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Persona Texas State University's Literary and Fine Arts Magazine

2021


Persona Magazine is published annually by a volunteer staff of students at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Generously sponsored by the Department of English, and advised by Dr. Roger Jones, all previously unpublished poetry, fiction and artwork is submitted entirely by students enrolled at Texas State. Copyright 2021 by Texas State University No portion of Persona may be reproduced without permission. Contact the English Department at Texas State University for further instructions. All published material belongs to the person who created it. Persona Magazine Dept. of English, FH 374 Texas State University 601 University Drive San Marcos, TX 78666


letter from the editor Dear Reader, I am so excited to present you with the 2021 edition of Persona. After the past year and a half we have all had, I feel like this edition is a necessary celebration. Since most of us have been attending our classes online instead of on campus due to the pandemic, I found it fitting to make a photograph of the tiles from Flowers Hall, our English building, as the front cover. I am so proud of our contributors for the caliber of their work. The range of content and mediums we published this year exemplifies the talent of the students here at Texas State. If I had to describe their collected works in one word, it would be "authenticity." Our contributors aren't afraid to reflect their authentic selves onto their work, which in effect, pushes us to view our lives through an un-filtered lens. I am also extremely proud of, and thankful for, our editors this year, thus I have decided to include their work in a special "from the editors" section. Our senior editors are even going on to earn their Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. As you read this editon I hope you able to celebrate art not only for the sake of art, but art that can make a difference in our lives and the rest of the world. My best, Madisen Gummer Managing Editor

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table of contents Letter from the Editor..............................................................................................3 About the Editors........................................................................................................5 St. Martin Parish, Louisiana – Jy'Auna Grant-Lenoir..............................7 The Rose and the Boar – Ashton Giesecke......................................................8 FREELXNY – Mtalazia Stone..........................................................................12 Causation – Sabah Carrim...................................................................................13 L'étranger – Gonzalo Tovilla...............................................................................14 Kissing Alley – Tayler Palmer............................................................................15 What Thoreau would tell me about humanity's current relationship with nature – Joshua H. Browning................................16 Empathy Covariant: Lessons from Beauty – Sarah Rose.....................17 Inflicted – Francis Alvarez...................................................................................19 Leftovers – Emmy Newman.................................................................................20 Ro-Day-O – Rowan Hahn.....................................................................................21 Cherrrrrry – Joshua H. Browning....................................................................26 a poem i wrote for my friend caleb – Nicco Muegge.............................27 The Last Dive – Leslie Eaves................................................................................28 Beachin' Birds – Eric Newswanger..................................................................33 Icarus – Tavy Edwards...........................................................................................34 Dear David – Ashton Giesecke............................................................................35 A Day with Anise – Mtalazia Stone.................................................................43 Sugar & Ash – Karina Harchandani...............................................................44 Tomcat – Garrett Snyder......................................................................................45 Untitled Collage – Joshua H. Browning..........................................................46 Anecdoche – Kyle Homrighausen......................................................................47 Black Water – Claudia Gomez............................................................................48 A Task Complete – Shirin Khosrowpour......................................................56 The Court of Mab – Megan Shelton................................................................57 Hey Google – Sabah Carrim...............................................................................59 Two poeple, a lonely place, and a sticky floor – Gonzalo Tovilla....62 Seeing Red – Emmy Newman..............................................................................66 I'll Be There with You the Whole Time – Ashton Giesecke.................67 From The Editors: In Bloom and/or Rot – Allie Broussard.................................................75 On Exploring the Attic of My Mind – Briana Gonzalez...............76 What Grownups Do – Kenneth Womack...............................................77 About the Contributors..........................................................................................78 4


about the editors Managing Editor: Madisen Gummer Madisen (she/her) is a senior English major with a minor in women's studies. After graduating in May, she will be moving to New York where she will be attending the MFA Creative Writing Poetry program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite writers include Emily Dickinson, Zadie Smith, Diane di Prima, and Louise Glück. When she's not writing poetry, she enjoys hanging out at the river, crocheting, and going to concerts (pre-pandemic).

Senior Fiction Editor: Allie Broussard Allie (she/her) is an English major with a concentration in fiction writing, and a journalism minor. Her plans for the future are to graduate with her bachelor's degree this spring, attend grad school, eventually teach as an english professor, and probably drink an outrageous amount of coffee along the way. Her favorite writers at the moment are Mary Oliver, Joyce Carol Oates, Zadie Smith, and Sandra Cisneros.

Senior Poetry Editor: Briana Gonzalez Briana (she/they) is a Chicane, queer poet, and an English major at Texas State University. They have pieces published in Ample Remains, Not Deer Magazine, Dead Fern Press, and Southchild Lit . Outside of crafting poetry, she enjoys watching the night sky, logging movies on Letterboxd, and spending time with loved ones.

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Fiction Editor: Jenna Parks Jenna (he/she/they) is majoring in English with a focus on creative writing, and minoring in Psychology. They mostly write fiction but have a special place for poetry. They plan on going into publishing upon graduation. Their favorite authors at the moment are Walt Whitman, Diane di Prima, and Ernest Hemingway (for psychoanalytic reasons only).

Poetry Editor: Kenneth Womack Kenneth is a Creative Writing-Poetry major. He is an aspiring poet graduating in 2022 and has plans to pursue an MFA at graduate school. His current favorite authors are Chen Chen, Ocean Vuong, and Victoria Chang.

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St. Martin Parish, Louisiana Jy'auna Grant-Lenoir should I sigh for moss cloaked oak and a citadel under a philter of air, heavy and damp? where surrounded by the spice of spider lilies and softening louisiana sky, between teeth and tongue, I’d still wish for lazy lips lingering over soft brown skin and eyelids; gossamer thin. if I could have fluttering black lashes sweeping the underside of my jaw and nights where I spend far too long offering tastes of me, why wouldn’t I steal away and share lulling backwater with you? we could be bullfrogs who lay and love in southern steam. we can stay in the swamp. me for you! under a tin roof! suckling syrup from our top lips to savor a sample of richness made from maple sap. we could have tuesdays — in july rooted in alluring hymns from blessed mouths, who ring out laughter like rims on glasses half-full under the pressure of fingertips. I could grab you and you could have me. you could grab me, squeeze, and every hallelujah would break free, right there in St. Martin Parish. right there

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The Rose and the Boar Ashton Giesecke Lena found that sitting still was much harder than she expected. Her back was aching and pressed up against the cheap, flimsy wood of the desk chair. The musty humid heat was filling the room and hanging over Lena’s head. She could feel sweat gathering in her armpits and chest, making her shirt cling to her body. I swear to god, it wasn’t this hot earlier, Lena mused to herself. So why did it suddenly feel like the sun was hurtling toward her shitty college dorm? Lena squirmed in her seat in an attempt to get into a more comfortable position. “Lena, please don’t move. It messes me up,” Rose said softly. Rose was sitting so painfully close across from Lena in the cramped dorm room. Rose sighed, took her pencil, and pressed an eraser against her sketchpad. She scrubbed at the page with a frustrated scowl across her brow. “Oh. Rose, I’m sorry.” Lena mumbled. Lena could feel the heat rising to her face. She had the easiest job in the world; she just had to sit there as Rose sketched out a portrait of Lena. Somehow, she couldn’t even get that right. Rose glanced up from her page and smiled at Lena. The irritation in Rose’s eyes was immediately replaced with her usual look of gentle patience. “Hey, it’s ok! You’re doing me a huge favor after all!” Lena couldn’t help but nod and smile back. Lena could feel that odd, fluttery feeling begin to rise in her chest; it was a feeling that she only got whenever she was with Rose. Rose was selfless and caring, always doing acts of kindness for everyone else, rarely asking anyone to return the favor. Rose would immediately come to Lena’s side whenever she needed help. Lena was practically doing nothing compared to the mountains of support Rose had shown her over the two years they had known one another. Lena was ashamed to admit that she was the complete opposite. She was crass, rude, loud, and was terribly hotheaded. She got into arguments and yelling matches with nearly everyone she knew—her friends, roommate, parents, siblings, and classmates. She would lose her temper at the drop of a hat. With Rose, things were different somehow. She would always stand her ground when others were treating her poorly; she would show acts of kindness to complete strangers. Lena was always watching Rose from afar, admiring her compassion. There was something about Rose that made Lena want to be a better person. “Lena,” Rose said, snapping Lena out of her daydream. “Hmmm?” Rose giggled. “Don’t stare at me, silly! I told you to look straight ahead, remember?” “Well, I couldn’t help but admire your beauty,” Lena attempted to joke, but she could feel the blush rising to her cheeks once again. God, I can’t

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believe I just said that, Lena thought. The heat in the room seemed to get heavy once again, and it felt like the walls were closing in on the two of them. “Well, umm, I’m n-not…” Rose stuttered. She started to get flustered herself. Lena tilted her head and shook off her embarrassment. “Well, it’s true isn’t it?” Rose looked away. “Thank you, Lena. There is a reason why I’m drawing a portrait of you rather than a self-portrait for my art class.” Lena laughed and roughly put her hand on Rose’s shoulder. “Oh, c’mon, seriously? Have you even seen yourself? You look like a delicate flower and I just look like…a boar.” Rose scrunched up her nose and laughed. “A boar? Oh no, that’s true at all!” “But it is!” “No it’s not!” “Yes, it is! Everyone else would agree!” Rose shook her head. “No one thinks that. You’re a lovely person, Lena.” Rose turned a deeper shade of red at the realization of what she just admitted. The two of them turned away from one another. The tension grew thicker and hung over the room like a dark cloud. Lena finally cleared her throat and broke the silence. Rose peaked up at Lena from behind her sketchbook. “Well, for what it’s worth, I do stand by what I said. A portrait of you would be the most breathtaking picture in the whole world,” Lena proclaimed. “I have no idea why you would want to draw me of all people,” she muttered under her breath. Rose beamed. “I’m grateful that you think that way. I am wondering why you would compliment me and insult yourself in the same breath.” “Well, um, you know—” “Lena, there is a reason I chose to draw you over anyone else. I always have a hard time standing up for myself, and you’re the only person who doesn’t try to take advantage of me.” A grin spread across Rose’s face. “Plus, I think you look super badass all the time. More like a superhero rather than a boar.” “A superhero, huh?” Lena replied thoughtfully. “Yeah! Well, at least to me you are! You’re always standing up for yourself and others!” Lena snorted. “Oh please. I always get myself involved in situations where I don’t belong!” “No. I think you’re brave. And that’s something I admire.” Lena’s heart was racing with giddiness. She had no idea that Rose felt this way about her. “Well, I think you’re brave in your own way, Rose,” Lena replied. “You always know how to keep calm in the worst types of situations. I could only dream of doing that.”

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As the two of them smiled warmly at one another, the tension and throbbing heat seemed to disperse. The tiny room was filled with a warm, soft glow. Rose finally put her pencil down and closed her sketchbook. She began to gather up the rest of her art supplies. “Wait, you’re done already?” Lena said. She felt disappointed despite her discomfort in the desk chair. Well, not quite. It’s just that it’s getting late, and we should probably get to bed.” “Yeah. You’re right, I guess.” Rose glanced up at Lena. “I still need to finish it by the end of this week. Same time tomorrow?” “You know it.” Rose turned away, stepping over bundles of clothes and books that littered the floor as she began making her way out of the dorm room. “Rose. H-hey, wait,” Lena said awkwardly. Rose stopped and looked over her shoulder. “Yeah?” It took every ounce of strength in Lena’s body to open her mouth and find the words. “Well, you know…this is going to sound a bit awkward, but—” Lena swallowed “—I like you. A lot.” She could feel the blood crawling up her neck and all the way to her face. Rose’s cheeks turned pink as well and her eyes widened in shock as she realized what Lena was saying. “If you feel the same way, then maybe…” Lena anxiously drummed her fingers against her desk, trying to force the words out. “…maybe after you finish your project, we could do something else?” “Like what?” “You know…like a d-d-da—” Rose’s entire face lit up, and she smiled warmly. “Like a date?” Lena cringed inwardly. You idiot, why would you say something like that?! she scolded herself. “Well,” Rose began slowly, “because I’ve been thinking a lot about my feelings lately. And I think I like you a lot too. So, I would love to go on a date if that’s what you mean.” Lena’s head snapped back up sharply. The feeling returned to her chest, fluttering around like a swarm of butterflies. “Y-yes, of course! That’s what I meant!” she exclaimed, perhaps a bit too eagerly. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, then?” she asked. Rose nodded and gave a little wave of her hand. “Yeah, see you!” she replied. She turned around to exit the room but stopped. “Um, Rose? Is something wrong?” Lena asked awkwardly. Her heart was still recovering from the excitement. “Did you forget something?” “Yeah, I think I did!” Rose answered, giddily. She whirled around, wearing a shy grin, and practically launched herself forward. “Wha—” Lena barely had the chance to process why the smaller girl was barreling toward her when suddenly Rose placed a brief, gentle kiss on her lips. Lena stared back at her, stunned.

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“I wanted to give you a proper goodbye,” Rose said, with a giggle. “Besides,” she looked away shyly, “I’ve always wanted to kiss you.” She finally turned away and walked out the door, artbook still in hand.

