UPROAR Volume 2
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. See the submission form at the back of the magazine for more information. Faculty Advisors:
Greg Oaks David Miller
Ruth Doughtie Allen Storm Selection Committee:
Derek B. Kolb
Kara Vigants Additional Readers:
Cover Art: â€œAcidâ€? by Gabby Bazan
Table of Contents
Understanding by Ayla Boyd………………………………………..…………………..…………1 Tie-Second Place Prose Winner Love Bubbles by J ennifer Sheets………………………………………………………………..…3 Second Place Poetry Winner Four Letter Word by Amanda Fulton………………………………………………………..…...4 The Dance by Car l Lemon .…………………………………………………………..…………....9 Straight Jacket Mama by Kather ine Armstr ong…………………………………...…………...10 First Place Prose Winner Guatemala by Chr istian Sehtman..………………………………………………...……..……...15 An Ode to Frank Baker by Der ek B. Kolb………….……………………………….....………..16 Third Place Prose Winner The Sleep Over by Er ick Cer on……………………………………………………….………….22 La Puerta by Ruth Doughtie…………….…………………………………………….………….23 Mourning Rush by Joseph For nes………………….………….…………………….…………...25 Pop by J ennifer Sheets……………………………………………………………….....………....26 When Drawing by Kelsey J ohnson…………………………………………………..…………...33 First Place Poetry Winner Fragility by Taylor Bar nes………………………………………………………….…………….34 Hang in There by Taylor Bar nes…… …………………………………………….……………..35 Surprise! by Taylor Bar nes……………….………………………………..…….....…………….36 Six Feet Under by Gabby Bazan………….……………………………………...…..…………...37
Qin’s Military Officer by Cecilia Pham……...………………….……………………………….38 Cat’s Eye by Elizabeth Pham………………….………………………………………………….39 A Touch of Elegance by Samantha Velasquez ……………………………...………………….40 Sideways Hallway by Allen Stor m…………………………………………….………………….41 Alligator by Allen Stor m………………………………………………………..…………………42 Bill Lives in Austin by Madeline Styskal………………………………………..………………..43 What’s It Liked to be Bullied by Philip Feldwisch………………………………..……………..48 Catch by Kelsey J ohnson…………………………………………………………….……………49 Tie-Second Place Prose Winner Fields of Orchids by Ruth Doughtie………………………………………………….………......59 Third Place Poetry Winner Photographs by Er ick Cer on…….………………………………………………………………..61 Into the Abyss by Mir iam Patr ick……………………………………………………………..…66 Dressing on the Side by Joseph For nes…….……………………………………………….….…67 Car Jacking by Ayla Boyd……………………...………………………………………………....68 Sly Rabbits by Hennah Saber ……………….……………………………………………….……69 Love is a Flame Burning in my Heart by Kather ine Ar mstr ong…………......…………….…..75
Contributor’s Biographies……………………………………………………...…….……….…..77 Acknowledgements………..……………………………………………………...…….…….……79 Uproar Submission Form………………………………………………………….………...……80
Understanding Ayla Boyd “Got a light?” “Not for you.” I plopped down on the curb beside a smoking man, un-lit cigarette hanging from the edge of my mouth.
“Pardon, but why not?” He exhaled and chuckled, adjusting his cap. “You’re young enough to quit. You don’t need this shit in your lungs. Cancer sticks.” He took a drag. “Whether I smoke or not isn't your business.” I looked him up and down. A sickly looking man. I couldn’t tell if his hair was cropped short or if he were bald. Around his wrist he wore a patient band. “It ain’t, but it’s my lighter. My lighter, my rules.” I ran a hand through my hair, scalp to the nape of my neck, removing the useless thing from my lips, gritting my teeth and placing it back in the pack. “What are you here for, if you don’t mind me asking?” I made sure to make eye-contact.
He grinned. “Lung cancer.” “Why don’t you quit?” “Gonna die anyway. Quitting now won’t do shit.” “I see.” “You?” I cocked my head. “Come again?” “What’re you doing here? You don’t have that sickly look to you.” I fiddled with the zipper on my purse. No point in lying or sugar-coating it. “Sister tried to off herself again and landed her ass in ICU.” He nodded, almost knowingly. “She okay?” “She’ll live. Once they’ve got her stable, she’ll be back in the psych ward.” The purse fiddling slowly became finger picking. It was a habit I’d been trying to kick. Anytime I got the urge, I’d go out and smoke. Gave my hands something to do. I’d tried learning to crochet a few months, but that quickly became more frustrating than relieving. I could make a chain, but I had no idea how to connect them into a scarf or whatever I was trying to make. “Don’t know why she can’t just pretend to be normal,” I said under my breath. “It would make everything easier on me and Mom.” 1
The man extended his hand to me. “Robert.” “Andie.” “Got a good handshake there, Andie.” Robert glanced at his watch and put his cigarette out. He moved slowly, standing carefully. He extended his hand to me again and I thought he was offering to help me up, but when I reached to take it, he didn’t grab me. Instead he put his lighter into my hand. “Kick that habit, sweetheart. It’ll kill ya.”
Tie—Second Place Prose Winner
Love Bubbles Jennifer Sheets
It floats on the breeze, diving like a hawk hunting and rising like a finch
frightened into flight. Its path is erratic, never straight. Perfectly round it sparkles, lines of a rainbow within shifting in the light. Shrieks of joy always follow it as children give chase across green grass. Itâ€™s a fragile thing, this bubble, once made, capable of soaring above the ground traveling forever. But it can pop just as swiftly, shattering and ending its life before it had a chance to truly begin. It has to be nurtured, blown gently from loving lips. It takes perfect control to coax it from the wand. It takes courage
to begin to form. It takes trust to wait for it. But if you do, then you might just be rewarded with a bubble as large as the little heads that trace its path across the sky.
Second Place Poetry Winner 3
Four Letter Word Amanda Fulton
You and David have been friends for three years, five months, 24 days and 15 hours. You have been in love with him for three years, five months, 24 days and 14 hours. David is still oblivious to any and all of your affection. You have seen each other through ups and downs. Through it all you have
quietly hidden your adoration and been satisfied with your daydreams rather than ruin something so perfect, well almost perfect. Now here you are at his door. “Who ordered chocolate chip cookies?” you say as you walk in the door stepping out of the light drizzle of rain that has started. It is not unusual for you to let yourself in anymore, nor is it unusual for David to greet you from the couch. You have been having weekly meetings at his house for two years now. With a grimace on his face David says, “Did you make-” “Yes, I made them. Don’t you dare start,” you say. “Do you remember the last time?” “That was two years ago and there wasn’t that much smoke,” you say with a scowl as you walk into the kitchen. “Hey, where is that big plate I left?” David stands up and just sort of waves his hand in the general direction of his entire kitchen before disappearing into his bedroom. When you find it stacked at the bottom of his plates you smile momentarily at the sight of your stuff combined with his. You take the plate out and fan out the cookies. Then you place them on the bar that separates the kitchen and living room. You notice his usual array of mail, magazines and books so you walk back into the living room to pick up a little bit. First you pick up the books and return them to the bookshelves. You notice he has been rereading Harry Pot-
ter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He is a closet fan and has dragged you to see every one of the movies, only he tells everyone it is the other way around. When you reach down to pick up his magazine and mail you accidently bump the remote off the table and it crashes onto the hardwood floors with a loud thud. David walks back into the living room when he hears the noise. He is in the middle of changing his shirt. Your body freezes at seeing the small fraction of his stomach. You can tell he is still working to lose the ten pounds he gained since last Thanksgiving. The knot that is permanently lodged in your gut is pulled tighter. “Hello, Earth to Angela. What do you think?” You suddenly realize he must have asked you something. Did he see you staring at him? How 4
do you talk yourself out of this? You take a deep breath and close your eyes to clear your head. “I’m sorry I...what was the question?” you ask unable to come up with any clever response. David kind of shakes his head and smiles at your confusion. “I was asking if you wanted a glass of wine.” “Yeah, that sounds great,” you say. “I’m going to go start dinner. Wanna pick a movie?” You quickly put the bar between the two of you. “Are you sure you have time for a movie?” “What do you mean?” you ask puzzled.
“Well,” he says making a gesture towards you. “It looks like you may have a hot date after this.” You roll your eyes and shake your head. “It’s a new dress,” you say with a shrug. You have practice at controlling yourself around him and you can do this. You are just friends. It is has become your mantra. Even if you had the courage to tell him how you feel about him. How much you want to sit around on a lazy Sunday and read books with him. How you want to look across the dinner table and see him smiling at you. How you want to curl up with him and watch the movies that you both like so much, like A nnie Hall or Monty Python. How you want to get lost in his kisses and find yourself wrapped up with his body. These are the things you just cannot say. Instead you settle for nights like this. Just friends sitting around watching your favorite television show or hanging out at that pub around the corner or making dinner together. No, you come every week and carefully dance around your feelings and hide your affection so as to not ruin what you have. Tonight will be different though. You have been offered a job in Dallas and you have decided to throw away all of your cautions and confess your feelings to him. The night passes as seamlessly as ever. You prepare dinner while David talks about his day and his clients. He has always been a hard worker and plans on being a non-equity partner within the next two years. He has explained this term to you but the gist of it just means more money. After dinner you sit together on the couch, bodies almost touching. That has more to do with the fact that you both like to center yourself in front of the TV. He
has chosen Monty Python and you both enjoy quoting most of it line for line. You find reason after reason to not let David know of your impending move or anything else that may throw off the balance of this time together. As the night and movie draws to an end, the rain lingers on. “Umm, I can’t find my umbrella,” you say as your rummage through all of your belongings in your purse, pushing your compact umbrella to the bottom. “It’s okay. I’ll grab mine.” “Are you sure? I had to park half way down the street,” you say as you pull your purse straps on your shoulder. “All the more reason,” David says as he opens the door. He steps out on his porch under the 5
open umbrella and you step under too. “Tonight was fun,” he says. “Surprised you forgot your umbrella. Have you ever forgotten anything?” “I guess we all have our off days,” you say as your eyes dart away from him, attempting to hide the truth of your umbrella in your purse. The flush on your cheeks is thankfully hidden behind your auburn hair. “Careful” he says as he reaches out to stop you from falling. “How is it you always find something to trip on?” “The safe routes are boring,” you say as you pull your arm out of his hand. With a grin and a
wink you add, “I like to live on the edge.” Were you just flirting with him? Did he notice? He doesn’t seem to have noticed. Does he really not see you like that? Maybe you have known each other too long. Maybe you have been through too much together. All the ups and downs, especially in relationships. You are always there for each other. Even through his endless parade of wannabe trophy wives who had never had anything to talk about other than Zumba and whatever the latest celebrity gossip was. Through the people that didn’t understand your friendship and some who were jealous of it. There was that one guy you dated two years ago who told you that you were a “great girl” and that he “hoped David noticed that one day.” You wished you didn’t know what he was talking about, but you had really hadn’t dated anyone since. “Hey,” David said. “My parents wanted to know if you’re coming to Thanksgiving.” You can see your car just a few feet away. Your heart is fluttering and all he wants to talk about is Thanksgiving. “I don’t know. That’s a month away. I guess we’ll have to see.” This causes him to pause for a moment. He touches your arm to stop you. “Angela, you all right?” “Yes, I’m fine,” you say as you take a step forward. “Of course I’ll be there for Thanksgiving.” “Good, my dad said he’s hoping for another one of your pecan pies.” You smile thinking about last year. David’s parents were always so welcoming, and you en-
joyed helping his mom and sisters cook while occasionally throwing in an opinion about the football game with his dad and brothers-in-law. David on the other hand was comfortably reclined reading a book. That was until it was time for flag football. He and his dad were always captains. His dad picked you for his team and David explained he always chose his mom first. It was sweet to see how much he cared for her even if your team totally clobbered his. Here you are at your car. You still haven’t summoned the courage you had hoped the glass of wine or walk would bring you. So you smile and nod goodbye. You crawl in your car as he walks back down the street. You are sitting here, mentally kicking yourself, when you notice that the rain’s pitterpatter has become an overwhelming downpour. You look in your rearview mirror and he is standing 6
there in the middle of the street under his orange umbrella smiling at your car. This is your chance. You open the car door and let the rain wash away your fear as you run back to him. When you reach him there in the middle of the street you are as exposed as your body feels with your dress plastered to it. You both share the same longing momentary glance then in one swift graceful movement he lays down the orange umbrella and wraps you up in his arms. You find yourselves kissing. You can taste the rain and the wine. This is where you are meant to be. This is who you are meant to be with and everything else has been leading up to this moment. Then you open your eyes and shake off your fantasy. You are just in your car daydreaming and
David is not there waiting. The rain has slowed to a drizzle and you realize that you must go back and tell him. Your steps back are deliberate and the feather light rain collects on your head, the front of your dress and even your eyelashes. You pace yourself, reaching deep inside you for strength that only barely comes. It is a tiny sliver of bravery but it is more than you have ever had so you cling to it. You continue to replay every possible scenario in your head during the journey back. You always like to be prepared. Now here you are at his door. This time you knock. “Who is it?” David asks in a muffled voice through the door as he turns on the porch light. You prepare your sweetest smile knowing that he will be looking through the peep hole. “It’s me.” He opens the door with a furrowed brow. “Everything okay? Did you forget something? Come on in.” You stop short of entering. Close your eyes. Breath. You can do this. “No. David, I came back to tell you something.” “Well, don’t you sound serious?” “Please, just listen or I may never get it out.” Then you tell him everything. The words explode from your mouth at a frantic speed. You know if you stop to think about what it is you are saying and how these words will change everything that you will lose your strength. You tell him about wanting to
spend lazy Sundays together and you tell him how you have been avoiding this conversation for fear that it would change everything. You keep your eyes mostly focusing on your hands as you twist them and rub them together so much that it is a complete shock to you that they do not find a way to morph into one large blob of twisted knuckles and Candy-licious pink nails. You go farther and tell him about the job offer you got in Dallas. You tell him about how it was the thought of being 254 miles away from him has seemed like the hardest part of taking the job. You are finally done letting out everything that you have been so careful to bottle up. You breathe a small sigh of relief. David has been very quiet and very patient as you rambled on but now that you have stopped talking his silence is painfully sharp. You force your eyes to meet his. Though he is smiling you can see the sadness in his eyes. He 7
waits for a moment before answering. “I’ve known.” You take a half step back and David catches your hand. He pulls you close to him and rests his lips on your forehead. You bite down on your back teeth to try and gain control. The lump in the back of your throat is growing and suddenly those 254 miles don’t seem far enough. You hug him back and pull away. “Well,” you say as you lick your quivering lips and force a smile. “Do you want to come back in? I can get you a glass of wine.” “I have a lot of packing to do. I need my rest. Thank you, for everything.” Your voice is hol-
low and you barely recognize it. With that you turn and walk back to your car. David doesn’t reach out to stop you this time. As you walk away you glance back at his dark figure in the door. All of your preparations for every possible outcome did not prepare you for that.
The Dance Carl Lemon, II
My two forceful arms extended towards him, That is how the music this time began. This wasn’t the first song I’d heard play
And this wasn’t my first dance. Two circled steps to the right, now the left. Much was in the weight of my footwork, My left foot in front of my right each step. My hands wound too tight, my fingernails dug into my palms. The crowd cheered and encouraged our future pain. He lunged. I spun. That was our first exchange. Our chests and hearts beat in rhythm Increasing as intensity aroused our aggression.
