JOURNAL OF ART & LITERATURE Volume 42 no. 2
MORGAN JOHNSON JOSH KONECKE
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR
BLOG EDITOR, THE SHEPHERD
SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR/ CHIEF TWEETER
PUBLICITY DIRECTOR AND OUTREACH COORDINATOR
CHIEF COPY EDITOR
ASSISTANT COPY EDITORS
KIRA DOMAN HALEE STEWART AUGUST WIEGMAN
VISUAL ARTS EDITOR
POETRY Abbey Belling Kimberly Davis Abby Kaczynski Rianna Kubly Keely Palmer Rachel Sankey August Wiegman
NONFICTION Kira Doman Kayla Englebert Halee Stewart
Amelia Boylan-Knorr Becca Brehmer Evy Ehrlich Alexis Hamer Nate Hickson Tony Kubetz Tayler McAuliffe Brooke Poarch Taylor Tushoski
WHEEL OF FORTUNE
VISUAL ARTS Abbie Basteyns Brooke Biese Brandi Charles Mindy Mensen
TABLE OF CONTENTS Letter from the Editor
Zach Schneider 8
Rising Phoenix The Drugs We Sell: A Candidly Unpoetic Haibun Swimming Lessons Tricks of the Mind The Purple Girl
Lori Noto 15
Josette Ott 18 Steffi Farrey
Poetry Jacket Gary Lark
a moment Mira Chiruvolu
And Bliss Must Recur Many Times Lois Marie Harrod Fixing the Pipes Patrick Vala-Haynes
French Kissing With Teeth Lori Noto
To the Young Fisherman David Spicer
color makes me complete Sadhika Ganguli Leftovers Jenna Goldsmith Dad Jokes Lori Noto
Sleeping Season August Wiegman
Poetry (Continued) Please Take a Number August Wiegman
I Won’t Give, I Won’t Give Cole Depuy
An Unexpected Baptism in New Jersey, Following a Summer of Loss Lori Noto 89 Coffee Maker Sarah Rose Thomas Maple Delicacy
Victoria Elizabeth Ruwi
Suppose the Room Just Got Brighter driving faster through darkness Prayer Cycle
While Away Ky Li
You, Again Sherre Vernon Monitor Nothing JR Walsh
Pending MRI Results: Waiting Lori Noto
Nonfiction The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi Catherine C. Salcito
The Bookends of a House Wesley Cadwell Korpela
A Tube of Blue Clint Martin
On Belonging to the Blue Light Wayne Borowski
Another Sunday Evening at the Family Home Eli Kane A Summer Story
Visual Arts Two-Faced Sydnee Koenigs
The Other Side Lindsay Huehns Self-Portrait Jon Smith
Falling Ice Kobina Wright A Máthair Erin Stein
Through the Looking Glass Samantha Vondrum
Saariaho: Dans le rêve, elle L’attendait Cristian Andersson I Am a Flower Girl Sion Hardy Emotion Hector Ledesma
Looking at the Sky Szilárd Szilágyi
Bountiful Colors Nature’s Eye Candy Timothy Phillips Nature 3 Juliana Haliti
Holod Alina Ananyeva
Parking Lot Hyewon Cho
Emerald Drake Mindy Mensen
The Blue Sirine Mindy Mensen
Us Kevin Verbeten
The Four Elements VIII Josh Stein Always Kendra Sieracki
Rattling Bag Tara Gruchalski
Lost Connection Lauren Blumenthal
Fiction Together Morgan Baerenwald
Subtle Eulogies Makenzie Zatychies
The Five Stages of Grieving an Unsuccesful Suicide Attempt Christine M. Hopkins 45 Times in the Open Square Hillard Morley Iâ€™d Rather Be A Spider Julie Quinn
Secret Kisses Amelia Boylan-Knorr 90 Last Summer of Innocence JaNae Swafford Perfect Gift of Thine Grace Song
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR ZACH SCHNEIDER
One of the oldest professions known to humanity is the shepherd. The ubiquitous image of a shepherd crops up across time, from the ancient Mesopotamian god Dumuzid that protected shepherds, to pastoral literature that idealized the life of shepherds, to the Christian God’s depiction as a shepherd. The duty of a shepherd is to watch over their flocks, keenly observing, their eyes looking for one straying too far, a poisonous plant in their grazing path, or a predator seeking for an easy kill. However, with The Shepherd present, there’s no easy kill. Their protected charges then provide food and wool for their community–food nourishing those of all ages, wool a renewable resource to their economy, providing clothing and wealth. As an integral part of society that epitomizes leadership, protection, and community, The Shepherd inspired me to create a Tarot card based on it, which is now the cover of this edition of Sheepshead Review. The Fall 2019 issue theme was a deck of playing cards, and as a thread of continuity I decided on a theme of Tarot Cards. Because of each card’s significance and the meaning behind it, none of the cards felt quite right as the cover of our journal, so we made our own. I decided to run with the idea of a shepherd and the concept, explained above, could not have fit more perfectly as our world was struck by COVID-19. All of us have been, and continue to be, affected by the virus both personally and professionally. About halfway through the semester, UW-Green Bay decided to move fully online to better protect their students and our community. For our journal–that is fully created by undergraduate students who meet in person to do everything from receiving submissions to sending the final proof to print–figuring out how to make everything work has been a challenge. And in all honesty, the challenges of Sheepshead Review pale in comparison to the personal challenges that individuals have to overcome. I have friends who don’t know how they will pay their rent, friends who are so depressed it’s a challenge to get out of bed, friends who are horrified that someone close to them at a higher risk will get it, and friends who just don’t know how to process everything. For every challenge I’ve seen or heard about, there is an equal and opposite amazing story to be heard. Whether it’s people delivering donated meals, sewing masks for health care workers,
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
essential workers risking their safety to be at work, teachers finding amazing ways to continue teaching, or creatives entertaining all of us stuck inside, everyone has the ability to give back to their community. It is The Shepherds of humanity help protect and serve us, and this drive to help others comes from one place–empathy. I want to share the two meanings The Shepherd has come to hold since the COVID-19 struck. First, art serves as our Shepherd. Pieces of writing and works of art act as an avenue to process emotions and come to conclusions of important ideas in safer spaces than real life. My hope is there is one piece in here that sticks with you and teaches you something about what it means to be a person. Some of the most important teachers in here to me are as follows: the poem “The Drugs We Sell: An Candidly Unpoetic Haibun” demonstrates the need to understand all sides of a person; “The Five Stages of Grieving: An Unsuccessful Suicide Attempt” explores the dichotomy of emotions implicit in a major decision like suicide; and “Rattling Bag” challenges the viewer to grapple with their position in a consumer-driven society. Second, The Shepherd is in each of us, just needing a flock to tend to. We are all a part of the family, city, state, country, and global community, and the only way to overcome challenges like COVID-19 is through caring for one another. If you follow The Shepherd within yourself, they will lead you to positively impacting those around you. Stay safe,
Zach Schneider Editor-in-Chief
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Every Spring since 2004, Sheepshead Review has held the Rising Phoenix Contest to honor the best UW-Green Bay student submissions in both writing and visual arts as judged by esteemed local and national recognized artists. In the past, this contest has taken on different forms. From offering the winning visual arts piece a spot on the issueâ€™s cover, to new categories such as short prose and first novel chapters inspired by recent courses implemented by our universityâ€™s English department, the purpose behind our Rising Phoenix Contest is still to highlight the best and brightest work produced by students on our campus. For this issue, we have stayed true to our roots and used our traditional categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Visual Arts. The winning works are displayed here, at the beginning of the journal, alongside comments from the judges who selected their work. We are always searching for exceptional work, and our Rising Phoenix Contest is one of the many ways in which we strive to honor local talent.
RISING PHOENIX CONTEST JUDGES Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015), selected by Adrienne Su as the winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award, and In the Carnival of Breathing (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. Her recent prose and poetry appears in AGNI, Black Warrior Review, Brevity, Copper Nickel, and The Missouri Review. The recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is an Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction in the Writerâ€™s Workshop at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Fire Captain Gregory Lee Renz was involved in a dramatic rescue of two little boys from their burning basement. He received a series of awards for this rescue, including induction into the Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame in 2006. When he was asked to share the dramatic rescue at several awards banquets, he was moved by the emotional responses he received and was struck by the power of his stories. In 2008 Gregory traded his turnout gear for a writing desk to pursue his passionâ€”storytelling. After ten years of creative writing courses, workshops, and conferences, he finally typed The End to his international-awardwinning debut novel BENEATH THE FLAMES. Gregory now lives in Lake Mills with his wife Paula and is hard at work on his next novel.
B.J. Hollars is the author of several books, most recently Midwestern Strange: Hunting Monsters, Martians and the Weird in Flyover Country, The Road South: Personal Stories of the Freedom Riders, Flock Together: A Love Affair With Extinct Birds, and From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us About Life, Death, and Being Human. Hollars is the recipient of the Truman Capote Prize for Literary Nonfiction, the Anne B. and James B. McMillan Prize, the Council of Wisconsin Writers’ Blei-Derleth Award, and the Society of Midland Authors Award.
Craig Knitt is an artist, storyteller, filmmaker, educator, advocate, improvisor and comic book creator who enjoys inspiring folks to explore their own passions. Craig has taught Fine Arts in his home town of Marion, Wisconsin for almost 20 years. He then began teaching at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay through a grant from the Wallace Foundation. In 2014 he created “The Kalemon” comic book which is tied to a potential TV show. He has created four other comics with his students and is working on a collaborated graphic novel. He’s also one of the founders of the Wildwood Film Festival which is dedicated to Wisconsin film talent.
POETRY JUDGE’S STATEMENT Judge: Lisa Fay Coutley Judge’s Statement: What I admire most about “The Drugs We Sell: A Candidly Unpoetic Haibun” is its willingness to risk getting too close to its subject matter and putting itself in danger of becoming sentimental about a theme that in other hands might feel didactic; instead, the poem tempers that boundary with music, metaphor, and syntactical surprise. It knows its risk and uses the haibun, a form often reserved for nature or travel, to approach a common (and maybe too-often untold) story of another sort of traveler lost but seen, by the speaker, not for his perceived shortcomings but for his need—the ways the world is failing him. By opening in vulnerability and music, in a “winter far too cold for raw, bare palms” with a “sixteen-year-old, slick haired,” copping a “shit attitude,” the poet creates the early and necessary tension of a dark story set against lovely sounds. Then the metaphor of a dance unravels reality, as the speaker gains not disdain for the boy but realizes his life and is filled with compassion. The speaker is changed by the boy. And, in the end, that’s who this poem is about. The speaker resists false resolutions; the boy isn’t saved. The final lines return to “our palms, unopened,” and let that last sentence slip into helplessness and a bit of chaos, as the speaker admits that because we cannot help, “we distract ourselves from seeing vanish right into it,” and the reader feels that sentence slip away from them, like the boy slips away, like the boy, it seems, letting himself slip away.
The Drugs We Sell: A Candidly Unpoetic Haibun LORI NOTO
During a winter far too cold for raw, bare palms, I met him: a sixteen-year-old, slickhaired, shit attitude boy in the 10th grade English class I taught one autumn. He did not care much for literature— or me, for that matter. Our first of many hostile waltzes of iron fist biffing iron palm came when he made his reading level soar to new heights by wielding a book of Whitman’s across the room. The second waltz arrived as he scrawled pornographic graffiti to obscure the directions on the chalkboard. The third waltz, dull and surprisingly saddening in its limpness: when he came in one Thursday and laid his head on his desk, as if he were a jailed animal, ramming his head against a cage until he admitted to himself that he was going to die inside of it. It took two months of him resting his head on his desk, two months of unread books and unacknowledged assignments— two months too many— to get me to understand that his body leaning into the chair’s curvature to slumber was not to out-sleep my teaching but to escape other beasts slinking outside of the cage, like the absence that ate away at his mother’s shadow during her cyclical third-shift streaks, or the phantom of his father, five years gone, or the empty table, empty kitchen, empty fridge that manifests itself in my classroom as a stomach hunched over a desk, as if in prayer, for the hunger pangs to stop. Eventually, the fourth waltz came: him dancing into his daily disappearance—leaving the classroom for good after learning the literature I lived, breathed, and taught as gospel couldn’t cleanse him and fill the cupboards the way the injecting and the dealing could. He overdosed at the height of winter’s frost that February, and the air, once persuaded by the movements of our waltzes, was thick and unmoving like a fog that arrested me in blindness every time I breathed. A month later, I read a story in the paper, while looking for a better truth, the headline reading: East Coast Man Spends $1,000 to Pay Off Town’s School Lunch Debt, not Children are Going Bankrupt, Teased by Cheese Sandwiches, Buttered and Bound with Chains.
Not, so frankly, How Dare We Name a Price, Make Privilege Out of Full Stomachs and Wonder Why Children, Not Cared for the Education They are Told is Worth Caring About Go Out in the Streets, Playing with Beasts Resting Behind the Very Cages We Gave Them No Choice but to Open Up? Reality, I’ve learned, is only composed of the stories we can stand to tell ourselves— a kaleidoscope that cuts out all the right things until the image is digestible enough, until it obscures people like him right out of it. For once, allow me to read a story that tells what we already know but are so afraid to admit, like how the world is filled with more kids like him than not, and how we turn our backs on them the moment we turn the page—their lives so chaotically but quietly written between the lines of a newspaper riddle, sworn secret. Just once, let us admit that this is the drug we sell, the solicitation from our ever-clenched fists, and how our palms, unopened, cannot relieve from depths what we, so masterfully, distract ourselves from seeing vanish right into it.
FICTION JUDGE’S STATEMENT Judge: Gregory Lee Renz Judge’s Statement: This author is fearless on the page and writes unflinchingly with no wasted words or descriptions. The sentences are well-crafted and polished. The descriptive action verbs and sensory details bring this story to life. The result is a story that brims with emotion; one that’s impossible to look away from. Empathy for Kim, the main character, has us immediately rooting for her. We learn early that she’s unhappy with her job and her marriage, but the impending crisis takes the story to another level. There is subtle foreshadowing of this, masterfully alluded to in a dialogue exchange with her husband. The author resists the urge to explain and lets the action and gripping dialogue tell the story, resulting in a deeply emotional journey. This masterfully structured story builds to a heart wrenching crisis, then follows with a satisfying denouement. The prose is tight and at times poetic. I could quote many lines that had me in awe of this writer’s talent, but I wouldn’t want to give anything away to those who have not yet read this poignant tale. It’s a story and a character I won’t soon get out of my head. Very nicely done.
