LPC Anthology 2015
Las Positas College Anthology Impressions Daniel Replogle
People will rub off on you Like wet paint No matter how clean You claim to be You will find The colors of their lives Stained to your favorite clothes Like a canvas That you cannot hide Any longer than you can Hold your breath And those that are Purple in the face Were not painted that way But wandering With crooked necks Eyebrow-less Asking where the art went Paintings of people And flowers and rivers Oceans, cities and skies I will hide in the museums Of these beautiful minds With my eyes forever open My clothes forever dirty Cover Piece: Neon (Inspired by Nadia Wicker)
SECOND PLACE ART (c) 2015
Editor in Chief George Cramer Managing Editor
Directors of Public Relations and Marketing
Jessica Rhoades Ramona Peterson Jessica Rhoades
Copy Editor Ian Jones Senior Poetry Editor Dustin Jang Senior Prose Editor George Cramer Senior Art Editor
To the following folks, who kindly found time in their busy schedules to assist us in selecting our award winners, we give a big shout out. You have our eternal gratitude. Prose Judge Jim Ott Poetry Judge Toby Bielawski Artwork Judge Catherine Suรกrez
Social Media Editor Ramona Peterson Production Manager
Poetry Editors Dustin Jang Ramona Peterson Jessica Rhoades Prose Editors Kelyn Hauk Ian Jones George Cramer
We would also like to thank Charlotte Severin for presenting and sponsoring the Lydia Wood Awards for First Place in Prose and Poetry. Special thanks to Violet Carr Moore for line editing and to Kalama Hines for production help. Thanks also to Folger Graphics without whom this anthology would not be possible.
Faculty Advisors Richard Dry and Melissa Korber
Copyright Policy: Contributors retain copyright ownership of the content they create, including works, photographs, graphics, illustrations, cartoons and other work. The LPC Anthology retains the right to use all material in all forms in perpetuity.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Dear Readers: Welcome to Impressions, the 2015 Las Positas College Anthology. While perusing the stories, poems, art work, and photographs, you will be treated to the work of a great many fine artists. With over 400 submissions, the anthology editors faced the daunting task of choosing the 129 pieces included here. Our cover photograph Neon meshes with the poem Impressions to bring about a feeling of strength coupled with compassion and understanding. These two works remind me that “People will rub off on you, Like wet paint” as I examine the contents of this book. I experienced the pieces rubbing off on me as I read the material and studied the artwork. As the editor in chief, I urge you to keep Daniel Replogle’s poem and Brianna Zantman’s artwork in mind as you travel through this wonderful collection. It will be a trip you won’t soon forget. Over the years, I submitted several pieces that did not make the cut. Last year I finally made it into Between Pages. I can tell you that the feeling of seeing my work published was great. I know that all the artists in Impressions feel the same. To those who did not see their work entered, I strongly urge you to keep trying. Without the support of the college and our generous sponsors we would never be able to deliver this project to you, the community, or the extended college family. Thank you one and all. On behalf of the LPC Anthology Group, students and advisors, I wish to express our gratitude for allowing us the opportunity to produce such an outstanding expression of the college and Bay Area contributors. We worked long, enjoyable, and productive hours to edit and then compile the pieces into Impressions. George Cramer Editor in Chief
THANK YOU SPONSORS!
Without your help, this anthology would not be possible. Titanium Sponsor ($500 to $999)
The Las Positas College Foundation, http://www.lpcfoundation.org
Associated Students of Las Positas College, www.theaslpc.org
Cycling for a Cause/Pleasanton North Rotary Platinum Sponsors ($200 to $499) Ken Cherry/ Big O Tires Dublin Dr. Susan DuPree Professor Catherine Suรกrez and Professor Richard Dunbar Gold Sponsors ($100 to $199) Charles D. Mack III and Marlene H. Mack/ Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust Janet Ott @WriterBiker Silver Sponsors ($50 to $99) James and Patricia Boyle, Teresa and Kelyn Hauk, Professor Ernie Jones, California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch LPC President Barry Russell, Professor Mark Tarte Bronze Sponsors ($20 to $49) Alan Peasley and Donna Koppa To sponsor the Las Positas College Anthology, e-mail email@example.com.
Neon (Inspired by Nadia Wicker) SECOND PLACE ART Brianna Zantman...................................................................... Cover Caramelo Margarite Guy................................................................................. 14 Bloom William T. Sorensen......................................................................... 20 Tulip Field Linda Todd....................................................................................... 21 Reflections, Post 9/11 Veteran THIRD PLACE PROSE Francisco Perez-Lopez..................................................................... 22 Forever Young HONORABLE MENTION ART Jasmin Talisschim............................................................................ 24 Tonight is the Night Aretha Welch................................................................................... 25 Out of the Blizzard Gary Lea.......................................................................................... 28 Sunset in My Eyes Jasmin Talisschim............................................................................ 36 The Blind Dogs Daniel Replogle................................................................................ 37 The Sergeant Linda Todd....................................................................................... 38 Teresita Kathleen Kull Urban........................................................................ 41 A New Life Begins Brianna Guillory.............................................................................. 42 Time of Your Life FIRST PLACE PROSE Patrick Coyle.................................................................................... 43 Brother Malcolm HONORABLE MENTION ART Stevie Slakey.................................................................................... 48 This Must Be Death Peggy Schimmelman........................................................................ 49 Locked Flora Alvarado................................................................................. 51 Metal Still Life Alisha Ellard.................................................................................... 52 Haunted (A Found Poem) Jessica Rhoades................................................................................ 53
iii Cypress Tree Tunnel Anna Rouse...................................................................................... 54 A Winter Wind’s Soul Sebastian Harder............................................................................. 55 Long White Dresses SECOND PLACE PROSE Antoinette Foxworthy...................................................................... 56 You Kyleigh McPhillips........................................................................... 60 Lightning in Paris Kathleen Byrne................................................................................ 61 Tucked In HONORABLE MENTION PROSE Amanda Fletcher.............................................................................. 62 An Open Letter to Boys Wanting Love Caitlin Drew.................................................................................... 64 Center Stage B. Lynn Goodwin............................................................................. 66 Palace of Fine Arts Anna Rouse..................................................................................... 73 Teenage Boy Blues Les Sunada....................................................................................... 74 Drummer Maria Isabel Sahagun...................................................................... 75 I Miss Her Jessica Rhoades................................................................................ 76 Painting Shadows Brianna Zantman............................................................................ 85 Your Name SECOND PLACE POETRY Katelyn Harper................................................................................ 86 A Horse Named Kugel John G. Bluck................................................................................... 87 Reflection Anna Rouse...................................................................................... 92 Plane to Haiti Amber Wright.................................................................................. 93 Finding Myself in the Mission Julie Royce....................................................................................... 94 City Under the Bridge HONORABLE MENTION ART Anna Rouse.................................................................................... 102 X’s and O’s Kyleigh McPhillips......................................................................... 103
iv Death Can Be Tricky Mike Johnson................................................................................. 105 Biggie Stevie Slakey.................................................................................. 113 My Dear Discoverers Dustin Jang................................................................................... 114 Lost Amber Wright................................................................................ 116 His Poem Mary Pacifico Curtis...................................................................... 118 The Rower Tim Gnazale.................................................................................. 119 Ruins Alice Kight..................................................................................... 120 Fairy Glen Jordan Bernal................................................................................ 122 Morning in Three Parts Mary Pacifico Curtis...................................................................... 123 Showdown Violet Carr Moore.......................................................................... 124 Clint Eastwood Stevie Slakey.................................................................................. 126 Glimpse HONORABLE MENTION POETRY Alice Kight..................................................................................... 127 Hamburgers Susan Reid..................................................................................... 128 While Slicing Mushrooms Mary Beeve.................................................................................... 131 Have Some Coke Christine Orlino............................................................................. 132 Your Least Favorite Vegetable Katelyn Harper.............................................................................. 133 Greatest Minimum Rita Liu.......................................................................................... 134 Do You Remember Me? Eileen Magill.................................................................................. 135 Winter Branches James “J” Mills.............................................................................. 136 The Nonexistent Beach Courtney Frank.............................................................................. 137 A Walk in the Rain Holly Healy.................................................................................... 138
v Rolling Confetti Ian D. Jones................................................................................... 139 Fairytale Ending Jessica Rhoades.............................................................................. 140 Golden Rod Sandra Gardiner Bayhi.................................................................. 142 Sunbathing Ian D. Jones................................................................................... 143 The Memorial H.C. Ely......................................................................................... 144 Windmill Shelby Escott................................................................................. 158 Today Shelby Escott................................................................................. 159 Up the Hill Dylan Taylor.................................................................................. 164 Cottonwood Kayla Perez.................................................................................... 167 Tapestry Susan Reid..................................................................................... 168 Pathfinder HONORABLE MENTION PROSE Patricia Boyle................................................................................. 170 Fulfilled Promise Antoinette Foxworthy.................................................................... 179 Journey in Tidepool Antoinette Foxworthy.................................................................... 180 A Convenient Pork Chop Hector Timourian.......................................................................... 181 Around Town FIRST PLACE POETRY Peggy Schimmelman...................................................................... 186 Next FIRST PLACE ART Brianna Zantman.......................................................................... 188 Obsidian Jared Adelman............................................................................... 189 You Are Wonderful Katelyn Harper.............................................................................. 196 Ray Stevie Slakey.................................................................................. 198 Disturbance Call Julie Royce..................................................................................... 199
vi Stardust Martha Quinonez.......................................................................... 203 A Small Memento Mary E. Heaton............................................................................. 204 Hands Holly Healy.................................................................................... 205 A Trip to the Amusement Park Jessica Rhoades.............................................................................. 206 The Taste of a Kiss At 12 HONORABLE MENTION POETRY Daniel Replogle.............................................................................. 208 The Asphyxiation of Heartbreak HONORABLE MENTION PROSE Martha Quinonez.......................................................................... 209 Sea Train Linda Todd..................................................................................... 211 Dear Mr. Poe Donnell Brown Jr........................................................................... 212 Autopilot Jessica Amezcua............................................................................. 213 Psych Ward Peggy Schimmelman...................................................................... 217 Her Galaxy Alice Kight..................................................................................... 218 Waiting for Spring Rain Tanda Clauson............................................................................... 219 War Comes to Rakuen George Cramer............................................................................... 220 Chimneys John G. Bluck................................................................................. 229 Consider Mary Pacifico Curtis...................................................................... 230 Waiting HONORABLE MENTION PROSE Julaina Kleist-Corwin.................................................................... 231 The Fox Daniel Replogle.............................................................................. 234 Aglow Brianna Zantman.......................................................................... 235 Bloodstains and Vigils in Prague Karen Schwarze............................................................................. 236 Princess Dress Anita Bergh.................................................................................... 243
vii Genevieve Matthew Beach.............................................................................. 244 A Bouquet of Flowers THIRD PLACE POETRY Daniel Replogle.............................................................................. 245 Pursuit of Peace Elena K. Manzo............................................................................. 246 Sleeping Seal HONORABLE MENTION ART Brianna Guillory............................................................................ 248 Soul’s Cry Emilie Fox...................................................................................... 249 Please Step Up to the Cross Mike Johnson................................................................................. 250 The Color of Midnight (Since You’ve Been Gone) Peggy Schimmelman...................................................................... 260 Epiphany Susan Reid..................................................................................... 261 Maasai Warriors Michelle Bates................................................................................ 263 Bravery Tanda Clauson............................................................................... 264 Poker Face Lanae Severin................................................................................ 271 Think About Me Katelyn Harper.............................................................................. 272 Pigeon Point Anna Rouse.................................................................................... 274 Just Another Day Shawn Coe..................................................................................... 275 Iraq Ramadi Firefight 2005 Francisco Perez-Lopez.................................................................... 278 What Soldiers Do Peggy Schimmelman...................................................................... 279 The Bridge Holly Healy.................................................................................... 282 Golden Gate Bridge Michelle Bates................................................................................ 283 A Day at the Zoo Mary E. Heaton............................................................................. 284 Elephant Family Michelle Bates................................................................................ 287 Big Bad Rachael Johnson............................................................................ 288
viii Joy Through Child’s Eyes Elena K. Manzo............................................................................. 292 Blank Sheet of Paper Flora Alvarado............................................................................... 293 The Long Walk Ramona Peterson........................................................................... 294 We Walk the Railroads Kyleigh McPhillips......................................................................... 295 Colorado HONORABLE MENTION PROSE Dustin Jang................................................................................... 296 Endless Beginnings THIRD PLACE ART Jasmin Talisschim.......................................................................... 302
Caramelo Margarite Guy In war, the least important thing is life. So many souls had vanished and were vanishing daily that the well of Death appeared bottomless. Human beings disappeared in it like rocks and, like rocks, left its surface in uninterrupted, wide circles. I had come into this world with faith, but my world, the world of war, had neither faith nor hope. It was a world in which the days were without laughter, and the nights without serenity. It was a world shrouded in the gloom of sorrow and death. Although war had taken a distinct form in my mind, I didn’t comprehend death. I perceived it as a macabre string of dead added one by one to create a necklace for a hideous idol enthroned on the top of a mountain, a very high mountain. Watching and laughing. We, the living, were marionettes, our strings pulled at his will to entertain him. I disliked the feeling of helplessness around me. My resigned family. My defaced country. I dreaded the endless line of the dead. I had terrifying visions, whenever in the dark, of the dead being strung. Slowly at first. Then faster and faster. My father, my grandfather, my friend’s mother and father, other unknown ones. All in reluctant surrender. I would watch in a mystified state of horror until the defiance of the child in me would conquer the fear and scream. For sanity. For light. For the presence of a living thing. Into this world came Caramelo. He came to us on a dismal, wet, and thunder-filled night. Frightened. Bewildered. A hunted animal. He was no more of a friend or less of an enemy than his hunters, but we had lost so much and had so little left that he seemed a gift to our darkened by war, death, and hunger existence. Caramelo brought a purpose to our life. To keep him alive. That was an impossible task, but we grabbed onto the challenge like a drowning man grabs onto his own hair. We shared with him the dry bread and the bitter greens we picked among the rubbles of 14
the destroyed homes and forgot our hunger. We offered him a corner in our home and dismissed our despair. We kept him our secret and began to feel like gods. We certainly stopped feeling mortal. From time to time, he would show us a faded photograph. In it, a beautiful dark woman with almond-shaped eyes sat sweetly on a chair at the threshold of a vine-embraced cottage. Two little girls stood next to her. I was fascinated by the huge white bows on their hair. They made me think of doves in flight. What intrigued me most, however, was their smile. The children I knew didn’t smile. Caramelo would cradle me in his arms in the evenings and quietly sing to me soft lullabies in a language I didn’t understand. It sounded distant and lovely. I would think of his smiling little girls and drift off to sleep knowing instinctively that he too thought of them as he sang. We understood his love and devotion to his family through the loss of our loved ones and felt his nostalgia for his home through the grief for our war-torn land. So, we came to love this enemy of ours, this man who would have shot us dead had he met us under different circumstances, or we would have shot him dead out of the need for survival. As the time went by, we were enveloped by a feeling of peace although the war continued to rage wild around us. Out of the rubbles, a determination sprouted in us that budded hope. I, above all, freed myself of the nightmarish vision of the grotesque necklace. Caramelo was alive! One evening, as we all sat around the fireplace, warmed more by our secret than by the meager fire, a voice graveling through a megaphone began to unremittingly threaten throughout the streets. “Achtung! Achtung!” Our hearts stopped beating. Numb and empty, we stared at the fire and listened. “Someone is hiding an enemy. There is going to be a search of all the homes. The traitors will be shot unless the enemy is turned 15
Anthology 2015 in.” Shot...shot...shot...shot... The word persisted on echoing in our heads like the refrain of a ballad that one remembers suddenly and is unable to stop repeating. It was contrasted by a deafening silence that cast a dark and tent-like shadow over us. A war of questions began to rage in our minds. Had we been robbed of our precious secret? Were there others hoarding treasures like ours? Did we have strings attached to our limbs all along? Had we been living a dream amidst a horrible reality? Was reality simply a bad dream? How little the Germans knew us! The possibility of being shot didn’t frighten us. Being shot was as simple as the refrain of a ballad. We never considered turning Caramelo in. We could not turn him in any more than we could turn in a member of our family. Caramelo looked at us with knowing eyes. I, overtaken by emotion, ran to him and wrapped my skinny arms around his neck, determined to never let go. Weak chains of naive faith bearing a cross too heavy to hold. The night began to hang over us dark and foreboding. Time remained present, but we ignored it. Outside, a light drizzle began to fall and slowly developed into a slow, depressing rain. It beat against our window panes as if demanding that we listen to an important order it had to deliver. We disregarded it. An unbending will within us gave us inspiration. The search began and continued through the major part of the night. In the process of it, confusing sounds pierced the incommunicable suspense of the darkness. Dogs barked. Doors opened and closed. Babies cried. Boots echoed. Foreign voices ordered, threatened, sometimes laughed. A pandemonium of an almost festive nature. After an indeterminable time, they came near our home. The sound of their heavy boots, first on the paved street and then on the steps, reached us hollow and ominous. An underworld sound. They looked tall and imposing when they walked into my 16
room. There were three. My mother, seated by my side, squeezed my hand tightly to give me courage. I lay on my bed with a wet cloth on my forehead. My mission was to look convincingly sick while Caramelo hid under my bed. We had, out of desperation, based the reaction of the Germans on what our reaction would have been under the same circumstances. We would not have disturbed a sick child. They were Germans, but they were also human beings. We had blindly counted on that. The responsibility placed upon me weighed so heavily on my body that unconsciously I must have looked pitiful. They stopped abruptly at the sight of me. I watched them and all I could think was the story I had heard that a German, in anger, had put a child that was begging for food on his knee and had broken his body in half. “Like a stick,” they had said. “Like a stick...like a stick...” a voice repeated deep inside me. “Like a stick...” I became afraid, very afraid. One of them stepped forward and stretched his arm out as if to touch my face. Perhaps, out of curiosity to see how hot it was. Perhaps, out of compassion. My mother stopped him with a mute motion of her head. There was a second of suffocating silence, and then I passed out. I drifted off to dreams I had never dreamed before. Chasing butterflies in a daisy field. Watching soap bubbles imprison rainbows in the air. Crossing a creek with reflections of white doves in flight. Playing with children that smiled. Being lulled to sleep by Caramelo. My cowardice saved him. The Germans, feeling apologetic for having caused a sick child to faint, had left without searching my room. When everything was calm in the village, a sign that the search was over, we all got into a circle and danced, laughing at Caramelo’s awkward attempts to follow our steps. It was a dance of joy and victory. As we danced, my feet left the floor and I began to fly in mid-air high above everybody else, or so it seemed. With me danced little girls with white bows on their hair, and finally I 17
Anthology 2015 smiled. I had defeated the ruthless god. As the war came to an end, quiet rumors spread of possibilities for the Italians left behind to return to their homes. The thought of losing Caramelo became unbearable, but we knew we had to let him go. We spent the last days making idealistic plans for joyful reunions of the two families in a time of peace. For me who was born and raised during a time of war, “peace” was a difficult word to comprehend, something unreal, unattainable. As a result, the planned reunions seemed impossible, and I didn’t want Caramelo to go. He was tangible. He was real. He was my Caramelo! I had saved him. Devastated, I cried bitterly when the final arrangements were made for him to leave. I cried in spite of his efforts to console me. The lovely sound of his words dripped thick within me like droplets of blood from a wound. The plan was to put him on the fishing boat “Eleutheria” that the underground resistance had hired to take Italians to Sicily. We had liked the name of the boat. It meant “freedom”, and we took it as a good omen. We had counted on something simple like the name of a fishing boat to help us accomplish our final goal. I was asleep when he left in the middle of the night. I woke up the next morning to find Caramelo’s gold chain and cross around my neck. On the back of the cross was inscribed his name. Caramelo. I had called him Carmelo all along; he had never corrected me. Although I had never learned to pronounce his name correctly, I had learned to love him with the fierce, white passion of a child Nobody said anything. Nobody did anything. Nobody moved, or cried, or cursed, or pushed a fist of anger in the air when two days later the radio announced that the fishing boat “Eleutheria” had been sunk by the Germans and all aboard had either drowned or been shot to death. Every one remained silent, motionless, expressionless, and stared at the dying embers with glassy eyes and frozen smiles. How prematurely I had dared smile! The wound opened inside me again. This time, the blood 18
didn’t just drip out of it. It gushed, hot and unbearable in its wetness, its flooding. Out of the wound came a chillingly icy, loud “No...o...o...o..!” that echoed from the whitewashed walls of my home over and over until it too faded in silent resignation, in bitter defeat. One more bead for the necklace of a truly sinister god. I, a marionette, alone with a gold cross around my neck. A reminder of something once alive that was no more.
William T. Sorensen
Tulip Field Linda Todd
Oh bud of yellow, petals displayed In the mellow soft spring, not a momentâ€™s delay From the royal of floral, but colors so humble Do you aim to enchant me, with your light winded tumble? No blood sultry lips, not a thorn at your tip Do you bloom with the fever of spring in your hips? Your father was a lover, but things slowly change Plastic thrown to your feet, but you take it no shame In your elegance, humility, a question remains Do you die with the dawn like the darlingest dreams? Like my long lost oneâ€™s mind child, sewn with breakable seems? Not of death do I speak, such things I expect yet to come But will the void of her in my grey matter My thoughts of desires and disasters Is our sweet journey now foiled and done? Or shall we bleed your seed in the soil from which to be reborn Absolved of all scorches and scorn To know our journeys have only begun?
Reflections, Post 9-11 Veteran Francisco Perez-Lopes
THIRD PLACE PROSE Journal Entry I remember the anxiety of what ifs. What if my wife, whom I’d married only three months earlier, finds herself a side dish to keep her company? It all felt too rushed. We’d met, fell in love, and a pregnancy scare prompted me to reflect upon my life. I decided to quit the street pharmacy business and join the Marines. Here I am in Iraq and guys left and right are losing girlfriends and wives. Am I next? I try my best not to think of anything but my front sight post; all else needs to be irrelevant. It is damn near impossible. Journal Entry My Marine unit went to the base theater in Camp Pendleton, California, and we heard a briefing from General “Mad Dog” Mattis. It was quite riveting and provided a tingly feeling down my body as the General said, “If you feel truly like your life is in danger, you shoot to kill; I will have your back.” I felt the insecurity from the moment I was killed in pre-deployment training. We were conducting mock houseto-house searches, squad offensive and defensive tactics, and convoy operations. I was manning the 240G Machine Gun when an enemy soldier walked up behind me, pointed his gun at my head, and whispered in my ear, “You are dead, Marine.” Journal Entry I retell myself the story of my buddy over and over and over, preceding the Denial. It’s crazy playing out every scenario in your head, plotting out the coordinates of each possibility, searching for a multiverse that would allow me to switch places, warn him, warn me, interrupt the convoy brief, something! My destination is 22
waiting for the time machine to be invented, and as soon as it is— and it will be—I’ll be back to June 26, 2004. Perhaps the mental re-enactment will never drop the curtain, permeated with the fat lady’s shower of silence. Journal Entry I’m sitting outside a bowling alley in Concord, California. I’ve been reading a novel for a class about the war in Iraq and the first sentence in Chapter 3 tugs and tugs away at my focus: “It wasn’t long after I left Al Tafar that I began to feel very strange.” It’s funny; this line is exactly where it needs to be. The book has transcended, personified; it knows me, knows my pain, my struggle. I am at a crossroad. Do I go inside and bowl with my wife, her mom, step dad, sister, cousins, nephews, friends, and my daughter? Or do I give in and feel at ease by reading more in Chapter 3? Do I use homework as an excuse to avoid the crowded bowling alley? After all, I did my part this afternoon. We just came from a crowded and noisy diner. I forgot to take my medications before we came, so I was aware of every plate, every silverware screech. I located the emergency exits and quickly drew up a reaction plan. Fuck this, I said, baby, let’s take a shot at the bar: Jagger bombs. We do. Slowly the anxiety melts away, the battle plan forgotten, my senses calm. I immerse myself in SimCity, a game on my iPhone. I drown the world out. I’m free for a moment, relieved. But just beneath the surface lies the narrator’s pain. It’s not his pain really, or my pain, it is our pain.
Forever Young Jasmin Talisschim
HONORABLE MENTION ART
Tonight is the Night Aretha Welch
My heart raced, up paced. I listened to my blood rush, Throb throb, gush gush. I smelt the flesh, it burned , I smelt. I knew the next steps oh too well. I scrambled quick to find new fish; Prepare a new dish, Delay my kicks. I dropped the mayo. It splattered wide, like my blood upon the wall the very last time. I heard the clock tick my time away. I bit my lip. Where would I hide? Where would I stay? I touched it slow. I could feel the slit; The slit from where it was last split. To my knees I dropped, wiping fanatically. Hoping the traffic backed up dramatically. I had to get every last spot. To save my blood. Every last drop. Spare myself the burning stare, the hateful snare. I exist in sense-stifling fear, mind-hurting despair. I got the mayo. I got it all. I rubbed my rosary in thanks...I felt it. I felt it all. My skin. Still welted from the rope he put around my throat. I rubbed my thigh. Still belted from where he got me through my coat. I was wrong to run. I’m young and dumb. That’s what he says. I’m young and ugly and dumb. That’s what he says. I get new fish. I run it under the water. I see them. My small pockmarked hands. The water burns my burn. He puts his cigarettes out in my palms when I don’t finish all my housework . When I forget to feed the dog he chokes. He chokes my neck until I cry. He asks me if I want to die. My lips shape no, but my heart shapes yes. Anything so I can be alone at night. At night when he makes me undress and tells me to relax and 25
Anthology 2015 don’t fight. He puts the pillow on my face some nights, so he doesn’t hear me cry. I turn the music on in my head so I don’t have to hear him grunt that I feel good inside. I think of the days before she died. I scramble quick to defrost the new fish. I plunge it into the hot water fanatically. I pop it into the microwave quickly. Then I hear the doorbell. Oh no. He must have forgot his key. Why is he is home early? I try to think but nothing. I hear another ring. I brace because I know he is going to hit me. Dinner isn’t even half ready. I breathe and open the door, all the while looking for a safe spot on the floor. A soft spot so when he hits me, I can hit the ground without hitting much more . “Oh my. How old are you?” she asks. Not him. It’s a woman. A stranger. He taught me stranger danger but I answer. “I’m 11.” I hold four fingers up, then I hold up seven. “Where is your father?” “Are you Chiquita Villanova?’’ “Yes I am. He is at work.” “Did he do this to you?” She stares at my swollen stomach. “I think he did. He says I’m my mommy now.” Her eyes look wet. “I have to take you away.” “I saw my mommy in a dream last night and she said an angel would come for me. So I have been wearing these all day,” I say. I smile and lift my long dress and her wet eyes begin to leak when she sees. Her voice becomes muffled when sees my busted tennis shoes with my big toes peaking free. “Well... well, I’m glad you’re ready dear,” she drops to her knees and hugs me. I see her badge near her shoulder. I read... Child Protective Services, and I breathe out the breadth I held for 26
two years, in relief. “You don’t have to be afraid of me.” I stroke her badge softly. “I know my mommy taught me how to read before she left me.” The lady smiles. I smile. My dream mommy was right. Tonight is the night. I no longer have to fight.
Out of the Blizzard Gary Lea
I was in my room, doing my homework and listening to the radio. My favorite song came on, “Sixteen Tons”. It was fairly new and the DJs hadn’t had time to play it into the ground yet. I put down my pencil and just listened. Then the storm started kicking up outside. I heard the wind getting stronger, whistling around the corner of the house. Looking out the window, I saw the snow coming down in sheets of white, blowing one way and then another. I could hear my dog bark, the sound growing fainter. Where was she going? Did she find some animal to chase or was she just taking a hike in the snow? I didn’t like her running off. I was almost certain that this storm was going to get worse. I went out to the living room to try to see her from the window there. My father was engrossed in a western on TV. He looked like he was well into his third or fourth drink. He wouldn’t notice if I slipped out the door. It was probably fortunate for me that he liked his westerns and his booze so much. Otherwise he would be checking to see what I had been doing or not doing and that usually meant trouble for me. Tomorrow morning he would be going to work at the gas station so I knew he wouldn’t be staying up very late. When he went to bed he would be expecting me to be in mine. I had, maybe, an hour and a half. Mom worked the late shift at the coffee shop. She would never let me go out in this storm. She worried about me the same way I was worrying about my dog. In spite of that, she would be dead tired when she got home. I remembered coming home from the Boy Scout camping trip last summer, all excited. “Mom, the trip was really neat. Willy and I were together the whole time and I slept in his tent. We went on hikes and they taught us all kinds of stuff about how to survive in the wild. Can I join the Boy Scouts, Mom?” 28
“I’m glad you had a good time, dear. I wish I could tell you it was okay for you to join but we just don’t have the money for the dues and all the equipment you would need.” She was already going back to her book, taking another sip of beer. “But Mom, just say you’ll think about it. I could get a job and earn some money.” “Okay, I’ll think about it. Now, let me rest. It’s been a hard day.” Every day was a hard day for her. Eight hours on her feet, six days a week, taking orders, carrying food, cleaning up. She would get home tonight after father and I had gone to bed and be in bed herself very soon after. Sometimes, when I was having trouble sleeping, I heard her coming quietly into the house. Soon I would hear the springs creak as she got into bed in the next room, then everything was quiet again. I glanced over at father again. He was still engrossed in his TV show. I opened the back door quietly, then closed it with the doorknob twisted so it wouldn’t click when I closed it. The cold wind immediately cut through my heavy clothes. It made me worry even more about Buffy. I scanned what would have been the horizon if I had actually been able to see that far. I didn’t spot Buffy bounding around in the snow anywhere. She was a tri-color, which means that her fur was mostly black. It would be easy to see her against the snow. She had been the runt of the litter and no one wanted her. Someone that came into the coffee shop knew about her and told Mom, thinking she could probably pick her up without having to lay out much cash. Mom loved dogs, especially Collies, so she decided to have a look. Father went with her. They were able to get her for just a few bucks because the breeder didn’t want to keep her around and have to feed her and clean up after her. That’s where father first got the idea that she was useless, I guess. She loved the snow and could, most likely, handle this storm. I was worried anyway. If she knew I was out here, she would be by my 29
Anthology 2015 side. She always stayed by me when I was outside with her. I got the feeling she worried about me, too. I wanted to call for her but I was afraid my father would hear and then he would get pissed at me. I tried to keep on the good side of him as much as I could. It wasn’t always possible but there was no point in inviting his wrath. I had heard him call Buffy useless many times. If anything happened to my dog, I would be lost. She was really mom’s dog but I fed her, brushed her, took her for walks and hikes and did everything else to take care of her so she probably thought she was my dog. I pulled the collar of my jacket up to keep a little more of the wind out. I turned around and could see the light glowing in our window. I was all right as long as I could see that glow. When I thought I was far enough out, I started calling. “Buffy!” Usually she barked when she heard me call her name. I stopped and listened. All I could hear was the wind howling. I turned around again, making sure I could still see the house. It still showed clearly. I walked a little farther, turned briefly and checked again. Still okay. I could barely see the stack of firewood standing close to the house. Unbidden, the memory came back of when I had stacked it, the first time and the second time. My father had come out to examine the job after I finished. For some reason he decided he wanted a piece of wood out of the middle of the stack. Of course, as he worked it out of its place, the stack became unstable and fell on him. “You idiot,” he yelled. “Don’t you know how to stack wood? Tear this mess down and stack it again and do it right this time.” He went stomping back into the house. I called again. “Buffy!” Still no answering bark. I went a little farther. The glow from that window was beginning to fade but I could still see it. I called again. Then a gust of wind came up so strong it almost knocked me over. I tried to lean into it but it was still turning my body around. 30
I squinted my eyes against the snow that was pelting my face. I planted my feet, still leaning, focusing on keeping my bearings. The wind let up a little and I was able to look around. I had lost track of the direction back to the house. I turned in a circle. The snow was coming down harder now. I couldn’t see any light, anymore. My heart started beating a little faster and I fought down the panic. “Buffy!” Nothing. I knew better than to try to go any farther with no way to know where I was and which way to go. I stood there and kept calling. My jacket was keeping me fairly warm but my feet were beginning to feel the cold, even through the boots. I stamped my feet. It hurt but I kept doing it to make sure I kept the blood moving. I was thankful for the Boy Scout camping trip and the tricks I had learned to keep myself out of trouble. “Lean into the wind. Always keep a reference point but if you feel like you’re lost, stay put and don’t panic. Stamp your feet to keep from getting frostbite.” I yelled for Buffy again. Another icy gust of wind whistled, pulling the snow up as if a blanket was growing out of the ground. I heard a bark. Out of the middle of that white blanket I could make out Buffy bounding through the drifts. She came up wagging her tail, licking my hand, happy as she always was in the snow. She nosed some of the snow off my pants and it hit the ground with a muffled thud. “Where have you been?” I tried to put authority into my voice but I knew it failed. I buried my face in her warm fur and felt tears well up in my eyes. “Let’s go home, girl. Can you take us home?” She wagged her tail and set off. She went a short distance and turned around to see if I was coming. At my size, I was having a hard time making progress. The snow was halfway up to my knees. The snow was dry enough that the wind kept it swept away. I could see it beginning to drift against the trees in the direction Buffy had come from. She waited patiently for me to catch up, then bounded off again. She seemed to know how far she could go so I wouldn’t 31
Anthology 2015 lose sight of her. Soon I was able to see the glow of the window again. I was relieved and uneasy at the same time. I had lost track of the time. Hopefully father would still be engrossed in the TV. I took her into the garage where her bed was. I would have liked her to come into the house but I knew father wouldn’t have it. I suppose he was right. Buffy was a Collie and she had her thick winter coat. She was comfortable out here. I got the brush and started brushing the snow out of her fur. She came up close, enjoying it. When I was done she curled her body around my feet, warming them, looking up at me. I put the stool away that I had been sitting on and put the brush back on the shelf. I left the outside door open for her. She hated to be cooped up. Even so, I was tempted to keep her locked in so she wouldn’t run off again. But I felt better now that I knew she could easily find her way home again. I tried to sneak in but father was standing there, hands on hips. “Where the hell have you been?” “Just outside, making sure Buffy is okay.” “Your pants are wet. You must have been standing in the snow for a while. You’d better not catch pneumonia for the sake of that useless dog.” “She’s not useless,” I mumbled. “What?” I glanced out of the window and there was Buffy, bounding through the snow again. She ran toward the window and peered at me. She seemed to be calling me to the same sort of freedom that she enjoyed. All at once I didn’t care if father got angry. I straightened up, trying to get the most out of my five feet of height. “I said she’s not useless. She’s a good dog and she takes good care of...” The backhand came before I got all the words out of my mouth. “You do not talk to me that way, you little shit.” He roared and was shaking. “Get in there and get those wet clothes off. I want you ready for bed in five minutes.” 32
As I walked toward my room I kept my back straight and stood tall. It felt good. Maybe he was bigger than me and maybe it hurt but if he called Buffy “useless” again, I would still stand up for her. I heard a noise and glanced up to see mom. She was home earlier than usual. She seemed more tired than I have ever seen her, but she also looked angry. I hardly ever remember her being angry. The door hadn’t quite closed. I was going to go over and close it but thought better of it. “What’s going on in here? I heard yelling. I leave work early, feeling sick and this is what I come home to?” She studied my face. “Josh, what happened to your lip?” I put my hand to my lip and it came away with blood on it. She turned to father immediately. “Sam, did you hit him? Is that what goes on here while I’m out working my butt off? I heard you calling him a little shit. What was that about?” “I’m not putting up with his back talk.” He still gritted his teeth and his voice was still loud, though nowhere near as loud as when he had been yelling at me. “Back talk? What back talk? What did he say to you that warranted giving him a bloody lip?” “What difference does it make? If I feel like I need to smack him, by God, I’ll smack him.” “You will not hit him. You will not call him names. I don’t care what he did, he didn’t deserve that.” “I’ll do what I damn well please and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Father was getting louder again and was beginning to draw himself up. I cringed, hoping father wouldn’t hit her, too. “It’s all right,” I said. “I was just going to bed. It’s not a problem.” “It is a problem and it’s going to be resolved now. Josh, you stay here.” Seeing mom like this was weird. She was angry and standing her ground. I was fearful and a little confused but I was pleased at the same time. All of the exhaustion seemed to have left her. “So, what are you going to do, Sam? I’m not going to back 33
Anthology 2015 down. I have suspected this might be going on. I can tell Josh is afraid of you. If he stood up to you, I’m proud of him.” Father raised his hand and started for her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the door open a little farther and thought it was the wind but then I saw Buffy. In a flash she was standing between them. She faced father, her feet firmly planted, her lip curled back, a low growl coming from deep in her chest. “Get that damn, useless dog out of here before I kill her,” Father bellowed. “I think she’s just fine right where she is,” mom said. “Josh, go close the door.” Father stood there, looking at mom, looking down at Buffy. “Sam, I mean it. We don’t have to put up with this. I know it’s been hard on you but you’re not going to take it out on Josh and you’re not going to take it out on me. If you can’t get it under control, then we’re going to have to leave. I’ve had it.” “What do you mean, ‘you’ve had it?’” he growled. “You didn’t lose your job. You didn’t have to spend months schmoozing around. You didn’t have to take a lousy job as a gas station attendant.” “Look, I don’t like having to work as a waitress, either. And I sure don’t like you taking out your problems on us. Now back off. Buffy doesn’t look too happy with you either. You can hit me if you want, you’re obviously stronger than me, but I don’t think Buffy is going to stand for it much.” Father glanced down at Buffy and looked at me. He sat down and put his head in his hands. He seemed to crumple. “I’m sorry. I know it’s been hard on everybody. You don’t have to leave, I will. It’s going to take some time for me to sort it out.” Father disappeared into their bedroom, came back a few minutes later. He had a duffel bag under one arm. He was out the door without a word. The headlights of his car swept past the window. The tires crunched on the gravel, then it was quiet. Mom let out a deep sigh and sat down. I felt the tension go out of me. I hadn’t known that every muscle in my body was on edge. I felt bad. It didn’t seem right that my father was suddenly gone. 34
“Mom, what was that all about? Why did you say it had been hard on him? What was hard on him?” I expected her to tell me she was too tired to talk about it. She didn’t. She got up from her chair and took me into the bathroom. She blotted the blood off my lip and put a little ointment on it. “Maybe you can’t remember when your father wasn’t like he is now. He was kind and loving and took good care of us. Do you remember when he lost his job?” “He was pretty upset and you were, too.” We moved into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Buffy came and lay down on the floor close to us. “When the recession started, a lot of people got laid off, but your father took it personally. He felt like a failure. He wasn’t able to find another job and was finally forced to take the job at the gas station. He was making a lot less money, so I had to go to work, too.” “But everything’s okay now, isn’t it? I know you and father have to work hard but aren’t we all right?” “The thing is, Josh, we could be doing a lot better but he just seemed to give up. He stopped looking. And he kept getting surlier and drawing into himself.” “I don’t like father’s temper but I don’t want for him to be gone, either. I don’t know what to do.” “There isn’t anything you or I can do. He’s going to have to do it himself. But we can be there for him when he finally gets it resolved.” I stared through the window, the storm still raging. Buffy came over and put her head in my lap. I scratched her, absently, behind the ears. It was going to take me some time to sort it out, too.