Was it for the girls, the guts or the glory? It mattered not to me. My fists were conquerors.
Straightjacket Mama Katherine Armstrong
Mom reached across the breakfast table and took my hand, squeezing my fingers like a miniature hug. “I am so proud of you,” she said with a whimsical grin. “What the hell, Mom?” I jerked away, leaving her outstretched hand to flop with a plunk onto the polished wood. I’d been here ten minutes and she was already being a bitch. “I just asked you to commit me,” I said. “Oh, sweetie,” she said, still smiling. “You’re twelve weeks in and you’re already ready to give up?” I leaned forward, relaxing the base of my palms against the edge of the tabletop. “I’m not giving up.” I tapped my index finger once, my nail making a dull clack on the wood. “I’m saving my marriage.” “But he forgave you.”
I rolled my eyes. “He always forgives me. That’s the problem.” She gave me a blank stare, similar to the one she’d given me when I’d told her I was engaged to a liberal two years back. I sighed, leaning back into the wicker dining chair. “It’s my fault and he won’t even admit it.” I’d married one of those passive husbands with the classic jaw-stubble and daytime house shoes, the understanding kind that let you think you wore the pants. Marrying me was like an adventure to Stan. Half the time he was just along for the ride. “Aw, Jeanie,” Mom said, reaching forward to touch my cheek. “You can’t help it.” “Doesn’t matter,” I said. “It’s still my fault.” Mom sat back and folded her arms, huffing. “I don’t understand you people.” By ‘you people,’ Mom meant people under the age of fifty-six. “By the time I was your age, I’d had three babies,” she said, eyeing me with mild condescension. “All this drama for just one? Jeanie, it really isn’t that complicated.” “It is if you’re bipolar,” I said in a mumble, like it was a dirty word. I’d always thought that going off my meds would be romantic, forced off my antipsychotics and mood-stabilizers for nine months to prevent my baby from being born with defects. I’d spent years finding the perfect cocktail of psych meds to level my brain to blissful equilibrium, but each pill could dam10
age my fetus’s mind even as it healed mine. I’d known from the moment I’d seen that plus on the digital home-test. From that moment on, I would live life like a martyr for the sake of my unborn child, with the strength and dignity of a documentary-worthy modern day hero. Now, three lousy months along, I stood a better chance of turning my life into a cutthroat reality show. “Mom,” I said quietly. “I just want you to sign your name.” I slid the crumpled papers across to her and dug around in my purse for a pen that didn’t have
sparkly purple ink. She slid the papers back. “Is this really necessary?” she asked, the smoothness in her face creasing. “I need a contact,” I said. “I don’t want to be alone in the world. They won’t let you visit me if your name’s not down here.” “Visit you?” she chuckled. “You’re my daughter.” “It’s not a joke.” “What kind of place is a mental hospital for a pregnant woman?” I pushed the papers back, this time with a black pen. “It’s the perfect place for this one. Just sign it.” “What about Stan?” she asked. I sank a little. It felt like my head was being dunked into tar; that’s what I deserved. Mom shook her head. “Does he know you’re here, Jeanie?” “I’ve asked him a billion times,” I said. “But he doesn’t want me to go. He says we’ll get through it together, like I can just do that. Mom, I’m going to kill him. He didn’t sign up for this. If I don’t take my meds, this baby is going to kill him.” “You’ve made it this far.” She talked like such a dumbass. She used to be smart before I was diagnosed with crazy.
“I know,” I said. “But I’m such a bitch to him. All the time.” She touched my hand. “Try to watch the language, Jeanie.” I pulled away and stood up. She looked up at me like she wanted to ask me if I wanted some cherry pie. That ‘comfort food’ mentality made me want to stick forks in her. I sighed through my nose, closing my eyes and not opening them for some time. “That’s it,” I said, so matter-of-factly that I actually calmed myself down. I opened my eyes and reached into my purse to pull out the Risperdal. It was an antipsychotic with similar properties to birth-control, like an omen that having babies was something people like me weren’t supposed to do. It was the most potent out of all my drugs and it would take effect within half an 11
hour if I took it now. I popped open the childproofed lid. Mom shook her head, her lavender eyes staring up at me anxiously. “Sweet pea…?” “Looks like Jeanie-Stan-Junior’s going to have gills.” I looked down into the bottle, a clinical chasm of translucent red filled a quarter of the way with a rattling pile of Dreamscicle-orange flat ovals. It was like I was meeting eyes with the reincarnation of someone who’d died too soon. “We never thought we’d see you again,” the pills wanted to say—my sanity wanted to say.
“What are you doing still carrying those around with you?” Mom demanded. “I want to be normal again,” I said, a stinging flush spreading down my bumpy cheekbones. “It’s not fair. He’s always been normal.” I poured a pill into the palm of my hand, then shook the bottle in search of a piece I might’ve broken in half earlier; I hadn’t forgotten my dose. Mom watched apathetically as I set the bottle down and waltzed across the tiled kitchen to the cupboard for a glass. I was being what she called a ‘drama queen.’ “You’re not serious,” she said. “You wouldn’t damage your baby’s little brain.” “What doesn’t kill it will make it stronger,” I said, tempted to smile at my own sick mind. I filled the glass at the tap. Mom stood up. “Don’t,” she said firmly, like she was telling me not to stick my tongue out at my brother. “Jeanie, I’m going to sign the papers.” Dreamscicle-orange, like flattened grains of rice. I dropped them onto my tongue and poured the water over them, feeling the pellets knock against my teeth before swishing them back with my tongue and letting them crash down my throat. I smiled, looking down tenderly at my half-filled glass. In thirty minutes, I would be me again. I straightened. “Oh, God!”
Without really thinking about it, I tossed the glass onto the floor, ignoring the shards as they sprayed across the tile. I hunched over the sink and plunged my two fingers into the back of my throat, scratching the roof of my mouth with my untrimmed nails on the way down. I felt myself choking, halfswallowing my fingertips, before retching into a gag and heaving the meager contents of my stomach into the left side of the divided sink. I did it again, then again, until I was gagging on nothing but drips of bile and the pills were laying there, one and a half flattened pellets of Dreamscicle-orange, amongst the pool of watery green vomit. I felt my mother’s warm, doughy hand rubbing my back. I panted, coughing on the acidic flavor of rot still on the back of my tongue. Burning tears of strain lingered on the rims of my eyes, collecting 12
on my eyelashes and dripping off with every blink. “I threw a lamp at him,” I said, trembling. “He sat in the armchair I wanted to sit in. I didn’t tell him I was going to sit down, but I convinced myself he’d done it on purpose and I threw a lamp at him.” “Did it hit him?” I sniveled into a laugh, stomach acid lurching up into my sinuses. “Remember my grades for gym class?” “Then no harm done.” She turned on the tap over the left side and flicked on the disposal, leaving it to hum. “Why don’t you wash your hands, sweetie?” “But I threw it,” I said. “Didn’t realize I was wrong until an hour later. Made him apologize because I thought he’d sat down to spite me.” Mom reached into her back pocket and unfolded the crumpled papers. Her name was scribbled across the line, next to her home phone and her e-mail contact. “You know your mind,” she said, smiling. “I guess I’d better trust you.” I stepped around, minding the glass crunching under my sneakers, and hugged onto her, my bony arms twining around her own petite frame. She held me there, stroking the back of my sweaty head, kissing my hair.
I wasn’t expecting her to cry, so when I felt her quaking through the sobs, I was a little caught off guard. I patted her back and wondered if I should ask her if she wanted some cherry pie. “I did this to you,” she said into the top of my shoulder, her voice breaking. “You didn’t know you had shitty genes,” I said. “You took care of me.” She nodded, her nose going up and down in my hair as she nuzzled my ear. I glanced back at the sink and wondered if she’d forgotten the disposal was still on, rumbling on nothing but clear tap-water now. “Can you take me to the hospital now?” I asked softly. She nodded again, breaking into a sob.
“Can you put the rest of my meds down the disposal?” I asked. “You should do it,” she said, leaning back to look at me. I looked away. “I didn’t sign up for this either.” “I know.” Her voice was breaking again. “The baby’s going to be just like me,” I said, glaring at the floor because there was no way for me to glare at myself. “Probably.” “I know,” she said. I touched my tummy with the side of my thumb and rubbed it like a little snow angel on my 13
shirt. My patch of warmth; my mommy-lump. “I wouldn’t sign those damn papers for anything,” I said. “If my kid told me to sign them...” “I know,” she said, squeezing the muscle in my arm. “You don’t know everything,” I said. She nodded because it would’ve been stupid for her to tell me she knew that too. “Mom?” I said. “Yes, Jeanie?” Her lavender eyes met mine, sparkling. I wished mine would sparkle like hers, like silver glitter
falling off the roof. I pulled away from her and stepped back to the sink to switch off the disposal. It rattled into silence. “Thank you,” I said. My shoes crunched over the broken glass as I walked back to her. I kissed her papery cheek with my vomit-mouth. “Thanks for not being bipolar, Mommy.” She smiled with her whole mouth. “Any time.”
Guatemala Christian Sehtman
On the street corner stands a child selling candy for two quezal each. Men in suits rush by
as women dressed in traditional native dresses drag their children behind them. Cars, trucks, and buses drive down stone brick roads leaving clouds of dark smoke floating above. Old stone buildings filled with generations of history and traditions cover the mountain tops of Guatemala. childhood friends and neighbors remain unchanged throughout the many years. Looking down the sides of the mountain you see lines of sheet metal mixed in with the stone, the roofs of homes of poor workers. In
the distance, tree tops cover the peaks of the mountains that surround the city. Steam rises from the distant volcanos that touch the sun and clouds. The land lost in time remains for those who still remember.
An Ode to Frank Baker Derek B. Kolb Rousing abruptly, you quietly slide on your sun bleached uniform in the pitch black. Checking your Indiglo watch you are acutely aware that the four hours of sleep you just had are not going to tide you over for the next 52 hours. Finding your boots, you slide them on and slip out of the door the same way you have for the last five months.
Outside, the realities once again hit you. The smells of gun powder, burning trash, and burning shit overwhelm you to the point of nausea, but you got used to that months ago. You quickly check your side arm as you start the walk to the makeshift motor pool where the team keeps its vehicles. It is difficult to do this shit while everyone else sleeps, unaware that their teammate is burning the candle at both ends, but on you press. You have the same ritual. It makes the monotony a little more bearable. First for the PMCS is the LT.'s truck, always the same, out to the fuel point, fill it up then start doing the maintenance. Then the Platoon Sergeant's truck, then Sgt. Laurence's, and finish it up with yours. After all the maintenance is done, you start working on all the weapons: cleaning, lubricating, checking head space and timing,
and performing function checks. Following all of the fun of getting filthy, it is off to the CAS to replenish IV bags, needles, bandages, quick clot, morphine, and whatever other consumables may have been utilized the mission before. On the way back from the CAS, you always stop by the Intel shop to get the newest intel reports and route information that could be pertinent to your mission and head back to the trucks to ensure a copy of the briefing is in every Truck Commander's Big Book of Important Shit. After that you always make a class six run and "acquire" some "mission essential items" such as Dr. Pepper, Root Beer, Water, Coke, plenty of ice and most essential Red Bull, because that shit gives you wings. You are usually walking out of the Tactical Operations Center, having just gotten done talking with the Commander and First Sergeant about your upcoming mission that day or night when the first person from the team, usually the Lieutenant, shows up. "Hey Specialist," the LT says. "Hey Sir, how are you doing?" you reply walking past him not even attempting to salute. "Busy as always," he states, as he runs a hand through his closely cropped brown hair to play off the salute he was expecting to return. "Roger that, Sir," you say glancing over your shoulder. The 1SG is shaking his head as always. He has told you in confidence that the LT. would not know busy if it bit him in the ass. Yet, as with every other time, he just gives you the knowing nod of an 16
understanding Non Commissioned Officer, and shuts the door behind the LT. to give him the same brief you just received. The rest of the team will be out shortly, looking over their vehicles and gear like the magical Mr. Fixit Fairy visited while they were sleeping, to take care of everything, even putting ice in their coolers. Drivers will look at their gunners like they are heroes, gunners to their drivers, and the TCs don't give a shit cause at least there is nothing that has to be done other than listen to the LT. give the mission brief. It would be comical if the magical Mr. Fixit Fairy existed, but instead you listen to the cooing of NCOs telling their teams how proud they are that they were willing to relinquish a little sleep to ensure
that today's mission went smoothly, hoping that today is not the day you fall asleep behind the wheel, or during a firefight, and have someone else you know killed in this God-forsaken country. There was a time when you all worked together, when all the teams in the platoon would bust ass to get the mission done, but that was before he died. That was before the night that changed your world for the rest of your life; and before Frank died. It seems like forever ago but it has been exactly 162 days, 12 hours, and 13 minutes since Pvt. Frank Baker, your battle buddy, was killed by a sniper during a cordon and search in the village of Yusufiyah, Iraq. It feels like yesterday that the two of you were joking about what you were going to do to all the "Patriotic Women" when you got home; hell, it was a civic duty. That, at least was the running joke. He was always doing something to make you laugh, even though really it was just Frank being Frank. Like the time you caught him on the steps to his room singing country love songs to a chair holding nothing more than his rifle with no one else around. When you gave him the eye, he got defensive and tried to soothe his rifle, so she wasn't upset. However, during a routine patrol, a firefight broke out and the LT. in his infinite wisdom decided to search the entire fucking town. It would have been in hindsight easier to pop smoke, break contact, regroup with CAG, and lay waste to the entire town, all five square kilometers of that shithole, with airstrikes, artillery, tanks, mortars, and then a ground attack, but that high drag,
low speed officer struck again, and this time he got your buddy killed. You blame yourself. Hell, you should have seen it coming. Frank was never one to stick close to the rules or S.O.Ps. That is probably why he had been promoted back to private so many times, but you never had to question his loyalty or desire to help you even when you were at your lowest. There was a rare occasion that Frank wasn't with the team. He would get a day off because the team was staffed plus one, which meant everyone in the team would get a day off from the action, while a replacement took his spot. Oddly enough, it was on one such mission that Frank missed, that would be the mission that would change your life forever and remind you of Frank the most.
