GUEST JUDGES Lena Dunham
Dorothea Lasky Sam Lipsyte
ÂŠ Quarto by Quarto Literary Magazine Quarto accepts literary and visual art submissions from current Columbia University undergraduates. Submissions accepted at email@example.com and columbiaquarto.com. All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon publication.
QUARTO Vol. 65 2014 Literary Magazine of the Columbia University Undergraduate Creative Writing Program
TABLE OF CONTENTS Abigail Struhl Supersedure 3 Dreamed Our Funeral 58
Jessica Toby Gersony Aftermath
Ethan Plaue A How-To for the Production of Space
Stephanie Kelly Snippets of Boys and How I Feel
Georgia Lipkin [sic.]
Eliza Callahan Great Aunt Roberta 12 To 14th St/6th Ave Station Manager, Raaj Lipshitz 34
Kailee Marie Pedersen Mythopoetics | Off icial Selection of Lena Dunham 13 Vixen 60 fruhlingstraum 61
Lily Fishman We Came to Float
Yian Pan iris, sing | Off icial Selection of Dorothea Lasky
Maya Solovej The Husband 27
Namrata Gumaste Fishing in the St. Lawrence River
Alia Persico-Shammas A Single Tree in an Empty Field
P.J. Sauerteig The Piano
Ema O’Connor It’s All Red
Eden Becher Holy Roller
Rosa Inocencio Smith Moot Tornado Hunters | Off icial Selection of Sam Lipsyte
Aaron Lubiner Christabel Holding Pattern
SUPERSEDURE Abigail Struhl
Virgins are extremely vicious. Virgin bees, I mean. A beehive can only have one queen. The queen is the mother of almost everyone else in the hive. She is a baby-bee-making machine. But how did her majesty get to be queen? Simple: she stung her rivals to shreds. It takes a virgin bee to know a virgin bee. To know each other, the virgins must touch. Press abdomen to abdomen, tender as a waltz. With recognition comes stinging, as long as fifteen minutes or as short as five. But at the end, only one is left alive. A virgin can’t consider herself safe even in her own cell. Her home can become her grave, if another virgin bee breaks in to kill her. To an outside observer, the only sign: a jagged divide in a cupped cell’s side. In the human body, cells divide by mitosis. Mitosis helps your body grow, and also heal, replacing damaged cells with new ones. This is so you can experience pain without loss. Can heat become work without loss? This is a thermodynamics tangent. The answer is no. All forms of transformation entail lost. Control is lost with certain diseases. For example, cancer. The cells divide in the darkness and keep on dividing. My mother had breast cancer, a rare type that can only be detected by ultrasound. She was lucky it was even found. Though eventually it proved unnecessary, she considered a mastectomy. In fact, a double mastectomy, an investment for the future. “The indignity,” she said, or something like it. Looking down at her chest: “They were so small, anyway. All they ever did was harm.” Harm is my inheritance. I have the same flat chest. The same high risk of cancer. The tendency to be too cerebral. To be competent when it comes to bureaucracy. To be incompetent at everything else. To give too much advice to others without taking it myself. To control what can’t be controlled. To sting the hand that feeds me. Bees don’t inherit the crown; they are fed into royalty. They are just any old larvae until worker bees pump them full of royal jelly. If a queen dies suddenly, leaving no successors, worker bees flood a random cell. The queen-to-be floats on the swell. A fetus floats in the womb, learns balance only after tumbling. The fetal head grows to be half as big as the body. This is why fetuses look a lot like aliens. With every breath, the lungs expand. It is not
ABIGAIL STRUHL 3
like life: breathing is not for survival, just for development. The fetus is twitchy. Bones are soft and bendy, like straws. The eyes open in utero. They are unpigmented and look blank. In the hive, cells make walls of blank yellow eyes. Virgins grow in separate cells, cells that break up the harmony of the honeycomb. Round, interruptive, like tumors. The virgin bees grow with their heads down, and the worker bees stop up their cells with wax. The virgin chews her way out. The beeswax lid swings open, and a virgin bee is born. The cell is left behind. So much empty casing. My mother nearly died when I was born. I was due in May, but attempted to be born in February. For two months of bed rest, she was immobilized. Mold polluted the water in the pitcher at her bedside. When a queen bee is stung, she is immobilized for fifteen minutes. The winning queen continues to sting. She twists the knife when already there’s no life. “You’re a slut,” my mother says to cut me. Other times, she sits down on the edge of my bed and puts her hand on my shoulder: “I had so many hang ups,” she says. “You’re so far ahead of me.” In the case of virgin queens, the bee who is more advanced in years tends to triumph. In the case of mated queens, the opposite. But mated queens fight only in experimental conditions. I am obligated to shoot my mother in the condition that she becomes my grandmother. “If I ever get like that, put a bullet in my head,” she made me promise many years ago. My grandmother had depression and dementia, agoraphobia and Parkinson’s disease. Sometimes she lashed out, accusing my mother of not wanting to spend time with her, of wanting to kill her. Sometimes she asked my mother to help her die. She felt very keenly the indignity of being unable to get up and go to the bathroom by herself. She could barely move for shaking. Some days it seems my mother can barely move for joint pain or for fear of slipping and falling. She groans when she moves from standing or sitting, or sitting to standing. She lashes out often. Tells me she’s happy I’m home, then demands I leave. So I leave as often as I can. When a queen gets older, the worker bees demand she steps down. They cluster around her and sting her out of her crown. At loose ends, the new queen mates with a whole army of drones. She does scandalous things with her casual lovers: mid-flight, tumbling through the air! But when she’s finished, she comes home. And lays her eggs alone.
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A FTERMATH Jessica Toby Gersony
There is no adhesion to time now other than the blue light of morning on deer containing what looks relatable. Maybe inside is a river. I struggle to give what I grow for all of you.
JESSICA TOBY GERSONY 5
A HOW TO FOR THE -
PRODUCTION OF SPACE Ethan Plaue
There is no space. The moon is hung on a branch. No space Tonight like this acorn in my hand or this arrow Pinning back a curtain. If I were to see your hand I would say mountain, but I am done with geography. Who decides on rivers, mountains, organic polymers? O, how I love Spring. O, twice-stepped river, Time’s romantic collaborator, you matter less than I do. Has this ever happened to you? You’re drinking a Coke And thinking about TV or work or videogames, Maybe you see a sparrow looking for seeds and think, That’s really something beautiful or I can get behind that When, reaching into the pocket of your jeans, You find a quarter. And right next to that quarter, A portal. A quarter and a portal and now your hand are together in your pocket while you look at that sparrow. That’s how to produce space / that’s how to look at a sparrow.
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SNIPPETS OF BOYS AND HOW I FEEL Stephanie Kelly
It’s like that slow building of pressure and weight that happens in the center of your body. You try to ignore it as you go about your day, but it’s there. It’s a distraction. Persistent and growing. It makes you sweat, makes your face a little redder—your walk a little tighter. You go to class, you listen: your friend has a midterm, they broke up, and you’re handling it—behind the scenes. But it keeps building—forming inside you and then it starts to hurt. Your jeans—why did you wear these jeans? You try to embrace the feeling of discomfort because you’re not in the safety of your dorm yet. You tell yourself you’re going to be okay, you’ll make it there. And once you are, you can do it. You can take that dump, push out your whole day of agony, and flush it away. I often want to poop out my heart. Let all the emotions building inside of me form into one solid mass of excrement and just forcefully labor it out of myself. Exhale. And wipe. But, alas, I’ve found it’s not that easy. I’m the girl sitting on the steps mentally equating her emotional baggage to taking a shit. I am just about pleased with the metaphor when my fall semester walks by. He looks good. But so do I, right? He can’t tell I have to take a shit. “Hey, how are you?!” Ah fuck, overenthusiasm. “Oh, hey. I’m good, you know.” There is so little I can do with that. So I go there, prompted by the fact I need to find a bathroom stat. “Would you maybe want to get lunch sometime?” Hesitation. An uhhhhhhhhh. “I’ll have to check my schedule.” Same.