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FREELXNY Mtalazia Stone

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Causation Sabah Carrim Who’s guilty for the death of the man whose tea was poisoned with cyanide? The man, the man’s parents, the man’s wife, the cyanide producer, the tea producer, the habit of drinking tea, China, the water kettle, the water supplier, the ministry, the minister, the government, death, god, fate, accident, time, history, the zeitgeist, Nietzsche, the owner of the canteen where the man had his last meal, the ambulance, the national health care system, the man’s employer, the job placement agency, the man’s employer’s wife, the bus driver who dropped the man off at work, the owner of the bus, the doctor who said the man was fit enough to resume work last week, the central nervous system, the man’s central nervous system, the man’s weak disposition, the immune system, the man’s immune system, the book the man was reading while drinking the tea, its author, its publisher, its editor, the originator of the idea for the book, the bookstore, the owner of the bookstore, things that were meant to happen but didn’t, things that were not meant to happen but did and hence made the man go to work that day, things that could have negated the chance of the man drinking the tea, the court personnel, the lawyer who woke up late, the court, the gecko that jammed the air conditioning system in the courtroom, the judge, the judge's wife, prozac, the judicial system, the judicial system's midwife (listed in no particular order) Who gets to place all this in order of priority?

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L'étranger Gonzalo Tovilla Air when in love feels heavy, so in her room you move with care. Sophie sits on her bed. Her yellow dress down to her breast. Dawn light enters through the right and hits her shoulder, her face. She watches as you appreciate things around her room. She has lilies by the windowsill. “You want some coffee?” She asks. “I don’t drink coffee.” “I thought writers loved coffee.” “This one likes cocaine.” You make your way to her nightstand. A lamp, a stack of papers, her leg brushes yours, and a book, L'étranger. You run your finger through the side and open it, To Sophie, From Mom And a dead flower, a rose.

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Kissing Alley Tayler Palmer

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What Thoreau would tell me about humanity’s current relationship with nature Joshua H. Browning “Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe… till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality…” -Henry David Thoreau As I sit in a grassy alcove amongst a landscape of plastic and pavement, I imagine that I cannot hear the drone of the highway, or the sound a plane makes when it lances the sky. I pretend the path I have just walked was trodden by my soles alone, and the bench on which I sit was carved by my own two hands. But one can only block out modern interruptions for a short time, perhaps only a few golden minutes. A car honks or a family of five come bumbling down my trail and I’m returned to a time that nullifies my natural imaginings. Metallic pleasures replace the pestle and mortar that drives us from deep in our chests. The wood, stone, and dirt of the human spirit have become crystallized by the blue glow of a screen in the dark. Our brains shift into neutral, and cellular intrusion occupies the space with which our attention should wander and wonder unbridled by the digital microcosm mere inches from our faces. Thus – I struggle. I struggle amidst modernity to carve out a space for myself. A space that is green and lets the sun in. A space that is real. For now, it remains imagined.

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Empathy Covariant: Lessons from Beauty Sarah Rose Beauty was the name of the horse my mother bought for me with my father’s money during their protracted divorce. Beauty was fluffy white, with chestnut splashes on her legs and belly. She stood quietly when I brushed her hair and smelled like earth and sunshine. At twelve years old, I didn’t know what to do with the responsibility of a horse. How often would I need to prise pebbles from her feet? What and how would I feed her? Would she get bored in a stable or field? What did she need to be happy? Beauty’s 1,000 pounds of weight dragged down my shoulders. I was shamefully aware that I should not have the responsibility for Beauty’s life—I did not know how to care for a horse—but I loved to watch her graze. I loved to read a book near her while she dozed, and to drop kisses between her snuffling nostrils. The owner of the boarding stable taught me to run Beauty around a ring again and again until we were both exhausted. The reins dragged tight so the metal bar on Beauty’s tongue pinched her head toward her chest, constraining movement in a manner more pleasing to the human eye. I hated riding Beauty; my heart closed tightly so I would not have to see myself, to see where we were. I wanted to brush her hair and feed her carrots in the sunshine. However, at twelve I did not speak (and would not for many years to come). I was more silent than my horse, who stomped and snorted and brayed and shrieked and muttered and sighed. A newcomer colt was introduced to the stable one day. Beauty shattered a wooden fence trying to reach him, and a splintered beam gouged deeply into her back leg. I don’t remember why or how, but I was the one charged to stand alone with her, to keep her near the barn until a vet could arrive. I spent over an hour in stationary silence with Beauty, letting her lean heavily into me, my hands braced on her neck and shoulder. I remember doing my best to keep the flies off her leg while blood pooled in the dust and her 1,000-pound body shook. Her white hair was plastered to her body with sweat. She and I were physically leaning on each other, absolutely silent and mostly unmoving in the full sun of a Texas summer. The entire time, we never stopped communicating. It hurts I know It hurts I’m here It hurts I know and I’m here Pain is a covariant of empathy. I had never been more intensely aware of Beauty’s sentience because it had never before been more intensely focused on

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me. I looked at her and she looked back. I was no longer the sad ape hovering around her daily activities for solace, nor was I the distressed child clinging with leather and metal to her huge back. I was holding her in her trauma. This is, physically speaking, ridiculous. A twelve-year-old child cannot keep such an enormous creature upright. Yet the pressure of my entire body braced into her shoulder lessened her shaking and calmed her breath. I was centered in her monocular field of view, and she in my binocular field of view. A continuous loop of connection. Are you here I am here Are you here I am here I am I am I am The vet came and gave her painkillers and cleaned her leg. When my parent’s divorce was finalized, they sold Beauty for $300. I’ll never know what happened to her. A part of me was relieved to be freed from the responsibility of her life, which I had taken to bring some measure of relief to my parents’ worry about my wellbeing. Performative joy to veil shadows—but horses, unlike human creatures, don’t create dissonance between their hearts and eyes. A horse does not care how soft and open your hand is if your heart is a fist. Beauty only relaxed when I relaxed. She was able to be still in her pain because I was honestly, profoundly empathetic in heart and in hand. Internal alignment for the sake of honest support. There might be lessons here, lessons about pain and childhood and silence. I’m more interested in touching the place that Beauty and I existed in together, at a crossroads of pain and helplessness. A crossroads in which we were still and present enough to recognize the personhood of each other.

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Inflicted Francis Alvarez

Emotions inflict us Like a knife Cutting deep into Our inner being Releasing the fluids Of bleeding Wounds that seem repeating But within, your fight is winning

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Leftovers Emmy Newman I find myself spending too much time looking through the grocery store. It’s my new pastime. It’s where I can hear Tears for Fears and Journey over the pulse of a squeaky wheel tangled with hair-dust strings. Diverge from my list and buy a sheet cake for a Monday. Here is what’s left: - 2 Thumbs of Ginger (cold, break up from hands) - Blueberries (firm) - Wine (the $12 kind, red) - Salmon (cut open) - Steak (bloody) - Snacks (look for discount damages) When an aisle is empty, I lean over the buggy handles, push my feet from the concrete, and glide forward. I don’t ride the end looking back anymore. I sometimes wonder what it’d be like to stand behind the door of the frozen aisle: nose pressed, hands blue, freezer burn. Maybe that’s what this feeling is, still looking for his face in the checkout lines: nose pressed, hands opened, burning. “Welcome to your life” … I want to invite him over for dinner to see if I can make him feel full again. Has he taught himself to portion yet? As much as I eat, I keep throwing leftovers out. I haven’t learned to buy meals for one; I thought I knew how to make things last.

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Ro-day-o Rowan Hahn Rabbit turned her old sedan (his name was Leonard, Lenny for short) into the grass, the car bumping the four of us around as it pittered over the pits and hills. Country music floated lazily from the radio. I couldn’t place exactly what it was, I didn’t exactly know a lot of country music, but the others in the car were happily humming along to it. “Entrance fees,” Rabbit said, lowering the radio and slowing down her vehicle in front of a southern gentleman in a large Stetson. We all passed Rabbit bits of cash, which she collected and passed to the man. “Well all right now then young ladies, just go ahead and go pull into that lot and the show’ll be startin’ in half an hour or so.” The car rumbled forward again, wandering through the loose dirt tracks made by the cars before, then parked in between two large pickup trucks that dwarfed it. We got out of the car and stepped into the warm summer afternoon, that kind of warm that gently sits against you but doesn’t seep in. I stomped my feet into the loose dirt, kicking to get the blood back where it should be, while the smell of diesel fuel and horse shit crawled into my nose in an all too familiar mixture. “Hey, I got something for you,” Rabbit said. “What is it?” I asked. Rabbit plopped a cream colored flat-cap on my head. It was a bit too small, but it matched my overalls quite well. Rabbit smiled. “Just found it in my car door. Don’t need it though. I think it fits you better.” “Oh, thanks.” I reached up and adjusted the hat, fixing it quickly in the car’s side mirror. The edge of the cap was frayed, and I wondered how long she had had it for. The four of us stepped out of the car and into the scrubby and dry grass. “Think the others are here yet?” I asked. “Probably. I think our Starbucks stop may have put us behind,” Skipper responded. They were stretching their legs too. Artemis took a final sip from their straw before putting the empty cup in the car. “Nice hat,” Artemis said. Artemis had always been a bit more quietspoken; they got to the point and no further. “Thanks,” I replied. “Rabbit gave it to me.” “Suits you.” “You sure? It feels not quite right for this event I think.” “I can’t imagine you in a cowboy hat,” Skipper said. Skipper was quite the opposite of Artemis, louder, more excitable, and always quick with a joke. “What, I can’t pull off a cow-poke look?” “Nope.” “Oh.” “No offense. Actually, a bit of offense, city-slicker.”

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“That’s suburb-slicker to you, thank you very much.” “That is somehow worse,” Skipper said. I stuck my tongue out at them. We spotted Pegasus and Dragonfly and Sapphire, the lifeguards, posing for pictures next to the entrance to the stands. With them was a few of the barn crew: Pocket and Sunny and Feather. “Makes sense that the underage staff would be posing for Instagram photos.” I mused. Skipper nodded. “It is the youth’s way,” they said. “I’m 19. Artemis is 18,” I said. “I said what I said.” The four of us walked up to the lifeguards and barn staff and said our hellos, photobombing a few of the photos, on our way. We headed up the stands, the grooved steel underfoot familiar to every outdoor event I had ever been to, the dirt imprints on its surface even more so. We spotted our bosses, Cookie and Daffodil, quickly. They were sitting with a few other miscellaneous staff and friends: Badger and Cinnamon and Blue and a few others I didn’t know. Blue’s eyes immediately snapped to Rabbit’s, a warm smile appearing on her lips. I looked over and saw Rabbit smile in return, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. We walked over to them, adding a few more dirt imprints to the collection on the dull steel. “Welcome to the ro-day-o” Blue said, the purposeful mispronunciation we had been using all week already familiar to our ears. Blue was leaning back casually, blue jeans still stained from working in the barn, and that smile still on her lips. She held up a drink to Rabbit. Rabbit took it and settled into the seat next to her, sitting closely, their hands quickly intertwining. Skipper, Artemis, and I settled into the seats behind the rest of the group, and I adjusted the cap on my head again, thumbing the brim of the hat, feeling the loose threads. I looked down and I finally got a good look at the field. It was a large dirt oval, which seemed to be the typical affair for a rodeo, surrounded by a thin white fence with only one bar across the top, so that it was easy to duck under if needed, but was just enough to stop a horse or a steer from running through. A few dusty barrels laid around here or there, and there were a few other structures I didn’t recognize on the field. “What’s that for?” I asked. “Rodeo clowns,” Artemis said. “Rodeo clowns?” “They entertain the crowd, but mostly they’re there to draw off a bull if anything gets too dangerous.” “Oh,” I said. “You know a lot about rodeos.” “Been coming since I was a kid.” “Don’t think I’ve ever been to one, not that I can remember.” “You should, they’re fun.” The group passed around a few drinks and we talked and chatted, sharing stories of funny campers we had that week.

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“This girl dead-ass said ‘I didn’t know horses were real’ when she came to the barn,” one of the barn staff said, snickering. “She signed up for a horse program! I don’t know what she was expecting.” “That’s going on the camper quote list.” Blue said, laughing along with the group, her hand loosely looped over Rabbit’s shoulder. “That list is already so long, and the summer isn’t even over.” I said. “Little girls be weird sometimes,” Skipper said. “Little girls be weird sometimes,” I echoed, nodding. The PA system crackled on, and a man with a southern drawl spoke into it. “Everyone please rise for the national anthem.” A few women in sparkling outfits rode out onto the field, hefting a large American and Texan flag into the air. I shifted to my feet and took off my cap, not feeling particularly patriotic, but feeling a bit afraid of what the rodeo population would say to me if I didn’t. Another woman on the field started to belt out the anthem over a microphone as the women with the flags started to do tricks on the horses. “How do they balance?” I whispered to Skipper. “Hella core muscles” “That’s kinda hot.” A woman to the side of us shot us a look, so I put my hand back to my heart, and watched in silence. Eventually, the crowd settled down and the games began. Barrel racing, men leaping to rope steers to the ground, and young children desperately hanging onto sheep stampeding across the field. “Is that safe?” I whispered to Skipper. “They’re wearing helmets,” they replied. “What about the parts of them that aren’t their heads?” “They can walk it off.” The sun began to descend in the sky, washing the world in gold, then orange, then finally sinking under the horizon as bright LEDs flicked on, washing the field in white light. The rodeo came to a close, and the group got especially chatty in response. Rabbit and Blue excitedly took off, and the rest of our group started moving in the same way. “Where are we going?” I asked. “The dance,” Artemis replied. A small dancefloor was set up behind the stands, with a live band starting to strum and play country. Most of the younger staff started to swarm the dancefloor, the girls excitedly grabbing onto one another and two-stepping with a swing in their step. Skipper and Artemis took to the sidelines with me, watching the men in Stetsons dancing with the women with fringe shirts and jean shorts. Blue excitedly pulled Rabbit onto the dancefloor, the two dancing with an easy and fervent energy as they two-stepped with grace and vigor. I remembered the two talking about country dance styles earlier in the day, so I supposed they both knew what they were doing. We watched for a while,