Swimming Lessons JOSETTE OTT
The clock on the wall struck four, the timepiece being the only thing with color in the office: white walls, white desks, white computers. A single framed photo on Kim’s desk punctuated the personalityless workspace: herself and her husband, Henry, on their wedding day. It was only four years ago, but it felt like an eternity away. While her colleagues typed away in their cubicles, she grabbed her bag and slipped out. They were working a fraction of her hours and had already had their lunch break, but with several hours left, she was first having her break now. Alone in the break room, Kim dialed her husband’s cell phone, and he picked up on the second ring. “I told you people, I don’t want a timeshare,” he joked, barely able to contain his laughter. “Hi, honey,” she said, smile thin. “Is everything all right? How are the girls?” “Cora’s napping and Emily–hey, put that down!–is helping me prepare dinner.” “Is she okay?” Her voice rose in pitch. “Yeah, yeah, she’s fine. We’re having a lime steak skillet. Try not to be too jealous.” Kim poked at her salad, smiling as she said, “Jerk.” Her concern sat silent on the back of her tongue. Henry chuckled. “You love me.” She fought the need to hesitate and said, “Of course I love you.” There was a tinge of defensiveness. He laughed again. “I love you too, darling. Power through the rest of the day and don’t kill any coworkers.” “No promises. Same for you and the girls.” She shook her head as she ended the call before eating her salad in peace. When Kim returned to her desk, she didn’t immediately resume her work but instead closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, an attempt to return to the zen state where she could stare at financial documents for hours without wanting to stand up, walk out the front door, and never come back. At the nonprofit she used to work at, she hadn’t had the urge to rage quit, but Henry being fired meant taking whichever job had a salary high enough to support both of them and their daughters, even if it meant longer hours. At five, Kim’s coworkers exited for the night, and the lights went out except for hers and her boss’s. They were the only two left, aside from an HR woman who had an alleged meeting with her boss each night. A small, bitter part of Kim couldn’t help thinking that if Henry’s work vice had been an affair instead of drinking, it wouldn’t be her sole responsibility to keep their family afloat. With betrayal, ignorance could be
bliss. With money, it was impossible not to notice. A few hours later, Kim’s car pulled into her garage, the coffee pumping through her the only thing keeping her awake. The house was quiet when she entered, the light clicking of her heels becoming thunderous in the silence. She hung up her coat and abandoned her heels by the door. Light from the living room leaked into the kitchen as she dropped her keys into a dish on the table. “Henry?” It was seven-thirty, and their kids should be getting ready for bed. Even if Kim didn’t work late, putting the girls to bed would still be Henry’s job. He was the one they listened to in addition to being the family storyteller, churning out whimsical tales of heroism and tragedy on the fly. On their first date, he had been in the middle of enthusiastically relaying a story about how he almost accidentally killed his younger brother once when she became certain she was going to marry him. Over half a decade later, she couldn’t help but wonder where she’d be now if she could have seen everything else to come with the same clarity. Or perhaps if she hadn’t been seeing on purpose. “Henry?” she repeated as she stepped into the living room. Her eyes immediately landed on him. He was limp in his chair, beer bottles decorating the carpet like offerings cast at the feet of a king. One of his hands was open, a bottle beneath it, brown liquid staining the carpet. Before she could even think about waking him and demanding an explanation, her heart dropped. The girls. She bolted to their room. Despite it being past her bedtime, Cora lay in bed reading a Dr. Seuss book. A wave of relief washed over Kim, only to have the next tide of anxiety overshadow it. “Where’s Emily?” she demanded with enough intensity to make Cora’s eyes go wide. “Daddy was giving her a bath,” she said. Cora remained in peaceful ignorance as Kim ran, half tripping, into the bathroom. The bathtub was full, a mop of brown hair floating on the surface. “Emily!” Her voice was unrecognizable even to herself. The water was barely lukewarm as she plunged her arms into it and scooped out her daughter, but this detail didn’t register with her. Emily was still clothed, the soaked fabric adding weight as Kim pressed her small form against her chest. “Mommy?” Cora had wandered into the room. “What’s going on?” “Baby, go get the phone!” When Cora didn’t move, she yelled, “NOW!” Cora, frightened at the outburst, rushed away. Kim set Emily on the ground, pushing on her chest. Her job had required she become CPR certified. At the time she’d thought it was silly; she’d thought she’d never have to use it. “Come on, baby,” she whimpered. Emily wasn’t moving. When Cora returned with her phone, she guided her through calling an ambulance while she continued to push, push, push. Emily would have fractured ribs if she survived. The word if stuck in Kim’s mind and bile rose in her throat. She was still pushing when sirens sounded in the distance. She kept going long past the point when in the back of her mind she knew it was pointless, stopping only when the first responders tore her daughter from her grasp. Not a single moment within the ambulance or hospital with Cora felt real. She was untouchable, an emotionless puppet being dragged by fate from place to place. Fate held
her by the strings of other people’s decisions, and the strings tore at her back, feeling like they were always about to come loose and let her fall, but they held. She wanted to fall, fall from a million stories in a split second and be stolen from this plane of existence. She wanted to be cast into any plane of existence in which she hadn’t spent eternity trying to resurrect a corpse. Kim sat alone in an empty house, curled up in a window seat with her legs pulled to her chest. The kitchen was a mess of uneaten casseroles and cookies and the vases of flowers from the funeral earlier that week. The wedding photo from her work desk was clutched in her hand, the immortalized image of two people who thought nothing could go wrong. Love was a hell of a drug. Or maybe immaturity was. In retrospect she couldn’t tell which one it had been. The front door slammed, and Henry’s heavy footsteps echoed in the house. He’d just come back from his parents’ house, her own parents looking after Cora for the time being. Never before had his existence in itself seemed to take up so much space. He stepped into the bedroom and all the air was sucked out of it. The bed creaked beneath him as he sat down, saying nothing. Mile-long minutes stretched between them. Kim was the one to break the silence. “I remember when we were in college, and no matter how poor we were, you always had beer,” she said. “Always. Always enough for a drink each day to get rid of the stress. I was eating ramen all the time so you could drink beer.” She turned her head from the window to him. He said nothing. “Do you remember that one December? Back in ‘15, I think. When Emily was three and you were taking her off my hands for the day, so I could get some rest.” She laughed coldly. “And since you couldn’t be home to drink our alcohol, you thought it would be appropriate to take her to the bar and let her eat the free snacks while you drank. And then you drove home.” She swung her legs over the side of the window seat, her palms pressed to the bench on either side of her, her head hanging. “God, I was so mad. I can’t remember what I said, but I remember the screaming. I don’t think I’ve ever yelled that loud. I was so close to leaving you. Not that I’d never thought about it before. I’ve thought about walking away a ton of times, but that was the time I got the closest. That time I was sure I’d have the strength to walk away.” Kim’s head rose, and she locked eyes with her husband. Filtered through the lens of everything that had happened, he was unrecognizable. “And then you looked at me and got that stupid puppy dog look on your face and talked about how you were sorry and you don’t know what you’d do without me. You said you’d change. Always the fucking storyteller, right? Bullshit at a moment’s notice. But you know what the funny thing is?” She shook her head. “I didn’t stay because I believed you. I stayed because even if I didn’t believe you, staying sounded easier than leaving. Easier
than being alone. I like to think of myself as a victim, but...I was with you for a reason.” She raked a hand through her hair. “I let myself be drowned by this sinking ship of a marriage, because hey, at least it was something solid to stand on.” “Kim, I–” “No,” she said, soft but firm. “No more stories. I’ve been reading the same story over and over again since we met because I was too scared to pick up a new book, but I’m done now.” “Kim–” “Fuck you,” she spat. She stood at the same time he did, each approaching to meet in the middle. “Tell as many fairytales as you want. You’ll still be the bad guy. I, at least, might get a redemption arc.” She raised the photo in her hand. If she looked at it just right, she could catch her reflection in the glass: weary, tired, red-eyed. She handed it to Henry and walked away, only to have him catch her wrist with his free hand. “You need me,” he said, unable to bury his desperation. Kim yanked her wrist away. “Funny thing, that,” she said. “For the first time, I don’t think I do.” She headed for the door. “What are you going to do now?” he shouted, prompting her to freeze. Her heart grew heavy and slow. Forgive myself. She looked back at him over her shoulder, mouth positioned in a somber smile. “Do you know what your problem is?” she said, turning to face him. He said nothing, and she shook her head. “You’re an anchor. You can keep on sinking, but I’m not going to be dragged down with you.” Henry’s arms hung limp at his side, and he watched her go out the front door. Her and Cora’s things were already in luggage packed away in her car, and after she doublechecked, she took one last look at the house, a mausoleum for eight wasted years of her life. Then she turned her back on it and drove away, barreling toward her parents’ house to collect her daughter, the one thing she’d done right, the one thing worth preserving. Soon, her former home was nothing more than a speck in the distance. It was time she remembered how to breathe.
NONFICTION JUDGE’S STATEMENT Judge: B.J. Hollars Judge’s Statement: Visceral, scenic, reflective and timeless, too, “Tricks of the Mind” makes use of the full writer’s toolbox: weaving together past and present with spot on prose. In this piece, we’re not merely observing a car crash from afar, we’re bearing witness to it. This piece turns trauma into truth. We couldn’t look away, even if we wanted to.
Tricks of the Mind STEFFI FARREY
I hate driving at night. It’s raining tonight—that makes it worse. The dark asphalt glistens as water smacks against the hard surface and obediently trickles downwards off the edge of the highway. Every headlight sends off a blinding glare, the streams of light bouncing off a million drops of water. A west-bound car speeds past me and disappears in my rearview mirror as it fades into the night. I’m left alone in the dark again. I grip the wheel and take a breath. The words escape my lips in barely a whisper: “Twenty minutes and I’ll be home.” I drive this route and turn these corners every day. I know every mile, but somehow the dark combined with the reflecting light makes everything seem different and new. Looking ahead, I see another familiar curve. Some sort of large yellow object is in the road ahead of me. It’s lying flat on the road, blocking my entire path. There’s no question in my mind; I’m going to hit it. My body refuses to respond as my mind screams at me to slam on the brakes and a thousand images rush through my head in an instant. I’m back at nine years old. Over a decade ago, on the Fourth of July, I witnessed something that would impact me even all these years later. The air smelled of burnt fireworks. That year, the wind had carried the ashes across the river and sprinkled the mass of oohing spectators with charred flakes of paper. To me, seated on a picnic blanket, the flakes seemed more intriguing than the display itself. Across the river, lights from the hospital sparkled and reflected in the dark water. Everywhere in the crowd, people were packing up their blankets and lawn chairs. I, however, sat unmoving—gazing at the sight before me curiously—on the pink and greencheckered blanket, clutching my shoes and resting my chin on my knees. Despite the sound of voices around me, the night felt eerily quiet. “Hey! Get off the blanket! We need to fold it up!” My face formed a pouty expression as I looked up at my older sister, who stood—also pouting—with her arms crossed indignantly. From behind us, our parents (who were busy strapping their chairs to the stroller without waking our baby sister) hushed us both, giving each other a weary look. “Calm down.” My mom reached down to pick up the baby’s sippy cup before looking at me. “Sweetie, get up, for goodness’ sake.” I stood up and tucked my raggedy, untamed hair behind my ears. “Okay,” I mumbled. I tugged at the blanket and motioned for my sister to take the other side. Together, under the watchful eyes of our mother, we folded the blanket and packed it into the stroller basket. It was a long walk to the car. We always parked a few blocks away to avoid the heaviest traffic. Everywhere around me, I saw groups of people and lines of impatient
drivers. My dad grabbed my hand as we crossed the road. The bright headlights hurt my eyes, so I closed them and plodded along blindly next to my father. The traffic was so loud. I could hear engines accelerating and then braking quickly. The crowded sidewalk was filled with a buzz of conversation between adults who all towered over me. It was completely overwhelming. I didn’t know it yet, but the sweat that trickled down my face that night, the frantic beating in my chest, and the throbbing in my head were symptoms of an anxiety disorder that would affect me years later, driving home in this rainstorm. When we got out onto the sidewalk next to the main road, the people had thinned out significantly. It was the cool breeze that finally calmed my panicked feelings. I opened my eyes and wriggled my hand from my dad’s grip. I heard the screeching tires first. At least two car horns and a sickening crunch followed. I hastily covered my ears and whirled around. The sight I saw has gotten hazy as time has gone by, but the sounds that preceded it and the smallest details of that night are forever engrained in my memory. Three cars had collided violently in the intersection we had just passed. The crumpled metal looked like someone had rumpled the covers on a neatly made bed. There was glass and random pieces of the cars all over the pavement. Horrified, I looked back at my mother. “Mommy!” I didn’t know what else to say. She shushed me and quickly pulled out her cellphone. It was one of those clunky flip phones that most people still had back then. That night was the first time I had ever witnessed someone call 911. She calmly reported the crash, no doubt reaching into her med-school-dropout instincts, only getting upset when they told her they would only send an ambulance—they were stretched thin that night. I remember her irritated reply: “You’re going to need more than one ambulance; this is a three-car crash!” My parents, as if it was the natural thing to do, rushed into the accident scene with two others to see what they could do until help arrived. They left the three of us kids alone on the sidewalk. I remember my mother crouched over two teenage boys lying in the street. One of them died that night. At the time, I didn’t know how seriously they were injured. Watching my mother that night gave nine-year-old me a warm feeling of safety and a desire to help others. Looking around where I was sitting, though, I felt confused as I watched all the people who walked past murmuring about the crash, but not stopping to help even for a moment. There were gasps, and many pointed their fingers towards the scene on the street and spoke in hushed tones to their loved ones. One woman stopped and asked my sister if we were lost, but she went on her way after my sister shook her head and pointed towards our parents in the street. I sat on the grass for what felt like ages. It was unkempt and weedy. I picked a white clover flower and pulled each petal off. As the last flower bit dropped, I heard my dad shout my name. I saw him shouting from across the lane traffic driving around the crash scene. It was chaos. “Bring me that flashlight!”
I jumped up with the flashlight I had been clutching. He motioned for me to wait and then to come to him after a car passed. He had directed a huge truck to stop so I could cross. Full of exhilaration from being able to help, I raced into the street and handed him the light then quickly darted back in front of the stopped pickup truck. “STOP!” My dad’s voice boomed with authority. I froze and looked back, but he wasn’t talking to me. My dad was angrily pointing the light at the driver of the truck who had started to pull forward as I raced into its path. “Are you a cop or what?!” The man screamed at my dad. “Get out of my way!” “That’s my daughter right there.” If it’s possible for someone to shout but somehow still sound level-headed, my dad did in that moment. “Stay where you are.” Then he nodded at me and I hastily made it back to the curb. As the truck roared past, the driver stuck his hand out the window and made a gesture I was too innocent at the time to understand as rude. I’m back in my car again. The yellow thing in the road is getting closer. I slam my foot onto the brake pedal. My chest tightens. I can hardly breathe. It feels like a century passes, but the car finally stops with a jolt and my body is thrust forward, the panicked sensation releasing slowly through my labored gasps. Catching my breath, I look up. Nothing. There’s nothing. I can feel my cheeks warming with color as I sit halted on the empty rural highway. The object I had thought I saw was only the reflection of a sign in a puddle. It was a trick of the mind. A steady splatter of rain on the windshield is the only thing that fills the void I feel. I’m drowning in the shame of letting my imagination get out control. Warm tears flow down my cheeks. I see headlights approaching rapidly in my rearview mirror, so I slowly press the gas pedal to head home. I’ll admit my mind flickered to an image of that car hitting me. The rear of my car would crumple in on itself, leaving a crater effect as mutilated metal was forced outwards. I’m convinced the force would bury me in the dash of my car— crushing me beyond recognition. But my car accelerates smoothly. I’m on my way home again. I’m safe. My brain may continue to play tricks on me, but in the end, that’s all they are: tricks of the mind.
VISUAL ARTS JUDGEâ€™S STATEMENT Judge: Craig Knitt Judgeâ€™s Statement: The Purple Girl immediately engages with her cold, hard stare. I am drawn to her eyes, not only due to a basic need for human engagement but also due to the surrounding splashes of color and line. Her proportions are spot-on and the technique is wonderous. Why is she giving such a distant stare? Perhaps the answer is hidden in the poems that make up the background. Ironically, the text adds texture as well as a resting place for the eye... depending on how I take it in. The Purple Girl is a smart, beautiful piece of work!
RISING PHOENIX-VISUAL ARTS
THE PURPLE GIRL SYMPHANIE LYNCH
Colored pencil, pen, and marker on paper
RISING PHOENIX-VISUAL ARTS
SHEEPSHEAD Section Divider REVIEW NONFICTION
WHEEL OF FORTUNE
YOUR READING AWAITS...
Pencil and colored pencil
GARY LARK I was born into a racist family in a racist town, in a county that took its bigotry for granted. I was born into a loving family in a community of generous folks who gave me all they could. These were the same places, the same people, mostly. The racism lived in mechanisms of thought, carried from place to place like great-grandmaâ€™s quilt. Yet, these were the people I knew to be kind and willing to help. They lived quiet lives, hoping to have enough in the bank to bury them when the time came. Racism was woven into the fabric like a smoldering thread. To dismiss or deny is to hand down the garment from generation to generation like some immutable heritage. It puts a straitjacket on everyone. I find it in the closet when Iâ€™m looking for my boots. I swear Iâ€™ve burned it a dozen times.