Sunset in My Eyes Jasmin Talisschim
The Blind Dogs Daniel Replogle
The clash of dishes and Conversations that clash About like a busy Chinese market With dead chickens hanging from Wires, threaded through broken ankles Kitchens cluttered and dirty Like a scale model junk yard Flies as seagulls It mocked them and they complained What a mess, the scrapes of leftover meat Dry and hard and juiceless Stuck to the china And fed to the barking dogs With blind eyes and strong noses Still yelling, and cleaning the kitchen But even on the spotless nights When the silence would echo off the granite With all the hatred sweated out of their mouths With dry lips in the stillness of it all The blind dogs would bark At the lingering smell of that bloody meat
The Sergeant Linda Todd
Sam leans his belly against the fender of the car, arms stretched out across the hood, elbows locked. His right hand, fingers wrapped around the grip of his Smith & Wesson Model 10, rests in the palm of his left, index finger poised against the trigger, ready to fire. His heart rate increases, threatening to beat out of his chest, breaths quicken with each passing moment. Sweat soaks the T-shirt under his Kevlar vest. On most days an irritant, he is thankful for the protection the vest wrapped around his torso provides. He takes slow deep breaths to calm his nerves. Sam fast-forwards through twenty years of training, searching for a scenario matching the one laying out before him. He runs through a checklist of protocol. He called for backup, positioned his car perpendicular to the walkway running in front of the store windows, placed himself behind the vehicle. His gun points toward the door. Two cars in the parking lot. Sam knows the white 1972 Ford Mustang belongs to the store owner. The faded blue 1969 Buick Special must belong to the suspect. He is relieved customers are not involved. He waits. Two crows swoop down from the roof of the store, squawking at each other, fighting over an ice cream wrapper lying in the parking lot. Crickets play their music in the tall weeds behind Sam. The setting sun reflects in the store’s plate glass windows. The parking lot lights come to life. Cars zip along the street twenty yards away, some of them with headlights on, some without. He prays no one pulls in to buy a quart of milk. The door opens. A man pushes through and steps out onto the walkway. Sam notes his physical characteristics: black male, six foot one, 190 pounds, Afro hairstyle, 18 – 20 years old, black jacket, denim pants, the description matches the suspect. A bundle in the suspect’s left hand, a gun shaped object in his right. Sam’s body 38
tightens. His heart races, his breaths quicken. He clears his throat and yells, “Police. Stop right there. Put the gun down, hands in the air.” The man turns to face Sam. The man’s arm rises, a flash of light emits from his hand. Sam’s ears ring from the explosions, his arms recoil from the gun. The suspect falls back, arms outstretched. Paper money flutters to the ground. The suspect’s gun clanks to the pavement. Sulfur hangs in the air. The crows shriek and fly back up to the roof, their feast interrupted. Sirens howl in the distance. Sam rises from his crouched position, his gun still in hand aimed at the suspect. He slowly moves toward the suspect sprawled on the ground. A pool of blood oozes onto the pavement. Sam kicks the fallen gun away. With his gun still trained at the man’s head Sam surveys the face. Vacant brown eyes stare back at him. Sam relaxes his gun arm, kneels down, and reaches to close the kid’s eyes even though his action may contaminate the scene. He doesn’t care. It’s the proper thing to do. Sirens blare. Lights flash. Police cars descend on the scene. Sam knows back up has arrived, but they are too late. He remains kneeling over the body. His eyes blur with tears. Bile rises from his stomach, burns his throat. Through his blurry vision, standard issue black shoes come into view. Hands grasp his shoulders. Someone removes his gun from his hand. Men talk, but Sam cannot comprehend the words. Tears etch tracks on his cheeks. His stomach heaves. He stands breaking contact with the hands on his shoulders and runs past his car into the weed-infested field emptying the contents of his stomach at his feet. Guilt rushes in to fill the space. He falls to his knees, crosses his arms and hugs his chest. Eyes closed tight damming the tears that threaten to flow. He is a man, the sergeant. Men, especially sergeants, don’t cry. Twenty years of training, twenty years of simulations and shooting dummy targets, twenty years of high scores in target practice. All that training prepared Sam for this one event. An event he always feared one day he would face. He came close many 39
Anthology 2015 times, but the suspects always listened. They always put their gun down. They never shot at him. This time was different. This time the man did not listen. He did not drop his gun. This time the man shot at him. Faced with a “him or me” situation, Sam was victorious, but a bitter victory it was. Twenty years of training never prepared him for seeing a man killed by his own hand.
Kathleen Kull Urban Three pound baby girl Parents’ world turned upside down Fragile joy abounds.
A New Life Begins Brianna Guillory
Time of Your Life Patrick Coyle
FIRST PLACE PROSE At the end of 2014, I’d been retired for a year and a half. I’ve been paying close attention to my life, the choices I’ve made and those to come. I want to remember to live every day as if it was my last. One day, it will be. Mary Oliver’s lines speak to me. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and “When it's over … I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.” In September, 2007, my wife, Kathy, and I were going to see my brother, Mike, and his wife, Char, in The Hague, The Netherlands for an early celebration of my birthday - Mike’s treat on frequent flyer miles. My 60th, a big round number, gave me pause. Other factors made me think about my life: married 31 years, a rare two week vacation from my hectic job at Lawrence Livermore lab, and our first trip to Europe. I would retire from University of California (UC), which managed the lab, on our trip, but I planned to work for the lab’s new management for three more years. It turned out to be five. On the trip, I’d wanted to step back from workaday routines, get perspective, consider transition to life after retirement - what I wanted then. On my last day before the trip, John Harri caught me. He said he was calling it quits on Friday, his last day working part time as a retiree. I’d worked for John several different times since we met in 1986. He’d been one of my favorite bosses. A few years ago, he’d had a heart attack. John said, “I’ve got something for you – your ten-year UC ser-
Anthology 2015 vice pin.” We laughed. I’d been working at the lab over 27 years. “John, was there something that prompted you to quit?” John took a tape measure out of the desk drawer and hooked it in the whiteboard tray on the far wall. He pulled the tape across the room to where we stood and pointed to the 80-inch mark. “I might live to be this old.” He pointed at the 69-inch mark on the tape. “I’m 69 now.” John looked at the tape and then at me. “It just seems like it’s time.” I looked too. I was nearly 60, far enough along the tape that John’s point resonated with me. Our age on the tape was a graphic physical representation of how much of our life we’d lived. The distance to any reasonable estimate of how long we’d live was much shorter. I told John of Thomas McGuane’s line, “As they say in South America, everyone knows that they are going to die; yet nobody believes it. Human lapses of this kind enable us to fish, fornicate, overeat, and bet on the horses.” I said goodbye to John and finished up the afternoon at work. Kathy and I headed for The Netherlands. In the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, someone is asked, “What is the most wondrous thing in the entire universe?” The reply is, “The most wondrous thing in the entire universe is that all around us people are dying and we don’t believe it will happen to us.” Meditation teachers Salsburg and Goldstein, write, “It’s as though there’s this big surprise for us at the end of our lives.” In his old book, Who Dies, Stephen Levine, a veteran of assisting at many hospice deaths, reminds us that 250,000 people die every day. Yeats said, “We are fastened to a dying animal.” To be alive, in our bodies, implies physical suffering, inevitable decay, aging, sickness, and death – no matter what we want. I wanted to remember all this - not to be morbid, but to re44
member to live every day fully, as if it was my last. I’ve stepped into this next phase, knowing life is short, losses and diminishment are inevitable, and we die. When we took that trip in 2007, I’d been meditating in the mornings for over a decade. We’d been in Holland a few days, when I’d settled in to meditate for twenty minutes, to pay attention to breath and the fullness of being in the body, and note what arises. Thoughts of work issues, projects, and daily concerns bubbled up and faded away. Then I thought, what if I wasn’t going back to work? What do I really want to do? I let the question just be there – watching what came. Two weeks off, with Kathy, offered a preview of the road ahead. Barbara Sher’s Live The Life You Love offers the exercise of remembering what we’ve enjoyed doing, what we’ve ever loved, and imagining if we took these to the limit and turned them into a fantasy career profession, where would we wind up, what would our life be like? Her premise is what you love is what you are gifted at, but that the most important parts of ourselves can’t show up until we after we have attained what we want. Once those needs are met – even in this fantasy exercise – we are free to create dreams based on who we really are. I explored what I’d enjoyed doing and how it might inform what I wanted do after my career at the lab. When I was real busy there, I had little time for anything but work. However, I had identified a handful of things I wanted to do that I slipped into my life like slivers, long thin bright wedges. With the limited time I had, I could still do them a little bit. I looked forward to sliding up the wedges and spending more time on these activities as I transitioned to retirement. In their Utne Reader article, Utne and Leider discuss mentoring, wisdom, and why boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) can still save the world. What must the boomers do to prepare themselves for service?…The idea is to help people find ways to identify what their unique gift is…to give to the world…to 45
Anthology 2015 connect with opportunities to give their gift. Leider defines calling as the inner urge to give your gifts away … boomers are interested in working or serving in some capacity as long as they are healthy and capable of sustaining their lives. Most mornings, before I meditate, I look at the photos in the room and am grateful for the families Kathy and I came from, the gift of our lives and our siblings our parents gave us. I'm grateful Kathy chose me, for our life together, and for our young adult children. I'm grateful for the health, comfort, and safety of our lives. I'm grateful for the career I’ve had at the lab, a generous pension from UC; an opportunity to work with extremely talented people, supporting fusion ignition in the laboratory on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) - the biggest project ever at the lab, perhaps the Manhattan Project of our era. Busy as I was while working at the lab, I still cultivated the things I cared about – that I had slipped into my life like thin wedges. Since I’ve retired, I’ve continued to make choices about where to put my time and energy. I give blood as often as I can and love to do it – it makes me feel connected to the community of life we all share. I’m interested in sustainable development. I’ve increased my volunteering with Engineers Without Borders. I’m continuing to work on Belize Open Source – Sustainable Development, a nonprofit land-based learning center and working farm on 40 acres in Belize. I’m an organizer with PublicLab, doing aerial photomapping with kites and balloons, working with their other citizen science tools, and sharing the results in research notes. I write – memoir and travel pieces, a true novel and longer memoir in progress. I’m learning to sketch and draw. I continue to study Spanish. I'm grateful for all those who have helped me. I'm grateful for the totality of experience that has brought me to the present moment. I practice mindfulness. I joke that I’m doomed, or blessed, 46
with no alternative but to practice. Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein reminds us, “…I start over. That’s the practice for you as well. Plan to be starting over, all the time. …Strive on with diligence… Move with sureness into the future…” On Tuesday, after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. observance day, when I opened my daily planner at work, the quote was: Find out what you love. Do it because you love it. Stick with it. Start now. -- Barbara Sher Synchronicity, serendipity, or just coincidence? I don’t know, but it got my attention. The line from Green Day’s song ran through my mind, “… It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right. I hope you had the time of your life.”
Brother Malcolm Stevie Slakey
HONORABLE MENTION ART
This Must Be Death Peggy Schimmelman
There’s no mistaking the black hooded robe that bony, beckoning finger. At my bedside, he raises his scythe. Let the bargaining begin:. A short year more, to finish the novel or no—better yet, a shift in priorities from self-indulgent prose to inspirational works: "Five Steps to Happiness" or "Finding Your God." All proceeds to benefit the SPCA Blankets for the Homeless Bras For the Cause. Or maybe a month, for mending fences: overdue apologies for petty disputes with neighbors over hedges, dogs and lawns menopausal tirades that scarred the children a lover's heart damaged in the wake of wild youth promises broken betrayals. Lies. A week would suffice, for writing a will selecting an urn, planning a wake guilt-tripping a friend into taking the cat. Bucket list items: Disneyland, Maui manicure, mud bath, spiky blonde haircut cheesecake for dinner wine for dessert. A day ought to do it, for making my peace with God for misuse of time and talent brain cells abused, muses ignored. Or an hour, I’d take a mere precious hour to watch a last sunset with the love of my life. 48
Just a day. Or an hour. Death takes a step forward, unmoved. One minute till midnight, says my grandfather’s clock— a childhood memory—what a comfort its chiming could lend my departure. But he’s heard it all before, billions of times No room in Death’s schedule for bargaining—and yet just a few moments more, to go out with the chimes. "Death walks into a bar," I say. He lowers his scythe: "Go on..."
Flora Alvarado I have a vault and through the years I have managed to fill it. Hoping to forget what was hidden in this secret vault. I misplaced the key. No matter, who cares what I have secretly hidden? Every so often I wonder what I had shoved in the vault, maybe I would like to look over the vaults belongings. Then I remind myself that they were put there to forget that they once belonged to me. So much has happened in all those years and I finally find myself in a good place in life. I feel strong, secure and at peace. Maybe I should look for the key to the vault. How could I possible find it after all these years? I get a tablet and a pencil and start to write of what I remember putting in the vault. As I start writing, the door to the vault starts to open slowly. Strong emotions take over as the door slowly opens. I can't stop the tears. I continue writing about what I remember having shoved in the vault. The longer the list the wider the door to the vault opens. With some of the words that I write I feel great pain of grief in my heart: anger, sadness, loneliness, humiliation, jealously. With each word is the strong emotion that never went away even if I had shoved it in a vault. I am overwhelmed with all these emotions. My body seems listless. The door of the vault swings open and it is completely empty. I have finally been rescued from the ugly emotions that I had hidden in the locked vault. I am liberated and my soul once again has been restored to peace and I never have to worry about the lost key to the vault. Without reclaiming the negative emotions from the secret vault, I would not be able to truly have gratefulness for the lessons I learned from those emotions.
Metal Still Life
(A Found Poem)
Jessica Rhoades Behind me her hand on my shoulder *stands a dark woman* I feel the chill of her icy fingertips as my hair is entangled in them like *seaweed stumbling in the sea* Her breath is like *frozen air* as it caresses my ear Her voice like a *blackbird laughing* shakes my nerves as I turn to look in the mirror All I see is my own face reflected She will not let me see She is there She is there I know she is there Always at the corner of my eye as I walk through life She is there with me as I sit under the *backyard tree* where I first saw her hanging at the edge of my vision I try to give her back to the tree but she will not leave me she wants to *destroy me* *Joy Harjo - Transformations
Cypress Tree Tunnel Anna Rouse
A Winter Windsâ€™ Soul Sebastian Harder
I stand and stretch My skin shivers and my bones crack In white snow, and shadows black The coldness I fetch I run and run, sharp as blades No blood flows as I dance and cut Slamming into doors now shut But never say my wrath fades Low across the ground I creep and crawl In a darkness that will never be bright My garden, the flowers â€˜pon a window light My art melted away by a warm breath With black ice and white snow freshly fallen I take my strength and flow and fly I nip and bite fingers and faces sullen My time and strength is nigh This my strength grows This my gift A cold wind blows A frozen smile I lift My snow and ice, and frost given My labors hath been wrought I return to my home, all frozen My path is clear and crystalline no other sought Hot cocoa and honeyed tea Oh the songs, the songs they sing of me 54
The blacks and whites and grays in between A beautiful winter for all is seen 55
Long White Dresses Antoinette Foxworthy
SECOND PLACE PROSE
There were three, each pearly white, each floor length, each purchased for one special day. That’s where their similarities ended. The first, my mom bought for me. We found it tucked in the back of a strip-mall store smashed among the other discounted prom dresses. I could see why no one would pick a white gown as a prom dress but it would be perfect for my special day. The dress, simple and understated, was made of a satiny material that had an almost invisible lace design on it. Its modestly scooped neckline was tied at the empire waistline by a one-inch-wide satin ribbon which attached in a bow at the back. It had no sleeves. It fit my slim young body beautifully. The only alteration it required was shortening the length. Mom could do that. She offered to buy me the dress. With my siblings’ mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay, I knew it would be a stretch for her dwindling budget, even at $29.99. Secretly, I wondered if my other wedding expenses would deplete Mom’s finances and our PG&E would be turned off again but she insisted on splurging for a decorative rose petal and fake pearl hair comb. She would stitch on two layers of tulle to make my veil. I eagerly walked down the aisle in an exquisite church, passing pews decorated with Mom’s hand-made ribbons to the man I had fallen in love with and known since my sophomore year in high school. He was handsome, quiet, easy and hard-working, simple and understated like my dress. Our reception was held in a hall adjacent to a bowling alley but it made no difference to me where we celebrated as long as the people we loved were there. They were; many of them had gathered early that morning at our house to prepare little triangle sandwiches with the crusts cut off which we were going to serve at our reception. I don’t remember much about the other food they prepared 56
but the hit was a free-flowing champagne fountain. Decadent for us and our extended family. Life as a married couple was blissful, nurturing and fun. We nested together in our little apartment and worked hard while saving for our own home. Within ten years, three daughters blessed our lives and I could not have been happier. I thought our marriage was wonderful until it wasn’t. Then my life, as I had planned, abruptly halted. My security blanket was tattered and torn at the seams and my self esteem dripped down the drain. We divorced. The second one he bought for me at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco. We found it in the Junior Summer-Dress section. It had two layers: a rich, silky-smooth satin sheath covered in a delicate lace over-dress. It had off-the-shoulders cap sleeves and a deeply scooped neckline which was very revealing especially with my full pregnancy breasts. I refused to buy a strapless bra since I knew that my extra endowments would go away shortly after birth and nursing. The bodice was cinched high in the waist with folds, pleats and tucks allowing for extra lace to drape in front of my expanding waistline. It was decadent, flashy, sexy, layered and complex, just like my soon-to-be husband. We drove to Tahoe, just the two of us, in his tomato-red Porsche stopping at the first wedding chapel over the state line. Outside, a wooden gazebo offered picturesque views of the snowtopped mountains. An officiant, whom neither of us had ever met, married us. His wife was a witness. The day was crisp and clear with an ocean-blue sky but in the distance I could see dark clouds threatened rain. My wavy chocolate-brown hair hung loosely down my back. As I stood goose-bumpy under the gazebo in my high-priced, sexy, off-the-shoulder gown my stomach churned. Was it the baby or an unconscious warning of the turbulence ahead? I knew deep in my heart that, instead of saying, “I do” I should have been saying, “I don’t” but with the baby coming I felt it was the right thing to do. I spent the next year alternating between sipping expensive 57
Anthology 2015 champagne from crystal flutes on the beach mid-week, to delicately, egg-shell-tiptoeing around broken glass and land mines that I hoped would not explode, unleashing his volatile erratic temper. After a bunch of bumps, a ton of bruises and a couple broken bones, I escaped. Unlike the first dress, which I saved in the unlikely event one of my daughters wanted to wear it, this dress went into the trash can. The third one I shopped for at David’s Bridal Shop before he even asked me the big question but I knew he would. We had spoken generically about it but I also knew he wanted to wait at least two years after the passing of his first wife to get engaged. I could tell this man was a real keeper. Everyone surrounded him with love and respect including his deceased wife’s family. He was firm yet fair, nurturing to his children and his other relationships and had a wicked sense of humor that made me belly-laugh out loud. The dress I bought ended up being the first of many I had tried on. My girlfriends commented that I looked like a princess in it. My life over the last couple of decades had been anything but princesslike. I was exhausted from raising four daughters, exhilarated from re-inventing and expanding my career while tormented, dodging bullets from Mr. Ex. Selfishly I wanted something just for me. I wanted to be a real-life princess even if only for a day. The dress had a creamy white lace halter top with a high neckline. (At nearly fifty years of age I wanted to show off my sexy shoulders, not my droopy breasts.) The full skirt was multi-layered and swished when I walked like the ladies in the old westerns which my soon-to-be husband loved. It was well made. The abundant skirt material was sturdy yet soft and it would hold up to any reception mishaps, heavy partying or into-the-night tabletop dancing. It, too, was a keeper. There were no alterations needed on this dress, except I wanted it shorter to show off my two-inch-high clear princess slippers. They made it look as if I were floating on air when I walked down 58
the white carpeted aisle runner underneath the huge tent in our backyard. I was floating with elation. For the crowning accent I choose a rhinestone tiara. It doesn’t get any more princess-like than that. The minister who married us was the same one who had married Steve the first time. Relatives and friends from our combined one hundred years sat in rows of white chairs to celebrate with us. Friends for life. In the first row were our six children and my mother. Finally, I was on a pedestal. In the last twelve years I’ve spent my fair share of time on that riser and so has Steve. Maybe that’s why our marriage works. That and the fact that I know I can always dust off my tiara in an emergency. This dress hangs regally in our closet.
Lightning in Paris Kathleen Byrne
I have known you in moonlight in the street In car rides and coffee shops and piano class seats In quiet and dark and those in-between I’ve been touched by lightning – felt, but not seen I’m not much of a dancer, though together we’ve been For our time often moved with mere sideways steps But numbers, we know, don’t hold our stories Half as well as your hazel eyes do explain. My rainy skies are often too solemn and grey Clouded thoughts bash themselves in a search for escape But out of your heart and its amber sunbeams You’ve made for me wildflowers out of broken stems Our railroad town hints at adventures to come But not more than you have given me I want to forever steep my hands in yours Like a delightful cup of tea.
HONORABLE MENTION PROSE A piece for all of those affected by the repercussions of mental illness. She lit a candle earlier today and the wax has filled our whole house with a peachy scent. Sweet. The synthetics sit in my nose, and I sit here in the living room on our mushy living room couch giving her space and taking mine. I’ll swaddle myself in a coarse blanket wrapping my hips in a bundle keeping my knees separate by a blanket and also together. I wish her legs were tangled with mine but instead she’ll tuck her knees up close to her chin, forehead closed down, wrapping arms around thin shin bones. She probably just needs to lie down, relax. I’ll bet she snuggles into her thin cotton bottoms that sit at the top of her bum crack. She will steal one of my cut-off tank tops and wear it over naked breasts. Too hot for the belly, she rolls the shirt around the knuckles of her hands. Balled up, she can feel the warm air on exposed skin. Lay down. The covers will keep her bundled and protected. Soft and cotton and white, our bed is pure. Sleep is mindless and unfulfilled in this body. Stray hairs curl into my finger webs; I can hold only a piece of her at a time, whatever’s left in the couch. Physical nature should be stronger than physical failure but this time the heart just stops beating in tune. I wish good songs never ended because I would still be dancing with her hips in my hands, her smile on my shoulder, but kindness doesn’t last forever. We have only moments that are stronger than the rest of time. Moments that spin a white gold ring to fit her delicate finger, I fit in her hands. But right now her fingers are cold and frail from the lack of salt. Please stop crying. She didn’t eat dinner tonight. Her ring falls right off her left hand and she doesn’t want to lose it. I know this. I just hate naked hands, naked hands shaking numb, cold. It’s not fair to be so exposed.
I love her. I love her like the moon loves the sun but sometimes the light isn’t bright enough. The bed isn’t warm enough, the bathroom is too far away. She’s sorry. I know, and it’s not her fault that this house is so damn cold but we have the means to stay warm. Blankets. I need a new book, a warmer blanket, and a roasted marshmallow to finish this night off. Alone and in the living room. Some of those things are in our room and she is staying silent underneath cotton sheets. What is she thinking? May I enter? I painted stars on the ceiling to influence dreams but I think she’s more afraid of the dark sky than the bright light. I think she’s afraid of never coming back from blackness, of light never reaching her window panes because the world stays black when you’re covered by cotton sheets. She’s not ready to lie down alone in the depth of forever. But she is lying down. Already. Cold, and beaten. She put herself there. And I know she’s not alone because the brain never stops racing but I can’t let her stay there, alone, without my warm hands on her exposed skin. Jesus, I can’t. She asked me to leave her alone, alone with herself and with her thoughts, but she’s always alone, and her thoughts are moving in circles, spinning webs around my wife holding her in. Lay heavy. I must stop them, the circular thoughts, the webs, because I want to sleep next to my wife, in our bed. I want to hold her close, in my arms, and I want to make her smile in her own mind. She will wear her ring, again. My wife has black clouds around her eyes; she is beaten by the shake of pale hands. I doubt she can even smell the sweetness of the candle she lit, she is so numb. But I will walk in there with fresh air and warm hands and I will hold her skin close to mine. I can hold hope close to her heart because I’m certain it exists in a memory not so far away. She will stop crying and she will start dreaming of a future free from circles. Depression has lived in this heart long enough. So I move from the couch and into our room and she sees me and she cries. I shrug. I close my eyes and walk back to the living room couch. Depression has lived in this heart long enough.
An Open Letter to Boys Wanting Love Caitlin Drew
You'll love her with all your skin, tongue and lungs. The way that the air is just so much more crisp whenever she's in proximity to your hands. It turns the scattered dust in the atmosphere into magnifying glasses Aimed directly at her Spotlighting everything you wish you could put into words but can't Because she's just too fucking unbelievable That even if you tried, you would offend yourself and the gods with how little it compares to The love she makes you feel in reality.
For not taking her feelings into account. Because she doesn't know what true love is. She never felt the need to have you near. For her daughterâ€™s smile to be your smile. For your hands to cradle her head when she's sad. To let you talk for hours without listening to a single goddamn word you're saying, Because she's lost in the sound of your voice. Because she doesn't know how to accept anything she isn't willing to give.
You would do everything for her. Hold her until your bones start to crack So that she'll understand just what you mean When you tell her that you'll never let her go. But she still doesn't get it. She'll never understand that when you tell her that you want nothing more Than to let your dust be her dust, her words to be in your cheeks Her nose to be your daughterâ€™s nose You mean that you want nothing more than to keep her forever. But you never will. Because you never stood a chance. You thought that by giving your whole self over to her she would offer you the same respect. That's not how this world works. It never was. These valiant efforts of yours are now dubbed selfish and inconsiderate by others 64
B. Lynn Goodwin Ms. Bowen flipped off the switch on the overhead projector at the front of her classroom. When the light went off, Sandee looked up, wondering who was about to get one of Ms. Bowen’s lectures. “Life is more than a show, Nicole. Why isn’t your algebra homework in your notebook?” Ms. Bowen asked. “I must have left it in the wings. I meant to pack everything up, but it was after eleven, and I was tired.” Ms. Bowen folded her arms over her ample bosom. “You left your algebra homework backstage last night after all our discussions?” Sandee stared at Nicole, who stared at the top of her desk. Her honey-blond hair dipped onto her desk, and Sandee couldn’t see her face. After some experimentation with recreational drugs last year, Nicole was retaking algebra. If she didn’t pass, she didn’t graduate. She was good at math, when she applied herself, but her first love was singing. “What did I say would happen the next time you came to class without your homework?” “You said you’d call my parents and they said I’d be on restriction until graduation, but you can’t call this week. Please.” A deep voice from the back of the room called out, “Oklahoma! opens tonight, and she wants the director from Pine Mountain College to see her.” Nicole turned and glared at him. Sandee and Nicole wore identical beige T-shirts inscribed with Oklahoma!, and when Sandee thrust her pudgy hand in the air, Ms. Bowen stared at her new green nail polish. Sandee said, “Ms. G kept us past eleven, and Nicole is one of the stars. Can’t you see how tired she is?” 66
Ms. Bowen tugged at the little, gold chain attached to her glasses as she marched down their row. “High school is about learning to manage your time and your life,” she said to any of the thirty-one students who happened to be listening. She was secretly proud of Sandee’s new assertiveness. Her job as assistant stage manager was giving her a healthier attitude towards life, she thought. She looked at the sketchbook that lay open on top of Sandee’s math homework. Sandee reached for it, but Ms. Bowen picked it up. The drawings of battlefield explosions that she’d been doing since her older brother was KIA in Afghanistan nine months ago were gone. Instead she stared at a pencil sketch of a young girl sitting crosslegged in an old-fashioned gingham skirt. “This almost looks like Nicole.” “Wow! Thanks,” Sandee said. She cherished every compliment she got for her sketches. Ms. Bowen put her glasses on and studied the drawing. “I know the face isn’t quite right, but it’s her. I don’t suppose you’ll believe me, but that’s an algebra book on her skirt. She was sitting under the exit light, in her Ado Annie costume, doing her homework during the first scene in Oklahoma! I swear!” Ms. Bowen wanted to ask, “Why were you drawing instead of doing your job?” but she didn’t. Working backstage gave Sandee a level of confidence that Ms. Bowen found refreshing. Besides, her sketch wasn’t half bad. It showed lacy petticoats peeking out from under a gingham skirt, a peasant blouse, and the same crinkled brow Nicole wore during algebra tests. She returned Sandee’s sketchbook, without asking why it was open during class, and said, “I can see you were doing your homework, Nicole, and I’m sorry, but you know the rules.” Nicole opened her full lips, but Sandee was quicker. “You should have seen her, Ms. Bowen. When the stage lights came up for her scene, Nicole stuffed her homework into her book and jumped to her feet. She wasn’t Nicole anymore. She grabbed Will 67
Anthology 2015 Parker’s arm and batted Ado Annie’s eyelashes, and the two of them sashayed on stage. You don’t have a clue what that takes.” Ms. Bowen clamped her lips together until they made a skin seam. It was clear the child had no idea how she sounded. Why should she? She was fifteen. Nor would she hold the comments she’d overheard last week against her. After school the previous Thursday, Ms. Bowen had been at her file cabinet near the open door when she overheard Sandee talking with another drama queen. “What’s the point of musicals and concerts and dances and even basketball games, if teachers like Bowen don’t let you enjoy them?” Sandee had asked. “Fossils like Bowen don’t even know there’s life beyond math class,” a friend with a deep voice said. “Have you ever seen her at a show or a concert or a game?” Ms. Bowen could imagine Sandee shaking her head. The child didn’t realize that she sneaked in the back sometimes, usually at dress rehearsals, and slipped out again before anyone noticed. A few minutes of all that hope was as much as Ms. Bowen could handle. Sandee said, “She stays in E-3, grading tests and staring at those stupid lesson plans. Half the time the light in her classroom is still on when I’m heading home from rehearsal.” “Hell of a spotlight,” the friend muttered, and a locker door slammed shut. Ms. Bowen knew that Sandee was right about her hours, and the truth troubled her. She stared at the lesson plans hoping to find a new approach to the same old material. The same lesson plans, protected by glass she had purchased herself, had sat on her desk for the last ten years. Math facts didn’t change, so her plans didn’t change. Neither did her clothes. She’d heard kids say she was laminated in polyurethane. Dark blue pants, pale starched shirt, a slab of red lipstick, and bare fingernails on ringless hands. I might as well be serving thirty to life, she thought that afternoon. She simply couldn’t reach all the kids anymore, and it was too late to start over. 68
“Please, Ms. Bowen. I need your help,” Nicole said, her forehead wrinkling just as it did in Sandee’s drawing. “There’s a director from Pine Mountain College coming on Thursday, and he might offer me a role in their summer musical. Please don’t ruin my whole life when I can bring you my homework at lunch. It’s just not fair.” Ms. Bowen started to reach for a referral slip, which was the best way she knew to end disruptive comments, but the truth of Nicole’s statement stopped her. She almost said, “Life isn’t fair,” but Nicole would find that out soon enough. She stared past Nicole and Sandee through the panel of windows into the quad, where wild wisteria climbed the wall of the D wing across the way, promising that summer was near. She’d taken early retirement, and her first check would arrive in July. She’d dreamed about retirement for many years, and she didn’t understand her mixed feelings. In her first years of teaching, when she told her students about careers in math, she used to imagine herself inventing formulas, mapping stars, and arcing out curves in the solar system. She didn’t tell them that those jobs went to men. She was the lone woman teacher in the math department back in the days when girls took home ec and boys took shop. She knew women were secretaries at NASA—nothing more. She didn’t want to answer to a male boss. She wanted to inspire the people she worked with. Before her first department meeting, the chairman took her aside and said, “Keep your mouth shut and your ears open at department meetings. We’ll show you the ropes.” “But...” He put up an age-spotted hand to shush her. “I hate to think of a pretty little thing like you handling the troublemakers in Practical Math.” She knew she was a last minute replacement. She was grateful that her job would last until June. By her second year she’d come up with teaching strategies of her own, and when the math department at San Ramos High ignored them, she offered her plans to the National Science Founda69
Anthology 2015 tion. She ran countywide math camps for three summers in the seventies. Then the grants dried up or were funneled into the space program. A decade later, Christa McAuliffe died when the space shuttle exploded, and the next year the high school science and math grants perished as well. There was no money left for new texts or equipment by the time Ms. Bowen started putting out applications. The responses discouraged her. She didn’t want to start in an entry-level position now that she had tenure. “Please, Ms. Bowen,” Sandee said, her voice softer and more urgent than usual. “Can’t you give Nicole and the show a break this one time?” Ms. Bowen barely heard Sandee’s request. She was good at teaching, but bored after twenty-nine years of Algebra and Practical Math. Same lessons. Same text. At night she checked the same problems over and over, drowning her students’ mistakes with another glass of White Zinfandel. In October, alone in her condo, she refilled her glass when she thought of Ms. Morton, a first-year teacher who wrote notes excusing the cheerleaders from class so they could miss algebra to paint signs for the rally. In February she refilled her glass as she worried about the pint-sized boy whose glasses had been taped for two weeks. Last night she refilled her glass as she thought of Sandee and Nicole and 125 others, whose whole lives revolved around the school’s production of Oklahoma! this week. She used to teach math. Now she taught students. When had everything changed? Ms. Bowen’s head throbbed. She couldn’t tell a stress headache from a hangover any more, but her pounding headaches always increased as summer drew near. “Algebra teaches a thought process,” her father always said. Algebra generates stagnation, she thought, staring at the faded posters she’d purchased in ’96 to replace the faded posters she’d purchased in ’78. Nicole said, “Would it help if I brought a note from Ms. G? I 70
can show her the work’s all done when she lets me into the theatre.” A smile twitched on Ms. Bowen’s lips. She’d always been firm about following rules and procedures. She told herself rules were an inherent part of math, but she knew they also made her life simpler. She knew that granting even one extension could cause an avalanche of end-of-the-year requests. She’d seen it happen to the younger teachers. But she had to agree with Sandee. Rehearsals were draining. Ms. Bowen turned to Nicole. “One shot deal, young lady. You have that paper to me by 12:15 or else.” Nothing soft there, she thought at the same moment Sandee shouted, “Bowen rocks!” Ms. Bowen glowered over the tops of her readers and Sandee clapped her hand over her mouth. “Sorry.” Ms. Bowen put a hand over her mouth as well. If her students saw how tickled she was at Sandee’s outburst, all hell could break loose. She nodded slightly to Sandee, accepting her apology. At the same moment Nicole’s face beamed. “Thank you soooo much. You have no idea how much this means to me.” Sandee raised her hand again. “Were you ever in a high school musical, Ms. Bowen?” She remembered the odor of Ben Nye makeup and a full gingham skirt she wore when she played Ado Annie in her own high school’s production of Oklahoma! She remembered belting out, “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no” when she played the same role as Nicole. All these years later, as Ado Annie’s lyrics played in her head, she thought, “How ironic. Teachers say ‘no’ all the time. Otherwise the inmates take over the asylum.” After curtain calls and flowers following her version of Oklahoma!, young Patty Bowen worked a season of summer stock, then moved to a fifth-floor walk-up in New York, where set after set of stairs snaked upwards to her cold-water studio. She got her break in the chorus of an off-off Broadway revival of Pajama Game; it closed after three weeks. Her agent said she was 71
Anthology 2015 talented, but when she called his secretary always said, “Nothing today, honey. Call me next month.” She hated the club scene, so she joined a church choir. One night after rehearsal a tenor, who clerked in the registrar’s office at Brooklyn College, showed her the school’s catalogue and said, “You can sing anywhere, Sweetie.” She wanted more than a clerk’s job and choir practice in the basement of PS 59 when she had gray hair and arthritic knuckles. I hope Oklahoma! isn’t the best moment of Nicole’s life, Ms. Bowen thought as she flipped the switch on the overhead projector. Harsh white light filled the screen again. “High school is a wonderful time for exploring all kinds of roles, including the role of X in an algebra equation. Sandee, since Nicole doesn’t have her homework, can you do number eight for us?” “Yes, but you haven’t told us if you were in a high school musical.” “That’s right. I haven’t. Will you come up and show us your work on number eight, please?” “Why won’t you tell us?” Silently Ms. Bowen offered her the erasable pen to use on the transparency. Sandee took it. Her green fingernails looked like baby leaves as she started to write. Good girl. You used to quit after the third problem, Ms. Bowen thought as Sandee began writing on the transparency. She knew the girl had come out of the dense depression that followed her brother’s death, and she wanted more from her now that she could concentrate. Would she ever realize she had a talent for solving math problems? A symphony of drums pounded in Ms. Bowen’s head. End of the year stress, she thought. And possibly fear of the future. Maybe in July she’d join a choir somewhere when she no longer had homework to grade, she thought as she stepped back and let Sandee take center stage. 72
Palace of Fine Arts Anna Rouse
Teenage Boy Blues Les Sunada
Maria Isabel Sahagun
Mirror Pimple Eruption Teenage growing pains. Girl Heart Voiceless Teenage love pains. Burgers Appetite Devour Teenage hunger pains. Pizza Pimple Jilted Vicious circle.
