“Did you have to put the handcuffs on me, Josh?” Dylan whined I wanted him to experience the whole shebang. I turned on the lights, and the sirens. I tried to make as big a scene as possible. Ignoring his question I spit some numbers into the police radio on my right hand. I glanced at my rearview mirror; Dylan was staring straight at me. He had our mother’s eyes, warm, inviting, but this time his were lost, maybe behind an old dumpster making a
drug deal, or back at his shithole apartment with his four kids running around bewildered. “How’s Ma gonna feel when she finds out you’ve been dealin again? Huh? She’ll have a heart attack.” I started driving towards the station. Time seemed still as we sped past blurs of colors and people. The low hum coming from the engine was loud enough to become my focus as I waited for his usual plea for forgiveness “She’s not gonna find out, Josh. It was the last time. I swear. I just needed some cash.” “Get a job! How do you think it makes me look to have a dopehead for a brother, running around on the streets?” My reputation back at the station was slowly deteriorating as other patrols noticed I’d always take the calls involving drugs. They knew about my brother. He’d been in the station several times in the past. They knew what I was doing. “I’m sorry Joshy. It won’t happen again. I swear.” I glanced back at the rearview mirror, his head was low. Fifteen years ago nobody would have guessed my older brother would end up like this. A complete fucking failure, a mere stain on our family name. We were nearing the police station. We were both quiet. I knew what was going through his rotten little brain. Probably the revisited thoughts involving how he let himself get here or his attempts to trace his problems back to a single event or person. I wondered if he remembered our youth and if it meant anything. Our movie nights, our long talks about our hot next door neighbor, Tracy, our joyrides in Dad’s old Chevy after having snuck a couple beers, and the afternoons we’d spend sitting on the roof smoking cheap cigars watching the nightfall—they all seemed so distant. I looked back at the rearview mirror. His body swayed with the movements of the car as he locked his gaze on the old rubber floor mats. “Fuck it, Dylan. This is the last time. I’m driving you to Ma’s.” I drove past the police station. “You can tell her yourself this time” Ma had always praised him for what he was in his high school years. He was better in every way possible. He had the looks, the brains, and the hottest girlfriends. He was the heart of Saint
Raymond High. Those four years were his glory years. He’d thrived through them unscathed. High 21
school for me was hell. I never lived up to Dylan’s rep. I was his loser brother, no friends, no athletic achievements. His varsity football picture hung on the refrigerator. My A+ in senior level physics was stuffed away in a drawer. I learned to hate him the minute I was born. I wanted her to see him like this. Partially because it was a reminder of how fucked up she had managed to raise the child she once praised as king, but the other part of me wanted her to help Dylan. The part that knew that she was the only woman in our lives who had ever managed to talk some sense in our fucking heads. “Why are you taking me to Ma’s, Josh? What’s she gonna do? Just drop me off at my apartment. The kids are waiting for me there. Who’s gonna watch the kids?”
“I know for a fact your kids aren’t waiting for you at home. They know not to expect you back at a reasonable hour. Little Mandy learned how to fend for herself and her brothers at the age of four. Don’t come at me with your bullshit good father act Dylan, anything but that.” I had to be a dick to get the point across. “I’m taking you to Ma’s so she can talk some fucking sense into you, so you can see for yourself how much pain you keep bringing to this family, and maybe finally get your shit together for your kid’s sake.” He didn’t answer. “Dylan,” I said. “Once I finish my shift up at the station, I’ll come get you and take you back home. Meanwhile you and Ma can come up with some sort of plan to get your ass back on track.” As
we neared Ma’s neighborhood I turned my sirens off. I didn’t want the neighbors judging her again. It had been hard enough for her the first time. Dylan was quiet and gazed out the window at the streets we had once made our world. The oak trees, which used to be our escape from Arizona’s desert sun, had grown to block out any form of light from the street. The houses drooped in place. Years of weather scraped away their bright colors as they were overtaken by a grayish coat which crept its way up the aged walls. Ma’s house looked beat. Her white picket fence was fading and the aged paint had started to peel, revealing bare wood beneath it. She stopped up-keeping her dream house after losing dad’s helping hand. She was sitting on the steps of the front porch, smoking a cigarette with one hand and holding a bottle with the other. As she saw me pull up, I watched her stiffen. She put out her cigarette and threw it amidst a pile of bushes. I knew she knew it was Dylan, and I knew she’d do anything to avoid public confrontation. She had worked too hard to be accepted by the goddamned housewives of Arizona. Her oversized overalls dragged along the porch as she walked inside. I parked behind her ’89 Honda and waited for her to step inside and shut the front door, to open mine and let Dylan out. I could see the outline of her body standing behind the front door as we made our way across her lifeless front yard. The wooden porch groaned under me and Dylan’s weight as we opened the door. Inside, the house was dim and the walls had managed to absorb every unsuitable smell which
made its way through the front door, conjuring up a mixture of cigarettes, cheap perfume, and 22
humidity. Ma greeted Dylan with a kiss on his forehead as she cupped his face with her wrinkled hands. “What happened this time Dylan?” What’d they do to you?” Her eyes were heavy with blind and detrimental tears. Dylan was quiet. I cleared my throat to get his attention but his eyes rested on my mother’s aged face. “I’m sorry,” he whispered to her as her tears trailed the wrinkles on her cheeks and dripped on her forearm. “I need to get back to the office. Can I talk to you for a second?” I put my hand on her shoulder and broke her focus from my brother. She hesitated but followed me into the kitchen where
she used to spend most of her time. Now week old dirty dishes covered the marble countertops , and trash from take-outs was stacked across the stovetops. How the hell could she let herself go like this? I knew the old man’s death had been hard on her but that was 15 years ago. “Ma, Dylan isn’t right. He needs help. He’s been selling. He said he needed the money. I wouldn’t be surprised if other dealers were looking for him.” “He doesn’t need help, Josh. He’s just at a bad place. I can call up Mr. Rogers and get him a job. He’s been looking for people to help him with his store” “Mom, you know how many times I’ve had to save his ass from getting thrown in jail? You know what my partners are saying behind my back? They laugh at me, Ma. They think I’m a fucking
joke. I run around town after my dumbass brother, who was always too proud to ask for help. Look where it got him, Ma. It got him nowhere, and I’m left behind picking up the goddamn pieces.” “Josh.” “I have to go back to the station. I’ll be back after work to pick him up and discuss the plan. This is the last time, Ma.” I meant it this time. I was done being the laughingstock back at the station. I knew she was thankful. I kissed her cheek and walked back towards the front door where Dylan was still waiting. “Please try to give a fuck,” I said to Dylan as I patted the side of his face. Back at the station, I was put on desk duty due to my disappearance from the grid for a good two hours. Basically I had to organize a shit-ton of paperwork, tickets, court dates, complaints, restraining orders, all that good shit. Phones rang all over the station, high pitched, low pitched, constant ringing. I watched as other cops brought in gangbangers, dopeheads, and sex offenders into the station. I scattered the papers across my desk and began to separate them into labeled folders. Document after document, I let my mind wander. I let it wander back to times when things could’ve taken an alternate course. Times which now seemed to be stills from an old movie. Dad was alive, and we had money. Dylan scored the winning touchdown. I watched from the stands. Everyone was happy. Mom and dad were gleaming, kissing. Everything was in slow motion. Tempera-
tures were the lowest they’d been in a while but I felt warm. 23
“Josh!” A deep raspy voice brought me back to my shithole reality. Walter. I hated this guy. You give him a badge and a gun and he thinks he’s the toughest guy around. The majority of his hair was on his upper lip, and his uniform was too tight for him. The buttons bulged out and made creases throughout his shirt. “What do you want, Walter?” He picked up one of the manila folders I had just stuffed with designated paperwork and sat on the corner of my desk, skimming through the documents page by page. When he was done he dropped it back on the pile of folders and picked up my cup of coffee. He swirled it around a little
and proceeded to put his pinky in it to test the temperature, which was followed by a small sip. “So what ended up happening with that drug call you took today, Josh?” He held his gaze with mine as he nonchalantly took a drink from my coffee and let out a satisfied sigh. I watched as beads of coffee dripped from his pornstar mustache. “Some kids trying to sell weed again. I took care of it” “Don’t give me that bullshit, Josh. We all know what you do. Did your sorry ass brother cut you a part of the deal this time? Or do you just bend over backwards for him for fun? We’ve all been watching you, Josh. We all know. So cut the shit, or you’re out of here.” He placed the coffee cup upside-down on top of the stacked folders and walked away.
Maybe I could transfer somewhere else. I’d have to go through hell and back to get a decent reputation here. That would work. I could move somewhere else, start everything from scratch. I didn’t have to put up with this. Dylan managed to take everything I had worked for. Everything I had given up my time for, my social life, my youth, my only way out, and my one chance. My phone buzzed. I had missed three calls from Ma. That was more calls from her than I get in a year. Something was wrong. I called her back. She was crying over the phone. “Josh?” “What is it, Ma?” “He’s gone, Josh. He’s gone. You have to find him.” In between her sobs I could manage to catch a few of the words she was saying. “He took my car, my purse. Josh, he took your father’s gun. You have to find him before they do.” I hung up. I grabbed my keys and started heading for the door followed by Walter’s childish jeers. “Where you goin’ Josh? You comin back soon?” The whole station found him hilarious, a real clown. They laughed at me. Overweight grown ass men who had the same job for decades, whose wives had let themselves go because they couldn’t bear to maintain a healthy sex life with a bag of lard. Fuckers. I felt the weight of my gun in it’s holster against my hip and placed a hand over it as I walked out. 24
In my car, I freed my glock from its bounds. Every morning I polished it until I saw my reflection on its smooth black surface. Every morning I loaded it and made sure the safety was on. Every morning I wondered how the momentum of the bullet would feel as it left the gun I held in my shaking hands. I had never used it. I drove my patrol car to Dylan’s apartment. No sirens, no lights. I stopped at every light, stuck to the speed limit and gave everyone the right of way. I parked next to my mom’s stolen Honda. The parking lot was a cracked concrete slab with few patches of green here and there. The yellow lines were faded and worn almost to dirt. The gun dangled from my hand and chimed against the railing as I walked up the dark green, corroded set of stairs which led to his apartment.