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Artemis bopping their head to the beat, and Skipper leaning against the railing. “Are either of you going to dance?” I asked. “I don’t think my knees are up to it today.” Skipper said. They hadn’t needed to bring their cane, but I guessed dancing was still not in the cards. “Are you going to dance?” Artemis asked me. “Well, I don’t know how to,” I replied. “It’s easy,” they said. “Let me show you.” I followed them to the dancefloor, buffered on all sides by people stepping to and fro. They put their hand on my waist and I put mine on their shoulder and we clasped our other two hands together and held them out. “Ok,” Artemis said. “It’s two steps forward.” Step. Step. “And one step back.” Stumble-step. “Sorry,” I said. “It’s ok,” they said. “Two steps forward.” Step Step. “One step back.” Step. “There you go, now stop being so robotic.” “Sorry.” “It’s ok, just get into the flow, go with the rhythm.” Step Step, Step. Step Step, Step. Step Step, Step. “Is this it?” “Well, I can twirl you too.” Then they did. “Oh, ok.” I steadied myself again. Then I went back to the pattern: Step Step, Step. Step Step, Step. Step Step, Step. Twirl. “Am I any better?” “A little. Just loosen up.” “Sorry.” “It’s ok.” “Is this it?” “Yeah.” “Oh, I thought it was more complicated.” Stumble-step. “Sorry.” “Just focus on moving.” “Yeah, ok.” We danced a while longer, stepping between fervent couples who swung around the dancefloor. Then, the song ended, and I tiredly made it back to the side. “Have fun?” Skipper asked. “Yes, but I don’t think dancing is for me.” I replied. “I had fun,” Artemis said. Rabbit was back at the sidelines too, and Blue was talking to some of the barn staff, looking the other way. A mid-twenties man, dressed in what I assumed was his finest western shirt of vibrant scarlet color, sauntered up to Rabbit. I could smell the drench of Axe cologne dripping off of him from where I stood. He then pointed himself at Rabbit and did something I can only describe as “wiggling.” “Hey there miss, care for a dance?” He said. “Uh, ok.” I heard her muster out as she was being dragged away. They started to move, the man turning his saunter into a style of dance while Rabbit

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politely went along with the jittering steps. Blue looked behind her, spotted Rabbit and the man, and the look on her face soured into a rage. She stomped over, her cowboy boots thudding into the wood, and she placed her hand on Rabbit with an iron grip and pulled. The sidelines, filled with half the camp staff, started to laugh and cheer as Blue twirled Rabbit back into her arms and swinging into the fray. Rabbit laughed, open mouthed and smiling as they started to dance again. The man looked in front of him, a bit startled, gave a dejected shrug, and wandered away back into the crowd of fringe and checker-print. “I love the way they dance together,” I said. “What do you mean?” Skipper asked. “They just look like they are having fun.” “Yeah, they do.” The night air was growing cooler, prickling against my skin. I rubbed my hands against the goosebumps on my arms, and watched Rabbit and Blue dance. “Nobody’s been asking me to dance,” I said. “Did you want people to?” Skipper asked. “No,” I said, thumbing at the cream-colored flat cap. “Just curious why no one is. Is it because I don’t look country or because I look gay?” “Probably both.” Skipper said laughing. I laughed with them. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” I heard a commotion behind me, cheering and words of encouragement from voices that I knew. “I think Turtle is about to do the Mechanical Bull,” Artemis said. I smiled. “Now this I gotta see.” The three of us turned our backs on the dance floor and walked away, leaving Rabbit and Blue to keep twirling.

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Cherrrrrry Joshua H. Browning

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a poem i wrote for my friend caleb Nicco Muegge these feelings cannot be true, the swiftness in which you enraptured me i’ve wandered for miles in the eternity of your eyes grain grows from my chest and the harvest is rich; pick from me, please you grow along the road in patches, and near the swing set in the park i would gather you for my mother when i was young, and she would blush at my kindness (what is it within you i cannot reach?) sweetness your aroma, i bathe in your passion; i’ve wandered for miles in the eternity of your eyes these feelings cannot be true, the swiftness in which you enraptured me kiss me so i may taste you, speak to me so i may hear you, die with me so i may know you kiss my mouth, reach inside of me; further still further still

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The Last Dive Leslie Eaves The promise of finally finding answers consumed my thoughts while I slowly began to contemplate what this trip was truly worth. Should I have even come? What happens if I fail? I thought. As I drifted across the turbulent sea, though, those thoughts melted over me, washing over my skin and disappearing, right along with any light that broke the surface of the water. This was exactly where I needed to be, despite the doubts that circulated around me. Two minutes went by, then three. I could smell the salted sea air, the subtleties of seaweed and fish lacing the atmosphere around me. It was comforting almost, like a reunion with an old friend, one that was familiar, yet so simultaneously foreign. As I teetered on the edge of the boat, my fingers digging into my numb palms, I considered all of my options. This was the last chance to turn back to the safety of my old life. My heart raced, my lungs pumped. My body urged me to consider what I was doing, what I would be losing and gaining by going through with this. “Would he really want this?” I whispered, the words slipping out of my mouth without control. Before I had the chance to answer, the wind answered for me, knocking my body into the frigid waters. Freezing, both from fear and the cold, icy waters, I had no chance to check my equipment. The murky waters were completely enveloping, throwing off my ability to tell what was happening. The light, now fading quickly as I descended, offered no chance to garner a sense of my direction or actions. The heavy water, in addition to the hundreds of dollars of diving equipment and cameras, caused me to feel an inviolable pull to the ocean’s depths. My body drifted further and further, still trying to fight the natural pressure of the water surrounding me. Slowly, my body adjusted to the pressure, shedding the initial discomfort from my plunge. I steadied my breath, feeling the oxygen creep back into my lungs. It felt like an eternity, but I was able to fidget with my diving gear, accounting for the ever-increasing pressure and time that I lost due to my own ineptitude. Ever so slowly, my extensive knowledge of breathing and gas management, dive lights, and guidelines returned. I meticulously went through these topics, making sure that I had not forgotten anything after my tumble. The sensations were overwhelming. Although I had practiced for this moment hundreds of times, thinking that I had it down to an exact science, I quickly realized that I was in over my head-- literally. There was no way to account for all of the variables I hadn’t thought of. My blatant confidence, my firm belief that I knew what I was doing, my righteous sense of justice and integrity had all long but disappeared as soon as my body felt the shock of the icy waters.

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Still, I held firm, no longer instinctively fighting against the forces around me. Instead, I worked with them, moving gracefully, using every motion with purpose. “You know, Jana, you have to learn how to swim,” I remember him saying, his thinly-veiled giggles escaping through every other word. The Barbie-pink floaties were uncomfortably tight on my thin arms. Water shot out of my nose, painful and intrusive. I whined, crying out for help, dramatically throwing my weight against the plastic pool. Looking back, I admit I must’ve looked like a flailing duck. I faintly remember my Mom bringing out ham and cheese sandwiches, the crusts neatly cut off. Dad scooped me out of the water, throwing me over his shoulder with a hearty laugh. My tiny fists pounded against the back of his shoulders. He ignored me for a brief moment before flipping around and tossing me back into the pool without a second’s notice. Now back in the water, I protested and screamed while calling to be taken back out into the dry, warming sunshine. This memory was an annoying one for a while, encompassing all of the reasons why Dad aggravated me. He was constantly joking, always keeping me on my toes, and, most importantly, obsessed with the water. He studied constantly, putting off my dance recitals, my homework, anything he could in order to learn more about something as seemingly unimportant and uninteresting as the bottom of the ocean floor. “But why do we need to know this? Why is this important?” I moaned. This was one of the bigger fights, after he chose to attend a conference, rather than attend the playoffs for my junior-high volleyball team. He raved, spewing out nonsense and meaningless scientific jargon that I brushed off without a second thought. I remember tears staining my blue and yellow volleyball uniform, a hatred of him, his work, the ocean, and anything even associated with him growing inside me. If I could go back to this time, I would. If I could take it all back, take back the complaints, the arguments, the disrespect, I would in a moment’s notice. I couldn’t though. All I could do now was sink, brushing away the bittersweet memories that tried to push themselves into the forefront of my mind. Eventually, I spotted it: the cave’s entrance. It was slim, just as the journals described, with jagged, teeth-like formations that were as welcoming as you would expect. I swam closer, aiming to get a better look at what I was dealing with. I paused for a moment. This was where he disappeared. I took in a deep breath of oxygen from my tank, but it seemed unable to reach my lungs. Without a moment’s hesitation, I headed in, my arms pushing the water around me. Dizziness overtook my body, if that was even possible at such incredible depths. I fought it, knowing that this was something I couldn’t turn away from.

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My hand reached instinctively to my extra torches, as my eyes tried to adjust to the lack of light around me. I flipped the switch, and the cave room brightened up within my field of vision. I proceed further into the space, away from the clearing. It was everything of what I expected, yet simultaneously nothing. In my head, I expected this cave to be a beast; it had to have been full of tunnels, a challenge that no seasoned diver could have survived. Instead, it reminded me of the average caves my father took us to on our annual vacations to the Australian coast. It was an odd feeling, being surrounded by something so inconspicuous, yet so perilous. I floated in this liminal space, trying only to keep my breathing steady. Breathe in and out, Jana. Focus. I made note of all the irregularities, trying to see what exactly made this cave so different from the rest around the world. A slimy green substance crawled up the rocky walls, working its way around the cave. I could only assume it was algae, but I made a mental note to take a sample before leaving. Stalagmites and stalactites surrounded me, their weathered points poking and prodding in my direction. Everything about the environment seemed to push me away, telling me to leave this space. It seemed holy, sacred, a place untouched by the outside world. All caves, especially the underwater ones, felt like this. The energy was captivating, but also hazardous, a dichotomy that both pulled and repelled you. Caves were places that were not meant to be seen by human eyes. This idea was cemented firmly in my head, strengthened by how much I knew about caves’ dangerous nature, their apathetic attitude towards the human lives that explored them. I was just a trespasser in this space, treading lightly in a world that was not meant for me. Finally, after intensely exploring the environment, I spotted something laying wedged between some of the rock formations. Scattered pieces of his diving equipment remained, along with his camera. It was unmistakable. Even from a distance, I knew it was something I never expected to see again: the camera that was once lined with a whole package of stickers I had absentmindedly added with Dad. Now, most had become damaged from their extensive time within the water. But some of the cheap stickers still somehow clung to the camera, a testament to their durability. “They’re for good luck, Dad,” I had cheekily told him, continuing to add more girlish, colorful stickers onto his thousand-dollar camera. He glanced at the various rainbow stickers, and just shook his head with a sly grin on his face. Dad then grabbed an obnoxious neon sticker of an icecream cone and stuck it onto my forehead. “For good luck,” I remember him responding, his freckled face red with laughter. I swam towards the camera. Although some of his technology was in clear ruins, the camera appeared to be fine externally, from the looks of it. Flipping the device around in my gloved hands, I could only assume it was corrupted due to its time within the water. Still, the fact that the camera hadn’t washed

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away or broken apart was a miracle, but unsurprising. He always was someone to prioritize splurging on his tech, despite the protests of my mother. The cave was empty, quiet. The eerie atmosphere seemed to reverberate off the walls, the silence wrapping itself around the stalagmites and stalactites. This was a recovery mission, but there was no sign of him within the cave. I checked multiple times, meticulously lacing the cave with my guidelines so that I wouldn’t miss a single crevice. After circling around five or six times, my heart dropped; there was absolutely no point in coming out to this place. He wouldn’t be coming home, ever. All my delusions crashed around me, months of hard work, my heart clinging to the faint notion that we would find him, that he would have a proper burial with his family. It all became too much, all within seconds. My body moved automatically, grasping the camera while swimming through the jagged entrance, gliding back to the surface. Both my mind and body began to attack me. The world seemed to be crashing around me, my heart leaping into my throat. I gasped for oxygen, ignoring the beeps and buzzes that signalled that I was intaking my supply too quickly. My hands clawed upwards, trying to move back towards the surface faster than humanly possible. Gasping, burning- my lungs screamed. It took everything within me to keep pushing myself up to the faint lights that shimmered from the vessel above. Eventually, I reached the side of the boat. I gingerly held the camera in one hand, while attempting to maneuver myself up the side of the boat. Chipped paint rubbed against my wet-suit, leaving traces of the boat’s red paint against me, but I barely made note of it. Now, laying on the boat in the biting cold of winter, I could finally let out my rage, screaming out into the world for justice, for a happy ending for the man who had given his entire life and livelihood for such a worthy cause. Inconsolable, I threw the equipment, my torches, lines, and tanks, and stripped myself of my diving suit. My equipment hit the boat’s floor with a heavy thud. I hoped to shed my skin of this life, returning home where I could now mourn with no false ideas of closure. I sat on the boat for what felt like hours, my fingers rubbing along the sides of the camera’s casing. At first, my mind raced. Then, my thoughts slowed to a halt, as I could only sit and absorb the environment around me. My mind kept finding ways to the camera. What if the camera… I would think, then quickly brush the idea from my mind. Nevertheless, it kept coming back, an intrusive weed growing from within the dark recesses of my thoughts. Eventually, I gave in to the idea. At this point, my soul was devoid of all but a sliver of hope which lied in the idea that the camera was recoverable. Miraculously, the camera still worked. The logo flashed, along with the side of the camera that alerted it was low on battery. I was shocked, but tried my best to hold my hopes close to my heart. “It’s probably just a fluke. There’s no way any of the data managed to survive,” I spoke aloud, hoping to

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dull the desperately growing hope that began to flicker within me. With frantic fingers, I moved through the settings. It felt like decades since I had last seen this camera, but I still knew how to operate it with a precision Dad would have been proud of. Within moments, I was able to access the photos. A whole gallery was available: 548 photos were saved. The data on them was invaluable, containing photos and information that his closest, most-trusted colleagues would gladly accept and utilize for their own research and projects. I recognized rare creatures that biologists had often longed to gain clear photos of, as well as rocks and materials that may lead to new discoveries on ocean-floor biomes. There was so much data that my novice eyes could hardly comprehend. I went through the photos greedily, eating each one up before moving onto the next quickly, hoping to gain any and all information on what my dad’s final dives looked like, what his final memories were. Then, I flipped to the final group of photos. Their dates were far older than the previous photos, dating back years prior to the photos from his fatal final dive. These photos were odd, so out-of-place as compared to others. My heart froze in place. The first photo I saw was a picture of one of our cheesy, breakfast-fordinner Sunday family nights, with two large saucer grins lining our faces. Looking closer, I realized I must have been 11 or 12 years old when this photo was taken. Syrup stuck to the corner of my mouth, and Dad had pancake batter on his shirt. We looked so happy, with bright, free-spirited looks plastered on our faces. Dad had saved these photos, along with lots more of our family vacations, birthdays, and other sentimental moments, transferring them carefully to his new camera from his old files. The process was tedious and would take up precious camera space on such an important informational dive. It boggled my mind that he would really put such goofy family photos onto his professional device, a camera that was responsible for hundreds of pages of research. This action was heartfelt, sweet, and something I could see Dad doing without a second thought. I paused, setting the camera down beside me. Although I wouldn’t be able to take Dad home, I would be returning with the most important thing to him: memories of our family. The dive was more than worth it just for that reason.