I Miss Her
Jessica Rhoades I woke up early on a Friday morning in December and shuffled my way toward the kitchen, hair in a wilted top knot, last night’s black eyeliner still prominently displayed on my left eye. My lavender bathrobe dragged on the floor behind me as I stretched and yawned on my way down the short hallway. Once again the automatic brewing timer on my coffee pot had failed to activate and I was forced to start it manually. “Son of a bitch,” I cursed to myself as I wrote “coffee pot” in purple marker across the little white board I kept hanging on my refrigerator door. As I sat waiting for the coffee to percolate and the sun to rise, I snatched my iPhone off of the kitchen counter, unplugged it from its charger and compulsively checked all of my social media accounts from my tiny glass table for two. Nothing new besides some overnight celebrity tweets. Not surprising since I had checked them all right before I went to bed five hours ago. The “beep, beep, beep” alerted me that my coffee was ready. I placed the phone on the table and stretched again as I walked the few steps to the kitchen counter. My only mug was in the drying rack, clean and waiting. I filled my mug and added some powdered creamer. I took a tentative sip to test the temperature as I walked over to the fridge. I wrote “creamer” on my list since I noticed I was almost out. A bright ray of sunlight caught me right in the eye as I turned to walk back to the table. One vertical blind was broken near the top and the light used that opportunity to blare into my apartment and blind me. I blinked and continued toward the table, set down my mug and went to the window. It was cold near the window. I wrapped my robe tightly and tied it off at my waist. I opened the blinds. My second-story dining room window was fogged up, as it always was this time of day. I swiped my hand across the glass 76
to look down at my car, which had been broken into twice since I moved in here. My car looked fine, but as my eyes scanned up toward my view of the horizon, where the sky met the Monterey Bay, I noticed it. Across the street from my apartment in my tiny seaside town, there stood a red brick wall. The wall was unremarkable. It was eight feet tall with tufts of green ivy popping into view sporadically along the top edge. I never noticed the wall until the writing showed up. Scrawled on the wall in three- foot tall, white letters were the words “I MISS HER.” They were not the spray painted graffiti letters that typically popped up around town overnight. They were painted with a brush, carefully, evenly, perfectly. I must have stared at the wall for five minutes before I remembered my coffee sitting on the table behind me. It was fascinating. I couldn’t understand the depth of emotion that would cause a person to do something like that. As the fog on the window turned to condensation that dripped down into the sill and my coffee cup emptied for the second time, I decided to snap a photo of the wall with my phone and get ready for my day. I showered, dressed and pulled my long midnight black hair into its typical messy knot at the top of my head. I threw on some boots and a scarf and stuffed a granola bar in my purse. I snapped a photo of my shopping list and grabbed my keys from the tiny table by the front door. “Hey Jolene! Good morning,” called my neighbor, Alice, from her opened front door. “Too bad about that graffiti, huh?” she said as she sipped her coffee and nodded her head toward the wall. “Oh, yeah…too bad,” I answered as I opened my car door. “I’ll see ya later Alice,” I said as I slumped into the front seat of my little purple Volkswagen and pulled the door closed behind me. I turned the key and it sputtered to life as I stepped on the gas to keep it from stalling out. I rubbed my hands together as I waited for my car to warm up. I adjusted my rear view mirror so I could see the wall behind me. I hoped Alice wouldn’t call the city today to com77
Anthology 2015 plain about the paint on the wall. Even if she did they wouldn’t be out until Monday at least, because the city doesn’t do shit on the weekends. I shifted my car into reverse and raised my hand toward Alice’s still opened door, because I knew she was still watching me as I backed out of the driveway. I made a stop at my store to drop off some supplies for my employees. The royal purple façade of “The Neighborhood Bakery” stood out from its surroundings. It would have fit in better on the shoreline, but the strip mall location was all I could afford. “Loraine!” I called as I held the heavy box in both arms and kicked the bottom of the back door with my right foot. Loraine, my store manager, opened the door and made room for the box on a table inside. “They came?” she asked, as I opened the box and began unpacking it onto the stainless steel work bench. “Yes, yes, they are all here. The special nonpareils for tomorrow’s wedding cookies, the liners for Sunday’s first communion. It’s all here,” I replied. I pulled out the packing slip and began checking it against the items I pulled out of the box. Loraine shook her head and reached across the table for the stack of papers. “Get out of here Jo,” she said. “It’s your day off.” “Yes, boss,” I said with a wink. I had gone through six managers in four years at the bakery. I had worked seven days a week for three years to get my dream off the ground. Waking up at 4 a.m. and working well into the night, my life was the bakery and it wasn’t going well. Then I found Loraine. Our sales were up, catering orders were pouring in, and I spent more days on my own, outside the shop than working in the shop most weeks. She was a godsend, which is why I didn’t mind leaving everything in her hands. I jumped back in my car and headed over to the hardware store. My list for the day included new slats for my dining room blinds and a garden gnome for my Aunt June, whom I would see on Christmas in a few weeks. When I pulled up to the tiny Ace Hard78
ware I noticed that two police cruisers were parked in front. “What’s going on?” I asked the cashier as he scanned my items. “Oh…someone broke in last night and spilled paint everywhere. It doesn’t look like they even took anything, they just made a mess back there with the paint mixer,” he said as he inspected the garden gnome perched on a frosted cupcake trying to decide if it needed to be wrapped in paper to keep from breaking. He placed it, unprotected, in the fabric bag I had brought in with me. His name tag said “Sean” and I thanked him by name as I exited the store. I put the bag in the trunk then pulled out my phone as I climbed into the front seat. I flicked my thumb to scroll past the shopping list to the photo of the wall. With a granola bar perched between my front teeth I started my car. “There’s no way…” I said to no one. I felt a twinge of Nancy Drew rising in the back of my mind as I puzzled over the strange coincidence. I snapped a photo of the police cars parked in front of the Ace, then put my phone in my purse and headed to the department store to get a coffee pot. The grocery store was my last stop and it took the most time. I had a cart that was almost full when I approached the checkout line. I was ready for more coffee. I smiled in admiration as I stood behind two old ladies with white hair in rollers. They cheerfully gossiped about women named Agnes and Mary as they waited for the young mom in front of them to finish her transaction. “Poor, poor Paul,” said the shorter, rounder lady as she shook her head. “Mary is already trying to push her way in, and Agnes is only gone two weeks. I bet she was a floozy in her prime,” said the tall thin one. “He won’t have it! I bet he won’t even make it to the end of the year. He went wandering again,” the short one replied. “He’ll be a victim of the death by three rule. Persis… Agnes… and Paul will be next.” The tall one counted on her fingers. “If not from the broken heart, he’ll get hit by a car while he’s out night wandering,” she added as she smiled and nodded in response to the 79
Anthology 2015 cashier’s cheerful greeting. “I bet it will be the broken heart,” the short one muttered to herself. Before I realized it I had whispered, “No fucking way.” It drew the attention of the two old ladies and I had to tuck my lips in between my front teeth and bite down to stop myself from laughing. I dropped my head and turned away. I pulled my phone out of my purse and snuck a photo of the two old ladies as they finished checking out. They glanced back at me disapprovingly as they pushed their cart toward the exit. I paid for my groceries and headed out to my car as quickly as I could. On my way out the front doors, I saw the old ladies being helped into a white van with the words “Gold Haven” painted in gold on the side panel. I felt a burst of adrenaline as I hurried to my car and put the groceries in the back seat before sitting behind the wheel. I scrolled back and forth between the photos I had taken: The wall, my shopping list, the police cars, the old ladies and back to the wall. I must have scrolled through twenty times before I opened Google and typed in “Gold Haven, Aptos, Ca.” I felt like I was a detective, not a baker. I also felt a little bit crazy. Gold Haven was 4.2 miles away from my apartment. I felt compelled to drive there immediately, but I had ice cream in my back seat, so I headed home. Running up and down the stairs with arms full of purple fabric shopping bags wouldn’t bother me so much if Alice wasn’t just standing there watching me struggle. Always offering her opinion, never her help, I thought as I reached the top of the stairs with the last load. I unboxed the coffee maker and put it to work immediately. I sat at the small desk in my living room and opened my laptop, which hummed to life. I opened a Google Map and traced the journey he would have taken last night. Gold Haven to Ace Hardware: 2.1 miles Ace Hardware to Silver Shell Apartments: 1.8 miles Silver Shell Apartments back to Gold Haven: 3.9 miles or 4.2 80
miles if he went in a circle instead of retracing his steps. I sat and drank a cup of coffee, going back and forth between the map and the photos on my phone. The whole thing was crazy. There were too many coincidences, I felt like I was being pulled into an episode of Sherlock. I had to figure out a way to get into Gold Haven to talk to him. I had no doubt that this man named Paul was the graffiti artist; what I needed to know was why. My first instinct was to lie my way in. I tried a few on for size. “Hi, I’m Jolene, I’m looking for a place for my grandma. Can I take a look around?” “I’m Jolene, I’m writing a book about the social lives of senior citizens, can I interview some of your residents?” “I’m a professional bingo caller and I’d like to offer my free services.” Then finally it hit me. I had the perfect in. I picked up my phone and called Loraine. I walked in to Gold Haven at dusk, carrying a large purple box tied up with twine. The bottom of the box was still warm as I placed it on the front desk. I was greeted by a round African-American woman with a friendly face. She was dressed in colorful scrubs and her lanyard read, “Jackie – Charge Nurse.” Her genuine smile put me at ease instantly. “Hi, I’m Jolene and I own a local bakery. I had an order cancellation at the last minute and I thought your residents might enjoy the result.” I smiled and tapped the top of the box twice. She leaned forward in her swivel chair and breathed deeply through her nose. The corner of her mouth twitched into a smirk. “Unless, of course, they are diabetic,” I said looking over my shoulder at the few wandering residents. “In that case they should probably go in the staff break room,” I whispered past the back of my hand as if telling a secret. “I’m sure we can all share,” she said. “Oh good! I didn’t want them to go to waste.” I turned to walk back toward the door, hoping she would call me back for more information and I was right. I stood there talking to Nurse Jackie 81
Anthology 2015 about my bakery and I told the story of the (fake) party cancellation I had practiced in the car on my way over there. Suddenly there were five orderlies in white scrubs walking briskly toward the doors I had entered through only moments ago. “Excuse me. I’m sorry,” said Nurse Jackie as she excused herself from behind the front desk. She shuffled comically to catch one of the orderlies. They had a hushed conversation and they both looked around like they had misplaced a pair of glasses. I caught the nurse’s eye and started walking toward her. “I can see you are busy, I’ll leave the cookies there.” I pointed to the front desk. “Enjoy,” I added as I walked toward the exit. I power walked to my car like a 1989 Denise Austen workout video. I barely avoided peeling out of the lot as I took the corner too fast. I parked my car in my driveway and ran up to my apartment. From the dining room window, the white letters stood out against the growing dark of the evening. After grabbing two candles from my coffee table, I hopped two stairs at a time down to my car. I grabbed a lighter and walked toward the wall, squinting my eyes in the dark in an attempt to see further down the street. I lit the two candles and placed them at either side of the words. With my back against the wall and my legs stretched straight out in front of me, my eyes trained down the street waiting for my story. The white of his robe flowed in the slight breeze of the evening immediately before I heard the shuffle of his slippers on the asphalt. I stayed where I was, only folding my feet in - out of his way. Paul was a dapper gentleman. Even in his pajamas, slippers and robe, I could tell he had always been a handsome man. He stepped up on the curb directly in front of me and read the words aloud. “I miss her,” he said again and again and again. He staggered back a half step and I hopped to my feet to assist him. My hand was on his elbow before he even realized he wasn’t alone at his memorial wall. His faded blue eyes met mine and I saw a flash of something there that felt like recognition. “I miss her” he said without blinking. 82
“I know,” I said as I placed my hand on his cheek, “I know.” “I was meant to go first because she is the strong one,” he said. “Was… she was the strong one,” he corrected. He looked into my face as his knees buckled under his sorrow. I used all of the strength I had to guide him slowly to the pavement. “Please Jesus, let me be with her. Your world is shit without her!” he said with his head tilted to the dark night sky. I kneeled down beside him and held his hand as we both stared at the wall. Down the street I heard slow moving tires crunching the asphalt. The white van was approaching with an orderly shining a flashlight out the window. Paul did not notice. His own words had him hypnotized. The van stopped when they spotted us. They were very quiet and respectful as they walked up. Two large men stood back and let him have some time. I wanted to ask them what the story was, but I couldn’t bear to leave Paul’s side. Finally, he looked at me again and I could see he was spent. He seemed resigned to the fact that he could not simply will himself to die in order to be with his love. I helped him to stand and the orderlies stepped forward to assist. They got him into the van without a hassle. “Thanks for sitting with him Ma’am,” the young orderly offered. “He seemed to like that.” “It’s not a problem,” I answered. “We’d better get him back,” the older orderly chimed in before I had the chance to ask any questions. As they drove off Paul placed one hand on the window and the other over his heart. I sat out at the wall until my hair felt wet from the incoming marine layer. Inside, I poured a glass of wine and sat at my little table for two, alone. The candles flickered until ten o’clock when Alice walked out and extinguished them. “Fucking Bitch,” I muttered into my wine before I tipped up the glass and finished it off. I had a brilliant plan and I fell asleep smiling at my genius. I would go to Gold Haven tomorrow and offer to help Paul. I would pick him up and bring him to his memorial wall so he wouldn’t 83
Anthology 2015 be in danger of being hit by a car. I would sit with him as long as he needed and I would take him back home when he was done. I couldn’t think of anything better to do with my time since Loraine had rendered me useless at the bakery, and maybe it would help. Maybe he wouldn’t fall victim to the death-by-three rule those two old gossips were talking about. I woke up to a freshly brewed pot of coffee and decided I would call Gold Haven and talk to Nurse Jackie before I headed down there. I got her day shift counterpart “Tammy” and told her I wanted to talk to her about Paul. My hand involuntarily cupped over my mouth, “Oh… I’m so sorry…thank you,” I managed before hanging up the phone. I never got the full story of Paul and Agnes. After hearing of Paul’s death I didn’t feel I really needed it anymore. The time I spent with Paul in front of the wall was enough. He loved Agnes so much that he willed himself to die, just to be with her. I wanted their kind of love story, and I was determined to find it. Until I do, I have my own story to tell; the story of Paul and Jolene.
Painting Shadows Brianna Zantman
SECOND PLACE POETRY
I traced your name upon my palm with my index finger. (Like a starry-eyed school girl, I am vexed by you.) When I reached the last letter I pushed down hard, sealing you there with my fingerprint. I closed my hand tight, folding myself over you with delicate fingertips to keep you safe, to keep my secret.
A Horse Named Kugel John G. Bluck
The rising sun over the Black Hills in the Dakota Territory woke 15-year-old Ernst Strassenburg one chilly spring morning in 1875. He heard the creek gurgling and thought of how he'd dip some clear water out of the stream to start a pot of coffee. He drew good, clean air into his lungs, and thought of how different the West was from Pomerania, Germany. Now, he and his older brother, Fred, were here to find gold and strike it rich. He rolled out of his sleeping bag, careful not to wake Fred, who was lying nearby in their small tent. Ernst crawled forward to the tent flap and opened it. He thought in his native German, "The first thing I'm going to do is throw wood on the embers to get the fire going." He salivated, imagining the duck eggs he'd fry along with the bacon that he and his brother had stowed behind the big boulders near the tent. Then on the creek bank he saw the long rope, which Fred had used to tie their black stallion, Kugel, to a tree so he wouldn't wander away. The horse was nowhere to be seen. "Fred! Wake up!" Ernst yelled, as he strode toward the tent. "Kugel's gone!" Fred scrambled out of the tent, his hair in disarray. "What, Ernst?" "Kugel must've chewed through the rope," said Ernst, pointing to the long tether, which lay on the edge of the stream. Fred pulled up his suspenders, jogged to the creek's edge, and picked up the end of the rope. "It's been cut," he said, showing the clean sheared end to Ernst. "Those Sioux stole our horse." Ernst saw Fred's face flush red, as he tossed the rope's end onto the mud near the brook. "I'll see if they got anything else, Fred." "There ain't much else of value to them." 87
Anthology 2015 "Maybe the pick and shovel?" Ernst speculated as he approached the big boulders behind the tent where the two brothers had stowed their saddle, prospecting tools, coffee, a case of canned sardines, a bag of flour, and other food. "Everything's still here, Fred." "Good," Fred said. He was climbing the hill behind the boulder. Before we got here, Ernst thought, I asked Fred if looking for gold in the Black Hills would be dangerous -- told him the Treaty of Laramie says that the Hills belong to the Indians. Ernst felt like repeating his concern, but he held his tongue because Fred was easy to rile. The brothers had camped by Whitewood Creek in the northern region of the Black Hills. Lieutenant Colonel George Custer's 7th Cavalry Regiment had been in the area since July 1874 when his soldiers and some prospectors had started to look for gold, which had set off a rush to find the precious metal. The flood of prospectors irritated the Indians because the treaty was supposed to protect their lands. Fred had reached the top of the hill and looked westward, where he saw horses in a distant field. "Ernst, I see a dozen horses about a half mile away. There are a few Indians around there, too." He began to hop and slide down the hillside, dislodging some rocks and soil as he came to a halt near Ernst. "Do you think they have Kugel, Fred?" "There's only one way to find out. Let's go." Fred strapped on his pistol and put on his coat. "Take your revolver, Ernst." The brothers began to walk west. In ten minutes they were close enough to the horses to see that Kugel was within the small herd. Ernst asked, "What'll we do next?" "Just be calm, brother," Fred said. "Let me do the talkin'." Ernst saw that one Indian seemed to be guarding the animals, which were hobbled. As the two brothers came closer to the Indian, he turned and saw them. "You are in our territory. Leave," he said, frowning. 88
Fred quietly said, "Stop here, Ernst." Fred continued to walk toward the Indian and glared at him. The Indian said, "You speak English? You hear me?" "I speak some English," Fred said in a thick German accent. He was now about a dozen paces from the Indian. "That's my horse with the Circle-X brand." "No, he's our animal." The Indian crossed his arms in front of his chest. Even from Ernst's position more than thirty feet away, he saw Fred's face turn scarlet. Ernst also noticed that a rifle was propped against a tree near the Indian. Ernst let his fingers dangle by his holstered revolver. "You stole my horse!" Fred yelled. "No, white man. All horses ours!" Ernst saw the slight shaking of Fred's body, a telltale sign that he was about to boil over. Fred took big steps and marched toward the hobbled horses. "What you do, white man?" The Indian took a step in the direction of the rifle that stood against the tree. Fred stopped in front of Kugel, and Ernst thought his brother was going to slice the hobble, pull himself up on the horse, and ride him away bareback. "I shoot if you take horse!" The Indian held his rifle at his side, pointed at the ground. Fred glanced at the Indian, paused, and Ernst knew that his brother's head buzzed with anger. As sweat formed in his armpits, Ernst slowly pulled his pistol from its holster and cocked the weapon out of the Indian's view. Just as Fred lifted his right arm, time slowed for Ernst. Seconds seemed to last ten times longer when he saw Fred hit Kugel's forehead. The big animal fell, stunned. Ernst knelt down behind a tree and watched while the Indian walked cautiously toward Fred and his fallen horse, which was still out cold. "If you can knock out horse, you can have 'im," the Indian said, 89
Anthology 2015 grinning. "Thank you," Fred said. He took his canteen from his pistol belt and poured some water on Kugel's head. The horse stirred, as he was lying on the grass. Fred pulled his knife from his pistol belt, cut Kugel's hobble rope, and pulled up on the horse's harness. Kugel stood. "I ain't seen no one knock out horse before," the Indian said. "You strong man." "It's just because I'm a blacksmith." "If we need metal work, we find you?" "Sure," Fred said, as he forced a smile, keeping the length of his right arm hidden inside his coat sleeve. "Goodbye, and thank you." The brothers led Kugel back to their camp by the stream. Ernst tied him back onto the long rope. "Good thing that Indian didn't see your arm, Fred," Ernst said. "Yeah." Fred pulled up his right sleeve to reveal the hammer that was strapped to his wrist just above the stub where his hand had been. More than six months earlier, two mining cars had slammed together, smashing his hand. He had amputated it and cauterized the stump with a red hot chunk of iron. Then he had made a set of tools so he could attach them to the leather strap that he wore on his wrist. "Luckily, I had put the hammer on." "I'm glad you did. I wonder how Kugel is." "Let's see," Fred said, as he grabbed a towel hanging from a tent rope. The brothers walked to Kugel, who stood near the water. "He looks pretty good, but he must be hurting," Ernst said. Fred dipped the towel in the creek and gently bathed Kugel's forehead. "Sorry I hit you, big fella." The Indians never asked Fred to do any work for them. About a year later the brothers went back to Germany. Not long afterwards, on June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer and some 650 men in his regiment fought Indians from the Lakota, 90
Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Custer and all of the 225 men under his immediate command died in a massacre. Years later, Fred and Ernst returned to America in the 1880s and went to the gold fields in Colorado near Cripple Creek. After they found a lot of gold there, they lost quite a bit of money gambling in Monte Carlo. Later, Ernst injured his belly while mining, so he went to Chicago for a hernia operation. He decided to stay near the booming city and bought a large tract of land. There he grew sugar beets and other crops in the area of what later became Harvey, Illinois.
Plane to Haiti
Blank page. Blank mind. I’m not a writer, but as I sit on this airplane I want to convey how I feel. I don’t know how I feel. This redeye flight is a repeat of the last. Expectations, anticipation, and sleeplessness all come back to me. Only this time I know the potential response I’ll have. Break my heart for what breaks Yours. A broken heart is a beautiful heart. Let them see You in me. Scattered thoughts, excitement, and eagerness overtake me, hours too soon. Let me sleep, let me rest, let me prepare for what’s ahead. Thunder, turbulence, and uncertainty are both the present and the future. I can see Him in the lightning, but I feel Him in my seat belt. I am a difference maker. Half way there, crammed in half a seat. Persevere, endure, sustain, withstand, persist! Thesaurus! Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Cheating time, two-thirty at home, four-thirty wherever I am, and five-thirty where I am going. Is it a loss of time or gain? Losing sleep, gaining time. Losing me, finding Him. I’m ready. Empty hands. Ambassadors. Did that make sense? 92
Finding Myself in the Mission Julie Royce
Like a phoenix, I ascend the BART escalator at 16th and Mission Street, the Bay Area’s diciest, dirtiest, most dangerous rapid transit station. I rise into the searing daylight of San Francisco’s sunniest neighborhood. It is my first foray into the city by train, and I’ve spent the commute embroiled in an internal attack on my self-worth—a struggle to resurrect life from the ashes of retirement. “Who are you calling irrelevant?” my right brain asks. The contentious left brain ratchets down a notch. “Not you, but what you did in your prior life.” Right brain bristles. “I’m an attorney. It’s who I am.” “That’s your problem.” I cross the plaza—a euphemism for the graffiti-marred, trashlittered square of concrete wafting the odor of urine, sweat and feces my way. I weave between shopping carts heaped with clothes, blankets, food cartons, and electronics I suspect no longer function. I swerve to avoid colliding with thin men dressed in Armani suits. Born, raised and educated in the Midwest, I feel like Mork, newly dropped to Earth from the planet Ork. This isn’t the best place to be arguing with myself. But my frontal lobe refuses to let it go. “For thirty years you were an attorney,” Left side says. “Still am,” says right side. “Technically, that’s true.” Left side isn’t going to make this easy. “When was the last time you saw the inside of a courtroom? When was the last time you bossed around six staff attorneys, and forty special counsel? When was the last time you played with a shitload of money that belonged to someone else? Face it. That’s yesterday’s news. Who are you now?” 94
A man steps in front of me and stops. He wears oversize trousers held up with twine and a dingy T-shirt sporting fist-sized holes. I freeze to avoid running him over. “Can you spare some change?” he asks. I stick fingers deep into the pocket of my cashmere-wool blend jacket. No longer needed as part of a work uniform, it now tops casual black slacks. I grope around Altoids and Kleenex and fish out three dimes and a quarter. My bills are tucked in a wallet that I prefer to keep out of sight. I drop the coins into the man’s chapped red hand. He shoots me a that’s-it-look and shuffles away. Before I tell my alter-ego that retirement hasn’t changed me, the walk light flashes and I cross Mission Street. I enter McDonalds, order an Egg McMuffin breakfast and sit at a small table facing the door to ponder who I am. I have an hour before reporting to my daughter’s condo for baby-sitting duty. A corpulent woman bumps into chairs as she wedges toward me. I look up, grateful for the diversion. Watermelon-shaped buttock cheeks, excruciatingly detailed in a stretch-knit miniskirt, work against her fashion statement. “I need to get downtown,” she says. “I start work in a half hour.” I press change from my breakfast into her hand. I finish my coffee, and deposit the cup in the trash can. A skinny guy blocks my exit. His sleeve is rolled up to the elbow. He models six watches on his exposed forearm. I head west on 16th Street. Outside the Eula Hotel—weekly, daily or hourly rates—loiters one fellow shoeless, another missing a shirt. Both dangle cigarettes. Stale booze and smoke blend with the block’s miasmic stench. A woman wearing fishnet stockings, neon-purple leather shorts, and six-inch stilettos stumbles out of the steel-gated SRO. Her eyes are glazed over, her lips blistered and her thick eye makeup runs down her cheeks. Fearing entrapment between her and the men, I step into the street to pass. 95
Anthology 2015 “Things aren’t so bad,” I tell myself. “At least you don’t need a can of Raid and an armed guard where you sleep.” I make slow progress, inching my way through the press of human flesh, when I hear, “Can you help a fella out?” Eyes glued to the ground, I shake my head. Grimy ankles show above the laceless Converse sneakers of the man keeping stride with me. I clutch my purse closer to my side, protect it with both hands. Before the shoes move from my line of vision, their owner breathes into my ear. “You got a righteous ass.” I stifle a laugh and wonder what drug he’s taking. Unconcerned with the surroundings, my internal debate resumes. “Quit whining. You’ve got it good. You can reflect on who you’ve become without worrying where you’ll scrounge your next meal.” I get tough with my recalcitrant thought processes. “Can we postpone this conversation? I promise to give it serious consideration after I escape the war zone.” I reach Guerrero, turn left, pass 17th, then 18th. A line wends inside a drab, squat building with no sign advertising its business. A young woman drops an iPhone into her purse. She looks up. “Excuse me,” I say, “What’s the attraction?” She raises her eyebrows. “It’s Tartine,” she says, as though that’s sufficient explanation. Before I can pursue it, she retrieves her cell and turns away. I reach my daughter’s building and punch in the security code. For the next several hours my voices are quiet. They can’t compete with three-year-old Noah and four-year-old Ezra. Today the boys want to walk to Rainbow for healthy snacks. They assume Nana doesn’t know ice cream and M&Ms from apples and carrots. Ezra fancies himself Mayor of the Mission and struts around smiling and glad-handing like a politician in training. Noah is a 24/7 superhero. He dresses in pajama bottoms that he pretends are tights. He never leaves home without a safetypinned cape. His preschool accepts his attire as healthy self-expression. I accept that my grandson looks like the scruffiest kid in the 96
Mission. This day, he lends me a red cape, and I am his sidekick. Ezra says, “Nana can be Cat Woman.” “Nana can’t be a villain,” Noah says. “She’s Wonder Woman.” I’m touched. We walk several blocks. No one gives my costume or the Spiderman sticker on my forehead a second look until pinkhaired Mohawk guy says. “Nice cape.” I get the boys home and fumble with the front door key. Noah reassesses my look. “Nana, maybe you should be Dora the Explorer. You don’t have Wonder Woman’s breasts.” He’s deflated more than my bustline. Later that afternoon, I board a BART train for home. I stand in the rapidly-filling car and scope empty seats for a normal-looking passenger, one who appears less dangerous than Hannibal Lector. I spot a well-dressed woman and slide in next to her. She scootches toward the window, hunches in a semi-fetal position, sticks her thumb in her mouth and moans—all thirty-five miles to Dublin. During the trip, my voices return. Retirement. You need a new way to identify yourself. Preferably something with a low bar to entry. “Wait a minute.” I whisper soft enough that my seat mate, whose eyes are now closed, can’t hear. “I’m Nana.” It redefines me. Loving two small grandsons, baby sitting a couple days a week. Only requirement: a daughter with kids. It works. “You’re going to be one of those geezers who pulls out her mini photo album and bores dinner guests with stories of pottytraining?” Okay, that is a point. There has to be more. What do I really want to do now that I am all grown up and unemployed? While practicing law, I’d have traded my juris doctorate in a heartbeat for the talent to write like Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy or Joyce Carol Oates. Back then I couldn’t quit my day job to live on negligible writing talents. But this is retirement. I’m not expected to earn money. Writing, like babysitting, has a low threshold for en97
Anthology 2015 try. Paper, pen, computer, time, inspiration, and a place to write. That is as far as I get recreating my life before BART pulls into the final station and I am ordered off. That night, I Google the Mission District of San Francisco. It is described as a vibrant, colorful neighborhood favored by local hipsters. I decode this to mean filthy and sleazy. But what, I wonder, is a hipster? A second Google search tells me hipsters enjoy clothing, music, food and activities outside of the social mainstream. Clothes? Music? Food? I love them all. Is writer outside the mainstream? I read on: Messy hairdos, long unkempt hair, master of reuse, fusing frugality with awareness. It all describes me . . . until I get to the uniform: Skinny pants. But there is a caveat. As an alternative to skin-tight trousers, women can wear high-waisted mom pants. Plaid shirts, flannels, anything in gingham. Vintage florals. And the clincher? It proclaims Granny's closet a gold mine. I waltz into my living room. “I’m a hipster,” I tell my equally cool husband. Hipster-writer is incorporated into the new definition of me. Over the next year, I refine who I am. I continue to spend several days a week in the Mission. My uniform has morphed into noname jeans, sneakers, and a newsboy cap. I stride purposefully and carry folded dollar bills in my pocket. I drop one in a musician’s case and listen as he plays “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” Passing elderly homeless women, I sense desperate vulnerability. I peel out a couple of dollars, but it does little to assuage societal guilt. I climb the BART stairs, barely chagrined that the escalator is again out of service because in the middle of the night someone has used it as their personal toilet. I stop at Walgreen’s, kitty-corner from the BART, for a candy bar. There are two dozen cops standing in front of the entrance. I’m not deterred. Inside, I ask the clerk what is going on. He looks at me as though the question makes no sense. “Cops are swarming outside,” I say. 98
Without missing a beat, he says, “It’s the Mission.” My youngest grandson has transitioned his day wear from pajama bottoms to tights. My daughter makes him wear a pair of shorts over the tights. It’s as close to a normal look as she can force. “What do you think?” she asks. I pause and reflect, but facing his pink leggings, honesty prevails. “He used to look scruffy, now he looks like a girl.” At her crestfallen expression, I add, “It’s not a value judgment, just a mere observation.” I’ve developed a new route from BART to my daughter’s condo. I veer down Hoff Street, pass Kid Power Park and avoid the seediest stretch of 16th. I step around dog poop and give wide berth to a man relieving himself against the rear tire of a Beemer. The fellow looks up, sees me, and yells, “Sorry, Ma’am, when you gotta go, you gotta go.” I look away and mumble, “No problem.” Near the corner, three pairs of used men’s shoes guard a box overflowing with clothes. It’s an unwritten courtesy: leave what you don’t need for someone who can use it. My day has begun at 6:00 a.m. I stop at Faye’s for their largest size cup of coffee. “The usual?” the guy behind the counter asks. I nod. My daughter and her husband have dropped the boys at preschool and left for work by the time I arrive. Their condo is an oasis. Free of distractions and housekeeping chores, free of Internet, Facebook, email and phone calls. A rough draft of my current workin-progress is stuffed in a Safeway bag. I relish the perfect quiet until 2:00 p.m. when I hustle to preschool to meet my grandsons. Another year passes. My daughter convinces my youngest grandson that jeggins and treggins are way cooler than plain tights. He preens in front of the mirror. Superheroes envy him. Oh, 99
Anthology 2015 my god, I tell myself, he’s a hipster, like his Nana. These days I arrive at the 16th Street BART and hardly notice the mean green drug latrine, corporate hub of the local narcotics trade. I make it to the Women’s Building on 18th and walk through a construction scaffold. A man, well-dressed by Mission standards, passes me. It smells like he missed last night’s shower, but he tips his ball cap and says, “’scuse me, ma’am.” I nod and wish him a good day. He reaches Guerrero a few steps ahead of me and starts to cross. I have six seconds according to the walk light, but decide to wait on the curb. Smack in the middle of the intersection, the man stops, caught between the two streams of oncoming traffic that is forced to veer around him. “Crazy bastards. Crazy mother f… bastards. God damned crazy mother f… bastards,” he says, pointing to the light. Horrified, I start to yell, “keep going,” but worry it will further confuse him. Cars honk, swerve. Men lean out and give him their middle finger. He keeps cursing the dangerous, goddamned crazy mother f… bastards. The light changes. He goes his way. I sigh with relief. The line in front of Tartine, which I now revere as the best bakery in San Francisco, is shorter than usual. I suffer it for a lemon bar. During the progression of the past three years, I’ve found my new self in San Francisco’s Mission. Somewhere—among hipsters and homeless, grannies and gang bangers, Latinos and Mexican bakeries, young yuppy professionals and ladies of the night, parks, ethnic restaurants and produce markets, thrift shops and highpriced boutiques, murals and my favorite shrimp tacos at El Bien Sabor—the Mission has made space for me. I am less shackled by prior social restraints. I wear whatever is on the top of my clean clothes pile. Even the worst hair day doesn’t faze me. I like my new life, waking up each morning and deciding how to spend my hours. My hours. The concept is liberating. The Mission is a teacher that widens the lens of my existence. 100
It provides balance. I people-watch. Observe. Ask myself what is the story of the person walking next to me. The Mission is a gift that expands my myopic perceptions. Gratitude fills me as I trudge to the BART station. Across the street on 17th, a straggly-haired man lets go of his walker and slumps to the ground. A passerby, who appears to have stepped from the pages of GQ, helps the stricken fellow to a nearby step. By the time I reach them, another man is talking to the 911 operator. A woman has seated herself next to the sallow-complected ailing man. She places an arm around his shoulders. With her free hand she retrieves a bottle of water from her backpack and offers it to him. His eyes say it all as he reaches for it. The situation appears under control. Another gawker is useless. I continue toward BART, a flat-chested, red-caped Wonder Woman who loves her grandsons, appreciates the diverse Mission, and fancies herself a writer.
City under the Bridge Anna Rouse
HONORABLE MENTION ART
X’s and O’s
Kyleigh McPhillips She stitched you a blanket with X’s and O’s And a pattern as intricate as a dreamcatcher’s web. You’d nestle yourself within it - by fireplaces, Or windows, Or in closets, And read stories with pages laced in gold – Sometimes you’d write your own. it kept you warm in the winter And happy in the summer. And past bedtime, in the tender hug of flashlight’s glow and Fitzgerald pages, It became a coveted arc, Dismantled hurriedly when you heard your parents footsteps Coming to check on you, their resting child. No one had to know about your secret fort, And no one was happier than You. You used to rake up fallen orange leaves And dance! Jump! Skip! through them – Just to do it all over again right after. You’d put your arms behind your head, lay back, And wait for the orchards to grow some more. The light rested around you like a halo, And made you look like an angel, Because that’s what you were. You’d be outside til twilight fell, And when your mom brought you Your sweater, you refused it Because you were content. Until winds stirred the branches And the fragile sunlight that kept you warm
Disappeared behind the trees. And you wished you took the sweater. She was as tall as a willow And she’d wait for you between classes. You’d rush over to her and a smile would grow, The first one of your day, One that stayed as long as she was on your mind. You used these walks to tell her stories of your plans and dreams But she got tired of listening. And eventually, you stopped telling her anything. And that was okay – Until you forgot how to speak. But you liked her. Because you felt hollow and frozen when she wasn’t around And it was those hugs And those meaningless kisses and touches That kept you warm. When you found your old blanket You dragged it into the moonlight when your parents were asleep And you sat up tensely beneath the bare tree branches. You ripped and rolled pages from your favorite book Sealing it with tears and spit, Smiling only when the smoke hit your lips. Because the sun was down, And your blanket was too small. And no one brought you a sweater. The moon was bruised and the sky black And your lighter and chemicals kept you warm.
Death Can Be Tricky Mike Johnson
The sour milk slowly dribbled from the carton into the bowl of corn flakes, when a large glob of the congealed fluid dropped into the bowl, sending golden flakes in all directions. “Shit,” Melanie shouted as she slammed the milk carton down on the kitchen table, sending little droplets of milk in search of the missing flakes. Melanie cradled her face in her hands and began to cry. The tears flowed easily and rolled down her cheeks into the bowl of cereal and began to dilute the chunky milk. She didn’t even notice her breakfast as she went from crying to hysterical sobs. This had just topped off what was possibly the worst week in recorded history. She hadn’t said a word of her miscarriage to Dale, although it had happened on Tuesday morning before he had gone to work. Here it was Saturday morning and he was probably at the lake by now, getting the cabin set up. She had said that she needed to do a few things at work before she went up to the cabin and that she would meet him there. Of course she had neglected to tell him that what she had to do was clean her desk out. Mr. Quentin had told her that they just couldn’t afford to keep her on, what with the economy and all. He was real sorry, but you know how tight things were. Gutless little turd, she thought. Everybody knew that he was skimming so much money from accounts receivable, that it wouldn’t be long before he was the only employee left. She stood up from the table and walked over to the sink as the sobs slowed down to normal tears. She pulled a paper towel from the roll and wiped her eyes. She looked out of the window and thought she saw Ed Meese. Walking to the door to call him, the memory of the limp body of their cat by the side of the road this morning attacked her senses. Tears threatened again, but this time she held them back. Dale and Melanie had found Ed Meese 105
Anthology 2015 when he was just a tiny kitten, and within a year, he had become the biggest cat that either of them had ever seen. He was at least twenty-three pounds and it seemed that he was still growing. Dale had joked that if he had known that they were adopting a mountain lion, he would have said no then and there. But she had known that Ed Meese was Dale’s cat and that he wouldn’t have given him up for anything. Melanie walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door. She looked at the sparse contents and quickly shut the door again. She stepped over to the phone, picked up the receiver and stared at the key pad. The numbers started to move and rearrange before her eyes. She closed her eyes tight and shook her head to clear her mind. She looked down at the phone and the numbers were back in their right places. “I must be losing it,” she said aloud. Her fingers found the buttons and began to meticulously punch out a series of numbers. She placed the handset to her ear and after a few electronic clicks, she heard the muted ring on the other end of the line. It rang several times before another click opened the line. “Hello, you have reached the Discher residence, we’re not home right now, but if you leave a message at the tone, we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Thank you,” a woman’s voice said. I wonder if she’ll ever get around to changing the message, Melanie thought when a piercing tone screamed into her ear. She pulled the receiver away from her ear and slammed it down into the cradle. That’s funny, Mom should be home, she thought. Maybe I should leave a message. She picked up the phone and hit the redial button and waited for the machine to pick up. “Hello, you have reached the Discher residence, and like I told you before, bitch, we’re not home now,” the same pleasant voice of her mother said. “Don’t even think of calling back or I’ll cut out 106
your fucking heart, you whore.” There was an electronic click and the line was dead. Melanie stared at the receiver for a moment and then quickly slammed it down. “That’s it,” she said, “I’m cracking.” She picked up the phone again and pressed the redial once more. She heard the ring twice before it picked up and an angry voice screamed through the earpiece. “I said to quit calling, you fucking cunt! Call back again and I’ll hold my promise and cut out your heart!” The phone went dead and the dial tone filled her ear. Melanie slowly started to back away from the phone, the receiver still in her hand. After a few steps, the cord reached its full length and began to pull the rest of the phone across the counter to the edge. As she continued to back up, the phone slipped off of the counter and hit the tile floor with a crash. She dropped the receiver and leapt backwards, trying to distance herself from the phone, slamming into the kitchen table. Her foot slipped on the spoiled milk, sending her to the floor, her head bouncing off the hard wood of the table. Her vision was blurred and she noticed a coppery taste in her mouth. The phone hummed somewhere ahead of her while the lights seemed to fade in and out. She sat on the cold tile floor blinking her eyes, trying to regain her wits. The warm taste of blood seemed to be swelling within her mouth, drawing her attention away from the throbbing that was also growing in the back of her head. She cautiously tried to stand up, reaching for a chair leg. The throbbing worsened as she started to rise, making her stop halfway. As she opened her mouth in a wince, a stream of blood trickled down her chin and onto the floor. She sat back down and leaned forward, placing her head in her hands. A small moan escaped. She opened her eyes, staring straight into a small red saucer on the floor. Instantly she realized that it was her own blood, not a dish. She must have bitten her tongue. Had she really bled that 107
Anthology 2015 much? She felt the blood filling her mouth again and slowly opened it. A large stream of blood gushed out onto the floor and down the front of her shirt. She began to feel woozy as she saw the blood splatter and fill the grout cracks in the tile. Her eyes instinctively shut as she felt consciousness begin to fade. It’s just your own blood, she told herself. Whatever you do don’t faint. Don’t faint. She sat motionless on the floor for a long time, feeling the warm blood soak into her blouse and bra, and feeling a cool liquid trickle down her back. Her head was pounding louder and louder. Slowly she felt herself gaining strength back, her stomach calming. She opened her eyes and looked around. There was a large pool of blood in front of her, a white translucent fluid on the floor behind her. The cereal, bowl and spoon were lying near the back door. The telephone lay by the counter, still humming. She leaned forward, moving to her hands and knees, bearing the pain in her mouth and head. She then got to her knees, and then unsteadily to her feet. She felt dizzy and unstable leaning against the counter. Something sounded different, something familiar. Then she suddenly realized what it was. The phone. The humming of the dial tone was gone and was replaced by a voice. The tinny voice was inaudible. Melanie cautiously stepped over to where the phone lay. “...please hang up and try again,” the voice droned. “I said hang up the phone you stupid bitch, or I’ll tell Dale about the bloody mess you found in your panties the other day. I’ll tell him about the cocaine in your makeup drawer. That will make him so happy.” Melanie put both hands over her ears and started to scream. “Shut up! Stop it, no, it’s not true!” She screamed and ran from the room. The voice from the phone seemed to get louder. She couldn’t get away. “Don’t you think he’ll love to hear that you killed his child with your habit?” the voice blared. She ran out of the kitchen into the hall. She kicked open the 108
front door and ran out into the yard. “Come on Melanie, we can tell him together about the miscarriage, how you could make out the shape of the tiny fetus,” the voice yelled from the house. “We can tell him how you flushed it like a piece of shit.” Melanie tripped over the neighbor kid’s tricycle left carelessly on her front lawn. She quickly regained her feet and ran into the street. She heard the squealing tires even through her hands pressed over her ears and her screams. She even smelled the burnt rubber as the car tried uselessly to stop. She felt the hard chrome bumper slam into her knees and the hood hit her hip. The windshield suddenly rushed up to meet her. At least the voice stopped, she thought almost peacefully. “You should know better you fucking slut,” the voice answered. Melanie hit the street and rolled to a stop as the car halted inches from her head. She gladly reached for unconsciousness. It was night. That was the first thing she noticed. What’s going on, she thought. Where am I? She looked around her and saw that she was standing in the middle of the street in front of her house. She saw an ambulance parked in the street just behind her. There were two paramedics kneeling over a prone body. She stepped over to see what was happening. “Excuse me,” she said to the paramedics. “What happened?” The two men just ignored her and kept working on the body in the street. She continued to walk towards the scene. Suddenly she stopped cold. She could see the body. She closed her eyes and shook her head. With her eyes opened again, she looked down at the body and screamed. The paramedics continued working, as if nobody else were there. She wanted to faint, to just be rid of everything, but her body refused to cooperate. Instead, she continued to stare at her own 109
Anthology 2015 bloody body being worked on by the paramedics. Still, she kept hoping, praying for unconsciousness, something to take her away from this nightmare. Nothing. She stood, staring and beginning to shake with deep sobs coming from deep inside her. “Don’t worry dear,” a voice behind her said. Melanie turned around so fast she almost lost her balance. She steadied herself and stared deep into the face of her mother. Her jaw seemed to drop to her chest as she tried to decide if her eyes were lying to her. “Yes dear, it really is me,” her mother said. “Don’t worry, I’m here for you.” The words didn’t seem to sink in. Melanie just stared at her mother with a slack jaw and questioning eyes. “Mom?” she managed through a clenched throat. “I’m here for you now, honey,” her mother said in a soothing voice. “You’re going to be okay now.” “But,” Melanie started. “Where are we, what’s happening? Those things you said on the phone...” She trailed off and started to cry hard. Her mother took her in her arms and lovingly patted her back. “Don’t worry about that, everything is going to be all right. Now, now, let it all out.” Melanie seemed to break down completely. She tried to speak again, but her mother pulled her closer. “Shhhhh, just let it out dear.” Once she thought that she had a mild grasp on control, Melanie lifted her head and looked into her mother’s eyes. “Where are we, Mom? Why am I lying in the street?” She started to hitch as the sobs returned. “Those things you said on the phone. You didn’t mean them, did you?” Her mother looked at her with her warm smile and said everything was all right. “To start with, we’re in a place somewhere between life and death. You had an accident. You’re not quite dead yet, but you’re 110
not all the way alive either.” Her mother’s smile started to warm Melanie’s heart and she began to think that maybe everything was going to be all right. “That wasn’t me on the phone,” her mother continued. “There are things here that I don’t understand yet, but as far as I can tell, there is a...a force that wanted you to die, so it imitated my voice to cause all of this.” She made an opened arm gesture. Melanie thought for a second and then spoke again. “But if you’re here, doesn’t that mean that something’s wrong with you too?” “Yes, dear,” her mother said. “I slipped in the bathtub this morning and broke my neck. I never knew what happened until it was all over. It was quite painless. Now I’m here to take you with me.” “Take me where?” Melanie asked. “Your body isn’t quite dead yet, but you can decide if you live or come with me. Your father is there.” “But what about Dale?” she asked. “I can’t leave him.” Melanie’s mother looked uncomfortable. “I was hoping to not have to tell you, but Dale was in a terrible accident on the way to the cabin and he will be meeting us there.” Melanie began to sob again. “Don’t cry dear,” her mother consoled, “he’s going to be happy there. In fact, we’re all going to be happy. We’re going to be a family again. You just have to come with me.” Melanie’s mother held out her hand to her daughter and smiled that smile again. Melanie looked unsure at her mother’s hand and then up to her loving face. Something in the back of her mind screamed at her, but she quickly pushed it aside. Melanie placed her hand in her mother’s and they both turned from the accident and walked away. Death’s mother mask began to slip. He reached up with his free hand and straightened it. Melanie never noticed. The day was going to be a hot one from what Jeff could tell. 111
Anthology 2015 Sweat was running down his brow already, and it was only tenthirty in the morning. A bead of sweat rolled down his nose and dripped onto Melanie’s blood-soaked blouse. Jeff turned to his partner. “Let’s just get the stretcher, I don’t think there’s anything we can do,” he said. “I think you’re right,” Carl replied. It was only his second day on the job and this was the first call he had gone out on. The first one and he already had someone die on him. He was seriously thinking about a career change. Carl stepped back to the ambulance and pulled the stretcher from the open back doors. He started to roll it towards the body when a car screeched to a halt two feet from the back of the ambulance. A screaming woman leapt from the car. He didn’t recognize Melanie’s mother, having never met her.