The explosion turned the night instantly to the bright orange glow of day as the fuel trucks exploded with an intensity only seen in your nightmares and the movies. You apply the brakes and slow down the humvee. At the same time you grab the hand mic for the radio and get a status check from all fellow elements. Your gunner is quick on the .50 cal firing lead and tracers at 2,910 ft/sec at the enemy. The scene of carnage makes your hands shake as you reach for the door handle of the humvee, one latch away from near certain death, but you have to go assist your fellow Soldiers with casualty assistance and evac. As you get out, Staff Sergeant Hughes throws you your aid bag and moves to the driver's seat to reposition the humvee to provide covering fire as you run the 150 meters to the other convoy under direct
and heavy fire. When you run up to the scene, the smell of burning diesel and rubber, mixed with burning flesh, piss, shit, hair, fat, cotton, and cooking blood, death, arrives immediately at your nose to nauseate you. The brightly painted orange glow of day has turned back into night with the still burning trucks providing light and cover as the bullets ricochet left, right, and overhead. Three trucks are on fire and there is one humvee disabled. Three civilian casualties are laying haphazardly in the middle of MSR Tampa (Highway 1), and one Soldier is injured, but not seriously. He is already in his battle buddies' vehicle laying down suppressive fire towards the enemy. If he is lucky he will get a few days off from the Doc. Sergeant First Class Ortega grabs onto your arm, as he hey you’s two other Soldiers who happen to be running by. "Sergeant,” he yells over the automatic gun fire. “Here are a couple of privates. Let's get these casualties taken care of. We'll provide covering fire. You two privates listen to him or I will shoot you myself, clear?" "Roger, Sergeant," the three of you shout nearly in unison. You send the privates out from behind the cover of the Armored Security Vehicle with a gurney to collect the three casualties while you work on a Landing Zone for the Blackhawk. You knew the Blackhawk would be enroute as soon as you made the call as they are only fifty miles away and always on standby for a CASEVAC. The privates quickly return with the first casualty, a younger man probably
barely in his thirties. He is burnt beyond recognition and still smoldering, third degree burns over 97% of his body. His uninjured brother is running up as you assess the situation. It looks bad, real bad. "Th-thhat is my paadjie, umm brojer, is he to be okay?" the brother asks in his best English, staring you straight in the eyes, kneading his hands. Nodding your head in affirmation to keep the man calm, you return to working. You quickly cut off the remainder of his clothes to find a place to insert the IV. His screams ring in your ears, the black flaky skin coming off with every move he makes. His ears are gone, the back part of his skull exposed, the white part of his eyes are so perfect and white and bulging, in complete contrast to his face, black as the night sky, and at that moment you notice he has no eyelids. You place an IV in his dick because that 18
is the only part not burnt so bad it can be utilized for fluid intake, but it makes the situation look more than dire. After you administer morphine through the IV, he soon is only whimpering. Without the screams, you hear one of the privates behind you throwing up. You yell at him to get the bird inbound. The other two casualties are not much better. They too are still smoldering. Yet you work in the same fashion, looking for any way to get fluids going. You quickly cut a trachea tube for the second patient because his lips have melted together, the whole time fighting to keep what little is in your stomach down. The third patient has a sucking chest wound. How he got wounded in the chest you have no idea. You quickly apply an Asherman Chest Seal, roll him on to his side and stick a J-Tube down his throat.
There is no time to waste though the bird is six minutes out. You grab the IR strobe out of your pocket and slide it down the highway to mark the hot LZ, three minutes out. Touchdown of Guardian Angel and loading of the casualties takes less than three minutes, and after takeoff you are grabbing your gear and heading back to your humvee. Back in the humvee, Staff Sergeant Hughes gives you the look that says it all— that was fucked up. You are covered in blood, skin, sweat, and some fluid you can't identify. As you drive away you grab the hand mic for the radio and call the bird to check on your patients. The response is crystal clear. "Hey Sergeant, um patient number one is deceased, number two is crashing, and number three is stable. Sorry." It is that moment that will haunt you for the rest of your life. You were the last person to touch and work on a patient that died in flight to a hospital, and you told his brother he would be okay. His blood is on your hands. The rest of the trip back is a quiet one to say the least. Word travels fast in a combat zone though and Frank is sitting on the steps leading to your door, throwing rocks at nothing in particular. "Are you okay brother?" Frank asks. "Just want to shower off the day, go to bed and forget that combat happens," you reply. "Are you sure you don't want to go to the MWR tonight? They are showing Jarhead, and that big
-tittied girl that likes you is going to be there," he says holding his hands out in front of his chest. "Nah, I am good. 'preciate the offer though. I just really need a shower and some sleep." "Bro, snap out of it,” he says, smacking the back of your head. “Get your ass in the shower and meet me at the MWR. Titties." "Yeah, we'll see. I just want a shower, so beat feet," you reply, slamming your door. Getting out of your uniform you throw on your PTs and head for the shower trailer. Not much of a shower, or a trailer for that matter. Yet, the hot water wraps you in a cocoon of a nonjudgmental, unabated bliss, like a warm blanket on a cold winter morning, and for a moment you feel normal again. You hate having to cut the shower short, getting out of the warm embrace of the shower’s loving spring of 19
water, but getting some sleep seems very important right now. Back in your hooch, you lay down on your bed and close your eyes, and immediately the images start: trucks exploding, bright orange sky, burning bodies, patients number one, two, and three. The smell of death enters your nose again, and immediately you feel nauseous. The tears start running down your cheeks as you make your way to the door of your hooch, ensuring that your side arm still has a round in the chamber. It does as always, so you sit in your favorite chair with the door open, allowing the dim lights of the FOB to dance against the wall behind youâ€”frightening images they appear to be, ones of death and destruction, chaos, with no way out. Too many close calls with death; killing enemy
combatants, people caught in the crossfire, and now having dead patients. The blood staining your hands will never wash off, at least not in this life. With tears streaming down your face, you place the barrel of your M9 Barretta 9 millimeter firmly against your head, cock the hammer, and prepare to make the images, tears, and tragedy stop permanently. As you are about to pull the trigger, Frank pops in the door, and yells "Stop!" He grabs the gun from your hand so quick you can't get the shot off, drops the mag, and clears the pistol. Breathing heavy, Frank pulls up an ammo can to sit on. "What the fuck is going on, man? Were you about to? This isn't fucking like you at all." You tell him the full details of the day and in true Frank fashion, he gets up from the ammo can with tears in his hardened eyes, and then gives you a hug. His huge 6' 2" stature envelops you and as the embrace ends he makes sure he says "No, Homo!" You can't help but smile a little bit. He sleeps on the floor all night, never leaving your side for a moment. Even as morning breaks and you get the mission brief, he is standing fast beside you. Loading up in the trucks after the team prayer, Frank walks with you to your truck, shakes your hand and tells you to be safe. You see Frank climb in his truck, just before bowing your head for your personal prayer. Then the team ritual of clearing the net, playing "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix over the radio, getting a redcon status from each element and moving out.
An hour into the patrol as you reach Yusufiyah, the radio traffic is clear. "Contact right, 1000 meters, IED 300 meters we are taking fire, shift fire, shift fire. Alpha two, move 500 meters north towards the contact and flex fire. Alpha three, move 500 meters east towards the contact and fire for effect. Alpha one is going to stand by and secure additional resources. Now move, move, move. Let's make this happen, men." The team moves to cordon off the area and direct heavy fire at the insurgents hell bent on sending you all to meet your maker before they meet theirs. The insurgents break contact, drop their weapons, and disappear back into the various buildings in the center of town. You are heavily outnumbered, out gunned, and way too pissed off. The LT. comes over the net and plain as day tells everyone to 20
encircle the center of town until reinforcements arrive and we can do a house to house, building to building sweep. It is when Frank dismounts the truck and is walking toward you that he is struck by a sniper's bullet in his left side between his sapi plates and crumples to the ground instantly, twenty feet in front of you. His gunner's weapon malfunctioned and could not lay down covering fire as he was moving toward you. You run over to assist your best friend, the man who saved your life the night before. As you grab his IBA and drag him behind cover, your worst nightmare has come true. His lips are blue. He is very pale, barely breathing, bleeding profusely. Cutting off his IBA and looking at his injuries, you once again become nauseous. You immedi-
ately start CPR, and have your gunner call for a CASEVAC. Five minutes later as you sit on the ground with Frank cradled in your arms you listen to him take his last breath. Cursing God amidst tears, you reach up with a trembling right hand and close his now soft blue grey eyes for one final time. You tell your gunner to cancel the CASEVAC and to let Alpha one know that there is a Soldier KIA. You say a prayer for your friend, your battle buddy, your confidant, and your hero, pick him up and gently place him in the back of your humvee. The memorial service is four days later. The roll call, 21 gun salute, and “Taps” shatters something so deep inside of you that even suicide seems like a chicken shit move. A few days later your team honors Frank the best way they know how—with guns blazing, grenades thrown at random abandoned cars, smoking cigars, and drinking near beer, with one unopened can on the hood of his humvee. It is a good time but soberness is in the air, and Frank would not have wanted that. You choose to honor Frank the best way you know how, and that is to press on with the mission, and learn to live again. ~ When you get home from the war a lot of people call you a hero. They look at you and the wounds you carry and continually thank you for your service. You know they are being polite, but wish that you could tell them that you are no hero. You were just doing your job. The real heroes are the men and women that are left on the battlefield. Your hero is Frank.
Third Place Prose Winner
The Sleepover Erick Ceron
Tonight, you and I are kings, wearing royal blue robes. A royal festival, banquets of death by chocolate.
No jesters, we princelings hunt for sport like men. We are gladiators of the digital, crusaders of the virtual And after the dawn slips quietly behind us, We rest our eyes and raise the drawbridge, Keeping the years locked away in some dungeon. But those grey-clad warriors learned the secrets Of phantasmal mist, and while we slept, sorcerous Gallivantings made us wake up in the cages.
It is no more the days we hunt for sport. Now we hunt to feed our mouths and families. It is no more the days that you and I Fight these fictitious battles like before the dawn And it is no more the days that you are beside me.
La Puerta Ruth Doughtie
I opened the door and caught him mid-wipe. His pants, scrunched around his feet, bound his ankles together like a honey-glazed convict. His muscular body was bent over. One hand leaning on the handicap bar, the other wiping his ass. I guessed when he heard the knob jiggle he was just as
shocked as I was to see someone on the other side of the door. We locked eyes for too long. He stood there like an animal, and I the poacher, frozen in a fog, waiting for me to lift the nose of my rifle. “Wow,” I finally mumbled, looking back down at his ass. A rush of blood hit my face and my skin grew hot. I smiled, threw up a quick hand, and backed out of the room. “Why do they even make unisex restrooms?” I say, twisting a straw wrapper around my fingers. Skylar takes a big bite of her burger. “Gives the bar an asset,” she says between chews. She
swigs some beer before swallowing. I made her switch seats with me so my back could face the hallway to the bathrooms. I keep seeing him wipe his ass over and over. The image is plastered in my brain like an inadvertent picture I didn’t mean to take but have to pay to get developed anyway. Double prints. “Did you see anything?” she asks. “Everything,” I emphasize low enough for only her to hear. “I saw his light leg hair, and his wad of toilet paper, and his huge muscular butt cheeks, and his matching brown belt and shoes.” Sky thinks about it and then laughs. “Silky briefs,” I add. She leans back in the booth and pushes her plate of fries towards me. “I couldn’t tell you how many people I’ve walked in on. Doing all sorts of things. And every time it’s still kind of,” she says with a pause, “kind of like watching someone suck Cheeto dust off of their fingers.” I nod and take a fry. “Now I have to pee,” she teases, getting up from her seat. “Knock first,” I say. I glance around the room for his white buttoned shirt. I find it sitting at the bar watching the game with a group of friends. He looks down from the TV in time to catch my eyes. How embarrass23
ing. I saw his thing. He smiles. I turn away and flick stuff around in my purse. I find Chap Stick and roll on a thick coat. I feel him walk to the table. â€œLong time, no see,â€? he says, his voice deep and steady. I pop my lips and look up. This is how I met my husband.
Mourning Rush Joseph Fornes
I couldnâ€™t feel my legs burning as I ran across the dewy field filled with Tall grass and wildflowers. Sticker burrs clung
To my socks like desperate immigrants. My knees were pistons, lungs burned as I tore through The springtime damp, out of the field And into a grove of stunted live oak And weeds as high as my head. My grandmother was dead. I rose up the ladder to my secret perch Where all I surveyed was mine. I took a deep breath and sent scavengers
To retrieve the mourning from the lowest part Of my stomach. The thin ant rotting plywood Creaked and moaned under my weight Twenty feet in the air, above the rats and worms And other vermin who feed on detritus Left behind on other journeys. I sat and held my mournerâ€™s Stomach in my hands, mouth open in a scream, But no sound came out. No cry, no Breath, only violence in my hands. A single leaf fell, the trees paid no mind.