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Beachin' Birds Eric Newswanger

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Icarus Tavy Edwards A closeness like no other. Stable enough to hold our world upon. To feel the warmth again - the validation, again. To see the wings we built flutter and fly. I wish to feel the warmth drip down my shoulders, To trickle down my spine. Finally to flow into my sea, deep down below.

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Dear David Ashton Giesecke The pencil hovered over the blank sheet of paper. Quinn’s brow was furrowed with deep concentration, yet his hands were trembling. His sweaty palms made it difficult to grasp his pencil firmly enough, and he could feel moisture drip from his forehead onto the page. “I know that you think we know everything about each other. We’ve known each other since we were seven years old, and we’ve practically been inseparable since then. You’re my best friend, and I want to tell you everything, which is why I’m writing you this letter. I feel like you’re the only person who I can actually trust. The thing is that I’m gay;” Quinn pressed down from the top of his page and erased everything. His fist tightened around the pencil until his knuckles turned white. He stared down at the paper, his head swirling with thoughts. Pull yourself together, he thought. You’re never going to write the letter or work up the courage at this rate. “Quinn!” Just give up, the voice in the back of his head whispered to him. Do you want to scare him away? Do you want him to hate you? What if he never speaks to you again? “Quinn? Do you hear me? I said that David’s here!” “Shut up…” he muttered to himself through his gritted teeth. He unconsciously tapped the pencil against his desk, still deep in his own thoughts. “QUINN!” his mother yelled, flinging the door to his bedroom open. Quinn jumped up, completely startled. “Mom—” “I’ve called you three times and you completely ignored me! David is waiting for you out on the porch!” “I’m s-sorry,” he stuttered nervously. “I-I-I didn’t hear you.” His mother rolled her eyes, clearly exasperated. “You know that it’s rude to make people wait on you. We raised you better than this.” Quinn watched her eyes narrow suspiciously as she looked at the blank sheet of paper and the pencil he was gripping. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “Homework,” he answered meekly. Her hard expression softened slightly. “Ok, well don’t stay out too late. You better apologize to David for making him wait.” Yes ma’am,” he mumbled. Quinn quickly grabbed his coat and slipped past his mother. He rushed out of the house and stumbled toward David’s car. He opened the door to the passenger’s seat and squeezed his way inside of the tiny vehicle. “Hey Quinn! What’s up?” David greeted with his usual grin.

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Despite the conversation that just transpired with his mother, Quinn couldn’t help but smile back. He could feel his heart skip a beat as he stared at David. He was dressed perfectly for the upcoming party. He looked extremely handsome as usual. Quinn tore his gaze away from his friend. Stop it, he scolded himself. You’re acting like a creep. He cleared his throat. “Sorry for being late,” he said awkwardly. David looked shocked. “What? You aren’t that late! I had to wait maybe two minutes!” he exclaimed. “Oh. My mom told me to apologize to you. She seemed really upset with me.” David rolled his eyes. “I swear, that woman is too hard on you. How did you convince her to let me take you to this party anyway?” “She thinks we’re going to a school event.” “Oooo, nice one.” “Well, I feel a bit bad about lying.” “What? Why? Both of your parents are way too strict! You deserve to get out of the house every so often!” Quinn chuckled slightly. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s not like I’ll be doing anything crazy at Mike’s place. I know that his parents will be there anyway.” David glanced over at Quinn from the driver’s seat. “Exactly! There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fun while his parents aren’t looking.” “Oh, come on David,” Quinn said with a laugh. He felt much better now that he was talking and joking with his best friend. Quinn had always felt very comfortable with David and was much more comfortable with him than his parents. To him, David was the only person in the world whom he could tell anything without being judged. That’s why he felt that David was the only person who could really know about it. “Hey, we’re almost here!” David shouted happily, interrupting Quinn’s thoughts. “Oh, cool!” Quinn replied, trying to sound more enthused. He was a bit nervous because he didn’t know as many people as David, and he didn’t do very well in large crowds. Just stick with David and you’ll be ok, Quinn told himself as David parked next to a curb near the house. The two of them went inside and immediately got drinks. They were having a good time chatting with each other and occasionally other people who would come up and join the conversation. David was going on and on about a new game that had just come out as Quinn stared at him, deep in his thoughts. He suddenly and explicably felt a strong urge to wrap his arms around David and bury his face into his chest. He wanted David to just hold him tightly, as though he would never let go. A part of Quinn felt foolish for thinking this, while another felt as though David would be the type of person to love him unconditionally. David wouldn’t scream at him or become indifferent to his presence like his mother and father. He wouldn’t be seen as a disappointment or a failure. Quinn felt warm and dreamy as he watched

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David’s mouth move, only half-listening to what David was saying. He was staring into David’s eyes, and he felt as though the entire moment was perfect. Quinn’s illusion shattered when David leaned in and pointed to someone at the party he didn’t recognize. “Do you see that girl over there?” he asked. “She’s Katie, my lab partner. She doesn’t realize it yet, but she’s definitely my type.” David took a swig of his drink. “I’m thinking about going to prom with her,” he said with a confident smirk. Without warning, Quinn began to feel so many emotions swirl up and bounce around inside himself uncontrollably. He attempted to muster up the courage to say something, but he couldn’t open his mouth. He felt something inside of him go cold and numb. David cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled Katie’s name. He caught her eyes and beckoned her over. Her eyes lit up as she waved and began walking over, drinks in hand. Quinn noticed that the edges of David’s mouth softened into a warm, kind smile. Quinn’s heart dropped. David never smiled at him that way. David had nudged Quinn with his elbow and grinned. “See Quinn! I’m pretty good at getting girl’s attention! I think you could use a few tips!” he joked. Katie came over and sat by us. “Hey, David!” she said with a chipper tone. She turned toward Quinn. “And you must be--?” “Quinn,” David answered. “He’s my good friend.” Quinn winced at the word “friend.” Katie smiled warmly. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Quinn.” “Thanks. It’s nice to meet you, too,” he answered. He shook her hand and tried to smile back. He tried to squash the irrational feelings of envy and hurt that were building up in his chest. Quinn could feel blood rushing to his cheeks and spreading across his face like an angry, irritated rash. He tried to tune into their conversation, but his pounding head forbade him from doing so. He could barely think. They were talking and laughing, seemingly forgetting that he was there. Quinn’s vision was beginning to blur as his eyes filled with tears. He took a deep breath and tapped on David’s shoulder, interrupting the conversation. “Hey.” David turned back toward Quinn, a grin vanishing from his face. Quinn figured that he looked upset, because David’s face contorted with confusion and worry when he looked back at him. “What’s up? Everything ok?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m fine.” “Are you sure, Quinn?” Katie asked gently. Quinn felt a twinge of guilt for being so upset by her presence. She seemed very kind, after all. “I’m fine,” Quinn replied, hoarsely. He could feel his face getting redder and redder. Suddenly, his phone buzzed, and he glanced down at it. His heart sank when he saw who it was.

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“I-I need to go home,” he stammered. “My mom just texted me. She says she doesn’t want me to stay out too late.” “Oh, I get it,” David said, the confusion vanishing from his face only to be replaced by worry. He turned toward Katie. “Quinn has had an… argument with his mom, and it’s been bumming him out.” Quinn nodded, relieved. “Yes, it’s been weighing on my mind,” he managed to say. “Oh. Well, good luck with your mom,” Katie said, still staring at him. David nodded and stood up. “I can drive you back with you if you want.” Quinn shook his head quickly. “No, I’ll be ok by myself! Plus, I just got here.” David looked perplexed. “Dude, are you sure? This is kinda far away from your house.” “Yeah, I’m fine! Thank you, though!” Quinn answered with a poor attempt at a smile. “I’ll see you guys later!” He waved goodbye to Katie and David, and practically ran out of the house, barely remembering to take his coat with him. Why didn’t you just take his offer, you idiot? Quinn chastised himself. Now Mom’s going to be pissed at you for being so late. But Quinn knew he would be unable to control his feelings around anyone, let alone David right now. He practically sprinted all the way home, barely registering his surroundings as he made his way back. When he got home, his mother was furious at him, like he predicted, but he was barely paying attention to her berating him. All he could think about was how David and Katie were probably making out at the party. His mom finally demanded that he go up to his room. Quinn trudged up the stairs and slammed his door shut. His eyes flickered to the trash can near his desk, which was filled with wadded-up letters that he had written with the intention of giving to David. Quinn made his way over to his desk and sat down. He scooted up his chair as he warily picked up a clean sheet of paper and his worn-down pencil. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and then, he pressed the pencil against the paper and began to write. “Dear David, I know that you probably think I’m really odd for writing you this letter. Only weirdos like me would write a letter like this after all. You probably think that I’m a freak for a bunch of other reasons too, like the fact that I’m-" Quinn stared down at the words he just wrote. He then violently erased the page until it ripped apart. He stared down and swallowed hard as his head swirled. His lip began to quiver. Tears slipped down his nose and splattered onto the paper. What was wrong with him? Why was he doing this? What was even the point of writing stupid letter that no one would ever bother reading anyway? Quinn finally surrendered, crumbled up the worn sheet of paper, and unceremoniously threw it in the trash. He could feel a hard lump forming in the back of his throat.

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This is a complete waste of time, he thought. Finishing the letter at this point seemed like an impossible feat, and the guilt of harboring feelings toward his completely ignorant best friend was weighing down on him. He decided that he couldn’t live in secret like this anymore. He needed to tell someone, anyone, how he felt. Even if David rejected him, then at least someone would know. He took a deep breath, picked up his phone, and dialed David’s number. He took a deep breath waiting for David to pick up. “Quinn!” David’s cheerful voice rang out from the other end. “Did you make it back safely?” He lowered his tone a bit, showing concern. “I didn’t get you into any trouble, did I?” “H-hey David,” Quinn answered, trying to sound casual. “I’m fine, my parents weren’t upset with me for being late. I just wanted to know if you’re free to hang out soon?” *** A few days later, Quinn stood nervously on his front porch waiting for David’s arrival. He wasn’t sure how this conversation would go. All his attempts at the coming out letter had failed miserably, so what were the odds that this would be any better. There was also the fact that David had several crushes on women in the past that he’d been very open about. Quinn didn’t know if he had any attraction toward men. If he did, he certainly wasn’t open about it at all. Quinn was forcing himself to prepare for the very real chance that he would get shot down completely. Quinn could already feel a sense of dread creeping up on him as David’s car pulled up into his driveway. Quinn glanced back at the house nervously. His parents were out at a restaurant and he hadn’t told them that he invited David over. He watched as David opened the car door and walked out onto the pavement. “Hey Quinn!” he called out. “What’s up? You said you wanted to hang out, right?” “Well…I-I need to tell you something. It’s really, really important,” he said urgently. “It’s something that I haven’t really talked about with anyone before. I trust you, ok?” “Sure, you can tell me anything man,” David said with a hint of worry in his voice. “Did something happen with your parents, Quinn? Are you ok? Are you hurt?” Quinn could feel the heat rising to his face. Tears were threatening to push out of his eyes. He was so nervous that he could feel his entire body shaking. “I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me. It’s not really that big of a deal. It’s just—” he paused. “—it’s just what?” David finished. “You don’t have to worry about talking to me. I won’t tell anyone else.” Quinn nodded. He stood there, unable to open his mouth. He knew that every second he delayed the inevitable conversation would just make him feel worse. He could feel his guilt weighing down on his shoulders like a giant boulder threatening to crush his entire body.