There were no lights. Sounds from TV sets, family dinners, and frustrated couples leaked from the door cracks into the hallway and rattled the thin walls. I ran my free hand over the wall’s rough texture and felt the vibrations at my fingertips. Room 428 to my left. I pressed my ear against the cold beaten door and heard Dylan’s laugh along with the shuffling of feet inside. I placed the tip of the gun where I pictured he’d be standing. With one strong kick to the heart of the door, I found him teaching Mandy how to dance. He froze in place as I filled him with the same amount of holes he’d left in my life. I stood over him and held his gaze as his warm eyes looked up at mine. He held his daughter in their last waltz, and the ricochet of the bullets silenced the night.
“For my father,” a poem by Bennie Johnson (inmate 7-7-7-6-4-2) written after receiving word of his father’s death Benjamin Compton
I’d just finished eating a sweet red apple the day you told me the facts of life. I tried to look away, tried to push your words, your thoughts, and your poison world away from the soft soil of my mind. I tried to watch passing clouds shift shape between innocent angels and chubby, cheerful children, but you gripped my face between your hands, hard as steel beams. Hardened from pounding flesh to pulp and bone to splinter. You grabbed my
face and turned my eyes strictly to your burning world. You handed me a fire and dropped me into an alien land that shocked my heart to booming and drenched my neck in fear. Time passed and my Adam’s apple dropped. The smells of suntan sunscreen, summer sweat, warm beer, and cigarettes sealed my citizenship in your inferno world. The sight of Jessica Connell’s curves in
Daisy Dukes and a top made mostly of string, as she washed her father’s Camaro, stirred to greater conflagration the fire you long ago had planted. I took her hips between my hands, hard as steel beams. She did not try to flee or escape them. I often wonder, what would I have done if she had? And I remember the day your hands 26
gripped my face, the day that cartoons ended and summer sundresses became impediments to what I might see, touch, taste, conquer, and possess. You walked up complaining stairs to douse yourself in aftershave, leaving me with that magazine. I looked into its pages and felt the fire writhe and wake within me for the first time, its saw-blade teeth gouging out the entrails of my innocence. My heart thrashed. Jagged, acid anxieties churned in my gut. My hands awakened to the hunger to conquer and to possess. Warm saliva rushed my tongue. My mind lay drowning in it. My stomach tightened, the waves rose, and I wretched the shredded remnants of my innocence; white with speckles of red, charred black in spots, but smelling only of sweet apple
Second Place Poetry Winner
It’s Time Julie Russel
The doorbell rang. Thank God Maggie was in the backyard because she would have peed all over the hardwood floor in pure excitement of a visitor. I bent one of the blinds upward and let it fall back into place as I opened the door. Mark stepped in the foyer and looked up to the second
floor balcony as he placed his hands in the pockets of his slacks. He had the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled up to his elbows, exposing his forearms which were tan and defined. It still amazed me how his slacks never wrinkled and how fresh he looked even after a long day at the office. He took his hands out of his pockets and crossed them against his chest as if unsure what to do with them. “Is he ready?” Mark asked. “Almost, he’s just looking for his light saber,” I said, fidgeting with the hand towel that I just realized was in my hand. A decorative pumpkin stared up at me from the edge of the towel giving me a jagged-toothed grin. The scent of warm sugar cookies drifted into the foyer and I glanced back toward the kitchen thankful for the distraction. “Chili’s tonight. You know how he loves their macaroni and cheese. You’re welcome to join us. I’d hate for you to miss out on the molten chocolate cake, the one with ‘the part’,” Mark said with a boyish grin. His eyes looked tired which didn’t seem to match the rest of the freshness about him. “I have cookies in the oven so I’ll have to settle for that,” I said as I motioned toward the
kitchen with the hand towel. “C’mon,” Mark said with a charm that was hard to resist. I saw a hint of hope in his eyes that I might change my answer. “That’s okay,” I said, forcing a smile as my eyes met his. We held each other’s eyes for a second, which seemed like minutes, until I let my eyes fall back to the pumpkin on my hand towel that I began to twist. A warm tingle rushed through my entire body and I could feel my face begin to flush.
“Kate,” Mark said, barely audible, as he took a few steps towards me. He reached out lifting my chin with his index finger as his thumb rested near the corner of my mouth. His touch was warm, gentle, and apologetic. My heart pounded at his touch, making even my fingertips throb. “Don’t,” I whispered. I brought a hand to his chest letting it rest on the button between his breast-bone. I could feel his heart racing against my palm. He took a step back and shoved his hands back into his pockets. “Cameron,” Mark yelled out. “It’s time to go.”
Third Place Prose Winner
Psych Ward Katherine Armstrong
They had me room with Janelle, usually. We got along. “What are you doing here?” She didn’t look at me. Just the grey wall. “Aspirin.” She had her eyebrows up. She still didn’t look. “Did you puke?” “Yeah. I’m good now.”
“Well, I’m convinced.” I felt my mouth stretching to smile. Group talks were too early, but worth getting up for. I saw some new girls. They sat like guests. It was fun trying to guess their shit. Janelle nudged me. “That one.” “Kind of quiet. Social phobia?” “Nope.” “What, anxiety?” I laughed. “Wait…” Janelle stared at her knees. I leaned back. “Bipolar.” Her dimples gave her away when she was stuck trying not to smile. “You caught the tremor.” “Screw side effects!” “Screw it all.” Deborah supervised that morning. The new girls called her Doctor. Janelle called her Deb. She was engaged to one of the nurse guys in charge of sedating psychotic patients in the heat of the moment. I’d seen him work. He was cool. Deborah told me ‘welcome back’. I didn’t know what to make of that. Janelle sighed and
said ‘home, sweet home’. “Next time I’ll be with the adults,” I said. “Happy birthday!” said Janelle. I’d probably be released before I could turn eighteen. Deborah perked up a little. “Let’s make sure there isn’t a next time, right girls?” “Hey, they go coed up there,” Janelle said with an encouraging smile. The other girls stared at her with glowing eyes. Deborah tensed in the shoulders. Janelle was kind of like a legend around this place. She’d been committed off and on since she was in junior-high; suicide attempts, self-infliction, self-medication, overdose, audio-visual hallucinations, psychotic behavior. She said the rest were 30 debatable.
Through the cycle of her countless quack professionals, she’d been “diagnosed” with eight opposing disorders and tried out every antipsychotic, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, moodstabilizer, and tranquilizer on the market. She was a better resource than the DSM IV with revisions. She and I were allies. We’d been through the system enough to realize what a sick pile of tripe the mental institution was feeding. We knew we weren’t getting better. “What sucks is they make you think people are going to understand,” Janelle chuckled. Deborah straightened. “Mental health awareness is…” “A load of junk,” I said. Janelle kept her eyes on the grey wall and nodded. Deborah paled.
I continued. “If the local preschool was ‘aware’ of my mental health, do you really think they’d hire me?” Janelle furrowed her brow. “You like kids?” “I have a brother.” “That’s right.” The new girls were leaning in a bit. They looked thirsty. They’d probably never been so enlightened in their lives. Deborah tried to smooth it over with her ‘camp-counselor’ falsetto. Janelle sunk into herself a bit. I could tell she was going over some stuff in her head. I put my chin on my knuckles and waited for her to speak up.
“My sister thinks I have leukemia.” The room got still really quick. I turned to Janelle. “You don’t.”
A Drop of Calm
Allen Storm 33
Allen Storm 34
Those Moments of Time
Against the Airbrush
Ryan Moyer 37
Ryan Moyer 38
Family Reunion Kimberly Gaskins
The night he came back for us, Tessie sat at the window with a shot gun laying across her knees. I don’t really remember anything about the place we lived before we came to Tessie. My mother told me she moved us here when I was four because she needed help around the house and could use the company of a little one in her old age. I can remember the first time I saw her. She was wearing a pair of overalls that looked as though they would slip from her thin shoulders. Her boots were ankle-deep in mud, and she wore a pair of leather workman’s gloves. Her hair was half loose from her braid, and the breeze blew the strands in a wild dance about her head while she worked the ground with her shovel. My mother and I stood there watching her for a moment. When she finally saw us in the driveway she leaned the shovel against the side of the house. “’Bout damn time you got here,” she called to us as she stomped through the muddy garden
and down the driveway to where we stood. She seemed feebler of body than she’d looked from farther away. I remember her eyeing me with a look I didn’t understand. She said, “You scared of me, little one?” I had wound a corner of my mother’s shirt tail into my fist, and this I clutched tighter. I continued to stare at her with a wide-eyed curiosity. I finally answered with a shake of my head. “Good,” she said with a nod in return. “You can call me Tessie.” And from then on I belonged to her. The summer he came back I had just turned fourteen. My mother and Tessie both told me I was the pick of the litter. “She’s got my eyes, woman,” Tessie would say to my mother, usually slapping her knee with a satisfied grin. I liked to sit in front of the mirror and search for traces of them in my face. I could see my mother’s mouth, a thin upper lip with a bottom lip that made up the difference. I would feign coy smiles at the mirror and trace the way my eyes crinkled in the corners, imagining that they were just like Tessie’s. I assumed I got my dark hair and olive skin from my father. I’d never seen a picture so I wasn’t sure. My mother said he died when I was a baby, and I didn’t ask for answers, often because I hated to hear the emotion drain from her voice. 41 She’d look down, her eyelashes shielding me from
her thoughts. She’d usually begin wiping invisible dust from whatever surface was in front of her at the time, busying her hands and mind. “He was a handsome man,” she’d say, her voice cold and indifferent as though she were reciting a scientific fact instead of a compliment to her lost love. “We can’t be dragging up ghosts from the past, now, can we, Abigail?” She’d finally meet my eyes again, and I would see that the smile she tried to distract me with didn’t quite reach her eyes. When I was little this speech had worked because I was afraid of the ghosts she referred to. I took everything literally as little kids do, but as I grew older, the fear faded. Ghosts were just the sort of thing a teenager wanted to see. I attended the same school my entire life, much like the other kids in our town. I'd been walking the half mile or so home alone since I was eight. Every day after school Tessie would meet me by our old oak tree. It wasn't actually anywhere near our house – it shaded the end of the street corner many houses down – but we called it ours all the same. She’d stop me, taking my face between her hands. I could judge how much I’d grown because I no longer had to crane my neck back to look into her eyes. She’d run her rough fingers over my cheeks and smooth my hair back. “Did ya get smarter today, girl?” she’d say to me.