Pop Jennifer Sheets
I slip my right hand into my hair, resting my cheek on my palm. My pinky is drawn to the spot like a magnet. It draws quick circles around the edge of the spot. Feels bigger. Smooth. The urge to wrap some hair around my finger is crushing. It sits inside my stomach trying to claw its way up and
wriggle into my fingers, twist my inky hair into a spiral, and tug. My heart thumps like a jogger’s. I pull my hand out of my hair and sit on it for the rest of class. “Melody!” Sandy calls to me after the bell rings. I slip out of the classroom, ignoring her. Walking through the herd of students, I head to a bathroom on the second floor near the science wing. I like it here. I can lock the door. In front of the mirror I reach up and pull back a section of hair on my right side, exposing the spot. It’s bigger. It was the size of a pencil eraser. Now it’s the diameter of a nickel. The pale circle of bare skin stands out surrounded by the sea of my dark hair. I use the tip of my index finger to run around the edge of the circle, where my hair ends and the bald spot begins. There’s no bump, no raised skin, nothing to cause the bald spot except my own compulsion to yank my hair out, leaving my scalp ravaged with circles without hair. I drop my hand and turn from the mirror. I try to say Dr. Michael’s mantra in my head, but I can’t remember it. My brain is busy obsessing over the spot. The way it looks burned into my memory, like I looked at the sun. I turn back around to grab my bag and walk slowly toward the lunchroom. Sandy will know I was avoiding her and I don’t want to tell her why. She will be upset to know I’m doing it again. I walk past the cafeteria doors and outside to the small courtyard. I sit down, close my eyes and tip my head back, letting the sun heat my face. “Hey, Mel,” Jordan says. My eyes pop open and look straight into sapphire eyes across the table. “Oh,” I say. My hand flies up to my head protectively. “Hey.” “Tired of the pecking order inside?” he asks. “Huh?” I force my hand down to my lap and wrap my other hand around it, tethering it down. “Oh. It’s not so bad,” I say smiling. “I enjoy being stared down by the math heads every day.” “They’re pretty intense,” he says. The corners of his eyes crinkle as he grins. “The Sci-Fi club is worse. They threw slime at some sophomores yesterday. Looked like Nickelodeon exploded in the cafeteria. ” “Safer to eat out here,” he says as he runs his fingers through his shaggy brown hair. I want to 26
do that. Touch my hair without a thread of nervous electricity exploding through my body. “Yeah,” my knee bounces restlessly. “But Sandy burns easily and there’s no shade here.” He looks up squinting at the sun. “Bright today.” “She won’t be coming out here.” He raises his eyebrows at me. “You’ve been inseparable since third grade when you smuggled your cat to school in your backpack.” I grin remembering the horrified screams Ms. Ellington squeaked out when my backpack started thumping across the floor, hissing. She was relieved but not thrilled to learn it was just my cat Brady stuffed in there. My mom was less thrilled. “I’d forgotten that. Sandy thought it was hilarious. Mom didn’t though. I had to scrub the floors at her cat rescue for a month to redeem myself for that one.” “Seems overly harsh,” Jordon says with a mouth full of sandwich. “It was better than what I had to do when mom caught me trying to mail my brother Ben to grandma.” I place my left hand under my thigh and nibble the thumbnail of my right hand. “How were you going to get him to the post office?” “Oh, we were already there. Mom was mailing letters. They had a display of boxes with pack-
ing tape, so I put him in one and told an employee that my mom needed to mail it.” Damn. I bit my nail into the quick. That will hurt for days. “Surely they didn’t believe you?” “They were putting the label on when mom came up and asked where Ben was.” Jordon throws his head back and lets out a loud snorting laugh. Such ease in him. I allow a little giggle to escape as I open my lunch bag and peer inside. “So why are you two separate today?” I look up and see Jordan staring at me. Assessing me. Maybe he can see it. My hand steals up to my head and slides down my hair. No. It’s covered. My hand lingers on my neck rubbing it. “I
needed some sun.” He squints his eyes at me. “What are you doing after school?” “Me?” Jordon looks around. “Don’t see anyone else here.” “Um, homework,” I say. “Why?” “I have somewhere I need to go and I thought you’d enjoy it. Want to go with me?” I’ve known Jordan even longer than I have Sandy. We met in kindergarten when I pushed him off a swing. My mom called his house to apologize, probably because he hit his head when he fell, and 27
ended up talking on the phone to his father for hours. Jordan’s dad stayed home to raise him and his brother while his mom worked. They traded recipes and secret stain removers for laundry like girlfriends. “I guess that would be okay,” I say. My stomach feels like I ate an iron. A whole afternoon with laid back Jordan. Next to him I’m a mess. How will I keep it secret for that long? My knee bounces again. Jordan throws me another smile as the bell rings signaling the herd back to their respective rooms. “Good. Meet me at my car at three.” When the bell rings after my last class I meet Jordan at his truck. We jump in and The Doors’ song “People Are Strange” pours out of the speakers. “Did you know that honey bees aren’t native to the U.S.?” Jordan asks raising his voice so I can hear him over the music. “Huh?” I ask as I throw my hair into a ponytail, feeling to make sure the spot is covered. “It’s true. They were brought over by early European settlers. They would never be allowed in now with all the animal trafficking laws.” “That’s…..interesting.” I think Jim Morrison had it right. People are strange. Namely Jordan. Who talks to a girl about bees? “It’ll make sense when we get where we’re going, I promise,” Jordan says with a wink in my direction and turns the radio up a little more. We drive west out of town with the windows down and the music blaring. Copycat suburban houses soon give way to open pastures of cattle languidly chewing on grass. The further we drive, the farther apart the houses become, until they almost disappear altogether, tucked behind small hills. In about thirty minutes we pull onto a dirt road that is surrounded by blue bonnets and little yellow and pink wild flowers in tall grass. Jordan drives slower. In the air here is the scent of the earth, fresh tilled dirt, cut grass, and sweet flowers. I take a deep breath and hold it for a second, letting the
country wash over me. After driving a little way down the road we pull up to a red cabin with a sign by the front door that reads “The Bee Man Is In.” Jordan hops out and jogs to the door. I sit with my hand on the door handle hesitating for a hair’s breadth and then tug on the handle to cautiously climb down from the truck and walk over beside Jordon. I clasp my hands behind my back and bounce lightly on the balls of my feet. His knock sets off a chain reaction of pandemonium. What sounds like a tiny set of a squeaky toys starts going off quickly followed by a woman’s voice screeching, “Shut up!” The door swings open and two of the smallest Chihuahuas I have ever seen launch out of the house toward my feet barking
psychotically. “Don’t worry,” Jordan tells me. “They couldn’t hurt a fly.” I just smile at him. “Well, hey there, Jordan,” the woman says. She’s a tiny little woman no older than my mom, with lilac hair and sharp green eyes. She’s wearing a green vintage kimono-style robe. “Wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.” “Sorry. Dad wanted the stuff tonight. He’s anxious to start his hive.” “That’s all right,” she says with a smile. “Who’s the girly?” “Oh, this is Melody. Mel, this is Tracey.”
“Hi,” I say with a small wave. I pat my head. Still covered. “You come on in and I’ll go get Hal after I round up the guard dogs,” she says with a smile. “Make yourselves at home.” We walk into the cozy cabin. There isn’t much furniture and what’s here looks worn. The cabin appears to have only a couple rooms. A faded flower couch sits under windows against the right wall opposite a large TV. This is where Jordan makes himself at home. There’s a small bistro table tucked against the same wall with two chairs. On the left is a miniscule kitchen complete with 1960’s era green stove and refrigerator. “Jordan,” I say. “There’s a chicken on the fridge.” “Yeah, they collect chicken magnets.” “ No,” I say pointing to the top of the fridge. “There’s an actual chicken on the fridge.” Sitting on top of that old green fridge is a white fancy chicken. She has a poof of feathers on top of her head like a crown and furry fluffy feathers on her feet. She’s like a cotton ball with tiny black seeds for eyes. And she’s just sitting there. Staring at us. “Oh that’s Tallulah Belle. She won’t bother you.” I stare at Jordan for a long time as he nonchalantly turns on the TV and flips through the channels. “But, it’s a chicken.” “Yeah.”
“In the house.” “Uh-huh,” Jordan says. “Hal used to walk around with her on his head when she was a chick. Looked like he was wearing a bad toupee.” I let out a small giggle. “We still call Hal a feather brain,” Jordan says with a smile. I start laughing. It spills out of me before I can stop it and runs in cascades out of my mouth as a waterfall of laughter. A release. “This has been a strange day,” I say between giggles. The door opens and the two Chihuahua’s bounce into the cabin followed by Tracey and a large
man who I assume is Hal. He’s at least six feet tall and very round. He wears overalls that have finger smears on the legs. The smears must be sticky because flower petals cling to his pants where they are. “Hey Jordan,” he says walking over to the fridge. “I loaded everything in the bed of your truck for you. The packet of bees is back there. That’s what your dad will need to start his own hive. There’s also a suit, smoker and other things he’ll need back there.” Hal pulls a beer out of the fridge and opens it to take a sip. Then he reaches up and pulls Tallulah Belle down into his arms. “Thanks, Hal,” Jordan says as he stands. “Sorry for the surprise visit.” “That’s okay.” Hal rests Tallulah Belle on his protruding belly and strokes her like a cat. She’s still staring at me. My giggles bubble up again. Jordan looks at me trying to hide a grin of his own. “We should be going now. Thanks again, Hal. Good to see you,Tracey.” “Nice to meet you two,” I say barely suppressing my laughter. We walk out the door and practically run to the truck. Once in, Jordan starts the truck and I look at the cabin. Tracey and Hal are standing in the doorway, Hal still holding Tallulah Belle, and the two yappy dogs running around their ankles. In the truck on the way home Jordan blasts a mix of The Beatles and Mumford and Sons. My
hands sit on my lap relaxed and tapping the beat of the music instead of trying to snake up to my hair. “Want to stop for a burger?” Jordan asks, yelling over the music. “Yes,” I answer. We stop at Sonic on the edge of town. Jordan turns down the music and orders two burgers with Dr. Pepper. Its quiet while we wait for the food. Crickets sing outside and the occasional car drives by. When the food comes Jordan passes me a burger and drink. “You seem different tonight, Mel,” Jordan says after a while. “How?” “Relaxed.”
“I guess Tallulah Belle has that effect on people.” “It’s all right to talk about it, Mel.” “Talk about what?” “Your hair,” he says sliding his eyes to look out of their corners at me. I pause with my burger an inch from my mouth. My hands twitch. I set the burger down on the dash, stuff my hands under my legs and count to ten in my head. I breathe in slowly through my nose and blow it out through my mouth. “How did you know?” I ask. 30
“I know you.” “You can’t possibly.” “I do. You changed a while back. Became coiled like a slinky. I know you,” he says, punctuating his words with his index finger like he’s popping soap bubbles. “No,” I say. “You don’t.” I open the door and get out of the truck. The sun is setting and as a parting gift sends gusts of frigid wind across the land. I cross my arms over my chest and walk around to sit on the hood of the truck. I close my eyes and tip my head back while breathing. I feel the truck door open and close. It dips as Jordan sits on the hood next to me. We sit for a time as my heart threatens to tear out of my chest. I feel Jordan nudge me with his shoulder. “I get it,” Jordan says. I shake my head, not trusting myself to speak. “No, Mel, I do get it,” he says firmly. I open my eyes and look at him. He rolls his sleeve up past his elbow and thrusts his arm in front of my face. Small thin raised lines cover his arm just below his elbow. I look at them, taking in their angles, their texture. Memorizing where they stop and start and bleed into each other. I look up into Jordan’s eyes. He lowers his arm. “I had a hard time in junior high. I was twelve the first time. I couldn’t tell you why I did it. I just picked up the razor and pushed it into my skin. It relieved every-
thing, like a rain cloud drenching parched land. It got to the point that I couldn’t handle the day without doing it. It was just the only way I could feel…. anything” “How did you stop?” “It’s a daily struggle, Mel,” he says as he rolls his sleeve back down. “I fight the feeling of needing it everyday. It won’t go away overnight or ever, maybe. I go to counseling and found a support group. It helps when I’m feeling my worst. ” I take a deep breath and push it out through my mouth. “Sometimes I feel like I’m at war with my own body. Like my hands are controlled by something deep within me, something my mind can’t change. After Tracey and Hal’s it was the first time I felt a sense of peace in a long time. The first time I didn’t spend every second thinking about my trichotillomania. ” “Until I ruined it,” Jordan says with a smirk. “Yep,” I say. “All your fault.” I nudge his shoulder this time with mine and smile. I look up at the sky, taking in the stars. “I’ve always felt so isolated since it started. Like I’m the only one that struggles.” I twist my extra hair-tie around my finger over and over. “Everyone struggles, Mel.” “Not everyone feels shame.” “At least yours won’t kill you,” Jordan says hoping off the truck. “Re-growing hair is all it takes 31
for you to erase all evidence of yours. Mine will be with me forever.” He walks over to the edge of the parking lot and stares into the black night with his hands on his hips. Easing off the truck, I walk over next to him. I can’t think of anything to say, so I just stand with him and stare at the empty lot next to the Sonic. After a while he turns and gives me a small crooked smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Ready?” he asks. I nod. We walk back to the truck and climb in. As Jordan reaches to the keys to start the en-
gine I place my hand on his arm. “Thank you,” I say as I look into sapphire eyes tinged with sadness. He nods and turns the key.
When Drawing Kelsey Johnson
Possibilities form relentlessly whenever one decides To sit alone but for the large white rectangle
That desires to be rendered inscrutable and The stick of charcoal that wants to render. Dimensions overlap and angels do battle with dragons and Humans for display. Things that pass may become immutable, The least significant of movements magnified into nobility, Inspire. Life does not always encompass just the living And breathing, not merely the ones who can Take a stick of charcoal and vandalize paper until An existence is captured on it. Charcoal Groans across it, cracking reality open and kneading it Into something like a spectacle. And then Everything converges like hands, at that place where words and Time gather into corners and smudge, darken, become Simple things as shadows and highlights.
Taylor Barnes 34
Hang in There
Taylor Barnes 35
Taylor Barnes 36
Six Feet Under
Gabby Bazan 37
Qinâ€™s Military Officer
Cecilia Pham 38
Elizabeth Pham 39
A Touch of Elegance
Allen Stor m 41
Allen Storm 42
Bill Lives in Austin Madeline Styskal
All the stadium lights were shining brightly in the dark, but not a soul sat in the scarlet bleachers. Of course not. It was about four o’clock in the morning. Except there was one fellow—an elderly man in a fine grey suit. He was in the very centre of
the field, pacing along the mower lines in the grass and muttering to himself. Every now and then he stopped and checked in all directions as if expecting someone. Mr. Fallax, looking on at the scene and wondering what was going on, soon realized that he was the expected one. The contact. He came out of the dark tunnel, from which footballers entered the field, and approached the man. As soon as Mr. Fallax came within twenty metres, the old man’s greying head snapped up, and his milky eyes darted about but wouldn’t make direct contact. He must be blind, then. “I—I’m here, sir.” The side of the old man’s lip twitched. “You have to remember.” “What?” “You have to.” Mr. Fallax swallowed. The stadium was beginning to spin—at least, his point of view was, as if he were flying in circles. Round and round the old man. It was the sickening circuit of the camera, like in films. Concentrate, Mr. Fallax commanded himself, and the spinning slowed a bit. The old man’s hands were shaking. “Listen,” he said, staring intensely over Mr. Fallax’s shoulder. “Bill lives in Austin.” Before Mr. Fallax could ask the nervous old man what he could possibly mean, the blinding lights grew to enormous popping brightness, the stadium faded altogether, and he awoke in a sweat. The sunlight pierced through the blinds, nearly as bright as the stadium lights had been. Mr. Fallax stared up at the ceiling, slightly dazed. Was there something he had forgotten? What happened to that old man? The ceiling was still spinning a little. He felt a sickness in his stomach. The food at the buffet last night must have been spoiled, to give him such a dream. At any rate, he thought gruffly, I don’t suppose I’ve any sick-days left on my schedule. Best get to work, then.
He rolled out of bed onto the floor with a thud, had a cup of coffee, and raced out the door. It was looked down upon to be late at Griffin & Herschel, LLP. His father had only left Mr. Fallax one thing in his will—the old rusty lorry. As much as Mr. Fallax desired a real car for the commute to work, he had yet to get the raise that would provide it. Luckily the embarrassing lorry had just up and died; since last Tuesday, almost a week, he was forced to take a bus. Mr. Fallax made it to the stop in time to buy an issue of The Fallacy from the corner newsstand and look at the headline: Escaped Convict Still On the Loose.