My Dear Discoverers Dustin Jang
My dear Cartographer, I hope you’ll see him and see there’re still maps to be drawn— hands to take yours the way tides take the moon, and soon, my Mapmaker, you’ll call colors you cannot yet fathom, as the hues you’ll call home.
to a single drop, but have not seen as many stars as you have in her— My brave Scientist, you’ll watch the world turn and see her galaxies melt with your sea —you’ll see, oh my, how you’ll discover, how the horizons can harbor heaven, and forever in a kiss.
Home, where the rain chased you into a safe place—covered by a cave, ensconced by a moment and a breath, where on the inhale, you’re beside him, and on the exhale, you’re in his chest where from his lips you did not hear a voice, but a heartbeat. And here, my great Astronomer, you discovered her singing eyes like a starry hymn and were raptured by a new warmth that fluttered and stayed across your skin, but even more with the days you’ll see, how many have poured over the night sky
Amber Wright It was his adventure that inspired me to write. He had experienced, he had traveled, and he knew the world in a way I did not. He told me of stories about the depths of the forest, and the peaks of the mountains. He told me of the noise he heard from a whisper, and the silence he heard in the crowd. He found creation from nothing, and art in the blank spaces. He told me tale after tale, story after story. He shared his world â€“ one that I had never heard of before. A foreigner? No. But a neighbor, a man perceived to be my equal. However, he was not. It was not him I fell in love with, but his life â€“ his poor, careless, unstable life. I longed for calloused feet one could only get from being lost. I yearned for hands that held more than they could hold. Most of all, I needed eyes that could see something different than what I wanted to see. What use is this temple, if not used in the way it was intended to be? He knew this answer, for he told me that to be an idle soul was the equivalent to using a boat as shelter instead of a vessel; it was not its purpose. His stories lit rooms on fire, his songs put symphonies to shame. Those tales not only mirrored my deepest desires, but also stretched my ideas of possible reality. Hearing his words, I believed he could set oceans ablaze and rearrange the night sky. The experiences he possessed rivaled my favorite books and put my dreams to shame. I sought adventure, a journey I could partake in. I sought to shatter the barrier of comfort and ease I set around myself, and I wanted to live the life he showed me was possible. I wanted a life that would rival the novels, and shame the legends. I was going to become the face of adventure and the name of voyage. Fear was to quiver in my presence, and danger would know my name. 116
My leap of faith was four words: Take me with you. And we went. They speak of the corners of this earth as if they are even slightly attainable. Instead, you reach one, and you yearn for the rest. To simply cease is not an option, for you want to know every person and live every moment. A mere fraction of this world is not enough, the whole is what I desire, what I crave. The darkest depths of this world are still brighter than the comforts of home, a place that would be bleak at best to return to. Before him, what did I know? What did I write? Inspiration came when I fled my comforts, when I escaped. He saved my dull, bleak, dismal existence I called life. He changed the definition of life. Life is when the knife meets the whetstone, when the ocean breaks upon the shore, and when the ice breaks from the glacier. Life is miraculous, extraordinary, and incredible, and we have the privilege to live it. My feet are calloused, my hands have held, and my eyes can see. I live more adventurously, laugh wholeheartedly, and love more deeply than I ever imagined I would. Just as the water is used to cook the grain, the world is used to shape the man. Where I used to be dull, I am sharp, for I have been molded by what once was shapeless. Where there was once gray, I am now colored. What I didnâ€™t before, I now know. Wherever I go, there I am, surrounded by pines, swarmed by people, bewildered by mountains. Where am I? Just where I want to be: lost.
Mary Pacifico Curtis He brought it from Machu Picchu, delivered with breathless narration a treasure, he wanted me to have, crushed in luggage tendered in pieces, intention in shards to be recovered. More so than disposing of his clothes, the heartfelt puzzler now tempts me requiring glue to set the pieces into satisfying assembly, the righting of a whole, a vessel I now build matching corners into chipped corners as egg shaped walls make story planes - a layer of geometry, a panel where mountain goats circle in cactus and grass, above, a flower angles to a hummingbird drawing out its nectar, atop the vessel, a cat arches with open mouth and fangs, a convenient handle. Cool in my hands now, this curious closed pot with stirrup spout tells of long ago when felines held power for ancients who shaped stone and clay effigy artifacts buried unearthed echoes through time cupped in my hands this pot their voices and stories his and ours whole again mine.
The Rower Sky of blue I know you knew I craved your speed whooshing sea tamed my heart stroked the sky your horizon far still by my side.
Sky of blue how did you know I loved you so beneath a hue of other sky now gold and blue as always prized my sense of you. In heavens trip you uncovered my soulâ€™s pastel of oceansâ€™ color row me now endlessly in vibrant bliss electric sea. Sky of blue your waves have stilled just you and I euphoric thrill inside your sea of one lies two our love affair sky of blue.
Alice Kight There was no door. I found it later. Someone had pulled it apart, used some of the pieces for a fire down by the creek. The small fire pit was ringed in with stones; perhaps to hold a pan to fry a few fish, make a tin can of boiled coffee. It was a pleasant image to dream up at the edge of that peaceful hollow far back in the mountains. An image to dim the one that had tormented me on the twelve-mile hike to this scene from my youth. I pushed into the familiar wilderness hoping for release from the pain of life crumbling around me, a yearsâ€™ long marriage shattered ruthlessly and beyond repair, hoping that solitude would offer up a way out of mind numbing loneliness and loss. My dad and I had fished these mountain streams through the summers of my growing up, but this time, I went farther than we had ever gone before, turned up a narrow connecting hollow with a small feeder brook bubbling into the larger Deer Creek, so very rich with rainbow trout. I came upon a tiny homestead nestled back against a little hillside and shrouded in small growth pine and aspen. I stepped over the rotting stoop into the cabin. The floor was hard packed earth. A rusting two-burner stove leaned in one corner. A rickety ladder against one wall must have led to a sleep loft; the flooring above me was loose, full of holes. Tiny rustlings and sifting straw told me that the mice or other little creatures lived here now. I found a small silver cup almost buried in the dirt and pocketed it for a souvenir. In my tarnished imagination, I was a pioneering woman, dreaming of homestead, family, a future. Outside the back door, I saw them: two sunken, grassed over spots, one much longer than the other. Two crude crosses had rotted and fallen into the grass and masses of delicate mountain columbine. The twine that had bound the pieces disintegrated when 120
I picked up a bit of wood from one cross. Burn marks on the two slats might have been names. Mother and child? Father? I sat down there in that quiet glen, and did not think at all. I listened to the voices in the tall pines, the music of tumbling water, then got up and retraced my steps through the ruined cabin, put the cup back where I found it, and began the long walk back to my life.
Morning in Three Parts Mary Pacifico Curtis
A twitch – pain – stillness persistence - pricks - draws – pounding scans - meds – weight loss - tubes cameras – drains – wounds consults in cold rooms - long waits - white coats - handshakes, we cans, bewildered hopefuls - harp reverberated lobbies – wide stone staircases, whispery doors, an elevator glide, another waiting room - translucent tangle of tubes tubes tucked between ribs. Infusions. Drugs with x’s and z’s. Weight loss. Can’t operate. Infection. Antibiotics. Waiting. Drains. Pain. Weakening now. Physical therapy, TPN, insulin, then searching brown eyes find their last morning.
Day in, year out, five years of mornings I awaken in our bed, often thinking you here finding the new pup who stares at me with black wake-up-and-play eyes and the lab who shoves her head into to my palm as soon as my hand dangles off the mattress I rub both dogs roll myself upright turn off the alarm rush dogs over wood, oriental rug and kitchen-cold stone to the door and out. I could not be a pickpocket I repeat to myself, because my wrists snap - nor a cat burglar because my toes crack. As I think my silly thoughts I pass the girls rooms empty now and replay life as family in this house, its refrigerator once stocked for four. Scratching at the door tells me the lab wants in the pup will be next my morning begins each day each year opaque on this golden shore. 123
Violet Carr Moore “Get the women and children off the street,” Sheriff Brady said. “I don’t want anyone hurt when the Claytons get here.” “Billy Joe’s got no call to challenge you for puttin’ his nogood brother in jail,” the deputy said, silver hair nodding toward the scruffy cowboy in a cell. “I’m tired of the Claytons runnin’ this town. That’s why I closed down the Mercantile this mornin’ and put on this badge.” “I don’t know why I let you talk me into deputizing you.” The Sheriff raked his strong tanned hands through wavy black hair that touched his collar. “You’re sure you want to do this?” “Dead certain.” “Then clear the street.” Sheriff Brady lifted the 1851 Colt Revolver from his gun belt hanging on a peg behind a shabby oak desk. He touched the cylinder engraved with a scene from the Second Texas Navy Battle near Campeche, Mexico. The sheriff flipped the revolver open, counted six .36 caliber rounds, and thumbed the cylinder closed. He shoved the pistol into the holster, hung it back on the peg, and reached for his lariat. “You’re a dead man, Sheriff,” Sam Clayton taunted from his cell. “You and that tin-badge deputy both.” They made an odd pair. The deputy was old—too old for a gunfight. The sheriff was young—too young to die. Sheriff Brady closed the door and stepped off the boardwalk. Anxious women stared through windows of the millinery shop. Boot-clad feet crowded beneath the swinging saloon doors as three riders approached in a cloud of dust. They reigned up their horses in a triangle facing the sheriff. “Billy Joe.” The sheriff acknowledged the leader at the front when the dust settled. “You and your brothers best go on home and 124
leave Sam’s fate to the judge.” “Can’t do that, Sheriff. Claytons stick together. Now, you gonna go strap on a gun so I can kill you in a fair-and-square showdown?” “I’m faster than you, so this is fair.” The Sheriff twirled the lariat with an easy rhythm. “Tell your brothers to back off or my deputy will drop them.” “Nobody’s crazy enough to stand with you against us Claytons.” Billy Joe’s hand inched toward his pistol. A blast from the Mercantile roof slammed the other two Claytons to the ground and spooked the horses into fast trots. Sheriff Brady dropped the lariat over Billy Joe and cinched his arms tight. Townspeople ran into the street and cheered. “Glad to see you’re okay, son,” the deputy said as she rounded the corner, carrying a double-barrel, ten-gauge shotgun, her calico skirt curling around her ankles. “I vowed not to kill again after we came west, but you’re all I got left since your pa died at Campeche.” She unpinned the star and handed it to the sheriff. “See you tonight at supper.”
Clint Eastwood Stevie Slakey
HONORABLE MENTION POETRY
Small beetle, stone still, Endures my curious gaze. How vast the moment.
Hamburgers Susan Reid
One, two, buckle my shoe. Three, four, shut the door. Five, six, pick up sticks. Today is a good day; a very good day. First, Mother gave me twenty-five cents to put in my bank account envelope. She helped me fill out the deposit form on the back. Now I have a grand total of $6.25 in my bank account at school. Then, since it was Thursday, it was our class day to go to the library. Now, I hold in my possession a book that I can keep for two weeks, On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She is such a great author and I have read all of her books. I will start this one right after dinner tonight and be finished by the time the weekend is over. Mother will take us to the big library downtown; the one with the stone lions on the front steps. My brother, David, always slides down the curved part in front of the lions when Mother isn’t looking. Seven, eight, lay them straight. The next best thing about today is dinner. On Wednesday the ads for the grocery stores are in the paper. Mother sits down and circles all of things she wants to buy that are on sale. She says it is always best to make a list and shop for things we need and to stick to the list. Sometimes she has to go to different stores to get the best deals. Well, Thursday night is hamburger night. Or it could be meatloaf night, yuck. But tonight she promised, would be hamburger night. Nine, ten, big fat hen. Mama is in the kitchen putting away groceries when I get home. “Wash your hands and you can have a cookie.” A cookie! Store bought! The package says “Mother’s” but I don’t know anyone’s mother that bakes like this! Too bad she can’t 128
get us the bakery kind that comes in the pink boxes. Mama says that they are expensive. So, instead we get the kind that someone else’s “Mother” baked. Maybe they were on sale today. Someday I will buy cookies that come in pink boxes. “Take your brother and sister a cookie and stay out of the street.” When we come in for dinner, my mouth is already watering from the smell of the sizzling hamburgers being lifted out of the iron skillet. Everyone takes their place around the yellow chrome-legged kitchen table; four of us have chairs with matching yellow seats and baby sister Nancy still sits on a high stool. What a meal: Hamburgers with all the trimmings! Mama brings out the potato chip bowl! Hamburgers and potato chips. This is Heaven! The potato chip bowl is actually a Tupperware “cake saver” turned upside down. You just had to “burp” the seal to keep the chips fresh after dinner. Mama sets the chips down on the table and we all eye them hungrily. Daddy takes a few and puts them on his plate. Nancy reaches out to get the chips and puts the container in her lap. As she tips the bowl to take her portion, her hand catches the glass of water sitting in front of her plate. As if in slow motion, David and I watch in horror as the glass drops into the chip bowl! “ Nooo!“ We wail in unison. “The chips!” Mama jumps up without hesitation and snatches up the chip bowl. In one motion she dumps out the worst of the moisture. She spreads the chips out in the cookie sheet that had been used for warming the buns and plops the whole sodden mess into the still-warm oven. We eat our hamburgers in silence; David and I now and again sneak accusing looks at the baby. The chips came out of the oven but they didn’t look the same. No one wants chips, now. Daddy was brave and took a few just to show us that they are alright. I don’t think he likes them either. 129
Anthology 2015 My mother was born in 1929 and migrated to California in 1933. From her I learned many things. Among those were: • Never buy anything that is not on sale. Next week it will be. • No matter how tough the meat is, a pressure cooker will be able to tenderize it • Day-old bread is fine. Just heat it up. • Flour sacks make the best dish towels • You can get one more day of shampoo if you just add water to the bottle. • Potato chips are not the same after they have been wet and then dried in the oven
While Slicing Mushrooms Mary Beeve
It’s easy to forget someone’s flavor when they’re gone. Forgetting the little nuances peculiar just to her and her alone. The way she’d tilt her head to pay attention to the music while playing the piano or how her eyes would laugh and tease until he’d burst out laughing too, teasing her in turn. Yes, it’s her flavor I miss most in our family conversations like a missing ingredient in a forgotten recipe, a flavoring I can’t quite put my finger on.
Have Some Coke Christine Orlino
Your Least Favorite Vegetable Katelyn Harper
He placed the steaming bowl in front of me I noticed That it was all wrong! Starting with the miniature green things Buried deep within the elbows of my 25 cent top ramen Who knew something so small Could halt Someone so strong I am the Princess, And you, the Pea, Are buried deep within the elbows of my Memory A small bullet, burrowing permanently But never festeringâ€” Only producing one small, solitary bruise On my back when I wake up alone Knowing in my sleep That you had not been beside me (these are not the back bruises I want to remember you giving me) And as I deliberately placed Your Least Favorite Vegetable On the other side of my teeth I suffocated in the depths Of my own sin And then I laughed Because after all, I love peas 132
Greatest Minimum Rita Liu
Do You Remember Me? Eileen Magill
Do You Remember Me? A Father with Alzheimer’s The greatest computer ever made Cannot match the brain’s complexity Holding decades of information Yet I’m not sure you remember me All those childhood memories I cherish All those stories, sitting on your knee Gaining wisdom from your tales of life But Daddy, do you remember me? Some days your spry eyes are bright and clear Other times they are dull and cloudy But will you know who I am today? Your daughter… do you remember me? My heart breaks to pieces when I see you Check your bracelet for your identity But it’s like a knife thrust to my heart When you don’t even remember me I need to look deep within myself To see my egocentricity Because it hurts to see you so lost Yet I cry when you don’t remember me Whether it’s a good day or bad day I hope that you’ll be able to see That I will love you no matter what Even if you don’t remember me 134
Winter Branches James â€œJâ€? Mills
The Nonexistent Beach Courtney Frank
Twisted limbs and swirling fog, trunks Shifting shades of gray and green Spanish moss lycanthropy moving Through the bramble with a bird, And life seems not so Simple looking up this hill, but still The thrill of changing seasons Portends well for brighter days And color
A Walk in the Rain Holly Healy
damp the air is damp
Rolling Confetti Ian D. Jones
as streaks of rain fall from the murky heavens
it is here in this symphony of rain
that I stand alone.
Leaves sway in the breeze as I begin to walk
against the wind through violent heavy drops each step leading to my future memories are only reflections in puddles
of what I left behind nothing left
but to move on
And pray this time will be different. 138
Fairy Tale Ending Jessica Rhoades
Two months into my freshman year of high school I attended my first high school dance. I was fourteen years old, and I was just starting to get the hang of being a teenager. I had moved on from middle school things. I had my own pager, I walked to school with my friends instead of being dropped off by my dad, and I was allowed to go to the mall by myself. I had a boyfriend in middle school, but we never even talked to each other. I was on the search for my first high school boyfriend. One that would want to hold my hand in front of our friends. One that would go to the mall with me and kiss me by the fountain during Christmas break. I went to the dance with my best friend, Quinn. She already had a boyfriend, so as soon as we got to the dance, she ditched me for Adam. The school gym was decked out in silver and black decorations and the DJ was playing the current hits from the radio. Mariah, Madonna, Boyz II Men and Lisa Loeb. I stood to the side and watched as Quinn and Adam danced to a slow song, waiting for something upbeat to come on so I wouldn’t have to feel like such a loser. I was standing, arms crossed, and eyes rolled toward the rafters as a second slow song began to play and didn’t notice the person walking toward me until he was startlingly close. Charlie was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen, and he was a senior to boot. It took me a second to realize he was talking to me. He was asking me to dance. I tried to accept with confidence, but I’m pretty sure I just nodded a few too many times and started walking toward the dance floor. I caught the eye of Quinn and mouthed “Oh my GOD!” I put my head on his shoulder, not because I was bold, but because I couldn’t look at his face without giggling. 140
“Your hair smells like apples.” He said in my ear and suddenly I realized I would love this boy for the rest of my life. 16 years later… I was still in awe of that boy who thought my hair smelled like apples. He was an amazing provider and lover and we had built an amazing life together. I was folding a load of teeny-tiny, pink and blue laundry when the phone rang. A girl on the other end of the line spilled her guts to me about the affair she was having with my husband. The “off and on for 5 years,” affair. The only reason she was calling was “because I’m pregnant. I don’t want to take him from you and the twins, but I wanted to give you fair warning that I will be going after him for child support.”
Sandra Gardiner Bayhi
Sunbathing Ian D. Jones
The Memorial H.C. Ely
He stood feet planted firmly on the pale concrete beneath him. His arms dangled loosely at his sides, as he was now aware of his every movement. His eyes fixated on his shoes, not willing them to look up. He wasn’t ready, not yet. Not after everything that had happened. He knew this spot well; he knew the cracks on the ground by heart. People moved past him and every now and then someone would stop next to him and stand a minute or so before moving on. He hated each of these people, the ones who stopped only momentarily only to go on with their lives, like he never could. Those people who could walk away and forget this place and everything it stood for. After another few moments fighting with himself, he took a breath and let his eyes linger up. He was now staring at his reflection in the shiny black stone. Avoid eye contact, he thought taking in another noticeably deep inhale. He took a step closer to the granite wall focusing on the names engraved. He didn’t have to scan the wall, in fact, from this particular spot he could stick out his hand, move it slightly to the right, and be pointing at the name Oliver Hayes. “Hey,” he said staring at the name. “It’s been a while,” his eyes seemed to gloss over as if in deep thought. “Lori lost the baby,” he said taking in the silence again “The doctors say to just give up trying...” Nolan brushed away a tear that was sliding down his cheek. “I have never wanted anything more than to be a dad. Oliver, you… you were supposed to be a war hero…that’s what you were, that’s what you are. I’m…I’m supposed to be a dad…that’s what I should be.” Nolan sighed heavily, as if defeated. “We were going to name her Olivia…after you…after her uncle.” He spoke without taking his eyes away from the engraved name, “watch over her up there… okay big brother?” Nolan stretched out his arm and gingerly ca144
ressed his brother’s name. Suddenly, a flash of white cleared away the memorial. In its place a surrounding of green came into view, lush plants surrounded at every turn. The light brown dirt shaped shoe prints with each step. Nolan was back in Vietnam. “Get down!” a man roared throwing himself on top of Nolan, “What the fuck, Nolan?” said a man with sandy brown hair, intense eye brows and emerald green eyes. “Oliver, I wasn’t...“ “Shhh,” the young man threw his hand over Nolan’s mouth as his eyes darted around the surrounding. “I think we’re...“ “Bang. Bang. Bang.” two young men came out from behind a bush with their hands clasped together mimicking guns, their serious faces crack as they start laughing. “Ha, oh shit, I told you we’d win, Gerald,” the one with blonde hair mocked as he hit his partner, a man with red hair and gray eyes, in the arm, “Oliver may be the best, but Nolan isn’t even on Earth.” “Nolan? You mean wittle mommy’s boy Lanny?” The two threw their heads back in laughter hitting each other on the arms in turn. “You know,” said Oliver looking at Nolan with an unreadable gleam in his eyes, “this is not just a game, it’s good training. You should try a little harder. Right now it seems like nothing, but out there it’s a matter of life of death.” Nolan stood up quickly and turned around defensively, “I was trying to tell you I wasn’t ready” he said softly. Nolan could tell in the following silence, his brother was glaring at him. “Well, you’ll just have to get ready little brother. You think that if we’re attacked the Viet Cong are going to wait until you’re ready? Bullshit! Stop daydreaming and coming up with your stupid fucking stories and pay attention to what the hell is surrounding you.” Nolan looked over at Oliver who was heaving in anger, his chest rising and falling rapidly. 145
Anthology 2015 “Are we even in a war?” Nolan spoke quietly, “We’re here and I have yet to see a communist. And look at that,” he continued gesturing to the vibrant green patches of trees in the distance, “look at this land and all its beauty. I just can’t believe that there are enemies hiding, ready to kill.” “If the damn Viet Cong didn’t attack our air bases, I would agree,” Oliver said looking out in the distance, “but those are my people, my brothers, and my country that they threatened with those attacks. No way in hell they’ll get away with that.” The two boys who had hopped out from behind the bush were now in a kind of hitting fight, where nudges turned to punches and the punches became more intense. Oliver turned around after a few moments of the bustle. “Rodger, Gerald, knock it off,” he said and the two stopped. Oliver was a natural leader and although unruly, Rodger and Gerald took direction from only three people: Oliver, Lieutenant Moran, and their mothers. Lieutenant Moran, a mean looking man with sharp facial features and white blonde hair stomped through the brush and the four men stood up straight and aligned themselves orderly. “Get your gear on boys, helicopter will be taking you to the DZ.” On the helicopter, the feeling was tense, as every now and then one of the boys would adjust their packs of ammunition. The sound of gunfire could be heard in the distance and Nolan strained to see the cause of commotion. The pilot turned his head to talk to the boys over the roar of the spinning blades. “Prepare yourself lads,” he said in a thick accent, “we’re landing in the line of fire.” The blades of the helicopter cut savagely through the thick tense air, putting the trees into a deep bow. The boys tightened the straps of their backpacks, then their helmets; Nolan followed their lead. The gunshots grew louder as Nolan caught Gerald and Rodger making uneasy eye contact. Nolan looked at Oliver but he did not return his gaze, his eyes locked straight ahead, his face fearless, solid as stone. Nolan shifted his foot uncomfortably; he looked up to notice Oliver looking at him now, giving him a left-eye wink. As 146
the helicopter neared the ground the wind made ripples in the long blades of grass, loud cracks of shots being fired could be heard over the roar of the helicopter. Crack. Bang. Crack. “Go, go, go” yelled Lieutenant Moran as Nolan and his squad jumped out of the helicopter running into the wilderness rich in trees, dodging gun fires, “Go, go, go,” Nolan could hear Moran’s voice trailing off. “Go, go, go,” Nolan looked up to find three children running past him. “Again, again” shouted the youngest—a blonde haired boy trotting along, clapping his hands together with glee, “Again, again!” One of the older kids, a girl in brass colored pigtails smiled, “Okay, okay. On your marks, get set, go, go, go” the three children sped off, the youngest clearly falling behind with his gallop like run. When seemingly out of nowhere something caught his eye; he slowed down and walked toward the mirror like black wall, ending at an awed standstill next to Nolan. He watched his reflection intensely, raising his hand and watching as the little boy in the black wall did the same. Nolan stiffened as he watched the boy standing at his feet. He watched as the reflection of the boy raised his hand again and placed it on the pant leg next to him, Nolan’s pant leg. The boy looked up, this time not at the wall but in to the eyes of Nolan. Neither spoke. The other two children ran over to the youngest, looking at this new stranger who had been there all along. The older boy spoke looking up at Nolan. “Are you a soldier?” he asked a little too bluntly than Nolan was ready for. Nolan took a second to answer. “I was,” he said with a half smile. “Is your name on the wall?” asked the pigtailed girl. “Don’t be stupid,” the older boy chimed in, “he’s not dead.” Nolan tried to suppress the sharp inhale; man, these kids were brutally blunt. The little girl tried again. “Do you have kids, mister?” Nolan looked past them in thought before responding. “I 147
Anthology 2015 hope to one day have a child who will get to run and jump and play like you were all just doing moments ago,” he said as he bent down on one knee to level somewhat to their height. “Maybe he can be our dad,” the little girl whispered loudly to the older boy. Nolan watched as the boy rolled his eyes, “Why would he want us? We don’t even know him, Hattie” “Well, he can get to know us,” the young girl named Hattie crossed her arms. Nolan cleared his throat awkwardly as he stood up again and the little boy reattached his grasp on his pant leg. The girl looked up at him, “My name is Hattie, this is Peter, and the one on your pant leg is Seymour.” “Where are your parents?” Nolan asked looking around for a responsible adult. “We don’t have any,” said the older boy, “We have Sister Wells, she takes care of us at the orphanage down the street.” Nolan’s heart sank at this, “Well, I’m sure you’ll find some—“ “Children? Children?” “It’s Sister Wells,” whispered Hattie. “Children? Ah there you are,” she said smiling through her clear exhaustion, which defined the wrinkles on her face even more. “Who did we find here?” she asked smiling uncertainly at Nolan. “This is um…” Hattie looked up at Nolan. “Nolan,” he stuck out his hand for Sister Wells to shake. “He was a soldier!” said Peter “Ah,” said Sister Wells wisely, “seems to me you’ve met a real life hero”. Nolan watched Peter’s eyes turn to a glimmer, “Wow” he said a bit breathlessly, “a real life hero.” Nolan blushed a bit. “Oh, naw, not really. Not compared to all these men,” he said gesturing at the shiny black wall. Sister Wells nodded to Nolan curtly before rounding up the children using her arms to direct them. Nolan was reminded of a dog rounding sheep. Nolan looked down and noticed the youngest, Seymour, had tightened his grip on his pant leg. 148
“Now come on Seymour, it’s time to go,” but the boy didn’t move. Sister Wells looked up at Nolan a bit of confusion on her face, “I...I’m sorry, sir, I’ve never seen him taking a liking to anyone before…well, besides his siblings” she said with a slight head nod towards the other two children who were now watching the three. Nolan looked down at the boy and smiled, “Not to worry.” “Beg my pardon for asking” started Sister Wells rather sheepishly, “…but do you have any children? What I mean to say is you’re just so good with them.” “Not yet,” said Nolan as he felt a lump rise in his throat, “but I hope to…God willing.” Sister Wells nodded her head slowly. “Yes…God willing,” she looked at young Seymour again, “here is our phone number at the orphanage,” she said handing him a card from inside her habit. “God works in mysterious ways,” she said giving Nolan a left-eye wink. A ghost like chill came across Nolan as he watched Sister Wells take little Seymour by the hand and lead him away. Nolan watched his pant leg stretch as the young boy reluctantly let go and left with his brother, sister and the nun. Nolan pocketed the little business card smiling to himself. He meandered over to a bench near by the wall and halfheartedly listened to an older vet tell about his time in the war to another man equal in age. “They, the Viet Cong I mean, were great multi-taskers if nothing else. They were farmers by day and fighters by night. And you know something, the first few men in ‘Nam, they were told not to fight, we’d all overheard phone calls of information the Lieutenants were to tell their troops.” “Now boys, our job is not to engage the enemy,” Moran paced back and forth in the soft powdery dirt that left detailed footprints. “Our job,” he said raising his voice and his pointer finger in the air, “is to advise these friends of ours, the South Vietnamese and they, and I said they will engage the enemy.” Nolan remembered this memory well and replayed it frequently while hiding behind plants and logs from on coming gunfire. No longer was this a 149
Anthology 2015 game. No amount of training could prepare someone for battle like this, Nolan was certain. Bodies littered the forest floor, sprawled out and abandoned. Nolan heaved heavily behind a tree stump, his gun loaded and his heart pounding in his head. Nolan closed his eyes tightly, his breaths still jagged. “I’m… I’m at the park,” he said to himself, “I’m at the park and I’m playing hide and seek with my kids.” He willed the blasting sounds of gunshots away, “I am hiding behind the tree in the park on a warm summer day, the sun is shining and it’s the Fourth of July.” Nolan grasped his gun tightly, his eyes still shut. “I told my kids that if they find me I’ll buy them fireworks to play with...I do not want to be found.” By this time, Nolan’s breathing became steady though his eyes remained shut. “Hey there little Lanny.” Nolan looked up to see Roger taking a short break behind the same log, sweat trickled down his face. “Hey sexy beasts” said Gerald plopping down on the other side of Nolan, the two boys reached over him sliding their hands together and ending with a finger snap and a check-you-out kind of finger point. “Having fun?” asked Rodger. “The most fun” replied Gerald with a smirk. “Did you see,? I got three of them.” “Better them than us.” “You better believe it.” “Have you seen Oliver?” “Yeah, kid’s like a bat outta hell. He’ll win this by himself,” “Fuck,” said Gerald with a cheerful sigh, “I bet that he even pisses red, white and blue.” “Does he?” asked Rodger elbowing Nolan slightly. “I don’t monitor my brother’s piss, thank you very mu...“ A stream of light shot past the log, the boys slid quickly lower to the ground. “Get ready to run,” whispered Rodger, “Get it Smalls, when I say run, you run. I’ll cover you both. Stay low and be quick.” 150
Another string of bright flashes and loud cracks of bullet cases exploding. Nolan remained still, barely breathing until Rodger gave the word. BANG BANG...BANG. “Run!” Without even a moment of second guessing, Nolan ran towards the shelter of the bushes only a little ways ahead, he could hear the pattering footsteps following him and found some small comfort in knowing he wasn’t alone. “Run low,” yelled Gerald and Nolan obeyed just in time as shots flew inches above his head. The bushes offered a small promise of safety as Nolan and Gerald dove low into the brush that covered the forest-like floor. Neither of the boys spoke as the silence was filled with their hectic breathing. “L...look” said Gerald moments later tapping Nolan on the shoulder and pointing through the branches in one fluid movement. Nolan followed Gerald’s hand to see Oliver running towards the haven of the bushes. “Hey,” he said breathlessly stooping down for what seemed like a well-deserved break. “How’s it been, Captain USA?” asked Gerald with a smile, though Nolan noticed that it looked forced and his eyes looked tired. Oliver didn’t respond, his face looked like stone as it had on the helicopter carrier. Nolan looked intensely at a leaf on the ground as he spoke, “Did you see Rodger?” He didn’t want to look up; he couldn’t face the look on Oliver’s face when he told them he saw Rodger’s lifeless body. “Yeah,” said Oliver, “he’s back there, told me where you guys were.” Nolan noticed Gerald’s eyes slightly brighten. “Gunfire is getting heavier out there,” Oliver’s voice was smooth and even, “Our boys seem to be running out of ammo.” Nolan looked away feeling a bit of guilt noting that he had taken five shots tops. “What will we do?” asked Gerald seriously. “We’ll figure it out, we will,” said Oliver half smiling in a less 151
Anthology 2015 than reassuring way. Nolan thought a second. “What if..“ “Rodger!” Gerald cheered as in the distance Rodger was sprinting towards them. As he got closer he cockily raised his arms in the air as if finishing first in a race. The gun strapped behind him bounced off his back as he bounded forward. He was so close Nolan could see the smile on his face and the look of great accomplishment he wore so well. A sudden stream of bright flashes and bullets cracking filled the air. The boys got down quickly. Even after the gunfire stopped no one dared to sit up, no one looked around, terrified to find the answer to the question they were all thinking. And so they sat, hoping that good news would come face them, but none came. Rodger did not join them. Oliver was the first to sit up and look at the open area; Nolan watched his face closely. The stone face of Oliver’s had softened, his forehead wrinkled and his eyes glossed over, “Oh Rodger…” he said softly. Gerald put his head in his hands as they rested against his propped up knees. “No,” said Gerald softly. “No, it can’t be…No, he’s just pretending,” Gerald sat up to look over at the lifeless body in the field. “Stop pretending!” Gerald shouted sobbing back tears. “Dammit, Rodger.” He stood up and started towards Rodger’s body. “Wait!” Neither Nolan nor Oliver had spoken, “Wait, it’s a trap. Leave him, it’s too dangerous.” Gerald ignored the voice. “Stop him! For God’s sake, stop him!” And Oliver listened, tackling Gerald to the ground, just in time for another round of shots to be fired. Despite the loud cracking of bullet cases exploding, Gerald fought against Oliver. “He’s my friend. He’s my friend...Rodger…no…my friend.” Nolan watched as Oliver struggled against Gerald. “Gerald…GERALD, listen you son of a...Gerald.” Oliver grasped his hands around Gerald’s throat to demand attention, “I am your friend, and because I’m your friend I’m not going to let you die like this.” Gerald stopped fighting Oliver as another bunch of shots were taken. “Go, crawl back to the others,” Oliver said, taking his 152
gun off his back and blindly aiming the gun off into the distance. “I SAID GO!” shouted Oliver and Gerald crawled on the ground as low as possible back to the bushes. A short while later, Oliver joined them again, his breaths jagged. “You okay?” he asked Gerald clutching at his side. “Yeah,” grunted Gerald, “Thanks.” “He’s hurt,” the voice that had told Gerald not to go was back and this time it had a body. A young man tanned with dirt, jetblack hair and a crooked nose. Nolan was surprised to see another soldier in these bushes but had his focus strictly on the grieving Gerald next to him. “You’re hurt,” he spoke again, kneeling beside Oliver, “let me see.” “No,” protested Oliver with a sharp inhale, “No, I’m fine…It’s getting dark and I don’t think they’re coming back for us any time soon…we need shelter, we need a safe place we...“ “This is as safe a place as any, especially deeper in the bushes back there,” said the man with a head nod behind him. “You need to rest and let me take a look at that.” Nolan’s heart sank as he finally comprehended the conversation and took his eyes off the sulking Gerald next to him, “Oliver, Oliv—are you okay?” Oliver smiled meekly. “Nothing your big brother can’t handle.” “Well,” said the new soldier, “it doesn’t look too good. We’ll wrap you up for now.” He pulled out a roll of gauze from his backpack as Nolan helped his brother undress his shirt. “Thanks Doc,” smirked Oliver as the man wrapped gauze around his torso. “The name is Angelo.” “Hm…Angelo.” Oliver pondered a second, “I like Doc better.” “Doc it is then,” said the man smiling back at Oliver kindly. That night gunshots lessened and eventually became sparse. Both Doc and Nolan kept guard while it was “Doctor’s orders” for Oliver and Gerald to rest and sleep. The more they talked, the more Nolan started to like Doc. He was a dad of two and a 153
Anthology 2015 husband of one, and a painter. They talked about their homes, family and dreams of what they would do when they were back in the States. “I don’t have a wife or nothing,” explained Nolan, “but I have my gal, Lori. When I get back home I will make her my wife.” Nolan looked up at the night sky through the thick cover of trees. “She keeps saying how she wants a family,” he chuckled. “I didn’t think I was ready to be a dad…but being here...it just reminded me just how important having a family with her would be.” “Hear, hear,” croaked Oliver from a couple of feet away. “You, sir, are supposed to be resting.” “And you, Doc, need to not be a kill joy.” “Fair enough,” Doc smiled. “You know what I would do back home? I’d get me a great big ice cream sundae with one scoop chocolate, one vanilla, and one strawberry with a bunch of whipped cream and one cherry for each scoop.” “That’s a good goal,” smirked Nolan “Little brother, come sit here,” he patted the space of dirt next to him. Nolan sat down. “I was wrong,” he said. “What?” “About your stories. They aren’t stupid, they’re amazing and a great escape.” “Oh…Oliver, you don’t have to… “No, I’m serious. Tell me one now…a happy one.” “Oliver, I don’t know what to say.” “Please,” pleaded Oliver, “I need this.” “Alright, about what?” “I don’t know, you’re the storyteller.” “I can’t think.” “Come on,” “Okay…okay. There once was a…a man who was having a hard time in life.” “A happy story.” 154
“I won’t say anymore if you don’t listen.” “Okay, I’ll shut up.” Nolan continued telling the story of this man trying to survive in a life that was less than easy. “But despite all the despair, he could always find happiness in these children he had found and learned to love.” “How many?” “Uhmmm…three of them.” “All boys?” “Two are, the other is a girl.” “What are they like?” “Well…you see…these are special children. Children of truth….The oldest, he is brutal truth, anything that has to be said flows freely with him even on difficult subjects to handle. And the girl…she’s the middle child and she represents hopeful truth. She’s a day dreamer and in these day dreams she can see the hopeful things that could possibly happen.” “And the youngest?” “Well, he’s special. He is skeptical about everything and everyone, a very curious soul, but he represents the purest truth. Just one look into his soft blue eyes can make even the most evil of people question themselves. He connects with those with only the truest intentions which means he is pretty quiet the majority of the time living in this world.” Oliver laughed softly. “So what happens to these kids?” “The man knows just how special these children are…and he takes them in, as he was a lonely man with not a family to speak of. Soon the kids and the man become their own small family and they spend their springs picnicking in the park, and winters building snowmen…and just being honestly happy.” “You’d be a great dad with these stories” “Nah, shut up.” “Say what you will, little brother, but I’m right,” said Oliver with a left-eye wink, “But I need rest now.” 155
Anthology 2015 “Yes, you do,” shouted Doc. “Night Doc,” Oliver yelled back. “Goodnight little brother, I love you.” The cool morning air woke Nolan up to a bright sunrise of vivid pinks, oranges and yellow. Nolan sat up and stretched looking over at Doc whose face was filled with sorrow. He looked over at Oliver, whose face was now covered with Doc’s jacket. “The helicopters are coming,” his voice sounding apologetic. Hot tears ran down his face as he sobbed into his hands. Doc sat next to him and placed his arm around Nolan’s shoulders. Nolan felt another body on the other side of him and looked up to see Gerald staring hard at the ground, tears falling down his cheeks. The helicopters could be heard in the distance. Doc had argued with the other soldiers to let the three of them carry both the bodies of Rodger and Oliver on board. They were given stretchers and tarps to cover the bodies, Nolan was sure this was one of the hardest tasks he’d ever have to endure in life. The wind from the spinning blades of the helicopter felt uncomfortably cool against Nolan’s sweat. The tarp over Oliver’s body flapped around, reminding Nolan of the majestic American Flag waving in the wind. Nolan smiled bitterly as the American Flag that Oliver was so eager to fight for came in the essence of a tarp. A tarp now covering his lifeless cadaver. It was in this moment when Nolan accepted his brother’s death. He was gone, but he went as an American Hero. Oliver was the bravest man he had ever known. Nolan looked up into the sky to see a slight breeze spread the hoisted flag in the air, it waved majestically against the layers of purple, pink, and yellow of a Washington DC sunset. He was reminded of the plain black tarp that unfortunate day he said goodbye to his brother. Nolan stood up to take one last look at the names of Rodger and Oliver when a gust of wind blew the business card the nun had given him, out of his pocket. Without knowing quite why, Nolan couldn’t fight the need to follow it. The wind swirled it around with a collection of crisp brown leaves and twigs. 156
Nolan watched the card soar slightly in the air before tumbling down again and hitting against the shiny black wall. While the wind was at bay, Nolan bent down to pick the card up noticing the familiar crack in the sidewalk. He stood up to see Oliver’s name slightly to the right of him. “Okay…okay I get it….I think.” said Nolan to the wall. He looked at his reflection and noticed a slight shadow of his left eye making it seem his reflection was giving him a left-eye wink.