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***** I have a very limited recollection of my nonexistent childhood love life, but I do remember the first time I feigned an illness to get away from a boy who liked me. First and last (I think; unclear). I was in second grade Spanish class and we were doing a project that may or may not have been designed specifically for his level of creepiness, and intentionally against my ability to be mature about it. The assignment was to sit back-to-back with your partner (already too much) and describe your facial features to them—in Spanish—so they could draw your portrait. I’m obviously paired with Ziv, of course his name is Ziv, the boy whom I had to tell multiple times to stop caressing my hair when he stood behind me in line and who would give me all of his most colorful erasers as presents so that I had to ask the teacher if I could use pen. But of course I couldn’t fucking use pen—it was second grade. Every time I described a new feature, he would hum in agreement. “Ojos azules.” “Mmmmmmmmm.” When he revealed his masterpiece, it was so detailed, down to my every freckle, I could hardly believe Crayola crayons were capable of such precision. My pupils! How they glistened! It was horrifying. The relationship was getting too real. So I did what any rational, sensitive 8-year-old would do and cried, telling my teacher I needed to see the nurse immediately. For a toothache. Because said malady is just enough pain so that I’d get to go home, it’s hard to prove I’m lying, and my mom probably wouldn’t be able to get a dentist appointment so last minute. Adios, Ziv. I recently found out he’s gay and an artist. Second-grade me was such a narcissistic bitch. ***** He told me he stopped texting me because I apologize too much. He saw it as a sign of indifference and immaturity, of not knowing who I really am, so he figured it’d be best we called it quits. I’m sorry, what? I say I’m sorry because I empathize very deeply with the people around me and their problems, and that’s the token phrase for expressing such a feeling. “You said you were sorry you didn’t smoke weed when I told you
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Jason bailed last night.” “I’m not sorry about the fact that I don’t smoke. I was sorry that you were alone and I couldn’t help the situation by being your stand-in stoner.” “That’s dumb. Why are you bold enough to not smoke but not bold enough to not be sorry about it.” “I guess I was just trying to think about you in this situation. To make you happy.” “That’s your problem, you’re always trying to make me happy— where does that leave you?” “Why are we fighting over the fact that I want to make you happy and I apologize when I can’t do things to make you happy?” “I can’t date someone that’s so worried about someone else’s happiness. It stresses me out.” I have to stop myself from saying “I’m sorry that I stress you out.” ***** It was wet and sloppy and tasted like stale cheerios. All tongue. It probably lasted around twelve seconds before I came up for air and wiped the stranger’s drool from my chin. If that was what all the fuss was about, I wanted no part of it. He was tan and couldn’t see my offensively porcelain skin in the darkness. He could, though, tell I was blonde and naïve and that I wanted to kiss him. I had been holding onto this sacred first kiss for seventeen years—just long enough that I couldn’t give a fuck anymore whom it was with. It had become this thing I had built up for myself, like when you tell someone you have to tell them something later, and they get all excited and spend the day imagining what the secret-that-had-towait-til-later is. They give it so much thought and attention that it gets so big—and when you finally tell them you got the dress you borrowed dry-cleaned, they’re not mad at you for wasting their mental energy for the whole day, but like, they are a little bit. I don’t even remember his name. But I do remember the girth of his arm muscles and his height and the fact that he looked like a sun-kissed, longhaired Jim Carrey. Which was confusing and weirdly attractive. I remember hating him after it happened but still being worried he would get in an accident drunk-riding his beach bike home. *****
STEPHANIE KELLY 9
Via Text “I literally cannot stop thinking about him. His body though. Those arms. Those legs. Those hands. Help me.” “It’s the hip bones that really get me.” “I’m so horny.” “No wait. It’s always best if you wait. Don’t text him.” “You’re right. Keep telling me that. Tell me the most unsexy things.” “Hotpockets.” “No. I equate eating all food to sexual pleasure.” “Four small Chinese women wearing visors.” “Yes.” “Boob sweat.” “I want to jump his bones.” “Sawdust.” “It is so over the top. I want him so badly. Can I send him a video about stuff we talked about or is that too much?” “Hair on the floor after a haircut. And no, don’t.” “You’re right. I shouldn’t. I’ve never been more attracted to someone.” “Crusty leftover tomato sauce in the microwave.” “I feel like a teenaged boy. I’m out of line.” “Old period stains in your underwear.” “I can’t fucking take his smile. Literally makes me melt.” “No I know it’s so cute.” *****
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[sic.] Georgia Lipkin
Three rows ahead of me I noticed a man wearing a camouflage army shirt of the digitized and pixelated desert we are currently at war with. But then he turned and caught the light differently. And abruptly I realized he wore a floral shirt of a tight and intimate pattern.
GEORGIA LIPKIN 11
GREAT AUNT ROBERTA Eliza Callahan
You go into the closet of someone you know who has just died and conjure them in their clothing to decide if that feeling is hollow or overflowing with something worth standing in a closet for to rifle through pockets of sweet-â€˜nâ€™-low of decapitated lipstick heads of heart meds to touch the stain on your favorite blouse and see the water mark where you tried to remove it to see decades of rayon in peaches and ivories to steal something to slip on her ring and find that it strangles you and that it refuses to come off and now look here you are, in the kitchen lathering your hands in olive oil like some ancient hero getting slick for a fight.