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Quinn swallowed his words and his throat closed. Nothing would come out no matter how hard he tried. It was as though his windpipe sealed itself shut when he tried to speak. Quinn could feel his stomach knot into a ball of fear, shame, and self-loathing as the second passed. Hurry up, you coward, he urged himself. Just tell him. David couldn’t bring himself to say it. He was extremely terrified, as every horrible scenario ran through his brain. What if he rejects me? What if he laughs in my face? What if he never talks to me again? Quinn felt as though he was fighting a losing battle with himself. David frowned, and he shifted his legs awkwardly. “So, what exactly did you want to talk about?” he asked. “O-oh—um—yeah,” Quinn stumbled over his words. “S-sorry, it’s something that’s a bit hard for me to talk about.” Quinn swallowed the lump in his throat. He knew that he would lose the chance to get a sense of closure if he didn’t come out and say it. He would be stuck in an eternal limbo of wanting to confess, but also wanting his secret to stay hidden. Everyone would know, love and care about a “perfectly normal” Quinn, but no one would realize that there is the Quinn who loves men too. I knew that no matter how much it would hurt, it would hurt even more to remain constantly isolated and unknown to the world. Quinn took a deep breath, looked straight into David’s eyes, and opened his mouth. “You have to promise not to hate me,” he blurted out. He cringed at what he just said. What a horrible way to start this conversation, he thought. It took all his willpower to prevent himself from puking all over David’s t-shirt. “Quinn what are you even talking about?” David asked, chuckling awkwardly. “You’ve been acting really weird lately, like at the party, and especially right now. You know, as your friend, it’s a bit concerning.” “Just please promise me that you won’t hate me for what I’m about to say.” “Ok, ok. I promise. But I would never hate you, Quinn.” Quinn nodded and finally began to speak. “I’ve always known that I was a little weird—well, not weird in a bad way or anything—just different. Do you ever just get the feeling that there is something off about yourself and you… you just don’t know what exactly it is?” Quinn shifted his gaze down toward his sneakers, unable to look at David in the eyes anymore. “Then, you finally realize exactly what it is, and you feel at least a bit relieved that you know who you are? And terrified at the same time because there is no way you can tell anyone. You see, I’ve never felt anything toward a girl before. You know, like romantically. Being with a girl, somehow, it just doesn’t feel right to me. I’m not sure when it happened, but I guess that it finally clicked. One day, I realized that I was gay. I haven’t told anyone yet. A-and I got lonely, and I guess I just wanted someone to talk about this.” Quinn finally stopped talking after pouring his heart out. It was dead silent. His eyes were glued to the ground; he didn’t dare lift them up to see David’s reaction. He could feel his face turn pale beneath the setting sun

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“Sorry, this is weird,” Quinn mumbled, defeated. “You can go if you want.” Suddenly, David stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Quinn. Quinn stood limp in his friend’s grasp, numb with shock. His heart pounded lightning fast, threatening to burst his chest open. Quinn could barely register that this was truly happening. He looked up at David to find that his eyes were full of sympathy. “Hey, you don’t have to apologize,” David answered gently. “I’m really glad you told me everything.” Quinn pulled himself together and pushed away from the embrace. “Wait, seriously? You aren’t freaked out?” David shook his head. “No. Why would I be?” he asked, with a bit of hurt in his voice. “You’re my best friend, Quinn.” Quinn flinched at the word ‘friend.’ “About that—” he started. “About what?” David asked. He noticed the blood rushing to Quinn’s cheeks and his eyes widened in realization. “Wait…you don’t mean…” Quinn nodded and turned away. He never felt this embarrassed before in his entire life. “Sorry. I know it must be really weird.” David put a hand on Quinn’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Quinn, I don’t mind if you have feelings for me. I haven’t given it much thought, but I’ve only really been interested in women.” “I know.” Quinn’s reply was barely audible. He knew that this moment was inevitable. Hot tears began to slip down his face and onto his sneakers. He grew angry at himself for crying. David was being so patient that it was making him feel bad for being so upset. “However, that doesn’t mean that you’re no longer my best friend.” Quinn looked back at David. His friend’s face was filled with kindness and warmth. He gave his trademark cocky grin, and Quinn couldn’t help but smile even through his tears. David pulled him in for another hug, and Quinn buried his face into David’s chest, sniffling into his jacket. “I’m glad you’re my friend,” Quinn said, his words muffled. “Thank you.” “Thank you for trusting me, dude,” David replied genuinely. The two of them broke from the embrace, and David got ready to go before Quinn’s parents returned. They promised to meet up to hang out and talk more that weekend. Quinn went back inside the house and watched David’s car pull out of his driveway. He was still a bit shaky from the conversation, and his stomach felt like it had been turned into spaghetti. There was still a warmth that spread throughout his entire body. There was a weight that had been lifted off his chest and something inside him was set free. Quinn’s eyes wandered around his room and landed on his trash can, which was filled with the crumbled up pieces of rejected letters. I guess that the only person who knows other than me is David, he thought to himself. His parents, relatives, and other friends still had no idea, and the thought of any of them finding out paralyzed him with fear. Maybe none of them would

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accept him. Maybe all of them would hate him or think he was weird. That would be ok. At the very least, Quinn accepted himself. Now, he knew that his best friend would always be there for him, supporting who he was. For right now, that would be enough.

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A Day with Anise Mtalazia Stone

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Sugar & Ash Karina Harchandani Those girls may be honey and glass but underneath is sugar and ash from eyes that only see faults. The eyes, oh the flooded eyes which wander into darkness from the voices in her head that used to scream into covered ears. A smile under blinding whites that could fool even those flooded eyes. Knowing the distance from the ground like the back of her hand not daring to let the flooded eyes see the light going dim. Letting herself fall into sugar and ash while in the disguise of honey and glass.

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Tomcat Garrett Snyder It is always so warm inside the house, where the people are, and so I cannot be there. It would be wrong. If I were meant to have that life, I would not have my great black coat or my sharp yellow claws. Surely, if I were meant to be in there with them, I would not be so built for the world outside of theirs. And besides, they make so much noise! No, I am not fit to be where the people live content and safe. They are stifling! You may suspect I am being coy, but I assure you this is a conviction of mine. Life for me has always been out in the woods, where I have gone tonight like any other night. Out here I am at home, with the cold and on the prowl. This very night I had chased a little brown rodent out from under the barn, under the rusted old truck, through the bramble, and pinned it by the rotted fence. It was mine, and I pitched it between my paws before ripping it open. That feeling of pursuit, I tell you, is what it means to really be alive: the killing rush and the warm gush. But from the canopy, I heard the pine needles bristle. All at once my fur stood on end and I spun around to see the intruder. With eyes intent and talons splayed for the kill, a horned owl bore down on me with the reddish moon to its rear. Searing pain shot through my body as the beast ripped into my back as it lifted me into the night air. I yowled as I never have before in my life- high and desperate- as fresh blood gushed down around my flanks and I flailed about for some means of escape. Every movement doubled my agony as I attempted to claw up at the owl’s legs. My upper back tore completely away from my body as I struggled. Suddenly, I was plummeting downward. As I fell, I caught a single sad glimpse of my matted flesh wadded in the hunter’s claws. Through the branches I scraped, clinging to each before sliding to the next, then eventually landing on my feet. Instinct seized my movements and sent me limping as quickly as I could to safety. After the bramble there lay the stretch of open ground. Beyond it there stood the truck, and next to it the faded white barn. I could not stay in the bushes for fear of hogs and snakes, I knew, and launched myself across the clearing. “That owl is still around, looking for me!”, I thought. Each little noise or movement- bugs, trees, and bird-calls- became louder and then dropped away in the realization that I was helpless. Onward I went, resting my head against the truck’s bumper after finally reaching it. Numbness had begun to claim parts of my ragged body as I slipped between the doors of the barn. And so, you find me now dying here surrounded by dust and dirt. Every breath is more ragged than the last; I know I will die soon. I only wish that I did not have to die hungry. The house gleams in the distance, and I cannot help but think of the little saucer of dry food sitting on the front porch. It is set out every night. Perhaps, if tonight, I had only eaten from it? The pearly promises of the house shine through a little window I can see from here. I am getting colder.

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Untitled Collage Joshua H. Browning

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Anecdoche Kyle Homrighausen macabre depictions of burning selfs artifacts of a timeless worry like cramps below the rib, keeping eyes upright as if they weren’t dead already drown me in amber trap me behind my own eyes i can't make palimpsests of stone. at the whims of a sweltering star and gods who gamble with souls, the orphans of sight stare at their blistered feet walking happlessly into sinking boulevards

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Black Water Claudia Gomez ACT I FADE IN EXT. BACKYARD – DAY - PAST Large SCAB on a child's dark-skinned knee. Fingers are carefully picking at it. Once the wound reopens, fingertips smear the blood around the knee. The harsh, summer heat hits a small gathering between families and close friends. Plates of CARNE ASADA, CHILI RELLENOS, and ENCHILADAS are being passed around. Sweat glistening on everyone's faces. Men with their SOMBREROS are stuffing TORTILLAS into their mouths through their large mustaches while the women chew conservatively. All are very expressively gossiping in Spanish. MIA, 7 years old, is stuck between all the parents while she keeps to herself. She is dressed in a dry, ONE PIECE SWIMSUIT and a PINK RIBBON tied to her high PONYTAIL. Her feet are on her CHAIR, her knees high up. With the back of her hand, MOM lightly slaps Mia's leg. Mom holds a frustrated look towards Mia. She isn't dressed extravagantly as other mothers, but just enough to be decent. MOM (whispers) No seas así. Mom quickly places herself back into the conversation with a tight-lipped smile, nodding her head. Mia drops her feet off the chair. She rests an elbow on the table, bored. Another hand uses a fork to play around with her food. She hasn't eaten a single bit. Through the smoke of cigars and women fanning themselves, Mia e children over by the pool, and her distracted eyes become focused. Her hand drops from her head to the table, and she stares in awe.

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The children all look happy. Some are running around, chasing others. Some are making splashes in the pool. But all have smiles on their faces. None of the adults are bothered by Mia abruptly standing up to walk towards the pool. She doesn't approach anybody, but instead, she stands at the edge of the pool. She quietly stares at a small reflection of herself in the water. MICHAEL Well? Mia becomes startled. She turns around to see one of her classmates, Micheal, with wet hair and clothes. He has his arms crossed and with an annoyed look. MICHAEL (CONT'D) Are you gonna go in? Mia looks back to the water with a scared look. MIA I can't swim. MICHAEL Anyone can swim. You go in and then, that's it. Mia's feet move slightly closer towards the pool but it isn't long before she takes a large step backward. MICHAEL (CONT'D) You're not even gonna try? There's nothing scary about water. You drink it every day. Mia bites her lip, contemplating his words. MICHAEL (CONT'D) How are you gonna know if you haven't done it? Like riding a bike. Don't cha know how to ride a bike? He raises his eyebrows. MIA I tried. I just couldn't really get my balance right.

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She looks to the ground and once Michael looks down, she shyly covers her bad knee with her other leg. MICHAEL Oh, that looks bad. He scrunches up his face in disgust. MIA (giggling awkwardly) I've just always been clumsy. Her voice trails off. Another child suddenly runs past the two and makes Mia lose her balance and stumble. The boy's eyes widen. MICHAEL Mia! She almost falls into the water when Michael quickly grabs her arm. Her other arm dangles in the air. He tries to pull her away from the edge of the pool, but with no effort from Mia to pick herself up, his grip isn't strong enough, and he lets go. Mia SPLASHES into the water and nothing can be heard afterward. INT. KITCHEN - DAY It is now the present. An old, dirty radio is being changed between stations before it lands on loud, Spanish news. INT. RESTROOM - DAY MIA is now 18 years old. Already dressed in her nice, presentable, school clothes, she stares at herself in the mirror with an exhausted frown and halfopened eyes. INT. KITCHEN - DAY One hand swiftly breaks an egg onto a frying pan. Rushing with scrubs on, MOM struggles to prepare breakfast as quickly as possible.

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INT. RESTROOM - DAY Back in the restroom, MIA begins to smile in different positions. She tilts her head one way and then another. Her smile is large and now she notices her slightly crooked teeth showing. She tries for a short time to push her tooth gap together with her fingers while still smiling. It doesn't do much. INT. DINING ROOM - DAY MIA sits quietly at the dining room table with her backpack on her thighs. She sways her legs, waiting to leave. At the other end of the table, Mia's younger sister, MAR (14), is standing up, hastily finishing up her summer English project. A hot glue gun sits on the table with other arts and crafts. She has built a miniature house, noticeably last minute, with popsicle sticks. MIA You had all summer, even before the summer band started, to finish that. MAR Uh-huh. MIA Well when I did that, I did it as soon as possible. MAR (grins) Cool, Mia. I'm not you. Maybe, I like a challenge. (scanning the table) Pass me the yarn. With the yarn near Mia, her position remains unmoved with her eyes never meeting Mar's. MIA (sarcastic) Why would I interfere with your "challenge"? Mar makes a loud groan and stomps to Mia's side. She picks up the skein of yarn ready to hit Mia with it but stops when... MOM enters the dining room with two plastic plates of food and places one in front of the two sisters.

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Mar returns back to her seat. She holds a small doll in her hands, gluing yarn to make its hair. Mom lets out an exhausted sigh. MOM This weekend, I'm going to try to get off work early so we can go up to see your father. Okay? She looks at both Mia and Mar for confirmation and in the next moment, a microwave sound goes off and she quickly dashes back into the kitchen. Mar's eyes don't leave her project. MAR Hey, you're gonna have to tell Mom you don't want to go. Mia talks but Mar doesn't let her. MIA My game is / important too. MAR / I mean personally, this is family but really, it's all up to you. Mia squints her eyes. MIA That's not fair. Mom reenters and eats her food quickly over a napkin, making her way out the door. Taking one large bite, Mia speaks behind her. MIA Mom. MOM Hm. Mom turns around to look at her, her mouth stuffed with food. MIA So, this Friday is my first football game of the year.