MORGAN BAERENWALD There I am, watching his bedroom door, hoping that he’ll come running in asking if I can make him cookies, yet I know in the back of my mind that it isn’t going to happen. He is gone, forever, and he isn’t coming back. I remember all the things we did together, like him asking me when Mama would be coming home, or him begging me with those cute little puppy dog eyes to take him out for ice cream, and of course, me giving in. No one could resist his cuteness. I get up off his bed and slowly move around the room, stopping at his bookshelf. I place my hand on the spines, being able to tell which one he read the most, The Kissing Hand. Boy, did he love that book. He would ask me to read it to him every night. I reach for it and open to the page that was creased: his favorite page. It was where Mrs. Racoon took Chester’s hand and kissed it, folding it up and telling him that she’ll always be right there whenever he needs her. At that point, I would always take his little hand and kiss it, curl it up and tell him that I would always be there for him. He would always do the exact same thing back to me, using both of his little hands to curl mine. I open the hand he always kissed and put it to my cheek, knowing that he would always be there for me. After closing the book and putting it back on the shelf, I continue my walk around the room. My eyes stop on his messy desk which had been left untouched; oh, how it drove Mama crazy. I chuckle at the thought of it. She would always tell Jake to go clean up his toys, but all he did was stuff them under his bed. “Honey, it’s time to go.” I jump, completely startled from the sound of my aunt calling for me. After wiping imaginary dust off my plain black dress, I make my way out of the room and down the stairs. “We have to go sweetie; we’re going to be late.” Letting out a sigh, I slowly follow my aunt out the door and into the car. It’s a silent car ride, but I appreciate it. Upon arriving, I find Mama sitting in a seat, slight tears rolling down her beautiful face. I reach over to grasp her hand. We are going to survive this together. “Ahem.” I hear someone clear their throat. The service is starting. “You are here today in honor of Jake Luke Sodle. He passed away at such a young age and…” I begin to zone out, picturing the memories we had together. When I hear my name being called, I know it is time for me to give my speech. I slowly rise out of my chair, making my way to the pedestal. I chose to not write anything down–it makes me feel like I’m speaking directly to Jake. I start my speech like everyone else: “Hello, my name is Melody Sodle and I’m here to talk about my beloved little brother. He was the best thing that ever happened to
me. He made me happy when I was sad and made me laugh when I was crying. Even though he was only ten years old, he was one of the smartest people I knew.” I can’t tell if I am speaking loud enough or if I am whispering, but I know that Jake can hear me from heaven. “He probably knew more than I did and I’m 8 years older than him.” I hear a few laughs out in the crowd. “He was always one to read books -- books that I would read -- but he always had his favorite one that I would read to him every night, which was The Kissing Hand.” I pause for a second. “My brother was strong, stronger than a ten-year-old should have to be. At the young age of 5, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Doctors told him he would make it a year, tops. Well, he showed them by making it five years instead. Now, when my brother knew his days were limited,” I sniffle, “he quoted the poem ‘She Is Gone’ by David Harkins. It tells that you can either be sad that the person is gone, or you can be happy that they have lived. It tells you that you need to ‘smile, open your eyes, love, and go on.’ That’s what he wanted me to do, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to remember all the great memories we had together. Thank you.” I stop and look past the ceiling into heaven. “I’ll always love you, Jake. I’ll always have The Kissing Hand.” I look back down at the crowd of faces, all of them making the sign of the cross. I step away from the pedestal and return to my seat, grasping Mama’s hand while waiting for the funeral to go on. We are going to get through it. Together.
LOS ALTOS HIGH SCHOOL IN LOS ALTOS, CALIFORNIA i pour you a glass of compromise the ceramic skin of the cup laps the rushing stream of water a tongue outstretched: thirsty and afraid. the variegated lines in your palm jagged tic-tac-toe grids converging into meaning like the hesitation i can sense in your eyebrows. as i plead with you, silver tears dribble down the clefts of my face, a metallic taste in my mouth of the watered-down pain far too heavy to carry on our shoulders. as you step onto my toes and my heartstrings, the truth dies with its master cocooned in the musty grave. my body shivers from the tips of my nails to the rushing veins in my nervous system, the ink of my blood staining the coating in my eyes, the clear gloss muddled. your eyelids brush my chest, heavy breathing, unsteady heat, and i never want to forget
the roaring of the hail and the hush of the wind, but as your spilt water seeps through the splintered cracks of my tiled kitchen floor and my throat echoes into the trenches crimson dampness in a scarlet night, your feet shuffle into the stars and my heart hangs with steel.
The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi CATHERINE C. SALCITO
“The blue of her eyes and the gold of her hair are a blend of the western sky. And the moonlight beams on the girl of my dreams, she’s the Sweetheart of Sigma-Chi …” Six-year-old Meggy didn’t understand the words, but Mama’s blue eyes shone like a June sunset when their voices blended and Mama repossessed the college girl she’d once been. They sang as they pinched socks and shirts onto the backyard clothesline in the windy Kansas days, or as they walked down the cracked sidewalk to Aunt Marge’s, or as they drove the mint green Rambler to the store. Not long after, though, when pumpkins and apples lined the borders of Meggy’s classroom, scary unfamiliar words swirled among the grownups’ long faces: “biopsy,” “surgery,” “mastectomy.” Mama stopped singing after she returned from the hospital. “Are we poor now, Mama?” asked Meggy, after another neighbor dropped off a casserole. “No, Honey, why do you ask?” Outside, dry brown elm leaves littered the ground. “Because people keep bringing us food. We take food to poor people at Christmas.” “No,” Mama laughed weakly. “One of my arms won’t work for a while. I can’t cook.” Meggy accompanied Mama to treatments called “radiation” in the dimly lit hospital basement. Brisk nurses scurried among rooms, outpacing stooped physicians. Later on, Mama needed even more treatments called “skin grafts” because the powerful radiation had seared her chest. In the fitting room with Mama, the curtain drawn, Meggy perched on a stool and kicked her skinny legs. A foamy mound now occupied the empty side of Mama’s stiff bra. Mama’s blue eyes filled, and she muttered that she was “only half a woman now.” Meggy reached for Mama’s hand. In fifth grade, Meggy and Mama rode nearly every day to Aunt Marge’s in time for the four o’clock talk show. Meggy drank pop and threw a tennis ball for Marge’s poodle, Trixie, while Mama and Aunt Marge had cocktails. The silver jigger tipped into tumblers etched with boats. By the time they left, the two women laughed; their voices cackled high and strident like magpies. Like a John Deere combine in a field of ripe wheat, time swallowed up years and Meggy entered high school and a busy life of homework, sports, and friends. Daddy scheduled a lot of meetings and golf games in the evenings. Mama sat in front of the TV with a drink until she nodded off. At the school meeting, Meggy shouted, “We can have the fundraiser at my house! We can make popcorn balls to sell!” Days later, Mama assisted, purchasing ingredients along with cokes and chips.
Before Meggy’s friends arrived, Mama smiled, sipping from her coffee cup as she watched Meggy prepare. She sipped from that large coffee cup a lot these days, Meggy realized. “Will Daddy be here?” asked Meggy. “No, he has a counshel meeting.” “Huh?” “A council meeting,” repeated her mother, more carefully this time. Soon, teenagers spilled noisily through the doorway. Randy, Meggy’s crush from Algebra, entered behind a pair of girls. “Hey, Meggy!” he smiled at her. Chatter and laughter filled the rooms. Boys nudged and kidded, girls responded, laughing. Meggy’s smile widened. After a while, a quiet prevailed. Occupied with sticky hands, Meggy found herself in the kitchen with a few students she barely knew. “Where is everybody?” she asked a slight freckled girl. “A bunch of kids went downstairs to see your mom,” said the girl. Meggy wiped her hands quickly and bolted down the linoleum stairs. She stopped before reaching the bottom. Her mother’s shrill laughter pealed through the room. Mama stood unbalanced in the center of a circle of teenagers, holding court. She held aloft the sloshing coffee cup, swaying unsteadily and sang, “and the moonlight beams on the girl of my dreams…” Wobbling on the note, she curtsied and stumbled. The kids roared and clapped. Randy turned and saw Meggy. “Meggy, your mom is plastered. She’s a riot.” Meggy’s stomach lurched as if she’d been horse-kicked. She looked up to see Mama take another drink. Liquid dribbled down her chin and onto her blouse. Mama raised her hand in a coquettish wave. Shoving through the cluster, Meggy took her mother’s arm. “Mama,” she whispered, “come with me,” as she led her upstairs to bed.
The Other Side LINDSAY HUEHNS
Paper cut-out image
And Bliss Must Recur Many Times LOIS MARIE HARROD
Though some seek love or chocolate like the holy grail, weep and you shall find, I took my sons, two and tender, by the hand and wandered into the city where they could spend their brief eternity and I, my time, imagining but never quite finding bliss. I thought we could be happy, couldnâ€™t we, the three of us, and the man who walked before, sometimes behind, the caboose to our lonely crusade. But we were easily distracted by wheels and sirens, and when I wanted to speak of love, how we might come upon it in an empty lot filled with coffee cans and chicory, or in the hand of a homeless man, how we might pass a small blue flower on to others, who could hear me? Who attend? We were at the end of a long line of those who had preached to ears that could not hear.
Fixing the Pipes PATRICK VALA-HAYNES
My father wants a blue flame wants copper A son to worm through the belly of his house and search out the leaks. A man with the needs of a child to check the bubbling must of harvest Whoâ€™ll bend a knee and wash his feet with tears. He unbolts the door and spits his welcome The laughter wheezy and thin the lessons of his face sour and rich almost a surprise How he bitches when the coffee goes cold and no one leaps to make a fresh pot. He should have been born to all fours The way he gnaws a wound for pleasure No care to heal. He tracks me under the floor our sky As if showing me the stars on a summer night When I was young enough to dream. To forgive. I bend to the work and breathe his dust. I did not choose to be his boy the sorry echo of a whiskeyed shudder A wagging tail afraid of his bark afraid of his silence A bucket of tools my only buffer to the rasp of kinship: the clank of a wrench the spark of a torch. As if by sweat a soul can be put right then blotted clean the shell patched and polished Made to carry what it will not hold.
Iâ€™ve only come to dig a little dirt fill my pockets with regret then fix the pipes One. Last. Time. I want release but find only its lack when the work is done. Whose hands are these? Not his and never quite mine.
Subtle Eulogies MAKENZIE ZATYCHIES
He stepped from the shower and water droplets rolled off his body. He fumbled his hand along the wall to find the switch, aware of the slippery tile beneath him. The fan’s angry cries loosened the barrier of fog obstructing the mirror. Not long until the town car was set to arrive. He continued to run the eulogy lines in his head. Thank you for joining my family in celebrating the full life of my father. As I know you’d all agree, he was a kind, honest and responsible man. He was my best friend and modeled what it meant to be good and to work hard. He was courteous, considerate and compassionate. These were the traits I tried to replicate... There was no story he could tell that would encompass his father. His father was a mixture of whimsical details. Crooked glasses, tweed and a taste for exotic cuisine. He always smelled of lavender and banana. He folded the accordion door and found his wife Olivia near the end of the bed. Wretched behind her back, lithe arms tried to secure a strand of pearls. Against her body, they glimmered and rattled like chimes. Even stressed, she looked beautiful. “Which one?” She held out two black dresses, as if they weren’t identical. “The one on the left.” She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. Her tenderness loosened his shoulders, and he relaxed his posture for the first time since his mother had called with the news. After retreating to the bathroom, Olivia silenced the rattling fan. He continued to run the rough suit material back and forth, despite the stinging in the pads of his fingertips. He methodically pried apart the rigid pieces and dust coated his tongue. His father observed from the nightstand, confined to an alabaster frame. Young Abbott was holding a massive Northern pike. Guts and lake water seeped off him for days after their trip. Fingers trembling, Abbott’s buttons took twice as long as they should have. Knotting the tie around his neck, the uneven bulge dangled, limp. His collar was crooked and shirt untucked. The ironed white sleeves of the dress-shirt sat stiffly against his flesh. The room grew hot from Abbott’s frustration. It’s enough to bury a parent without the August-sun threatening overhead. A sunburn would leave the day’s memory lingering on his flesh. Pulling the skin around his eyes, he tried to wipe away the exhaustion. He fought the delicate metal clasp on his slacks and guided the leather belt around his waist before fumbling with the buckle, elbows tucked awkwardly. Dad would probably get a kick out of his fussing. “Darling, can you close me?” Olivia came out of the bathroom, holding the dress together and teetering like a chicken. Beginning at the bottom, Abbot pulled the tab, guiding to place the metallic weave. Tightening his grip, he jerked his hand up and
down, attempting to get the fabric to cover her honey skin. His wedding ring pinched at his finger the more the zipper stiffened. “I don’t think this one fits anymore, Liv. I’m worried about pulling too hard. I don’t want to hurt the two of you.” She grinned at his acknowledgment. Before last Monday, he could taste the elation; it soured in his mouth when calling his dad with questions ceased being an option. In the armoire mirror, Olivia’s rounded stomach protruded. The additional forty pounds on her frame was noticeable. “Wishful thinking. Control-top stockings couldn’t save this situation. The other dress wins!” A grin and chortle broke through the somber mask he’d been wearing nearly a week. Olivia blushed apologetically, scarlet creeping up her neck. The pair stood embracing. The bump between them shifted, and he jumped back. She beamed and retreated into the bathroom once more. After a few minutes of remaining still, Abbott crossed the room to his dresser and pulled open the top drawer. Moving socks aside, he sought for a black pair among the patterns and plaids, uncovering a silvery Happy Father’s Day card that glimmered, contrasting the wood bottom. When had it been removed from the mantel? Olivia must have tucked it away before he returned from the hospital earlier this week. Happy Father’s Day, SON! I know it’s a little early, but I couldn’t help myself. You and Olivia are going to make the best parents. Don’t worry too much. I can’t wait to spoil him every time you turn your back. I promise that’s the secret to good parenting. There’s no use me telling you about how it feels... There’s no describing it. The bond between a father and son can overcome anything. You’ll see. I promise. Here’s to us navigating the way, Abbott. His father could never have known that liver failure would keep him from meeting his grandson. This card was the last advice he’d get to give his son. Abbott had less than an hour before waves of black linen would arrive at the funeral home. “Your mom texted from the car. Are you nearly ready?” Olivia’s makeup was done, and her swollen feet were stuffed into velour flats. At the end of the bed, she saw the card next to him. “I know you hated the eulogy you wrote.” Stroking her stomach with one hand, she grabbed his hand in the other. “You have the solution in your hands. Go for it. Carlyle wants you to do it. Read it, Abbott. Scrap that eulogy and show off his heart.” “You’re right, Liv. Dad would love it.” “I didn’t mean your dad.” She placed his hand on her stomach. They hadn’t come close to deciding on a name. “Carlyle?” “I can’t think of anything better. Read the card. Do your dad justice, Abbott.”
Self-Portrait JON SMITH
The Five Stages of Grieving an Unsuccessful Suicide Attempt CHRISTINE M. HOPKINS Denial My eyes flicker open, but not like I’ve just been sleeping. No, this is an effortless awakening from an experience I don’t recognize, eyelids soft and supple as if eager to show me how badly I fucked up. I close them. My eyelashes are the spikes of a Venus flytrap as I snare my failure out of sight, forever in my mind. Anger I think when most people set out to kill themselves they don’t text half their address book hoping someone will stop them. Or maybe they do. I’ve never met anyone who’s tried to kill themselves. All the ones I know of are dead. My inbox reads as follows: 1. What? 2. I have a hotline number if you need it… 3. Call 911 if you need help. 4. Who is this? And then the ones from me, unanswered, hanging over us like fruit rotting on the branch: 1. I can’t do this anymore. 2. I think I’m about to do something stupid. 3. I can’t do this anymore. 4. Have you ever wanted to kill yourself? Because… 5. Goodbye. It’s embarrassing. It makes me want to hurt myself, not out of suicidal intentions, but out of pure frustration. I blame myself for not dying. My rage is uncontained and selfcontained at the same time, a part of me that I could never accurately explain to anyone who cared but that soaks my every word in kerosene—get close enough and you might taste my wrath.