Shelby Escott Today is the day. I’m not going back this time. I was prepared; my things were packed, because I knew that this day was coming. The summer sun is just beginning to touch the horizon, but it isn’t visible behind the cloud cover. It’s been a wet and dreary summer, and today is no exception. The first raindrops are starting to fall, but I don’t care, because today is the day. My face set in determination, I keep my eyes cast down to the sidewalk, watching my feet take me farther and farther from home, one step at a time. Now the rain is really coming down, so I pull up my hood, but it’s really no help. Am I really going to go through with it this time? I’ve threatened before, heck I’ve even left before, but I’ve always gone back to him. He who is probably still passed out drunk on the couch where I left him. He tried to hide it from me, he always tries to hide it, but I could smell it on him. He said he was sorry, but he always says that. You can only hear the word so many times. They’ve stopped working on me, just like they stopped working on mom. Mom. I thought I had pushed all recollection of her to the farthest recesses of my mind, so why do I think of her now? Must be because I’m doing the same thing she did all those years ago. I’m leaving, and I’m not coming back. Unlike her, I’m not abandoning an only child or leaving a broken family in my wake. That child was left to pick up the shattered pieces of what remained of her family and carry on what no one else would. I remember the day clearly, every detail. It wasn’t a day like this at all; it was sunny, with bright summer colors, and a warm breeze to caress your skin. Everything was sunshine and beauty. Everything but my house. There, a shadow had crept into my life, and my little world was crumbling. They had been yelling again, but this wasn’t like the other times, they didn’t try to hide it from me. I don’t remember what was said, but I had 159
Anthology 2015 the strong impression that it was about me. Mom pointed at me and said something about a mistake. He held my hand then, but I continued to look at her. I had always felt somewhat detached from her, but she pretended not to notice the gap between us. Now she was throwing it in my face. My dad pleaded with her to stay with us, but nothing he said would stop her. I had never heard a door slam so loudly. All he could do was stare at that closed door and hold my small hand in his. I wrenched my hand from his and threw open the door and ran after her. Looking around, I saw her car already down the street, and ran after it. My bare feet pounded down the sidewalk, yellow hair and summer dress flying out behind me. I screamed for her to come back till tears ran down my cheeks. It didn’t matter that our relationship had been strained, she was my mom, and I needed her. Even when I couldn’t see her anymore I kept running. My soaking sneakers pounding through puddles, heart racing, and gasping for breath I run. I run from the haunted memories, from my past. My hood has flown off my head and my wet hair is streaming into my face, but I don’t care, I just run. I run until my lungs feel like they’re going to explode from my chest, and still I run. I run until the memory fades, then I stop. Doubled over, hands on my knees, I stand in the rain trying to catch my breath. I feel hot tears mixing with the cold raindrops spilling down my face. Using my drenched sleeve to wipe my face, I regain composure, straighten my back and move on. I’m better, stronger than this. I’ve had to be, for both of us. That beautiful summer day had ended in such a disaster. I had to go home eventually and face life without a mother. My sore feet and wobbly legs carried me back home at a much slower pace than when I had left. Wiping the mixed tears and snot from my face and nose, I pushed open the front door and found him crying. There he was sitting on the floor with his face in his hands, shaking with sobs. I had never seen him cry before, didn’t even know it was possible. But it was, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Tentatively, 160
I took a few steps towards him. He didn’t stop, didn’t even look up at me. I got closer to him and touched his shoulder, causing him to stir. Then we just sat there looking at each other. Neither cried, neither spoke, just stared. After a while, I made the first move. This time it was me who reached for his hand, and held it in my small one. And that’s how it’s been ever since. My empty hands clench at my sides as I continue slogging along. I don’t need anyone holding my hand anymore, I can take care of myself now. I can get myself to school, make my own food, support myself with my own job, and I can make something of myself. But not here. Here I barely get by with him. I’m the one with a steady job, the one who’s always sober, and the one who is strong for the both of us. I don’t need anyone to look after me, because ever since that day, I’ve been looking out for myself just fine without any outside help. He tried caring for me in the beginning, getting us up and dressed, feeding us, attempting to restore a semblance of normalcy. But within a year, he’d started the drinking, and I grew up early to take care of myself since no one else would. That’s when I stopped needing him. It just took me this long to realize it. But the day that started all the heartache, I still needed him, and he had been there. Not anymore. Not yesterday. And, certainly not today. On that day, when I still needed him, after our long cry on the floor, we took our first steps on our long road to recovery. When night began its approach, and the sun finally set on that unhappy day, we went to my now single parent’s bed and slept together. I guess he just wanted to bring me comfort on such a traumatic night. He held me all night and into the next morning. When I woke up, I found myself still in that festive summer dress, now dull and wrinkled, from that awful day before, and remembered everything. The yelling, the running, the crying, and the gaping hole that had formed in my now broken family. But I also found him, with his arms still around my small frame. It brought small comfort to a girl who had just lost her mother. After what seemed 161
Anthology 2015 like an eternity, I woke him up because I was tired of just lying there awake all by myself. When he looked into my face and saw the evident pain there from the day before, I could see the recollection in his eyes too. But somehow, he managed a smile for me. A sad, but genuine smile. That first day after what happened was a hard one, but we made it through together. But as the days went on and on, it was me who was pulling us both through. And I haven’t seen him smile like that ever since. The small smile that has crept onto my own face, just as it always does when I recall the last time I saw his, has fallen back into a frown. If I could just see him like that again, I could maybe bring back that tiny flame of hope I used to have for him. But that flame has died down to nothing but embers, and would be near impossible to bring back to life. I’d never see him smile like that again, because today is the day. The day I leave and don’t come back. But those words taste bitterer than they were before. Finally through the rain and haze I see the bus stop that will take me away from this place. My pace quickens, causing my soaked sneakers to squish with every step. Sitting myself down, my rather grungy jeans get even wetter from the watery bench. Pulling my pack into my soggy lap, I search its contents to make sure I haven’t left anything behind. A few changes of clothes, a couple meals in sandwich bags, a map, my favorite book, a childhood toy, and a roll of cash amounting to $650. Enough to get me by until I get to where I’m going. Zipping the bag back up, I look out into the rain. Everything around me looks so familiar. This was my home, and I’m leaving it. Looking down, I see my knee bouncing with nervous energy, and cold stiff hands clasped on top of my backpack. Looking up and down the street in anticipation for the bus, it dawns on me that I’m going down the same street and the same direction my mom went all those years ago. And, on the same summer day. I can almost see the ghost of my young self running past me and screaming for her mother to come back. Then walking dejectedly back to a house with a broken father on the floor. My heart 162
gets heavy when I think about my dad, and how there won’t be anyone there to hold his hand this time. No one for him to hold through the lonely night. Or for him to smile at the morning after. Today for the first time, I think about how much he needed someone then. Needed me. I no longer need taking care of, but what about him? All alone, no job, no family. No he’s not perfect, but no matter how hard I try to be, neither am I. Lowering my head, I regard my things, all packed and ready to go. I close my eyes and think hard on what I’m doing. The constant rain drowns out everything but the turmoil in my mind. This was going to be the day I made something of myself, but without me, my dad would be reduced to nothing. I’d be leaving this life behind me, but he would have to live the rest of it out on his own. If I leave, he’ll never be able to manage another smile again. That smile that I’ve missed so much. Standing, I pull my backpack back onto my shoulders. The bus is here...And then it’s gone. Walking back down the street, I notice that the rain is letting up. Once again, I’m going back to him, but I don’t regret it so much this time. From now on, I’ll be there when he needs me, and I’ll try my hardest to coax that smile out of him. I can make something of myself later, because right now I’m still needed. I look back over my shoulder and watch the bus recede down the street. Maybe someday I’ll really leave here, but not today.
Up the Hill Dylan Taylor
The sun was shining on the day we walked up the hill. I felt happy—happier than I had felt in a while. I looked over at the woman who walked beside me. It was strange to think how much things could change in so short a time, how emotions that seemed so concrete could shift so suddenly and irrevocably. It was almost impossible to imagine how I had felt back when I had first started seeing her. Did I still love her? Did I truly love her in the deepest sense of the word? I couldn’t comprehend whether I did or not— my emotions were too strange, ambiguous, elusive—and I didn’t want to confront them. But it was such a nice day today. Looking at her as she walked beside me, I felt a rising sense of simple, yet magnificent, peace— that transcendent, aesthetic feeling beyond logic—a sort of narcotic idleness, like that intense feeling of happiness and admiring pleasure that often comes while viewing the indescribable beauty of nature on a warm summer day. She really was beautiful, though. Beautiful in her own unique way. She had a look about her that no other woman could ever have—that look that made her, if even in the smallest of ways, the only person in the world with her specific face—and that gave her a sort of unparalleled magnificence in my mind. It was this look that allowed her to, at times, seem the most attractive woman in the world. She looked ahead as we walked up the hill. The large wooden bucket dangled at her side with a sort of eloquent ease. It was a graceful movement, and it seemed to almost blend in with the tranquil scenery surrounding us. I turned from her and lifted my gaze up the pathless grassy hillside. The sudden sound of her voice took me out of my reflecting mind. “Will we be boiling any of the vegetables today?” I replied before really thinking about the question. “I don’t 164
know.” “Well did you want to have the rest of the potatoes, or just have some of the spinach?” “I don’t care. Whatever you feel like.” “I don’t know if I feel like doing much cooking tonight. And if we have potatoes, we’ll need to bring extra water.” “Well that doesn’t make a difference anyway. I’m the one that’ll be carrying it.” “Not by yourself. You can’t carry the whole thing down this hill by yourself—you’ll hurt your back.” “I’ve carried it down by myself plenty of times. It’s not that heavy. I’m not some clumsy fool.” “You don’t need to be a clumsy fool to throw out your back walking down a hill with a giant bucket of water.” “It’s not a giant bucket of water, it’s a medium-sized bucket of water.” “I wouldn’t call it medium-sized.” “That’s because you’re smaller than me. To me it’s medium sized.” “I still don’t want you carrying it by yourself.” “I’ll be fine.” “I’m going to help you.” I looked forward without answering. There was no point in continuing this. I knew she would keep insisting, but once I got the water, I would set off down the hill ahead of her, and she wouldn’t be able to stop me. It was always such a burden having her try to help me when I didn’t need it, and it wasted more time than if I simply carried it myself. After a few moments of silence, we came to the arching crest of the hill, stepping towards the old well that stood as a sort of decrepit reminder of the region’s long history. “Give me the bucket,” I said, turning and stretching my hand out. “No, I’ll do it.” “You can’t do it. You’re not strong enough.” 165
Anthology 2015 “I’m just as strong as you.” “You’re not half as strong as me.” “Maybe even stronger. You don’t exercise like you used to.” “Your middle is hardly thicker than my arms. You can’t fill the bucket yourself.” “My arms aren’t much smaller than yours.” I gave an annoyed, ridiculing laugh. “It’s true.” “Give me the bucket.” “No.” I gave a sudden leap sideways and wrenched it from her hands before she had the chance to grip it tight enough to resist. “I’m still going to help you carry the bucket down.” “No you’re not.” I attached the rope from the well to the handle of the bucket. After filling it, I hoisted it up and took it in my hands. I moved fast to avoid being helped, when suddenly, I felt my feet give way beneath me. The next thing that happened was a blur. I was stumbling downwards, through harsh grasses, bits of twigs and bark, and dirt. After what could have been moments—or perhaps even hours—I noticed that I was lying sprawled out, barely conscious, at the bottom of the hill. “Jack!” Jill cried down to me, and in her haste to come running, lost her footing and quickly came tumbling after.
Cottonwood Kayla Perez
Tapestry Susan Reid
I see my life as a tapestry; a weaving that started with the first woof and warp the day I began life. As the years go by and the fabric grows longer and more complex I like to look back and marvel at the designs my experiences have created for me. The smooth threads are woven with the harsh, dark threads. There are threads with sparkle and threads almost too invisible to see. There are knots and snarls followed by rows of perfection. Some of the fibers I choose and some are given to me. The threads come together; a representation of my life. The only sound in the darkened room was that of a soft whish of the oxygen machine and the occasional beeps coming from various monitors around the bed. The air was too warm and slightly stale from the smell of medications and human illness. My mother looked so very small in the bed, her lips slightly parted and breath coming in ragged, irregular intervals. Tubes snaked into both arms. The green lights from the medical machines sent an unearthly glow on her unconscious face. While I knew that time on earth was finite for all of us, I was not prepared for this, today. Daddy sat in the corner with his head bowed. I couldn’t tell if he prayed or slept or maybe both. He looked me in the eye when I touched his arm. The tears formed in the corners of his eyes. We hugged with no words. Little did I know that this moment would change forever change me. I became a parent again. This time, I became a parent to my parents. Decisions for care had to be made in a timely manner. Emotions had to be put aside to provide the best for both of my parents. I did not want this job. No one told me what to do or how to do it. The next morning I arrived to find my mother weak, but surprisingly alert. “I knew you would come.” She whispered hoarsely. 168
Life does not come with an owners’ manual. Instructions are as varied as individuals. There are doctors to consult, houses to sell, hands to hold. Hours passed to days to weeks. I felt sorry for myself; I was tired. Then I saw the parallel between having my babies and my second chance at parenthood. They needed me and my strength. I had more than they. My parents have been in love for 66 years and they were afraid. I have been with them almost that long and who better to understand their needs than I. Mom and Dad have moved near us to their own much-smaller place. Mom is improving daily and looking forward to her new home. She is able to work at the house for several hours at a time and it is beginning to, again, look like the beautiful home that she has always maintained. They will never again be able to live without some help and I am close enough to assist at times. They will never be the same, just as the babies grew and changed. But, they are still Mama and Daddy and I have been given the opportunity to do what I can to make their lives as comfortable as they made mine. Mama took my hand in hers and cried. “I am so grateful that I have you to take care of us.” I hugged her back. “I am so grateful that I can.” My tapestry is in progress; maybe for a day or maybe for a decade. The threads, the knots and the snarls are all coming together giving texture and color to a life that is mine.
Pathfinder Patricia Boyle
HONORABLE MENTION PROSE THROUGH THE PLATE GLASS WINDOW of the reception room, Davyn watched the guests depart. They sailed off in hovercrafts, lifted themselves into the air under their own wing power, or simply disappeared after swallowing Relocation Capsules. Most of them were Karla’s friends, equal numbers from the technological community and the magical population. They’d gathered at the Serenity Interment Center to help Davyn commemorate his wife’s life and place her ashes in their final resting place. A number of guests remained, chatting in small clusters. Davyn suspected they were there to impress the others with their connection to Karla, the daughter of TTMI’s founder, rather than out of a desire to support him in his loss. Hough, Davyn’s closest friend, lingered after many of the others had gone. “Davyn, how’re you holding up, mate?” “Karla’s death was so sudden, I’m still getting over the shock. Who expects a heart attack at thirty-six?” “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling.” Davyn steered Hough to a quiet corner. “A mixture of feelings, really. Sorrow and loneliness are primary, of course. But in the background lurks an unexpected sense of relief. I’m hopeful about the future.” “Curious. I thought you and Karla were happy together.” “I thought so too. What I hope for, I can’t say. My life’s been defined by work and Karla’s plans for us for the past fifteen years. I haven’t given a thought to a different way of life. Some need I’ve long suppressed is worming its way to my consciousness. The awful part is, I’m excited by the prospect of discovery, when I should feel only grief.” Hough stepped up to the refreshment table. He poured two 170
whiskies and handed one to Davyn. “Don’t thrash yourself with guilt. You can’t control your feelings, only how you choose to act on them.” Embarrassed, Davyn took a long swallow of his drink. Hough did the same, then said, “Sorry. I’ve got to run, old man. Call whenever – you know I’ll be there.” Joram, Karla’s uncle, pumped a mourner’s hand. They exchanged a few words and the guest left. Joram approached Davyn, with Karla’s widowed mother Marni, at his side. The tap of Marni’s silver topped cane marked their progress. Her silk gown rustled as she walked. The sapphire color enhanced the blue of her eyes. Davyn felt a pang of loss at seeing many of Karla’s features in Marni’s face. Joram reminded Davyn of a bloodhound with his droopy jowls and chocolate brown eyes. In spite of his saggy demeanor, he belonged to one of the most powerful dynasties in the country. Joram rested his hand on Davyn’s shoulder. “Davyn, so sad, so sad, to lose our Karla. You’ll be coming to live with Marni now, won’t you?” Davyn clenched his fists without realizing it. “I appreciate Marni’s offer of a place on the family estate. I must think it over.” Marni linked her arm in Davyn’s. “As you know dear, the house you and Karla live in – ” She stopped, took a breath then began again. “Remember, your house is owned by TTMI. With the recession, we must sell some assets. I’m afraid we no longer have the luxury of providing employee housing. With Karla and her father both gone, it would comfort me to have you near. Although it was two years ago, Randall’s death feels like it happened only last month.” The curious spark of hope Davyn had felt earlier extinguished itself. After many years with the company, Davyn knew he was no match for the scheming of the family and their associates, the supercilious group that had come to mourn Karla. Fifteen years ago, he’d been honored when Karla’s father, 171
Anthology 2015 Randall, offered him a position in Twainson TechniMagi Industries, better known as TTMI. After three years of splitting his time between the Magical and Finance Divisions, Davyn had been assigned to work solely in Finance. He missed the excitement of magical discovery he’d known in his early days with the company. He gazed at his mother-in-law, then inclined his head. “I’m sorry, Marni. I forget how difficult this must be for you. Of course I’ll move onto the estate. Whatever I can do to help.” He excused himself. Frustrated, he walked to a side corridor. In addition to quiet gardens and meditation rooms, The Serenity Interment Center displayed paintings of local artists to soothe grieving families and to give new artists exposure for their work. An exhibit was being installed in the wing where he’d chosen to walk. A short, dark dwarf spoke with a human woman who looked about Davyn’s age. Her coal black hair was set off by a dress the color of pine needles that hung in soft folds to her knees. Her feet were clad in tan boots. Davyn watched her inspect a row of large paintings that leaned against the wall, taking in the sway of her dress as she moved. She indicated to the dwarf where she wanted the paintings hung. Deep in conversation, the pair didn’t notice their observer. While the two worked, Davyn studied the paintings. They depicted scenes of dense forests, meadows crossed by wide rivers, and snow covered mountains. He felt as though he’d been hit by a blast of fresh air; every painting invited him to walk into the scene. He shifted his gaze from the paintings to the artist, unwilling to look away from either one. A door at the end of the hall swung open. A centaur entered, carrying several paintings. The dwarf and artist met the centaur, who placed the new paintings near the others. The centaur left by the same door he’d entered, as the artist and dwarf turned in Davyn’s direction. Having no time to slip away, he introduced himself. “Hello, I’m Davyn Morgan. I’m here for my wife’s funeral.” “I’m sorry for your loss,” the woman answered. “My name’s 172
Melanie Swan. This is Cynbel.” She spoke softly. “I’m widowed too.” As she held out her hand, the musky scent of her perfume wafted toward Davyn. “My condolences for your loss,” Davyn said as he clasped her hand, holding on a few seconds longer than was customary. When he released her, he swept his arm to the side, taking in the row of framed pictures. “Your paintings are lovely. They have an amazing attraction. It makes one want to step right into them.” Cynbel walked to the far end of the corridor, giving them privacy. Melanie took a step closer to Davyn, her black hair gleaming in the corridor’s bright light. “Thank you. It’s a bit of magic. I can’t resist adding that extra touch. I’m glad it pleases you.” “That it does,” Davyn said, as he looked at the nearest picture. The forest path drew his eye and held it. Melanie considered the painting. “They’re all places I’ve been. When I need to escape, I step into one of them and walk around, remembering what it’s like there. Don’t tell others, though. It’s a secret I only share with a few magical folk. I can see you have The Touch.” She smiled at Davyn, a mischievous look in her hazel eyes. “My business is expanding to the point I need a financial advisor. I could also use ideas on incorporating magic into my paintings.” She reached into a small black purse and pulled out a cream-colored business card trimmed in gold and emerald green. “Here’s my card.” Her slender hand slipped it into the breast pocket of Davyn’s suit jacket. Blushing, Davyn patted the pocket. “I’ll keep it in mind. How’d you know my line of work?” “It’s not magic. Cynbel works for Serenity. He told me whose service was being held today. Your title was listed on the Center’s papers. If you’re interested in a job switch, I really could use the help.” “I’ll consider it. I must return to my guests.” Davyn walked slowly back to the reception room, feeling dazed and slightly dis173
Anthology 2015 loyal to his late wife. He rejoined Marni and Joram. “Davyn,” Marni said. “You’ve done a fine job in Finance, yet I believe Randall did the company a disservice when he moved you out of Magical Development. I suspect the company would have rocked the market with a number of innovations if you’d stayed there. Randall wouldn’t listen to me. And Karla – ” Her voice trailed off, leaving the thought unspoken. She fingered the diamond necklace that glittered against her gown, staring into the distance for a long moment. Turning back to Davyn, she spoke briskly. “I want to make you head of Magical Development. You’ll have a corner office on the twenty-eighth floor. In a few years you’ll be a vice-president. I need your ideas on melding magic with technology so we can push TTMI further ahead of our competitors. I want to come out of this recession on top.” “That’s generous, Marni. I hope I can meet your expectations.” She patted his arm. “You’ll do just fine.” A movement caught Davyn’s eye. He saw a swish of green dress and a flash of tan boot as Melanie and Cynbel hung a painting in the side corridor. Flushing, he said, “If I’m moving onto the estate, I’d better start packing.” SIX MONTHS AFTER KARLA DIED, Davyn sat at his desk, his attention fixed on a small vial of pills. The label read: “Projection Pills: Confidential.” He tipped one of the blue discs onto his palm, releasing the memories. Davyn had created the instant translocation pills one year before a competitor introduced Relocation Capsules to the public. There was a pent-up demand for a quick means of travel; TTMI should have cornered the market. But they’d never entered the race. At the time he developed the Projection Pills, Davyn’s office was adjacent to his basement laboratory in the gleaming skyscraper that housed TTMI headquarters. One small window broke the expanse of concrete in Davyn’s office. Through it he glimpsed a parade of fancy shoes and polished hooves, as the city’s workforce marched downtown, trampling on the occasional weeds that had 174
the pluck to sprout in the sidewalk cracks. As he watched the crowd crush the plants, Davyn thought, I feel as overlooked as those tiny, yellow flowers that centaur just squashed. Randall’s ignored me since he hired me on. If Karla promotes these pills to her dad, he might take notice of me. Karla’s office was on the fifteenth floor. It boasted a wall of glass and a view of the river that flowed through the heart of the city. Karla and Davyn had been married for three years. They’d met in college. Karla majored in marketing, but couldn’t master mathematics. A natural with numbers, Davyn tutored her all semester. They were engaged by the end of the year. She was strong-willed and ambitious, but when they were at parties, she laughed appreciatively at Davyn’s magic tricks and introduced him to her friends. In his early years with TTMI, Davyn had high hopes of rising through the ranks. It wasn’t long before he learned he’d placed too much importance on Karla’s acknowledgement of his parlor tricks, and not enough on her strong will and ambition. On that fateful day so long ago, he’d swallowed one of the Projection Pills, transporting himself from his laboratory to a spot in front of Karla’s desk. One feature of the pills he was particularly pleased about was the magical spell that protected the user from materializing in the middle of an object, such a table or cabinet. He grinned, thinking Karla would be happy at his unexpected arrival. Karla looked up from the report she was writing, and glared at him. “You startled me. How’d you pop up out of nowhere?” “I’ve developed a pill to transport someone instantly to any spot they choose to go. TTMI’s stock will max out with these beauties. Take one. We’ll show your father how they work.” He held the vial of pills out to her. Karla looked at the offering with disdain. “I need to finish this report. Leave the pills. I’ll give them to Dad later.” Davyn cocked his head. “Are you still angry we didn’t go to Mark’s ski party? They’re a bunch of snobs. They don’t talk to me unless it’s to fetch their goggles or drinks. 175
Anthology 2015 She put down the report. “You have only contempt for my friends. You don’t try to fit in. Leave what you have for Dad. I’ll see you at home tonight.” Davyn put the vial and a hand-written page with the chemical formulas and magical spells for the pills on Karla’s desk, then returned to the basement. That evening, when he asked Karla about her father’s reaction, she shrugged. “He appreciates your creativity. However, he’s not ready to move on a new product. He’ll let you know when the time’s right.” Davyn didn’t hear from Randall Duncan until their competitor released Relocation Capsules. Randall chewed Davyn out for not developing the product first. Surprised, Davyn mentioned the Projection Pills. Randall said he’d never heard of them. After some discussion, Randall admitted he’d forgotten Karla’s visit. Davyn thought it more likely blood had won out, that Randall was covering for Karla’s failure to deliver the pills. Davyn left the boss’s office feeling lucky he wasn’t fired, merely transferred to the Finance Division full time, for “failing to meet the needs of the magical market.” Randall had gone on to say, “It’s not my fault or Karla’s that we didn’t develop your pills. If you can’t promote your own products, you can move to Finance and tally the achievements of others.” Davyn never mentioned the interview to Karla, but from then on he readily agreed to all the social engagements she arranged. The tap of a cane brought Davyn back to the present. Karla was dead. Marni was on her way to meet with him. Davyn was curious to know what was on her mind; she hadn’t given any indication when she’d set up the meeting. He folded the wrinkled paper he’d found with the Projection Pills in Karla’s desk shortly after her death, and tucked it in his pocket. Marni was appreciative that he’d moved onto her estate. Unlike Karla, she took him into her confidence about plans for the company’s future. Davyn heard Marni’s voice, and that of another person, in the hall. Uttering an incantation, and stirring the air with his wand, 176
Davyn funneled the voices to his office. Joram spoke, sounding concerned. “Is Davyn in your pocket yet? We’ll need his support when you put him on the Board. Without his vote, we can’t get approval for the merger. If it falls through, we won’t be able to stop TTMI’s decline.” Marni answered with confidence. “Don’t worry. Davyn’s so soft it’s not even challenging. He’s as eager as a unicorn foal to please me because of all I’ve been through. He’ll not dare go against my wishes.” Clever, Davyn thought. Take away my house, then play on my sympathy to make me your puppet. You’re no better than your daughter. The tapping of Marni’s cane grew louder as the pair neared Davyn’s office. Filled with disgust for TTMI’s ruling family, Davyn swallowed the Projection Pill he held in his hand and disappeared. He reappeared next to a bench by a path that ran alongside the river. He felt sick at heart. Paying no attention to the assorted creatures that travelled the path, Davyn sat on the bench, considering Karla’s and Marni’s manipulations. He’d let himself be deceived not once, but twice. He couldn’t stomach the man he’d become at the hands of Karla and her mother. However, his options for the future were limited. If he fell out with Marni, he’d be blacklisted. He sat for a long time, thinking. Hough was the only friend he could confide in about such a critical decision. He placed the call, then cut it short before Hough could pick up. In his heart, Davyn knew he alone could set his future course. A mile downstream a bridge crossed the river. The city, and a chance for a new life, lay on the other side of that bridge. Once he made up his mind, Davyn felt relieved of a great burden. He phoned TTMI’s leading competitor. Though the afternoon was well advanced, the head of Magical Development at Starstruck said he’d be in his office for another hour. Davyn wondered if he was as ruthless as TTMI’s leaders. As sick as he was of the whole industry, he needed a salary. If he couldn’t secure a contract before Marni or Joram heard about it, he’d have no future in finance or magic. 177
Anthology 2015 Coming around the last curve before the bridge, Davyn cursed his luck. A street fair spilled out from the city’s paved roads onto the river path. Jugglers, magicians, and artists entertained thick crowds. He’d been so wrapped up in his dilemma, he’d not paid attention to the festive sounds and increased traffic along the river. It would be difficult to secure his future with so many creatures blocking his way. Irritated, he weaved his way through the throng, barely glancing at the displays. When he neared the bridge, he saw an artist’s collection and his breath caught in his throat. He remembered many of the paintings from the exhibit at the Serenity Interment Center where he’d held Karla’s memorial service. As before, the scenes called to him, evoking a sense of adventure. His heart beat faster. He found Melanie putting the final brush strokes on a portrait. “Painting portraits without the subject’s approval can result in a fine,” he said to her back. Melanie straightened, looking at the painting while she spoke. “I’m sorry Officer. I’ll contact Mr. Morgan tomorrow for his consent.” She turned and saw Davyn. Her face filled with delight. “You’re not a law officer. Davyn, do you approve of your portrait?” “I do. How’d you get the likeness so close? We met only once, and that was six months ago.” Her smile melted his despair and anxiety about the future. The flutter of hope he’d felt at Karla’s funeral returned. “I’ve got a special spell to remember what’s important to me. Have you come to accept my job offer?” Davyn bowed low and bid the corporate world a mental farewell. “I am in your service. Before we talk business, I’d like to explore the forest. That is, if you’re willing to share it with me.” He indicated the painting he’d been drawn to when he first met Melanie. She took Davyn’s hand, her movement filling the air with the musky scent of her perfume. Together they stepped into the painting and were soon out of sight around a bend in the sundappled trail.
Fulfilled Promise Antoinette Foxworthy
After endless hours of restlessness Jockeying with covers, complete Only when ebony skies yield To dawn’s early glow Does her body finally surrender Insomnia talons release her To land atop marshmallow clouds. Alarm pronounces birth of day Not for her. He slithers from sheet cocoon Careful not to disturb dreamland Tiptoeing through morning ritual, listening Rhythmic puffs from parted mouth Readies for work, Shaves by dim light, Sneaks to bedside, Gingerly leans down Targeting creamy cheek Framed in peacefulness His warm, whisper breath Proceeds feather brush of silky lips Fulfilling wedded promise Never leave without a kiss.
Journey in Tide Pool Rita Liu
A Convenient Pork Chop Hector Timourian
Mel was eating in the dining room squinting trying to follow the baseball game on the mute TV screen across in the family room. “Any more pork chops left?” “Only one. How about more mashed potatoes and gravy?” Violet, sitting with her back to the TV, got up and took his plate. She scraped the chewed-up bones from three chops, served him the last one, the rest of the mashed potatoes and covered the whole dish with gravy. Without taking his eyes off the screen, he mumbled, “My dear Violet, you are so good to me.” Violet quietly finished her salad. In addition to the TV screen, Mel could see only his full plate. He gulped his food totally unaware of Violet’s empty stare. She didn’t betray her loathsome feelings. Their eyes never met. “That was good!” Mel belched as he wiped his mouth with two paper napkins. With his eyes focused on the game, he said, “What’s for dessert?” “I’ve made a cherry pie,” said Violet as she picked up the dishes from the table and took them to the sink. “Oh, great, my favorite. Any ice-cream?” “There’s only chocolate.” “Yeah, chocolate with cherries, you know, it will be like my favorite, chocolate covered cherries.” Violet served him almost half a pie and piled several scoops of ice cream. “I’m sure you want a big piece, big boy.” “You’re so wonderful. How about more Coke? Just bring the whole bottle and more ice.” He remained seated at the dining room table. He knew from previous spats that he had to finish his food before going to the family room. He had learned sweet Violet would be fuming in anger if he spilled any food while eating on the couch. 180
Anthology 2015 As Violet cleaned the kitchen, Mel finished his pie, got up and shuffled to the living room. Holding his big belly with both hands, he plopped on the couch. He picked up the remote and turned the volume up. “Thank you, that was a wonderful dinner,” he said between burps. “Mel, it’s time to get up!” Violet screamed with a loud sharp voice, then grabbed his shoulder and shook him, “It’s morning. You’ve slept all night on the couch again. Turn the TV off. Time to get up and go to work.” The groggy Mel struggled to get up; he had to rock his body several times to push himself up from the couch. As he slowly walked to the bathroom, Violet asked, “How many eggs do you want with your pancakes?” Mel walked into the kitchen, his hair still wet after showering and shaving. Without saying a word, he dropped his body on the dining room chair. “Just sit down slowly, you are going to break another chair!” But Mel didn’t respond, he just started eating. In no time, he had finished the five pancakes, four eggs, and six sausages on his plate. A big burp was the only thanks Violet got. A honking horn broadcasted the arrival of Mel’s ride. He had difficulty putting on his coat. Violet helped him, and asked, “Are you sure that you don’t need to get a larger size?” Mel just shrugged his shoulders. She walked out with him, and waved good-bye as Mel got into Richard’s pickup truck. Only Richard waved back. Violet went back into the house. Now that Mel was gone, the house and time belonged to her. She enjoyed the rest of her breakfast in peaceful solitude. She took time to clean up the kitchen. Looking forward to a restful day, she stretched on the couch and started to read the romance novel she had almost finished the night before. With a sense of freedom, she thought, the home is all mine. Mel will never understand how I can read instead of watching TV. 182
Two hours later, the phone rang interrupting her tranquil morning. Annoyed at this disruption, she picked up the phone, and in an upset high-pitched voice, answered, “Hello!” “I am trying to reach Mrs. Jamison?” “Yes, I’m Violet Jamison.” “I’m calling from Central Hospital. Your husband has been hospitalized. He was brought here to the ER.” “What happened? How is he?” “It appears he had a stroke. He’s being treated in the emergency room. We need you here. Do you have a way to get here?” “Yes, I have my car. Is this the hospital on Park Lane Ave? “Yes, and when you get here, ask for me, I am Nurse Elsie. See you soon!” Violet was surprised by how calm she was. She was slow in getting dressed and deciding what to wear. She considered taking a shower, but then thought, I should really get there soon. When she arrived at the hospital, Richard was waiting in the lobby. “Oh, Violet, it was terrible. Mel collapsed in the warehouse while he was loading a truck. We called 911 immediately.” Nurse Elsie came out and cupped Violet’s hand. “I am sorry, Mrs. Jamison, your husband had a severe stroke. The doctors are doing everything possible. “How is he? Can I see him?” “The doctor will be out and meet with you soon. It was good that Mr. Richard came with him in the ambulance. He must be your husband’s best friend.” She noticed Richard with his head down and looking at the floor. “Thank you Miss Elsie. I guess; we’ll just have to wait.” “Make yourself at home, it’ll not be too long.” Violet hadn’t been in the hospital before. The pale green walls, shiny clean patterned-tile floor, and sterile medicated smell started to give her a headache. “Can I get you some coffee?” “No, thank you. Just stay with me. Richard, you’re such a 183
Anthology 2015 jewel.” Violet and Richard sat next to each without saying a word; their eyes remained focused on the white and green geometric patterned floor. The sound of the doctor’s quick steps getting closer interrupted the long silence. “Mrs. Jamison, I am afraid I’ve bad news for you. Your husband did not survive the stroke. You have my deepest sympathy.” Violet remained quiet as she stood up. She was afraid to look at either the doctor or Richard. She was trembling but couldn’t cry. “Please sit down, we’ll have Miss Chen, our social worker, come and meet with you,” said the doctor as he abruptly turned around and left. “Hello, Mrs. Jamison, I am Julie Chen. First, let me offer my sincere condolences. I’m here to help you with all the documents that need to be signed and submitted. Please follow me to my office.” They felt rushed as they followed the staccato of her high heels down the long hall. Violet was confronted with endless paper work—requiring one signature after another. She felt claustrophobic in Miss Chen’s small cubicle; it was adorned with Chinese lanterns hanging low overhead. She felt they were descending on her and kept lowering her head. Before each signature, she needed an explanation. “Please understand, all these forms are required,” said Chen. “If you’re tired, we can take a break. How about we go to the cafeteria? It’s almost lunch time.” Richard remained quiet as he walked several steps behind Violet and the social worker who appeared to be in a constant hurry. “It is good to have your husband’s friend here, I know this can be a lonely and scary time.” Although the same pale green walls and tile floor extended into the cafeteria, Violet felt different. She welcomed the aroma of the bubbling minestrone soup. She turned to Richard, “Mel would’ve preferred to die in the cafeteria instead of the emergency 184
room.” As she carried her tray, she asked, “Can we continue to do the paper work here?” “I am sorry, Mrs. Jamison, after you eat, we will have to go back to my office.” It was late in the afternoon before all the required forms had been signed. Violet and Richard left the hospital and walked into the cold and dark parking lot. There were only a few cars left. Richard put his arm around Violet. She felt warm and protected. When they approached her car, he said, “Just take me to the warehouse where I left my truck. I’ll try to see you tomorrow.” “Please, don’t leave me alone tonight. I need you.” “How about our usual motel. I don’t think your neighbors should see me spending this night with you.” “You’re right. Let’s wait some time before we’re seen together.” She hugged him and in a trembling voice said, “Strange, now we can do what we’ve always wanted. I just didn’t expect it to be so soon, or so convenient.”
Around Town FIRST PLACE POETRY Peggy Schimmelman
Mama’s Little Buddy turned thirty this morning. He forgot to remember, he’s forgetting still as he limps down Main Street in the late afternoon his eyes on fire with forgetting. That wool cap pulled down over his ears he scored from the floor of the coffee house john. His new used jacket, another fine gift from the ladies at the shelter. And yet, what a shame: not a penny in those pockets, not one cigarette. Nothing but time, and not much of that: two beers and a nap, now the sky reads five and the church kitchen closes at six.
not believing, really, in hitch-hiking spirits but holding their breath until safely past— like a schoolyard friend, or maybe a cousin taught them a long time ago. And you, speeding by, can’t help but shiver at the eerie, distorted shapes thrown by your headlights: seven ghosts gliding along a cemetery wall. Your nervous eyes dart to the rearview mirror finding Little Punkerooni asleep in her car seat strapped down, tucked in, and safe. You suck in your breath, and drive on.