“William Fleming out again,” said the weather-beaten man behind the stand. “He’s a bad one, that flaming red-head. We’ll all be hiding under our beds afeared tonight, won’t we?” “Oh, I don’t know about all that,” said Mr. Fallax. “Not a lot of good it’ll do, hiding from an arsonist, if you’re trapped under a bed.” “Behind the sofa, then,” grumbled the man. “But you watch yourself. Careful today, mate. He used to be an escape artist, they say, and escape artists could hide anywhere.” “Thank you,” said Mr. Fallax, with a farewell tap at the brim of his hat; his double-decker bus had just rolled up along the curb. He edged against the stream of departing passengers. They were none too cheerful to leave the bus, for it had just begun to drizzle, coldly. Luckily he had remembered his overcoat. When someone in a trench coat sharply jostled against him, he was forgiving and did not start a row. Perhaps he was not forgiving. Perhaps he was distracted. In either case, he found himself a downstairs seat in the back; once the bus was packed like two stacked tins of pilchards, he was on his way to work. The humdrum scenery whizzing past out the window—plain grey buildings, dreary fog, umbrella-capped crowds—lulled him into a steady peace. It was much better than spinning. Nice and drowsy he grew, until— —sc—c—ratch—ch!—A sharp, jagged fingernail on a bent finger ran down his brown wool coat
-sleeve. Mr. Fallax turned round in his seat and found an elderly lady peering back at him from under a wide-brimmed hat covered in yellowing, crumbling daisies. She held herself the same way as—someone familiar. An old, milky-eyed man from somewhere. But her glacier-grey eyes looked bright enough. Frightened, too, he thought. “ What is it, ma’am?’ She crooked a gnarled finger at him and leaned in. “Don’t forget.” “Forget what?” Mr. Fallax felt a bit shivery inside his warm overcoat. There was something he wasn’t to forget. Bill lives in—
“And don’t,” she added, swatting his arm with a claw-like hand, “smoke on the bus. Didn’t you see the sign on the door, then? We none of us want any second-hand business here.” Mr. Fallax frowned. All he tasted in his mouth was coffee; all he smelt was the ever-changing odour of the populace. No, there was a trace of tobacco in the air. But he was not holding a pipe, cigar, or cigarette. “I...don’t smoke, ma’am. Never have.” “Don’t you give me that,” she hissed back. “I can smell it, and it’s not coming from anyone but you.” “Well, I can’t have any idea why,” he said with a shrug. “I’m afraid it’s impossible. Do you see a cigarette in my hand?” She looked at his hand, uncertain, and possibly disappointed. “No—o—o,” she said at last. “But it’s you all the same. You must have a system of pipes inside your hat to carry the smoke. The law will crack down on you one day, you may be sure.” This last bit came with a knowing waggle of her finger. He was very glad to see that the bus had just come to its stop before Griffin & Herschel, and he was freed from further argument. On the slick pavement before the revolving doors of Griffin & Herschel stood a young shiver-
ing guard, jerking his head at all the people that walked by and nodding to himself. Another nervous person, thought Mr. Fallax. That makes three now. Two, really. I suppose everyone’s on their guard with William Fleming at large. “ Good day,” he said, nodding at the guard. He paused a moment at the door for the security scan. After waving his sensor wand, the guard held out an arm, barring Mr. Fallax from the door. “No firearms allowed on the premises, sir.” “I know that,” said Mr. Fallax. Exasperation was setting in. “Do you need me to empty out my pockets?” The guard blinked and gave a sharp, nervous nod; Mr Fallax removed a black comb, an apple he had brought for later, and his wallet, only his ID inside, and a bit of change for bus fare. Then he turned his pockets inside out. “Nothing, see?” The guard gave him a very tricky look and waved his wand. “I don’t know what you’re trying to hide, sir, but in any case you cannot be permitted in. Must I repeat? No firearms allowed, whether concealed or readily available. Full stop.” “As I don’t actually have any on me,” said Mr. Fallax, growing irritated, “we are at an impasse. I am going to be late for work.” “Right then,” said the guard, twitching and discreetly laying his hand over his holster. “Just 45
leave your overcoat here at the door with me and I’ll watch it, then.” Anything else and he would be late. Mr. Fallax shrugged out of his coat and stuffed his meagre belongings in his suit pockets. The last thing he saw, as he went round and round in the revolving door, was the guard wearing his overcoat over the uniform with a smug expression. He ducked into his cubicle quickly, before any supervisor could ask him an unanswerable question. It was satisfying to take up the brown magic marker and begin. His division was in charge of drawing in the grill marks on pasty-looking processed chicken patties from the filling division; rather good at this he was, too. Time sped by sufficiently enough until the ten o’clock chime rang and he stuffed the last finished patty down the chute. It was time for the department meeting. The development executive, Mr. Brawton, gazed round at everyone with an ambitious glint in his eye, the sort that inspired productivity in the hearts of his labourers. Mr. Fallax felt particularly uplifted, until he realized the manager had quit blathering about whether profits could be made by recycling bones, and had fixed his gaze on Mr. Fallax. “Mr. Fallax,” said Mr. Brawton, with a sneer in his voice if not on his polished face. “Kindly wait until luncheon break to eat your pie in the cafeteria.” Poor Mr. Fallax looked about. The members of the board had pulled either handkerchiefs or the
collars of their suits over their noses. Several looked nauseous. All were looking at him with great disdain. “I don’t have any pie,” said Mr. Fallax firmly. Mr. Brawton’s eyes narrowed. “It’s Stargazy, and it’s rather disruptive. Don’t you think?” “I’m not eating a bloody thing!” cried Mr. Fallax. The room smelled a bit fishy to him too, but that could be explained in a thousand ways. “Mr. Fallax, if you are going to argue,” said Mr. Brawton. He pointed a finger and did not finish. But Mr. Fallax pushed his chair away and stood stalk-straight. “Now look here. I’ve had enough of this! I don’t even like Stargazy pie. A nd,” he added, throwing off his hat, “I don’t smoke or carry—a—gun!” With that he bowed slightly and paced out of the office. As he strode down the hall he heard an employee say, “You’d think he’d have had the discretion not to chew so very loudly.” He found himself outside in the misty courtyard, standing before a fountain and looking down at his reflection in the rippling water. Without the protection of his hat, he saw that his hair was fast growing into dark, damp locks; except for that, he saw what he expected to see. But everyone else saw—no, sensed—something that he did not. They smelt it and detected it with their bloody wands, in small ways, never in direct sight. He knew perfectly well he could not be mistaken. Y et how could peo46
ple enough to fill an office all be deceived in that I was eating Stargazy pie? If they can’t see me smoking or carrying a weapon or eating... ...could there be someone inside of me that is? He opened his eyes widely. All of a sudden he did not feel his own. But it all made perfect, skin-crawling sense. The evidence, coupled with the dream-phrase he must not forget—Bill Lives in Austin—oh, yes, it could not be explained otherwise. Mr. Austin Fallax felt a horrible wave of realization pass over him. The flagstone rocked beneath his feet. He grabbed at the concrete fountain to balance himself, lest he fall unconscious and drown in one fell swoop. The last thing he saw in his reflection, before he blacked out, was a distinctly red-headed man creeping out from behind him and away down the shining street.
What’s It Like to be Bullied Philip Feldwisch You feel like a torn-down skyscraper or maybe it’s the feeling of mangled metal in a hole. Sometimes it feels like you’re
driving on a road of crushed concrete. The rumors feel like pieces of shattered glass on the dirt. Maybe you feel like low lying logs at a construction site. If that’s not how you feel, maybe it’s the feeling of rotted lumber
in the backyard. You may even feel like broken bricks in a bucket. Or maybe it’s the feeling of nails in a tire. Sometimes it can feel like screws in a rubber caterpillar track. You may even feel like a broken-down pick-up on the street. This is what it can feel like to someone who is being bullied or harassed. Not everyone who is torn down rises to become a rebuilt skyscraper. Sometimes the scars never heal.
Catch Kelsey Johnson
Tonight, Esmé strings together paper lanterns and hangs them over the doorway to her sister’s trailer. She knows Bird won’t appreciate those ugly little holes; Esmé hammers them in anyway. When it is complete, she abandons the ladder and steps back to take in her work. Instantly she feels buoyant. The
lights are dim, the way most voices are when divulging secrets. She moves to fold the ladder, hang it on a nail behind the shed where the reeds grow. Her boots make a clock, clock sound against the whining wood. She walks fast when replacing the ladder to avoid the tiny winged monsters that buzz around her ears when she stands in one place for too long. She returns safely and, snatching her fingers through her hair, curses them: “Bastards.” Her lights sway and she wants Bird to hurry home so she can see them. Damn the holes! She pictures people smiling when they see them—aren’t those lights lovely? Esmé does small things like this, puts up lights and sings around people so she can draw their reactions later. Esmé is cross-legged on the patio sketching and drinking Corona when she hears a truck’s roar-
ing and tires over the gravel. She still has three years until the drinking age arrives for her, but Bird is liberal as well as fretful. Live, but carefully. Esmé sips freely and cautiously, listening to the noise blossom. Esmé’s best friend cuts the engine and jumps out of the truck. He consists of impulses and sudden gestures; it’s made him more difficult and more rewarding for her to capture on paper. The truck’s door is slammed shut with a jerk of his thick man-wrist. She predicts him as he comes to her: he’ll smell like leather and lemongrass, be both solid and soft to the touch. She smiles for him and waves, but will not get up yet. Let him come to her. “Corona” is the first thing Logan says, half question and half observation. He steps onto the porch and she can no longer hold still. Her knees pop as she rises. Still holding her charcoal stick, wobbling toward him on stiff, unsteady legs. Clock, clock, clock. When they embrace, her predictions come startlingly true. His arms overlap on the small of her back, squeezing the breath from her, her fingers only touching on his. She remembers the final-sounding zip of handcuffs whenever she sees him, but she’s trained herself to switch off certain unbearable memories, and does so now. “Drink with me, and be berry. Be merry,” she corrects her stumble, shaking her head sharply. Logan’s laugh is strong and gentle. Wind over a cliff. “It’s the beer,” Esmé apologizes anyway. Logan pulls away first, suddenly. He is dark and ludicrously tall, like his Samoan father. He
looks over her head, at her lanterns. “You just put those up? Luminous.” Her fingers twitch on his back; she wants to draw his face. “Hopefully Bird comes home in a good mood. She’ll like them if she is.” “She’ll like them.” Logan takes the bottle from her and leans back against the railing. Esmé, resting her elbows on the wooden rail, won’t protest. Something binding had grown from their friendship; giving away comes easy when it’s to him. “You painted them yourself. Oil paint, right?” “Wrong.” Esmé grins like a champion and pokes his shoulder. “Acrylic.” “I was close.” Logan swigs Esmé’s beer and says: “You look lonely tonight. Are you lonely tonight, Ez?” She wrinkles her nose. Against her skin, the unpolished wood presses. Markings will be embossed onto her elbows when she moves. How would she draw those? “Bird won’t be home for a while. Work’s turned her into a car hog. I can never go anywhere.” She suspects Logan knows this. She pictures him knowing it while driving his rusted, rum-rumming truck the twenty-five minute journey here. There’s a free show at the coffee shop tonight, he tells her—is she lonely enough to go with him? It’s at nine thirty, can she be ready in time? She scampers inside to dress. She wears a short dress
with little makeup; she hates to be misconstrued. She checks her freckled reflection in her dust-freckled mirror to ensure she is hard to overlook, easy to remember once she disappears. The phone wheezes by her leg and she starts. She picks it up without looking at it and intones, “Heaven. This is God speaking.” She can almost hear him roll his eyes. “Can you hurry up?” “Can you be patient?” “No. You’ve been in there for—” “Five minutes,” she steals the tail end of the sentence. “These things take time, you know.” “Nine-thirty, Esmé,” he reminds her. Esmé sighs, exasperated, because it’s only eight fifty-one.
“You’ve never had to wait on someone to get ready? Your brothers? Not even your mother?” Logan grunts. Esmé plays with the hem of her dress, thinking of Logan’s loud, wild house with his five louder, wilder older brothers. “Cousin? A girlfriend, surely.” “No. And no. God.” “Yes, my child?” He sighs. “Give Esmé Kessler a message, will you?” She waits, he continues. “These pants were fifty bucks. Moths flying around out here look hungry.” “Here’s an idea, then: come inside.” “Hurry uuup,” Logan says. She is still laughing after the line goes dead. 50
Her fingers scramble under her mirror, lift it. The hole in the wall looks like a socket. She’s stuck her hand in it countless times and felt dark space close around her fingers. Memories slide in as if bidden: her, curled up on her narrow bed, Logan’s back to her, his rage too palpable. A terrible cracking like a skull caving in. When he’d come away panting, the hole was there. College kids usually come to shows like these, Logan says. Esmé will be in college when the summer ends in three months, except she resolves not to be swept clear of herself by all the overwhelming newness and responsibilities. The band has finished their set, places ukuleles and guitars in stickercovered cases. People are huddled in bevies, talking about television, conspiracy theories, sex at unashamed volumes. Esmé and Logan sit on faded red stools and face the crowd, Esmé’s short legs pressed tightly together. Esmé turns to Logan, curious suddenly. “What would you sing if you could go up there?” Logan thinks for a beat. Then: “’Michael Row the Boat Ashore.’ Heard it? My dad sang it to us when we were little.” “Can’t say I know it, unfortunately.” Esmé drops her eyes. The only music that came from her parents were old, rigid hymnals. They’d drilled them into her and Bird, and Esmé recalls long, painful hours spent on hard wooden stools, Bibles open in their laps, and—no. She’d closed the door on all that long ago. “Wednesdays are open mic nights,” Logan says. “I’ll sing it for you later.” “But you’re so cute, the girls won’t be able to resist. It’ll be like Mufasa’s death with crazed females instead of wildebeests.” “Ha. Except I’m not gonna die. I’ll line them all up and pick a few to keep as souvenirs from a memorable night.” He grins slowly, sweetly. “Please. As if you really need any more girlfriends, Logan.” Logan grows silent, looks at her. Immediately, Esmé wants to snatch the thought back out of the air. Girlfriends he’d had, and…liaisons aplenty, but his face shades over when he speaks of that galaxy of realness between lovers that seems to shimmer just out of his reach. Esmé thinks of liaisons. One Halloween night comes to mind, and how the two are now links in the same chain. A year ago, she had forgotten herself. She was new to the act, both longing to discover and ashamed of inviting him to enlighten her. Something in her was whispering too far, until Logan’s hands appeared on her, restless. Slow; jail had roughened him, but he still gave her time to refuse his hands and mouth. Removing each other’s costumes became a gradual process: her red pin-up girl dress, his Khal Drogo pants and clacking gold belt. Even then Jack Daniels and Hennessy were lined up on his windowsill, on stacks of classics like Gatsby and The Sound and the Fury. His breath was stale, erratic as
she’d never heard it before and he was absurdly heavy on top of her. The open, primitive sensation of air on her stomach, between her thighs. When she pulled her stockings back on afterwards, her fingertips grazed her own heated skin where nylon should have been. She glanced down and saw they’d been torn. The night wears on. Open mic is announced. Logan leaves Esmé with a touch to her wrist, steps onto the stage, and sings his song. His voice is gritty and imperfect, but true. “River Jordan is chilly and cold, Hallelujah. Chills the body but not the soul, Hallelujah” —she receives it like a gift. The crowd, with its many faces, watches him. She scrutinizes him, her fingers absently tracing eyes onto the bar. She envisions him on paper defined by hard, wide lines, stark shadows. Life converts itself to shape and
stroke and contour when she least expects it. Amid the applause, he jumps down from the stage and straight back to her. “Congratulations,” she says, still clapping loudly. He tells her to close her ears; she watches as he buys a drink, iced, in a tall cup, and she unblocks her ears when he hands it to her. She fully expects to taste hazelnut latte with extra espresso—her weakness—and so it is. Logan buys nothing for himself. As she drinks and they banter, he hooks an arm about her shoulders. The back of her neck is nestled in the crook of his elbow. The closeness makes her feel elevated, absorbed in some bright, fragile current. She almost misses Logan gathering himself, but it’s too late to break away. In a jerking, impulsive motion, he bends down and kisses her. For a nanosecond she blacks out from surprise, nearly dropping her cup. His lips part and close against hers, part, close, pause, dive in again. His arm tightens around her neck, which tilts it backward slightly, and he parts his lips further. The crowd turns into delighted voyeurs, whistling and catcalling, “Aww, shit!” Logan pulls away, Esmé’s lower lip between his for a confounded moment. He seems just as blindsided by the action as she is. “Logan.” For a wretched second, she stands on her tiptoes and parts her lips like he did, asking for another. His doubt brightens into something misled, some warm emotion she cannot bear to see. Shame collapses around her. Everything converges in her mind at once, adds up so vulgarly: the hole in her wall, the rapid clicks of handcuffs on his wrists, his sweat and stale breath that Halloween night…all of it clangs together and it’s impossible, impossible. She can’t allow any of this to invade her. She cannot forget. Logan brushes a loose tuft of hair from her face, now one big upside-down smile. “Oh, God. I hurt you.” His arm loosens. He takes her shoulders. She lurches back to force space in between them, swallowing hard. “Esmé,” he says, incredulous, confused. A few people turn away. “No. No,” she says. She shakes her head wildly, her braid whipping every direction. “Logan…I did—” 52
He waits patiently for her to finish her sentence, for her breaths to balance. Fuck his patience. He’s Logan, rushes everything and abhors waiting. Patience is almost imperceptible in him, a crevice of his personality it took her years to find out was actually there. Even the fifteen months in jail she’d caused him didn’t smooth out his impatience. How can he just shift his self like that? For her? She’s in it now. He knows something’s there. “It’s late. We need to go. Please,” she says. He starts to speak, then stops. She shuts her eyes with relief as she leads him out, because she is beyond arguing with.