Get close to me? I’ve never received a pre-suicide text message. No one cares enough to get close to me, not even in their final moments. Bargaining
Most of all, I’m ashamed. What led me to this decision didn’t disappear as the morning light flooded my eyes like an interrogation lamp. I was ready to be gone. Everyone I’d texted that night was ready for me to be gone. I don’t want to re-emerge from death having only approached it with my useless words. If I pull a fast one no one will ever know that I failed the first time. Dead is dead. I have the luxury of de facto death, a few golden hours wherein I can workshop my attempt, weigh pros and cons, rewrite pain as nothingness. So: I remember the air leaving my lungs, whether by virtue of the attempt or the panic attack that immediately followed my decision, life being sucked out of me like a vacuum birth. If I could leave a piece of myself behind it would be this breathing, my suffering as rescue breaths to a loved one who will need them once I’m found. I remember my brain throbbing in pain, in betrayal, as if screaming, “I give you anything anyone’s ever admired about you for all these years and this is how you repay me?” before I have to remind it that it also gave me the hopelessness and emptiness and horror that led me to this moment, and I have to thank it, this is how I’m thanking it. I remember my peripheral vision fading, and how a scene from an elementary school trip to the Headlands played out in my immediate sight: this tunnel in the middle of nowhere that no one would enter because we couldn’t see the end, no light peering in from the other side signaling safe passage, our collective fear of the dark keeping us on the good side, the infinite outside. I tried to edge toward it though, imagining what I’d tell my elementary school self if she could see me now, and then I remembered I was still my elementary school self, in body and in mind. And then all I saw was light, and I was still stranded at the beginning of this tunnel that I dared not enter. Anyone not verifiably alive right in front of you could be dead right now. I am Schrödinger’s suicide attempt. Depression One hour since awakening to a day I never wanted to see, I haven’t gotten up. I had only reopened my eyes to scroll through my text messages because even after neardeath, my first instinct was to check my cell phone. My eyes are closed again, but the harsh morning light burns red-hot against my fragile lids.
If I got up, I would have no choice but to look back down at where I fell, at the tousled grey bed sheets where I should have spent my final moments alive. No blood, but my pillowcase is coated in thick saliva from a heavy sleep. I realize how thirsty I am as I hear the air conditioning wage its daily war with the outside heat. I wonder what time it is. What day it is. I think about how much energy it would take to get up, get resettled, try to kill myself again. I remember how much energy I already expended, how drained I feel, and I realize that’s why I can’t get up, that to try again would require the same movements as facing the day. I have a decision to make. Again. Acceptance “Are you okay? I hope you’re okay.” If that text had come in overnight with the others, I would have been so mad. Four dismissals alone would have been enough to fuel a re-attempt because nothing would have changed, only worsened the conditions that led me to it the first time, giving me more reason than ever before. Four dismissals and a single expression of genuine concern would have been downright traumatic. I might have had to get up then. “I’m okay.” I think the cat might have wanted Schrödinger to carve a little window into the box with a set of blinds. Open for alive, closed for the purposes of the test, but still allowing the light to shine inside, just in case either of them changed their mind.
French Kissing With Teeth LORI NOTO
I should have known he said, when he learned how I wear chains tattering my wrists as jewelry. The silence of the phone line was loud enough for me to hear wetness flood his throat—his tongue, a dam, to keep the words, I don’t understand from crashing through. If I could shed the burdens of my body as if they were pocketknives and aerosol cans to abandon without negotiation in an airport terminal, if I could transfer my name onto a plane ticket and never let its vowels frame the shape of my mouth again, if I could fold all that haunts me into a 50-pound suitcase, write its identity tag like a “Dear John” letter and dizzy it into the happy abyss of forgetfulness on the luggage carousel
to arrive at your porch step as if it were Mount Sinai to women like me I would, I wanted to tell him, as I, like a faucet running rust amidst the presence of a parched mouth said
That the word “affair” comes from the Anglo-French “afere,” which means “what one has to do, just ordinary business,” like the aroma of coffee beans peppering the air of my kitchen every 3 AM-like a checklist marked with the imprint of my jagged nails on a body. His phone clicking sounded like the noise of clattering chains, like the restless rumble of a plane taking off and up for a crash landing.
The Bookends of a House WESLEY CADWELL KORPELA
Moving In I stood in the driveway of my dad’s new house. When my parents had separated and my dad moved into a ratty duplex I felt excited. A new place to explore. But unlike the duplex, this new, aging, white building wasn’t rented. It wasn’t temporary. The divorce was final. I stepped inside. It seemed huge. The bedrooms were big enough for me to grow. I wanted to memorize every space. My heart raced. I wanted to walk through the house as if I had been doing it for years. Yet, it all felt incomplete. It lacked furniture and decorations. Nothing inside reflected me. The stairs creaked. The basement bellowed strange noises. The ugly floral wallpaper had scratches and peeled in the corners. It didn’t feel like a home. It still felt like a house. My mom’s house felt like a home. When we moved into her new place across town from our dad’s, it filled up quickly. It had almost everything from my childhood home. In fact, my siblings and I overestimated how much stuff we could move into her place. We hadn’t yet associated space and storage with a place where our dad lived. Two of my siblings decided my mom’s house required their attention. But my brother closest in age spent the first night at our dad’s house with me. Sleeping on bare mattresses in the living room still sounded appealing to us at that age. “I’m hoping to get all new furniture over time. Make the living room look nice.” My dad setup the tube TV in front of us. “Should we order some pizza?” My brother and I were laughing. We joked about the late-night infomercials and wrestling. The family wiener dog, Gertie, made several failed attempts at snatching a bite of pizza. My brother fell asleep first. My body shook with anticipation. I couldn’t wait to forget my dad’s tight, suffocating duplex. This house’s options seemed endless. Where would our Christmas tree go? How private would the backyard be? What superhero logos would my brother and I pick for our dad to paint on our bedroom walls? I looked out the big picture window and thought about where to plant my tree. My grandma had a tradition of giving a tree sapling to each of her grandchildren when they were born. My dad planted my siblings’ trees at my childhood home. They were tall and strong when we left. My tree was small and weak. My dad planted mine too far into the shade. Luckily, he offered another chance. He wanted to dig up another tree sapling for me from my grandma’s property and plant it at his new house. I thought about measuring myself against it over time. Against all odds, it felt like my dad’s house would be a lot more fun than my mom’s.
My heart sank. I didn’t want to compare. The divorce wasn’t a competition. But I couldn’t help feeling that while my mom’s home felt like a known quantity, my dad’s home had some unknown potential. There were secrets for me to discover. Moving Out The front bumper of the car scraped the pavement. Most drivers didn’t adjust for the sharp incline of the driveway, including my brother. It was just one of the many flaws of my father’s house. The entire car ride from our mom’s house had been silent. All I wanted to do was scowl. I thought about my father’s text message: The final moving day is Sunday. A lot of things still in your bedrooms. Please grab your things. Won’t have as much space. Love you! I never responded. I had gone my first two years of high school without responding to his texts and calls. My vow of silence was a medal of honor hung around my neck. My oldest brother had moved out his remaining things a week prior. My proactive sister had gathered up her things even earlier. My brother closest in age still needed to grab some things. He hadn’t offered, but I hitched a ride with him to collect what I had left behind. A skinny oak tree stood tall in the front yard. A small chime hung from one of its long branches. If I could, I would have ripped it right out and thrown it in the backseat. It didn’t feel right to leave another one behind. It always took three or four attempts to punch in the code for the garage door. After years of changing the batteries, the code, and the garage door opener altogether, the system still sucked. The door had barely opened when I ducked under. I didn’t have time for it. The odor of a dead mouse sat in the humid air. The smell of the garage hadn’t changed in years. I noticed it was empty. My father only took his car when he was going out of town. I knew where he was. My jaw clenched. I told myself I didn’t care. I didn’t want to see him anyways. My pace quickened. The house smelled like my father’s baking. He had wrapped the dining room table in bubble wrap. Its benches were missing. The blinds were down. The gray outside illuminated enough of the living room. My feet were heavy. I could hear dishes rattling inside the boxes I knocked against. “Come on.” My brother shook his head. The leather couch I slept on after having surgery in eighth grade blocked the entryway and the stairs. Boxes were stacked on it, but I climbed over them anyways. My brother took the time to remove them before climbing. It had taken my father years to install the wooden floors. They were a deep, rich burgundy. It contrasted horribly with the near neon yellow walls in the entryway. I scaled the stairs. My memory surprised me. I avoided the squeaky third step. When I reached the top, I realized I didn’t bring a box. Luckily there was one on the
floor. I stripped it of its tape and dumped out its contents. My brother sighed and headed to his bedroom. I stared down the hall to my old room. The door was open. I could see my old bulletin board. Sun-bleached pictures of superheroes on glossy copier paper were still pinned to it. I hated that my father had kept them. He probably still thought I read comic books. My fists clenched. I boxed the books on my shelves. I noticed a few of them were his. “I don’t want your books!” I threw them across the room. I rediscovered the collection of my grandma’s travel brochures and mementos under my bed. She had gifted it to my father years ago. He must have never found it. Into the box it went. The desk drawers reeked of old crayons and pencils. None of them were worth keeping. I had plenty at my mom’s. He must have left them just to make me clean them up. I left them in the drawer. Most clothes in my closet didn’t fit. I left them on the floor. My walls were the only thing he had decided to change. My impressive collection of posters had disappeared. I dug through the boxes in the hall. I searched the attic. Nothing. As I searched, I noticed other missing possessions. My old toys. My comic book collection. My bin of Legos. He had done something with them. He had placed a large garbage bin in the middle of my room. It made my mind race. I dug through it. Maybe he had already emptied it once. “I got my things. I’ll be outside.” My brother nearly received all of my rage before he stepped out. Why must he make everything so difficult? He couldn’t give me the courtesy of deciding what stuff of mine I kept and chucked? When I left his house for good several years back, I couldn’t purge everything of mine from the house. All I had was a backpack crammed with stuff. Did he really think tossing my stuff would improve things between us at all? Everything gushed out of my eyes and nose. I tried to yank my hair out. I tried to shout the worst words possible. I couldn’t take one more minute in his house. I snatched up my incomplete box of items. I bounded downstairs and turned towards the kitchen. Maybe my things were here. I’d give him one last chance. But I only found my memories. Twelve-year-old me sat at the round kitchen table. It was one of the few pieces of furniture that my dad had saved from the duplex. My brother sat across from me. We each had a plate of cottage fries. They had just the right amount of seasoning. Dad sat between us. “I think it’s time you two know why your mom and I got a divorce.” I froze. I stared down at my plate. Why couldn’t he just let me eat? “I was seeing someone else. We’re
still seeing each other. Your brother and sister have already met her. Hopefully, you two can meet her soon.” My cheeks flashed red with embarrassment. Things made sense. My dad always drove off after my mom picked us up. My dad babysat the same two dogs frequently. My brother and I received special comic book gifts from some friend of my father’s. It was so obvious. But I couldn’t overcome the feeling that years of my life had been a lie. Tears fell onto my food. All I wanted was to eat my supper and I couldn’t even do that anymore. I ran from the memory. I made it to the door to the garage, but my memories pursued. “You’re running away from your problems.” My father’s voice remained calm whenever he tore into me. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, why you’re leaving, why you won’t talk to me. I don’t think it’s very brave.” I wanted to punch him in the face. Make him understand that I was doing what was best for me. I slammed the door to the garage. I punched in the garage code. I nearly dropped the box. I sobbed uncontrollably. My brother looked taken aback. “He threw out my things.” I barely got the words out. “Let’s just go home.”
Ink on paper
A Mรกthair ERIN STEIN
Acrylic and India ink on paper
To the Young Fisherman DAVID SPICER
If you can’t handle the heat when you grapple with a shark’s innards, buy an iced macchiato, pretend it’s the childhood you cherished. Say hello to the next beautiful woman you see, knowing she’ll ignore you like the muse she is. Remember that high humidity makes a man who he is, not who he wants to be. Don’t brag about the cod or bass you’ve caught, and speak to your mates with respect, or they’ll despise your arrogance. Be earnest as a sheet flapping in the wind. Tell your stories wisely and softly for the room temperature’s sake, and for yours. If you don’t have stories, slip into the kitchen near the fridge full of coolers and Coors. And if you’re still hot, read Dante, learn how lucky you are. Then study a Winslow Homer, steer one of his Atlantic sailboats. Gaze into the innards again, let mermaids seduce and adore you. Once you’ve simmered, love who you are: those mermaids kissed you, molded you into a humble man, stowed you away to Arctic climes.
Times in the Open Square HILLARD MORLEY
She first appeared at dusk. Janet couldn’t remember the last occasion she’d spent any significant time looking out of her window. She’d seen it all before. The view had been the same for years and years, and the unchanging details of her world had whizzed by with the insignificance of the utterly familiar. Later, when she tried to understand why the abrupt illumination of this window in particular might have switched her back on, she struggled to draw any firm conclusions. It was too early to have shut the blinds, and she’d just come in from work, had only just put her bag and lunchbox on the counter as she always did. She was about to empty the dregs of cold tea from her flask into the sink when the light caught her eye. A bare bulb hung from the middle of the ceiling and made a bright box in the wall of the building opposite. Janet was lured across the room. She used two fingers to separate the slats so she could see the picture, whole and uninterrupted. A man entered from the right and pulled a girl into the square. His thick arm trailed out behind like a tow line; his fingers made a snare around her wrist. He didn’t let her go until she was fully inside and the door was closed behind them. His grip must have been very tight because the girl rubbed her joints, made checks of all her nails, flexed and extended each finger carefully. No harm done. Not yet. “Oh dear… a quarrelling couple,” thought Janet. She remembered moving house as very stressful, though it had been an age since she’d been last inclined towards upheaval. She peered more closely, unconvinced that these were lovers. There was a surprising disparity in their ages for a start. He was clearly getting on a bit, whereas the girl was still at the age when time runs slowly. Janet tutted under her breath. “Father and daughter, then?” she pondered. No. The girl’s clothes were too skimpy and any father worth his salt would rightly challenge her, so this also did not ring true. Around his neck was something on a chain. It bumped against his hairy chest with every step. Only when he stooped to lock the door did Janet realize that that something was a key. The new occupants eyed each other like cats. In their stillness Janet took the chance to study the girl’s face. There was a touch of impudence in the expression, though it seemed to have been drawn on with great care. When he began to speak, her brow lifted in the arc of an unasked question. She remained still as he unpacked his words and words and words upon words. Whatever the girl thought, of him or of the room, she kept it to herself. Time didn’t seem to move, so Janet spent quite a while in surveillance before she
realised this counted as snooping. It was a jolt, and she let the bars of the blind snap back into position. “I’ve never spied on my neighbours before…” She flushed, unsure whether to be ashamed or excited, and headed back to the kitchen. She tried to muster an interest in the supper she’d bought: a piece of liver and some onions. It was supposed to be a midweek treat, but she was no longer hungry and couldn’t bring herself to cook the wet flesh. “She’s so very young, that’s the difference,” Janet thought as she put the quivering meat in the fridge and shut the door. Most of the neighbours round here were old. It was the sort of area where people were shrunk and unappealing. “Like myself,” she thought. But this girl was still so young she gleamed. She made one feel like an old clock that ran too slowly and lagged behind. Janet boiled her cranky kettle and dropped a testy teabag in a mug. A book lay next to her bag on the counter. In the usual run of things, Janet would have taken it to her chair and read for the first part of the evening, but tonight she left it where it was, unopened. She sat and cradled her mug, tucked her feet up amongst the cushions, waited. Darkness had deepened in the minutes she’d spent in the kitchen and the picture in the window across the street had sharpened by contrast. The man had gone, thank goodness, and the girl had been left alone. She’d shed what little outer clothing she’d had on and was standing by the window in her underwear. She was brushing her hair. With long strokes she tugged strands towards her crown and bound them tight, so they tumbled black down her back. Shafts of light extended from the electric bulb and circled sable shoulders. Janet stopped herself before she wished for the beams to touch the torso, to glance across the hips, to trace the whole length of the limbs… Instead, she blinked and sipped her tea. Once the girl had finished brushing, she perched on the window ledge, reached down towards the floor, and retrieved a paper bag. Her hand delved into it, and discovered a sandwich. She opened the bread, peeled a piece of ham from between its buttered thighs, and placed it with obvious pleasure on her tongue. The bread she discarded. Her hand delved again, this time producing the perfect circle of an apple. The girl held it up, turned it in the lightbulb glow, then slipped off the windowsill, crouched down, and put her face square to the outside. Her chin was resting on the ledge. Janet watched, fascinated, as delicate fingers placed the apple green in the centre of the sill. The girl then leaned back and checked that it was equidistant between the jambs. She smiled, satisfied by symmetry. At this moment, the girl lifted her gaze and seemed to look directly into Janet’s eyes. It was a surprise, no, more, a shock, and Janet was afraid she’d been caught out. She drew breath and reminded herself that–in the blackness of her room–it must be nigh impossible for anyone to see her. The girl raised the inside pink of her hand and waved.