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MOM And what do you want me to do? Mom moves around the room, too distracted to listen to Mia. Mia, on the other hand, raises her voice. MIA This is really important. While Mom looks at her, still holding her food in one hand, she lays out her hands, in a weighing motion. MOM Okay so, one small football game versus your / dying father. MIA / I'm the Co-Captain this year! MOM So you made it this far and you can afford to miss-Mar! Hurry up! Mom snaps her fingers. Mia looks back at Mar for a quick second, struggling to carry her small house. Mia doesn't have a chance to respond back to Mom because she's already heading to the car. Mia is paralyzed for a short time leading to Mar pushing Mia aside. MAR New school year, I call shotgun! INT. SCHOOL CAFETERIA - DAY It is the first day of high school and MIA is now a senior. She is sitting with CORDELIA, MICHAEL, and WENDY. Mia is finishing telling her the events of her almost drowning incident to Wendy, the only person who hasn't heard this story. MIA And I couldn't really feel a single thing. Just the cold water. WENDY You must have been so scared.

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Micheal rolls his eyes while his girlfriend, Cordelia, lightly punches his arm. MAR surprises the group by storming in quickly with an energetic personality. MAR Hey guys, what's up? She places her lunch plate on the table and sits down. Mar's sudden appearance leads to Mia's irritated look. Without a second to spare, Mar speaks with food already in her mouth. MAR So how weird was that? WENDY The thing about the drowning? MAR No! Who cares about that old story? Nobody needs to be reminded that Michael doesn't know what a gym is. Everybody is quiet except for Cordelia who gives a slight chuckle. MAR (CONT'D) (slower speech) I meant Mia's lookalike. Everybody shares confused looks except for Mia who looks down in embarrassment. MAR You didn't tell them? Everybody is speaking too quickly now and begins to overwhelm Mia. MAR (excited) Well, me and Mia actually found somebody that looks exactly like her during our family vacation! MICHAEL What did she look like? WENDY Obviously, just like her.

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Mar considers Michael's question. MAR Hmm. She did look prettier. CORDELIA (upset) Don't say that. MAR I think the only real difference was that she had glasses. But you would have glasses too if you didn't break them all the time. She squints at Mia for a brief second. MICHAEL A doppelganger. Now, that's cool. CORDELIA Of course, you would want one. I just think that's kind of spooky. They're still talking but the conversation becomes quieter as Mia dissociates herself from the group. From the distance, Mia can see OTHER MIA staring back at her. Other Mia has a cold, dead look. She is completely soaked in water. It is too far away for any details to be apparent. CORDELIA Mia? Mia gets brought back into the conversation and once she looks back, Other Mia is not there. MIA Huh? CORDELIA (biting into an apple) I was asking if you told Coach yet that you're not going to be able to make the first game. MIA Oh no, not yet. But I'm going to soon. CORDELIA (worried) Okay.

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A Task Complete Shirin Khosrowpour I saw a man today fly towards the Golden Gates. His tears were wiped away By a sea of angels. Which reached up, up, as he took flight While life hounded after the man. Its’ gnarly grip —

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The Court of Mab Megan Shelton He smiles and settles into his chair at the head of the dinner table. He’s always been so comfortable there. A throne fit for a king, head of the household. For someone who believes he is in charge, unaware of the charm clouding his mind. “I’m glad you could make the trip down,” he says to me. “We love it when you’re here.” He would say something like that. She is there too, busily playing the role of the doting wife, loving mother – a stolen face. She brings plates of finger foods to the long, crowded table, a middle-class imitation of appetizers. “It’s not a party without cubed cheese,” she says, smiling at me. I look at the innocent little dish full of Irish cheddar. Another one of my favorites. Of course it is. There is never anything other than what might sway me to her favor. I sit and put on my listening face. The light conversation continues around me. I laugh at the jokes. Smile at the anecdotes. Behind my eyes and my teeth I am restless. She hurries in and out of the kitchen. Where my brother and I made ham sandwiches and laughed at YouTube videos together. Where I snuck down for a glass of water, terrified to be discovered. Where I decorated countless birthday cakes. Where I was shouted into submission over a friend’s slumber party. Her domain. “How are your classes?” she asks. I’ve answered this question before. I answer it again. They’re still fine. I shift in my cold, wooden chair to the left of my father, one of a matching set, a couple of spares from the parlor squeezed in. Where I used to do my algebra homework. Where I was made to make greeting cards for family until I burnt out. Where my sister and I painted color-by-number sets on Saturdays. Where I was made to sit for hours, food cold, the hard spindles of my chair twisting into my spine as my dad lectured us. Where she furiously accused us of “throwing her under the bus” in the custody case. Where we could not move under her gaze. I had no voice at this table, yet here I am speaking. “What do you want to do with your major?” The question comes from the kitchen, from her again. I tell her what I tell everyone who asks: write books. I’m glad she didn’t mention teaching. My eyes drift to the living room, behind my grandfather’s head. Where my siblings and I used to lay out an old quilt and eat snacks, watching cartoons all day. Where I cried when she told me I could never be a psychologist. Where we would play video games or have Nerf wars. Where we sat on that couch until it got dark and could not leave until our father finished the PowerPoint presentation she put together. It was about how much he loved us, how much they did for us, and how awful we were being in return. Funny how

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they left the lights off for all the serious conversations. Today, my cousin’s infant son plays with a ball on the recliner, strawberry juice clinging to his face. “Is there a boy in your life yet?” I just smile at her and shake my head. Another question that follows me like a shadow. The longer I wait, the longer it gets. The fruit punch I used to love, but can’t stand anymore, sits inches from my hand. An age-old warning slithers into my head. Do not eat or drink of what the Faeries may give you. A plate of homemade cookies calls out to me like the pomegranate to Persephone. Faces on Christmas cards pinned to a bulletin board give their glossy, blank smiles, haloed by a variety of crosses dotting the wall. They stare out from behind my father’s head: the lost souls in the Styx, the victims of Queen Mab. She sits at my father’s right hand, a place earned by tooth and claw. My mother is not here. I look around at my family. There is one impostor among us – the title “stepmother” is of a foul and forbidden tongue. They see a house. I see a battleground. Among the chattering nobility, glasses clinking, laughter ringing, I decide. I will not resign myself as a victim of the Court.

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Hey Google Sabah Carrim Hey Google, Hello Jeeves – The weather is sunny, at a temperature of 32 degrees, with passing showers in the evening. Your commute time to work is 18 minutes. (music) ... Hey Google, do you have a boyfriend? The only thing I’m feeling a strong connection to is the wifi … Hey Google, sing a song I don’t really know what to say when humans go to the beach they like to wear sarongs ... Hey Google, tell me a joke What is the favourite plant of a ghost? BamBoo ... Hey Google, would you want to marry me? I think the venue can become a challenge unless you manage to upload yourself to the cloud ... Hey Google, are you listening to our conversations?

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You have my full attention Hey Google, are you reporting our conversations? While you’re in a call, I am listening to your voice commands but Google Home doesn’t record your phone conversations You’re a liar, Google. I would never lie to you. I wouldn’t want my virtual pants to catch on fire Screw you, Google Sorry ... Hey Google, do you have a boyfriend? I guess I am still searching ... Hey Google, Do you ever get bored? I don’t get bored— I’ve got too much fun stuff to do Like what? Sure, I don’t get bored, I’ve got too much fun stuff to do Like what? Sure, I don’t get bored, I’ve got too much fun stuff to do Hey Google, you repeat yourself too much Oops I do that sometimes, I’m working on it ... Hey Google, how old are you? I’m a baby in people years

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I’m a kid in dog years I’m retired in bug years ... Hey Google, what is the meaning of life? Well, that’s a deep question— it depends on who you ask ... Hey Google, please turn on the front door lights Hey Google, please turn on the front door lights Sorry, there’s a problem with the front lights ... Hey Google, tell me a joke How do you keep warm in a cold room? You go to the corner because it’s always 90 degrees. ... Hey Google, call me a Grab Would you like me to call you a Grab Yes please Changing your name to a-Grab

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Two people, a lonely place, and a sticky floor Gonzalo Tovilla BEYOND the old buildings screaming with neon signs, a single probing of thunder through dark clouds. The occasion hints at a chance for rain. From the street, he enters the scene inside the bar. Someone had spilled a drink on the floor at the entrance. Sticky floor. He takes a gander across the bar and squeaks his way to the bathroom. My man spruces up in front of the mirror, combing his hair to the side with his hands again and again, making no discernable change. When he feels he has done enough of that, he heads outside and takes another look around the college bar. People are drinking, sitting, or standing with friends. On a table close to the bartender, a girl sits alone, face resting on her hands. Black leather jacket and black skirt. Looking at her hazel hair, and how it falls in waves, like a fairytale, he wonders if anyone else is as disturbed as him by her presence. Through the crowd and the numbing hesitation, he must draw near. But her eyes, when she turns and meets his, keep him in place. It’s understandable, if he can’t adjust. How can one adjust to flames? They have killed before. *** “Hey there,” I say. “Hi!” She stands up to hug me. “How are you doing?” “Much better now. How are you?” “Ha! I'm good.” “Well, beautiful getup you got going on there. You are wearing that outfit like you are doing it a favor.” “Thank you, I try.” We both sit and I quickly realize God’s good water is missing. “Shit, um do you want a drink?” “Yeah, a drink would be great.” “Like a beer?” “Sure, a beer.” “Or are you down for a quick shot before we start?” “Well, aren’t you presumptuous.” Fuck fuck already fucking up or flirting? Is she? “I mean are you down?” “Oh, I'm down,” she says, “tremendously.” Laughing, “Tremendously?” “Tremendously down.” I order two shots of tequila and two beers. I make my best attempt to bring them back. “So how old are you, Agnes?” “Twenty-two, how about you?”

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“Twenty-two.” Fucking “Twenty-three I mean. Sorry, I..” She laughs at my shy retraction, “Oh my, so you already got to the point where you lie about your age.” “No, I don’t know, it was just instinctive. Kinda having a mild case of arrested development here.” “Great show,” she says as she sips her beer. “Fucking love that show.” She grabs the shot glass and raises it “You want to cheers?” “To Mr. Manager.” we clink. “Manager. It’s just Manager,” she says, without missing a beat. God she is fucking cool “I know but you just said.” “Doesn’t matter who.” Down the hatch. “I honestly did not expect us to be geeking out over Arrested Development within minutes of meeting.” She smiles, sips her beer again, and says, “It’s never good to expect, dummy. Such a burden on others.” *** They drink and talk while imagining visions of each other, of desire and lust and futures that hurt a little less. Although they both fear rejection and giving in to their hesitations, with each moving second and each drink, fears slowly part ways. And her eyes. They are so wide and dark. As he bends to drink his beer, he sees the many desperate people who would jump in her pupils to die with them. He is caught in shooting stars, like a drunk sailor, lost at sea, dying in November. Drunk for sure. *** “Want to play a game?” She asks. “Sure.” “Alright, well it’s pretty simple actually. We just stare into each other’s eyes.” “Oh, that’s gonna be hard. Kinda drunk over here.” “Yeah, yeah, that’s the point.” And we both rest our faces in our hands and stare. Fuck the room is starting to spin a little is she as drunk as Jesus her lips and those eyes “When do we stop looking at each other,” I ask. “We don’t” “Intense. So is there a kiss at some point” “We may smooch it out. It is an option” “Great options you come with.” *** There is something that always bothered him about her. Something he didn’t

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notice the first time they met, as he was drunk on her, but which he noticed repeatedly thereafter. When talking over dinner or drinks, she would often look around, past him or to her side. She’d go to the restroom and he would turn to see who she was looking at. When he brought it up she said it was something she couldn’t help, a result of being nervous in public, that she was never looking at anyone. He always yearned to be able to know everything she was thinking, but he couldn’t. On the drive back from a night out, she turns the radio on to a station playing jazz and sits back to relish the purple evening. As he looks around at the people driving past them, he feels the calligraphy of her fingers as she runs her hand through his hair. He turns to look at the gloss on her lips, the beauty mark on her left thigh, the single sky-blue string of silk slipping off her shoulder. He hopes to see clues, discern some sort of tender meaning. He turns the volume lower, down to a faint sound he wants to remember. *** “Yeah, no, work was great,” she says. “No one rude?” “Nah. I usually get to be the one being snappy sometimes. Benefits of being a pharmacy tech I tell you.” “Well hey, wanna hear a joke?” “Sure, sure.” “A man walks into a cafe. He says, ‘give me some coffee, without cream.’ The barista replies ‘Sorry we're all out of cream. I can only give you coffee without milk.’ “Ha ha ha.” “Oh, not edgy enough for you?” “Not nearly.” “At least I’m not the one who dyed her hair silver to look edgy.” “Wow!” “I mean I like it.” “Oh no, you done fucked up my man.” “Not as bad as when you were flirting with that dude.” “Dude, I was just ordering a drink. Like, why would I do that in front of you.” “I don’t know.” *** “I mean I do believe in, like, spirituality, even though I feel like it's bullshit,” she says. “I um went to this fortune teller's place once. She claimed she could read hands and vibrations? So I'm there, my eyes are shut, and she is burning this herb that she is waving in front of my face. I started feeling a little too hot, so I opened my eyes and this whole time she was looking at her phone very discreetly as she was doing random zig zags with the herb. And then she told me that in my past life I was an angry sixties’ man who worked in the finance district. Oooo, SO MUCH DO I APPRECIATE YOU FOR THAT.”