On a bench by the fountain, beneath the flag he finds Daddy’s Helper and Grandma’s Dumplin’ sharing a butt and half a burrito rescued from the taqueria’s trash can. Better get a move on, he calls and they do. East down the avenue, as inside the houses lights flicker on, they watch their shadows— tilting, lurching, clowns on stilts— fade into the sidewalk like long-ago dreams that dissolve as the winter moon rises. Near the high school they’re joined by Your Kindergarten Best Friend Your Neighbor’s Baby Brother Your Pastor’s Favorite Niece and Your Sister’s First Crush. “Shush” whispers one, near the graveyard gate eyes straight ahead, they pick up the pace 186
FIRST PLACE ART
Jared Adelman Dark clouds hovered over the already gloomy and mist-filled island of Erazine. Towering trees reached for the sky like the hand of a corpse emerging through its grave. It’s all that’s to be seen: trees and clouds. Most would find the scenery daunting, but Codran, a young man of twenty, found delight at the sight. With the sun about to set and the temperature dropping, he had to find nourishment. A narrow river that winds on the south side of the island would hold the key to silencing the cries of his stomach. He follows the sound of the flowing water and approaches. A quick strike from his obsidian blade provides his dinner. With damp fauna he’s forced to eat his meal raw, blood and organs spewing from the force of his bite. The clouds above grow ominous, preparing to hammer the island with relentless precipitation. There’s no time to build a shelter. A thick, elevated tree branch will suffice as his resting place until the sun makes its best effort to shine through the dense canopy in the dawn. Codran is awakened by a moist pounding on his tender eyelids. It poured indeed. The forest floor below him preserved a few inches of last night’s rainfall. The sun made a valiant effort to warm the drenched morning, but last night’s bombardment was too much, per the usual. His etched muscles pulsed through his dark skin as he came alive again. Soaked black hair was pushed from his face by his rough hands. His light brown leggings— turned a darker hue from the rain—were the only thing he wore aside from the obsidian blade tightly fastened to his waist via leather cordage. A lack of the sun’s reviving rays didn’t hinder him from descending his twenty-foot perch in one fluid motion. Landing on his feet with ease, he sprinted eastward towards his destination. His journey to the Tower of the Unseen Eye was only three days old, but he could already feel the effects of the strenuous trek.
Anthology 2015 His knees ached from the incessant running, his hands were cut from the constant gripping of tree limbs, and his back muscles were strained from continuous climbing. He had no time to focus on physical disparity, though. His late father, Nardoc, would not stand for such. Nardoc loved his son. He did not express it verbally, or with gestures, but he loved his son, and Codran felt this. It was the way of men on Erazine. They were hard and stoic. They were fighters and survivors. Nardoc taught his son the same combat techniques his father taught him, and his father before him. Combat is what they were; it was their wellbeing. But a life of combat and death harbored love as well, no matter the lack of evidence. Nardoc was a High Official of the Unseen Eye, a group of dignified, silent soldiers that regulated the entire island and its residents. They would not be seen, they would not be heard—only the result of their actions would be evident. Cadron’s father was said to be murdered by one of the Unseen’s own men. This murderer accused Nardoc of stealing from the Overseer—the Unseen’s undisputed leader. Your rank was based on your ability in combat. Men at the Tower of the Unseen Eye partook in vicious battles against one another to determine who might lead them. The best man won, and became the Overseer. That victor would then choose three High Officials to advise and help lead the men of the shadowy clan. It was the ultimate example of natural selection. Cadron could not bring himself to believe his father was one to betray. Even though Nardoc had left his woman and son when he was the ripe age of twelve, Cadron knew him to be a just man. It was commonplace for a man to leave home when duty called, and their families understood this. They did not know whether they’d see their father—or husband—again, yet they did not hold grudges. Survival on Erazine was paramount, and qualified men were recruited for various jobs throughout. When a man died, he died. There was no pursuit among the people to search for justice of fallen blood. Codran would not stand for injustice, and justice is 190
what he would find for his father. Vegetation was a blur as he raced through the forest leaping and bounding over and through the shrubbery. Lacerations on his hands grew. Knees continue to ache. His back strained, but he must persevere. He’d be approaching the Tower soon. Memories of his father empowered him to increase his pace. He was moving like wind howling through a tunnel now. The quicker his pace, the more confident his step, until the distinct voices of men in the quiet woodland brought him to a sudden halt. Crouching behind the nearest tree, he turned his gaze toward the source of the sound. Two men wearing black, cloth garments over the length of their bodies appeared from the thick ocean vapor. Both tall, lean, and near in height, they approached a small stone structure protruding from the ground. They knelt to place a single candle at the foot of the stone, touched each other head-to-head, and rose to depart. After a minute of their disappearance, Cadron gingerly walked toward the mysterious stone. Candlelight illuminating the face of the structure, it read: Here lies a Brother of Guardians. This was a man of the Unseen Eye. Brother of Guardians was just one of many names designated for a member of the group. Cadron must be very close. Very close to finding justice for his father. Lost in thought about how he would avenge his father, reality grabbed him and advised that he follow the two men. They could lead him to the tower he was seeking. He quickly but quietly surged towards them, keeping a safe distance. Muffled chatter escaped their mouths as they casually put one foot in front of the other. The ocean mist grew thicker as they made their way toward the center of the island. The even more decreased visibility made Cadron nervous about losing them. He must shorten the gap between them. With hand on blade out of instinct, he further crouched as he closed in on the two dark figures. The mist became even denser now, almost impossible to see ten paces ahead. The two 191
Anthology 2015 men were enveloped by the vapor now, escaping his sight. He could not lose them. They could be the key to his entire journey. Cadron increased his movement to a long, subtle stride, maintaining his crouched position. His cold, moist hand now wrapped around the hilt, squeezing it tightly. He hadn’t moved more than twenty paces until the two men stood in front of him. Their entire bodies were covered—save their eyes—in body-forming black cloth. They were motionless, as was Cadron. His knuckles grew white from his death grip on his precious obsidian blade. The two men took notice to this, simultaneously shifting their murky eyes to the black dirk. “What brings you to the dark woods, youngster?” One of them asked in a deep tone. “Food,” He responded quickly, masking the truth. The speaking man looked Codran up and down, moving his head slowly. “That’s quite a weapon you’ve got there. Where did you acquire it?” The hooded man asked. “I made it.” The two men were statues. They refrained from moving a single muscle. Codran’s adrenaline rushed through his body like water escaping a broken dam. They remained frozen in their place. Their position was firm. Their arms rested behind their backs, one hand clasping the other. The stillness made Codran anxious. His fierce grip remained on his blade. “This region of the woods is dangerous. Surely you can find nourishment elsewhere,” said the same man, breaking the deadsilence. His confidant was silent, retaining his stern presence. Codran tried to control his heavy breathing, his heart pounding inside his bare chest. If they were men of the Unseen Eye, he should be far from harm. They would not attack one who hasn’t been violent. “I advise you relax your grip on the blade, son,” the man said. “I do not desire an altercation.” Codran’s forearm holding the blade rippled with muscle from 192
his intense grip. Evaluating his prospects, he gradually loosened his hand from the blade. The three men continued to stare ahead. “You should take your search to the edge of the island. It’s for your own safety,” the man said. The two dark figures sharply turned around and resumed their trek. Codran stood in his place, heart ready to leap from its ribbed confines. He remained still as the men vanished into the opaque mist. A violent exhale came as a relief. He’d been holding his breath through the duration of the confrontation. He would continue to follow them. He must locate the tower soon. Rest would not be required from here on out. His coursing adrenaline pushed him forward. He would have to follow their tracks now, keeping a wide distance. Running into them again would surely create the undesired altercation. Codran quickly gathered himself and began to follow the muddy tracks left behind by the two dark men. Careful not to catch them, he made sure his anxiousness did not hurry him. The conditions that surrounded him hadn’t changed. Moisture seemed to occupy every living thing. His feet turned black from the deep, soft soil. Codran thought he heard a faint voice not far in the distance. He stopped. In a full crouch, he cupped his ears with his hands, trying to pick up the slightest noise. There it came again. It sounded like wet dirt releasing its suction on a heavy object. Without notice, a devastating force struck his back and sent him surging forward into a tuck and roll. He quickly bounced to his feet and scanned the area, his obsidian dagger drawn. Looking left, right, and behind him, Codran squinted as he peered through the mist. Another relentless force struck his back, sending him face-first into the mud. He fought through the pain and bounced to his feet again. The two dark men appeared through the mist in front of him. “I didn’t want this, but you give me no choice,” the same vocal man spoke. They both leapt towards Codran, legs extended to deliver 193
Anthology 2015 another forceful kick. Codran exploded from the ground, swung from a tree branch above, and flipped to land behind them. He rolled in a somersault towards them and jabbed one in the foot with lightning quickness. The other spun around and swung his fists furiously, connecting with one and then another. Codran was sent backwards in a flailing display, but his surging adrenaline allowed him to back flip high in the air and land swiftly on his feet. The three of them stood still for a moment, then proceeded to engage each other again. The one with the bloodied foot sprinted towards Codran, and Codran to him. He thrust himself into the air, set his feet on the man’s shoulders, and thrust himself again towards the other attacker. With one fluid, spinning motion, he sliced the man’s throat, sending hot blood spewing like an erupting volcano. The now limp body of the slashed victim fell to the earth with a squishy thud. The remaining assailant raced towards Codran with a shrieking call. Codran blocked his incoming fist with his forearm, grabbed his wrist, flipped the attacker over his back, and sent his obsidian deep into the man’s neck. Blood escaped in every direction, covering Codran’s face and chest. He rose to his feet above the rosy-red scene. Both bodies lied there in a mess of mud and dark, warm blood. His father’s lessons had served a purpose. His hard work and discipline had not been in vain, and neither would his father’s death. He felt a rush of unmistakable power come over him. His confidence soared. The adrenaline had reached a new level. He looked down at his blood-covered blade and watched the red liquid drip from its stinging edge. Lost in thought, he shook himself. “No time to waste,” he said to himself. He took off like a spooked cat and ran from the scene, continuing towards his destination. Wind whipped past his ears as he increased his pace. Ducking from and dodging every tree, he could feel the tower’s presence. Sharp breaths pushed through his lips. His face grew stiff as his body intensified. He was a panther moving through the brush now, evading and racing by every ob194
stacle with ease. The low visibility didn’t hinder his rapid movement. It was like he had another set of eyes to aid him, maybe his father’s eyes. The entrenching mist began to grow thin now. Before he noticed the mist had completely parted, he found himself gazing up towards a rocky tower that was wider than it was tall. It stood in the center of an open space on the forest floor, vegetation sitting maybe fifteen paces from its edge to hide it well. There was no obvious entrance to the mass of rock. Small windows were spread out evenly at the structure’s highest portion. He had found the home of the Unseen Eye. Obsidian blade still bloodied in his hand, Codran looked toward the sky and whispered to himself. Justice would be achieved.
You Are Wonderful Katelyn Harper
You have oceans within you, a swirling sea within your mind. Filled with stars and thoughts and mountains and storms. You are wonderful. You are the moon I visit on clear, cold nights from the rooftop just outside of my bedroom window, when I can see the stars swirling silently in their romantic, hypnotic waltz to the compositions of the universe. On those nights the sky looks less like an atmosphere and more like a deep velvet haze that I would dip my fingers into if only my arms could reach that far. You are wonderful.
Igniting my breath and my blood Until I feel your name push itself up from within my lungs where I will hold it safely, tasting its sweetness on the tip of my tongue until my mouth cannot contain it any longer and it bursts forth from my lipsâ€™ embrace roaring in a single breath. You are wonderful.
You are the winds of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Howling their Great Howls of absolutely nothing at all. I feel your invisible arms ripping at my hair and wrapping themselves around me trying to carry me away. But maybe some days you are the whisper I hear carried on a delicate breeze Murmuring your Sweet Murmurs of absolutely nothing at all. You are wonderful. You are the startling sunrise that rushes straight through the empty city streets and hillsides in a sudden burst of light, and fire, and warmth; shooting through the diamond panes in my window and waking me in the precipitous spark of daybreak. 196
Disturbance Call Julie Royce
The police car screeched to a halt in front of the well-kept bungalow in Carmel. A cop who looked too freshly-scrubbed to have graduated police academy, leapt out and rushed up the tulip-lined sidewalk. He unsnapped his service revolver, rang the doorbell and listened as its chime reverberated from inside. With his ear close to the door, he knocked and then pressed the bell a second time. He rested his right hand on his 9mm Glock. He cursed budget cuts that forced him to respond to the call without a partner, but at least no screams or commotion hinted of lurking danger. Before he further assessed the situation, an elderly woman with tight silver curls opened the door. She leaned on a black knobbed cane. Although it was May, she wore a belled reindeer apron over a shoulder-padded linen dress that hadn’t been in style since the 80s. A mixed-breed dog with at least one German Shepherd bloodline stood tight to its mistress’s side. The animal cocked its head as though awaiting instructions. “Excuse me, Ma’am. I’m Officer Kazinski.” “Oh, my, Officer. Is there something wrong?” There was confusion in her husky voice. A voice that other than the nervousness of finding a cop at her door disputed she was old enough to need the opaque support stockings she wore. “Doesn’t look like it, Ma’am. Is there anyone else here?” “I’m a widow. I live alone.” “Can you tell me your name?” “Ida. Ida Braun.” The dog responded to the cop with a guttural snarl. The woman patted its head. “It’s a policeman, King. Be nice. He’s our friend.” Kazinski looked beyond Ida, scrutinized the living room and kitchen beyond. “We got a 415—sorry, I mean a disturbance call— about shouting and a dog raising a ruckus at this address.”
Anthology 2015 “I’m afraid I owe you an apology, young man.” Ida slumped her shoulders and studied the toes of her white orthotic shoes. “My hearing isn’t what it used to be. Sometimes I keep the TV too loud.” She brought a liver-spotted hand close to her mouth, but continued explaining. “King and I were watching a Law and Order rerun. When a victim on the TV was assaulted, he cried for help. His dog—it was tied up—went crazy. King barked right back. He doesn’t get to see many dogs, ya know.” The officer shuffled side-to-side on spit-shined black uniform oxfords, but continued scanning the interior. A slice of pure Americana, he thought. Straight from a Norman Rockwell painting. Ida was a meticulous housekeeper. Not a rumpled doily or bunched throw rug suggested anything out of the ordinary. “Would you like to come inside?” Ida asked. “I could get you a piece of apple pie and a cup of coffee for your trouble.” Kazinski smiled at the woman. The smells of cinnamon and nutmeg wafted toward him, and for a moment he was a five year old, back in his grandmother’s kitchen. If anything were amiss, Ida would have trembled, stuttered or shown some sign of distress. “That pie is tempting, but I’ll pass.” He removed his hat and stepped over the threshold. “I wouldn’t mind taking a peek around, though…since I’m already here. It’ll sound better on my report.” Ida moved aside. Kazinski opened two bedroom doors and then stepped into the kitchen. Ida kept pace with him. He pointed towards the far wall. “Back entry?” he asked. “Yes,” she said. “And to the right are basement steps.” The cop pushed aside lace curtains and peered through a small window in the rear door. A dog run stretched the length of the well-tended yard. A patch of black dirt hugged a property line marked by tall cedars. “Looks like you’re ready to plant a garden,” he said. “I favor homegrown vegetables. Healthier without all those pesticides, don’t you think?” Without waiting for a response, she added, “I should have the plants in by now, but this spring my arthritis acted up.”
Kazinski weighed her chatter. It convinced him this was an unfounded call. To be thorough, he opened the door she had identified as leading to the basement. He stared into a vast darkness. She reached around him, flipped a light switch, and then moved out of his way. He knelt for closer scrutiny. The room at the bottom of the stairwell was as neat as the home’s main level. A pegboard with tools covered one wall. It was flanked by a furnace and water heater on one adjacent wall, and shelves with boxes on the other. “My husband, Walter, may he rest in peace, that was his room.” Ida hunched slightly and peered over Kazinski’s shoulder. “Not the boxes marked Christmas ornaments,” she said. “Those were mine, but I haven’t put up a tree since he died nine years ago.” She dabbed at her eyes. “You’re welcome to go down.” Kazinski debated, but decided there was no need. “Maybe I’ll have that cup of coffee after all.” Ida beamed. “And a piece of pie?” “Sure, what’s the harm?” After Kazinski left, Ida rinsed the cup, saucer and pie plate and stacked them in the dishwasher. She brushed the few crumbs from the table to her hand and dumped them in the wastebasket below the sink. Damn, you Walter. She cut another piece of pie, poured another cup of coffee and put both on a tray alongside a Gorham dessert fork and linen napkin. Then she walked downstairs and stood in front of a solid steel door—a door behind the steps. It couldn’t be spotted from the upstairs landing. Just had to yell like bloody murder when the door was open, didn’t you, Walter? She placed the tray on a small table and unlocked the deadbolt to a cavernous space enshrouded in soundproof acoustic foam. It had been where Walter practiced his drums when he and Ida first married. Back then, he and a couple of friends did local gigs for extra money. It was also the room where Walter had punished Ida when he was angry at her for perceived misdeeds. She pushed the heavy door open. And what was that
Anthology 2015 foolishness throwing the table and last night’s tray and dishes against the wall? I thought we were years beyond such childish behavior. I hope King taught you a lesson. We can’t let you do something that risky again. King bared his teeth at the man sitting on a neatly made single bed, ankle shackled to give the fellow enough freedom to reach a sink, toilet, and Barcalounger with a TV remote on the armrest. Ida saw a thin trickle of blood seeping through the gauze pad she’d tossed him earlier to wrap around his wrist. The man stood, but the dog’s low growl forced him to step backward. “Good morning, Walter,” Ida said. “I hope you are well.” The man glared but said nothing. “You never knew the room would come in so handy for me, did you? Just like you never dreamed your dog and I would bond. Stood to reason, though didn’t it? You were gone all day. I’m the one who fed him, played fetch with him. Trained him to attack on cue.” Walter’s fingers touched the bandage. “It doesn’t look serious,” Ida said. He didn’t respond. His pallid complexion emphasized dark circles under steely gray eyes. Eyes that brimmed with rage and darted the room as though searching for an escape. Eyes that dropped in resignation as King inched closer. “Oh, Walter, you are in a cranky mood. Are you upset because help was so close? No. With the door shut, you couldn’t have heard the nice young policeman upstairs. And you can’t have believed that stunt that brought him here would work.” Ida nattered as she moved the food inside the makeshift prison and set it at the edge of the end table next to the easy chair. “It’s you who said you’d never let me go. At least not alive. Well, I’m still here.” With the tip of her cane, she slid the pie closer to her husband. “Enjoy. It’s apple, sweetheart. Your favorite.”
Martha Quinonez There is something tragic about being a hopeless romantic Something tragic about seeing stars as they Were forty years ago Twinkling at us As if they are really in the present The night sky is full of What once was Stellar memories haunting us with their glow Your olive eyes are coated in these stars
A Small Memento Mary E. Heaton
Three years ago my sister Katy gave me a coffee mug for my birthday. It was a practical gift and my sister was always a practical person, so it seemed appropriate. There was nothing phony or flashy about Katy, she had a pure heart and I loved her even more for that. The cup is made of ceramic clay, glazing and a bit of paint, a simple cup, but it is one of the most special gifts I received from Katy over the years. The cup is beige in color, with a few purple hand painted flowers on the outside and written in blue lettering is, “Sisters are Friends Forever.” Katy was always a loving person who would not hesitate to tell a person what he or she meant to her. I feel that we have a deep spiritual connection and I truly believe the words that are written on that mug. When I drink from the cup, which is quite often, I think of my sister. I see her twinkling blue eyes, hear her belly laugh and feel her bear hug. But in contrast, I feel the sadness of her loss and anger because I would rather have her around instead of a mug. It seems ridiculous to me that a cup is still here on this earth instead of my dear sister, Katy. Sometimes I wonder, if she had a premonition that she wasn’t going to live to be an old lady. Katy told her best friend two weeks before she died, “If I were to die tomorrow, I would feel that I had lived life well and accomplished what I needed to.” But, nevertheless, I am thankful to have been given such a wonderful gift, a small memento of love from my sister.
Holly Healy Weathered hands Tough and calloused With lines On the palms and fingers. Wrinkles. These hands built a lifetime These hands made a better tomorrow These hands worked hard. I gripped I let go I wrote I held close I saw with these hands. My accomplishments Are held in these hands. Running through these veins. Time has changed these hands of mine. Time has put on a disguise. These hands were once strong as stone And have now frailed in time. My hands still feel My hands still touch My hands still hold strength in them yet. Time is not done Though neither am I I go toward tomorrow With hands clenched tight. To show my strength Though they have changed These hands of mine These hands of mine. 205
A Trip to the Amusement Park Jessica Rhoades
Julie opened her eyes as the tube came to an end. She looked up at her daughter and shook her head. “I hope there’s another way out of this building.”
The Superman ride was a blast. Julie still felt the adrenaline pumping as she exited the ride with her best friend, Ann and their teenaged daughters. Julie’s daughter August was looking a little green around the gills, so Julie suggested that they take a little break from rides. The girls all wanted to go to the gift shop. As they approached the dark entrance to the building Julie began to feel a little weary of her surroundings. The door opened and Julie was presented with a moving sidewalk. “Interesting gift shop entrance,” she remarked as she stepped on to the conveyance. Ahead of her she heard “oohs” and “wows.” She lifted her short frame onto tip toes and she could see light and color ahead. Suddenly she was in a clear tube that ran straight through an aquarium. The group was looking all around at the array of sea life. Julie’s hands and back broke out in an instantaneous sweat. Her heart beat erratically as her eyes dropped down to the floor. Her hand cupped over her mouth as saliva rushed in. She attempted a deep breath to calm herself and stave off the vomit that was rising in her throat, but short breaths were all she could muster. The weight of a million gallons of water was resting on her chest and her breaths came quick as she struggled to fill her lungs with air. Ann realized a little too late that her friend had fallen behind on the conveyor. They had taken occasional steps forward while Julie had frozen. Just as she opened her mouth to ask Julie what was wrong, she saw the effects of her friend’s hyperventilation. Julie kind of toppled awkwardly to the ground and landed, leaning against the side rail of the conveyor. Since the belt was still moving it slowly spun her body before Ann and the girls could get to her. August bent down and lightly tapped her mom on the face. 206
The Taste of a Kiss at 12
The Asphyxiation of Heartbreak
HONORABLE MENTION POETRY
HONORABLE MENTION PROSE
Do not talk about The way the red champagne Smells like rotting grass The electricity inside Our blurred eyes Our languid throats Filled with liquid gold Will be enough to make the new year Noteworthy, and when We are laying on the bed Backs up, bare skinned, God will not judge us By our gender But the smell Of our rotting mouths
My hair is drier than the tumbleweeds licking the back roads. It’s jet black now. Like someone smothered my blonde hair in tar. It’s 99 degrees out, but I’m wrapped in my old high school sweater. Class of 2012. I try to keep from shivering despite the sweat that’s on my neck. Standing on cool tile, I hand Dad my empty plate. A cartoon personifying a broom dances in the background. He made me breakfast. Chorizo and eggs. Toast at my request. Dad says I eat like a truck driver. He takes my plate and loudly clanks it with the other dishes. So he doesn’t have to hear her voice down the hall. Whispering on the phone. They think I don’t notice the way they don’t look at each other. I help him dry the dishes. Say something that makes him laugh. Try to ease the pain. But nothing can. The half full bottle of beer sitting on the counter proves this. The clock doesn’t even read noon yet. He needs alcohol to make him feel warm, even in this heat. I see him like a piece of debris, floating further and further away. Soon I won’t even be able to pull him back. Mom hides behind her magazines, crinkled with aspiration. Her lips, marked an artificial red, cover the paleness that cloaks her. Their love batter has blackened. Dad goes to sleep drunk. 209
Hoping the sheets will strangle him in his sleep. But his eye lids still flutter apart each morning.
Sea Train Linda Todd
And I wonder how the world looks through them. Does the light burn, Worse than the alcohol running down his throat?
Dear Mr. Poe
Donnell Brown Jr. Dear Mr. Poe, how did you know? You were so sure that I would not be as others were And that I would not see as they saw. How can it be that you could see, that the same spring you pulled your passions from, would find its way to me. I'm begging you, explain to me; How you could foresee? That from this source I would not take, my sorrows Nor that I could not seem to wake, My heart to joy at these empty tones Dear Mr. Poe, how did you know? That all I'd ever love, I'd love alone.
Jessica Amezcua “We found cancerous cells in the bump that your father had pointed out to us,” said my father’s doctor, “we are going to need for him to have an MRI so we can see where exactly it is and where it may be spreading to. I will also be contacting a surgeon for you to see if we can have part of it surgically removed along si…” I could not bear to hear the rest. In that moment my world went dark. On July 24th, 2013 I received a call to notify me that my father was diagnosed with stage 2 throat cancer. I quietly listened to the doctors’ orders of all the tests he would have to take and the appointments he would have to go through. When I ended the call, I dropped to my knees one last time and rested my head on my bed. I knew that from that moment on, nothing would ever be the same in my life. That night, was the last night I prayed. I gave up believing in God that afternoon. I lost faith in religion and anything that made me drop to my knees and pray for a happier ending because I knew that was not going to help me. I knew that relying on something that “put this challenge in front of me to make me stronger” was a waste of my time and emotions. I became helpless. I was but a warrior with no armor. That same night, I had to go through the pain of listening to my parents cry for the first time. Our whole household was filled with sorrow, no one knowing what to do and everyone just walking around blindly, helpless. My whole life my parents had always led both my sister and I. They were always the one to help us through things, emotionally and physically, and now, there was no one. I could not stand seeing everyone crying, it was unusual to me. My whole house was always filled with cheer and happiness, even during the toughest times there was always someone making a joke to cheer us all up, but now, there was no cheer, there was no joke, just silence. For the first time, I had to be the one to guide them 213
Anthology 2015 through this tough time. Every night I would hear my mother silently cry. After my family found out about my dads’ situation, they would call me saying, “You know everything is going to be okay. Just pray and have faith that God is going to help him”. I did not want to hear any of this. Every time they would call, or we would have to explain to them what was going on, it was just another painful reminder that what I was going through was real and that every day he was getting closer to death. At that point in my life, I was not strong enough for what I was going through. Emotionally, I was weaker than an ant trying to lift up a tree. I was always the one being helped through problems, never helping others. I had to become the one to help my family through everything. I had to look strong for them so they can be strong too, but all the stress of seeing the condition my family was in, my own emotional turmoil, and the constant reminder from my family of what was going on was not enough for me to handle. So I turned on autopilot. Rather than controlling my actions, my emotions, and my thoughts I just let my body guide me, never dealing with all the emotions and problems. For eight months I became the strong one for once, or, at least appeared to be one. I would go with my dad to every appointment, listened to one bad news after the other, and get out of there with a smile trying to cheer my dad up. In August he had his first surgery. My father’s doctor took his case to the Board to see if my father qualified for a surgery using a new machine named Da Vinci, which luckily he did. They cut all along his throat, opened his throat to remove his epiglottis (lies on top of trachea to prevent food from traveling down to the lungs) and part of his lower tongue. Luckily, the surgery was successful and he recovered within 2 weeks. He had a food tube go down his nose all the way to his stomach. After wards came the hardship. My dad had to teach himself how to swallow food and water again. For the following two months I did not work or go to school just so I could stay home and take care 214
of my dad. I would pour protein shakes down the tube, wash it with water, and then I would pour his medication down, check his blood sugar before and after he ate, and give him his insulin every day 6 times a day. Both my mother and sister did not want to do it, for they did not want to mess anything up. After the first two months, they removed the tube and he was finally able to eat again. At that time he was in his second month of radiation and chemotherapy and was going to finish in two more months. He lost a drastic amount of weight from all of this, but he gained so much more hope. He became the same person he was again. He smiled, told everyone that he was doing well, and began to exercise and eat healthier. It caused my family to react in the same way. It was nice to see everyone smile again. Our hope for a happier ending became strong, and luckily, thankfully, we got that happy ending. On March 1st my dad was well enough to return to work. He had gained back the strength he had lost during the struggle, and he was ready to go back to the old routine. But I was still on autopilot. I was still holding back all the tears, frustration, everything. I was pretending to be strong for everyone because I wanted everyone else to be strong. After the situation died down, I decided to finally deal with the issue, to finally open the fresh wound. I turned off autopilot. My heart sank, and my eyes have never hurt so much from crying. In the silence and darkness of my room, I unleashed all the tears I had been holding back for eight months. I cried for most of the night with the thought, my dad could have died, running a relay race in my head. It was at that point in my head that I realized I was strong through all of it. I was strong enough to help my dad through his treatment and recuperation. I was strong enough to give him his medication and food regularly without missing anything. I was strong enough to tell my dad to never feel down, that I knew for a fact that such a strong man can survive such a battle. I was strong enough to help 215
Anthology 2015 my mom and sister when they would cry to me and tell me how tough it was for us. But, the thing now is, it is no longer “was”. I am strong. I am strong enough to fight with my inner demons and always see the silver lining to situations. I am strong now because of all of this occurring to me. I am ready to battle with anything that crosses in my path. I am no longer on autopilot. I am now a warrior with armor.
Peggy Schimmelman you wrestle those memories to the floor force them into straight-jackets, their names stitched on front in festive cursive — Neglect Abandonment Foster Home Footsteps Coming Down the Hall Unforgiveable Abuse of Innocence— you lock them away in a padded cell with a tiny window, through which you watch them bouncing off walls writhing, frothing, and— oh god, sometimes at night — you can’t shut it out the moaning, shrieking reminding you who holds the key yet you close your heart, knowing were you to set them free they could— and they would— come to find you torture you kill you.
Her Galaxy Alice Kight
Waiting for Spring Rain Tanda Clauson
After husband and children spin off into appointed orbitings, she slips away to a secret place of peace and perfect order. Among the million lego bits, hot wheels and story book dolls, she clears a mommy sized place for herself on the living room floor. Windows draped, the room grows dim and other worldly. She cuddles a tattered teddy bear recites the constellations, and roams for awhile among the stars up there on the ceiling.
War Comes to Rakuen George Cramer
Sunday, January 1, 1939, I tell my wife, “This should be the best year of my life.” It isn’t. I am Kenji Krause. I’m half Rakuen and half German, Rakuen first because of my pride at being Rakuen. If you’re not familiar with my island nation, you probably don’t realize that Rakuen’s native population is descended from Japanese ancestors, hence my first name Kenji. My wife and I are enjoying a cup of rich Turkish coffee while waiting for our children to arise. Every Sunday, Ruth and I observe this tradition. Along with our coffee, we have a classical music station on the radio. The volume is enough to give us a soft background, no more. I’m six years post-doctoral with a PhD in Political Science from the Frederick William University, Berlin, Germany. I graduated and get out of Germany ahead of the Nazi juggernaut. A full professor at the University of Rakuen, I am ready to take on the establishment. I will announce my candidacy for president within the month. My wife and I love our country, each other and our children. Beyond that we couldn’t be less alike. Half German, I don’t fit the image most imagine. I am tall with dark red hair unlike most Rakuen and at six feet six inches I’m tall even for a German. Ruth at five feet and with raven black hair and eyes is the stereotypical Japanese woman. She was born Shizuka Miyamoto in Japan on August 22, 1905, five years after I was born to my Rakuen mother and German father. Ruth’s father a Shinto priest, although not a pacifist, felt that The Meiji Emperor, the Celestial Being, had erred in leading the empire into the Russo-Japanese War. Rather than show disrespect for The Emperor, he immigrated to Rakuen with his wife and infant daughter. In observance of the Shinto tradition 220
of religious tolerance, he allowed Shizuka to follow her conscience into the Christian religion and to adopt the name Ruth when baptized. Our mothers were more than a little reluctant when we declared our intent to marry. I remember my mother’s words, “Kenji, she’s so young and so Japanese. Her parents will never consent.” Ruth’s mother protested, “He’s so pale and tall. You should marry a Japanese man.” Our fathers were more liberal. Mine told my mother, “Ruth is a fine woman, and our son is lucky to have such a woman’s love.” Knowing his wife, he added with a smile, “Besides, she reminds me of you.” Ruth’s father told his wife, “Kenji is descended from Japanese and he loves our daughter with all his heart. We will not stand in their way.” Our mothers were not won over; however, they realized that we would marry with or without their approval. They grew to love us, their two grandsons and one another. We are truly blessed. Ruth prepares our second cup of coffee in the Kanaka. This small copper pot has been in my family for at least one-hundred years. As a courtesy to me, —I don’t like sugar— Ruth heats the water and coffee. As she adds several teaspoons of sugar to her small cup, she asks about my candidacy. “Are you sure you want to announce now? The election is still two years away.” “Yes, I’m up against a sitting president who enjoys a great deal of popularity with the Rakuen-Americans. He has a war chest beyond anything I can hope to match. I’ve got to start now if I expect half a chance.” Pressing her fist against her lips to cover an ever widening grin, she says, “If you like, I can read your coffee grounds? Perhaps they can divine your destiny before you begin this competition?” Before I can answer, the radio beeps. Ruth says, “There must be a government announcement, probably that storm passing through the southern end of the island.” 221
Anthology 2015 “This is not a drill. Repeat this is not a drill. Germany has invaded Rakuen. This morning an hour before dawn, battleships of the German Navy anchored, unannounced, in all six major ports of Rakuen.” I rush to the radio and turn up the volume. The announcer repeats the initial message before proceeding. “At six a.m. units of the German army, supported by a panzer battalion surrounded the presidential palace. There is no word on the status of the president or his family.” “Kenji, what does this mean? Are we at war?” The radio broadcaster continues, “All militia members are hereby ordered to report to their units immediately and await further orders.” “Well for once, being a half-breed is a good thing. At least you don’t belong to any of the militias.” This racist restriction has always bothered me. Those of American and German descent each have their own militias. Current law prohibits Rakuens and halfbreeds from forming or joining a militia. “The president will make an announcement in thirty minutes.” The radio falls silent. We wait. Thirty-two minutes later the radio comes to life. “Fellow citizens of Rakuen, this is your president. I have an announcement of great importance.” Following a pause punctuated by commotion in the background, he continues. “At nine a.m. the Cabinet, sitting in the absence of the House of Counselors, and I accepted the gracious offer of protection presented by General Barthold Hess of the German Army. All militia members are to return to their homes and await further instructions. Officers the rank of Colonel and above shall report to the Presidential Palace by the fastest transport available, but in no case later than noon tomorrow.” After another pause and more shouting, the President says: “General Hess will now address the nation.” 222
Dumbfounded, I take Ruth’s hand. “My God, we’ve been invaded and conquered in less than four hours. It’s good that my rifle and Luger are well hidden.” “Heil Hitler. This is General Hess speaking to you...” Wednesday, January 7, 1942, it’s been three years since the German Invasion. Germany and Japan are at war with Great Britain, America, and their allies. I remember the shock I felt when General Hess made his first address to my people. Now one month after the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, I find myself invited to dinner at the Presidential Palace. Invitations are not declined. Those who refuse are made examples of for all Rakuen to see. When I received the invitation, I was curious as to why General Hess wanted to meet me, a half-breed college professor. “Good evening Professor Krause. Thank you for accepting my invitation.” Before I answer, General Hess gestures to a man I know on sight, Colonel Erhard Möller, the detested commanding officer of the national police force known as the Constabulary. “Oberst Möller, may I introduce Professor Kenji Krause.” I offer my hand to Möller. He does not take it. Instead he snaps to attention, clicks his heels together, raises his right arm in a Nazi salute and shouts “Heil Hitler.” Although not stunned, I step back. “Come gentlemen; please join me for a whiskey before we dine.” General Hess leads the way to the office formerly occupied by our president. I had visited this office on several occasions before the invasion; this is my first visit since. It is a large corner workspace with ten-foot high ceilings, windows run from a decorative window seat to the ceiling. The view of the harbor would be spectacular but for the six German warships anchored there. The pictures of past presidents and national heroes that once adorned the walls are gone, replaced by a single portrait of Adolf Hitler. This same image adorns every public building and many business223
Anthology 2015 es across our island nation. Our flag has been replaced by the flag of a Militärbefehlshaber or Military Governor of a German occupied territory. I find this interesting because Militärbefehlshabers rarely command troops. General Hess directs both the German military and the civil government of Rakuen. The German War Ensign is posted at the entrance to the Presidential Palace. From my time in Germany, I know this flag is customarily posted at military installations. I wonder why here, why now? Why the change? I ask General Hess about the flags as if I don’t know their significance. His answer is non-committal, something about protocol. After a few minutes of casual conversation, dinner is announced. We retire to the presidential living quarters after the meal is finished. In what had been the president’s drawing room, General Hess points to a small antique couch and gestures for Möller and me to sit. Next to each end of the couch is a brass cigar ashtray embossed with the hated swastika. The general’s aide produces a box of Cuban cigars and we each take one. The general removes his uniform tunic and settles in an oversized easy chair, as his aide pours one-hundred year old Louis XIII cognac. Finished with that chore, he lights our cigars and withdraws leaving Möller and me alone with General Hess. After a sip of cognac and a pull on his cigar, the general rises and in German says, “Gentlemen, may I propose a toast.” Möller and I rise with our glasses. The general turns and raises his glass to the portrait of Hitler over the fireplace. “To our glorious Fürher, the Fatherland and Rakuen.” Möller clicks his heels, tips his glass emptying the cognac in one gulp. I take a sip. General Hess continues in German, “Professor Krause, you must be curious as to why I’ve asked you and Oberst Möller to join me this evening.” I answer in English. “Yes general, your invitation was an unexpected pleasure, but I do wonder why.” 224
Möller turns on me and with spittle flying screeches, “When the General speaks to you in German you will respond in kind. Do you understand?” Thinking you might frighten some, but not me, I answer in Japanese, “Colonel Möller, may I remind you that Japanese and English remain the two official languages of Rakuen.” Möller has no idea what I’ve said. General Hess has learned some Japanese. I see that he understands for he smiles. I carry on in German. “General Hess, I am a guest in your home, I apologize if I have offended you.” “None was taken professor. Now if you gentlemen will sit down, we can discuss why I invited you here tonight.” I return to the couch. Möller remains standing, mouth clenched. I swear I hear his teeth grinding. After an instant, the general speaks in a low and controlled voice which allows for no dissent. “Möller take a seat.” Red-faced, Möller stands to attention, sans heel clicking, nods his head and says, “Yes General.” He turns to me glaring, takes his seat and smiles at the general. General Hess takes a deep breath, inter-locks his arms across his chest before leaning forward and loudly tapping his finger on the coffee table. “Gentlemen, it is in your best interest that you learn to get along. Do I make myself clear?” In unison, we shake our heads in the affirmative and say, “Yes, sir.” I can see from the confused look on Möller’s face that he is as puzzled as I by the general’s comment. “I ask your indulgence while I explain. Professor, I have allowed you to teach at the University without hindrance, and I have watched your political growth. Flourishing under the protection of the Third Reich, you have become a well-respected leader. The people of Rakuen, regardless of race, look up to you. Wouldn’t you agree Möller?” Möller looks down and coughs before saying through clenched teeth, “Yes.” With an audible sigh, the general continues. “When we assumed a protective role here, your former president and I agreed 225
Anthology 2015 that a local constabulary was essential. After considering the options, the German Militia was activated as the national police. The old colonel and his staff were incompetent. Our search for a qualified leader led us to Oberst Möller. He was selected and has proven his mettle.” Pausing, the general sips his cognac and picks up his cigar. “Pardon me general, but what does this have to do with me?” Möller must have the same question; however he pulls his mouth closed, in a tight line. The general closes his eyes for a long moment, opens them as he lets out a sigh, and gives a slight smile. It is as though he has come to a decision; within seconds we learn that he has. “Along with our ally, Japan, we are at war with the Americans as well as Britain and her allies. Our beloved Fürher declared war on the United States on the eleventh of December; four days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Although we had a pact with Japan to join them in a war against the United States, we had not agreed on how and when that was to occur.” He pauses and then adds, “Japan’s attack came as a surprise to the Fürher.” Now it is Möller’s turn to seek clarification. “General, how does that affect the constabulary?” “Churchill has resisted military action in Asia. The American President, Roosevelt, has made it clear that his nation, while supporting the war in Europe, will begin its march on Japan and everything that blocks his path. It is likely Rakuen will be targeted in early 1943, possibly as early as this November.” The ramifications apparent Möller smiles at the opportunities. Standing, he gives the Nazi salute. “Heil Hitler. General, my men are ready to serve you and the Fatherland.” “I know Möller. The battle won’t be for a while, please sit and enjoy your cognac. Professor, do you have any questions?” “Sir, I don’t see how this affects me?” “Oberst Möller commands a constabulary of under one-thousand Rakuens of German descent. His troops and those under my 226
command number fewer than seven-thousand. We have limited naval forces—two battleships, five cruisers, ten destroyers, an equal number of U-Boats and assorted auxiliary vessels.” While I already know these figures, my mouth falls open. Möller is as surprised as I that the general has revealed top secret information. After a momentary pause, he says “When the allies attack, we can expect a force of at least twenty-thousand soldiers and marines. Their naval forces will outnumber ours and will include aircraft carriers.” I wonder why he tells us this. In the wrong hands, mine, it will lead to an uprising in support of the American invaders. Möller might be a bully and a coward, but he is no fool. “What can I do General?” “Oberst Möller you will receive orders tomorrow transferring you to the Wehrmacht. You are now a German soldier. You will keep your rank.” “Thank you sir, I will not fail you.” He pauses before adding, “General, I have one question.” “I thought you might.” “You say I’m now a German soldier, what of my men?” “A good question Oberst Möller. Tomorrow all Rakuens of German or Japanese descent, regardless of degree, will become members of the Volunteer Rakuen National Militia. You will be their commanding officer.” As the leader of the Rakuen Resistance, I know the impact of this information is invaluable to the movement. I force myself to appear calm while my heart races. My first thought, I have to get this to the allies. “Now for you professor, or should I say Oberst Krause?” “What do you mean General? I’m not a member of any militia or army?” “Oberst Krause, you are half German, of Japanese descent and married to a Japanese woman; both Germany and Japan are at war with the Allies.” 227
Anthology 2015 “I still don’t see what any of this has to do with me. Rakuen is a German Protectorate; I am not a German citizen.” “Oberst Krause you will replace Oberst Möller as head of the constabulary.” “Why me?” “Oberst Krause, you are universally trusted and respected and you have the necessary leadership qualities.” “What will happen to those Rakuens who refuse to join this volunteer militia?” “They and their families will be interned at work camps along with those of American and British blood already confined.” “And if I refuse?” General Hess scratches the back of his head and points his index finger at my face. “If you do not accept this command, I will no longer be able to guarantee your safety or that of your family. I’m afraid that I would be forced to place you in the hands of Oberst Möller.” Möller grants me the first genuine smile I have ever seen on his face.