She was a real treasure, this creature who’d moved in across the street; already Janet wouldn’t be without her. She crawled through work and counted the hours until she could go home. Between the man’s visits, the girl did little and Janet noticed that she was losing weight. Every night she held a vigil, whispered supplications for the girl. She liked to think her prayers didn’t go entirely to waste. No matter how the man might wave his arms about, no matter how he crumpled up his brow, there was nothing much yet done to hurt the girl. “Perhaps that’s down to me,” thought Janet. “Perhaps a watchful eye can keep her safe because she’s far too beautiful to ruin…” But days ran by and anger flared. He slammed the door and cornered her. “You brute!” thought Janet. Tonight, she’d put a little whiskey in her tea to calm her nerves. She wasn’t naïve and had prepared herself for what she might now see, and she was starting to believe this man was not averse to strong-arm tactics. After all, hadn’t she seen him nudge and grab the girl? A bruise grew on an arm from his repeated prods, so heaven knew what he was capable of doing next. “He thinks he’ll get away with it,” she told herself. “He doesn’t know that I’m a witness.” A row of apples now stood in a line that almost filled the windowsill. The girl never looked across at Janet anymore. Each day was less important than the last. She slowly shrank and slumped, and then one evening when he had worn her out, she gave a nod. Pleased as punch, the man kissed her cheek, then tossed something at her feet. Janet watched the girl pick up a stub of candle, a spoon, and a small screw of paper. She put them on the bedside table and knew they were meant as her reward, a little thank you, something to take the edge off when she was all alone. Agog, Janet had begun to cut corners, to hurry home from work. She was anxious not to miss a single episode and had sworn an oath that she would do something. “I won’t stand by,” she promised herself on more than one occasion. The problem was she couldn’t decide what she was supposed to do. “I’m gathering evidence,” she said, “and when I take it to the correct authorities, they’d have something incontrovertible.” She’d narrowed down the choice to the local women’s refuge or the police and had borrowed some binoculars from work. Once she’d got the proof, she’d make sure to find proper help for that poor girl. “But I mustn’t make mistakes. I must make sure I don’t misunderstand the situation. It would be wrong to make false accusations.” In the twilight, she observed the man as he left the building and walked along the pavement. She rotated the focusing ring of the binoculars, so he was large and crisp in her lenses. She followed him until he reached the corner of the street, where he greeted a younger man. To Janet, this one looked barely more than a boy. A
package swapped from the pocket of one to the palm of the other. She monitored the transaction, made a note of date and time, then turned the binoculars back towards the window where the girl waited. She’d draped the bed with a patterned cloth and was standing in front of the mirror dabbing perfume on her throat and wrists. Janet imagined she smelt of cinnamon. By the time the men had climbed the stairs, she’d be lying on the bed and perfectly still. She’d have dressed herself carefully to cover her scabs. The young man would cross to her. He’d neither hesitate, nor ask permission. She wouldn’t protest or try to stop him, and anyway, he wouldn’t take long. The worst of it would be if he hung around and pawed at her as though he couldn’t believe his luck. Janet knew this was how it went because she’d seen it all before. The only difference tonight was this one stretched out a hand and helped himself to one of the apples. He bit into it, not realising it was old. He grimaced and quickly dropped it in disgust. The girl waited for him to leave and put the apple back on the windowsill. Where his teeth had punctured, the apple reacted and turned brown; worn flesh pulled back from the skin. On her own again, the girl veered between being limp and being restless. She rolled a cigarette and smoked it. She hardly slept. Janet watched as she scratched at her skin, as though she’d like to peel off all her layers and throw herself away. A pyramid of fruit had burgeoned on the windowsill. The apples at the top were green and bright, but those beneath had shrivelled. Their surfaces were wrinkled and degraded where moulds and yeasts had taken hold, had gorged themselves, and broken cells and structures down. Even Janet had stopped trying to count how many apples there were now. Appalled by the mess of flesh, she was outraged and grateful that the man had never put a curtain up, nor had the girl thought to turn out the light. She worried endlessly, this makeshift guardian of the girl. She kept an eye on her and hoped she stayed safe in that bare cube of a room. Janet picked up the binoculars and trained them in between the slats of the blind. The picture looked familiar, each corner of the room much like every other day, as though the hours connected in sequence, as though the girl did not experience each minute independent of all others. She was on the bed, arms and legs sprawled out. The first assumption was that she was fast asleep, but she looked heavy and unnatural and was lying very still. Janet had taught herself how to use the diopter adjustment. It made allowances for the difference in vision of each eye, so she was sure it wasn’t her sight playing tricks. The girl’s skin was ashen, face clammy, eyes open, and pupils small– contracted. They saw nothing and there was no one there to see. Janet swallowed, lowered the binoculars, and wondered what to do. “I should call someone,” she thought. She had an obligation as a neighbour. But who to call and on what grounds and what to say? There were so many questions that she wouldn’t be
able to answer; she didn’t know this girl’s name, had never met or spoken with her. “I can’t lay claim to any real relationship…” She lifted the leather strap from round her neck and replaced the plastic caps which covered the binocular’s lenses. “No,” she thought, “I’ll take these back to work. I mustn’t interfere. It’s not my place. I must make sure I mind my own business.” She reached out and pulled the cord to shut the blinds.
Through the Looking Glass SAMANTHA VONDRUM
Saariaho: Dans le rêve, elle L’attendait CRISTIAN ANDERSSON
Oil on canvas
A Tube of Blue CLINT MARTIN
My white-haired dad was in the den, in his ultramarine high-backed leather recliner reading last week’s junk mail as if it was fresh from the pen of a friend. Multiple times over the previous two days, I’d asked if he wanted to paint. After all, back in his late teens, painting was an activity he enjoyed. The proof was smattered around us: a landscape of a Minnesota lake above the dining table, a sunset in the den, an olé-ing matador in the living room, even a rendering of a campus dorm in the garage. And now it seemed, more than ever, my 72-year-old dad needed such an activity. Up to this point my inquisitions into painting were met with the same enthusiasm my thirteen-year-old musters when I ask him if he’d like to mow the lawn. With this in mind, I decided to take on a more direct approach in the den. “C’mon Dad. We’re painting,” I commanded. I waited for his bifocaled eyes to vacate the letter offering a chance to win a million bucks. Once his bright blues had settled on me, I grinned and told him exactly where to retrieve the box of untouched paints, brushes, and small canvases his youngest sister had brought him a few months ago. I left him to his task and proceeded into the dining room. Minutes crept by and the newspaper-covered table in front of me remained empty of painting supplies. Not only that, but a lack of creaking footsteps as well as the absence of any sound of rummaging or movement suggested the table would remain empty for the foreseeable future. Dad was not in the den. To his credit, he was in the living room, and he was standing next to the box of unopened paint supplies. But instead of the box, he was holding five photographs. Right away, from across the room, I knew the photo count was five. Right away, from where I stood, I could see the photos in my mind: two were of my dad and his wife sitting next to each other in a restaurant on the pier, Dad’s red Kangol hat on backward; two photos were of my aunt—the one who had brought the paints—and her husband, also in the restaurant on the pier; and the fifth was a selfie taken by my aunt in front of a sequined Elvis statue that stood outside of some restaurant in Tennessee. My dad looked up at me as if I’d been there all along. “Do you know this guy?” he asked, his question sounding part-joke and partserious. During this visit, he had asked me this same question in this same tone at least twenty-something times. “Yeah Dad, it’s Elvis. C’mon. We’re going to paint.” I grabbed the box of paints and started my way back to the dining room. I walked slowly and listened to make sure his audible breathing was following me. Hearing a rusty exhale, I turned and smiled, hoping a friendly grin would entice him to continue on our afternoon’s adventure. He joined me at the round table in the dining room.
There, beneath his painting of an azure lake below a soft blue sky, I set the cardboard box of paints and supplies directly between us. Dad sat there, reminding me of my son awaiting the mower to be filled with gas, the thrill dripping from him the way rain falls in Tucson. I can’t say what I expected to happen, but I do remember what I hoped would happen: Dad would sit down and some forgotten magic would return, would urge him to pick up a brush, inspire him to mix up some paint, and would conjure his creative juices into remembering the joy of his long-dormant hobby. He would fill canvas after canvas with orange sunsets, green trees, and blue lakes. Of course, that’s not what happened. Instead, with no facial expression to offer me any clue of his interest level, my dad stared. At me. At the walls, at the table, back at me. I returned his look and gave another small smile of encouragement, one that was, in all honesty, as much for myself as it was for him. He exhaled again, his breath escaping his body the way air does when the puzzle piece that’s been in your hands for twenty minutes just won’t fit. Anywhere. “Alright,” I chirped, scooching my chair closer to this high-stakes no-limit table game. I leaned over the box and pulled out the set of six squeezable tubes of paint: red, yellow, green, blue, white, and black—all labeled with fancier names than that. I stood the tubes on their wide caps in front of my dad. He reached out. He picked up the green one. I waited for the magic. “I like this color,” he announced. Then read, “Emerald.” “Yes, emerald,” I encouraged. “I like that color too.” My dad’s pink lips moved inaudibly across the rest of the tube’s front label. He rotated it. Through his bifocals, he scrutinized the back. Sitting directly across from him, I noticed for the first time just how much his blues jumped and jerked and were impossible to predict. His eyes moved in such a non-linear direction, reading looked near impossible. Then he rotated the tube again. “Emerald,” he confirmed. My dad set the tube down and exhaled again. This time as if he’d just dropped a stack of dusty books. Looking like he might sneeze, he sank into his chair, and a different kind of dust dulled the light of his eyes. While his gaze remained forward and his body still, it was obvious that he was going somewhere. Somewhere else. A moment passed. Then a spark reignited. His eyes latched onto the tube of yellow paint. He reached out, picked it up, and announced, “I like this color.” Then aloud, “Canary.” Then he scrutinized the back with the same jerks and jumps. He turned the paint back around, voiced another, “I like this color,” and put the tube down. Again, the exhale followed. Again, he sank back into his chair. Again, my dad’s blue eyes clouded with an invisible dust. Whoever or whatever it is that wipes Dad’s eyes from time to time interested me greatly, for as I watched closely, I saw his vision spark once again. He grabbed the next tube of paint. And as if he were reading the label of a fabulously expensive bottle
of wine, he held the tube in his thick hands. A small glint bounced off the ruby in the college ring he wore as he stated, “Cobalt. I like this color.” I sighed. I felt myself in limbo as I lingered somewhere between the logic of patience and the productivity of pushing. It made sense to give him his time, to let him come to the painting when he was ready. Not to force it. But it also made sense to replace the tube with a brush, to dip the brush into paint, to escort his arm all the way to the canvas if I had to, at least until momentum or spirit took over. Unsure of which way to lean, I gave patience another chance. Dad put down the tube of blue, and I braced myself for the final three examinations. I hoped that once his investigation of each color was complete, he’d be ready to move on, ready to give in to the magic, ready to paint. Then came the now ritualistic exhale. The routine of settling dust followed by the return of the spark. The now customary lean forward to grab the next tube. Okay Dad, grab the red. No wait, what is he doing? I watched. I watched it happen in painful slow-motion. No, it can’t be. It was. He was grabbing the green. My chin fell to my chest. My eyes closed as I was now unquestionably face-to-face with the degree of Dad’s deterioration. I could no longer avoid what I had come to suspect over the past few months as our phone conversations had seen the question of “How are you doing?” grow from once to twice to a handful of times during a 15-minute call. Here it was, right smack in my face, the indisputable evidence. Dad held the green paint. Again. “Emerald,” he read. Again. Frustrated and fearful, I gave up on patience and pulled the four brushes out of the box. I lined them up between us, the handles pointed his way. I was going to make this work. I removed two 5x7 canvases, took off the plastic wrapping, and set one in front of each of us. I opened the painter’s tools, the palette, and the color wheel diagram. I filled a glass with water. Dad was now back to the blue paint. “I like this color.” I closed my eyes and searched my emotional well for a small trickle of calm. I let it fill me enough to continue and tried another approach. “Okay Dad, I’ve never really painted before. I need you to show me. So, what should I do first? What should I do, Dad?” Dad looked up at me. His blue eyes held me and looked encouraging. The spark rose into a small, noticeable flame. I smiled and tried to hold his eyes with mine, to keep his blues aligned with my browns, to keep them from slipping away. “Well…” he started. I waited. I leaned forward. I was ready. “Yes? What first? Dad?” Then the dust settled. His gaze dropped to the tube of blue in his hands. His pink lips tightened, drew themselves into a closed pit behind his soft, white beard. The smile from my face slipped away. I saw the puzzle piece had no home, and I knew my fight was over, knew my dad was slipping away and not coming back. I closed my eyes, hard, hoping they could dam the water as I heard again, “I like this color.”
I Am a Flower Girl SION HARDY
Acrylic paint on canvas
Acrylic on canvas
color makes me complete SADHIKA GANGULI
ST MARY’S EPISCOPAL SCHOOL IN MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE coffee bean on white paper dash of coffee in the milk walking around letting ignorance dictate what my name should be — i am Indian and my name is too. i drew the angel blonde and white sixteen years until i understood that it was okay to use the brown crayon (the peach one was always fought over). it was not until i stared at my skin in pictures with friends — i am different, but that doesn’t disable me color only makes the picture more beautiful i am tea with a dash of milk coffee with sugar. my name and skin are precious because i earned the honor of calling myself complete.
JENNA GOLDSMITH Young and gay I believe I will be alone forever. This goes without question and I am unemotional about the fact: the fates are clear. In 8th grade I realize I can love girls through a metabolic process, nearly digest a piece of them so they become a part of me closer, in fact, than their boyfriends Kylar, Vinnie, John. Before school we congregate in small circles near the schoolâ€™s doors. The day and its drama project suspended or still unplanned. Memory is fickle yet I remember everything about her, trust her because she is so blonde. I ask for gum and she offers me the wad from her mouth. I believe her as when your whole life depends upon the way the group makes eye contact.
This isn’t a stunt, somehow. I chew the gum all day even when it has become stone. I revel in almost swallowing the girl reflect on my gum stone girlfriend save the rock in my bathroom in tissue for a year. Robbie Lawrence of recent and inexplicable middle school popularity advises me to do nice things for them: open doors. He doesn’t ask me why I ask him for tips on how to get them to notice me. Tip of milkshake straw. Fork’s prongs. Leftovers. In October, I don’t eat so that in November the poet’s quinoa and kale winds up in my mouth. Do you want the rest of my salad? And I believe her because she is so blonde. The other writers and I have congregated in a tight circle. Gum-palm-mouth. Poet-togobox-mouth.
I donâ€™t have to explain the building complicatedness of this do I? This map of objects in my mouth how ingestion and digestion are my broken puzzle why some things slide down and others wonâ€™t how the brain makes euphoria how this is the way of saying feed me.
Dad Jokes LORI NOTO
Riding shotgun in my fatherâ€™s Monte Carlo, we drive through snowbanks of a suburban tundra. The muffler coughs in sync with my father, clearing his throat to rev the engine of his perishing immune system. Iced air, perfumed with the smell of December wood burning, makes my mouth mourn for the sweet of watermelon it wonâ€™t love again until June, even though I had never cared much for the fruit. My toes stiffen from the cold, making me want to dive like a kamikaze from the passenger seat to leave Wisconsin for good (farewell, farewell) but then my father remarks with a well-worn jape about how this weather is going to give him heatstroke. The laughter warms me like a trusty winter coat.