I’d reply with only a smile. She’d roll her eyes and huff a sigh in mock indignation reaching up to tug my ear. Then she’d throw her arm around my shoulders and that’s how we’d walk together past the other houses until we made it to our old wooden porch. Today I trudged home with an extra excitement. I clutched my latest math test in my hand bearing a bright red “B+” at the top. Tessie would be thrilled. She'd spent hours pouring over algebra equations with me this school year, slapping me on the back when I'd get a question solved correctly. “Damned smartest one in the house, Meg,” she'd declare to my mother. I was daydreaming when I heard a car approaching from behind. The engine gave a few coughs then accelerated past me. “Afternoon, sir,” I called as the sheriff’s patrol car drove on. At first I thought he hadn’t heard, but after a moment the hand that hung out of the window lifted in a slight acknowledgment. I walked on in my self-satisfied silence until our tree was in distant sight, marking that I wasn't quite home, but that Tessie would be there to take me the rest of the way. My eyes strained against the distance, searching for the spot where she should be standing, but still saw nothing except the wind pushing through the tall grass, ruffling the green leaves on the tree. I picked up my pace until I reached it. I stood there for a moment, waiting, hoping that she'd appear. I finally decided to
continue on home, and as I passed the tree I let my fingers graze the rough, snarled bark. 42
I hurried down the street, my math test now crumpled as I gripped it in my agitation. I finally made it close enough home to see our picket fence and the leaning porch of Tessie’s old house. I was surprised to see the sheriff’s car in the gravel drive. As I moved closer I could see him standing on the porch with Tessie and my mother. He had a good foot and a half on Tessie, but every time I’d seen the two of them speak he seemed to find the tip of his boots of great interest. When I'd once asked my mother if Sheriff Wills was afraid of Tessie, she just laughed and said it was a long story. By now my feet felt like weights, and I couldn’t seem to get there quickly enough for my curiosity. I felt relieved to see that my mother and Tessie appeared to be in one piece as they stood with Sheriff Wills. He stood with his hat in his left hand, tapping it against his thigh while my moth-
er stared blankly over his shoulder toward the opposite side of the street. I finally made it close enough to hear their conversation. “Well, ma’am, I know you asked me all those years ago to keep an eye on the reports,” he said, stopping to clear his throat and scratch his balding head. “I didn’t want you thinkin’ I forgot. That’s why I had Bill come on by this mornin’, soon as I was sure. But, uh, well, uh, I wanted to come by myself, and, uh...” Tessie noticed me in the yard, saving him from whatever he was worrying over. Raising an arm in welcome to me, Tessie said, “Well, honey, I must've lost track of time.” She and my mother looked at each other for a moment. “Sheriff, you know my granddaughter. Abi-
gail, why don’t you go inside and make some of that tea for us?” I took the three porch steps in one stride and stopped to catch my breath, searching their faces for some kind of clue. Tessie never lost track of time. “Abigail?” she prodded. The sheriff reached up to tip his hat to me without remembering that he held it in his other hand. He tried to recover by just scratching his head and nodding a greeting instead. I smiled, and then moved to brush past them and through the screen door, letting it slam behind me. As I moved back toward the kitchen I could hear him saying, “Well, uh, Miss Tessie, ma’am, what I meant to say was, do you want me to send one of the boys out here to keep an eye on the house?” The sound of Tessie’s laugh floated back to the kitchen where I stood, and I busied myself with making tea, their voices only a faint murmur in the background. My hands shook as I carefully pulled the glasses from the cupboard. I tried to keep myself from hoping as I worked, letting my mind wander over any mundane moment I could remember from the day so that I couldn’t think about who the sheriff was warning us against. I knew who I wanted it to be, but I was afraid to let myself believe that it was him – my father. Later that night was the first time I found her sitting by the front window with her shot gun.
She had the curtains pulled wide open, and her eyes were searching the darkness. 43
I’d spent most of the night tossing and turning. It was humid, hot, and windless. The upstairs windows were wide open, but no breeze came to relieve the thick summer heat. My nightgown stuck to the small of my back, but the heat wasn’t all that kept me from sleeping. I kept thinking about that afternoon, how Tessie and my mother acted as if nothing happened. I didn’t ask because they seemed to be determined to keep up the façade, and I was afraid that hoping it was my father would hurt them. While we’d cleaned dinner dishes my mother suddenly needed air, and rushed out the screen door. I’d finished the washing, and once I turned the water off I could hear her faintly sobbing out in the darkness past the backdoor. I’d walked to the doorway and rested my head against the frame. Closing my eyes, I’d tried to piece together a picture of the happy times, watching
my mother kneel in the garden while she talked to her roses and laughing as she sprayed me with the water hose. These memories pulled against my secret hopes, and I tried to bury them even deeper as I’d listened to her cry. These thoughts were what drove me downstairs looking for cool relief and a distraction from my strange dreams, and so I found Tessie at her post. I stood in the doorway taking it all in for a long, quiet moment. She was wearing one of my grandpa’s old night shirts. It was embroidered at the pocket with his initials, and there were many times I’d seen her reach up to trace her fingers along the worn, gold thread. Finally, she broke the silence. “Why don’t you get me a glass of water too, eh?” She didn’t take her eyes from the window.
“All right,” I said, my voice cracking over the syllables. I reached a hand up to the back of my neck letting my fingertips pull at the tightness there. A few strands of hair had worked free of their pins and were soaked with sweat. She let me sit with her those first few nights until I’d doze off some time before dawn when she’d send me back upstairs to sleep until it was time to get ready for school. By the fourth night sitting vigil she started wondering if there was no need. I knew that she thought I had finally fallen asleep when she whispered, “I was sure he’d come.” I looked up to see her reach one thin, wrinkled hand to her forehead, and it trembled before sweeping through her silver hair. By the fifth night, we hadn’t seen a thing, and I didn’t think he was coming. We’d gone five nights without sleep, sitting in the hot, stuffy living room staring into the night. I was just dozing off, my knees pulled up under my chin as I sat on the floor next to Tessie’s chair. A bead of sweat trickled down the back of my neck, and I swatted at it not lifting my head from my knees. I’m not sure how long I was out when Tessie’s cold, rough hand was on my shoulder. “Get up. Get your momma. Be quick, Abigail,” she said, not moving her eyes from the window. I rose to my feet, stumbling a bit as I unbent from my position on the floor beside her. I threw a quick glance back when I reached the doorway. The old grandfather clock behind her, illuminated by the moon, showed a little before three o’clock.
“Now, Abby,” she said, punctuated by the sound of the double barrel of her shot gun snap44
ping back into place. She must have opened it to inspect the shells as I‘d seen her do each night as if making doubly sure they were still there. It didn‘t take long to get my mother downstairs, as I suspect she hadn’t been sleeping well because she’d already begun to rise from her bed before I’d even spoken. She took my hand as she rushed past me and through the bedroom door, pulling me down the stairs behind her. “Momma,” she said breathlessly to Tessie who held up a hand for silence and pointed out the window. There, parked in front of our lawn, was a truck. The few street lamps from down the block illuminated enough to see that a single person sat behind the wheel. The headlights were turned off, but in the silence of the night I could hear the faint sound of an engine running. I didn’t think he
could see us standing inside the dark house. Tessie had insisted we keep every light out while we kept watch. “It’s him,” I whispered. I hadn’t realized that I’d said it out loud until I felt my mother release my hand. I turned to look at them, but neither answered. Both just stood, eyes wide, looking out the window. We spent the rest of the night silently staring into the night, waiting for something to happen, for the truck or its driver to make a move. I sat with my head rested against the back of the couch, listening to the sounds around me. My mother's steady breath beside me, the ticking of the clock, the faint hum of an engine lulled me into a fitful sleep as Tessie still sat awake. The truck didn’t move until long after I’d fallen asleep. Tessie woke us a little after six. My mother and I had slept sitting up on the couch. I saw her put her hand on my mother’s shoulder for a moment and nod. My mother put her hand to her temple and bowed her head letting a long, slow breath out. “My God,” she whispered. “Is he still…?” “Nope,” Tessie said. “Just left.” I stood up, planting my feet and brushing back the hair that had fallen into my eyes. “Tessie…” I started, but she cut me off. “Don’t ask. It’s better you don’t know the bastard,” Tessie said still clutching the shot gun in her hands. “Damn me if I let him lay a hand on either of you.” “Grandma,” I started, seeing a smirk turn up one corner of her mouth. I never called her that. “No, darlin’. Now get up those stairs and get ready for school.” I gritted my teeth, looking down at the old wood floor beneath our feet. Tessie reached up and put her hand where I could feel my jaw was clenched tight. I felt the rough calluses at the tips of her fingers, but I still didn’t meet her eyes. After a few breaths I made my way back up the stairs being sure to stomp as hard as I could on the steps.