John G. Bluck
Mary Pacifico Curtis The 2x4s lifted one-by-one onto a foundation, wooden crossbeams and bracing, metal ties and straps applied, passages drilled for electrical arteries and copper waterways; the sheet rock and mud that seal walls within as stucco, brick, rock or wood outside hold at bay the earth’s elements and events from all that is sheltered between. The basking forms who cast only the merest glance outward through a window or cracked door - make of the warmth and the other ones inside these walls a world all of its own. The one-to-one kindnesses and transgressions in this citadel, unheard and not notable until magnified among throngs, and acts between nations as walls divide and divisions form without walls the humanity, and inhumane deeds of mankind the spoken word, and words yet to be heard. 230
HONORABLE MENTION PROSE
The package arrived at my Rockridge apartment on an unusually hot California day. When the delivery man rang the doorbell, I was working on the computer, deep in thought, struggling with what exactly a new client wanted from me. I signed for the package while the delivery man joked about what might be in it. When I stood the package on one end, it was taller than I was and I had to read the sender’s name three times before I realized it was from my brother. I hadn’t seen him since he was five and I was seven. Our parents divorced that year and the arrangement was that Dad would raise Larry and Mom would raise me. “We’re even.” Mom had quoted Dad when she told me the story of their parting. “So he didn’t feel obligated to give me child support for you. And I wasn’t about to ask him for a penny.” We moved away from Dad and Larry in Connecticut to the other side of the country, San Francisco Bay Area. We had no further contact except a postal change of address form to Dad “in case of an emergency”. “It’s better that way,” Mom had said. “Since they don’t exist in our present life, we can’t miss them.” But Mom wasn’t fooling me. I heard her crying many times over the years. Her bedroom door couldn’t muffle the sobs that woke me up in the middle of the night. Two years ago, she left the earth and I still have trouble sleeping. I expect her to come home from teaching at the university, put her feet up on the coffee table, and tell me about her day. Grief doesn’t soften; it just gets put on hold at times. Dad and Larry didn’t come to her funeral, but they sent a card. Larry had included a hand-drawn picture of the lake with his sweeping signature added at the bottom. I stuffed their condolenc231
Anthology 2015 es into a drawer somewhere. Whenever I happened to think of Larry, he was like a character in a fairy tale. I would remember his blond hair shining in the sunlight when we’d run by the lake where we had our family home. His giggles when I wrestled him down to the grass grew fainter over the years. It was as if we had been Hansel and Gretel; I escaped, but the witch ate him. The day his package arrived, I planned to open it later so I could return to my computer. Instead, I grabbed a scissors, cut, and tore the box to shreds. I threw aside the envelope that was taped to the largest item but I unwrapped it and the other gifts carefully. What the…? How ridiculous. An oar. What would I want with one oar in the city? The book brought a flash of memories. I felt warmth and unseen arms when I held it and read the title, Bedtime Stories for Children. I set the book down and tackled the last gift. I shrieked when a dried fish head slipped out of the wrapping paper. I searched for the envelope under all the wrappings and ripped it open. A key and a letter fell out. Dear Sis, I thought this package would get your attention. I’m leaving for college in a few days and I’ve had to sort through all my stuff and Dad’s. There’s nothing left of ours in the house except the furniture and household things you might need if you decide to live here. Dad passed away in his sleep a month ago, lung cancer. I would have called my big sister, but since we didn’t come to Mom’s funeral, I didn’t think you’d come to Dad’s. I decided this was probably the best way to tell you. He left the house to both of us. I have a key too but I won’t be coming back for a while. I’m planning to be a doctor and it will probably be longer than four years before I see the lake again. The house is locked up and safe. The neighbors will be checking on it now and then. I told them that you might be coming 232
to see it or to live here and that it was fine, since you are now half owner. I sent you the oar to remind you of the lake. This copy of Bedtime Stories for Children is the one Mom used to read to us before we went to sleep. I don’t remember that, but Dad told me many times. I guess it was his way of making sure I didn’t forget you and Mom. The fish head? I don’t know, to remember the kid you chased around the lake. Maybe we’ll run into each other there again, Larry It’s been eight years since I received his letter. I moved back to Connecticut. The return to my roots has become a welcomed new life for me. Every Christmas, Larry sends me a letter in a holiday card. Like me, he hasn’t taken time to be in a relationship. All the family we have is each other. He wants to come back for a visit, but his medical practice is prospering and it’s hard to get away. He said he might surprise me one day. I shut down my computer and stand in front of the French doors that lead to the backyard. I do a few Yoga stretches and watch the sun on its way to set behind the lake. Stray tears roll down my cheeks. Mom, I love you, but I think you had it all wrong. The four of us missed too many years of being together. I take my sweater off the coat rack and tie the sleeves around my shoulders. Back at my desk, I pick up Bedtime Stories for Children, grab a fishing pole from the corner by the door, and head out to the dock as I have done many Friday evenings since my return. I near the wooden planks and blink my eyes wondering if the encroaching dusk is clouding my vision. There’s a man with blond hair in the fishing boat waving at me. A familiar, but deeper laugh fills the hollow spot in my chest. He’s here. 233
She is a girl With the lipstick Of a bloodied rabbit White fur, blistered black spotted, With the face That makes your eyes widen Your heart beat once, hard, At the sight of movement Across an empty field No, she is an animal With the beauty To make any hunter Spit dirt At the taste Of her old tracks Dried in the mud No, she is not just a girl She is a fox, untouchable.
Blood Stains and Vigils in Prague Karen Schwarze
There’s a knock at the door, and Papa and Josef exchange glances. Papa sips the lager from his glass while Josef goes to the door, turning the key in the lock. He pulls the door toward himself just slightly. I can hear him speaking softly to someone on the other side. He closes the door and sits down again. Sits down. Stands up. Paces. Papa stares into his glass. “Time to go,” Josef says as he turns around. “Papa—” “Don’t start,” Papa says. “I’ve told you, I’m not going.” “Even for Alois?” Josef rebuts. I hadn’t expected him to try to use me as an incentive. Papa glances at me. “Don’t be a fool,” he says to Josef. “You don’t know how those meetings are going to end any more than I do. I’m not going, and neither should you. For all you know, you’re wasting your time with a bunch of radicals, and pouring mud on your name besides.” “And that’s what you don’t know, Papa,” Josef spits back. Sometimes I think Josef was gifted enough defiance for the both of us. “You’ve read the posters, haven’t you?” Josef goes on. “‘We ought to show the world what a nation can do when it’s determined to win its freedom. That’s what they say. We ought not to wear these…these…shackles anymore. We ought not to be Stadion’s, or Metternich’s, slaves anymore.” “It’s talk like that that’ll get you imprisoned, or killed,” Papa says. Tonight Josef’s got a mind to go to the Golden Goose—the hotel just a few blocks away—and join the artisans, like Aurel, and factory workers, like Ladislav, who works at the same factory as me 236
and Papa. There’s this group called the Union for Industrial Development that’s been around for about fifteen years now. Nowadays Faster runs the Golden Goose, and Alois Pravoslav Trojan does a lot of the talking. I haven’t been, but those names run through conversations in the factory, among other boys like me, and sometimes whispered among men like Papa. “Like I say, Papa, you don’t know that I’ll be killed. The French got Philippe to leave like a dog with his tail between his legs. We aren’t aiming to kick Stadion out likewise, just make things better than they are. If things get ugly, that’s his fault, not ours.” “You could be caught in the crossfire, never mind whose fault it is,” Papa says, taking another sip. Josef looks at him playfully, mischievously. “I think you want to go, Papa. You’re just hedging—maybe for Alois’s sake.” “And you wouldn’t say that if you didn’t think it was dangerous.” “Well, it is. But better than sitting around doing nothing. And anyways—” Josef picks up his own glass he’d left on the table and drinks the lager—“I don’t think…I mean, it’s not guaranteed that I’ll get killed. That any of us would be.” Suddenly Josef sounds less sure of himself. “There’s a fair track record, Josef,” Papa says, looking at Josef. “And even if some of us do die—” Josef seems to be talking to himself now, trying to reassure himself—“we could still win. We could still get better wages for everyone. Like they did—” “But the odds, Josef. The odds. In Paris the National Guard switched sides when it mattered. You could call it luck. You don’t know that you’ll get that kind of stroke.” “No…” Here Josef looks up, looks at me, looks at Papa. “But I want to try, if only to say that I tried.” There’s silence while Papa and Josef look at each other, and secretly I am proud of Josef. Secretly, I want to go, too. Mama and Papa nursed us on stories of the past, on stories of battles. I don’t know if my parents meant to, but when I learned about people 237
Anthology 2015 fighting for something—something that meant something—they weaved in me a thread of wanting to do the same, someday. Josef knows that he can go if he wants to, because Papa has told him before that he’s a man now and doesn’t have to ask for Papa’s permission. But for some reason Josef is still standing there, looking like a child who needs his papa’s approval before going out. Finally he takes one more drink from his glass and then sets it back down. He doesn’t look at me, but I see him look one more time at Papa before he walks out the door without saying anything. It’s been about three months since Josef went to that meeting at the Golden Goose. Tonight he’s gone again, but not to a meeting. The coals need stoking, so I stoke them. It’s June and warm, but we still have to eat. Papa gets up from the table and pulls a cigar from his pocket and goes to the front stoop to smoke. I go out and sit next to him. We sit on the stoop and feel that relief as the heat of the day fades and you can see the sun go down slowly behind the bridge tower. It’s on these nights that I kind of feel OK, that I can kind of pretend that the aches aren’t there—one for mama, one for hunger, and one just for the world, I guess. After a few minutes I go back inside and finish frying the křupánky. I tell Papa that it’s done and he comes inside. We sit down together. “Papa,” I say, “There is the chance that he won’t get killed.” Papa’s quiet. “You’re right, Alois, there is. But you remember what happened to those boys in France. So many killed or wounded. At least, there’s a high chance that if he comes home he won’t have all of his limbs on him. That’s just the truth of it.” “What if they win,” I say. “If they win—then do you think things will be different, Papa?” “Who knows. When those French boys fought on barricades it didn’t do much good, as far as I can tell… I wondered if something like this would happen when Josef went to University. These young men—” he sighs. 238
“Sometimes when you get all of those young men together they start talking about things. Oh, the things they read up there are all right, I guess, but when they get together to talk about them it can lead to things like this. I’d just as soon that Josef study by himself and learn that way.” Papa sighs again. “But that is not how it goes, now is it.” This last part he didn’t say to me, but to the air, I guess. Sometimes when he does it it’s like he’s saying it to someone else in the room, someone besides me. In those moments I like to think he’s talking to Mama, and I like to think that she says something back to him. We’d received word about Windisch-Grätz’s soldiers shooting the crowd going home from mass at the Rossmarkt. Me and Papa didn’t go to mass for the same reason Josef chose to go. He suspected that there would be trouble today, as the tension’s been building for a few days now, and he wanted to be there if something happened. Rotislav, who went to mass but made it home another way, told us that when the soldiers started shooting, the people in the crowd put up barricades. That means Josef—Josef’s there, at the barricades. After I clean up the meal, I sit back down at the table and put my head on my arms. I could go to bed instead, but retiring now would be giving up on seeing Josef tonight. I’m not ready to give up. I wake up. I’ve fallen asleep with my head on the table. I can hear noise coming from far away. It’s dark but Papa has lit a candle, so I’m not in complete darkness. The wax drips onto the wooden table. There’s a breeze coming in, and I see that the door’s open. I’m a little alarmed until I realize that it’s Papa—he’s sitting on the front stoop again. I can just barely smell the cigar smoke coming in the room. I walk outside to stand on the stoop and hear the noise, still from far away. Rifle shots. I stand next to where Papa is sitting on the stoop and stare ahead. It’s dark, but there’s a moon out, and I can make out the 239
Anthology 2015 bridge tower. I imagine what’s beyond it—town square and Týnský Chrám, the cathedral. When Josef and I were younger, before he went to university, we’d play in the fields and hills beyond town. We’d get muddy, sometimes, walking home. We’d step in puddles in the cobbled streets while we ran our fingers over the brick walls of the city. I see Papa looking out towards the barricades. I imagine Josef among those brick buildings tonight, among all the things they’ve stacked up between them and the soldiers. Part of me wishes I were there with him, fighting with him. I can’t think of many other things I’d rather do than fight for something that means something. But I am here, because Papa doesn’t want me to go, and I won’t defy him like Josef does. Standing there on the stoop, I see the smoke curl out silently and softly from Papa’s cigar. I think of Josef straggling home through the streets and try to make myself imagine him alive, not dead. Make myself see him breathing. Not my brother dead. Not my brother dead. Mama used to tell me that sometimes the things that we imagine happen. So I try so hard to imagine him alive—because what if I don’t, and he dies, and my imagining him alive would have made the difference. I’m quiet, Papa in his thoughts, me in mine. Alone in our separate, parallel vigils. I sit down at the table and pray hard for Josef, ask God to not let him die. In prayer I bow my head down again. My tired mind weighs much, and I fall asleep again. Two hours later I hear a shout. I wake up again; my heart beats hard and I stand up quick and go to the door. Papa’s standing on the stoop. In the moonlight I see someone walking towards us. Finally I see that it is Josef; he is not dead, and he cannot be badly wounded—right? Or else he wouldn’t be able to walk—and I am so relieved. He is alive. When he gets to the house he’s sobbing shamelessly. There’s blood on his left trouser leg, and he’s shaking in the sobs. I hold 240
the door open for him and Papa, who goes inside and pours Josef a glass of lager. Josef sits down, and I sit next to him and some of the blood from his trouser leg rubs onto my shirtsleeve. He downs the lager. I watch his throat convulse as the liquid goes down the inside of his throat, some of it spilling out the sides of his mouth. It’s then, in the candlelight, that I see the tears on the sides of his face, too, now mixing with the alcohol. The nerves in his hands bulge out. Mama used to say that Josef had big, wonderful hands. I don’t know what she meant by “wonderful,” but they are bigger than mine, and bigger than Papa’s. I stare at them while he holds the glass to his mouth. When he sets it down he doesn’t wipe his mouth. He just sits and cries. Later he tells us that the blood on his trouser isn’t his—it’s Šimon’s. Šimon, his friend. Šimon was shot, and Josef was next to him. Josef caught him as he slid down the makeshift defense. As I stare at my brother sobbing like an infant, understanding hits me. Here is my brother, sobbing. Somewhere in the streets of town is a dead body that my brother used to call Šimon. Surely others are dead, and others wounded. My mind is reeling….When Josef talked about fighting, he always said that it would mean we’d get better wages and a better life. But where is that better life? Will I wake up tomorrow with more food in my stomach? I have to go out on the stoop. I have to think. It’s then I realize that, in my head, I created an equation. The equation was this: Dead bodies, bleeding bodies, sobbing bodies, equals better wages, more food, better shoes for winter. If that were true, I could look outside right now and point to the thing that my brother purchased with his sobs and shaking, delivered like a balík to our doorstep. Special delivery for the Čadeks! Only at the cost of one of your member’s sobs and shakings. No, Josef’s sobbing doesn’t win us anything—not for him, not for me, not for Papa. Tonight I see the truth, and I hate the university, I hate the Golden Goose, for the lies my brother believes. 241
Anthology 2015 I hate those stories I read, the ones my parents read to me. Now I must acclimatize myself into the world of the sane, into the world of those who know that fighting against an enemy who is clearly stronger, for an idea only, is not anything less grisly than death and horror. I must choose life, and what that means now is to take it as I’ve been given it. Josef doesn’t go back to the university after that night. Before, he’d come home from his day of studying and read to us from Robespierre and Buonarotti, Jungmann and Mácha. Now, he doesn’t read anything. As for the blood on my brother’s trouser leg and my shirt: no matter how many times we take to them soap and sponge, the blood stains still.
Princess Dress Anita Bergh
In those days I was a hippie Wearing Navy bell bottoms, Braided belt, peace pins, and beads. We envisioned a mountain meadow Wedding, with guitar music and songs But both our moms were war brides Neither had worn traditional white, No friends, no family, no flowers. My mom took a bus to Reno To marry a tungsten miner; His mom married a lieutenant J.G. I thought this wedding was for them. Until I saw the cover of Seventeen And I knew I wanted that dress With puffy chiffon sleeves, Scoop neck with seed pearls. I swished and swirled like a princess. Afterward Mom paid to have that precious dress cleaned and boxed…to save it. But as the years passed the mountains were no longer walked and the songs were no longer sung And there was no laughter No love-After 25 years I gave the dress To a rummage sale Still boxed.
A Bouquet of Flowers Daniel Replogle
THIRD PLACE POETRY
We are drinking for the last time Her hair is in knots again, So I know she has been thinking And tapping her nails On the table until they have become Chipped, like a flagstone walkway. She tells me I cannot drive home Not like this Not drunk Not in this state, With my emotions arranged By color, from green to red, With yellows and violets between, Like my councilor had explained to me. She sees me and seen this, She knows from experience That I am as falsely beautiful As a bouquet of flowers, Alive and bright On the surface With my stems cut, Pared and slowly rotting In the murky water beneath.
Pursuit of Peace Elena K. Manzo
What would you give for one day of rest? No sudden alarms, blazing and roaring Insisting you go somewhere and achieve. Your house is silent, no ringing, no dinging, No vacuuming, hammering, stomping of feet, No need to make lunches, or dinner, or bed. You fix yourself breakfast and brew your first coffee, You watch it drip-drop, feel aroma explode. You listen to birds, and see clouds collide, And sit in your garden and watch spiders fight. You dust your “must read” list and throw it away, Then whip up some cookies, or ice cream, or pie, And eat them straight up, with no worries for pounds, Or extras, or dishes, or that horrible mess, You grab your best pillow, exhale completely, And fall right asleep, as pleased as can be.
What would you do for one year of peace? Quiet on quiet your life has become. You wander around, slow and content, Piles of knits, and doilies, and projects All lay forgotten, surrendered, complete. You roam and you wait for a doorbell or car horn, To break up the silence that grows and explodes Until you go deaf, and could no longer stand it, Then pray for those voices that used to disturb you Those whining and needy, but always so sweet, To tell you they need you, to tell you they want you, To tell you they love you, and want you to wake. And then out of nowhere, toy mountains erupt, And clutter, and schedules, and noise all come back. You hear pitter-patter of small and large feet, You laugh, and then cry, and hug and caress, And then, you thank heavens for no peace or rest.
What would you do for one month of freedom, If it was suddenly offered to you? You’d come outside, and enjoy that sunshine That patiently waited all winter for you. You’d go through old pictures, or stacks of old notebooks, And finish all things you’ve been wanting to do. You knit and crochet, yank weeds, and fix flowers, And finish that painting, or story, or book. You lazy about and when fancy strikes, You’d pack your old suitcase, and you, You, fly to that place you have always imagined, But never could really afford, or go to. You watch beach umbrellas, and lapping warm water, Or snow, or the mountains, or rooftops, or dew. You sit in a lounge, by table or armchair, And let fun adventures all come to you. 246
Sleeping Seal Brianna Guillory
HONORABLE MENTION ART
Soul’s Cry Emilie Fox
I am left standing Alone on the shore, Crying out I didn‘t know I didn’t know While the waves pound the sand
Please Step Up to the Cross Mike Johnson
How it all started wasn’t a big surprise to anyone, really. Wendell had been unhappy and was enough of an ass to make sure that everyone knew it. If he was unhappy, then not only was he going to bitch about it, but he would complain until everyone else was either unhappy because he was or they were pissed off because of his constant whining. He seemed to almost get a sort of satisfaction from a successful unhappiness. Of course it wasn’t a complete success unless everyone was affected. Wendell was a star after all and the universe was centered around him, or at least very close to him. “If that asshole says one smart-ass word to me today,” Connie hissed, “I swear I’ll scream.” Eddie chuckled and took another sip of his watery coffee. “I mean it,” she said. “He may have the ratings on the air, but he’s dragging this place down from the inside.” “Well,” Eddie said through a mouthful of stale bagel, “now might be a good time to powder your nose, ‘cause here’s the throne now.” “Damn, I need a new job,” Connie mumbled under her breath as she watched the most highly rated deejay in Houston swagger up to the glass front of the highest rated Classic Rock station in Texas. While he was many clichés rolled into one, one that he wasn’t was the big voice in a small body. Wendell Taylor, AKA Stone, stood an impressive six-seven and tipped the scales at around two-eighty. Although he had the body of a defensive lineman, what he didn’t have was the desire or patience for sports. As a six-foot-two freshman in high school, he frustrated all of the coaches by having no willingness to even try out for sports. His interests lay else where. After watching the Partridge Family at the age of ten, he knew that music had to play a part in his life. The trumpet was the first 250
of many musical instruments to find their way back to the music store after a brief stint at the Taylor home. His father, a city alderman and professional small time entrepreneur in their hometown of Columbus, encouraged his young son in his musical endeavors, being a second rate but enthusiastic trumpet player himself. His mother on the other hand, usually only came downstairs to ask Wendell if he could please keep down that damned racket, she had one of her headaches and he wasn’t helping it any. At the age of eleven, he finally discovered the drums, much to his mother’s dismay and protest. While he would never become another John Bonham or Mick Fleetwood, he was reasonably talented, with a good ear for rhythms. He played in several bands throughout his scholastic years, but found that after high school graduation, his grades weren’t good enough for him to expand his education, except for maybe community college. Studying wasn’t something he enjoyed, so he tried his hand at music as a career. By the time he was nineteen, he had lost all of his savings, ten thousand dollars his dad had given him, his Chevy van, his drums and most important of all, his self esteem after a short lived cross country tour with the Flaming Jesus Twins. Beginning as a fairly successful tour, their longtime friend and manager used the band equipment to buy into a drug deal that turned out to be sponsored by the New Orleans Police Department. He returned to Columbus the shell of his former self, demoralized and penniless. His father gladly took him back after a long discussion with his ever-weakening mother that nearly ended a twenty-two year marriage. However, Wendell was allowed to return until he got himself back on his feet. His father, Wendell’s biggest supporter, called in a favor and got him a job at a small jazz radio station. He worked twenty hours a week and did essentially gopher work, but Wendell truly loved the job. Here, he was surrounded by music. Granted, not the style of music he would have preferred, but it was music none the less. 251
Anthology 2015 After only three weeks at the station, he had talked the manager into letting him take the newly vacated midnight to six deejay shift, after promising that he would continue with his other duties at the station. So at an early age, Wendell had learned to use his love for music to compete in the backstabbing world of radio. It wasn’t long before he was a full time deejay, and he was working at a rock station within a year. Then, living in his own apartment and quickly becoming a respected deejay, he went to a trade show and was quickly recruited by a station in Washington DC to do a morning show. He was a hit. After a few years of success in DC, Wendell moved again, this time out to sunny California. He enjoyed ever-growing popularity in San Francisco until his station was bought out and underwent a format change. This didn’t sit well with Wendell and his employment ended with a fist fight involving the program manager, which was over very quickly and sent his former boss to the hospital with a broken jaw. The corporation that owned the station decided to make an example of Wendell and pressed charges. With three months in jail and three months of community service added to his resume, Wendell decided that a change of scenery was due, which led him to Houston. “Mornin’ sexy,” Wendell said as he stepped into the lobby, winking at the receptionist. “Oh yeah, and good morning to you too, Eddie. Shouldn’t you be licking Lane’s boots about now?” he asked as he glanced at his watch. “Fuck you,” Eddie mumbled around a mouthful of bagel. “That’s ‘Fuck you, Sir’ Eddie.” “I’ve suddenly lost my appetite,” Eddie said as he turned and walked out of the lobby. “At last, we’re alone,” Wendell said as he turned to Connie. “Did you miss me?” Connie just rolled her eyes and found some very important work on her desk. Wendell gave his best winning smile and contin252
ued on towards the manager’s office. He passed the deejay booth and gave a quick wave to Carl sitting behind the mic. Carl returned the wave, but Wendell had already stepped into Lane’s office, neglecting to knock as always. Peter Lane motioned for Wendell to have a seat as he continued his phone conversation. Wendell obliged and sat down heavily into the chair across the desk. “No, no, it’s nothing that we can’t handle. I promise you that.” Peter leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk. “That too, but we‘ll take care of it all. Any way, he just walked in and there’s a lot I need to go over with him so I’ll talk to you later.” He hung up the phone and leaned back, lacing his fingers over his ever-growing paunch. “It’s nice to see the place didn’t burn down or anything while I was gone,” Wendell said, nodding approval as he gazed about the office. “Somehow we manage. First things first.” Peter slid a sheet of paper across the desk. “This is the list of new songs we’re adding into rotation. I’ve marked which are to get heavy.” Wendell picked up the paper without looking at it. “What, straight to business? Don’t you want to hear about my vacation? I got you something, you know.” He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a small pad of paper and placed it on the desk. “‘From the Desk of God.’ You’re always so thoughtful, Wendell,” Peter said as he read the memo pad then put it back down. “However, I need you to look that over, because they’re going to be on your play list in the morning.” “You’re such a workaholic, Lane,” Wendell said as he started to scan the list. The brief silence was interrupted with laughter as Wendell read through the list. “This is a joke, right?” he asked. “Green Day? The Wallflowers? This crap won’t fly. I mean, the fucking Cure? C’mon Lane, Van Halen followed by the fucking Cure?” 253
Anthology 2015 “It’s not a joke, it’s a broadening of the format. This came down from corporate so it’s going to happen. They think it’ll bring in more listeners. I don’t need any shit from you. I don’t like it either, but when it comes from corporate, we do it.” Wendell laid the sheet of paper carefully on the desk. “No.” “Don’t do this to me, Wendell. It’s something we all have to live with.” Peter ran his hand through his hair. “I’ll make you a deal, you play one new song a day. You don’t have to play them all at once. I’m just asking for one song a day.” “No,” Wendell replied. “They’re already being played,” Peter offered. This time Wendell didn’t even answer, he just placed one large cowboy boot on Peter’s desk and began to inspect his fingernails. “I was afraid this would happen. If you don’t cooperate, then you can just extend your vacation, permanently.” Wendell sat up, staring at his boss across the desk. “You don’t have the balls to fire me, Lane. I am this station.” “Goodbye Wendell,” Peter said returning Wendell’s stare. The two sat staring at each other for three full minutes, neither speaking. Finally, Wendell broke the silence. “You are a fucking asshole, Lane.” He picked up the list and walked out of the office, slamming the door behind him. Well, Peter thought, a temporary victory is still a victory. He wiped a small bead of sweat from his brow and put his fingers to his temples. This is going to be a shitty week. “I know, it’s bullshit,” Carl said between sips of coffee. “I wanted to say something, but what can I do, I’m the new guy. I’m lucky to have a shift that lets me see the sun, I couldn’t exactly start demanding things.” “They don’t know who they’re fucking with,” Wendell grumbled. Carl stared at Wendell with a touch of awe. “What are you going to do?” 254
“I’m going to play these stupid-ass songs and look for a new job is what I’m going to do. They need me more than I need them.” Carl shook his head and set his coffee down on the cheap Formica table. “Man, I wish I could just up and move. Shit, I’m lucky to have this job. Besides, Sarah would kick my ass if I quit.” Both men sat at the table for a few seconds, neither talking. Finally, Carl looked up at the speaker on the wall. It was droning out the last of a Pink Floyd song. “Well, I got to get back in the booth, the song’s almost over. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” He stood up, dumped his coffee into the sink and walked out of the room. Wendell sat at the table, turning the paper over in his hands. He stared at the list again, trying his best to make his eyes burn a hole in the paper. Alas, no laser beams shot from his eyes and the paper remained intact. This was making him more pissed the more he thought about it, he needed to either learn to deal with it, or do something. Pink Floyd faded away to the sound of Carl’s voice. “Comfortably Numb, something we all wish for on occasion. Right here for you kids is something new I know you’re going to like. Here’s Radiohead on KHHR, Houston’s house of rock.” Wimpy guitars were soon followed by wimpy drums and wimpy vocals. The wimpy music pierced Wendell’s skull and shot through his brain. “That’s it,” he shouted and stormed out of the room. Connie put the last of her things in her bag, slung it over her shoulder and began walking to the front door. It wasn’t such a bad day, only a couple of minutes of Stone and she was off, at least until tomorrow morning when the bastard would probably come out of the booth every ten minutes just to harass her. Before she could open the door, she heard the familiar clunk of Stone’s boots on the tile floor. She turned just in time to see him push past her and stomp out the door, knocking her bag to the floor. She stood fuming, staring at the contents of her bag spread out near the door. 255
Anthology 2015 “Ooooo,” she yelled between her teeth, “you fucking moron!” If she wasn’t so damn mad, she knew she would be in tears by now. She held on to the anger, letting it build until she saw that rat fucker next. “I’m going to make that asshole pay, no doubt about it.” She squatted down to retrieve her array of makeup dispensers, breath fresheners, Kleenex, and various other mandatory female accessories when she saw Stone walking back towards the building with the same urgency in which he left. Suddenly, her opportunity for revenge was here sooner than she had anticipated. She slowly stood up as she watched him approach the door, not really seeing the gun he carried in his hand until he was pulling the door open. “Why don’t you stick around for a few,” Wendell said flatly as he leveled the revolver at the shocked receptionist, stepping through the door. “We never seem to talk anymore. Let’s chat.” Connie dropped her bag and took a step backwards. “Please Stone, you don’t want to do this,” she pleaded. “I don’t?” he asked, sounding genuinely concerned. “Tell me Connie, what do I want? Hmm?” “C’mon, I’ve never done anything to you. Don’t do this.” Connie’s voice was beginning to crack. Wendell took another step toward her and motioned for her to back up. “Oh quit being so damn self-important,” he said. “This isn’t about you, you silly cow. Let’s take this into the back, shall we?” As she stepped further back into the room, Wendell turned around and threw the dead bolt on the front doors. In one fluid motion, he was turned back towards Connie, shooing her further into the building. “Come on, get a move on,” he said rather impatiently. “Let’s go share the good news with Scooby, Shaggy, and the rest of the gang. I can’t wait to see their little faces glow with joy.” Derrick Le Fontaine sat at his workbench with the sour smell of solder and flux drifting up his nose. His magnifying glass 256
headset made the printed circuit board come easily into view as he placed the smoldering iron onto the small piece of wire and then placed the solder against the heated wire, instantly spreading the soft metal between the strands of copper wrapped around the metal post on the circuit board. He pulled the iron away and the liquid metal hardened, securing the wire to the board. Looking down to admire his work, his hand instinctively grabbed the quarter-inch phone cable and plugged it into the jack. The tone generator hummed through the speakers and he knew his hard work had paid off. “Now, a quick reassembly and then I’m out of the salt mines for the night,” he mumbled to himself. As he reached for the screwdriver, he heard the pop that could only be a gunshot. Six years in the army had taught him the difference between a gunshot and a backfiring car or firecracker. He had heard that sound too often during the first Gulf War to mistake it for anything else. He found himself backing away from the table, reaching for a gun that wasn’t there without even realizing he had stood up. He waited for the sound of a scream or a shout, but nothing came. Derrick moved slowly to the door and placed his ear to it. He could hear distant mumbling but nothing else besides the hum of the air conditioning. With one hand on the doorknob and the other reaching into his pocket for his cell phone, Derrick cautiously opened the door a crack and peeked into the hallway. He couldn’t see anybody or anything moving around, which threw him off kilter. It was just after five and people should be leaving or getting ready to leave. He closed the door then reopened it a bit further and stuck his entire head out. He looked both ways up and down the empty hallway. He first noticed that Peter’s office door was closed, which he never did until he left for the day and Peter never left at five with the rest of the staff. He could hear mumbling and what sounded like sobbing, a little bit louder and coming from Peter’s office. He started down the hallway towards the closed door 257
Anthology 2015 as quietly as he could while he brought his phone up to call 911. Derrick only made it a few steps down the hall before the door burst open and Peter came running out, trying unsuccessfully to hold vomit in his mouth with his hand. Peter stumbled a few steps then collapsed against the wall, his head between his knees as he spewed more vomit onto the carpeted floor. Peter looked up at Derrick standing a few feet away from him, bile and spittle dripping from his chin unapologetically. After their eyes met, Peter shook his head slightly then put it into his hands as he looked down between his knees once again. Derrick could hear soft sobbing coming from the open door and slowly stepped to the doorway, feeling uneasy and vulnerable with no weapon. He could see the blood before he even poked his head into the door. It was sprayed against the wall behind Peter’s desk, the spatter looking like it came from below, like a suicide. Connie and Eddie were standing between the door and the desk, a look of shock and disbelief on both of their faces. Neither of them even saw Derrick as he stepped into the office, their eyes instead were glued to the slouched figure of a large man sitting on the floor, with what looked like a .357 Magnum laying at his feet. Even though his face was covered by his hands, Derrick knew the large figure was Wendell and that he was the source of the sobbing. A quick look to his right and he saw the body lying on the floor, on the far side of Peter’s desk, the pool of blood growing where the face had been. Nobody moved for several seconds and Derrick finally stepped further into the office and quickly pulled the gun away from Wendell with his foot, never taking his eyes off of the crying giant. Once it was out of arms reach of Wendell, he bent down and picked up the gun, being as careful as he could not to leave fingerprints on the shiny, chrome pistol. He placed the gun into the cargo pocket on the side of his pants and saw that nobody had yet moved. “Is that Carl?” Derrick asked gesturing towards the body on the floor. 258
Nobody moved or spoke. Derrick was pretty sure that Carl was on until eight tonight. He barely knew Carl Patterson, only nodding to him in the hallway in the month or so since he started working the drive time slot. He never really saw the overnight and weekend staff and Carl had been working at the station for just over a year before finally getting a prime-time slot. Derrick had worked at the station for almost five years and tried not to get involved in the ever-changing on-air staff. Actually, he tried not to get involved with anybody. Divorced for five years, he lived alone and had very few friends. He was okay with it for the most part. He didn’t really like most people and thought it best if he kept his distance and they kept theirs. “He reached for the gun and it went off by accident,” said a muffled voice. “I wouldn’t hurt him, I swear. I just wanted to scare Lane.” As Derrick looked down at the crying giant sitting on the floor, he noticed the phone in his hand, still un-dialed. He quickly punched in 9-1-1 and waited for the operator to pick up. “911, what’s your emergency?” asked the woman’s voice over the phone. Before he could answer, Derrick suddenly noticed that somebody had moved and wasn’t where they were a moment before. As he began to look around, he felt a hand reach into the cargo pocket of his pants. Connie had the gun in her hand and pointed at Wendell just as Derrick was starting to speak to the operator. “We’ve had a…” was all he got out before his ears were roaring with the sound of three more gunshots. Ringing drowned out the screaming as Derrick grabbed the gun while tackling Connie to the ground. He didn’t even realize what he had done until he was in a heap on the floor with the receptionist laying limply beneath him. The police were just finishing up the questioning as the second ambulance pulled away. There were no sirens or sense of urgency which made things that much worse in Derrick’s mind. 259
The Color of Midnight (Since You’ve Been Gone) Peggy Schimmelman
When the night comes down around this house it’s not in shades of blue-black-gray but in billowing waves of blood-red fury envy, venom-green confusion, foggy-purple blinding-yellow anxiety and on the worst nights: orange, the color of madness— —when the night comes down this way: relentless, washing away sleep there’s nothing to do but abandon bed seek higher ground stumble to the sofa go channel surfing in a sea of inanity: late-night chatter infomercials Seinfeld repeats Bacall and Bogie’s black and white banter clinging to sanity, swimming through purple-green-yellow-red- midnight pushing back the orange praying for a colorless dawn.
Epiphany Susan Reid
David sat on top and drove the old green stagecoach. He wore a pair of ragged shorts and red cowboy boots and sat next to his sidekick Glenn. Glenn had a shapeless blue felt cowboy hat jammed down over his ears. Together they drove the pair of invisible horses somewhere. It didn’t matter where as there were no wheels on the stagecoach. In fact, until a short time ago the coach was actually a workbench that had belonged to my father. It was a warm Saturday morning in May and Daddy dragged the old workbench to the backyard. It was a faded shade of green, probably a mixture of several cans of paint from the garage. The paint was peeling off in long tendrils which scattered to the ground when our dad swept it with the broom. He cleaned it until the worst of the dust and paint were gone and the resident spiders had been dispersed. David ran to get on his boots and join his friend Glenn. I was the only passenger and I sat, enjoying the ride and wiggling my loose tooth. Today was my birthday, my sixth birthday. The morning was warm and sun streamed into the open side of our carriage. I could smell chocolate cake baking. Grandma and Grandpa were coming over for dinner. I might even ask if I could go home with them and spend the night. Then I wouldn’t have to share them with my brother David and baby Nancy. The cat walked by and sniffed something in the grass. She jumped into the coach and settled down next to me. I smiled and patted her back. Suddenly, a wild beast, whose dog-name was Lady, came barking around the playhouse and my brother and his sidekick leapt from the moving stagecoach with stick-guns drawn. They would save me and the cat from the marauding intruder! Boys and dogs were so noisy. They ran away. I sat and worked on my loose tooth. May 6, 1956 and I was 261
Anthology 2015 six years old. Hmmm. May was the fifth month, so this was really 5/6/56 and I was six. Now that’s a thought. How many other people have such lucky birthdays? How many people have ever thought about this? Suddenly my mind started thinking in all directions. Do other people think like me? Why have I never thought about what other people think or do? I looked around our yard and saw, for the first time the grass and plants, my playhouse that Daddy built. Were other children doing the same thing? Did my brother think about things like this? I’m sure my baby sister didn’t. When do we start to think? There was almost a panic as I thought about what it meant to be me. This day I realized that I was unique in being the person that I was; to be in the body that I occupied. The words were not adult words or thoughts, but seeds were planted as I looked around and marveled at my world, as large as it was to me that day. It was as if a light had been switched on that would last a lifetime. That moment of epiphany has been with me for almost 60 years and I can still recall the time when I began to think; sitting in an imaginary stagecoach with the cat and my loose tooth.