Looking at the Sky SZILÁRD SZILÁGYI
Oil on wooden plate
Bountiful Colors Natureâ€™s Eye Candy TIMOTHY PHILLIPS
Acrylics on canvas
I’d Rather Be a Spider JULIE QUINN
I heard the scraping of blade against wood before I saw the bearded man behind the saw. I had only taken my first hit after loading a basket of laundry in the basement when the rapid, ominous sound barreled through the half opened living room window like a cannon. Loud. Abrupt. Alarming. From my spot on the worn tope couch, I remained frozen, yet with every drag of the blade I sank further and further into the uncomfortable cushions. But I was the only one home, besides Pepper. Where was she anyway? And how come she hadn’t come wildly cantering from my bedroom, barking to warn me of another presence? It was so unlike her to remain silent. This concerned me greatly, the safety of my dog triumphing over my own. The scraping grew increasingly louder, matching the rhythm of the drum pounding inside my chest. I knew I couldn’t remain motionless forever. Maybe it was the small amount of cannabis that had finally settled in my blood, or maybe it was the voice inside my head urging me to do something, but a strange ribbon of courage came over me and I finally willed myself to stand. Already shivering from the intense winter cold, I peered out the window. Absolute darkness greeted me. I gasped loudly. The sound had stopped. Half relieved, half terrified, I pushed down on the wooden frame, shutting out the haunting sound for good. Even if it comes back, I won’t be able to hear it this time, I thought. But my attempt to comfort myself did little to no good. Suddenly, as if on cue, the clouds parted, casting a bright beam of light on the muddy snow. Like a spotlight, the glow of the moon landed on a small blob of a figure. I squinted harder and screamed once it came into focus. The corpse of my precious companion lay mangled in the frigid outdoors. Choking on my own sobs, I collapsed onto the ledge. And that’s when I saw him. A large, muscular man whose hands would have no problem snapping my neck like a twig. His meaty fist gripped the handle of a saw covered in blood and fur as he stared hungrily at the back of our house. Terror coursed through my veins as I tried to piece together his motive. Even more tears puddled the corners of my eyes as I thought of the little door with the wooden lock on the outside of the house that led to our basement. Not the door. God, please not the door. As if he could read my pleading mind, the man’s bloodshot eyes darted upward, his intense gaze boring directly through my own. I breathed heavily, desperately wanting to tear my eyes away from his. But I couldn’t. He flickered his bony fingers and licked the dull side of the blade. Flashing a mouthful of rotting teeth, he jerked his head downward. Slowly and deliberately, he craned his neck to face me, wanting to make sure I was watching. I stared in horror as he picked up his saw once more, then quickly tore my eyes away. I didn’t need to verify what I already knew: he had sawed the lock off the door, and he was about to break in.
Panicking, my shaky hands fumbled for my cellphone I constantly misplaced. The steady thump, thump, thump of boots against concrete echoed beneath my feet. God, where had I put it this time? The heavy thud of boots on the floor below me grew louder. He was getting closer. I desperately wanted to board up the entrance to the basement door, but I knew I didn’t have time. I couldn’t run out the front door. Even if I escaped, there was no way I’d be able to out run him. My cries of help would be hopeless at this hour. I needed to call the police. My only chance of survival rested in the location of my cellphone. Think, Carol, think. I was useless, standing in the middle of the living room racking my brain. I had to start looking. As fast as I could, I scurried down the hall and flung open my bedroom door. A white wicker laundry basket lay sideways, empty on the floor. My eyes widened. Shit. I left it in the basement. Both hands flew to my mouth as I pictured my phone rattling on top of the dryer. Without another thought, I bolted, barreling past the hall, through the kitchen, and down the basement steps. I was inches from the laundry room door when the scraping sound returned, this time louder than ever before. My sweat turned cold and I froze. This can’t be happening. “Looking for this, aren’t you?” A deep voice asked. The man emerged from the shadows, dragging his saw across the concrete in one hand, and in the other, his blood and dirt caked fingers clutched my phone. I swallowed hard, staring first at my own forgetfulness, then at the weapon that had murdered Pepper. And would likely murder me. “Did you really think,” the man taunted, “that you would be able to escape?” I opened my mouth to respond, but the man pinned me down and began to saw away my arm. I tried to scream away the excoriating pain, but nothing came out. I thrashed back and forth, but it was no use. The filing of bone bounced against the moldy walls, and all I could do was cry and stare at the spiders on the ceiling. I wish I were one of them. The man stood and wiped the sweat away from his brow. He gathered his belongings, carried them into the room next door, and dumped limb after limb into the dryer. Lastly, he lifted the severed head and looked directly into its glossy eyes. “Thank you for your house, Carol,” the man said sweetly, “I’ll take good care of it.” He shut the dryer door and pressed start.
Oil on board
Sleeping Season AUGUST WIEGMAN
The carcass lies rotting on the side of the road & your chest twists despite the familiarity. It seems everything is dying around you, spindly legs carrying the deadness on their backs as they trudge through the wet. You have to keep yourself pried open or else you’ll collapse inward, under the leaves in the middle of the forest where no one will ever find you. It seems easier that way, doesn’t it? But elongating the worst of it is half the fun. You can consume and let your eyes droop shut in the afternoon, as if that will cure anything, but it won’t. So peer out the window as if the bare trees have something to teach you, breathe in the wind and pretend it tastes sweet. Crack yourself open like a can of beer that you’ll gag as you drink, but just get it down so you can feel something. Drain your blood if you so please; let it seep into the soil and fuck with the wildlife. Let it tint the world red. Your carcass lies rotting on the side of the road like it’s been there for years, and, well, hasn’t it?
Please Take a Number AUGUST WIEGMAN
I have reserved the right to be angry. I waited in line, I took my ticket, and I satâ€”very silently I satâ€”and I waited. I have heard much anger from the mouths of others. One screams, harsh and visceral, words clawing out of their throat, and another whimpers its anger, poignant. Now the hour is mine. I do not know how to be angry in any way that counts but I have waited for this time, and now I sit with it. I hold this feeling like putty in my hands, stretch it until it breaks, and then further. It is stuck to my fingers, all over my clothes, it has somehow found its way into all the cracks between everything. I throw it all in the washing machine, my hands, my clothes, everything, and the machine breaks. Now I am naked, handless, and angry, scratching at my eyes with nonexistent claws. And you are here and nowhere, long gone and staring me in the face. Do you know how to leave? Did you ever know how to stay?
Acrylic on canvas
On Belonging to the Blue Light WAYNE BOROWSKI
In 1969, my mother was 16-years-old. She lived in the coastal metropolitan city of Everett, Washington, where she often forfeited attending school to care for her younger siblings. Her own mother was a volatile and vindictive woman, with porcelain white skin and curling strawberry-blonde hair. Although at one time my mother had been his favorite among her siblings, her father had abandoned the family when she had been only 9. She did not remember how dark his skin was, nor the color of his hair â€“ so black, it was nearly blue. Less than eight miles north from Everett, up along the Snohomish River, stood the Tulalip Indian Reservation. Twenty-thousand wooded acres of secluded shame and societal taboo. White folks did not dare go there. My mother did not dare go there. And although she had grown up among them in school, she was afraid of the Indians. They were dangerous people. They looked different and behaved differently. More frightening was the dark magic which they possessed. They collected the spirits of the wayward, non-native children caught roaming the foot trails of their reservation territory. Many such ill-fated adolescents were said to have never been seen again. This was why the government intervened, forcing Indian witch doctors onto remote pieces of land, carved away from the rest of decent society. It was for the safety of young white girls like my mother. My grandmother was sure of this. Many of the white elders in the community were sure of it, as well. There was wicked shamanism conjured in the Tulalip forests. And, as the story goes, in the final moments before it captured your soul, it could be seen as a blinding blue light, fast approaching, and furious with hunger. In 1970, my mother was 17-years-old. Late one night, along with her youngest sister, Lynn Marie, she drove her white Navajo four-door Rambler Classic out to the Tulalip Reservation. They traveled on a dare, a white pony galloping headlong into the red forest, through which there was only a single unpaved road. The students of Everett High had long made common practice of goading one another to venture into Tulalip. The search for the dark magic of the mysterious blue light had become the stuff of local urban folklore. To seek a glimpse of it meant to uncover the souls of the missing white children, lest one became lost to it themselves. Hand-carved totem poles, etched with faces and fangs, and painted in garish tones of red and black, peered out from in-between the trees lining the road. Along the brush, curved beaks of birds protruded, their upturned talons fashioned by skilled Indian woodworkers, signaling a warning for unwanted visitors to turn back. My mother and Lynn shared a six-pack of cheap beer and laughed off the absurdity of the situation. They were young and they were boundless. In these things they were assured. They did not yet know how Lynnâ€™s kidneys would fail completely before she would turn 18. How
a transplant in her twenties would fail, as well, and how she would be dead before she would see her own daughter grown. They knew only of this night and nights like these. Keeping their friendship secret from their mother, laughing, and sharing adventures together until the end. Pulling along the side of the road in Tulalip, they waited and watched for the appearance of the fabled blue light. Nothing. They finished the beer and Lynn playfully made her way to the bushes to relieve her bladder. My mother, leaning against the outside of the Rambler, lit a cigarette and looked to the stars above. Unprofaned by man, the sight of the night sky in those days was truly extraordinary. And when the blue light did manifest, cresting along the horizon at the distant vanishing of the road, she gasped in terror. The stories were true. Panicked, she leapt back inside the vehicle, and slammed her foot to the accelerator so quickly, that Lynn, having raced back with pants still around her knees, was nearly left behind. There it shone before them – white-hot and phantom-like, suspended in the black kernel of night, and threatening to swallow them alive. They fled back to Everett, back to the safety of white civilization, never to return again. And fortunate to have narrowly managed escape, still in possession of their souls. They never spoke of it to anyone, but as they crossed the Reservation borderline that night, they both began to laugh. “If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it!” She told me of the blue light. I asked her from where she thought it may have shone from. Perhaps the spotlight of a Reservation police cruiser? Vandals and burglars are bound to be problems in secluded, mountain communities, after all. “No,” she answered. “It was something else–and it wanted us to leave, or else we would have become a part of it forever.” In 2016, I was 28-years-old. I had recently traveled far from the home I had always known, in pursuit of a better life elsewhere. Moments along my journey are marked by the mythic places of stamps and postcards. Sleeping in my blue Ford Ranger beside The Golden Gate Bridge, and waking to my own private sunrise along the Pacific coast fog. Camping in a makeshift tent somewhere in the mountains of Wyoming, my only companion the echo of my voice against the canyon walls. Passing the night at a desolate rest stop in South Dakota, before the absolute majesty of looking upon Mount Rushmore put to shame every photo of it I had ever seen before. I regret only that I passed by the monument for Crazy Horse, the heroic Oglala warrior, who held strong during the Battle of Little Big Horn, and was forced to leave behind his own home, as well. The end of my journey was marked by the street signs as they became unfamiliar to me. Names no longer written in Spanish were now derived instead from indigenous nomenclature. Topanga Canyon was traded for Blackhawk Drive. Los Feliz Boulevard exchanged for Onedia Street. And Ventura Boulevard for Sioux Lane. The world seemed somehow smaller to me now, and the strides in my step had become less narrow.
It was in this place I met with a Menomonie elder–a woman who very much reminded me of my own mother. She spoke of her childhood fear of Indians, perpetuated by old, black-and-white Hollywood westerns. As a girl, she would shield her eyes and hide behind the sofa whenever the savage villains, typically portrayed by white actors in red-face, appeared onscreen. And whenever she or her sister misbehaved, her parents would threaten to summon these boogeymen onto them. If you two girls don’t stop acting up, your father and I will take you to where the Indians are, and we’ll leave you there! She giggled as she revealed this to me. It all seemed so silly to her now. In 1971, my mother was 18-years-old. Determined to know him again, she left her home in Everett and drove across the country for her father. Past the mountains of Wyoming and the monuments of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, in the same Navajo Rambler Classic. Lynn had recently tracked him down in Chicago and given my mother his address. It was snowing the morning she found him. He was living in an old apartment building near the river. It was frozen and there were no birds in the sky. The man who answered the doorbell seemed like a stranger to her. He was boastful and arrogant, caring nothing of anything she had to share of her own life. Nor did he care sometime after, as Lynn was quietly dying in a hospital in Washington. When he invited my mother inside of the apartment, he flaunted his money about and bragged of his successes following having abandoned her and divorcing her mother. And although it was ugly and painful, she found that she only pitied him. He was alone, clearly in ill health, and suffering from the Crohn’s disease which eventually killed him this I now suspect to be the origin of my own condition. A colostomy bag, visibly taped to his abdomen, protruded from beneath his clothing. I wonder if one day I, too, will require the use of one? This was the last my mother saw of him. He died not long after. When I asked her about his life as a man, she told me he was a jack-of-all-trades. He served in both the Army and the Navy, before learning to cook, paint signs, and start his own carpet and cabinet business. When I asked her what she remembered of him as her father, she simply told me, “He was beautiful.” That she was his favorite of five children and she was always by his side. I learned that his name was James. And that before he left her, he treated her as good as gold and better. The sickly man in Chicago was the father who no longer loved her. Her father, the Blackfoot Indian, whose hair was so black, it was nearly blue. She had become part of the magic blue light at Tulalip, after all. Perhaps she had never escaped on that now distant night, with her sister Lynn, when they were both only teenage girls. My grandfather, “Jimmie.” The Blackfoot Indian. My grandfather, whom I will never know. I suppose, in some small way, I belong to the blue light as well.
I Won’t Give, I Won’t Give COLE DEPUY
I remember the singles in my glove box as I approach the red light I stop beside a hunched man in the bloodless cold. His used firecracker fingers hold a sign: Anything helps —the traffic light throbs like a patient cyclops. The man steps towards my car, but to crack my window would be to release my hard-earned heat. I fidget with the seat warmer, zip and unzip my Canada Goose jacket. He taps the window. His hoodie pulled tight, shrinks his face into a beard. No cars form a line behind us. Never have I ached for more traffic. Do you have any change please? I look at him through glass, wait until the light turns green.
Parking Lot HYEWON CHO
SEOUL INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL IN SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
Emerald Drake MINDY MENSEN
Polymer clay, shells, crystals, and acrylic paint
The Blue Sirine MINDY MENSEN
An Unexpected Baptism in New Jersey, Following a Summer of Loss LORI NOTO
Asbury Park, late September. Friends I made hours prior swing under the spell of Springsteen gospels and gin sacraments as a choir of gulls wail to match the band note for note. The seaside breeze bathes me in the scent of ocean until I crave its salt on my tongue to preserve this moment of hands swaying with the hallelujah of ocean waves. Tonight, I have been saved: drunk, barefoot, and free on the east coast with tides roaring the demons right out of me.
AMELIA BOYLAN-KNORR She kissed girls in secrecy. In the shadowed corners of basements at house parties, locked bathroom stalls in dimly lit bars, and in the tunnel slides at public parks. She had managed to pass through high school and into adulthood with her true desires undetected. Growing up in the small town of Ecrin, Nebraska, that was lucky. The town breathed gossip, and she was glad she had never been the target of its conversation. Perhaps all the girls she kissed were sealing her between their lips as their secret too. Perhaps they were embarrassed by their participation or had only been curious. But she never was. She savored each memory, grabbing for remembrance in those shared, secret kisses each time her boyfriend held her at night. She had only ever been called Evelyn her entire life. That was, until she turned twenty-six, and a beautiful girl with dark brown eyes and a curious look introduced herself in the twilit streets after the bar closed. Audrey called her Evy and traced her fingertip over the lines of Evelyn’s left hand in secrecy between her cotton sheets. That tender motion kept Evelyn from arguing. Kept her insistence to be called Evelyn stuck in her throat like half-chewed food. How many more soft, secret kisses could she keep? Did she only want to be Evelyn, or find out what life as Evy could be? She wanted to be free, but she was afraid of what that meant. In a world where you could lose everything— family, long-standing friendships, comfort, reputation, dignity, safety—for loving someone, was being loved in return enough? “I can’t be your secret anymore, Evy.” “You agreed to wait until I was ready to…” “I know! But I can’t anymore. I can’t be something you hide in your house. I want a relationship. Someone I can walk outside with and not have to worry about my hand being dropped if their sister or dad or whoever shows up.” “I am choosing you, but I’m not ready to lose my family, Audrey.” “Stop. Choose me, Evy. Choose me.” “I need more time.” She reached for Audrey’s hand, the one she had found herself in. Audrey pulled away and breathed out. “I’m not embarrassed by us like you are, Evy. I can’t lose myself to protect you.I--I don’t want to be your secret anymore.” “You promised.” She lifted the cotton sheets, hoping Audrey would crawl in and be her secret for a little longer. “I want us, but not like this.” Audrey turned to hide her tears. “Goodbye, Evelyn.” Her hand would never feel Audrey’s tender touch, scribbling, “Forever” into her palm ever again. This was why Evelyn hated nicknames. She hated their closeness. Their meaning. She hated the memories they held to connections that were frayed from the beginning.