Since the sheriff’s visit I hadn’t gotten the luxury of a solitary walk to or from school, and, 45
like the previous mornings, the drive to school was silent as my mother and I both brooded on our own thoughts. I slammed the door without a word when she’d pulled up in front of the building, and I didn’t look back when she called out my name. I spent most of that day trying hard not to doze off in class. The Texas heat outmatched the small fans that each classroom had in use on hot days. The hum of the fan had a hypnotizing effect on me, as I sat breathing in the thick, humid air. My mind wandered as I struggled to stay awake. I saw pictures of Tessie sitting in her chair, the moonlight reflecting in the metal of her gun. It laid across her old knees, and I realized that I was afraid of what it meant. What she guarded us against could crush her. Despite all her strength,
she couldn’t hold off every bad thing. If it wasn’t this, it would be time that would take her away from me. One day she would be too old to hold a gun, and she’d be gone. The school bell rang, jolting me from my fog, and I picked up my things and headed out. I clutched my books tightly to my chest as I walked to where the old truck waited. I stopped at first when I saw it, my mother behind the wheel. She had an elbow propped up on the door, the window rolled down. Her head rested against her fist, and her eyes were shut tightly as if she were bracing herself against some sort of pain. Her fisted hand opened and moved to pinch the bridge of her nose and then drifted to cover her lips. I stood there watching her until she opened her eyes and, seeing me watch her, waved me solemnly forward. It was another silent drive back home. As the trees and
buildings passed I struggled over my emotions, and the fear that had settled in place of the dream of my father. When we pulled up in the driveway I jumped out before the truck had fully stopped, slamming the door. I ran up the porch steps, and through the screen door ignoring my mother‘s voice behind me. I called, “Tessie!” I stopped dead as I turned the corner. A tall, handsome man sat on Tessie’s floral printed couch. His eyes were a clear blue that struck a shocking contrast against the dark tan of his skin. Across from him sat Tessie, her back straight as a rod, neck and posture stiff and high. The man smiled at me, a deep chuckle rumbling from his chest. The man’s gaze moved past where I stood and to a spot behind me. I heard her curse and knew by now that my mother had followed me through the door. His smile widened to reveal stark white teeth. He chuckled again. I felt a kind of guarded excitement at the sight of him. He smiled and said, “Meg, sweetie, come sit with me. We have so much to catch up on.” His dark, muscular arm which had been laying casually along the back of the couch came down to pat the seat next to him, and I noticed a faded black tattoo marked the inside of his forearm. “There’s not a damn thing to say to you, kid,” Tessie said, straightening her spine even more. I was sure it could snap at any moment.
“Now, now, Tessie,” he said, the smile never faltering. “Don't be hasty. We're having a 46
nice family reunion here. Let's not let our past differences ruin the occasion.” I saw Tessie's eyes narrow, and she glared, crossing her arms over her chest. The man met her stare for a moment, and then turned his gaze on me. His look was appraising, and I felt uncomfortable as it raked over me from head to foot. I felt my mother press against me from behind, her arm wrapping around my waist. “Who do we have here?” he said moving his eyes to Tessie and then to my mother before they rested on me again. “She doesn’t belong to you,” Tessie said standing up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the man's hand flex into a fist where it still rested on the cushion beside him. I focused on the gesture,
seeing the way it pulled the skin tighter across his forearm and made his protruding vein push out further. I swallowed hard and tried to focus on the comfort of my mother's arm around my waist. “Well in that case maybe you won’t mind me having a closer look,” he said rising from his seat, but the sound of a faint click stopped him where he stood. Tessie had in her hand the old pistol that I knew she kept in her dresser drawer. I’d seen her take it out and clean it every couple of months, and she’d given me a few lessons in shooting as I’d gotten older. His smile stayed in place, and he laughed. “Tessie, old girl, no need for guns here. We're just getting ourselves nice and cozy again. Is that how you treat family?” Tessie's chin lifted, but
the pistol didn't falter in her grip. He put up his hands in a casual gesture of surrender, and then pointed a thumb back over his shoulder. “That the kitchen?” he said, cocking his head in an almost sheepish motion. “It's gettin' thirsty in here.” He laughed at his own joke. He turned and walked back through the kitchen doorway, and I heard the sound of glass clinking, then the faucet. He appeared in the doorway again, lifted the glass in a salute to us, then drank a good portion of the water. Slowly making his way back to the couch, he took the opposite direction, passing the fireplace mantel. He stopped to examine the photos there, then turned back to us. Tessie's arm was still steadily following him with the pistol. “Nice place ya got here, Tess,” he said moving back in front of the couch. He hesitated as if he were going to sit then changed his mind. He shifted his weight to one side, shoved a hand into his front pocket, and took another sip of the water in his glass. He looked up toward the ceiling then over at me. I stared back, feeling my eyes burn, dry because I wasn't blinking. There had been something wrong with his face this entire time, but I hadn't been able to place it. He'd been so charming that I wondered what was so sinister about him, but then it hit me as I looked into his eyes. There was nothing pleasant about the way his lips pulled back to reveal his teeth. Something in my gaze must have changed because his head cocked to the side in an almost imperceptible movement, and I
saw his eyebrows just barely pull, a line appearing between them. He was still looking at me when 47
he said to Tessie, “I was thinkin' I should stick around for awhile.” I heard my mother gasp behind me. I turned to see that Tessie had stepped closer to him and, without looking our way, said, “Meg, get the shot gun.” I felt a rush of cool air against my back as my mother released her arm from my waist and stepped around me. She walked across the room and retrieved the shot gun from behind the grandfather clock. She pulled it up and rested the stock against her shoulder, taking aim. Her finger lay loosely against the trigger. Tessie grinned as she spoke, “Now, like I said. She doesn't belong to you.” I looked over to see him shake his head, glancing down at the floor, his weight still leaning casually to one side. He took another drink from the glass, holding the liquid in his mouth for a moment before swallowing.
He let his arm fall slack beside him, and the glass slipped from his hand and hit the floor, but didn't shatter. He looked back up at Tessie, the smile replaced with a blank expression. He stared at each of them for a moment, and then slowly, half-heartedly, lifted his hands in surrender. It wasn’t long before Sheriff Wills showed up on the porch. Tessie later told us that she’d called him after we’d left that morning, asking for a patrol to sweep around once an hour. She’d hoped he’d be taken care of long before I got home from school. I’d just stood there in the doorway, my arms hanging by my sides limply, watching as the sheriff took him. They shuffled past, and my father didn’t acknowledge me. Tessie followed them
and reached to put her arms around me, but I turned and ran out the back door. I’d realized as he’d sat there in Tessie’s living room that he was everything that their fear implied, but a part of me still wanted to believe that he was more. I settled under a tree at the far end of our backyard and brought my knees up to my chest, letting my warm cheek rest against them. I thought about his exit from my life as he’d passed in front of the window and gotten into the patrol car without even a last look at the house. I knew I’d never see him again and that Tessie, my mother, and I would be safe, but I couldn’t fight the void that I felt. I knew I never would.
Tie—Second Place Prose Winner
Polymerase Michael Alose
When mother tells you that she Wished things were different, You look at your feet and prepare For the next, blindfold & last wish. The wage of her next sip Is a chambered bullet, jingling ice The ritual’s chime. A different man, A different history, different her, Hypothetical you. Monolithic and quiet, The velocity of words bore into Electric hemispheres, interpreting & understanding the folly of you. Too big to crawl back in,
Let the foul womb untangle you, Right the wrongs, wind things back. You’re just like your father She says again and again. Frangible honesty penetrates, Expands, cores you out. When your heart makes no sound And the wind blows through, Perhaps you’ll leave, but you won’t.
First Place Poetry Winner
Home Ana Madrid
“I mean, how do you even tell a Christian person you like them?” I said, shaking my head because the thought baffled me. “Every Christian always says, ‘we’re brothers and sisters in Christ,’ but how the hell are you supposed to tell your ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ that you find them attractive?” Daniel turned to look at me with an awkward smile on his face, unsure of how to answer
the question. “Why are you looking at me?” I said. “Look at the road!” He laughed and said, “I am watching the road. Chill out! You know I’m one of the best drivers you know.” It was true. He was the best and the safest driver I knew. “But seriously,” I said. “How do you even begin a conversation like that? I mean, at the club, guys just buy girls drinks, flirt with them, dance with them, get genital-to-genital, and show the girl that he’s interested. Generally, Christians don’t drink, flirt, dance, or even go to clubs in the first place, so?” Daniel’s eyes were glued to the road now. “I don’t know. Maybe eventually they just kind of figure it out?” He looked cuter than usual. He had Elvis-styled hair, blue jeans, and a basic white V-neck; so simple, yet he wore it all so well. I couldn’t help but smile like an idiot, getting lost in daydreams I knew would never come true. The scent of his cologne dispersed off of his body and wrapped itself around the air vents before making its way into my nostrils. My lungs became engulfed by a smooth musky smell that had an underlying hint of baby powder. “Huh? Oh, yeah. Maybe eventually things would sort of click. But how would you initiate it? Isn’t it kind of wrong to flirt during church service?”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t think church would be a good place to tell someone you like them. It’s too holy.” “Well, it doesn’t have to be at church. Do you think Christian guys try to pick up other Christian girls with cheesy pick-up lines?” He started chuckling. “I’m sure they do, but they’re probably not the same as the ones guys use at clubs. You should Google some.” “I will accept that challenge!” I pulled my phone out, typed the words “Christian pick-up lines,” and hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button. “Okay, ready? Oh, you’re gonna love this.” I read in the manliest voice I could muster, “‘Hey baby, I was reading through the book of Numbers and I realized I didn’t have yours.’”
He turned to me with an are-you-serious expression, paused for a moment, then said, “You have got to be kidding me.” “I totally am not. I swear that’s what it says! Ugh, I’m so glad you’re not like that, Daniel. I think I would wanna punch you in the face. Just a little bit.” “You would not!” He turned and quickly smiled at me before looking back at the road. Our laughs synced at how cheesy and terrible these pick-up lines were. If only he knew what I was feeling. He kept his eyes on the road while reaching for the ON/OFF button on his dashboard. He plugged in his iPhone, and seconds later the car was filled with vibrations from the bass of some obscure song, made by some obscure artist he was always listening to.
“Seriously though,” I said, “I wish we just knew how to approach someone without sounding creepy or stupid. Or, better yet, I wish we just knew from the start that we were gonna marry that person.” “Some people do,” he said, “but usually it just takes time. You have to befriend them first, be best friends for a while, and then I think the transition to a relationship is a lot easier.” I wondered if saying stuff like that ever made him think about us being a potential couple. I mean, I was a girl, he was a guy, and we were best friends. Why not? Ugh, I felt bad thinking about all of this, having feelings that I doubted would be reciprocated. He’d just broken up with his girlfriend, but he seemed like he was fine. But that didn’t mean I should say anything now, or should I?
I wished he could just know without me having to say anything. “Yeah,” I said after a while. “Totally.” “So you think that’s how you tell a Christian person you like them?” he said, “Just befriend them first, and see where yall’s relationship goes? Well, if it goes anywhere.” “I think that’s the most realistic. It’s just, at what point do we become too much like siblings to have a relationship? When does it become,” I tried thinking of the right word, but couldn’t seem to find it, “weird?” “I really don’t know,” he said. “They should teach this stuff in Bible study.” “Seriously, everyone already knows about Noah and his ark.” He chuckled and our conversation soon faded into silence, which was taken over by the humming of the engine. I’d known our conversation wasn’t going to play out like it did in my mind, but I was still disappointed it was over. He reached for his iPhone in the middle console and handed it to me. As I grabbed it, the tips of our fingers touched, and I looked up at him. He didn’t immediately pull away so I let my fingertips slightly graze the space between his fingers before pulling my hand away. I turned my attention to the familiar tune that was whispering out of the speakers. I reached for the volume dial, so the song could speak the words I wouldn’t dare. My heart and the beat of the bass drum synced together, and I could feel myself getting lost in the feelings behind the
words I was singing.