Don Quixote on the dusty dashboard. Dented Bud Light cans in both cup holders, on the floor by Esmé’s feet. Logan’s cologne, mixed with sweat and aged leather. In the truck she feels coiled tight, ready to snap. Goosebumps pinch Esmé’s arms, but she doesn’t untangle her hands to switch off the air conditioning; she is afraid of him noticing, him looking at her. Lights from the streetlamps move over them in sickly orange shafts, first there, then gone. “Tell me why that was wrong,” Logan demands. His eyes incise, even pinned to the road. The glowing speedometer dances on ninety-eight. Wrong? Esmé wants to shout, but she keeps silent. None of it was wrong, none, yet all of it was. It was gravely simple: she’d betrayed him once. Two years before, he’d led her to his room and shown her the Ziploc bag of white powder—his—the stuff that cancels people and ushers something bent and ugly from what is left. Something shriveled up in her when she saw it. She’d hurled curses at him, called him a bastard, asked him just what the fucking hell happened that he’d want to kill himself like this? Had he drank away all his brain matter already? “How long?” she’d demanded. Logan’s voice was, for once, quiet. “About six months.” “I can’t believe you’re doing this to yourself.” Esmé crossed her arms and turned away. “I don’t like doing it,” he’d confessed. Infuriatingly calm, he placed the bag back under his mattress, carefully, like he was putting an infant to bed. “But I need it. It…it helps me breathe, you know?” He’d trusted her silence without so much as a word, much less a warning before burdening her. What to do with this information? Late into that same night, she began to plan. Sneak into his room, steal the bag and burn it, but he could always get more. Call his parents, his brothers; they were all away for the holiday, what could they do? Weeks later, her final decision came. It was simple and it wasn’t. He was descending, disappearing. She was saving him, maybe. She repeated this to herself a thousand times as the 911 operator assured her it was all right, she was a brave, brave soul, her friend was lucky to have someone as courageous as her in his life. “They’re after me,” he’d said to her in her room before he was caught. Not so calm anymore.
“Someone ratted me out. I’m fucked, Ez. I’m fucked.” Then he’d turned around and his fist made the hole in the wall. Esmé closes her eyes, tugs hard at her braid, wants to rip it off. “It’s just so much,” she says quietly. “We have a while.” She embeds her nails in her arms. Shuddering, she breathes heavily from her mouth. Her vision wavers. It is beating against its cage, roaring to come out. It breaks the lock; Esmé hears it and feels air rush in, cold. “I—”
They stop at a red light. The deal is done, he must know she’s not just being dramatic; she has to say it now. The truck rumrumrums. No, she can’t let it out. It has to— “You always fucking do this.” His anger jolts her out of her mire. “Something you don’t like happens, you want to shut down. It’s frustrating, Ez. You keep all this shit inside you and I—and I don’t know what to do because you won’t let me help. You won’t even let me get close.” The words fly out before she can bite them back. “It was—it was me.” He narrows his eyes. “What’d you…” And then he stops and stares at her. The confession makes Esmé feel lighter. It feels perverse, but the lightness has been too long in coming. She must continue. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “I had to. You were changing, Logan. It was taking
you. I was…I almost couldn’t recognize you anymore.” She thinks of Halloween night, throws the memory away. How rotten she’d felt afterwards. “You called the cops.” His voice is leaden. “Yes.” She sees her trailer looming ahead. Everything must come out. She may not have another chance. “You knew I’d come to your place. You led them to me.” Yes, all yes. She cost him his job, his family’s trust. Logan slows the truck, directs it onto her driveway. The headlights make the white fence blinding. Esmé is clutching herself. Logan, silent. Even in the dark she can see his nostrils flaring, his temples pulsing. When they pull up to the trailer, he kills the engine. The silence is like sinking. Sinking. He brings his fist to his mouth and clears his throat. “I couldn’t let you go there,” Esmé pleads. He keeps his eyes on his hands gripping the steering wheel. “I saved you,” she says. Coming from her, the statement feels selfish. She wishes he would realize it so she wouldn’t have to say it. He reaches over, and for a terrifying second, Esmé expects his hand around her neck, his thumb 54
pressing hard on her windpipe. But it doesn’t happen. Neither his eyes nor his hands will make contact with her. Instead, he clutches the door handle. He shoves the door open. He doesn’t say get out, but she does anyway. Before leaving, Esmé stuck a note to the door so Bird wouldn’t fuss. The V erve with Logan, be back soon. P. S., lanterns! Only sticky, square marks from the tape remained now. She steps onto the porch. Her lanterns had been knocked down on one side. The unexpected tangle of smells in the cramped kitchen is unfamiliar. She lifts her head and sniffs,
begins to pull them apart slowly: benzoin incense, beneath the more potent scent of lasagna in the oven. Bird is hunched over a magazine, her hair short and frazzled, still in her Garfield scrubs. “You’re cooking.” Esmé taps her nail on the rooster-shaped clock. One-seventeen. Bird’s head pops up. She has different colored eyes, hazel and brown, which seem to beckon even now, when half-closed and rimmed in red. “Doubt I’ll be home to cook tomorrow. Saving myself the trouble.” She drags a long-fingered hand through fur-short hair. Her smile is quick and clipped, like her speech and her movements. “Oh. And those lights. Nice, but you couldn’t have hung them up some other way? The nails’ll leave holes.” Esmé says nothing and begins loosening her braid. Bird’s head cocks to one side. “Logan gone?” Esmé nods. Bird flicks the magazine shut, never looking away from her sister. “You aren’t usually this quiet after you’re with him.” “I’m tired,” Esmé says. She circles the counter, grabbing a glass out of the cabinet. Bird’s eyes follow her. Leaning against the counter, she crosses a thin arm over her stomach and chews her nail. “You’re a lot less bitchy when you’re tired.” Esmé catches an unsaid part in her sentence: you think I’m blind, little girl? Esmé downs her water and slams the cup onto the counter, through with opening herself to others. “Ridiculously tired.” “Ridiculously,” Bird repeats. Times like this, she usually knows not to be so intrusive. Esmé shrugs. “Maybe later.” “You sure? It’s not like it’s a school night.” Esmé’s shoulders hang under the new weight of reality: she would be without Logan now. The thought is pressing, painfully so. “I’ll be fine.” Bird shrugs so quickly Esmé thinks she may have imagined it. “Be here if you need me.” Bird turns away. She opens the rasping oven door and peers into it as Esmé retreats back to her room. One afternoon in late June, Esmé and Bird ride ten miles to the beach on motor scooters. The night
before, Bird came home with a rather large cooler, two large meatball sub sandwiches, and a bottle of Sutter Home. Esmé had been sitting at the table, looked up from her drawing and watched Bird set them down. The bottle made a thick bumping noise on the counter’s surface, despite Bird’s attempt at carefulness. “What’s that for?” Esmé asked, setting down her charcoal stick. She wiped her smudged fingers on her once-white shirt and rose. “We’re celebrating.” Bird nodded sharply toward Esmé’s hands. “Wash those, please.” Esmé jerks a thumb at her drawing. “I’m not done with it yet.” “Then don’t you dare touch anything. Anyway,” Bird smiles slowly, slyly. “Have a surprise for you.” Esmé’s ears pricked up. “A car? You know how much I loathe the Neon.” Bird snorted. “Please. Come August, you won’t be able to have one anyway.” She took the sandwiches and tossed them into the refrigerator. “Well, I’m not against a Porsche. A Passat would be nice, too. Just letting you know.” Bird shook her head, laughing. “You’ll find out what it is tomorrow.” She and Esmé lay on towels, the basket between them. Esmé marvels at the heat. Her cabernet hair is bound into a thick, drooping knot at the base of her neck. She wears an oversized pink tee over her bathing suit and a floppy hat. To their right, a group of boys Bird’s age ogles them, blasting The Eagles. “They’re all ugly,” Bird complains. She throws sidelong glances at them from under her sunglasses and frowns. “Are they? Let me see.” Esmé says. She plucks the sunglasses off Bird’s nose to have a look for herself, taking her hair down and pretending to look for split ends. “Eh. I’ve seen better,” she agrees. Pangs of regret resurface. “I know you have.” Bird looks at her pointedly. Esmé looks away and clears her throat.
“I want to see my surprise now,” she declares. Bird smiles that smile again. “Oh, I guess you can.” She reaches for her book, pulling out an envelope from between its pages, drops it in Esmé’s shaking hand. “It came yesterday,” Bird says. On the back of the envelope is a logo of a lion in black and red. Esmé looks at Bird, then at it. Part of her disbelieves what’s in her hands, to make the impact of the truth stronger. “Open it,” Bird urges her. As if unleashed, Esmé rips the envelope open. Dear Miss Kessler, W e are pleased to inform you of your acceptance into the Academy of Arts University, and to offer you a full scholarship for the coming fall semester… 56
“I—I never applied here. I didn’t think I’d get in.” She runs her fingers up and down the page, strangely unfeeling. It has yet to absorb, that she will be part of a reality she’d perceived like some esoteric different life. Bird turns onto her side. “Remember those drawings of yours that went missing earlier this year? That hummingbird one and the weeping angels?” Esmé widens her eyes. “Y ou sent them in!” Bird chuckles, plays with the string on her bikini top. “I didn’t. Still clutching the letter, Esmé’s hands drop to her thighs. Her ecstasy melts and hardens into bewilderment.
“Who…” “You know.” Bird raises her thin eyebrows. “But…but he hates me!” Esmé shakes her head violently, the revelation too much. Over the months, when her friends asked about Logan, she’d wave a dismissive hand, laugh about it and hurt inside, titled the whole thing Just a Part of Life. Bird must be lying, she decides. There was no way he’d have forgiven her. Not Logan. “You should call him,” Bird says. “When we get home. He’s waiting.” For the rest of the day, Esmé can’t concentrate on anything else. She and Bird eat the subs and drink the wine, they wade far out into the ocean and build crumbling sandcastles, but she feels separated from herself. Evening comes, and they pack up, rev up their motor scooters and head home. Esmé delays calling. The days blur together until the weekend has disappeared. Bird doesn’t urge her; she merely needs time. Esmé casts nervous glances at the phone while doing dishes, cleaning the counters, drawing. She finishes another sketchbook, the first one in a while that’s without a portrait of Logan. Her lanterns are rehung one evening; she pounds the nails into an L shape to keep them from falling again. Later, Esmé readies herself for a restaurant date with Amber and Len. She looks less often at the phone, telling herself that she’ll grow some courage, call one day before the semester begins. All the cake and artery-clogging wonderfulness her stomach could hold: that’s what Amber had promised her, in her excited, wheezing voice. Len added that he absolutely must lose ten pounds, so he would not be participating in their unladylike gorging. She grabs her jacket, moving all her hair to one shoulder, and hears tires grating against the rocks. A hard, mechanical rumrumrumming sound. It doesn’t register at first, it’s been so long, but as she passes the window she sees the truck lumbering up the driveway. Esmé plants a hand on the chair, her lips parting, not believing the sight in front of her. The engine stops grumbling, splutters into silence. The door swings open. He lands on the gravel with both feet. A bouquet of hydrangeas is cradled in one copper-colored arm.
Esmé suddenly isn’t sure what to do. She should run out the door, throw herself into his arms, weep. She should stay where she is, let him knock and knock until he believes she is gone and leaves. She sits hard on the chair, watching until he passes the window. She listens to his heavy footsteps on the porch, catches her breath when they stop. She pictures him hesitant, his fist poised over the door. Time is suspended, upended. Finally, she can’t take it anymore. Just as the first knock sounds, she flies to the door, yanking it open. The months of absence had blurred her image of him, but he stands before her as if polished and brand new. His eyes narrow at her. “You were supposed to call a week ago,” he says.
Embarrassed, Esmé can’t look at him anymore. She looks at the hydrangeas in his hand instead. Blue: her favorite color. “I know. I…I didn’t know what I should say.” “You could start with thank you,” he says. His lips twitch at the corners. Tears pool behind her eyes, stinging. She takes a deep breath. “Well…thank you.” A burning in her throat follows the words. The tears take center stage, crack her voice open to reveal everything she’s been suppressing for a month. “Thank you, Logan. Just…so, so much.” He starts to step toward him, but she is slightly faster. She throws her arms around him, and soon his arms are around her, around her, around her. She cries into his chest, her sobs in cadence with his heartbeat, and she is overwhelmed by him crushing her, the leather and lemongrass that make her heart seize and flutter, the breath and pulse that mark him as real and here. “You were right. You really did save my ass, girl. I’m the idiot who should be thanking you.” He laughs. The corner of his mouth is against her forehead, but he makes no move to kiss her. He is still tense, restrained. Esmé won’t resent him that. To forget it all so soon would be far from him, despite his words. Instead, a truce has been declared. She decides that it’s fitting. “Don’t. I’m pretty sure you’d do the same if I was snorting that shit.” She wipes her tears with the neckline of her blouse and punches him in the chest, grinning. “Jesus. The hell were you thinking, man?” Logan shrugs, chuckles dryly. “I wasn’t.” Esmé crouches gingerly and picks up the bouquet. “These are pretty.” “I was hoping you’d like them.” Logan draws her against him, less urgent this time. She settles into him and closes her eyes. Healing is a deliberate process, but Esmé trusts the future. Whether he flies or whether he falls again, she will always be there to catch him.
Tie-Second Place Prose Winner 58
Fields of Orchids Ruth Doughtie
In morning December They sold my Noah.
Momma watched like stone When they ripped him from my hip. His cooing, his warmth, his cry Taken from me. His little hands will be soiled and stained with blood and sun. Sweet tan skin will grow calloused. How could God give me a boy to grow old in the fields cradled in a pale man's lashes? I see him reaching for a stalk the way he did for me, his fingers, now leathery His shoulders, now broad. Lattice welts mark his back
like the rest of the boys that grew old. They sweat. Their bruised, bare feet stomp the cold grass. They try to remember their mother's faces Her smile, her warmth, her voice.
But the night is too dark Hidden deep, veil of black. We mothers, left to be orphans
Our sons, left to be dreams.