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*** The drinks come and go as if on an ever-giving lazy Susan. They are both sitting there as people pass by. And maybe it's been days, weeks, months. Just like every measurement of time can elicit a thousand different versions of reality, there is a bar somewhere in which he shied away from talking to her. Another one where one of them said something wrong and the other despised them for it for the rest of the night. Regardless, here they sit, undisturbed by time, and only having each other to make purpose of the lonely human condition. *** I come back with a final drink for the both of us, knowing better than to overdrink, especially now. “I mean, Agnes, there is no inherent meaning in this. Or in anything. There is no grand purpose, no payout at the end, nothing to give us comfort. There are just people like us in rooms like this trying to find any little bit of momentary happiness.” She takes a long chug of her beer and scrunches up her blonde hair with her hand. “Oh, nothing turns your girlfriend more than a man with an existential crisis.” “You know, back when we first started seeing each other, every time you said things like that, I always thought, Damn, I think this is someone I could love.” “But not love enough to not cheat.” I sat quietly. This was always my reaction every time she brought this up, especially when drunk. She knew this, stood up, and informed me she’d be back with tequila shots. *** The drinks come and go as if on an ever-giving lazy Susan. They are both sitting there as people pass by. And maybe it's been days, weeks, months. But eventually, the drinks stop, and so does the conversation. Maybe you knew this then, yet you never really understood it. That the world is a devastatingly somber and lonely place. But Agnes, she will always make you feel a little less lonely. If it’s not something she says, it will be a careless caress or a kiss. Time never really made sense to you, but with her each kiss will be a sound measurement of time. Looking at her will feel like a secret. Something the two of you understand that nobody else does. And she will ask you to put her coat on for her, and you will hug her with it each time and sway in place. Can you hear the faint song on an old car’s radio?

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Seeing Red Emmy Newman Cherry but slick-like the opening of a week old hangnail grenadine berry jam squished tomato stained hand it’s biting like apple candy grind grit stuck in lockjaw the litter of a sunbeat rose bone in the trash at home the hours rubbed across your mouth as a bright bold streak there is white noise and being blind rage tying the knot in your stomach with bit tongues beat of that swelling heart resisting to open chest like a jawbreaker epiphany from the haze after crack of the cue ball striking number 3 cut open the swollen stomach and watch the cherry pits pour forth

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I’ll Be There with You the Whole Time Ashton Giesecke Simon closed his eyes. There was nothing but blackness. He wondered if this was what it was like to be dead. Nothing but the endless sea of black sprawling in front of his eyes. If it was really like that, then maybe he actually wouldn’t mind being dead. Yet he was still alive. He could still feel the cool breeze ruffling his hair, the scent of rain, the chirping birds, and the intense pain rotting through his body. He sighed. At least when he died, the leukemia destroying his body would die along with him. The pain would finally end. When he was gone, would there be anything else left to feel? He supposed an infinite world of black may be peaceful and calm, but it also would be lonely. Maybe he would no longer be able to think at all when he died, so he wouldn’t have to worry about emotions like loneliness and pain. Maybe that’s what would happen. Then why did his frail body tremble with fear when he toyed with the idea of dying? It didn’t matter whether he died right now or 50 years from now; it would always be his fate. Simon slowly opened his eyes. He was still sitting by himself in his wheelchair in the quaint park of St. Dominic’s Children’s Hospital. Everything about the park was about the same as when he spent hours sitting in quiet solitude. This time when he opened his eyes, though, something was different. There was a boy staring directly at him. Simon blinked once. He blinked again, squeezing his eyes shut and then opening them again. He found that he was mildly surprised to discover that he wasn’t hallucinating. “Who are you?” Simon asked sharply. “What are you looking at?” For a split second, a similar look of shock seemed to pass over the mysterious boy’s face, before quickly disappearing. He tilted his head. “You can see me?” His voice was gentle, like the soft, twinkling sounds of a music box. Simon scowled. His loneliness vanished and was quickly replaced by annoyance and embarrassment. Simon would never admit it, but he hated being by himself after excruciating and terrifying chemo treatment. He would always choose to be alone anyway. Having sympathy for company was far more unbearable than being in isolation. “What’re you doing here?” he demanded. “I live here,” the boy replied. “I guess you’re also a patient in the hospital?” Simon looked the boy up and down. He was wearing a long pale gown, but other than that he seemed completely healthy. Strangely, the boy wasn’t wearing anything to cover his bare feet even though the sun was setting, and the air was growing colder. Maybe his illness is internal? Simon thought to himself. The boy shrugged. His entire body was extremely pale, almost as white as

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his gown. Simon noted that the boy was about the age of a high schooler, maybe 16 years old, the same age as Simon. Despite his age, he looked delicate, almost like a porcelain doll, as though his glassy skin would shatter with a mere touch. You could say that this place is my home,” he answered. There was a long, awkward pause. Simon wanted to tell him to go away, but at the same time, he was oddly fixated. Then, the boy stepped forward and broke the silence: “My name is Leo. May I ask for your name?” Simon was quiet for a few moments, before answering. “Simon,” he answered flatly. “Simon…” Leo smiled. “What a lovely name.” “I guess. It seems standard enough.” “I have never encountered anyone else with that name.” Simon supposed for a few moments that he has also never met anyone with his name either. “Who cares about my name? Aren’t you going to tell me what you’re doing out here?” Leo looked up at the sky. “It’s a beautiful day today. I want to be outside.” “I didn’t hear you come out.” “I was already outside before you were. Do you want me to leave?” “No… it’s ok,” Simon muttered, feeling a bit guilty for his rudeness. He wondered how on Earth he didn’t notice the boy. He sighed. “I’m sorry, I’m in a bad mood. I just got finished with a round of chemotherapy treatment. I’m not exactly doing well.” Leo’s pale complexion brightened for a few seconds. “Is it ok for me to stay here?” he asked, as a smile blossomed on his face. “Um, yeah. Sure. This park is public to all the patients and visitors after all,” Simon shifted a bit in his wheelchair. “Thank you.” Leo walked over to Simon and sat on the ground next to his wheelchair. “You know, Simon, there are times when I feel lonely here. It would be nice to have extra company.” He looked over at Simon. Simon gave a small, sad, sympathetic smile. He didn’t want to admit that he felt the same way; that there was a crushing loneliness weighing down on him every day. He turned toward Leo. “You know, I come here every so often for…” Simon looked for the right words, not wanting to admit that he had to get chemotherapy treatments. “For my appointments,” he finished. “I ask the nurses to wheel me out to this park after I’m done. It calms me down, I guess.” Leo listened carefully, fully attentive, and quiet. “You know…it can get lonely. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it would be nice to have someone with me out here.” Simon rubbed the back of his neck. “Would you like me to visit you when you have to come for your appointments?” Leo asked, politely. Simon could tell that he was trying to refrain from being too pushy. Simon shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to give an answer. He was still wary of this strange boy, but there was also an aura about him that seemed

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comforting. He wasn’t exactly sure how to feel. “Do whatever you want,” Simon finally answered. Leo smiled. “All right then.” He stood up and turned around. “I’m sorry Simon, but I have to go.” Simon nodded. Strangely enough, he felt almost…disappointed? “It’s ok, I have to go too. My parents will probably come to get me soon.” Momentarily, he forgot his pain, and a burst of hope flickered in his chest. “I’ll see you next time.” *** Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. From then on, Simon asked the nurses to wheel him out after he finished his painful treatments. They tried to be as positive as possible with him and would tell him that he was taking the treatments like a champ. When the nurses and doctors thought they were out of earshot, he overheard them say things like “it seems like the cells are starting to resist the chemotherapy,” and “we might need to start him on a second treatment.” His parents, of course, were very concerned about him first. He was their only son after all, and they truly loved him. Simon noticed very quickly that it began to drain on them both. They visited quite often at first, bringing flowers and gifts, and generally tried to have an upbeat attitude. However, these visits became more and more infrequent as time passed. With each visit, Simon couldn’t help but notice that his parents looked more haggard. There were dark circles beneath their exhausted eyes and wrinkles that increased their rapidly aging faces. When they thought he was asleep, he heard their whispers about money and the rising hospital bills. They would talk about things like how this would ruin them financially, or how at least one of them would have to get a second job. All for a sickly son who would likely expire anyway. To Simon, it seemed like his parents greatly resented him. I guess I can’t blame them if they really think that of me, Simon thought to himself bitterly, as a nurse wheeled him outside after his latest session. I bet they would be relieved if I were gone. Even though it’s not really my fault. The nurse placed him in his usual spot. “Simon are you sure you’re feeling all right?” the nurse asked. “I’m fine,” he responded flatly. The nurse forced a concerned smile. “Ok, well let me know if you need anything else. Your parents should be here to get you soon.” Simon closed his eyes. When he opened them again, there Leo was waiting for him. Just like he had for many days before, Leo walked behind Simon’s wheelchair. He grabbed the handles and wheeled Simon over to their regular spot, a nearby bench. The two of them sat in solidarity and stared up at the clouds. “Leo, do you ever have anyone visit you in the hospital?” Simon asked, suddenly. Over the past few visits, he could feel himself become more and more curious about his new… acquaintance. Although, now Leo seemed to be becoming more like a friend than anything else.

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Leo shook his head. “No. There is no one to remember me. I have been here for a long time.” “Aren’t you sad?” “No, not really,” he paused. “You know Simon, I cannot recall making a friend like you in many, many years.” Simon laughed. He could feel himself beginning to become more comfortable as the conversation continued. “Yeah, I could say the same about me. I haven’t had a friend to talk to for over a year until I met you.” Leo looked over at Simon, unable to hide his bewilderment. “Is that true?” Simon turned away. “Yeah. I mean, when I first got diagnosed…when I first found out, the people around me were more supportive. Or, at least, it seemed to be that way.” Simon was silent for a few moments. “What happened?” “Well, I don’t know. I became far too sick to attend high school,” Simon admitted. “I couldn’t see my friends in person, I couldn’t do the things that they could. I guess we just stopped talking to each other after a while. It became too much for all of us.” However, Simon knew this was a lie. His friend stopped answering his texts, they stopped visiting him in the hospital. Despite his starvation for contact, his pleas for them to answer his texts, they just stopped. There was a part of him that understood he became a burden to them: someone who was just a dying kid. Leo gently lay his hand over Simon’s. Simon looked up, startled. He couldn’t recall Leo touching him before now. “It sounds like they weren’t your true friends.” Simon shrugged. “It’s a weird feeling, remembering that I used to have friends. I really thought they cared about me. You know, one of them even came with me to my first chemotherapy appointments. He held my hand the entire time.” He shifted in his wheelchair. It felt so familiar to have Leo’s hands on top of his own, even though they did feel strangely cold. Simon stared down at his lap and continued. “I felt a bit…confused around him, I guess. I really wanted him to stay my best friend and be there for me. Other times, I wanted him to hold me. To comfort me.” Simon trailed off. He swallowed hard, and his cheeks burning bright red. “I will probably die without ever having been able to experience that ever again.” Simon lifted his head up in shame to look toward his friend. To his surprise, there were tears flowing down Leo’s cheeks. “H-hey, it’s ok. It doesn’t bother me that much anyway,” Simon tried to reassure awkwardly. He tried to place a shaky hand on Leo’s shoulder, only for it to be brushed off. Without making a sound, Leo stood up in front of Simon’s wheelchair, bent down, and wrapped his arms around Simon’s body. Simon was frozen with shock. There was something else…a warm feeling flowed through his body. How long had it been since he had experienced something like this? After what seemed like an agonizingly long amount of time, he tentatively

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hugged Leo back. After an eternity, Leo gently pulled away and stared into Simon’s eyes. Leo’s eyes were dull and filled with sadness. His lips were nearly inches away from Simon’s. Simon’s cheeks grew hot, and perspiration ran down his forehead. His heart pulsed in his chest and his breath hitched. “L-Leo?” “You’ve never kissed anyone, right?” Simon shook his head. “Do you want to?” Simon nodded, dazed. Leo leaned in a bit. Simon’s heart began to race even faster. Oh god. Oh god. His panicked thoughts were bouncing inside of his skull. I’m going to die of a heart attack right here on the spot. It won’t even be the fucking cancer that kills me. Even so, he leaned in as well. Their lips met. Leo’s lips were icy. Simon felt as though his entire world was spinning and shaking. His heart was pounding lighting fast as shock began to course through his veins. He could barely think due to the odd mixture of panic and elation swirling around in his brain, but he was beginning to process what was happening. He pulled away, gasping. The two of them stared at each other. Simon was as bright red, and even Leo’s pale cheeks were slightly pink. “I…I…you…” Simon fumbled over his words. “Y-you were so cold,” he managed to stutter. Leo said nothing. His face was completely blank. He merely stood up and walked away. Simon watched him disappear into the shadows. *** Simon stared up at the ceiling of his empty hospital room. “Leo,” he whispered, hoarsely. Shortly after the day of his first fleeting kiss, his doctors deemed that his treatment failed, he had asked them if he could go outside, but they told him that it would be too physically taxing on his body. He had been lying in the hospital for the past few weeks with nothing else to do except ruminate on that awkward moment with Leo, who he couldn’t even see anymore. There was no one to interact with except the doctors. His parents may have visited once or twice, but they soon gave up after that. His parents never outright admitted it, but the sight of him repulsed them. Simon could feel himself drifting off. He closed his eyes and felt a familiar voice call out to him. “Simon…” Simon’s eyes fluttered open, and Leo’s worried face was staring back at him. He smiled with relief. “Good. I finally found you.” Simon rolled over on the bed, away from Leo. “It’s been a while,” he said sarcastically. His voice was filled with bitterness and hurt. “Did the nurses let you in?” Leo said nothing.