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WE CAME TO FLOAT Lily Fishman The twins were married in the garden by the back fence. They found a pair of blue-brown rabbits beneath the tomato plants and Ada promised that if they were married holding the rabbits, they would become them. Dar wanted fur and green eyes and she wanted Ada to have the same, and she agreed. They crossed their hands and held the tiny rabbits in the cradles that their arms made, and intertwined their thumbs, and promised each other they would never lie. After, Dar felt for a long moment that they had become rabbits: she was vibrating in her ribs and arms like a piece of music. In the silence after the wedding, the rabbits jumped from the arms of the twins and hid again beneath the tomato plant. The becoming of rabbits was Adaâ€™s last lie. Dar did not forgive her. It was not the humanness for which Dar did not forgive her but the seeming falseness of the wedding, which Dar had believed in. Both felt as they untied their hands as though they had been cut away from something without pain. They had never experienced weight, but they felt somehow unleashed and slight, and for the remainder of the day they moved carefully and without balance. They went the next day to the edge of the woods, to the enormous sea, because they knew the honeymoon was a day of togetherness. The sea began at the same place where the land ended, at the same plane, but it was the lip of the world. Nothing had ever come out of the sea and nothing that had gone into it had been seen again. The twins could not see past the pure opaque ceiling of the sea. It swallowed things that touched it. They found one of the rabbits and brought it to the edge of the world and placed it on the ceiling and it fell through, soundless. They knew that was the thing to do with something they never wanted to see again. In the moment the rabbit fell off the edge of the world, Dar peered over to see what lay in the room below, but the sea re-knit too quickly to tell. Ada kept a hand around Darâ€™s waist to keep her from falling off the edge. After they were married, they began to sit more often on different sides of the garden and walk toward opposite edges of the woods. At school they sometimes traded milk for milk and fruit for fruit at lunch. In the exchange, they touched hands but were not
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again anchored to each other. Their mother was relieved that they spoke separately and sometimes moved alone, like birds in the same wind. She thought of them as two. They had never understood the importance of one and two, but now there was one rabbit. When they saw the rabbit, they each felt a sense of fear, separately, with their precise eyes and blood. It was togetherlessness that scared them, and they did not know how to talk about things that were felt apart or how to relinquish something without being taken from it. Dar took a knife into the garden and sliced the second rabbit open from its throat to the end of its belly next to the tomato plant. It was the first thing she had killed and the first thing she had cut, but she knew what to do. She took it inside and her mother cooked it with carrots and broth. Dar didnâ€™t know how to tell Ada about the rabbit; she had expected that the separateness would release them when she killed it. As they set the table for dinner together, Dar handed Ada the cups and spoons. They said grace. When Ada ate the spoonful of rabbit her eyes turned green and she trembled wildly and ran too fast glaringly fast out of the house and through the forest to the edge of the world and Dar followed her. Ada ran into the water and floated above the water for a moment, and Dar saw that the sunlight grew along her like the inside of a spoon. There was blood on her mouth from the rabbit and it too was shiny. She disappeared into the ceiling but this time the water did not restitch itself before Dar could see into the room below. As she peered over the edge, color swung into the water from the hole the gleam had made and it turned blue and green and clear, like a wet cobweb, and then she could see far down into the room beneath the world. There were bears and moons and fish, and the room was made for giants. It was filled with thick light and shade that meandered together. Dar stretched and stared and because Ada was not there to hold her to the forest, she fell over the edge. For the first time no hole opened in the ceiling, but the ceiling held her like a bone. She floated, looking down into the room out of which nothing had ever returned. She did not see Ada, but Ada had opened the brim of the world, and their fingers touched in the water. It was quiet, and below, the minnows swam in rings.
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iris, sing Yian Pan Off icial Selection of Dorothea Lasky
i lay the last perjurer on the pressed plot of snow. my pink heart pining for the realign -ment of rank; i am left with jaded grudge. i let my wings down through spring pomegranate branches; they grow cold. i have been through lightning, through appleseedâ€™s grief. i do not want to touch the clouds wet anymore. evening: You call. your voice a rigid window i cannot open. around the altar you finally position, saying iris with violets in your lap: sing.
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THE HUSBAND Maya Solovej
We called our momâ€™s new husband The Husband. We never gave him anything else. He always had to bend to get his tall trunk through the front door. We would lie ready with long twigs, whipping his shinbones once he got over the threshold. Devilâ€™s children, our mom would say. When we watched TV, he would hover over us, never sitting down, casting long shadows on the walls and breathing heavy wet. He would soak up beer like a real husband did and chew his food over and over, smacking his lips. He would drip sweat on our floors when he came home from his run, leaving the door cracked when he showered, leaving his dirty underwear by the sink when he showered, shaving in the sink before he showered. He left big blotches on the mirror when he brushed his teeth and his black hairs everywhere sticking to the soap. Our mom always said watch out for the silent ones and glanced at me, then back at the husband. She always said my brother was born with two tongues. My tongue was in a snare. When spring came, the birds would start nesting in the hedges around our house. If you went close enough, you could see the eggs, green and black marble. We would take turns to stand guard by the porch. Only later did our mom tell us, that was why the mother bird never came back.
MAYA SOLOVEJ 27
FISHING IN THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER Namrata Gumaste
Always the summer of begging, facing the current, waiting for the warm air inside the storm. It changes direction—crash of white, slew of green & then we’re moving again, caught in that space between backwards and forwards. I keep my eyes closed for the most part. The sun looks down & erases me. Simon, I wish you could be here right now. The sky’s inverted reflection, your father’s leather wristwatch, the turquoise stones you bought for good luck. The fragments of you are everywhere. The dangers of the world, you laughed, are endless. The water folds like braids across the surface. You will never see it this way again. I blink my eyes, starting & stopping the stream so many times I can almost make the whole thing still.
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A SINGLE TREE IN AN EMPTY FIELD Alia Persico-Shammas
Pickerel Lake was a kettle lake at the center of a hilly woods that Lenny said was an old Indian burial ground, and that made sense to Adrian because sometimes when he was walking through he’d hear a whistle or rustle and just kind of get that feeling. Other than Superior it was the deepest lake in Michigan, and it was round, a small moon on the Bodies of Water: Southeast Michigan Map that hung in some childhood memory of his. The only beach, nestled in the reeds where little frogs and water snakes and leeches pushed silently through the velvety water, was about as long as Lenny’s white Ford F-150 pickup truck. They’d always pull into the A&W on their way to the lake. They used to come at night for a beer or two, to look at the glaring Milky Way on the surface of the pond, but one night the police came so they don’t do that anymore. This time, it was dusk. The A&W was mysteriously closed, and the two boys’ hunger made the evening somehow sharper, the treeline against the blue and grey diffuse, almost black-looking, and razor sharp. The beach was empty. Adrian felt the sand’s lingering moisture on the back of his jeans. After an infinite or momentary silence, Lenny spoke. “I ever tell you my Grampa died out here?” A pause. Adrian spat into the reeds. “What happened.” “He used to come out here every morning, real early. Like maybe five o’clock. Guess it’d look about the same as it does now, except maybe sky’s a little pinker then. He’d come out here, get completely naked and do laps.” As he spoke, Lenny put out his cigarette and stuffed the butt back into the pack. “No shit.” “Yeah.” Another silence. Adrian sighed deeply, though neither seemed very troubled. “One morning my Grandma starts to get worried—I guess he’d always come back before she even woke up, you know, they’re both retired. So she’s up, worrying, and finally decides to come check on him. Like maybe he fell asleep on the beach or something. And it’s a 30, 40 minute drive from Ypsilanti, you know. On the highway.” “So what happened?” “She gets here and it’s totally quiet, she says. Not even the wind or a crunch in the woods underfoot a some deer. Eerie, you know? She’s
ALIA PERSICO-SHAMMAS 29