She loved being Evy, and now she hated being Evelyn. Not because she couldn’t change herself and not because she wanted too, but because she was taught that girls who kissed girls, and boys who kissed boys, were bad— taught by family, friends, the news, the church, and public opinions. She learned to be ashamed of the most natural part of herself. She let Audrey go. Ignored who she was, tried to suppress herself and her sadness further into the secrecy of her sheets. All anybody ever talked about was wishing they could find complete happiness, hoping for it, blowing out candles and praying into thin air for it. Love should never be something that’s viewed as wrong. It’s the most effortless feeling humans express next to fear. But, for her, happiness would forever be half. For her, it would only exist in secret kisses.
Oil on canvas
SARAH ROSE THOMAS When I was eleven, I started making Mom’s morning coffee. She’d measure the grounds into a paper filter before bed. I’d wake early, add a carafe of cool water, I could hear the burble and pop of the old coffee pot while I started getting my brothers ready for school. “Thanks for the coffee. Luv, Mom” Twenty-three years later I still have that note tucked away– a reminder of the habits that make a life She’d nurse those ten cups all day sitting in her rocker, Having a coffee clutch she called it. I thought it was the way she held that cup, never spilling as she rocked and rocked. Later I learned it was coffee klatch she meant– Something from the 50’s meaning to drink coffee and talk. I didn’t start with coffee till I was nearly thirty, never sat with Mom over sugar cookies with matching mugs. Alone I turn on the kettle, wait for the whistle early in the morning before getting my sons ready for school, pour the hot water over the grounds Within me there is this memory steeping, bitter at times, grit at the bottom, but mostly rich and warm.
VICTORIA ELIZABETH RUWI Leaves so majestic I gathered a basketful for my friend. Each autumn they returned to applause, applause, applause: amarillo, ruby, copper leaves, my backyard royalty, beauty from this white bark maple thriving in southwest coast soil, roots deepening in yearly seasons. One winter day, surgeons cut out my malignant kidney, while a meth addict, chainsaw power climaxing, chopped apart my maple, no trace left of fragrant wood for a pyre nor a meditative sit-upon stump. Dormancy is not death; rest and a delicacy in pruning begets growth. â€ƒ
Another Sunday Evening at the Family Home ELI KANE
Why did perilous events always happen on Sunday evenings? It was the witching hour, or witching night, rather. My fears seemed to wait for Sunday evenings, and they spring out all at once, around dinnertime, usually precipitated by crippling stomach pains that rendered me useless for a few hours spent moaning on the couch along with the chorus of “stop overreacting” and “you’re fine, suck it up.” My parents said “suck it up” a lot; it was an odd phrase rarely heard outside the family. I lay flat on my back, watching my stomach rise and fall. I could see the outline of my ribs through my blue tank top. It was summer and much too hot, the kind of hot that made you lethargic and groggy and nauseous. My nausea made it hard to eat, and my mom’s friends always looked sideways with their eyes squinted at my ribs and said “Appreciate that while you’re young. When you’re older, you’ll end up like me!” while mashing their love handles and patting their muffin tops. Or, “You’re lucky, I bet you can eat whatever you want!” while gripping my bicep between their thumb and middle finger. But I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted; germs populated the surface of every food and each bite became a landmine to avoid potential food poisoning or other stomach ailments. The inevitable nausea crept back in, populating my brain with images of vomit, nausea, the sickly pink cloth my parents used after a bout of swallowing too much mucus from a bad cold. I got up to wash my hands, three times. Afterward, I felt a little cleaner. I kept my palms spread open to prevent the particles from sticking between the creases of my skin; they did that more during the summer months when the air was putrid and damp. I counted the tines of the forks as I set the table. If the thought of sickness, entered my brain, I’d have to wash my hands to scrub off the thought, a pastime that was becoming increasingly more drawn out and increasingly less effective at stopping the mental merry-go-round. Dinner was chicken and rice. It wasn’t safe, and I spit the chicken into my green cup of water, but then I was thirsty with no water to drink. I read somewhere that increased thirst was a sign of the stomach bug. Or was it decreased thirst? I made a mental note to keep an eye on how the saliva in my mouth felt from now on. It might help me decipher the never-ending game that the ever-present nausea made me play.
Our couches were purple, and I bounced on them after dinner while my mom read a bedtime story to Kristen upstairs. I was “always invited,” but it was clear that those stories were their time. I never intruded, especially after hearing day after day how much of a burden I was, what with my anxiety and over-alertness and nausea that never stopped. A burden was a funny thing; I didn’t know a person could be one, I thought it was something you carried. I imagined my parents picking up all my problems and worries and carrying them away from me, taking away my burden. That would be nice! But then, if I myself was the burden, that presented another problem entirely. They couldn’t just pick me up and throw me away, as much as I knew they wanted to. My dad stood up from his rocking chair. “I’m going upstairs, stay here.” “Okay.” I was too busy staring at the ceiling to respond further. Was the air cleaner up there? I’d bounce higher, try to test it. If I got sick, it was dirtier. If I stayed safe, maybe it was cleaner. Or the same as the air down here. I wasn’t sure. “What are you staring at the ceiling for?” he asked. “There’s a spider up there,” I told him. I continued bouncing until my dad went upstairs, but the thoughts were back. Three people upstairs at one time wasn’t safe because if someone threw up, there was an uneven number of people upstairs and downstairs, so the person downstairs would have to find out what happened the hard way, and oh god, I was the only one down here now, and I could feel the germs closing in, hissing in my ear to stop bouncing and listen very carefully. Apparently, surveillance would keep me safe tonight. I sat perfectly still, listening for noises upstairs. It was a skill that I honed years ago. After each screaming match or each time I was shoved or locked who-knows-where, I’d listen at the top of the stair to know if it was safe to come down. I also gathered information in this manner, learning that I was “a stupid, pain-in-the-butt kid” and “like an animal.” I used to laugh at this because they thought that saying those things was a secret, but they said them to my face so frequently that I would have known even without eavesdropping. My dad’s voice broke through the spiral of thoughts that were forming into a whirlpool in my head. A hurricane with the epicenter a pulsating fear of nausea. “Get up here! Get up here! Kristen’s getting sick, we need help!” His words didn’t register at first; I heard the word sick and thought I was still in my own brain, externalizing the worst-case scenarios out loud. He yelled again, and my body moved to autopilot, running and slipping onto the hardwood floor in the kitchen and then back again. I could feel my heart, it was so close to the outside of my chest now, I wondered if it would burst through once I got scared enough. I couldn’t see more than blurs past the tears in my eyes, I was screaming and panicking. The pee-yellow bathroom door was open, and I grabbed the first thing I saw, a teal facecloth. Maybe I could throw it at them, and that would be my contribution, tossing it in their general vicinity before I opened the garage door and got far, far away from the
sound and smell of vomit, which appeared to be getting both closer and louder. I tripped four times going up the stairs, my knees giving out and my wrists accumulating rug burns each time I fell. I plugged my nose and held my breath, sobs still catching in my throat. Could you hold your breath and cry at the same time? Maybe I would die; it seemed preferable in that moment. My family wasn’t big on religion; we’d go to church at nine-thirty on Sunday mornings to take bland wafers at communion and show the world that we were a well put-together quadrant of two little girls and two parents. You were supposed to pray after communion, but I couldn’t anymore because each time I tried to close my eyes and thank God for giving His body and blood for us, the thoughts came into my head full force, and I was sure that God wouldn’t want to hear such awful things, so I stopped altogether. Instead, I prayed in my bed at night when the world was stiller and cooler. I always started with “Dear God,” like a pen-pal letter. Nightly, I ended with “and please don’t let me or Kristen or anyone else in the world throw up or get sick ever again. Amen.” God, who was apparently the last source of protection in my mind, had given up on me this Sunday evening. On the top step, I prayed, “Dear God, please let me die right now. I don’t want to live to be ninety-nine. I want to die at eight. Please, please let me die now, so I don’t see the vomit, please just make it go away. Thank you and Amen.” I always thanked Him; it was simply the polite thing to do. Unfortunately for me, I was not struck dead on the staircase in that moment, and my dad’s voice rang in my ears again. The door to Kristen’s room was ajar, and I got off my hands and knees to creep silently toward it, one foot poised to run, twisting and mangling the teal facecloth in my sweating palms. They were all on her bed, all three of them, and upon seeing my tear-streaked face as my knees gave way yet again and I fell against the door frame, burst out laughing. I heard “She fell for it!” followed by cackles and giggles and oh my, the laughter was too loud, it was all too loud and humid in here. I covered my ears, brought my knees to my chest, and rocked back and forth. Feeling my dad’s hand on my back, I flinched away. “It was a joke,” he said. “We planned it. My god, can’t you take a joke? What’s wrong with you?” The world was still spinning, and I could feel it, I could feel every rotation of the axis and I couldn’t hear my family anymore; I could only see them as they got off the bed and stepped over me, a sobbing mass of quivering cells on the floor. I don’t remember how long I stayed like that. Long enough to pray a few more times, slow my breathing, and wonder what, indeed, was wrong with me? I remember holding my hand out in front of me, seeing it shaking and blotchy. I stood up and crept to the staircase. My family was downstairs, the lively sounds of a happy unit of three echoing down the hall. I could make out bits and pieces, but not enough, so I lay flat on my stomach with my face buried in the carpet so I couldn’t hear my own breath. I had categorized this as Listening Position Number Three, since it was used less frequently
than Listening Positions One and Two. It wasn’t usually safe to lie down like this, but sometimes the situation warranted it. The bits and pieces became phrases, which became sentences and soon became to unblur and make sense. “I can’t believe she freaked out like that. Was kinda funny, actually.” “What do you mean you can’t believe it? Have you seen her? Every day? She’s a mess, like an animal or something.” I wished I was a bird then I could sit on the roof and poop white onto the perfectly shined wooden deck out back. Birds were nice animals, unsuspecting and with ample means for revenge. My thoughts slowed and my eyes became sleepy. I vaguely remember my parents finding me there, my dad picking me up and tucking me into bed. He kissed my forehead; it was the first night in a week that he did that. “We’re sorry,” he said. I lay awake in the dark, my chest rising and falling as he left, before getting up to check the closet door and the bedroom door four times, whispering with each rotation, “Can’t get sick tonight.” I flicked my light switch four times for extra safety and ran back and forth across my room fifteen times to undo the joke. It was a joke; families make jokes. They make animals and bad children and mistakes. I couldn’t feel my legs. I got into bed and counted the ridges on my ceiling. I didn’t feel like praying to God that night.
Suppose the Room Just Got Brighter JENNA GOLDSMITH
Suppose the cherries on the neighbor’s property were for us, so that when we snuck out in the dark we weren’t stealing Suppose the door wasn’t rotting from the bottom up Suppose the wind Suppose the green hose a snake Suppose every garden box a garden Suppose the room just got brighter Suppose the vultures flying above the mud flats had an eye on our hair Suppose the ocean was seamless rivers Suppose the rules weren’t so rigid, no consequences when I didn’t follow them Suppose there were no consequences Suppose we ate supper, and everything was exactly your favorite Suppose supper Suppose the direction you were running was west and I knew because you ran into the sea Suppose I sat at the window and waited for you, awed Suppose I saw you coming back, you were as wet as anything–sopping, still floating, very wet–simply walking up the street Suppose I had waited there watching, struck. Suppose the room just got brighter
I sat in my high tower above the sea and every wave a whale, every rock a seal’s face, every clam and crab in communion, caverns in the bay, buzzards in and out, wind, toil, food, the sea, the tide, taffy on the table, suppose the cherries under a midnight moon were ours, suppose the moon, suppose the cherries.
The Four Elements VIII JOSH STEIN
Ink and acrylic on canvas
driving faster through darkness KY LI
frozen grass glistens in headlights like flecks of hope in an ICU bay partitioned by flimsy death drapes a flickering inkling of something undefinable like gravity that has mass in a way words canâ€™t spell but reveals itself fully in a hand holding tightly a comatose hand as if my life-force could pinprick the thin veil that separates breath from non-breathing, from holding back inhale as if driving faster through darkness might somehow increase the glistening
Prayer Cycle REIJA TAGANAS
maybe no you do not
find it as ironic as we do that you should be called hope,
that you should be the last word escaped from our lips
we scream you out like daggers empty our lungs of soot though maybe it suits another new cloak has made you invisible invincible out of reach out of line out of reason while here we grasp for control who are we but children? where? nowhere but below heaven we cry out; we remain swallowing your name only to exhale it back exhale it out please exhale our pleas and lose over and over and over and over yet over again
Last Summer of Innocence JaNAE SWAFFORD
The summer the pavement was so hot, Granny said you could fry eggs and bacon on the sidewalk and serve it on a plate. More than once, the thought of going into the fridge to steal an egg and a couple of pieces of bacon to test that theory crossed my mind. That was the summer I split my stomach open on that raggedy fence, following behind my big cousins. Dressed in a pink two-piece Barbie swimsuit and taking the shortcut home from the pool, I got caught on one of the loose rusty wires while wiggling backwards through the hole. Took thirteen stitches to put me back together again and I’d never seen Granny smack my big cousins so hard on their mouths. Why the hell did y’all have her crawling through that fence? Y’all gotta be fifty cents short of a damn dollar bill! The summer when Auntie Paulina caught her eldest son, fifteen at the time, being nasty with his girlfriend in her house. You remember that girl, right? She had the gap you could fit two fingers in between and her breath always smelled like Funyuns. Auntie chased him around the block with a cast-iron skillet and the split in his eyebrow never grew hair across it again. What’s really important about that summer was when Uncle Lawrence died. Granny’s eldest son. Uncle Law always gave me five dollars whenever he saw me, told me it was because I was cuter than a button with a smile that was gonna bring the strongest man to his knees someday. How do you know that? I asked him one time. Because I’m one of the strongest men to ever live and that smile gets me every time. Uncle Law was Superman. He took us everywhere, bought us whatever we wanted, hopped us up on candy and sweets and sent us back home to terrorize our parents. That summer, Uncle Law was found dead in his car, at a stop sign at the end of the street. 131st Street, full of the biggest potholes in the city. Ones that would blow out your tire and probably your engine and battery too. 131st Street, where the majority of our family had resided for generations. He was only eight houses down from his house, where his wife, Geraldine (Auntie G to the kids), was washing clothes and getting dinner ready. I think about that summer a lot. I think about how life had been so normal. We climbed trees, we rode bikes, we drew graffiti on walls, we chased the ice cream man for several blocks every time we heard his jingle. We went to church every Sunday, Bible study every Wednesday, choir and praise dance rehearsals every Saturday. We thought it was gonna be a good summer, one of the best. Until it wasn’t. They didn’t tell us what really happened. We grew up on the lie that a freak heart attack took our beloved Uncle Law from us. A semi-natural death, a shock to the system–something that was never supposed to take down Superman. Nothing was supposed to hurt him. He was big enough, strong enough, smart enough to avoid
death. But that summer we learned death was inevitable. And many summers later, as adults, we learned Uncle Law had been a double agent. The favorite uncle, the loving husband, the caring father, the protective brother on one side. The coke-pusher with the twitchy trigger finger, the violent drug prince willing to do whatever to secure his money to take care of his family on the other side. The side that had finally caught him slipping. That summer, three bullets to the chest took our Uncle Law and our innocence.
While Away KY LI
There was a day when I was not in this body but in a swimming fog that muted ocean waves & tamped glassy grains of sand into patterns that walked away from understanding. Someone unknown to me, amused themselves in my body, spilling extreme merlot on the carpet of my brain, scratching hieroglyphics into the walls of my skin, & leaving grey-mucus debris over my corneas. When I came back into this body, saturated with someone-unknown-to-meâ€™s exploitations, I said, Not all dogs eat their excrement. Why should you? My body yelped as I stretched & bent to floors & ceilings I had only tottered on or under before & laughed at jokes my mouth learned while away.