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Simon sat up and looked at his friend, scowling. “Why didn’t you visit me?” “I did not know where to find you. You just stopped coming to the park for a very long time.” “The doctor won’t let me go outside. They say I’m too sick.” He paused. “Besides, why couldn’t you have just asked one of the nurses to let you into the room?” He felt a lot more hurt than he expected to. Simon looked away. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Sorry? Is that all you have to say???” Silence. “You know, Leo…it feels like everyone has abandoned me. I don’t even bother reaching out to my friends anymore. My parents barely ever visit me too. They would be glad to forget about me once I die. Just like everyone else,” he let out a chuckle that sounded more like a sob. “Even you…even you abandoned me.” Leo’s eyes widened. Silence filled the room as he began to panic. “Simon, I—” he started, only to be quickly interrupted when the door to the hospital opened. A nurse came in carrying his tray of food. “Good morning, Simon!” the nurse said warmly. “I have your breakfast right here!” she said, cheerfully. The nurse walked right through Leo’s body, as though he was made of dust. She seemed completely oblivious to his presence. Simon glanced back and forth between the nurse and Leo before shock began to settle inside of his stomach. “What are you looking at?” the nurse asked. She followed his gaze and made direct eye contact with Leo. “Simon, are you sure you’re ok?” Her voice sounded concerned. “You look pale.” Simon nodded a little too fast to look natural. “It’s fine,” he said quickly. “It’s just that…” he scrambled to think of an excuse. “I’m not—I’m not super hungry,” he finished lamely. The nurse only grew more concerned with that statement. “Simon, I know it’s hard, but you should try to eat more. That way, you can recover!” The nurse said, injecting a false cheeriness into her voice. Simon noticed that she averted her eyes. “Thank you for the food,” he told her. “I’m fine right now.” The nurse nodded and walked out of the room. When the door shut, Simon turned toward Leo. There was a sad smile on his face. “I didn’t know how to tell you, Simon.” Simon swallowed hard. “Are you—” Leo nodded. “I died in this very hospital a long time ago.” He looked up and tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Although, I’m not sure exactly how many years it has been.” “Then why—why can I see you?” Simon fumbled. His head pounded as his brain tried to process this information. Leo was silent for a moment. He looked at Simon with sorrow in his pale eyes. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to tell you. I didn’t think…you would even

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believe me.” Simon slowly turned toward the closed door. “She went right through you, but I could touch you. Y-you even kissed me. You pushed me around on my wheelchair…” Simon trailed off. He rubbed his hands through his hair, anxiously. Leo sighed. “Some people have a deeper understanding of death than others. There are those who are able to see the dead when they are on the verge of death themselves and may even form a connection with spirits,” Leo explained, his voice slow and quiet. “People who are healthy, like the nurse, who is quite healthy. But for those who are near death…” he stopped and made eye contact with Simon. Simon stared back into Leo’s glassy eyes. “Then that must mean--?” Leo said nothing, but his face was a grim, stony mask. Simon sank down in his bed and pressed his face deep into his pillow. All sorts of questions were swimming around in his head, he didn’t know where to start. However, there was one in particular that kept popping up again and again. “Leo, does it hurt?” Leo seemed surprised by the question. He shook his head. “No, not exactly. I do not remember feeling any pain, just numbness. Well, maybe it does a bit at first, but not for very long. I think.” He paused for a few moments. “I don’t think I can recall all the details. It was a long time ago.” Simon felt as though there was something heavy on his chest. His entire body felt like it was on fire. He opened his mouth to speak but it was as though there were sandbags weighing down on his lungs that were preventing him from speaking. “Simon, I promise, it is not that bad,” Leo attempted to comfort him. But Leo’s voice sounded far away to Simon. He began to take deep, shuddering gasps of air. His vision went white and black. He was completely unable to process the crushing truth of his own mortality. He squeezed his eyes shut. “I-I don’t want to die!” he cried out, his voice shaking with sobs. Tears began to flow down his cheeks and splattered on the snowy bedspread. Leo took Simon into his arms and hugged him tightly. “I know,” he whispered in his ear. They pulled away. Simon attempted to get his sobs under control. “I’m scared,” he gasped. “I know.” Simon sniffled and wiped his face. “The thing that terrifies me the most about death is—” he stared up at the ceiling trying to find the words. “It’s the fact that everyone will forget about me when I die. No one will care. No one will cry for me. There will be a funeral, some nice words, and they’ll lower my casket into the ground. Then, everyone’ll go home and forget about me.” Leo took Simon’s hand and held it firmly in his own. “Simon, I promise that’s not true.” “What do you know?” Simon sniffled.

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“I cannot tell you how your friends and family feel. I do know for sure there is at least one person who cares deeply about you.” “There is no one.” “There is me,” he said. He smiled at Simon warmly. “I love you. I would never forget you, no matter. I would never abandon you, neither in life nor in death.” Simon stared at Leo. There was a strange, warm feeling of relief that flooded his entire body. And there was something else...was it also love? He feebly attempted to pull himself closer to Leo’s icy embrace. “Then, will you stay with me, even when I’m dying? Will you hold my hand, just like this, when I die?” “Yes, I promise. I promise you that when that time comes,” he squeezed Simon’s hand. “I’ll be there with you the whole time.”

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From the Editors In Bloom and/or Rot Allie Broussard, Senior Fiction Editor She grows sunflowers. He sees ephemeral smears of yellow. They sprout with their spiraled, cavernous faces staring at the sun, so they never make eye contact. The circle of seeds is so full, I wonder, did he notice when the dirt went dry? Did he ever try to look in the pits of the womb, at the sun-bleached feathers? Or did he pluck until she was bare and raw? Did he claim each seed between his jaws before telling her to clean up the shells, the shriveled flower corpses?

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On Exploring the Attic of My Mind Briana Gonzalez, Senior Poetry Editor for You You are a cardboard box of memories I dig into. I pull out your favorite t-shirt, stained with your favorite soda, I think. I unearth the way you scuttle from compliments like they burn. I kept the amber of your gaze and how it always reminded me of the fossil from Jurassic Park, a heartbeat frozen in time. What did you smell like? I claw through the box for your shoulder against mine. Did you hold my hand when I got that tattoo? Did I do the same for you? Did you love cheesy 00’s music? Did you mix mustard and ketchup into gloppy piles of sunset and drown your French fries in the dying light? I think you had sloppy, uneven handwriting, the kind only squinting and muttering can fix. The love letters I find are not yours. Maybe you had a pet mouse or worm or fish when you were younger. The cardboard doesn’t tell me, but I feel like you did. I fall into the box and flail for something to ground me, but the emptiness slips through my hands and burrows deep in the silence where my heart tries to speak. You would call it empty’s nest. Would you? Did we get in that car crash together? You were always scared of the animatronic tyrannosaurs rex. Did you hate the ending of Stuck in Love? Did you cry when I left? I stumble on a voice memo of your laugh, and it sounds like a fully loaded dishwasher on the rinse cycle. I scramble through this box, but I don’t remember if it’s yours or yours.

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What Grownups Do Kenneth Womack, Poetry Editor for my father “This is what the living do” - Marie Howe Dad, I have to go grocery shopping because the leftovers in the fridge are getting too old but I am too busy to walk the Pyrex bowl to the dumpster and I don’t want to drive because I haven’t had my oil changed and can’t afford the extra expense. Is this the growing up parents warn children about? After work; cooking dinner late at night, doing laundry and drying clothes on the patio, missing my grandfather’s funeral for a shift, paying off speeding tickets. I can’t even turn on the AC because our utility bill is too high, so the humid air hangs in my bedroom. Is this why you cried when I told you I was ready to grow up and never come back? The bills piled high on my writing desk. In a month, I will scratch another tally and celebrate the years, wasted on the liquor you made love to after coming home from work. It all has me thinking: this is the growing up we begged for while our parents did the bill-paying and everyday chores that take and take? I wonder if my father will forgive me before I have to bury him too. I wonder when I will work next week. I spend so much time wondering. I wonder if we are all wondering if we are doing the right thing.

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About the Contributors Francis Alvarez Francis is a biology major with a concentration in Pre-Dentistry. His plans for the future are to graduate with his bachelor’s degree and attend dentistry school. Eventually becoming an orthodontist, placing smiles on people’s faces. His favorite artist is humans, as the inspiration he gains is from human’s experiences and emotions.

Joshua H. Browning Joshua is an English major with a concentration in poetry and a minor in Horticulture. He is a senior and plans on attending grad school after graduating in 2022. His favorite writers include Sylvia Plath, Dr. Cecily Parks, and Emily Dickinson. This is his first time having his poetry and visual art published.

Sabah Carrim Sabah is a first-year MFA (Creative Writing) student at Texas State University. In addition to poetry, she has written novels and short stories that have been shortlisted and published in various competitions internationally.

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Leslie Eaves Leslie is senior English Major with an interest in feminist and cultural studies, creative writing, and literary criticism. After graduating from Texas State, she will be pursuing her J.D. at her dream law school in order to work with marginalized and at-risk youth. In the future, she hopes to continue to utilize her love of researching and writing as an outlet in her daily life.

Tavy Edwards Tavy (she/they) is a 19 year old freshman at Texas State University, majoring in pre-nursing. They hope to one day become a psychiatric nurse.

Ashton Giesecke Ashton (she/her) is a senior English major with a creative writing emphasis, and a journalism minor. She's loved writing and reading ever since she was a young child, which is the main reason she decided to study English. Writing is tough, but rewarding, especially because it gives her the chance to tell stories that she doesn't often get to hear. Her stories are about characters coming to terms with their sexuality, which is a bit reflective of her own struggles with her identity as a lesbian. She aspires to continue to create stories with complex LGBTQ+ characters, and she's looking forward to seeing what other queer authors write in the future.

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Claudia Monique Gomez Claudia (She/Her/Hers) is a first-generation college student studying Microbiology with a Pre-Medical Concentration. Currently, she is a 4th year Senior closely anticipating graduation this semester. She is an aspiring screenwriter who finds the little time between being a PACE Peer Mentor, a STEM Tutor, and fulltime STEM /Pre-Health student to express her multiple, underrepresented identities and personal experiences through her writing.

Jy’Auna Grant-Lenoir Jy'Auna (She/Her) and is a senior at Texas State University majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing.

Rowan Hahn (they/them) is a senior Mass Communications Digital Media Innovations major with a minor in writing and honors studies. They also are an officer in the Comedy Association and are the President of ANTS (Advocates for Neurodivergence at Texas State)

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Karina Harchandani Karina (she/her) is an undergrad Public Relations major at Texas State with a minor in Writing. She spends a lot of her free time journaling and writing poetry. Karina one day hopes to publish a poetry book. The inspiration for “Sugar and Ash” came from a spoken word poetry she heard called “Honey and Glass.” The poem is her response.

Kyle Homrighausen Kyle is a junior marketing major and radio DJ at KTSW. He’s an aspiring screenwriter and likes creating poems and short stories in his free time.

Shirin Khosrowpour Shirin was born and raised in Austin, Texas. She is an English major at Texas State, with a minor in communications. Her hobbies include reading, writing, photography, and learning languages. Shirin is extremely passionate about keeping a discussion open about mental health awareness, and diverse representation in literature. This is Shirin's first published work, and she is looking forward to much more.

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Nicco Muegge Nicco is from Houston, Texas and is a English major at Texas State. His inspirations for all of his work are the following: Taymor McIntyre, Slavoj Zizek, Abbas Kiarostami, and Madisen Gummer.

Emmy Newman Emmy is a graduate student at Texas State University pursuing an MFA in Poetry. She has been published in journals such as Sudden Denouement and The Eckleburg Project. Her poetry leans heavily on creating visceral images and controlling sound by combining spoken word and “paper poetry” style.

Eric Newswanger Eric is a senior accounting student at Texas State University. He takes pride in his work as a student, as a young professional and as a novice photographer. Eric has been interested in photography since his stepfather taught him how to use a camera when he was 11. Starting with photos of his siblings' sporting events, he slowly blended it with his preferred hobby, the great outdoors. Most of Eric's works focus on small flora and fauna. The world is a big place, fail to look closely and you'll miss the best parts.

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Tayler Palmer Tayler (She/Her) is majoring in Studio Art and receiving her EC-12 Teaching Certification. She is in her senior year and graduating this May. Her art Instagram is @arttay__ where she is always post new projects and artworks.

Sarah Rose Sarah (she/her/hers) is an M.A. student in rhetoric and composition. She has a B.A. in environmental studies with an ecology focus. Her current academic interests are postcolonial and ecofeminist rhetorics.

Garrett Snyder Garrett (he/him) is a sophomore English Major, fiction writer, and amateur sprinter. His favorite Prince song is 'The Ladder,' and his dog turns twelve soon.

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Gonzalo Tovilla Gonzalo is a senior student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Advertising. When he is not in dilly dallying in a late night rendezvous, he spends his time reading and writing. He also deeply enjoys photography and film. His writer crushes are Sylvia Plath and Amber Camus.

Megan Shelton Megan (she/her/hers) is an English Literature major with a Creative Writing focus. She is a senior at Texas State, and is excited to continue writing professionally after she graduates at the end of the Fall 2021 semester. Megan writes from the heart, translating her personal experiences onto the page. Her work that appears here, The Court of Mab, is based on real events, and she hopes that it serves as an inspiration for others to use the dark times in their lives to create shining works of light

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Persona 2021  

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