walking through the clearing to the beach and there’s Grampa, floatin’ in the water, big old shotgun blast right through his belly.” Adrian jumped to stand. “Jesus,” he wiped off the seat of his jeans, looked around nervously like he’d just heard the gunshot. “That was your Grampa? I remember hearing about that. In the first grade?” “Yeah, that’s about right. Guess it doesn’t bother me too much on account of I never knew him. Plus I heard the story so many times.” “They know who shot him?” “Nope.” “This is a sack of shit, man. You’re bullshitting me. I don’t believe it.” “I’m not, man. That’s the real truth. Never found out how or why. Dad was pretty obsessed. Case went cold though.” It had gotten darker, cooler, and since Adrian was already standing he decided it was a good time to leave. There was a party over in Depot Town anyway. He couldn’t believe the bullshit Lenny was trying to pull. He said he’d go wait in the car and started walking away, listening to his stomach growl and the rocks crunching underneath his sneakers. Better get something to eat before the party. What bullshit. Fucking liar, knows I’m fucking gullible. He slid into the cab of the truck, slammed the door, and rolled the window down halfway. In the rear-view mirror he could see Lenny and his cigarette, the red bulb of it pulsing. The woods were darkening—the woods at dusk being much more frightening than in the day or night. Adrian whacked the horn with the heel of his hand, two of the three hits connecting, making a light, frantic honking noise: an unexpected silence, his fear of the deep foliage around him, a fear he felt in his throat. He looked at the rear-view mirror again. It was so dark now that Lenny seemed to have transformed into a small boulder, his knees pressed against his chest, his head resting on his shoulder. Adrian looked for a long time, until Lenny got up to go. The lake, perfectly round, perfectly deep, glowed mattely, a soft breeze creating infinite miniscule waves, set aglow by an unseen moon. *** Everyone in the small lime-green car flying down Fuller Road towards the party was too drunk to drive. The three girls laced tightly into the back seat had just finished the last of the beer, sitting on their grey stucco porch on Division Street. The house was seated pleasantly by a sloping brick road on the Old West Side. Their view from the porch was of the Catholic elementary school. The school was dark and the sky was dark, and when Jeff arrived in the passenger seat of the lime-green car, screeched to a halt by the unknown driver, one of the three girls already felt in her stomach the salty crackle of anxiousness. The three girls filed into the back of the lime-green car and Jeff
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introduced the driver to them, though he did not say hello in return— he was already speeding down the hill, making a hairpin turn onto Maiden Lane. His face was shadowed, and each girl in the back seat imagined a different man, a man they had seen in their nightmares whose recklessness would keep them from ever seeing the next morning’s rain. No words were exchanged, but it was evident to the anxious girl that instead of continuing on Fuller Road all the way to their destination, they were to take the scenic route, a winding clay road sleeping peacefully at the bottom of the night air’s dark lake until the lime-green car came roaring through. The driver had taken three hits of ecstasy and drank an amount trivial within the bigger picture of his drinking problem. He repeatedly swiped two of the tires against Fuller Road’s grassy median. By the time the car was swerving through the tree-tunnels of the scenic route, it was going almost 100 miles per hour. The anxious girl, as well as her two friends, knew that they were going to die that night, in that horrible lime-green car, listening to a swampy, bass-heavy scream of a song that, had it been assigned a color, would probably be lime-green. The three girls held onto one another tightly. The anxious girl considered a series of regrets. The second girl, squeezed into the small middle seat because she was the smallest, considered the possibility of surviving the inevitable crash, what with her placement within the car. She checked her seatbelt. The third girl, arguably the drunkest of the three, felt only a mild fear, as if the dread of the other two girls glowed outwardly and onto her. She was just lightly bronzed with terror. The car ride to the party in Ypsilanti did not end with the limegreen car smoking in a runoff ditch, or wrapped around a light pole, or crumpled and shaken to dust at the hands of a pair of oncoming headlights. The girls exited the car safely, under the mustard-colored lamps of a dirt parking lot, across the street from their destination. They begged the driver to exercise caution on the ride back, and, although he had to be reminded various times, he happily obliged. Jeff, heavily stoned, was surprised at the three girls’ fear, claiming the ride had been wild before becoming deeply distracted by the promise of more beer on the other side of the road. *** The closest Jeff had ever gotten to Lenny was at the party in Depot Town. He remembers the physical space, but not the climactic heat of the perfect moment. The two of them observing the party from the roof, their heels and knees tucked close into them. The roof existed on the same Earth as the party below but was as private a world as when a child finds a cavern beneath the starry roots of a massive tree, and the ground forgives his weight with its peaty bounce. The longing that snaked around Jeff’s body in waves of alternating
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numbness and pain loosened its grip, and gave way to a deep clarity. He thought about a documentary on scuba divers he once saw and how, where the salt and fresh water stratified, it looked as if the divers floated in mid air, above the water. He had shimmered soundlessly under the water of his pain for a long time. He had been floating, and also drowning, but now had broken the surface, fully heavy on land and soaked with water. He had to have known. Lenny had to have seen the small animal in Jeff, dying for just one glance of tenderness. That is why he stood and loped along the slant of the roof to the edge furthest from Jeff. His cigarette smoke curling and pulsing and ducking beneath the wind. The memory of experience remains, a husk for the excruciating memory of feeling, which, had it been physically manifested, would have slid off the roof as thickly as molasses. But it had not. Lenny stood on the edge and they continued their light conversation, Lenny occasionally pointing out a fuckable girl standing in the crowd of the party, Jeff nodding with approval. Every last thread of smoke pulled into the hopeless night. The three girls got a ride in the lime-green car. Jeff found a floor to sleep on, and, in the morning, jumped in the bed of Lenny’s truck. They were all headed to Pinckney, forty minutes away. It seemed to storm heavily somewhere in the distance—the sky was blackened and broken by fierce columns of sunlight, setting some patch of farmland ablaze through the grey-violet clouds. Jeff leaned on the rear window and stretched his long legs across the bed of the truck. His jeans gathered the pinkish dust that had settled into the corrugations of the metal. He made to cry then decided against it. They pulled into a gas station surrounded by empty lots; the type of grass that crunches underfoot, the yellowest possible green. Jeff hurdled the side of the truck bed and made for the parking lot, zipping his grey hoodie up to the neck. He pulled his last half-cigarette from his jeans and shoved the pack into the pocket of the sweater. Behind him, Lenny shut off the engine and began filling up, and Adrian went into the station to look for a certain candy bar he couldn’t remember the name of. It began to rain. At the end of the gas station parking lot, just before the empty field, a woman sat in a blue coupe. Jeff knocked on the window and asked for a light, leaning into the window to escape the rain. The half-cigarette stunk. He thanked her and walked away from the car to the edge of the parking lot. He stood on a concrete ledge in an unoccupied space and rocked his weight back and forth, gazing out. He began to feel moisture seeping through the hood and shoulders of the sweater. He was wet with tears and rain, his cheeks slick and bristly. The grey sky bared down upon the grass. He thought of a moment when, on one of their drives, Lenny had told him about the single trees that one sometimes sees standing in
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fields by the highway. Why did the farmer choose to chop down every tree, but save that one? What was special about the tree? Lenny said he tried to remember every tree like that he saw. He wondered what was special about those trees. Now, when Jeff saw the single trees, he also wondered. But he had no answers. He did not know why. And, standing there in the rain, he was quite miserable.
ALIA PERSICO-SHAMMAS 33
TO 14TH/6TH AVE
STATION MANAGER, RAAJ LIPSHITZ Eliza Callahan
Raaj, today upon entering your station I found myself caught between two benevolent hookers, dead busker, child lookers. I like to picture your realm as the basement of my mansion a place only my workers see but your palace, in flux, a local serpentine apartment, is, I am sorry to say, in a visible state of decline. What is your platform, Mr. Lipshitz? How can we make this station more Apollonian and less Dionysian? You must be the man in charge of the light dimmer, why is it so low as your diction, cryptic as the urine stains that dance on the tile so many feet above the ground? Your insurance must cover speech therapy? My life schedule depends on you yet you make yourself unavailable your office, invisible.
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You look approachable -thereâ€™s a dash of something green caught between your incisors. I see now, under your photograph, in finer print, that you passed away in the 70s. What is your stance on that?
ELIZA CALLAHAN 35
THE PIANO P.J. Sauerteig
When my mother moved out, She bought a grand piano for her New house, so I could play on visits. I promised myself Iâ€™d never touch it. My anger would not allow it. And now, years later, while my Mother goes outside to smoke, I stand above the piano And press a note for the first time. It sounds cold and beautiful, Like when I was young and fell Through the ice; I heard Angels singing underwater.