Third Place Poetry Winner
Photographs Erick Ceron I pass the duster over the end tables and the mantle quickly, but when I reach the desk adorned with photographs, I pause over one picture. It’s the three of us posing in front of the lion’s cage at the zoo. Well, at least Mom is posing, her tiger-striped cap a little lopsided, her knees crouching slightly, her hands stretched out like claws. My father simply smiles, an arm around Mom and a hand on my
shoulder, And there I am in front – seven years old, eyes wide, clutching a balloon in one hand and Ricky the lion in the other. He still has his price tag. My tongue feels a touch rough. I remove my dusting mask and go into the kitchen. I open a cabinet and push aside some bottles of Lamictil and Effexor that probably expired a couple of months ago for a glass. After drinking the water, I return to the living room and continue dusting. The TV, the coffee table, the bedrooms, the study, but everywhere in the house, Mom’s orange and black cap follows me. As I pass through the living room again, I feel soft, warm fur trying to weave between my feet. I stop and look down. Lucy looks up at me and purrs.
I smile. “It’s time for breakfast, isn’t it?” She rubs my ankle with her whiskers and marches off. After washing my hands and vegetables, tenderizing and dicing two chicken breasts, and preparing everything else, I let the sauté pan warm for a minute. I spoon a little butter onto the pan. The sizzle between the cold fat and the hot pan splatters some specks of butter onto my wrist. It melts, bubbling and sloshing around. I smash and mince a couple of cloves of garlic, and as soon as they are thrown into the butter, the bite of spice from the garlic clings to the scent of the butter. They waft into the air. Next to jump in are the diced onions and celery. The sharpness of the onions soon melts into the cleansing freshness of the celery. In just minutes, there is not a place in the kitchen that the sweetness of those ingredients has not infused. I turn to stir the sauté, and the onions bubble the gold before amber of caramelization. I slide in the chicken pieces, and it takes only seconds for the gaminess to make my stomach roll around in anticipation. Seasoning it with salt and pepper, the pungency drifts into sinuses that I never thought I had. I return with a bottle of Chardonnay. Deglazing the pan with it launches the scents into the air and wraps the flavors in a blanket of muted savory thickness. As I let everything simmer for a few minutes, I bring out two plates and set the table. When 61
the dining room smells of the flavors, I turn off the heat and serve the contents of the pan on both plates. I place the plate across from me, and not even a minute later, I hear Lucy meow as she leaps onto the table. Even before I can lift a forkful to my mouth, she already has her face in her food. “Lucy likes her chicken?” I smile. She straightens up, licking her whiskers. I finally take a bite. My tongue drinks the juices of the chicken and the sauce. I chew slowly to extract the Chardonnay. When Lucy dives her head into her food again, I say, “Some books are coming in today.” I take another bite. “I found a reading list an old professor emailed me a couple of years ago.” Lucy sits up and cleans her whiskers again, then stares at me while shifting her weight, bringing her front paws closer together. I stand up. “I can’t believe I actually looked for that email.” I find a small cup and pour some bottled water into it. I return and place the cup in front of Lucy. I watch her drink and I keep eating. But within a few bites, I can’t help to softly tap my fork on the edge of my plate. “It’s been years,” I hear myself mutter. My eyes trail to a small shelf with a
stained and thoroughly bookmarked cookbook. “Years.” Lucy mews and hops off the table. I finish my meal in silence. After cleaning the kitchen, even after bleaching the bathroom, my tongue still searches between my teeth for the dregs of garlic and chicken. I leaf through the cookbook with the stereo quietly reciting a collection of music box songs. Maybe I’ll try making pasta primavera with bok choy. Maybe tomorrow. Some amount of time passes until the doorbell rings. I click off the stereo and run into my room and close the curtains, except a thin slit that I can observe the outside through. The mailman. Good, my books should be here. I wait until the mailman drives down the block, out of sight before I retrieve my package. Let’s see. An Arthurian anthology, Gilgamesh, Catch-22, ah, here it is. One Hundred Years of Solitude. But that novel is only good for a couple of hours before the its fascination with fathers reminds me of mine. I pick up the phone and weigh it in my hands. I pass it between hands for a few minutes. I almost place it back on the cradle, but I eventually call him. “Jacob?” he ask. 62
I concentrate on the photograph I was dusting earlier. “Hi, Dad.” “What’s the matter?” I keep staring at the picture, trying to calculate an efficient sentence. “Jacob,” he sighs. “I’m busy. What happened?” Lucy gives a quiet meow from the doorway. “Can you pick up those pictures on your way home?” I ask. I hear grumbling from his end. “Look, I’m busy. Don’t call me if it isn’t an emergency.” I mumble a quick “sorry” and hang up. Lucy climbs into my lap, and I scratch behind her ears, looking into her eyes. “It’s time for a brushing anyway.” Her ears perk up to this, and I cradle her in my arms as I stand. I carry her to the bedroom, and she jumps onto the bed. It’s covered in a fine coat of Lucy’s white and black hair. Probably should change the sheets. I kneel on the floor, sifting through her basket of toys for her brush. It’s a rather small room. Mom intended it for a guest room, but we never have guests anyway. In one corner is a mahogany dresser. At least it looks like mahogany. I keep a stack of empty picture
frames on it, but hopefully my father won’t forget to pick up those pictures tonight. Again. I’ll have to wipe off the fur from them, though. And then there’s the chair, also marked by Lucy. I find the brush and sit next to her. She purrs even louder every stroke passed by the brush. After picking off the fur on the brush, I hold the brush at an angle next to Lucy’s mouth. She licks the bristles and rubs her whiskers through them. All the while, I stare at the walls. “They look a little bare, don’t they?” Lucy keeps purring. I sigh. The front door thuds. “Jacob,” my father calls out.
I have to blink and rub my eyes. The room is dark. Lucy snores in a tight curl next to me. As soon as I find my father in the kitchen, he shoves a large envelope on my chest. “Do you know how much these cost me?” Before I could think of a reply, he undoes his tie and heads straight to his bedroom. I unseal the envelope and count the glossy mattes. Four large ones, eight medium copies, and some other sizes. The first one I inspect is of Mom and me sitting for a studio portrait. Her emerald gown drapes her so well. It’s more vibrant than the green background. Her thick chestnut hair was adorned with two combs. Both of them matching jewels set into butterfly shapes. I’m on her lap, in a tiny suit with shorts, with her arms around me, drawing me close. 63
“Looks like you didn’t get dinner ready.” My father digs through the refrigerator. I mumble another “sorry,” returning to sorting through the envelope. He comes back up holding a beer, sighing. “All right. Order pizza. Pepperoni and beef.” And there Mother was again. In front of a “Congratulations, Jacob! Class of 2006!” banner, with an oddly square smile. Like she pulled her jaw muscles for that. My eyes sting. “C-Can you-?” I stammer. “Fine, fine. I’ll order.” He grumbles something about his college dropout son while walking to his study. I shuffle to Lucy’s room and shut the door. She lifts her head, eyes wide, and yawns. I take out the pictures of the green portrait and my high school graduation along with their smaller copies. Laying them in stacks, I blink hard a few times and spread out some of the frames. As I frame each one, everything becomes a little blurrier and dizzier. I touch the envelope. But the paper feels too rough and dry. Lucy mews a quiet, knowing meow, leaps onto the higher part of the dresser, and fixes her gaze on the envelope.
There’s one photograph left, the back flipped over, facing me. I take a deep breath and let my fingers trace the edges before turning it around. The same zoo, the same cage, and probably the same lion. I’m posing this time, and my father has his arm around Mom’s shoulders again. But she has halflidded eyes and a thin, straight mouth this time. It’s as though she was staring past the camera, past whatever was behind the person taking the picture. I close my eyes, and I feel Lucy’s gritty tongue on my face. I sit on the edge of the bed, and she jumps into my lap, purring loudly. A knock on the door jolts me. “Dinner’s here.”
I open my eyes. Knocking again. “Let’s eat in the living room.” The footsteps are quiet, but going away. Dragging myself to sit on the edge of the bed, I accidentally kick Lucy. She glares at me, but accepts my apology behind the ears. I hear the TV in the living room turn on. Some clicking and whirring. Which movie are we watching? Lucy climbs down and sits by the door. I rub my eyes and make my way to the living room. He’s already eating his first slice. The coffee table has the plates, sodas, napkins, and the case to some movie I really never bothered to memorize the title. He doesn’t take his eyes away from the 64
screen. “It’s getting cold.” I shuffle to the couch and ease myself onto it, taking a slice on the way. He takes a swig of beer. “How was your day?” I choke on my mouthful for a couple of seconds before I can wash it down with water. He’s asking me what? I turn my head to look at him. My father doesn’t look back, just takes another bite. “It’s not good to just stay at home all day.” I turn my head to the TV screen. The menu clip keeps looping some dramatic explosion scene over and over. I hear a soft clack.
“Take a friend to the movies or something.” I look down at the table. My father’s credit card stares back at me. Lucy finds her way on the couch and nuzzles between me and my father. I trace her spine with my thumb and middle finger, and she purrs. I then find my father’s hand scratching behind Lucy’s ears. This is a first. The next few minutes pass with the muted television repeating that animation. I can hear my father’s beer bottle pop every minute or so when he takes it away from his lips. I use my free hand to dab off some grease from my lips. I finally feel his hand leave Lucy. “Staying cooped up in the house all day’s going to drive you crazy.” I place my half-eaten slice back on the plate and wipe my hands on a napkin, still watching that movie menu. “I know.” He rests his hand on my shoulder. I turn to look at him, and he meets my eyes. “I miss her too.” My eyes sting again and I blink hard. He fidgets, hesitates, then reaches out his hand. I look at it for a minute. I slide my hand into his, and we shake. He leans back on the couch, stretching. “It’s late. You should sleep.” Standing up, stretching
more, he says, “Going to bed early can help make you feel better.” All I can do is stare at him, dumbfounded. Turning to me, he says, “Goodnight, Jacob.” Lucy steps off the couch and walks with him to his room. I stare at my cold pizza. And the card. And then the TV. Shutting off the movie, I clean up the table and turn off the lights. I pass by Dad’s credit card, stopping to contemplate it. I take it and go to bed.
Into the Abyss Miriam Patrick
Her night terrors were often 3:22 to be exact, in flushed red skin, sweating incessantly,
screaming in octaves unfamiliar to the ear in a realm between sleep and cognizance. I would run to her side each time. Red towel, bottled water clear mind, ready to defend myself from random kicks and bear claws here and there. Her eyes were always engulfed in a fog as they seemed to look into the abyss that contained no life. She would shake and throw her body until I got her in my arms.
Dressing on the Side Joseph Fornes
I push around the little leaves soaked in the acidic oily slime the little bistro on the corner calls a vinaigrette. I pierce a leaf and stare at it in disgust. Half of the spinach leaf bobs and weaves like a punch drunk boxer as I raise it to my mouth. This is healthy?
“So I say to Sharon, you remember Sharon right?” my wife, oblivious to my agony, says. “The blonde lady who had the work done?” She says this while discreetly cupping her breasts. “So I say, ‘Honey, if he doesn’t appreciate you for what you are then just tell him to go to hell.’” She goes on and on about this lady at her office who apparently has dated every man on the floor below her. The same stories go on ad infinitum. I find a small morsel of tomato on my plate strategically placed near a sliver of cheese. I impale them both in a fatal union and let them honeymoon in my mouth. “So Sharon tells me about this new guy she met on twitter. Are you even listening, Jimmy?” “Hmm? What? Yeah of course. Twitter. Go on.”
And she does. I look to my left and see something new. Something shiny. Something not this bistro where we meet every Tuesday at 11:30. Something not this salad that Evvy always orders for me even though I hate it. I see wheels and a brilliant brushed steel and chrome cube. I see a blue and yellow umbrella carefully perched above a man with dark hair under a paper hat and a mustache that stretches past his cheek. I see a sign that says Sabrett. “Hot dogs,” I say. “No, actually he’s a chef at Poninno’s. Can you believe that? Poninno’s. Oh my god, Sharon is just over the moon about him.” All I can think about is ordering a big juicy hot dog straight from the steam tray. Mustard and sauerkraut on top, all inside a steamed bun. I put my fork down and stand up to go get the hot dog I deserve. I work hard, right? Fifty hours a week or more. A roof over my family’s head, clothes on their backs and food on the table. I’m the man of my house, damn it. “Going somewhere, dear?” She says. “Just straightening my pants, honey.” I sit down and plan another vegicide.
Car Jacking Ayla Boyd
Broken glass scattered across torn leather, glinting in the blinding headlights of heaven. I blink.
A dead man is in the driver’s seat, Neck twisted in the steering wheel, a gun beside him. Bloody copper and melting metal fill my nose. Hair sticking to my face, I turn my head and scream to my mother standing in the highway, an artificial angel illuminated in the night. I can’t move my legs but there is no pain.
She looks my way, then yells, waving, dodging cars. She runs towards me. There were three in our truck. Where is Gary? Blood sticks in my hair when she brushes it out of my face. “It’s okay.” She doesn’t smile. She steps aside. A man picks me up. Tears spill. Why can’t I move my legs? I’m carried to a van and I see Gary unconscious. Mom climbs in. It reeks of vomit. My legs bump the door and I scream. As we leave with strangers, I see it— Our truck, bent twisted and torn to bits A human-sized mound behind it, also still. I see that Heaven’s light is an 18-wheeler and it was not our time to leave.
Sly Rabbits Hennah Saber
The most vivid memory I have of my brother is from the night we killed Darla Thornton. My eyes were glued to the road we were speeding along as we made our way towards her house. Our headlights were off but by this point my eyes had adjusted quite nicely to the darkness. The ‘67 Chevelle’s
engine hum rose. I tightened my grip on the leather seat and prayed to whoever could save us that we would make it there in one piece. “Slow down,” I whispered through clenched teeth. Isaac heard me but didn’t release the gas pedal. It was a two-way street we were driving on. The bloody thing was curvier than the late Marilyn Monroe herself and was framed by giant willows that hung down on either side of us. The car rushed forward as the speedometer inched to 110 mph. My brother gripped his hands tighter around the steering wheel. “Relax, would you?” he said, his face flushed. “Isaac, slow down. Now.”
He looked at me and slowly eased his foot off the gas pedal. “Sorry,” he said, his eyes staring straight ahead at the road. “When I tell you to do something the first time just fucking do it.” I looked at him hard. “Got it?” He nodded; his long chestnut hair fell against his forehead. I turned to look out my passenger side window, which held our identical reflection. The two-story house we arrived at was geometric in shape and protected by rose bushes that lined a pathway to the door and continued to grow all around the house. They stood symmetric and erect like little soldiers. I had played in this yard with Isaac and Darla countless times back when we were kids. My hands were always layered with soggy band-aids, thanks to those bushes. “Did you bring the saw?” I asked. “Yeah, yeah of course,” Isaac shrugged, as he cut the engine. “I brought everything.” I took a deep breath as we walked up to the door. Isaac was becoming more responsible lately in regards to certain things, but other times he was just as careless as when we were seventeen. “Don’t forget to watch my foot,” I reminded him as he rang the doorbell. The door promptly swung open to reveal a short woman. She wore a red t-shirt with the Coca Cola logo faded and stretched across her protruding chest. “What brings y’all down here this fine evening?” she asked. 69
“Figured we’d drop by and see how you were doing, Darla,” Isaac said, throwing his cigarette to the ground and squishing it with his boot. Darla leaned against the door, all flirtatious-like. “Don’t you have something better to do than come around here?” I could tell she had already polluted herself with a few gin and tonics that evening. Isaac did his little song and dance and before I knew it this broad invited us in. She led us into the living the room where we sat comfortably on her hot pink love seat while she made us drinks in the kitchen. The smell of leftover Chinese food and cigarette smoke sat heavy in the air. “Well, aren’t you sweet for stopping by,” she said as she walked back into the living room addressing Isaac. The glasses in her hands clinked together. “I’m doing fine. Better now that I have some company. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen y’all. What have you two been up to?” She took a seat on the footrest in front of us. She twisted a strand of her curly blonde hair around a skinny finger that was adorned with a long acrylic nail. She gave Isaac these googly eyes that just that made me just want to smash her face in right there. “I’ve been keeping busy with work, as has Isabell,” Isaac said, nodding towards me. Darla and Isaac dated back in High School. She’s had a thing for him ever since. “Oh I know what that’s like. Work at the hair salon is as promising as ever right now. They
got me doing all sorts of stuff!” Darla exclaimed, “Lilly said that I’ll probably be able to start cutting hair by next year!” Darla was very easily excited. Darla was pretty but that was all she was, and it seemed like somewhere along the assembly line someone forgot to place a brain inside that little head of hers. Isaac moved up to the edge of the couch, looked down at my foot and waited for his cue.