“A h home,” we sang in unison. “Let me come home.” What was he thinking about? “Home is whenever I’m with you.” I tried not to stare at him. Was he thinking about me? The car started slowing down as he turned on his right blinker. I had forgotten that we were actually going somewhere. I wasn’t surprised when we pulled into the parking lot of this shacklooking, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. From what I could see, there were new shingles and boards trying to patch up old holes in the roof and wooden porch. The off-white paint on the wooden hand rails had started to peel off, and the avocado-green paint underneath it started to show. His taste in food was just as obscure as his taste in music. “Daniel,” I said, leaning my head back against the head rest and staring at the car roof.
“Where are we?” “My friend told me about this place. You’re gonna love it,” he said while parking the car, “It’s gluten-free.” “Daniel,” I said with a sigh. “I swear, if I die from food poisoning—“ “You won’t die. What? You don’t trust me?” “You know I do, but just sometimes,” I tried to phrase this in the nicest way possible, “your judgment is questionable.” “You’ll be fine,” he said, putting on his black leather jacket and burgundy beanie. “I’ve never let you down before, and I’m not about to start now.”
I wrapped my scarf around my neck a second time and looked at him before he unlocked the door. “Let’s do this.” As I opened the door, the crisp winter wind pierced through every pore in my face. I huddled the scarf up to my nose and reached for the back of Daniel’s leather jacket. When we reached the door, he opened it for me to step in first. A comforting draft wrapped itself around my bones and slowly started to warm my chilled blood back into circulation. Daniel and I stood at the front of the restaurant looking around for the hostess, before being interrupted by an annoyingly chipper waitress. “It’s so cold outside. I know!” Her voice was unnaturally high. “Table for two?” “Yeah, it’s just us,” he said, and turned back to look at me, raising his eyebrows and smiling awkwardly. We followed the waitress and walked towards the back of the restaurant. This place was covered in vintage records, posters, and pictures of strangers. It looked like some grandma’s apartment got taken over by a group of hipsters. Too bad for the grandma though. She probably had better taste. The booth she sat us in was lined with navy blue suede and on the tan cloth we were about to sit on were stains that I hoped were all from food that had spilled onto it. “What’re you gonna order?” Daniel asked while hitting my menu with his, taking my atten-
tion away from the stains on the seat.
“I don’t know,” I said, running my fingers through my hair and picking up my menu. “I’ll probably just ask her what she likes and order the complete opposite.” “Of course,” he said, chuckling behind his menu. “You would do that.” While waiting for our food, he was looking at his phone intently, and to avoid staring at him I looked down at the stains on the seat. There was one next to my right thigh; it was a scarlet red in the shape of a lion mane. Red was the color of love. Lions were a symbol of bravery. I think it was the universe trying to tell me something. Or maybe I was just reading into a ketchup splatter that happened on accident. “Daniel,” I said, not knowing where to start, “you know I talk to you about everything.” He
looked up from his phone, caught off guard by the sudden sound of my voice. “Yeah,” he said as he raised his eyebrows and looked at me, “I know.” “And I feel like no matter how hard I try, if I keep this in any longer I’ll explode.” “Okay.” He looked confused at my anxiousness. “What is it?” “Well, I know it’s probably not the right time, or place. It’s been so hard to keep it from you for this long and—“ “Stop stalling. Just spit it out.” I could feel the words climbing up my throat like vomit and onto the tip of my tongue. “I like you, okay? Life is too short for me to keep suppressing these feelings. You have no idea how
much sleep I’ve lost because of this.” All he did was stare at me. After the number of years I’d known him, you would think I’d be able to read him clear as day. “I’m sorry if this is weird. I didn’t mean for it to be weird. You know what? Just forget I said anything.” “No,” he said, “it’s not weird.” “I’m sorry.” “No, don’t be sorry for telling me how you really feel. That was raw human emotion, something I don’t see a lot of anymore.” The waitress came over with our plates and set them down in front of us trying not to make a sound. “In the car,” I said, “I was talking to you about how Christians tell each other they like each other?” I leaned my chin on my left hand, looked down at the table, and traced infinity symbols on the surface with my index finger while waiting on his answer. “Yeah,” he said. I could hear the grin in his voice. “You know, you’re not as sly as you think you are.” “Really?” I asked while looking up at him. “Dammit. So, what does that mean?” “It means…that I like you too. But I’m also not at a point in my life where I’m ready for another serious relationship,” he sighed, and started rubbing the back of his neck. “I just got out of
one, and well, you know how that went.”
“Yeah, I remember.” I put my gaze back on the table. “So, what’re we gonna do?” Still looking down, I saw him shift our plates to the side and reach his hand towards mine. “We’ll figure it out,” he said. “I promise. I told you that I’m not going to let you down, and I’m sticking to my word.” He grabbed my right hand and put it in between both of his. He started stroking the top of my hand with one of his thumbs and shifted his gaze from our hands to looking at me straight in the eyes. I looked up slowly, embarrassed by the warmth my hand was engulfed in. A part of me felt he was lying, but even if he was, it felt better than him flat out saying no. At least if he lied, I knew he cared enough about me to spare my feelings. I couldn’t help but smile up at him; his face was grace-
fully framed in a cozy and soft yellow light. All I could hear was the familiar lyric replaying in my head as I glanced up at him. “Home, let me come home, home is whenever I’m with you.”
Entropy Jeremy Davis
The morning air corners me with the drip drops of spring, and there's something I canâ€™t quite place, a thought, wet and slippery, sliding just out of reach, feet on the cool hardwood, and the curtains at the window aren't mine. Outside, the warmth is pulsing, and the world, breathing deeply, animated like Saturday morning cartoons. Irrational quarrels, romanticized violence, the carnival chaos dipping your mind in a jar of madness. Dying it black and watching the muddy grey chunks drip down and pool on the floor. But there's a rhythm if you look hard enough,
like the gum that sticks to your shoe, and like wet sheets draping out over everything, bringing it all in, gluing it all together.
Tieâ€”Third Place Poetry Winner
Micro Jennifer Sheets Twenty-four hours after his birth I laid eyes on him for the first time. He was in a private room, the only room with a door, to keep the quiet noise of the NICU out. Even the hushed voices of the nurses and gentle beeping from other babies’ machines were a bombardment to his ears. His skin looked red, not the normal pink with a healthy glow that most newborns possess, and I could see his veins and muscles through it. Like a new puppy, his eyes were still fused shut. They had him covered with a plastic sheet so his skin wouldn’t dry out while he lay under the warming lamp. There were so many wires coming out of him it was hard to discern where he separated from the machines keeping him alive. If I touched his skin it would tear so I had to content myself with gently placing my pinky in his miniscule palm. I had been admitted to the hospital five days earlier because my water had broken. The nurses immediately pumped me full of massive doses of Magnesium Sulfate, Mag they called it, to stop the contractions. They told me I should make friends with the Mag since I could expect to be hooked to a steady drip the entire time I was hospitalized, unless it succeeded in making my contractions nonexistent. A series of steroid shots were also needed to help the baby’s lungs. They weren’t fin-
ished growing. The steroids might give him a chance by making his lungs mature swiftly. The sensation of the drugs invading my body was swift. I felt like I had stepped off a tilt-a-whirl. I couldn’t settle my gaze on any one thing in the tiny pink room, so I opted to keep my eyes shut. The oppressive heat flooded my body next. With the air conditioning turned down to sixtythree degrees I was still on fire. In the midst of my medicinal haze, I looked over at my husband who was trying to sleep on the tiny pullout bed they provided. He wore a pair of socks on his hands, two on his feet and two blankets covered him, both pulled over his head. A meat locker. That’s what the delivery room was being turned into. “Mike,” I woke him up asking, “can you turn the air down again please? I’m burning inside.” He shivered uncontrollably after that.
At one point that night I vomited for two hours straight. Like being hung-over, just without the drunken revelry before. Many hours later I started having problems breathing. It felt like a brick steeped in hot water was placed on my chest. That’s when the doctor on duty finally saw fit to assess my situation. I had been overloaded on the Mag. Everything dripping into my IV had to be shut off in order to prevent a complete catastrophe. Without the Mag to stop them though, the contractions ferociously picked up speed. My back felt like it was wrung through an old-fashioned clothes washer, the kind with a crank handle. We were moved to a larger room after the first 24 hours. There was a large floor to ceiling window with a green bench underneath the entire width of it. Maybe my husband would be more comfortable on that. The doctors hoped to stop the56labor completely and keep me shut up in the hos-
pital until he was thirty-one weeks along. But my contractions could only be controlled, not stopped. They were a persistent gnawing ache pressuring me to deliver. I had to pull through the pain long enough to give the steroid shots time to work. Without them he really stood no chance of living. Sheer willpower on my part held him on the brink of being born for three more arduous days. When his heart rate started to dip for long periods my doctor called it quits on my torture. The baby had to come out since the contractions were squeezing his cord. An emergency c-section was required. He was small enough to slip out without me pushing much, but my doctor didn’t want to risk it. Too much stress on his heart. The NICU doctor and staff tried their best to be upbeat and optimistic telling us, “our hospital has amazing success with preemie survival rate. He’ll be fine.”