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IT’S ALL RED Ema O’Connor
Three months after Nadine died, she turned up in her friend’s bedroom one night and began unwrapping herself. Or, more accurately, opening her skin and ribs, right down the middle, like a medical dummy or a wardrobe. She was standing—floating?—in the corner of her friend’s dorm room at the time. The room was very dark, but a glow of red light spotlighted her appearance from no specific source. She stood and looked at her friend in the bed and said, “Tell my mother that I was intimate with a man before I died.” Or at least, this is how it was recounted to her mother. Knowing Nadine, it was probably phrased more like, “Hey guess what? I boned that hot dude I liked!” Or, if she was in a particularly romantic mood, something like, “Tell my mother I made passionate love to a man under the stars, and it was gorgeous.” After making one of these three announcements, she put the ends of her fingers in the middle of her stomach, just above her small, slightly rounded belly, and opened herself up along her happy trail, revealing glowing guts and a beating heart. In spite of losing their wrapping, her internal organs stayed in place. This appearance was very well timed. Only a week before, Nadine’s mother had asked this friend if Nadine had had any lovers in Yosemite. The friend did not respond at the time, but after this appearance she told Nadine’s mother, Pam, immediately, well, the next morning, and Pam told me a few months later. The first time I met Pam was when Nadine and I were fifteen. We were in the kitchen of their old house on the eleventh floor of 111th Street, sometime late at night. We had been baking brownies and were probably high, giggling about one thing or another, maybe making silly videos on her laptop. Nadine liked doing this. Suddenly Pam came bounding in, dressed in nothing but a black thong and tight tank top, her large fake breasts only bouncing ever-so-much, her long-fringed wig hanging over the place where her eyebrows should have been. She was sixty-five but came into the kitchen like a sixteen-year-old, hopping up onto the counter, getting her bare ass covered in brownie crumbs. She stuck her fingers straight into the bowl of batter and licked it off, finger by finger, saying in between, “So, are we talking about boys?”
EMA O’CONNOR 37
Nadine rolled her eyes in a practiced fashion, indicating that we should not deign to respond. I was embarrassed, maybe for Nadine, maybe for her mother, and repulsed by her aging bottom wrinkling next to my brownies. After some prodding, Nadine gave her mother a few one word answers until she was forced to let out a signifying, “Ma-ommm.” Nadine had a famously squeaky voice, and I remember squinting as it penetrated the late-night, THC-riddled haze my brain had settled into. It got to her mother as well, apparently. Pam threw up her sticky hands, and slapped them down on her bare-thighs, leaving behind chocolate hand prints. “Okay, girls.” But she didn’t pronounce the ‘r’ in ‘girls,’ she is from South Africa. “I know where I’m not wanted.” And she hopped away, crumbs falling from her ass as she went. She was the first adult I saw behave in such a way and I was shocked. Now, five years and a few months later, I am sitting on a couch alone with her in a subletted apartment on 96th Street. The apartment contains less than ten pieces of furniture, and there is a layer of dust on the floor. Broken blinds filter piano-keys of sunlight onto the grey floorboards, and a row of cat paw prints are visible in the dust, though there is no other sign of a cat. Nadine’s mother, with the same wig and the same breasts—yet now with a golden necklace reading Nadine hanging between them—is sitting on her heels, staring straight into my eyes. She is using large, aging-actress gestures to tell me about all the visits Nadine has made since her death four months ago in July. According to Pam, Nadine has made quite a few appearances, big and small, some dramatic and cinematic, like her human-cabinet trick, others tiny and subtle. For example, just the other day, Pam was going to cancel her plane ticket back to New York from California, and the Nadine necklace (Nadine and I had purchased these nameplate necklaces in high school, in the “ghetto” side of Brooklyn Heights. I lost mine.) just snapped right off her neck, just like that. She just knew that was Nadine reaching down and saying, “Ma-om, don’t be stupid, you know you have to go to New York to write this play about me and see all our old friends.” I nod and say an idiotic, “Whoa, totally.” But I am pretty sure Nadine would never say this. She was never very supportive of her mother’s one-woman theater career and would definitely never use the term “our friends” to refer to me or anyone else. I am also pretty sure she would hate that her mother keeps publically uploading videos that Nadine had made of herself drunkenly singing karaoke alone in her kitchen at late hours of the night. But this is what Pam claims. Though there is more, she tells me, much more. A dramatic visit even worse than gut-flashing: Just after Nadine opened herself to her unnamed friend, she
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appeared to someone else, an ex-boyfriend this time. She appeared to him crouched over, naked, whimpering and struggling as if she were in an invisible box. Her feet were on the grey carpeted floor of his room and the joints of her toes were pale white, as if they were pushing down with all their might. The sweat-covered expanse of her bare back, speckled in birthmarks and acne, pushed flat against something as well, her broken spine completely straight. In life she had a beautiful mass of curly black hair that bounced as she walked, giving each step an extra ounce of bubbliness, but now it enveloped her body like some sort of creeping black gas. It spiraled around her legs, unwinding down her back, hiding her large brown eyes and plump red lips as she let out little helpless squeaks. After hours of this, maybe minutes the ex had said, she suddenly looked straight up with immense pain in her eyes, almost a crazed look, and said, “I don’t know where to go.” Pam had heard from her a few times before these sightings, just little sentences here and there, but nothing like that. Here, on 96th Street, Nadine’s mother is really sorry Nadine isn’t talking to her right now to tell me something. She doesn’t know why, she’s sure Nadine would want to talk to me, but it only happens every so often and is entirely unpredictable. I say thank you, that I understand, and not to worry. But in truth, I am actually not so sure she’d want to talk to me so badly. I hadn’t talked to her in months anyway, the only thing we had to talk about was her upcoming trip to India, and I had a feeling she no longer needed my opinion about that. Plus, if she had to do something like open her guts every time she made a post-mortem appearance, she had many more important people to do that for. Like that boy with the sleepy eyes she had a crush on. Last time I saw her we peed simultaneously, she in her father’s bathtub I in the adjacent toilet, and she giggled hysterically then all of a sudden very seriously asked me for blowjob tips. Also, she is dead, and I am pretty sure not actually appearing to anyone. “Have you seen her since she passed?” Pam asks me. “Um…yes, actually!” I say, not really knowing what else to talk about, “The other night I had a dream that I was in a large Victorian mansion-slash-haunted-house-ride, and all of a sudden we started being attacked by vampires, and Nadine came in a pink wig with a sword and that hippie sweater with the people on it she always wears and battled the vampires on a bridge over a river of lava.” This story is true, I did have this dream a few nights ago, and awoke with a deep feeling of happiness and then the closest thing I’ve felt to despair. But Nadine’s mother doesn’t seem satisfied with this vision. I also don’t mention that Nadine died in this dream and dream-me thought, “Oh god, she can’t die again, that is just too morbid.” And yet she died again anyway.