Maasai Warriors Michelle Bates
Tanda Clauson Travod caught Kierneg’s eye and pointed to their ambushers, one on the right who shifted his weight and crept closer, the other crouching behind a tree. Travod readied his machete. He sidestepped, motioning Kierneg to take the other aggressor. Kierneg balked. Why did they recruit him? He couldn’t even hit anyone. He wasn’t good enough. He bolted into a convenient thicket, never unsheathing his weapon. One of the assailants held him in view. The man raised his machete and heaved it into a log. Kierneg’s legs swept away from the ground and he found himself flapping among the high branches. Trees spun around him. He dangled by his feet, bouncing from the earth to the top of a small tree where he could see the roof of the one-story fort nearby. Kierneg screamed at the oncoming sod. He covered his face against the impending crash. Just as his arms brushed the dust, he lurched and flew into space. Green leafs whipped by. He prayed he could catch his stomach as it passed. “It’s okay, Medved. I’m fine. I’ll be down in a—oof—minute,” he called to his bear-sized Samoyed, who barked. The vine thinned and snapped. Kierneg plummeted, shocked as Medved’s nose grew until it covered Kierneg’s face, “Ouch! I’m okay.” Medved pounced on Kierneg. “Ugh,” his remaining air popped out. Finally Travod, his guide and mentor swaggered to a sprawling Kierneg. “Lesson one. Bravery is knowledge and determination.” He dropped Kierneg’s weapons in front of him, “Time to go. Norst Jotnar’s restless.” Kierneg gulped. His eyes opened wide. “Oh,” he squeaked as he ran to his little Palomino and raced after Travod who slouched comfortably on his big white mare. “Is Norst Jotnar the great warrior we are going to fight?” 264
Kierneg nearly jumped into his saddle. Travod shook his head, his shaggy moustache snaking up at the corners of his mouth, “Tis a bleak day when he awakes, howling from his hole. Old Norst blows traveler’s fires out and forces them to huddle together. Most don’t make it through the pass. We’re goin’ to the Northern Fort to kill him.” Kierneg listened, frowning, “Can we really fight him?” Travod glanced at Kierneg’s glowing eyes, “Aye lad.” Could Kierneg? He could barely wield his large machete. “Old Norst is fearsome, is he not?” “Aye. We band together at the Northern Fort, but we have not outdone him yet.” Travod was the best of the best. Why did Travod take him as his mentor? Of the other apprentices, all outshined him. Kierneg mumbled, “I’m not sure I want to fight Norst Jotnar.” The horses loped on the worn trail, while dust devils swirled about them. The air was visible as it blew from the horses’ nostrils, but when the mare and the palomino climbed the foothills of the purple mountains and the horses danced on frosty needles, Travod stopped the group. He built a fire in a cleft where green leafs still clung to the tiny canyon’s brush. Though shivering, Kierneg ranted, “We are fast; Norst will chase us to the fort.” “Nay lad. Norst Jotnar threatens us with his clouds.” “Then we should be racing to the fort.” “Nay lad. We should get rest tonight. It will be hard riding tomorrow.” Kierneg paced and slipped narrow-eyed glances at Travod. Finally, he tromped up the rise and made his bed between his pony and furry dog. Staring at the open sky, he felt like one among many river pebbles, while Norst Jotnar swept armies of stones down the icy currents. Kierneg’s palms grew warm and clammy. He turned into Medved’s fur, wishing to be near his guide, but refusing to slink back to Travod. 265
Anthology 2015 Even buried in Medved’s fur, Kierneg couldn’t sleep. The wind swept in symphonies, moaning of the purple mountain’s icy jewels. Next, a slow adagio lulled Kierneg into sleep. He nestled into Medved’s fur, but the added harmony of the wind’s howls joined the movement at its height and swept Kierneg to his feet. He dared not fight his enemy. He was one against the fury of a mountain-born demon. His heart sped. The symphony replayed and Kierneg washed into sleep again. Near the end of the symphony, crystals flew like spears, lightning clashed like blasting cymbals and thunder rolled like timpani. The ground shook when they shattered, and the crackle rumbled through the peaks, echoing in his heart, as if a great warrior challenged him. Kierneg’s eyes whisked open, all thoughts of sleep frightened away. He saw Norst Jotnar rising from the mountaintops. His features coalesced from dark clouds, his weapons carved of ice and storm. Hot sweat bled down Kierneg’s face and welled up on his trembling hands. He saluted the crossed weapons of Norst Jotnar, who bowed, lightning gleaming from his glacial helm. Kierneg flinched when icebound shafts buried into the earth. With a long stance, machete held at his hip, he splintered bolts like twigs, eyes fixed always on Norst. Jagged arrows flew faster. Kierneg spun and kicked. Norst rained hard globes of hail at Kierneg. Kierneg ducked. A volley of stones shot from the heavens. They curved in the untamed wind. Instinctively, he guarded his face with his hand. When a stone like a mace battered his arm, he felt a bone crack. The force of the blow dropped him to his knees, his broken arm hanging at his side, machete held loosely in his fingers. With effort, he raised his machete against the blows. A razor-sharp burn of agony amid the unblunted pain beat his arm back each time he staved off a blow. His reflexes slow, a pellet flung from a trebuchet stabbed his armor. The torment of his snapping rib yanked like a slingshot into all of the muscles that clung to it. He fell when it broke, his machete flying. “Jotnaaaaar,” he cried through his anguish. Rasps of heated air 266
blew from his mouth. Hailstones rained down on him. Kierneg spied the woods. Holding his breath, he groped for the machete’s handle amid the freezing hail. His fevered fingers finally grasped its hilt. Struggling to a knee, he batted hail stones, sometimes two at once. He prayed for Travod to join the fight. Kierneg defended against Norst Jotnar whose freezing flames pelted stones and jagged lances harder and harder amid unleashed gales. As the clouds changed color, hail softened to snow. The winds eased. Kierneg stood poised with his machete raised, not daring to move until the fingers of the sun’s first blush touched his shoulder. As soon as he spied the deep blue of the coming sun, he dropped his weapon and rubbed his limbs. Norst’s anger waned. In his wake, he left world that bristled with frost. Small patches of frozen grass fought Norst’s blue-veined hand of ice and snow that crept its bane fingers over the hillsides. The North Wind’s wrath left the underbrush and vines wrapped in carpets of silver-plated thorns. Sheltered, the horses ambled beneath the woodland canopy nipping brown blades. Kierneg shook the fork-like tines out of his hair and braved the underbrush to gather sticks for a fire. He veiled his eyes when the burnished reflection of the sun glinted off the flattened base of transformed hollows, now as smooth as polished shields. Kierneg saw black cinders beneath hoar-framed glass where Travod laid his head. Visions of a stalactite sculpture reaching above a glassy mirror sent Kierneg’s chest piercing with ice. Beads of sweat gathered on Kierneg’s forehead. He vaulted into a run, staring, but not seeing, pleading, “Let it not be so.” Behind him, sticks scattered. He half slipped, half tumbled to the pond. Medved whined, sniffing the mica-smooth stone. The Samoyed scratched transparent parchment, leaving deep cuts that resembled runes. Kierneg shuddered as he tripped to his hands and knees. His stomach sickened. Kierneg faced open lifeless eyes surrounded by bleached skin entombed in thick translucent quartz. He looked aside, swallowing bile. No one could pay the ferryman. Clear crystal consumed his mentor. Beside the cone of ice, his 267
Anthology 2015 guide’s machete sliced above the ice. As if on purpose, the frosty point aimed north. Kierneg stared at the blade. Travod fought his fate before he died. Kierneg’s hot breath huffed in whorls. What? Why? Kierneg raised his fist and struck the corrupted water. He struck it again and again. The ice never responded. Giant twisted icicles stabbed the stiffened ground surrounding him. Shards of ice lay nearby. Kierneg grimaced, closed his eyes. What happened? He couldn’t imagine that Travod fought where he slept, not even having time to stand. Keirneg bowed his head. He should have returned to Travod. Why did Norst want Travod? Kierneg wanted to scream or cry, but both remained inside. A trick of shadow or light, Travod spoke. Moustache upturned, machete directed north, Kierneg knew. Even in death, Travod still had one last lesson. “Don’t leave me. I need you.” He hit the smooth coffin once more. “What are you telling me? I need you.” A tear dropped, freezing before it hit the ice. Kierneg dropped his lone weapon and shrunk into Medved’s bulk, hot tears buried in his fur. Norst surrounded him in killing weather—frozen white that showed no direction. “Where should I go?” Kierneg whispered, “What should I do? I can’t fight without you.” He looked at Travod’s dove-white form, “Norst Jotnar defeated even you.” Kierneg made fists around balls of frost. To the south lay the warm outpost. How he wished he were there, laughing and joking with Travod. The Northern Fort lay somewhere in the ring of mountains where Norst Jotnar’s slumber kept their tops frozen—when he stirred, the ridges rumbled. Now in daylight the jagged cliffs claimed innocence against the blue sky. Norst Jotnar left the area glistening in frost that would, on any other day, look beautiful—a snowflake texture that covered the grasses, bushes and trees. When Kierneg stood, he reached for a 268
vine. Though securely bound with frost, a thorn pierced Kierneg’s thumb. “Ouch!” He shook his hand and sucked the drop of blood coming from his thumb. Retrieving the horses, he brushed against a branch, and iridescent icicles dashed to the ground, darts like wind chimes that scratched his armor and gashed his skin. He reached for a sharp sting on his head before his vision went black. “Oh,” Kierneg groaned. His head pounded, and he shivered in the cold. Kierneg moved, but decided to lay on his bed of leaves a little longer. Medved licked a hard lump on his head. As Kierneg lay there, he saw an afternoon sun. He was late. Why am I asleep? I supposed to be riding. He raised up on both arms and dropped. Moaning, he thought, that’s right, I broke an arm. A rib, too. It would take some time to get the horses ready. Finally, he stood and brushed the leaves that shouldn’t have been on the side of his head. He weaved to the horses, saddled them and led the Palomino to a low bank. He eased himself onto the horse. Kiering turned south where a faint trail still showed. He denied a yawn by closing his mouth and rubbed the dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. Medved whined. He lay at Travod’s side and barked. As Kierneg disappeared from view, Medved ran after him, still barking. Kierneg used his forehead and eyebrows to hold his eyes open when they sagged and wished his headache would subside. In the gloaming, Kierneg built a fire so small that he could only warm his hands. Norst Jotnar planned to kill Travod. But why? Kierneg remembered Travod showing off the many scars he received while fighting Norst Jotnar. An entire fort of warriors had not outdone him. Could Norst Jotnar see Travod as a threat? Could Travod do something different this year than he had in the past? While he watched Medved sniff the ground, he thought about Travod spinning his machete against Norst year after year and frowned. Kierneg twisted and gazed at the purple mountains, envisioning a trail to the Northern Fort. I am the only difference this year. He threaded his fingers together and rested his chin on his 269
Anthology 2015 thumbs, closing his eyes. Surely he could not be the one to change the tide. Norst Jotnar was more than a creature. He was a force that enveloped people, sapped their strength and preyed upon their fears. He cannot be destroyed by a mere machete. Someone who is fearless would be the only threat. I couldn’t be that person… could I? His heart shivered as he felt Travod’s loss. I hate the cold. The question kept breaching his thoughts as Kierneg hunched over and held his fingers above the dying coals. He gazed upon the new colors in the sky. It would be time to go soon. He straightened. His eyes widened. Norst sees me as a threat. He’s afraid of me. Kierneg shuddered. Norst killed Travod to scare me. I know it. I was not killed when Travod, the best of the best was. Kierneg galloped to Travod’s grave and slid from the horse’s back, then waved two buzzards away in a spray of frost. Standing, holding the Palomino’s reins, he fixed his eyes on Travod. As he did so, he grew hungry for a fight. He thirsted for Old Norst’s blood. The air no longer felt as cold. Kierneg yelled at the sky, “If you wished me gone before you killed Travod, what say you now, beast?” He felt the weight of his Samoyed’s paw on his shoulder. Medved’s rough tongue lapped his face. “You’re right, Medved. I’ve got to move or I’ll freeze, too,” he agreed. He backed to the edge of dry grass surrounding the slippery film, eyes never straying from those frozen eyes and the machete that jabbed toward the mountains. He pulled his dog’s muzzle to him, “It’s up to you, friend. You can get us to the Northern Fort,” he patted the dog’s head. In his ache for the fight, Kierneg pushed forward. His face hardened like the steel of his weapon. He learned from the wind and stars and the land itself. He forgot the east and the west. He listened to Norst Jotnar, slept when Norst slept, woke when he woke. He learned Norst’s moans and heard them, awake or asleep. He knew the rumble of his thunder and the slash of his lightning. Kierneg knew it, then. The whispered words of his guide and mentor. Lesson one. Bravery is knowledge and determination. 270
Poker Face Lanae Severin
The hotel seemed oddly overdressed, Maybe it’s a cover for something so possessed. The secrets behind her, and truth be told, This hotel is good at poker; sly yet bold. She killed a man once, back in 1987, She hid the body deep, they thought he’d went straight to heaven. Making herself seem busy, no one ever thought to wonder, The loud thump at night, they all think its thunder. Yet another goes missing, and they never ask why, She’s ever so inviting, nothing ever went awry. But everyone is fooled, as she puts on a show, She is so believable, no one would ever know.
Think About Me Katelyn Harper
Stone walls become tender In the slow deluge of a forgotten lover Pools of thick condensation pouring out their cool, wet promises —they should taste sweet As you lay your heavy head down And drown your thoughts within the liquid walls of a dream Think about me Please
Think about Me As you fall asleep Think about Puffy lips Fluttering eyelashes Soft, rosy cheeks Fall, if you will, Into the vague cloud of a dream That fills your head with sleepy ardor And earnestly— Yet, so gently pulls at the seam of Your cerebral cortex And leads you cascading and collapsing Into a fantasy But catch yourself, if you will, I want you to land on two feet Safely, So you will not be destroyed If one day you decide to leave me Maybe. And as you begin to drift Thoughts of me will start to creep in Through the hole Left by the thin needle of my memory Prick, prick, prick 272
Pigeon Point Anna Rouse
Just Another Day Shawn Coe
As I sat in the darkness in the cold crisp night air, the only sound was the beating rotors of the Chinooks leaving in the distance and the occasional bark of a dog. Nothing could be seen through the battered night vision goggles that turned the black into a fuzzy light green. Nothing but shadows. The mission was like so many before: to look for the enemy, their weapons, and do our best to disrupt their movements. After sitting at the drop off for maybe 15 minutes, I picked up my pack and began the hike. I always hated the walks high up in Afghanistan’s mountains, but I loved them as well. The strain of the hike was brutal. The heavy gear and pack would test every muscle, and that long hike in the cold darkness would take us higher up the mountain as we hoped to gain a vantage point. As we climbed along the loose rock and dirt, we periodically stopped to study the shadows. We would then set into position and wait for the dawn to break. I was just 20 years old at the time, assigned as a gunner on the 240-Bravo machine gun team. Sweating and tired, I was ready for the break and to sneak in a little morning breakfast. At daylight we would be off again in just a few hours. I sat there in my rocky uncomfortable position watching the sun rise above the mountain ridge across from me. This was one of the reasons I loved the early morning hikes. Afghanistan, while a dangerous country, was beautiful, and high up in the mountains early in the morning watching the sun fill the green valley below was a sight I will always remember. With the sun came the heat, and with the heat would come the sweat. Nothing moved but the occasional goat herder. No enemy to be seen as time moved slowly. I told my assistant gunner, or “AG” for short, “Keep a sharp eye out because you can bet that they are watching you.” 274
Anthology 2015 Finally the time came to move and make our way down the mountain. On the way we would search out Taliban fighting positions and mark them for future fights. I watched carefully in front of me, noting where to step because one bad move up here and you could fall for a while over some rough terrain. In the daylight we moved constantly because we didn’t want the enemy to maneuver onto or around us. I remember between the heat, weight, and boredom sometimes I wished for something interesting to happen. I wished for anything so I could feel like the mission would have a sense of purpose. I knew these wishes were dumb and best not wished at all. Quiet days have less risk, but I know most of us still wished strangely for that action. Then up on the side of that mountain as we crossed a seemingly peaceful and terraced meadow, it happened. Shots came down from where my platoon had been only hours before. I ran to the nearest cover and prepared my gun for a fight. A large boulder makes a nice place to be when gunfire is raining down. Next I heard yelling as we tried to figure out where the enemy was and if everyone was okay. My assistant gunner screamed “Contact nine o’clock, 300 meters, small arms fire!” Then the obvious order “Shoot back!” my LT barked out impatiently. I was no longer thinking about how tired I was or if I was hot or if my pack was too heavy. All of that had gone out of my mind as I focused every thought and instinct on this fight. The reason for the mission seemed now at least to have purpose. Now I felt the adrenaline running through my system as I pulled the trigger to my machine gun, sending rounds back at an enemy—this enemy who was sending rounds at me and at my platoon. “Keep the rounds linked and coming fast,” I told my AG as I could hear them whizzing and zinging by ricocheting off nearby rocks. Minutes raced by, seeming like seconds in a situation like this. Before I knew it, 45 minutes had gone by. At this point the thrill and rush was over and I just wanted it to end. As the end of the fight neared, Kiowa helicopters appeared in 276
the bright blue sky and started firing their rocket payload to cover us as we began to move. This stopped the fighting as it usually did. Now realistically all I and my friends could think about was getting back to base to relax and get some food. But as we descended the mountain with the base in sight, another set of shots rang out and another fight ensued. This was common up here in this hostile terrain. My squad leader this time casually said, “Here we go again boys. Pour it on them thick and don’t let up.” I replied with a simple “Roger Sergeant,” and set up and began to fire once again. I was relieved that after just 15 minutes of fighting we got some artillery rounds for support. The fighting stopped for good and we continued on. Whenever I saw the beat-up iron gates of our base, I felt a sense of relief. I knew the day was done. I had done my job and came back. I remember we would all gather inside to clear weapons, talk of the day’s events, and clear the rocks from our boots. This would happen for a few minutes before we headed off to our little wooden rooms for some well-needed rest. But soon we would gather again to prepare our equipment to head back out the next day to do it all over again. To me and many other combat veterans who were deployed in Afghanistan, this was our job. Nothing special or out of the ordinary. It was expected. It was just another day until we could come home.
Iraq Ramadi Firefight 2005 Francisco Perez-Lopez
What Soldiers Do Peggy Schimmelman
Having devoured our noonday rations and given the horses a much needed rest, we were about to break camp when a sweet, harmonious rendition of “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”—our own revered anthem—came drifting out of the nearby pines, driven by the loose rattle of a military snare. The Confederate general known as the Prankster had danced one frustrating step ahead of us throughout that swampy, sundrenched Alabama summer, yet in our war-weary state we dared to hope this was his warped idea of a dignified surrender. Our spirits soared when Lt. Taylor, sent to investigate, was captured then released with instructions to lead us at once to nearby Bailey’s Acre, where the Rebels promised to lay down arms. There we found nothing but a few bloated carcasses of slaughtered longhorns in a dusty field pockmarked with hoofprints of enemy horses—a trail leading back to camp, where we discovered our own spare horses missing, along with the two ineffective guards and a wagon filled with rations and ammunition. The troops stormed the surrounding thickets in a fruitless search, damning the Rebels to Hell, until General James, his jaw set and death in his eyes, said “We’re wasting time. Mount up!” For hours on end, in that relentless, sweltering heat, we pursued them: through low hills and fertile valleys, past once thriving cotton plantations with torched houses and starved crops, across creeks swimming with the bones of abandoned livestock. The Prankster led us through a series of switchbacks and circles, now ahead of us, now behind, to the right then the left. Whispered threats of mutiny were rippling through the discouraged, exhausted brigade by the time the general finally called “Halt!” We followed his gaze across a parched cotton field to the hilltop where the Rebels waited, their silence broken only by the ner279
Anthology 2015 vous whinnying of their mounts. In the harsh glare of the afternoon sun, we could barely make out their gray uniforms and the dark banner that waved ominously above the head of their lead horseman. The troops murmured in agreement when I speculated that the enemy’s white flag must have been destroyed in a previous skirmish, but General James, whose hatred and distrust of the Prankster were deeply rooted in a long ago West Point rivalry, took a deep swallow from his canteen and spat on the ground at my feet. “Don’t be a fool, Sergeant. It’s another of his riddles: if white is surrender, then black means they’ll attack soon as we’re within range.” For weeks, we’d joked among the troops that the general’s sanity had been lost back in early June, along with his beloved horse, Jericho, at the battle of Morgan Creek. Now, as he dug in his spurs and charged across the field toward the hillside, rifle at the ready, whooping like an Apache, his madness seemed beyond question. Beyond caring, we followed anyway, whipping our horses and mimicking his war cries. The alarmed cries of “Surrender! Surrender!” came too late. Their Major Logan fell to the ground, impaled on my bayonet. General James put three bullets into the Prankster’s chest, and within minutes, the soil was stained with Confederate blood. The last Rebel standing, a lowly private, threw down his weapon and held up both arms in obvious surrender, but Lt. Taylor tackled him anyway, the two of them tumbling in the dust, pummeling, scratching and cursing their way down the hillside in a tangle of stork-like limbs, while the rest of us, the dead and the living, followed, cheering them on. When Mikey finally wised up and lay still, Taylor, oblivious to the bloody flap of skin dangling from her left elbow, sprang up and in a belated display of modesty, jerked her filthy, ripped shorts back up over her bony hips before she began circling him in a spastic, jubilant victory dance, pumping her fists in the air. “Long live 280
the Union!” Our guffaws trailed off as Mikey stumbled to his feet, bawling, both knees skinned raw, blood streaming from his split lower lip. “I’m telling! It’s supposed to be just a game, assholes!” As he took off across the field in a lopsided run, the rest of us exchanged uneasy glances, assessing our own and each other’s wounds and ruined clothing. Taylor let out a howl as she noticed her damaged elbow, so the Prankster picked up his black T-shirt and wrapped it loosely around the injury, shaming us victors with the disgust in his eyes. “Opposite Day. What don’t you get about opposite day, you morons?” And then we began our own somber march toward home and certain retribution, each of us silently rewriting the script, justifying the carnage, assigning the blame.
The Bridge Holly Healy
Golden Gate Bridge Michelle Bates
I remember the Bridge, Under the road, next to the creek. The pathway of rocks and pebbles An endless selection we throw into the water. This is where silence bonds us, Where ducklings swim in the shallow ripples This is where we drank our first beer On the high mound, under the bridge This is where we daydreamed Skipped rocks and sat in the rain Where we listened to yellow on repeat. I remember the Bridge, Yes, I remember it well Where laughter was loud And smiles louder And silence Sweet silence we spoke fluently.
A Day at the Zoo Mary E. Heaton
The sun shone brightly in the Livermore, California sky. Our four oldest children were off doing various activities, so my husband and I decided to take our three-year-old son, Sam, to the zoo. We felt that the Oakland Zoo was a good choice, since it was much smaller than San Francisco’s and a closer drive from our hometown. We headed off that lovely July morning, ready to introduce our son to a menagerie of wild animals. When we arrived, Sam spotted the carnival rides at the entrance, which immediately attracted his attention. He stared at the Tiger Coaster, with its orange painted tigers on the each car, the shiny silver Outback Express Train, and the Endangered Species Carousel, with its colorfully painted animals. But then he looked up, pointing his little finger into the sky, and exclaimed, “Mommy, me want to go on that.” He was motioning to the Sky Ride. This attraction consisted of small metal carriages, of various colors, which fit two to three people. They were suspended from a cable fifty feet above the ground. “Sure, Sam. We can go on that ride later, after we see the animals. You know, I went on that ride when I was young like you,” I said. From the time he could talk, Sam told me he wanted to be a bird, so that he could fly. I said, “Sam, you can’t be a bird because you are already a boy, but you can become a pilot and fly in an airplane one day.” And from that moment on, he loved any contraption that he could see up in the sky. The three of us strolled around the zoo gazing at the animals. Sam giggled, as he watched the meerkats. The skinny carnivores stood on their hind legs, with their paws dangling in front of their tummies, looking at us with intense brown eyes. The mob of meerkats would drop down on all fours and skitter across the ground 284
to look at something else that attracted their interest. Then in unison, they would pop up and stand like soldiers at attention, waiting for an order from their drill sergeant. We stood and stared back at these fascinating creatures for quite awhile. We moved on to see the big mammals: elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros, lions, tigers and bears, oh my. Sam’s spring green eyes opened wide and held my hand tightly as we approached these huge beasts. He stayed close to my side keeping a safe distance from the fence. Sam was tall for his age; his legs slender like a gazelle’s. His blonde mane shined in the sun’s light. He was a handsome boy who attracted attention from humans, like an animal in a cage. Sam didn’t like to be stared at by people and would turn shyly away. When Sam had his fill of the creatures, he said, “Mommy and Daddy, me want to go on Sky Ride.” “Okay, Sam, let’s do it.” I said, “Dad and I are ready for some rides too.” We headed toward the entrance of the park and purchased tickets at the booth. We walked to the Sky Ride entrance. There were a few people ahead of us and I got chance to examine the carriages more closely. This ride sure looks antiquated. It looks as if the carriages haven’t been replaced since I was a kid thirty years ago. Finally, it was our turn to get on the ride. We let Sam sit in the middle of us. A slim metal bar was attached in front of our bodies. Sam was smiling, excited to “fly” in the air. I on the other hand felt the opposite. My mind started racing with all kinds of thoughts as we left the platform into mid-air. What if Sam falls through the bar? He’s so skinny. The cable doesn’t feel sturdy enough to hold us up. What if it breaks? I was trying to keep myself composed, but my breathing became shallow. My heart was beating like a wildebeest running away from a cheetah. I began sweating, my hands gripped the metal bar of the carriage, and my knuckles had turned white. I looked down fifty feet to the animals below. They were 285
Anthology 2015 wandering around their enclosures. What if we fall into the tiger pen? If we don’t die from the fall, we’ll get eaten alive. Okay, Mary, focus now. Look straight ahead. Breathe. Just a few more minutes and the ride will be over. You can’t let Sam know how you truly feel. He is having a great time. We slowly approached the Sky Ride platform and I could feel my body start to relax. When the attendant unhooked the bar to let us off the ride. I felt intense relief, but my legs were still trembling. I was thrilled to be on terra firma once again. “Mommy, that was fun,” Sam said. “Yes, it was, Sam,” I said, lying through my teeth. “Sam, do you want to go on the carousel now?” “No, Mommy. That ride’s too scary!”
Elephant Family Michelle Bates
Rachael Johnson There was a Big Pig who ate a bunch From breakfast to lunch He’d munch munch munch It didn’t matter what he ate Big pig’s appetite was very great Flowers, vegetables, and cardboard too Were only a few things this pig could chew. But what really hit the spot Was good red meat, cooked or not. A bit of wolf, a touch of rabbit Too much cholesterol, an awful bad habit. Then one day, All merry and gay, Three ‘wittle’ wolves walked down the way, To find their papa in utter dismay. You better watch out where you play The Big Bad Pig is out today. He likes his wolf tender and sweet, The younger the wolf the sweeter the meat. The three ‘wittle’ wolves wanted to cry But instead they let out a dreadful sigh. For they did not want to die. They grabbed all their things Clothes, shoes, backpacks, and rings. They headed up the path, To avoid the pigs wrath. 288
Each went their own way To build a nice home Of brick, stick, and hay Near fields to roam The Big Bad Pig was drooling This task would not be grueling He thought there was no risk And so he said ‘tsk tsk’ Now a tasty treat Loads of good red meat Still making up his mind He tiptoed close behind He followed the first mut Into his little hut Instead of clay This mut used hay The Big Bad Pig He laughed ‘ha ha’ ‘Such an easy gig’ He shouted ‘oo la la’ He went to the ‘wittle’ wolf and said ‘Wittle’ wolf let me in in in Or i’ll eat your house With the hair on my chinny chin chin.’ The ‘wittle’ wolf grinned ‘Though I’m pinned You’re not getting in, Even with the hair on your chinny chin chin.’ The pig had an evil smirk Angry for the unnecessary work 289
He ate the hut, ‘yum yumm yummy A tasty treat for my tum tumm tummy’ He followed the second mut To the to the second hut But instead of bricks It was built with sticks
Big Pig said to ‘wittle wolf’ Wittle wolf let me in in in Or I’ll eat your house With the hair on my chinny chin chin.’ The wittle wolf grinned ‘Though I’m pinned You’re not getting in, Even with the hair on your chinny chin chin
The big bad pig He laughed ‘ha ha’ ‘Such an easy gig’ He shouted ‘oo la la’ He went to the wittle wolf and said ‘Wittle wolf let me in in in Or I’ll eat your house With the hair on my chinny chin chin.’ And that wittle wolf grinned ‘Though I’m pinned You’re not getting in, Even with the hair on your chinny chin chin.’ The pig was still smirking Irked for all his working He ate the hut, ‘yum yumm yummy Another tasty treat for my tum tumm tummy’ He followed the last mut But instead of stick To build his hut He used brick He laughed ‘ho ho, Big Bad Pig, No no no,Not such an easy gig.’
The pig was still smirking Irked for all his working The mut’s hut he couldn’t eat through Leaving big bad pig in a nasty stew He looked to the chimney ‘Aha! Something to win me’ He scaled the hard brick Wishing it were stick. The wittle wolf saw him comm’n Oil and pot he did summon After grabbing the pot and oil He waited for it to boil Poor big pig Didn’t see the smoke ‘Such a bad gig’ Was his final croak. Big Bad Pig could only squeal Because now, he was ‘wittle’ wolf’s meal Big Bad was now the wolf’s name Eating bacon was his game. Some would say it was kind of gory, But now you know the rest of the story. 291
Joy Through Child’s Eyes Elena K. Manzo
Blank Sheet of Paper Flora Alvarado
In my grade school days, I remember during the month of May in one of our art classes, routinely we were given a blank sheet of paper. The instruction was to fold the paper in half and then in half again. “Use your imagination and on the top square of the paper draw a beautiful picture that you think your mother would like. With your crayons, color it as neatly as possible. On the inside as you open the paper, write something to describe your picture.” I stare at this blank piece of paper. I have no idea what to draw. As I stare out of the classroom window I see the most beautiful rainbow. I want to capture that beauty. I start to draw a flower garden with rows of flowers, coloring each row of flowers a different color to look like a rainbow. The flowers will not disappear like the beautiful rainbow. I like my picture. I turn the page with another blank space to fill. I have no trouble writing about my picture. “You remind me of a rainbow, so beautiful, filling my heart with love. It doesn’t matter where I go, you are there. You must like flowers because they are almost as beautiful as the rainbow. The flowers have such a nice fragrance just like you. The blossoms will always be there until I see you again in the next rainbow.” I stare at my card. I get my black crayon and draw a dark cloud covering my rainbow garden of flowers. I turn the page and with my black crayon write over my written words. “How am I supposed to write about you? I don’t even know you. You disappeared like the rainbow before I even knew if you had a nice fragrance.” I crumble my card and drop it in the waste basket like I did all the other years.
The Long Walk Ramona Peterson
We Walk the Railroads Kyleigh McPhillips
We walk the railroads and pretend that’s enough We kick at the dirt— watching it reform — And wish that we Could do the same Long past due on these routine quests We look for truth Among the blue These weeds grow fierce Your fears do the same But we walk in quiet The way we came.
HONORABLE MENTION PROSE Kerouac once wrote about the mad ones; those who were mad to live, mad to talk, and mad to be saved. Poppy Harper was one of the mad ones, but if she was mad to live; certainly, I was mad to be saved—by her, the summer sun, and a promise of Colorado. Tiny paper hats swam across the dashboard, the air pulling a few through the passenger window. Poppy followed one out with her eyes, but her hands were still on the wheel. Behind her, there was Jacob, Eric, and the curious Matt Zollars. Our front left tire glided along the yellow divide, never straying from the rolling pavement. “Okay, okay, guys. Seriously, I have to pee.” Matt’s legs kicked around the back seat; he bought a gallon of water and made a habit of carrying it everywhere the last two days. He also had a peculiarly small bladder when there wasn’t a bathroom around. “I don’t think we’re stopping for another forty miles,” Poppy said over her shoulder, flashing a quick smile. “Think you could hold it in, bud?” “She’s right, man. I told you to go while we were in Arizona.” I did tell him after all. We had been driving for the last seven hours, and we were somewhere in Utah. “But, c’mon?” Matt squealed. He frustratingly scratched his shaggy hair underneath his headband. “If there ever has been an emergency, this is it.” He crossed his arms and hunched over, his head retreating between his knees. Jacob turned and grinned, “Dude…I dare you to piss out the window.” Jacob was an instigator. “Wait, hold on a second,” Eric spoke softly and with his hands, “Let’s be reasonable.” He paused. “At least wait until there’s less traffic.” Eric was a big fan of words like reasonable or realistic. I 296
once asked him if the proverbial glass was half-full or half-empty. He told me it was at half-capacity. Matt squirmed a bit. “Yo, guys. It’s going to happen. Point of no return.” Jacob laughed. “Here,” he said, rolling the window down, “You know you want to.” “You know what? Fine! Here.” Matt struggled from his seat, pulling his shorts down. He haphazardly hunched against the closed sunroof with his waist halfway out the car. “Ah, man. Dude. Really?” Eric turned around, using a stiff elbow as a barricade from Matt’s hind side. “This is what happens,” Matt proceeded as Jacob had encouraged. “This is what happens, and I can’t help it.” He kept rambling, “Emergency…guys.” Poppy smiled at me and mouthed, “Watch this.” “You know,” Matt was still speaking, “When you gotta go, y–” And promptly, the car swung sharply to the left and to the right, with Matt’s head whipping into the roof. “AH, hey, whoa…Poppy!” She laughed, “I’m sorry, what were you saying? Oh, look at that! We only have a quarter tank of gas left. Looks like we’ll have to stop…Anyone else need the restroom?” “Wait,” Matt sat back down with wide eyes, “Really? C’mon.” “Oh, this is what friends are for, Mattheus!” Poppy smirked back and shifted into park. The guys popped out of the car, skipping into the convenience store. I believed in these people, Poppy and Matt and Jacob and Eric, maybe even more than myself. I’m not sure if I mistook youthful exuberance for truth, but back then, the difference didn’t matter. It was an honest belief we could be anywhere and do anything, and that possibility mattered. I think it still does. The guys walked out of the store with an armful of sandwiches and a gallon of iced tea. Jacob had a Black and Mild tucked behind his ear and was scatting a tune we’d heard earlier. We spent the afternoon sitting curbside with $2.99 turkey sandwiches, passing 297
Anthology 2015 a jug of tea, and watching the day pass over us. Matt tried to climb onto the roof because he wanted to see if he could, and for the record, he could. The rest of us engaged in a serious discussion: would a rhino win in a fight with three wolves? Consensus determined that the rhino would indeed be the victor. “Yo, so I think I’m going to smoke this,” Jacob slipped the Black and Mild out from his ear. He lit the cigar, ash smoldering from the end. “I don’t know why I like these so much.” “Everyone has their vices, I suppose.” I said taking a puff from it. “I think Vonnegut was the one who said, ‘Smoking is the only honorable form of suicide.’ Something like that anyways.” “Well, that’s a little morbid,” Jacob said. “But man, lung cancer and death’s a small price to pay for nicotine, right?” “Hmm,” I took a quick puff, blowing it in his face. I smiled, “Oh yeah, definitely.” The smoke floated in the air like a dissipating ghost, spreading across the dusk. It was the first time I noticed it getting dark. Poppy turned to me, “Do you want to listen to something in the car?” I did, and so we walked across the lot and slipped into her small CRV, the interior smelled of the desert air and faintly like McDonalds. Turning the ignition, the gauges on the dashboard glowed and the sound of static spilled from the radio. “Here,” she said while turning the channels: Spanish, hip-hop, louder hip-hop, 90’s rock, classical, and Spanish again. “Wait, go back, turn it again.” I said quickly, reaching for the dial. She laughed, “You want to listen to Alanis Morissette?” “No, no! Hold on.” I turned the dial back until I heard violin. “Hear that?” We listened quietly to the music, the static sometimes seeping through the song. And sometimes, when there was neither violin nor static, we could hear crickets beneath the hum of passing cars and distant voices. “My teacher told me this story once,” I said breaking our 298
silence. I caught Poppy’s soft gaze. “There was this professional violinist, right? Seats to his shows can average well over a hundred dollars. I mean, he’s hailed as, like, this prodigy.” “Yeah? He must’ve been pretty good.” “Oh, definitely, one of the best. Well, anyways, this guy, he brings his thousand-dollar violin onto the subway station, and just starts playing. And it’s good, I mean, crazy good. Someone passes by, and another, and another. Finally, someone stops a moment and throws a dollar in, but rushes off. It goes like this for about an hour, and thousands pass by. At the end of it, you want to know how much he made? He made thirty-two dollars and some change. He’s a miracle, right there, and nobody wants to see it.” I was almost irritated by the end of it, “Thirty-two dollars? Seriously.” Poppy laughed, “Wow, that’s ridiculous. I guess too many people want to be heard, not enough want to listen.” “Yeah! Exactly.” I noticed I talked with my hands a lot. “Yeah! And they didn’t even know it was RIGHT in front of them. I just, argh, I don’t know. I just don’t get it.” Smiling, Poppy Harper looked at me, “Do you remember when we were on that road by school? You know, the one we had to hop that fence to get to? We sat there with blankets from your car until like 2:00 in the morning.” “Yeah,” I said, “I remember.” “Well, I was having the shittiest day. I was sitting there, and you would have this brooding look on your face, but I would turn to you, and you would see me and flash this big goofy-looking grin,” She chuckled a little, and took a piece of gum from her purse. “It’s my charm, ladies love it.” I laughed at my own joke, watching her unwrap the foil from peppermint piece. She started folding it like tiny origami. “Oh, but of course. It’s the tortured artist look, I get it, but there was something else. I wanted ask you something.” She gently put the little paper hat onto the dashboard. “That night, I remember wanting so badly to ask you, if you wanted to change the world with me.” 299
Anthology 2015 I met Poppy five years ago when she used too much eyeliner and looked like a raccoon, and I wore a hat all the time because I was embarrassed by my floppy hair. “You could ask me again, you know.” For a brief instant, everything was still; then a tap, and another tap. It happened again, and once more. I looked out the window, and rain started to fall in couplets against the glass. The sound, like tiny cannons, crackled across the windshield. Then the back door opened. “So, I’ve been thinking,” Eric slid into the back with Jacob and Matt, “And we’ve decided a pack of wolves is still a viable contender in a fight with a rhino.” I was still beaming at Poppy. “Are you kidding me? A rhino would kick a wolf’s ass.” Poppy shot back while still looking at me. Chuckling, she asked me, “Do you want to drive?” “Yeah, I could do that.” I was smiling; maybe it was the big and goofy looking kind. I never had to say I wanted to change the world with her. She just knew, and I looked back to the guys, their hair wet from the rain. “Guys, I thought we settled this. A rhino could definitely kick a wolf’s ass.” “Yeah, but–” Eric said exasperatedly, “There’s totally three of them. Think about it, let it ruminate…three wolves.” We drove another ten hours through Utah, across dark roads speckled with yellow reflectors. Trees and mountains stretched upward, zigzagging along horizon. We talked more of rhinos among other things, including but not limited to: white rappers, the best Doritos flavor, and Ryan Gosling’s good looks. Sometimes we sang songs; Jacob liked to freestyle rap while Matt beatbox’d, and other times we were quiet. I held the steering wheel and occasionally would hear distant thunder ripping through the night. In this way, Colorado strung magic between us—like the intangible lines that hold the constellations together. This was the day Matt Zollars urinated out 300
of a moving vehicle. It was also the day Poppy Harper asked me to change the world with her. The next morning, I woke up with my forehead stuck to the window. Poppy and Matt were strewn across the backseat with me, and Jacob was driving. He pulled over. “Good morning ladies and gentlemen!” Jacob was quite chipper. I looked around; we were off the main road, parked on the side of a dirt pathway. “Jake, where are we?” I asked. “You know, I’m not entirely sure.” He looked around too. “I think Colorado, but I sort of just went this way. Well, because, just look.” He pointed toward the horizon, and a stray portion of sunlight pointed back. The sun was rising. We watched the sun set fire to the sky as it rose behind a silhouette landscape. Suddenly, for no other reason than to feel the miracle of being alive, Matt started to yell, and Poppy too, until we all were calling out, shouting great howls of nothing, believing we were free. It all felt holy, as if I was acutely aware of how oxygen felt across my lips and in my lungs. And for a moment, I was underwater with the muffled sound of chirping birds and traffic. I could see the guys howling and Poppy laughing as if suspended, and there, quietly beneath the sunrise, I could hear a violin playing.
Endless Beginnings Jasmin Talisschim
THIRD PLACE ART