But the truth was that it was early. Too early. He most probably wouldn’t live very long. When they told me who was to be in the operating room I pictured everyone packed in like sardines. My doctor needed an assistant and a team of nurses for the c-section, but had also invited nursing students to watch. A full NICU team was needed to stabilize the baby and I needed the anesthesiologist and his assistant. The anesthesiologist had quickly become my favorite person in the hospital when he administered the long awaited pain numbing epidural. It flowed through my body offering a tidal wave of relief for my tormented body. Nothing, however, could sooth my mind. And of course my husband would be next to me for the delivery. My dear husband had quietly digested the fact that I could die along with our son. The doctors were worried I had been hem-
orrhaging internally for the past four days. If that were the case the c-section could prove disastrous. The two lives he valued most would then be at risk. He never shared his fears with me, never once voiced any thoughts that were anything other than hopeful. But the way he looked at me told me his silent distress. Strain and worry had etched new lines on his face. Though he tried hard, he couldn’t quite put the hint of laughter into his eyes that was normally there. Fear lurked instead. My doctor performed the c-section over her lunch hour. I remembered her saying operations excited her at one of my prenatal appointments. “I love delivering babies naturally but C-sections really get my blood pumping. I love the operating room,” she told us as the pitch in her voice kicked up a few octaves and she talked faster, becoming more animated. C-sections made her giddy. I needed that energy presiding over mine. The operating room was glacial and smelled like antiseptic. Being transferred from my warm hospital bed to the frigid sterile operating bed was shocking. I was the one shivering uncontrollably then. The lights that hung overhead made everything in the room glow. My doctor greeted me surrounded by a blazing halo of light. The actual birth passed quickly. Under five minutes from the time I was first cut to the time he was handed to the NICU staff. He came out screaming, sounding like a tiny mewling kitten, the doctor said. I couldn’t hear it. He was too small. I didn’t get to see him. My husband left with the NICU team as they rushed off to stabilize him. 57
The rest of the c-section felt like it took hours. My doctor wanted to explore the situation from the inside. An air of awkwardness replaced the life-saving intensity of the first part of the operation as she dug around inside showing everything to the nursing students. Complicated medical terms drifted over the cloth partition near my face as nursing students stood on tiptoe straining to see my uterus. A nurse in red scrubs drifted into the edges of my vision, only to snap back into place when I looked at her. I was apparently the only one not allowed to look. The anesthesiologist tried to distract me with small talk but I couldn’t focus on his words. Instead, I sang, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in my head obsessively. On about my hundredth rendition of the children’s song my doctor asked, “Why did your mother tell me you were allergic to metal?” I told her, for about the third time,
that I was highly allergic to metal. “We’ll take the chance with the staples anyway. I think you’ll be fine,” she said. I was wheeled to recovery soon after that. With ample time to myself all I could think about was how small he would be. I was supposed to protect him and keep him safe, but I couldn’t. Physically, I wasn’t able to. My failure had caused him to have to fight and struggle to stay alive from his first breath. In the NICU the day after he was born amidst the light sound of pinging from various medical devices, I kept my pinky in his hand and tried to believe he would live. He weighed a scant one pound and four ounces and would have fit in my husband’s hand had he been allowed to hold him. So tiny. They called him a micro preemie, little ones so small they deserved their own designation.
His diminutive fingers encircled my pinky and pressed his flesh into mine. The movement was so small and the pressure almost nonexistent, but I felt it. Seven days after his birth, I was released from the hospital. Free to go home. Without him. He would be in the NICU for months. Best estimate was that he would get to go home around his original due date. Maybe. Three months from the day he was born. An eternity. It wasn’t easy to leave a piece of my heart behind, trusting in strangers to see for his safety and care for him in my place. Love him like I did. The hospital had been an unnerving place to try to recuperate, but at least I had only been one floor away from him. I could just go down to see him whenever I wanted. Now a highway would separate me from him. I was lucky. There were mothers who lived in cities hours away from the hospital that contained left behind pieces of their hearts. When we arrived home my husband and I trudged to our bedroom, toward a comfortable bed holding a promise of restful slumber. Sleep was on the agenda, but despite being exhausted, I could not turn my mind off. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, tears sliding down my face quietly soaking into the pillow under my head. I held my drained husband’s hand while he slept. At least we could be bereft together. My thoughts as I examined the ceiling gravitated toward the unknown. What would happen to our son? Making it through the first week of life was no guarantee to his future. The NICU was an uncertain place, with dangerous turns navigated only by luck. His fate was yet to
be determined. Hope, intelligent doctors, dedicated nurses and prayer were the only tools that would 58
guide us through. I wasn’t an especially religious woman, but I prayed every time I saw him. Every tear a silent plea for his life to whoever listened to my inner most wishes. We visited him daily. I would go in the mornings and again in the evenings after my husband came home from work. We made extra efforts to do Kangaroo Care at every opportunity: a way of holding him so there was skin-to-skin contact. Besides creating a bonding opportunity, Kangaroo Care had the added benefits of helping babies gain weight faster and become sick less often than the babies that weren’t held. He liked to nestle down between my breasts for warmth, covered with blankets. His silken skin would mold itself to me making us one again, restoring the connection that was severed much too soon. We bought books and read to him. We left a CD player so the nurs-
es could play music quietly by his isolette. We decorated his isolette with colorful blankets and pictures of us, things that kept us sane more than they helped him. The nurses became our lifeline and part of our family. At a time when our blood relatives could only guess what we were going through emotionally, the NICU staff had practice comforting parents and offering slight pieces of hope. They always had a wealth of information available for us and knew the days we needed to hear the truth about his condition and the days we needed comforting words. Hugs were plentiful when we became overwhelmed with life in the NICU. They easily handed out laughs in a bid to erase our tension and relax us. Reassurance that he was a fighter was given on the bleakest of days. Without them we would have become trapped in a bubble of fear, far
out of reach from our families and friends. In the end he traveled the NICU rollercoaster with ease. He passed the most crucial first week with no worries. No brain bleeds. No heart problems. No intestinal issues. Slowly he gained weight and began to look like a normal newborn, pink and healthy. We celebrated every tiny milestone that happened in the NICU. His first bath. Every time he came off the ventilator. Finally being allowed to hold him. They were all momentous occasions. We had to celebrate the good times to be able to wade through the heavy undercurrents of danger he would face with infections and eye surgery. The day he finally weighed 1500 grams, a little over three pounds and a huge milestone for Micros, we brought a cake and celebrated with all the loving nurses that cared so much for him. We gathered in the employee break room eating food and chatting about our son and how much he had grown since he was born. They appreciated that we were informed parents and liked to discuss his days and medical care with them. We cherished how they cared for him in our place. Singing softly to him while they changed IV sites. Talking delicately to him while they bathed him. Tenderly holding him while changing his bedding. Every one of them cared for him lovingly at a time when we couldn’t. Each of his successes was a joy for them too. He was discharged from the NICU 81 days after he was born. The nurses were proud. They eagerly gathered in front of the main desk waiting for us to say our goodbyes. All had huge grins
covering their faces. Some had bittersweet tears of joy slipping down their cheeks. They were excit59
ed and thrilled he was going home, but they would miss him. They waved to us as we walked down the hallway and out of the NICU. He went home before his original due date, in part thanks to the loving care provided by the nurses and in part because he was a fighter. He weighed four pounds five ounces on that momentous day. Not even normal by conventional standards but huge for our bitty man. His car seat swallowed him. He is five now and facing new struggles. I see him sitting, confused, trying to figure out the world, trying to fit in. He doesnâ€™t understand what he does wrong most of the time, why it was wrong. He struggles to contain the energy that courses through his body all day. He is so full of exuberant joy that he has problems understanding why his impulsive actions make the kids at school
pull away from him. Iâ€™m the one that caused this, caused him all his problems from the get go. But he will face everything life throws at him head on as he always has. And he will do it wearing his signature contagious grin and laughing, letting his bubbling joy guide him through the rest of his life just like it carried him through a nightmare.
I Have a Poem Due in English Today Mylin Barrette
I hate poems. They suck, all the writing and thinking. I hate thinking. No good at it. Too much work. Rather just copy off some Nerd, one of the ones with the glasses, pocket protectors,
and brains. The ones that like to sit and write all day long. The smart kids. The over-achievers. The ones who will get six figures someday. Not me. So, Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order?
Not It Hannah Andis He sat at the kitchen table facing the wall into the living room. His tie rested neatly on his pressed white shirt, a solid thin line of red down his chest. Salt mixed with his carefully groomed peppered hair, matching the intensity of his dark grey eyes. Behind him, draped casually on the back of the chair, his black jacket peeked out underneath his arms, ready to be slipped on at a moment’s notice. A cup of steaming black coffee sat in his left hand and his right hand held onto the business section of the morning’s paper. Charlotte leaned against the wall, watching him ignore her. Finally, after she had had enough of his silence, she cleared her throat. “You know, you never answered my text last night.” Dave didn’t look up from the paper. “I could’ve sworn I did.” “Well, you didn’t.” “Sorry.” “That’s it?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Sorry?” “What else do you want me to say?” He flipped over the next page and took a sip of his coffee.
“I think you know exactly what you should say.” “I’m not a mind reader, Charlotte.” “Could’ve fooled me,” she said. He didn’t answer her. She stood there, feeling the irritation trickle down her spine as the silence crept on. He did nothing but take another drink. Eventually, she spoke again. “So, will you go?” “Why can’t you? You know I’ve got a meeting tonight after work. I don’t know how long it’ll go.” Charlotte forced a weary sigh into the air, moving to sit across from him. “Because I’ve got to do everything else today, including taking Jordan and Nathan to both of their practices on the opposite side of town, half an hour after each other,” she paused. “Since nobody went yesterday and I don’t have time to go today, you’re going to do it.” His eyebrows twitched over the edge of the paper. His hand let go of the coffee cup and went to the paper, using the added hand to flick the pages straight. She could just imagine the straight line of his lips, the pinched skin at his eyes, and his jaw setting back in his face. It was a while before he finally spoke again. “I’m going to do it?” His voice was deceptively cool. It even sounded as if there was a faint trace of laughter hidden behind his tone.