EMA O’CONNOR 39
When Nadine and I were really close for a time in high school, she would occasionally turn to me with squinting, worried eyes, hair billowing, and ask, “Am I going to get alopecia like my mother?” “No, of course not.” I would always say. I obviously had no way of knowing, but it was just what she wanted to hear. She was a hypochondriac back then. Her bushy eyebrows constantly furrowed over some new disease she was convinced she had contracted from a baby rhino she once held in her arms in South Africa. She Googled rare diseases and surprising causes of death all the time and told me about them over our cell phones until she had worked her voice into nearly inaudible squeaks. When she moved to Santa Cruz, she got hit by a car and was paralyzed for six months. Her hypochondria disappeared forever and was replaced by an almost obsessive love of nature. I sent her a care package with Anna Karenina and a rhinoceros stuffed animal. She loved the stuffed animal but never read the book. Instead, she read Siddhartha. She joined a “Personal Empowerment” seminar and multiple nature groups in which she went on sunrise hikes and drew pictures of ferns. She joined a wilderness camp in Yosemite, where she spent all her vacations and tried to convince me to join, I almost did. There, she found a dead hummingbird in a field and cried over it, then a week later got it tattooed on her shoulder. She started taking Prozac. She told me she felt guilty about how happy she felt now because she thought it was just the drugs, but we agreed in the end that if she was happy then that was really all that mattered. We agreed that it could be nature that was making her happy, being able to walk without a limp again, though she still had screws in her knee, and that maybe after a while she could go off the meds and find out which was the cause of her happiness. But before ‘after a while’ a giant tree creaked, she looked up and said, “Whoa!” then ran the wrong way, and a branch broke her spine and her neck. “I know how you feel,” Pam assures me, “About not having seen her yet. When she was appearing to all her friends in the first few months, I felt so left out. I thought, ‘Why isn’t my daughter coming to me if she can come back like this?’ I even thought they were lying—I never believed in any of this afterlife possibility before this, you know. I was never spiritual.” A memory flashes to mind of Pam sitting on a couch four years ago with a crystal pressed to her throat telling me about how her seed-andberry-only diet has really made her identify with our primate ancestors. “But then, about a month later, she finally came to me in person. She was ready, I guess, or maybe I was ready, I’m not sure.” Nadine appeared to Pam along with someone else’s dead loved one. The other dead loved one belonged to a “marvelously talented African-
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American actor-slash-writer with the most beautiful long dreadlocks.” She had seen him in a play a year before and afterward they had had lunch. He was simply a wonderful person, she told me. His wife had very recently died, and he hadn’t said much about her at their first dinner, but Pam had talked all about her still-alive daughter Nadine. He had been sure that Nadine and his wife would have gotten along swimmingly. “And it seems that they do, now, up wherever they are together.” Because, as Pam was taking a walk on a windy short-grassed hill in Northern California, she was hit by a sudden burst of light, right to her chest, that—pff!—knocked the wind right out of her. All of a sudden a large black woman’s arm with a pearl bracelet wrapped around it appeared somewhere above her, and a voice said, “Don’t worry, Baby, it’s all red.” Pam turned around and Nadine was there with the beautiful owner of this arm, the actor’s wife she later found out, dressed heavenly in a bright red pantsuit and covered in pearls. They were laughing. Hysterically, really, non-stop. Buckling over as if it were hurting their ribs, almost shrieking, Nadine’s voices reaching those high, nearly inaudible pitches, but they still didn’t stop. They kept on laughing until Pam’s head started hurting and she had to close her eyes and scream. Then the laughter stopped. She opened her eyes and Nadine was right next to her, a wide smile, large brown eyes, and said, “See, Mom, I just needed to find it.” After I make up a job interview I have to get to, I walk the long route home through the basketball courts. I know that Pam is wrong. I know that Nadine has not appeared to anyone. The roundness is too perfect, the story-arc, the last appearance too much of a happy ending, the first too much like an old horror movie. That she found another spirit or ghost or undead person and escaped her invisible box and is now happy laughing in the clouds, knee-pain free on no Prozac. There’s no way, it’s far too perfect. This is obviously some sort of group hysteria, like the Salem Witch Trials I learned about in grade school or someone Freud would give a pseudonym like Dora or Alice to. It is fascinating really, a fascinating human phenomenon of dealing with grief, with total loss of order. An imaginative manifestation of the confusion of dealing with a completely, tragically random event, with absolutely no greater meaning behind it whatsoever except that life is completely unfair and has no rhyme or reason to it, and that I or any of my friends or parents or any celebrity are just as likely to die at any moment as she was, as Nadine was. At least as likely to die randomly at any age before forty, really, then I guess it becomes more likely health-wise or something. Although it makes no sense that a wasp is allowed to be alive when she isn’t, that mice are allowed to run around when she is locked in a ceramic urn, that someone who is throwing away their life on drugs
EMA O’CONNOR 41
and alcohol is still alive but clean, well-meaning Nadine is not. But it has nothing to do with “allowed to” because it just doesn’t matter in the end, because there is no such thing as ghosts and there are no such things as spirit or universal order or an afterlife, and just as I am thinking this I start dreaming. I dream that I am lying on a piece of ice perfectly shaped to my body. It is cool against my skin, though the air is still hot, and my brain feels calm. An icicle is poking into the back of my head, though. It is very uncomfortable. I would like it to stop. I try to move, but maybe I’m a little bit frozen because it’s for me hard to move. There are figures around me now, coming into view. Blue cartoons, like that kid’s movie. They are abominable snowmen, or mammoths or seals maybe. They come more into focus and I remark that they are humans actually, but that Nadine is not among them. In fact, no one I know is among them, all strangers. The sky grows brighter behind them, and the nice quiet of the snow around me starts becoming invaded by the pollution of sound, of murmuring, of cars, of basketballs bouncing. The icicle in my head melted to a sharp pain, the ice has turned to concrete. “Miss, are you alright?”
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HOLY ROLLER Eden Becher
We were in a pumpkin patch between stars and garbage, my fingers in his lungs. He was too light to stand with stones in his palm, speaking names of revolutions and it all happened slowly until we were knee-deep in New York where everything was too big, and the sun stretched fast, so I hid a note in my nucleus describing a blue tunnel and pale balloons rising to a waning moon above skinny trees and the burning river cause I’d never been good at lightning, the notion that if you’ve got a canon then you don’t need fists, that it’s in your best interest to wear red when wounded. Even though my father told him of the seasons in rapture, passed and passing, he stayed crawling through traffic lights on empty knees, a blinding gesture to the waifish chests of beautiful women
EDEN BECHER 43
and the possibility of a truthful magician weaving through arenas aching of light and distant fires.
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MOOT Rosa Inocencio Smith
The night we lost nationals I decided to kiss you on the cheek. I meant to prove how much I didn’t care. In the crowd, you came toward me with your arms stretched wide and pleading, and we rocked and clung for just a moment, not quite crying yet. I had to push you away to reach the level of your face, and already I regretted the defiance of this intimacy, sensed the breaking of certain illusions between us as my lips touched your skin. I heard you breathe surprise, and guiltily, I turned away. That was years ago and still I sometimes wonder how you looked at me, and the girl you brought to prom that week is still not over you. She is sitting tonight at my kitchen table telling me how she used to love you, and I am tying knots in the string from a box of pastries, not believing she’s done. We’ve had this talk before. Each time she is exuberant: Finally! Finally over him! She spreads her fingers, forceful, fragile-eyed, and I tell her how glad I am. That night after I kissed you I began to look for Nelson, because he was a friend and teammate too and I told myself that kissing him would make kissing you okay. The crowd seemed to move through us rather than we through it, and every few steps there would be someone from our team who was crying as much as I was. We’d hug, clasp hands, high five. Great job, I kept saying. Where the fuck is Nelson? And I still couldn’t look at you. When you found him, back at the hotel, you brought him over with your hand at his back as if presenting him. The two of you stood silent, shirts half-tucked, your ties exhausted. While you watched I put my hand on Nelson’s shoulder, a vague half-embrace that he limply returned. I stood on my toes in my scuffed heels to kiss him, and missed. This summer, you are in New York and haven’t tried to find me, and I keep seeing your face lit in the stillness of passing trains. The girl we didn’t quite betray is weeping at my kitchen table, and I think we all owe each other something, though it isn’t clear what. I don’t tell her everything. But I tell her how the next day we flew home to her over New Mexico, passing tall clouds heaped over U-shaped mist like blowsy brides looping trains up in their hands. You said—and it was the most personal thing I’d ever heard you say—that the mist was rain that never reached the ground. You used to stand there in hot Southwestern parking lots and open your mouth to the sky. You would will the rain to
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come closer, but it always evaporatedâ€”the cloud sucked back into itself, denying everything. I tell her, when she asks, that this is how I think of you. All of us like the New Mexican rain that needs to finish falling.