Oil on canvas
SHERRE VERNON At twenty-seven, she had learned often the best shells still held something living.
-- from Sarah Gardner’s “Among the Choirs of Wind and Wet and Wing” • He has a history of healing distance with henna, so he drew around you a cartographer’s scar: Nevada. The ink of twenty-seven nuclear winters, tapped into your bones. A body of shells and valleys, and your name in the fogged windows of a 1970 Mercury, where at sixteen, we secretly wept. • The tools are simple: a needle, some alcohol, cream for afterward, a bandage. The skin around the nail of my lover’s hand is swollen. I am not a doctor; like this I am a sister, always, only. I think of you while he watches me, wide-eyed and waiting. • Twenty-seven was just the shell, a priesthood where we told ourselves the kind of stories that water towers keep for summer nights, for cliff-dust and siblings. What is the difference between brother and cousin? Cousin and self? But death is not mitotic. There will be no repetition of our council, no duplication in the unkind division of you from me.
• Brother, where will I find them, the raw faces of you in this earth? And on finding them, know they hold you, living, know them as yours?
Monitor Nothing JR WALSH
Week twelve is a statistical breath we couldn’t exhale. The blood was new. & that’s why we are here. Just to see. A little blood can be normal. Shift shift. That’s why we’re here. Just to check. Shift. Shift. We’ll just see if we can see what we can’t hear. Lift up a bit. Shift. We were just here. We heard the beats. (We were already using the past tense.) The technician used present continuous with a tiny contraction. I’m not seeing a heartbeat. We couldn’t inhale apologies. You’ve had other ones? I nod. Oh good. She meant kids. It’s apologies we’ve had.
A Summer Story LEANE CORNWELL
I was in the second grade in 1956. The school year was nearing its end, summer vacation a mere three weeks away. My vacation was to start a full two weeks earlier than the rest of my classmates. Facing three months of summer, at the age of seven, one would think I’d be jumping for joy. One would be wrong. I was not looking forward to it. The usual short bus ride to Woodbridge Elementary School had been replaced that morning with me in the back seat of our ’49 Chevy. My parents and I made three stops that day; the first was at our family doctor’s office. Just a consultation, lab results confirmed. The verdict was in. Sentencing would begin immediately. Woodbridge Elementary School where I attended class was the second stop. I sat alone in the car while both parents went in to speak with the principal. They returned minutes later with a few textbooks and a stack of get well cards. Our third and final stop that day was The Grange Hall where weekly troop meetings were held. Still believing I would be attending that day’s after-school troop meeting, I’d dressed in full uniform that morning. Starting with the brown felt beanie cap on my head to the brown knee socks climbing upward from black and white saddle shoes on my feet, beneath a tan uniform dress wrapped neatly from right hip to left shoulder by a matching sash. Said sash was festooned with troop numbers and badges. Being a Brownie meant I was just beginning to climb through the ranks of the Girl Scouts of America organization. That upward climb put on hold right along with the rest of summer. I’d earned badges proclaiming mastery of useful camping skills. I wove dish rags on tiny frames and sewed together sheets of burlap fabric creating sacks for rinsing pots and pans in the river. Our troop practiced fundamentals of fire building as well as campfire cooking. Visiting experts spoke weekly on the finer points of tent erecting. The big campout was scheduled for the last week in June. Mom was the one to get out of the car at the grange, the third and final stop of the day. It only took a few minutes for her to impart the news. As she exited the building, I spotted brown beanie caps lined up against windows, pairs of eyes just above the windowsills coupled with waving hands. Tears clouded my eyes as I waved back, trying very hard to be brave. I realize that this was the moment reality hit me. The next stop would be home. Mentally I condemned the doctor for his diagnosis as well as my parents for believing him. It wasn’t fair. I just had a sore throat. It’s easy to say things like “life was easier and safer in the 50s”, less complicated. The truth is much less rosy. Words like polio, measles, iron lung machine, duck and cover drills, nuclear fall-out shelters all floated around the edges of our perfect world, sometimes landing very close.
The one that got me began as strep throat. I seem to recall playing one day and being carried up the house stairs to my bedroom the next. This can’t be right. Surely this transformation took more time. I also don’t remember the sore throat that began that summer’s downward spiral. But I can vividly see and feel the resulting fever, severe fatigue, achy joints, and swollen lymph nodes. The streptococcus bacteria which caused my strep throat just kept on giving, progressing into rheumatic fever, then damaging heart muscles. They called it a “hole in my heart”, but meant that I had an inflamed heart valve which did not open or close properly. My heart was in an out-of-sync rhythm. This lost summer in my childhood happened just before antibiotics such as penicillin were common and widely used. The bacterium was highly contagious, which meant no visitors for me. My younger brother was banned from my room. I was put to bed and not allowed up for three solid months. Even though our bathroom was steps away from my bedroom door, I was carried each time nature called or when I took a tepid bath. But along with these physical barriers and social banishments, there was joy. I looked forward to weekend nights when Dad carried me to the living room and I could watch Lawrence Welk or Disney’s Wonderful World of Color with the family. Never allowed near enough to my brother to pull his hair or teasingly poke him, but close enough to stick out my tongue or wiggle fingers jutting from my ears. The double bed dominating my ten by twelve foot bedroom was drenched in pink and purple flowers. A ruffled bedspread and canopy cover decorated the bed and became my whole little girl world. Days were filled with paper doll cut-outs. I created elaborate fashion shows, built cardboard stages and homes. I spent hours pointing a cardboard tube towards window light, turning it to create fabulous kaleidoscope patterns. There were Slinkies and a View Master with discs that took me to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. An out-of-state aunt sent weekly Hallmark story cards. Each card contained only one chapter of a story. The following chapter came in the next card, arriving the very next week. I don’t think she ever knew how much I looked forward to getting mail from her. Mom treated me to a new pair of baby doll pajamas each time she went shopping at Montgomery Wards. Every Saturday Dad would go to the local drug store and come home with a small bag of penny candy and the brand new Archie comic. I could not wait to see what Archie, Veronica, Betty and Jughead were up to. There was a Whee-Lo. It was a magnetic walking wheel with a plastic spinner. It came with six colorful cardboard disks I could attach to each side of the wheel, creating optical illusions as it spun on the metal frame. All these toys and treats helped take my mind off pain but could not cheer me on balmy evenings when summer reached into that split-level prison grabbing me by the heart.
Bedroom windows cranked open, warm breezes teased me. Fragrant floral scents drifted in and I tried to separate and identify each blossom as mouth-watering, backyard-barbecue aromas glided in alongside them. Hiding just behind those sweet summer perfumes, street laughter also reached me. Cheers and shouts of childhood games and adult conversations floated upward. Wonderful sounds and smells to carry me out of that room. These were the moments that made me cry. I longed to be outdoors, surrounded again by friends and fun, drawing hopscotch squares on our driveway with my best friend, Sue, playing cowboys and Indians in Kevin’s back yard. I was always a damsel in distress, surrounded by Indians on a warpath, waiting to be rescued by a strong, jingle-bob-spur-wearing, brave cowboy who would say “howdy ma’am” and toss me onto the back of his trusty broomstick steed. The whap-whap sound our not so collectable baseball cards made as they steadily slapped against Schwinn tire spokes, rising in pitch along with the speed of the bicycle. Kids from two blocks over came to race on our turf for bragging rights and coveted prizes such as steelies or cats eye marbles. Roller-skating up and down neighborhood sidewalks on flimsy pieces of metal, thin metal wheels attached underneath. The skates were strapped around ankles only by lightweight leather but grabbed into the toes of tennis shoes at the front. Uncomfortable? Hazardous? Not so we noticed. Using the accompanying skate key would resize or snug up each pair. Skate keys were strung onto a length of yarn and hung around your neck. Losing a roller skate key could plunge a perfectly good summer day into deep devastation. But I can tell you, losing the whole summer is far more devastating. I did do all of these things that summer. Not once outside that canopy bed. My health improved slowly, enough for me to resume school in the fall. Conditions were imposed. For years afterward, every sore throat I got was treated like a possible death sentence, further damaging an already weakened heart muscle. I couldn’t participate in P.E. nor actually play during recess. I was guarded, set apart by health conditions, robbed of one of the best parts about being young –playing. In its wake, the rheumatic fever left me with a head full of short, straight hair, never again to grow curly or longer than shoulder length. Years of required isolation from all physical activities included my membership in the Girl Scouts of America. I never did get to a group camp out; yet with each passing year, my health grew heartier. It’s been twenty years or more since a visit to the doctor has left me an anxious, nervous wreck. In all that time, they’ve not once remarked about a weakened heart muscle. The summer of my seventh year left me feeling cheated, robbed of some essential thing in youth. But looking back over sixty years later, I also remember all the friends I met and the places I did go. During the quiet times, the reading times, I met an orphan named Anne, visited her in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. I went swinging through jungle treetops with an ape-man named Tarzan, I enjoyed the antics of the March sisters as they matured, and helped build a homestead on a deserted island with a
Swiss Family named Robinson. Books took me all over the world and along the way introduced me to characters so real, they still populate my thoughts. Iâ€™ve long since put the pain and toys of that lost summer behind me, but value that particular time in my history as the period I was introduced to a great love. Written words provided, not only new friends and adventure, eventually they gave one shy little girl the courage to write her own summer story.
Lost Connection LAUREN BLUMENTHAL
Perfect Gift of Thine GRACE SONG
SEOUL INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL IN SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA I’ve held my breath in a pool before. It was when I was eleven. I remembered how my head bobbed up and down in the water and how every cell in my body screamed for oxygen. I remembered how the dark indigo body of water spun around me and how the acidic pool water seeped into my eyes and nose. But this wasn’t like that. This was more peaceful. I only felt a similar pain in the corner of my heart. The room was filled with a beautiful aroma of perfumed flowers, and the walls were covered in creamy white paint. I’d never seen such a gorgeous shade of white. It reminded me of the milky linen blanket that I used to cuddle in with my mom during frightening nights of storms and rain. We would wrap ourselves up in that little refuge of ours and sit so close - so close that I could hear the thump of her heartbeat, so close that I could smell her soft, delicate skin, so close that our skins slathered against each other until we eventually became one. But this wasn’t like that. The sky was of a baby-blue, not the candy-blue or bright-blue or pretty-blue. It was baby-blue like a little baby. Wisps of clouds of incandescent joy dispersed with the whisks of wind. Bright little rays of sunlight giggled with glee and painted my old, wrinkled arms with brilliant hues of forgotten youth and vitality. So this is how l would die. With a diabetic smelly fat lady stabbing my veins with random needles and grazing my arms and legs with a warm towel. She reached over to adjust the heart rate monitor as her armpits smothered my face. The fetid stench pierced the nerve cells in my nose and diffused through my mouth and esophagus, ravaging the few taste buds I had left. Gagging, I struggled and strained my entire body, but I only had a few functioning systems to even move. At this point, I was now pretty well assured that no one really cared about me or whether I’d die. It was like that time I used to have an intense secret crush on Shirley Temple. I’d hug my Shirley Temple doll while I slept each night and caress it with love, just like the way a parent felt towards their child. But it grew old and lifeless, as did my love and attention for it. No one knew about the doll, not even my mom, not my best friend, and not even my dog. Every night, for an entire year, I would hide underneath the covers and run my fingers through her soft, yellow locks and sniff the sweet scent of her frilly, red dress. But a year went by, and then another, and my doll soon became a stained, venerable memory. She would sit in the aged attic, resided on a rotten stool, which adhered no less or no more important than the rusty nail next to it. Her clothes, which once had been woven and smoothed out with so much affection, were now tarnished and tattered, exposing the doll’s naked skin. The pretty red ribbon was now a filthy mess of muddy silk and dust, dangling off the greasy and knotted yellow fibers.
My mother reached out and ran her fingers over my skin, my tarnished and tattered skin. I shuddered at the icy shock tickling up my spine. Her fingers were like smoothly carven icicles on the barren sheath of my skin. They squeezed my wrist as if trying to forcefully resuscitate the fatigued circulation of blood through my veins, which was progressively slowing to a stop. Minutes passed, and I felt my mother’s fingers slowly lifting from my skin. It was so excruciatingly slow that I sensed the hair on the surface of my arm gradually elevate. I looked down, but to my dismay, her fingers were still gently laid on my feeble wrists. It was such a strange feeling to feel nothing at all. It felt almost like pain. A paining coldness that brought the synapses of my brain to an instant halt. The world simply became a meaningless distraction of noise. I was naked, and I was effortlessly floating in an infinite void. I was losing the sense of physical touch. The sense that had once brought me so much bliss was now escaping from my grasp. Everything was a blur. All the colors were combining and absorbing each other. It was like I was stirring a large palette full of paint. The colors whirled around me, spurring and throwing me into a multidimensional tunnel of numerous shades. I continuously blinked (or I thought I blinked; I had no perception of bodily movement anymore) to regain my normal vision. But the painstakingly familiar view of the tiny hospital room was almost like an old memory that was just a day too old to reminisce upon. Then it started. A small white spot appeared in the distance. I couldn’t even recognize it. But it grew larger, dominating the colorful void, seeping through my eyelids and the entire space. I had anticipated the empty and dark blackness you see when you close your eyes. Instead, all I could see was white. It was the kind of white that you would see if you were in a rusty cottage on a secluded island and were tranquilly relishing a cup of tea, looking out the rusty window at the cloudless, white sky. I was completely monopolized by the imbued whiteness. I couldn’t see anything, but at the same time, I could see and feel everything in a way I’d never known before. Still, I could hear the occasional beeps from the monitor and my mom weeping at my side. I could even faintly taste something metallic at the back of my tongue. The harder I focused on my senses, the more difficult it became to know if I still had any. Things were fading so quickly; I tried to hold on to what was left of me. Had it always been this hard to smell? What did it even smell like to not smell anything? What did it taste like to not taste anything? I was lost in emptiness. I didn’t know if my eyes were open. I didn’t know if I was still on my bed. I didn’t even know if I was still alive. I could feel a weak force pulling me towards some unknown. I just wanted to feel some earthly sense one last time. Even just a drop of sweat trickling down my flesh, a faint whiff of alcohol, or the painful prick of the nurse pulling out my blood. To breathe, to see, to touch, to smell, to hear. But the world was so quiet and lonely.
Then I heard it. I heard my mom’s angelic voice. She was humming a hymn.
“To each perfect gift of thine, to our race so freely given. Graces human and divine. Flowers of earth and buds of heaven.” It was the hymn I had heard every week at church as a child. I remember how much I had hated the song. And now, I was so grateful even to hear something. I wish I had listened more carefully. I wish I had sung with my voice as loudly as possible. It was so majestic just listening to my mom humming that old church hymn. Her voice was like angels singing endless tunes of gaiety and bliss. The force grew stronger, sucking me into the core of the Earth. It grew stronger each second, becoming painlessly painful. For the shortest instant, my eyes were blinded by the brightest light, my ears burst with the most deafening noise, and my body electrocuted with pain.
A baby cried in the distance, and a family cheered with joy.
Pending MRI Results LORI NOTO
Tonight I can still hear the thumping, thumping, thumping of machines stampeding through the still of my bones. The thoughts won’t get any kinder. I count minutes of my life the way I used to count freckles on my shoulder. Time’s now honey— slow but slipping through clenched fists. When they lit up my insides, did it show I was terrified to know secrets my skin harvested like dead bees beneath unlived earth— once meant to bloom with babies, a college degree, a mortgage loan, a martini at sunset when I’m old and ready to die? There’s not much of me left, but what I’d give to taste the sweet again, to feel a sting—anything that whispers the spring of me is still humming.
Follow Sheepshead Review! Website sheepsheadreview.com Blog blog.sheepsheadreview.com Instagram @sheepsheadreview Facebook @sheepsheadrev
From all of us at Sheepshead Review, Thank you and stay safe!
FICTION POETRY NONFICTION VISUAL ARTS
Spring issue of Sheepshead Review