“Yes, you are. I don’t have any time today.” 62
Carefully he folded the paper and set it on the table. He rose to a stand, scooting the chair back with his knees as he took one final sip of coffee and picked his jacket up off the chair back. “I’m late for work.” He didn’t say another word. He moved toward the back door leading out of the kitchen, picked up his briefcase, opened the door, and walked out. She watched him leave, rising to a half sit, half stand in her chair. “Don’t forget the stupid toothpaste this time!” she yelled as the door shut behind him. Charlotte stared at the door for what seemed hours, listening to the car start with a roar outside. It wasn’t long before it faded away, its discontented rumbling dying off as he left. With a sigh she stood up, trudging her way to the fridge. They went through food like a
wildfire through a forest, thanks to her two teenage boys. It seemed as if they went to the store every other day now. Carelessly she threw open the door to the fridge, mind already going through her mental checklist. Suddenly, she stopped, staring at the inside belly of the appliance. It was fully stocked; everything she had texted Dave the previous night was placed perfectly organized on the shelves. In the middle was a glass vase with a bouquet of snow white lilies and blush pink carnations. A note hung from one of the green stems. Charlotte, I went to the store. Take the day off. I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day. Dave
Fragments Rachael Sanders
Pieces of two unfinished puzzles. How do I force them together? How do I paint a proper portrait Of two people I never figured out?
One on the street corner, One locked away in a cell, Both at the bottom Of a never-ending bottle. Birthday cards, presents, holidays, and Long chats on the phone Slipped in between weekend visits, Guards, and talking through glass. Today, one saved from the gutter,
One lost to the grave. I grow up with snapshots of two people I claim to remember and cannot forget.
Tieâ€”Third Place Poetry
Second Thoughts Jeremy Davis
John works the night shift at Kroger, stocking shelves, which allows him to sleep most of the day, dreaming up old memories and smiling faces. He wakes up one evening feeling like lead, sits up in bed and stretches. He can hear Heather taking a shower in the bathroom and the heater struggling to keep breathing. He gets out of bed, goes into the kitchen to make coffee, and sits down at a small table in his boxers. He runs a hand through his hair, trying to remember his dream. He pieces it together in pictures that look like children's drawings, scattered and off-centered, shaded with warm and familiar colors. “You made coffee!” Heather says cheerfully, coming through the kitchen in a hurry, all dressed for work, “and you’re awake!” “That I am,” John says, reaching around Heather's waist and pulling her close. “Call in sick, lets go see a movie,” he says smiling. Heather laughs. “You know I can't,” she says. John lets her go. He sips coffee and watches her shuffle from room to room in their one bedroom apartment, like a bird collecting choice bits of twig. Outside it's
snowing, and the frost around the window reminds John of old photographs. He wonders about Heather. How long will it take her to realize they aren't right for each other? He tucks the thought away into the hidden drawer deep in his mind labeled “thoughts to avoid.” “Okay, I gotta run, see you,” Heather says, giving John a light kiss on the cheek before heading towards the door. “Oh and feed Sal!” When Heather moved in two years ago she brought her cat Sal with her. Growing up as an only child, he wasn't used to having others to take care of. After feeding Sal, John starts getting ready for work. He enjoys the monotony of preparation, the effortlessness of it. He splashes water on his face, brushes his teeth and hums Bob Dylan. He throws on his Kroger uniform with a thick jacket and heads to work. At work John stocks the shelves and smiles when it's necessary. For the most part, he doesn’t have to play any social games, so he makes his own. He guesses how many of each item he'll have to stock, counting each one as he places them, and wonders which kind of customers will buy which products. He imagines an obese woman sitting plastered to a couch in front of her TV, stuffing her face as cats crawl in every corner of the room meowing hungrily. A passing customer looks at him warily as he laughs at the thought. At home John and Heather lay on the bed watching a movie, but his mind is unfocused, 65 that he loved her. He had said it in a casual floating away. He remembers telling a girlfriend once
offhanded kind of way, but it stuck with him and made him feel sick. It was a lie, he thought. He wonders if his idea of love is too idealistic, a teenage dream that won't go away, that won't stop spoiling everything for him. He hears Heather laugh at something so he laughs too, but it comes out translucent and weak. He looks at Heather, her chin sinking into the pillow she has held close. The TV is flashing soft colors across her face. It's not long until he falls asleep. John spends most of his off day picking up heaps of clothes and reading Dostoevsky. Only he can't concentrate. His mind wanders off and he thinks about his friends who have all gone off to prestigious universities. How different would things be if he had gone? Would he have missed
Heather enough to drop out anyway? The sound of the door opening and keys jingling breaks his train of thought. “It's me!” he hears Heather say. “We should do something tonight.” “Like what?” “I was thinking we could go ice skating?” “Ice skating?” “Yes, ice skating,” Heather says with a laugh, “do you want to go or not?” “Yeah,” John says. “Sounds good. Lets go.”
There is a lake not far from John and Heather's apartment where they used to go to talk and read, and sometimes have picnics. Occasionally they would ice skate and always at night when there were few people there, if any. They stopped going as frequently and now they went rarely. John thought it was strange that Heather wanted to go back tonight, as if by neglecting the place for so long they would no longer be welcome there. They walk down the sidewalk towards the lake with their collars pulled up and their hands deep in their coat pockets. The sun is starting to fall. Lonely street lights flicker on, casting muted yellow circles down on the street ahead of them. It's a silent walk. John likes not having to talk all the time. He and Heather are comfortable that way. At the lake John and Heather take off their shoes and slide into their ice skates. John helps Heather steady herself as she gets up. “It's been a while, hasn't it?” he says with a grin. “Sure has,” Heather says. “I hope I can still do this. Push me” “What?” “Give me a push.” Heather crouches and John pushes her out into the ice. She hadn't forgotten. She had always been good on the ice. Heather slides around to face John and waves a gloved
hand towards him.
She calls out to him, “Come on!” He takes in his surroundings before moving out on the ice. Birch trees circle the lake in comfortable bunches and the iced-over water glistens a dim bluish white under the moon. The atmosphere brings forth nostalgic memories of the early days of their relationship. He skates out towards Heather who is skating down the length of the lake. He doesn't call out to her, just watching instead. He pieces her together in his head, a mosaic with pale skin and brown mirrored eyes. He doesn't understand what Heather sees in him. He imagines himself covered in animal furs, a horned Viking helmet on his head, crushing an enormous ice worm with his bare hands, wrenching her free of its grasp and rescuing her. That would be enough,
John thought. It would be okay if things happened like that. Heather spins around to face John who is staring at her. Her eyes have that piercing look that he has always admired, a glow cutting through him that feels different from the cold outside his jacket. He feels a flash of something similar to embarrassment, but less confusing, less unbearable. He slips and falls. Heather laughs and skates over to him with her hand out. “Get! Up!” she says tugging on John’s arm. He pulls her down and she falls and they both laugh. “You’re really annoying sometimes,” Heather says. “Only sometimes?”
“A lot of the time. I can't do everything myself, you know.” “Why do you put up with it?” “Because I know you’re worth the effort. What’s been up with you lately?” “I just... There's been a lot on my mind lately. This was a good idea though, coming out to the ice again. I miss this. Sorry I've been weird lately.” “Don’t be. Everyone has their rough bouts. I love you John,” Heather says, reaching for John's hand. They sit like that for awhile, just holding hands. “Is something wrong?” Heather says. He realizes his expression must have changed. “No, nothing's wrong,” John says. “It's just cold as shit out here. Let’s skate.” At home John and Heather shed their wintery layers and crawl under the covers. They smile like children and watch The Fellowship of The Ring. John puts his arm around Heather and they yell out quotes from the movie. “AND MY AXE!” Heather says in the deepest voice she can. “This isn't a mine,” John says. “IT'S A TOMB!” they say together. They wear themselves out like that and fall asleep in front of the TV. 67
When John wakes up, Sal is rubbing her fur against his face and he can hear Heather taking a shower. The heater is coughing like a grizzled old man. He tosses Sal off the bed, goes into the kitchen and makes coffee. He sits down at a small familiar table in his boxers. He runs his hand through his hair and smiles.
Tie窶認irst Place Prose
La Playa Rachel Primeaux
I opened my eyes to see the final scene Of sweet Sandrine. Her dress no longer Pale and pure. Instead it absorbed the Angry flow of blood that pumped from Her heart as quick as a brand new sponge Soaks up water for the very first time. Before she fell to the ground, she made A slow show of pulling her ring from Her flimsy finger and letting it fall into The sand. Her seaweed green eyes said Goodbye. Then she timbered back into The sand and turned the shore pink. I Told her it was for the best, sweet Sandrine. Her long brown hair matted up in her own Narcissistic blood. The blood that never Did anything good for anyone else but Herself. And now, it tinged the water red And attracted sharks to a beach that no One played on. I had a small urge to save Her, although there was nothing I could Do. Her head was all that could get me Out of this, and Iâ€™d be damned if a small
Stick of compassion got in the way now. I bent down and dug her ring out of the Sand, felt it warm in my hand from the hot Mexican sand and sun, then turned to The water. I twirled it around in my hand, Even slipping it on my pinky for a bit. I Kissed it and threw it into the ocean, the Only witness to my crime, with the rest of My memories of sweet, sweet Sandrine. 69
After Emily James McAuley
In our last bedroom together, Em rolls off me, tugs green scrubs up her cocoa skin and whispers, lips to my ear, “Now suspend the causal arrow of time.” That is to say, see history and future all jumbled, like one of her schizophrenic Alzheimer’s patients. The fan spins. My eye catches a blade and follows it. When I look away the ceiling con-
tinues to twirl. Sitting on the toilet, my father says, “You cannot measure the exact location of an electron. You can only track where it has been, to guess where it is going,” while digging clods of dried mud from my Nike treads. Mom sprays my khaki’s with stain remover. I drain the tub. My father wipes grains of sand and dirt into the whirlpool and announces, “I deduce you have been playing along frog heaven again.” Mom is aghast because she has made sure I know the old dam is rotting out and the ravines aren’t safe, plus the snakes and spiders and other hazards enumerated by her league of Volvodriving library moms.