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TORNADO HUNTERS Rosa Inocencio Smith Off icial Selection of Sam Lipsyte
You have to understand: We never understood him. What we all saw in him was the action, the will to achieve it, and it is pointless, in such cases, to isolate a reason. Maybe I was lonely, like all of us out there waiting for the scourge of the next wind, and maybe it was that I had nothing to do—I had been in charge of garbage until recently, when it became evident to the town council that a sanitation service was expensive and our tornadoes worked just as well. But who am I to explain how and why he made it happen? He was a genius, after all, and it was a tornado, and that was the point: a force so strong you can’t explain it, much as you can marvel. I didn’t set out to get involved. I was preoccupied. Shannon was back in town that summer, and since we hadn’t spoken in years but hadn’t stopped for any reason in particular our relationship revived as if cryogenically frozen; we were, by default, still friends, and I was, by default, still in love with her. She came from Chicago on a Greyhound bus that stopped for her off-schedule about half a mile outside Icaria, dragging her old backpack and a beat-up blue suitcase and bearing the scents and stains of various substances—tobacco on her fingertips, coffee on her breath. The town, as towns do, assembled casually for her arrival, scattering the roadway in phone-checking, cap-wearing clumps and pretending to be busy. On the side of the road were littered things we’d left out for the tornado: broken furniture and knotted trash bags; the Adams’ blue sedan that had finally quit after years; the scissorslashed wardrobe and favorite armchair of Grace Keaney’s husband, Bob, who the month before had finally left her for the other wife he was keeping in the city. Memorabilia and waste. Shannon’s parents, embarrassed and anxious, were standing a little to one side, steeling themselves to embrace and absorb whatever mess of citified failure she’d become. I, unlike the rest of the town, didn’t pretend not to stare. She looked at me and said, “Ben.” She looked away and around at the bleached prairie and the windblown magazines and Bob Keaney’s brutalized ties, and said quietly, without inflection, “God. Do I deserve this.” She had dropped out of med school. There were rumors going around that she had accidentally killed a patient somehow, and Lena
ROSA INOCENCIO SMITH 47
Tolliver, who poured our coffee when we sat in the diner, whispered when I saw her by chance at the Albertsons that I should be careful, Shannon was back from a bad affair with a married professor—it took a woman to know, you could tell by the eyes—but Shannon, when I asked her, only said she was exhausted and needed to come home. She hadn’t even tried to kill herself or anything, she said. She’d just decided. She wanted now to be back in the place she had only ever wanted to get out of, and that, from the way her voice caught and lashes glittered when she said it, was the worst thing of all. So I talked to her, and she didn’t ever tell me not to. She spent a lot of time hunched over with her hands scrunched back into her sleeves, staring into space with her eyes gone shadowed and flat. I got the sense, whenever I saw her, that she had been crying only moments before and was now in that perfect calm of apathetic clarity where she could finally speak without emotion, if only because all her emotion had just run out. She looked good, though, in spite of it all. It was like her body doggedly resisted the things she did to it, breasts prodding the front of her oversized high school sweatshirt, her ass asserting itself under the droop of tired jeans. Her hair, clearly unwashed, and her voice roughened sexily under duress in a way I would never have imagined from her clean and clean-cut former self. In short, while depressing to talk to, she was not at all unpleasant to look at, and I spent a lot of time in the early part of that summer sitting with her in the diner just to the left of the spot she was staring at, patiently watching her face until she’d blink and shake her head and smile quickly and sheepishly at me before settling back into gloom. We would talk, when she felt like it, about old times, lame comforting little anecdotes from high school that one of us would always remember wrong. Our classmates were mostly married and settled, either around town or in cities nearby. Laura, a kid we used to talk to, was in Silicon Valley or something, and Dennis, a kid no one ever talked to, was in grad school somewhere on the East Coast, and a couple of people had died in incidents I was fearful to mention. But we were the ones who had failed our potentials—I subtly, she spectacularly, but we had this thing in common. We knew, and didn’t speak about it. We would walk from the diner down out past the post office, the Albertsons, the high school, between the trash piles with their halos of flies that grew taller, more like walls, each day we passed them. These piles were a new institution since Shannon had left. Icaria had never had a reputation, but we were gaining one now for our storms: remarkably frequent, remarkably predictable, zipping down Main Street every six weeks from April to October. We had always had storms—of my childhood, I remember nothing so well as the scratchy, heavily Febrezed loops of the afghan we kept in the basement to clutch when the sirens went off—but it was only in our late adolescence that they began to acquire a pattern, and only at the end of senior year, when the last
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application deadline had slipped quietly away and I was seeing my life all at once as a thing that would have to come to something, that the first tornado hit Main Street and gutted it completely. Cut a swath through our town exactly seventy-two feet wide, gulping up our war memorial and even most of our asphalt, cross-sectioning houses and leaving furniture in the back rooms undisturbed while it ripped roofs and swallowed front parlors. You could walk down the bleak dusty corridor it left and see the houses open like vitrines in museums I’d once planned to visit, or drawings in Eyewitness books: Icaria, Kansas: How Does it Work? I had never imagined such precise obliteration, and I took it as a sign, of course. Not that the town was doomed, which was how Shannon read it, and many others—which was why the Blakeley brothers, who had managed sanitation in Icaria for most of their lives and all of mine, packed up and left with their furniture piled in a truck along with the last of the storm debris (Cyrus Blakeley had always wanted to see the world, and Tom had his kids to consider) leaving the position of executive garbage man open to an eighteen-year-old kid who was waiting to be needed somewhere. For me it was a sign that I should, after all, delay leaving. Should at least stick around to see what was going to happen. Sure enough, six weeks later, another tornado: following exactly the path of the first, it snapped up the fresh-cut beams and tarpaulins that had sprung up in the rebuilding and left us, once again, exasperated and exposed. After that there were more families leaving, more things for me to gather and dispose of. But here was a curious thing: whatever the tornadoes took, they took away completely. There was talk among some of going out on the prairie to search for things, like the town-hall clock and the war memorial, whose value was traditional and, to put it bluntly, too high to get a new one; there were many, especially after the second storm, who hoped for their brand-new beams and plumbing fixtures to be returned to them by a fortuitous wind, deposited gently in the middle of a field like the babies our mothers had always insisted were brought by the rainclouds. Such things had happened before. But nothing ever came back to us from the tornadoes that passed through. Very little, in fact, was left after they did—they were thorough in picking things up to the last tin can and box of tools and book forgotten under a chair. And so the trash that I gathered and burned on the prairie—at least until we made tornadoes part of our routine—was not things that the storm destroyed, but what humans unearthed: the dust from their opened dining rooms, the junk from their garages, their clothes and crumpled papers, odds and ends they always thought they were going to use. I would drive these things three miles out of town, pile them in the place where they had always been piled, and watch through the wavering veil of the flames as they all were transfigured and made nothing. I got to miss this ritual after a while. And so Shannon and I used to walk, as I say, down the pathway of the storm, to the edge of town where