We didn’t like to bury bodies. That was too much work and there was always the chance that it would wash up somewhere some day. Instead, we did what anyone with any sense would do: we just burned everything. As I got out of the house and got the car started I gave Isaac a thumbs up behind the glass window. He dropped a burning match onto the gas trail I left around the house. As he ran back to the car, I could see the match had set off a line of fire. It slowly crept around the house, in between rose bushes, and onto furniture. We sped off, tires screeching as they rubbed against the road, leaving Darla and her house burning behind us. “You want to get a burger?” I asked, breaking the sound of our heavy breathing. When we left Darla’s it took me awhile to figure out where the growling sound was coming from. At first I thought she may have had some dog lying around, but it was just my stomach. I thought about what the soft 70
bread would taste like. The meat would be warm and the juice would squirt out with each chomp of my jaw. There would be the slightest tinge of the mustard and then there would be the crunch of the onions. “Yeah,” he said. The drive thru was empty but I made sure to keep my blood stained hands out of sight and under my thighs as we approached the window. We paid the nine dollars and twenty-three cents and were handed our greasy burgers. By the time we pulled into my driveway the clock on the dashboard glowed 3:00 A.M. “It’s the abduction hour, eh?” I said, nudging his shoulder. “It is, it definitely is,” he whispered. He lowered his head as he tried to see the moon over the roof of my house, squinting his eyes as if that would help. The engine purred quietly, and I could hear crickets chirping outside. “Are you okay?” I asked Isaac, with my hand frozen on the door handle. He turned and looked at me with his blue eyes, the same as mine. He hadn’t changed that much since we were kids. His nose still had its gentle slope. His cheeks were still a little filled out, and his smile was as bright as ever. Isaac didn’t smile much anymore, though. He nodded his head and tussled his hair a bit. “Yeah, fine,” he said. He turned the radio on, allowing the sound of an orchestra to fill the car. “I’ll see you around, Isabell.” I gripped the cold metal of the door handle and turned it. “See you,” I said. “Hey, wait.” I turned, and leaned down resting my arms against the metal edge of the door. “Do you think that we should stop doing this?” I raised an eyebrow. “What?” “I just mean,” he continued, glancing behind me almost as if he was checking to make sure we were still alone, “do you think this is right?”
“You’re joking, right?” I asked him. I lifted my arm off of the doors edges, my skin peeled off from where the door was making it’s indention. I stood up straight and crossed my arms over my chest. “Okay, how about this. No more ex girlfriends, is that what this is about?” “I don’t know,” he said. He slapped his hands on the curves of the steering wheel. “I just got this sick feeling in my stomach tonight. I just don’t think this is what we should be doing, Bell.” He looked at me, his lips pointed down in a frown. “You’ll feel better by tomorrow,” I told him. “You’ve always had the weaker stomach anyway. Hell maybe it was the burger not settling in right,” I slammed the door. When I got inside my house I watched him back out of the driveway from the window. He was 71
no more than a pair of headlights, and as he drove away eventually even those seized to exist. This time as I watched Isaac drive away I wondered, like I would any other night, if this was the last time I would see him. The next morning I woke up to fifteen voicemails from Isaac’s girlfriend. She lived with him some of the times, and she lived at her college tutor’s house the rest of the times— only Isaac didn’t know about that. Before I even got through three of the messages my phone began beeping again. Her name flashed across the screen. “What’s going on, Tracy? It better be pretty damn important,” I said, throwing myself back onto my bed and covering my eyes with my arm. “Is Isaac with you?” She had a heavy southern accent and a deep croaky voice, the kind of deepness that women only get from having one too many cigarettes. “No, I haven’t seen him for a few days,” I said, crossing my fingers underneath my head. “He hasn’t been home. I mean, he was home this morning at some ungodly hour but he just slammed around a bit and then left again.” Her voice was trembling now. “Oh Trace. Don’t cry,” I said. “Please just don’t cry.” I couldn’t stand it when people cried
without a real good reason. Tracy was a drama queen if there ever was one. “Hi-his gun isn’t here,” she said. I could hear the receiver drop onto the ground and a few seconds later the sound of the disconnected line. I let the phone slip out of my hand and onto the bed next to me and closed my eyes. Isaac had brought his gun with him last night, and he left it at Darla’s. I remember him doing that, I think. I’ll just do something about it in the morning. He probably just left Tracy again. That’s all. When I woke up next my throat was hoarse and there was a jabbing pain in my neck. A dark orange light shined through my window. I must have slept throughout most of the day. I grabbed my phone. There were five new messages all of which I would check later. I slumped over to the kitchen and started the coffee machine, threw two pieces of bread into the toaster, and flicked on the TV. Some show was on about two rabbits. They had a British accent, wore human clothes and were siblings. What a weird show for children. I mean rabbits don’t even talk. And if they did why would they have a British accent? Don’t kids need to learn cultural sensitivity or some shit? I scratched at a bug bite I had on the back of my neck. It was a bump the size of a dime and I could feel skin peel off of it as my nail scraped across its surface. The coffee machine started beeping, reminding me that I didn’t have to battle my exhaustion alone. Walking back into the kitchen, I grabbed a mug from the cupboard and poured myself a lively amount of the dark liquid, stirred five spoons of sugar into it, and three 72
spoons of milk. The show about the rabbits was still playing and the older sister rabbit found her little brother rabbit after he got lost in their garden. “Max, don’t ever go into the garden again without telling me. Or you’ll get lost! I hope you learned a valuable lesson,” she said to him in her thick ass rabbit accent. The sister hugged her brother and took him inside to make him a cup of coco or whatever it is rabbits drink. I flipped the channel over to the news. A bald man with straight teeth was on the screen, reporting about a house that burned down. I sat back on the couch, allowing the heat from my mug to warm my hands. An aerial view of Darla’s house appeared on the screen. They had put the fire out and all that was left was bits of wood from the foundation of the house. A job well done. I called Isaac. “Hello?” he answered. “Hey, you watching the news?” “No. Did they find the house?” He asked. “Yeah. Looks great. Nothing’s left really,” I said, switching the channel back on to the kids show. “Where are you anyway? Tracy called me freaking out because you hadn’t been home.” I took a
sip of my coffee. There was silence on the line for a few seconds, and I could hear the distant sound of the Chevelle’s engine running. “I’m heading out of town,” Isaac finally said. His voice quivered. “Yeah? For how long?” I asked, moving to the edge of the couch. “Don’t know, as long as I want. You won’t be seeing me for a while, Bell.” “Well, that can’t be, because we were going to stop by and give Trevor a visit next week,” I said, standing up, “and I know you wouldn’t back down on me, right?” “It’s over. I’m not going to be doing this shit with you anymore,” he said. I could hear a car honking in the background. I laughed into the receiver. “I’m serious. I’m leaving and you won’t see me again for a while,” He said. “So what? We chop up one of your old lays and you skip town on me?” I asked him. There was no response. “All right, well I’ll see you around,” I said hanging up the phone. I went into my closet and pulled out a small black suitcase with flower patterns on it. I hadn’t touched this thing in years, and it still had a pink ribbon tied to the handle with my name written in glitter. I started folding clothes and placing them inside the rectangular area: Four shirts, three pants, six pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, a hairbrush, a stick of deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a 73
jacket, and a good paperback. I sat on the edge of my bed with the suitcase at my feet. Grabbing the phone, I punched in three numbers. “9-1-1 what’s your emergency?” an operator asked on the other line. “Yes, mam,” I said. I coughed and made sure to add a drawl to my voice. “I believe I saw a young man who lives around here around that house that got burned down last night.” “Do you know his name?” “Uh.. what was it, I believe it’s Isaac Allen,” I said, running my tongue over the front of my
teeth. “Yes, Isaac Allen. That’s who it was.” “Mam, could you please come down to the station and tell one of the officers that face to face?” the operator asked. “Of course, I’ll leave my house right now,” I said. I smiled so wide I was sure she could hear it through the phone. I hung up the phone and went over to my bedside. I opened the wooden drawer and it creaked. I never did have time to fix that damn thing. Underneath a dusty copy of my mom’s Bible that I never opened was a picture held in a silver frame. A younger Isaac stared back at me. He was standing behind me. I was short and frail in a denim dress. We were both smiling wide, our faces were bright and we looked almost identical under the sun’s rays.
“You should have stayed with me, Isaac,” I mumbled under my breath as I put the picture in my suitcase.
Love Is A Flame Burning in My Heart: Because Clichés Don’t Apply to Me Katherine Armstrong
Love is fire that I didn’t decide to set. As much as I’ve craved emptiness, I can’t smother the red flames out. I’m drawn by the popping embers for one step too many and suddenly I’m blazing. It’s burning into my skin, making it crackle pork rinds as it fries itself in its own fat. I retreat, but the fire spreads to my
stomach and burns holes into my insideflesh. Fire flares inside my ears, says it won’t let go no matter what I do. It fuels itself on my organs, cooks my heart until the meat is tough and stringy. My lungs are trapped by the smoke, squeezed silly until I cough up black. I can’t speak in anything but meat-grease ashes, but the flames feed off the waste and flake blistered ash from my throat. Fire spreads to my hair and ignites it into brittle strands of choked soot. My scalp is reduced to charred rawness. My eyes melt in their sockets and bubble down my face like goopy 75
white tears. My cheeks hiss and turn the milky drips to thick steam that smells like Daddy’s humid breath. The flames consume it for fuel so I can’t even tell what she looks like anymore. I part my arms and let the flames burn my chest into amber coals. I stride through the hungry blaze, cremating myself with every step. I can’t let her go no matter what she does. She was once made of planks and coal and yellow tea sets.
I guided her cold fingers into the fire.
Prose and Poetry Katherine Armstrong loves her family and has a lifelong dr eam to one day feed wild hummingbirds red nectar from her bare hands. Ayla Boyd is a histor y major . She likes old maps and books and stuff. She also has an appreciation for good food and intelligent conversation. Erick Ceron enjoys over analyzing liter atur e and people, so he is major ing in psychology. He is fascinated with the passions of literature and the genes of science. He hopes to one day chronicle his findings in his research in engineering the next generation of super poets. Ruth Doughtie was r aised by a pack of wolves is Wester n Poland. She is a car nivor ous homo sapien now residing in Houston, Texas. She is seasonally employed as an Oreo taste tester in the winter months.
Philip Feldwisch is an aspir ing jour nalist who loves spor ts and photogr aphy. He is an anti-bullying advocate who hopes to be a PACER spokesperson. Joseph M. Fornes is a sophomor e English major and is tr ansfer r ing to Sam Houston State University in 2014. He enjoys music, art and Chicken McNuggets. Amanda Fulton is an English major who spends the major ity of her fr ee time tr ying to hunt down the best cupcake. She enjoys literature and plans to one day teach English as long as it doesn’t get in the way of her cupcake search.
Kelsey Johnson is a self-proclaimed cat lady who loves Twix bars. Derek B. Kolb is a r etir ed Ser geant in the United States Ar my. He has an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in psychology. Carl Lemon II is a lost soul sear ching for clar ification as to what is the tr ue meaning of life.
Miriam Patrick is an Ar t Major with a love fr eedom and individuality. Hennah Saber is pur suing a degr ee in Health Car e management. At hear t she is a wr iter of words, tamer of horses and a lover of ghosts and goblins. Her main goal in life is to obtain a
pet Velociraptor. Jennifer Sheets is major ing in Histor y and lives in Houston with her husband, cr azy five year old and her mom. Her house has been taken over by animals. Madeline Styskal is a high school senior taking dual cr edit classes who likes wr iting stor y beginnings best.
Artwork Taylor Barnes is a sophomor e ar t major . Gabby Bazan is a sophomor e Ar t and Psychology major with a passion for paint and an obsession with foxes. Cecilia Pham is a sophomor e with a passion for dancing and an inter est in photogr aphy. Elizabeth Pham is major ing in computer science and loves ar ts and animals. Allen Storm is a high school senior taking dual cr edit classes. He enjoys photogr aphy, watching classic movies and listening to W elcome to Night V ule. He hopes to one day live in a world where shopping carts roll quietly and in the direction they are pushed. Samantha Velasquez is the one who gr ipped you tightly and r aised you fr om per dition.
Acknowledgements The faculty sponsors would like to thank Student Activities, Lawrence Brandyburg and Shah Ardalan for all their support and encouragement. Weâ€™d also like to thank Mary Anne Figueroa, R. Mark Miles, Adam Barber, Nathan Lopez, Alex Ochoa and Jessica Kent for their assistance and technical support. We would especially like to thank all of the Uproar staff and readers, for being so cheerful and hardworking, and our Managing Editor, Amanda Fulton, for being somehow both obsessively organized and perpetually enthusiastic.
Selection Process All pieces were chosen anonymously by a selection committee made up of student staff, student editors, and faculty sponsors. The only staff members with knowledge of the writersâ€™ identities were the faculty sponsors. Each reader, including the faculty sponsors, got only one vote in the process. The contest was judged by LSC-University Park staff and faculty consisting of Kimberly Athans, Rosemary Carter, David Miller, Greg Oaks, and Brian Reeves. The cover was chosen by the student editors, the managing editor, and the faculty sponsors.
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 puppies. He plans to return home to London after graduating with his Associates in May. _______________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________________ 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 7. Submissions r eceived after this deadline will be saved for the following school year’s selection process. 2. Only LSC-University Park students who are enrolled in a credit course may submit or work on the magazine. Magazine staff members also may submit. 3. As the selection process is anonymous, make sure your name is NOT on any of the written submissions. Place your name instead on the submission form and on the back of your art pieces. Use a separate form for art pieces. 4. Only original, unpublished works are accepted. Simultaneous submissions are permitted as long as you notify us if your piece is accepted somewhere else. 5. Maximum entries per person: six poems, three short stories/essays, and eight art pieces. 6. Short stories/essays should not exceed 3500 words in length. Word count must be included on the first page. 7. All submissions must be accompanied by a submission form. For submission forms, email Upemail@example.com, David Miller at David.W.Miller@lonestar.edu or 13.823 or Greg Oaks at Greg.E.Oaks@lonestar.edu or 13.811, or see the Uproar submission box in the Lone Star 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. 80
Uproar, Lone Star College-University Park’s student literary/arts journal, is published every spring. Any LSC-University Park student may su...
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...