“Just wear your blue jeans,” Father says, his econ PhD unable to show him the value of blue jeans over khakis, despite blue jeans being limited, and khakis being in constant supply, each destroyed pair having been quickly replaced. Two broken legs and a concussion later, a Wallace County cop says I can have my hamburger after I sign no-contest papers for flouting jaywalking, hitchhiking, and other anti-hippie laws. His Old Spice doesn’t hide the smell of rum. He should stick to vodka, and I tell him so. The nurse smiles. John Law gone, I ask her for a sponge bath. She points at my arm. “What’s it mean?” “Stupid white boy like Chinese tattoo,” I say. Her hips pivot and she asks, “For reals, what does it mean?” “What’s your name?” “Emily.” I tell Em, the only thing worse than listening to someone explain a dream is listening to someone explain a tattoo. Her fillings sparkle when she laughs, and she chews something dangerous in her eyes. She sneaks me a second hamburger, with cheddar and bacon. I pretend to like mayonnaise since she went to the trouble of getting them to smear it on nice and thick. I am eight. It is October. Musty stacks of hay salt the air to taste. Grasshoppers saw the last
songs of Indian summer. Father stands me in front of the campfire, turning me like a rotisserie 70
chicken. I try to shrug his hands off my wet shoulder. I tell him to stop babying me. Steam rises from my pants. Dan and Mike roast marshmallows with their dads. His eyes roll into his library and pull up the bio-electro-chemical addition of the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. He starts to read, “ Paternalism is defined as interference with the liberty or autonomy of another blah, blah justifications referring to the blah of the blah’s good or yada yada yada limitation on blah’s autonomy or blah.” I ask Father if we are related. He tells me that he is not, quote-unquote, “the Other.” After sex, Em collapses into herself and I take my revenge. I tell her I love her. At an altar,
we lie. We say “forever,” and run out of the church and skip the reception and our families. She cashes her last paycheck to fly us far, far away. In the morning, our cellphones dead and laptops dying, we are autonomous agents, or as Father would not say, “free and at peace.” As the battery bleeps, she checks her accounts. We have enough for three weeks in Chicago or a lifetime in Sierra Leone. “Either way,” she says. “We can’t afford running water.” Chicago rains heavy warm splatters thick with ozone. In the future, I think, I will bury a mountain of treasure on the shore of Lake Michigan for us to find in the steaming sand. But I am not an autonomous agent, the causal arrow of time is paternalistic, fascist.
Em decides that we decide to get matching his and her tattoos. A few weeks after my first tattoo, my neck goes stiff. The doctors tell my parents it may be meningitis. Father gets retroactively fascist when my gown sneaks him a flash of ink. He explains the pain of laser treatments. Mom holds my hand as a student jiggles a 20 gauge between my vertebrae. She chews some dangerous thing to a pulp that builds an icy coolness between her and Father’s explanation on the importance of teaching hospitals. I worry about losing my fingers or my mind and I cannot decide which is worse. “Would be, would be worse,” I tell myself. Em comes in, sans wedding ring, her hair short, hips narrow. She asks, “You coming in just to see me?” “Do I know you?” I ask. Emily inhales the dangerous thing from my mom and chews it herself. After visiting hours, she sits with me. I take out an ear bud and put a diamond ring in her hand. “Kind of eclectic,” she says. “My left brain likes Billy Joel.” “Try to look both ways before crossing the street,” she says. “I don’t know all the lyrics.”
“Just some good advice,” she says. She signs my release. It is raining. I stare into the sky. Father pulls to the curb and pops the door. “Don’t get the seats wet,” he says, spreading a towel on the leather. My generation is not yet old enough to have our own music when I start walking home from school with Dan and Mike. Father follows behind in the car. I call him a fascist. I stop walking home with Dan and Mike during their Madonna phase. Dad is thrilled with my Clash T-shirts and gives me his copy of Anarchy, State and Utopia. He isn’t thrilled with my Sex Pistols sneer. He rises from the couch and flicks the TV knob off. We don’t have eight-hundred channels yet. There is never anything good on. I tell him I’m watching. He tells me TV rots brains. I go up-
stairs and smoke a joint. My parents’ home school me when I’m kicked out of middle school for having a distracting haircut. “Distracting questions is more like it,” harrumphs Father. He approves of my autonomous expressions against “the Other.” The homeschool collective kicks us out when he laughs at the curriculum. “The door says push,” I say as we try to exit the church. His laughter forces me back into khakis and adds a crested blazer and high and tight cut to my un-personal style. It is traditional to kneel and request one’s diploma, so I don’t bother graduating.
In the maternity ward, I hold Em’s hand as she pushes the dead baby out. That dangerous icy thing she chewed up when we met? She’s given it to me. Family comes to flash their sad eyes sorry. Her mother asks if I have been to church. “Yes,” I lie. “Real church?” she asks. I give her a razorblade smile. You cannot know where an electron is. You can only track where it has been to guess where it is going. “The Other” releases Emily. Its orders must be followed. Insurance rates are adjusted. Time lets its wishes be known. At home, I hold her hand while she pushes me away. I plot the data points, fit the curve, and leave town. Leave everything behind, leave it all for her, my car, my khakis, my silence. Walking down the interstate, I am clocked from behind and wake up in a hospital gown, a rum soaked badge asking me to sign something. “Look before you leap,” Father says. Em cleans the bandages on my head. I shed my memory. I shed our marriage. She leaves a manila envelope of paperwork and glass jewelry. I shed my hospital gown for half-rotten denim and grease smudged white t-shirt.
The Chicago skyline over her shoulders and the weight of my father on mine, I laugh with Em in the rain dancing. The storms pitch and roll along the shore of Lake Michigan while lightning crashes into the fresh swells. When she kisses me, the bump in her belly kicks me softly in the gut. â€œI have to show you something,â€? she whispers. She nibbles my ear and takes me by the hand. We walk up a spiral of wind, into the clouds. She points her finger along the data points, the little boy, the punk kid, the expectant father, the penitent ex-husband: skin grey compared to the crisp white army corners of her hospital bed. I watch her lying next to me, coughing, gargling poison in her veins. Smiling next to me, she lays her head on my shoulder, hacks a cough and stops breathing.
Her arms are warm around my belly. I sing a lullaby to keep her brain company as it shuts down to its amphibian roots, and then dies. Over the years, I have faded into her, extinguishing the little flares of my ego in order to get closer to her. And were she a god, she would be enough. But a god will never leave you. I am surrounded with data, but I am alone and unsure of where I am. Back in our last bedroom together, the ceiling stops its spin. Em asks me to tell her a story, the future, the past, rolled into one. I think to tell her a the-future-is-now platitude, but I tell her I will be sad when she dies, and I will never wear khakis again.
Tieâ€”Second Place Prose
Contributors’ Biographies Mike Alose is a native Texan and aspir ing author . He is cur r ently incar cer ated and awaiting sentencing at Arkham Asylum after releasing rabid Honey Badgers into protected wildlife reserves across the United States. He enjoys writing, shark wrestling, pretty darkhaired women and world peace. Hannah Andis is cur r ently a junior at Univer sity of Texas at Ar lington, major ing in Communication Studies and minoring in English. She was a student at Lone Star CollegeTomball and LSC-University Park for three years while working on her Associate’s in Liberal Arts. This is her first published work. Katherine Armstrong major s in what she’s good at. She desper ately ador es fr ied chicken and oatmeal raisin cookies. Mylin Barrette has no idea what to tell you about her self, so she is just going to wr ite poems instead. Benjamin A. Compton is an English Major in his junior year at Houston Baptist University. Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a Master’s in Christian Apologetics, also at HBU. Benjamin teaches Bible Study Methods, Christian Worldview, and Christian Apologetics to the boy’s youth group at Providence Community Church. He and his wife Samantha have an eleven month old daughter named Symphony. He can be reached for comments, questions, or enlightening discussions via his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ #!/ben.compton.79 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org Jeremy Davis is wading his way thr ough an English degr ee, scr ibbling notes and r e-
minders on stray pieces of paper. Ruth Doughtie is a caffeinated Houstonian who spends most of her time pr acticing yoga, baking sweets, and writing in a notebook. With plans to study abroad, she dreams of foreign soil and being fluent in many languages. Joseph M. Fornes is a sophomor e English major and his goal is to teach high school English and Creative Writing. His favorite movie is The Princess Bride and he loves Boston cream pie.
Casey Fortune is a fr eshman ar t major . 74
Kimberly Gaskins is a senior Par alegal major with a passion for wr iting and music. Traci Luker is major ing in Biology and enjoys spr eading the love for science and nature through peculiar poetry when she's not busy reading strange science fiction. Ana Madrid is a sophomor e communications major with a new found passion for wr iting short stories and celebrating life through art and expression. James McAuley is a sophomor ic Economics student who enjoys well-crafted jokes about bodily functions and single-barrel bourbon.
Ryan Moyer is a amateur wr iter and photogr apher . He plans to major /minor in History/English and become a teacher at both the secondary and college levels; he also plans to finish and publish several literary works. Angela Pham is a fr eshman who has a passion for dancing and dr awing along with an interest in photography. Cecilia Pham is a fr eshman Biology major . Her inter ests include dancing and photography.
Rachel Primeaux is a single mother who wor ks full time and goes to school par t time, but she still manages to find the time to write. A former music journalist, she found short fiction and poetry to be a better outlet and writes a story or poem any chance she gets. Brenda Recchini is an Ar gentine-born painter and a sophomore psychology major. Rachael Sanders is an English major who loves a daily dose of Shakespear e with her morning coffee. Jennifer Sheets is major ing in Histor y and lives at home with her husband, son, moth-
er, and too many animals. Allen Storm is a high school junior taking dual cr edit classes who loves photogr aphy, hunting, and fishing.
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 8. Submissions r eceived after will be saved for the following school year ’s selection pr ocess. 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 Uproar@lonestar.edu, 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 College-University 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. 76
The faculty sponsors would like to thank Lisel Tucker and everyone at Student Activities, Lawrence Brandyburg for his assistance and encouragement, and Shah Ardalan for his enthusiastic and whole-hearted support. This magazine would not exist without them. Weâ€™d like to also thank Stephanie March, Adam Barber, Sidra Tariq, Amy Hirsch, and Mary Anne Figueroa for their invaluable advice and technical support, and all of the faculty at Lone Star College-University Park for their ideas and inspiration. Most of all we would like to thank the student staff and editors who not only put a lot of work in but did so with great passion and good-natured energy. Itâ€™s been fun.
All pieces were chosen anonymously by the selection committee made up of student staff, editors and faculty sponsors. The contest was judged by Lone Star College-University Park staff and faculty consisting of Rosemary Carter, Amy Hirsch, David Miller, Greg Oaks, Brian Reeves. The cover was chosen by the student editors and faculty sponsors.
Published on May 7, 2015
Uproar, Lone Star College-University Park’s student literary/arts journal, is published every spring. Any LSC-University Park student may su...