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the heaps of debris became gradually less frequent, where the rotten smells were gradually superseded by the sweet scent of sun on drying grasses, which in turn was taken over bit by bit by a smoky undertone that even several months of storm winds couldn’t quite fade. We would scuff our rubber-tipped toes between the dust and grassy hummocks, glancing occasionally up for threat of stormclouds and murmuring quietly things about failure and weather, until we reached the place where all that I had disposed of had gone. And here, in the center of the blackened cleared-out circle, was where we discovered a man, standing atop the ashes of a hundred years of home and farm waste, staring up at the sky with his hands stretched out as if all that it did was a gift to him. He was called Gregory; it was his last name. He was a meteorological cosmonaut, for lack of a better term; his passion was hunting and riding tornadoes. And he wanted ours to take him to another world, and would we help him? Yes, it was crazy, but you have to understand: it was him, it was the way he could light up a room. A roadside, I should say as well, since that was where we found him. He had a way of shaping his hands so that purpose fairly shot from his fingertips; he was tall, and would stand over you a little too close with his eyes boring in and distracting you, so you teetered on the verge of a step back and couldn’t help but lean in deference to his vision. He pressed all his fingers together like his hands were spears or spades, and he would gesture open-armed with every point, not an aimless waving of hands but an act of force against the air: Do you see? Do you see? And you didn’t, but you wanted to. He had a trailer packed with his clothes and the gear he said he would use for flying, and an intern, Gareth, a scrawny wiry college kid with a water-bug walk who looked a decade younger than I was, but must have been only a few years. Gareth manned the machines, twiddled numbers into a computer, tracked the weather with a dozen quivering instruments strapped to the roof of the trailer, and believed fervently in everything. I laughed at first at his bubbling explanations, the way he leaped to touch each one of the moving parts he mentioned, how eager he was to speak to us in words we did not understand. I could see Shannon twisting her mouth at the corner like she expected him to find something out soon, and was sorry for it (though of course this was her first really noticeable expression in a while, and as such it could really only be a good sign). But after a while we became this way too. His hope was delectable, palpable, and we were starving for it. Gregory wanted to do it all sanctioned and right, so we brought him to a town council meeting. We’d been holding them in the high school cafeteria since the town hall had been destroyed, and it was a good sort of setting, with its woeful blue tables and sticky linoleum, for mob rule in the semblance of order. Not that this was always a bad thing. First there were announcements, motion passed to set a curfew for the
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next tornado night, discussion of possible regulations to punish those dumping trash outside the stormway, distribution of public safety flyers with reminders about keeping your pets and kids out of the tornado path and advice on how to secure your livestock. Then there was me, with my usual unsuccessful speech about the sanitary detriments of flies and the breach in contract leading to my sad lack of personal funding; and then Gregory, who said he was a cosmonautical meteorologist, for lack of a better term, and he wanted to ride our tornado, if we could help him. He was flattering, told us he knew our tornadoes were special. Not just your ordinary airflow phenomenon! Clear signs of the supernatural, metaphysical, extraterrestrial, my belief that these tornadoes tunnel straight to another world! And again his excitement was such that he inspired every confidence. He was beautiful, I guess, bright blue eyes refracting light even under the dull cafeteria fluorescents, and one of those very noble jawlines. The council moved to support him in every way they could. The audience (there was not much to do in town since the first tornado had taken the half of the movie theater that housed the projector, and so town-council audiences were usually fairly large) stood and cheered. How can I explain what it meant to be part of this, working, at last, to achieve someone’s dream? It was page upon page of arcane calculations, graph paper stained with Dorito-dust and coffee, handwriting snarled in the margins like hair. We sat up nights, me and Shannon, Gareth, Gregory, and pored over each other’s scribbled diagrams, trying to figure out how we could convert my unused garbage truck into a vehicle that would take Gregory to the center of a tornado. The idea was that you couldn’t just stand out there and wait for it to take you: you had to have control, be ready waiting for it, and climb up into the eye when it came. So what kind of weights or claws could anchor us to the ground? What kind of force did we need to balance the storm winds? What would Gregory have to carry, to prepare him for his passage, and how could we shape these things to keep him dexterous and airborne? My desk began to look like a shot of a hoarder’s house from a TV special—in fact, much like the ugly back room of Joshua Logan’s house, when the first tornado tore off his walls and revealed he’d been collecting old candy wrappers up to the ceiling—but this was a luminous, glorious, fertile chaos, the crumpled lovely castoffs of a churning set of minds. It was the town, too: Lena Tolliver chalked our progress up on the menu board, offering prizes for suggestions on the problems we were stuck on. Mike Mitchell, who had worked in construction before everyone in town gave up trying to rebuild things, helped us weld a set of braces onto the truck, making use of the existing hydraulics, that would send bolts into the ground and hold us firm there while Gregory launched. The Arts & Crafts Club from the K-8 school got together sewing him a quilted vest that held lightweight heatproof tear-resistant
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all-weather nylon, as well as all their love. And Shannon, meanwhile, became happy, as no one had seen her all summer, as I hadn’t seen her, because I hadn’t seen her, in years. There was a night when we were alone together, hunched over a schematic of Gregory’s flight helmet. She placed her hands gently around the back of my neck, and said she was glad she had come back, and glad that I had stayed. And here I was with this girl who for so long I had cared about, who smiled and sighed in my arms just a little, and leaned like she wanted to be there. So I said, “Shannon,” and she said, “Shhh, stop it,” and I said Shannon! and she said wait, no, stop, and then she was sort of crying and then I was sort of hugging her, and then she was sort of in my lap and then none of it was sort of, and in the morning when I woke there was her hair all over the pillow and she was curled in a ball on the edge of the bed with her spine showing, clutching my blankets to her chest like they meant everything. And she was beautiful, except she would not look at me. The upshot of all this was that two days later, when we buckled Gregory into his flight suit and set off for the burn site that we were now calling the launching ground, Shannon was not with us. I had called her repeatedly, asking again and again if we could talk and if she would be at the launch at tornado time, until finally her voicemail message said Go to hell, Ben! and clicked off with several pregnant seconds to go before the tone. Gareth’s storm-tracking system was far more advanced than Icaria’s, even now that we could guess within a day when a tornado would be coming, and we were already in our truck and crawling out of town when the sirens went off warning thirty minutes to go. In the mirrors I could vaguely see, through the wind already rising, people flocking to the high school to get seats for the launch. The cafeteria was well out of the tornado path, and it would be pleasant, there, to watch on a projector carted in from the media room the broadcast I would send from Gareth’s camera, mothers pouring cocoa in Styrofoam cups, the hum of the furnace, the warm clutter of bodies and conversation filling the room. In my jumpsuit, crouched in the belly of the truck, I trained the camera on Gregory, who trembled with a heroism such as none of us had seen. We reached the ashen circle, locked ourselves down. The storm came slowly and then suddenly, furiously over us, swirling dirt and debris past the reinforced plexiglass windows we’d cut—I thought I could see Bob Keaney’s armchair go by. Everything shook. Gareth, with his eyes on the panel of monitors we’d installed, kept calling out the center’s distance from us and counting—twenty-nine—twenty-eight—and then Gregory was standing on the ladder to the roof hatch. “No camera!” he said, clambering up, and Gareth jumped to knock my hand on the switch. In the high school cafeteria, under the lights, above the chattering, the
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screen must have gone suddenly blue, a bleak No Signal flashing up from corner to corner to corner. Possibly, somebody screamed, and the whole room held its anxious breath as parents rushed to tell their children surely only the camera had gone wrong. I regret that a little, and am proud of it, keeping them all in the dark. This is what I saw, when I looked up through the observation window: a man standing tall in the eye of a tornado, stretching his arms out, his eyes glazed with light. If the camera had been on you would be able to see it too: the joy overflowing his spread lips and fingers, the glorious wondering arch of his spine, the incredible grace as he raised his hand to his helmet and pushed it off. He looked like a man in the grips of a vision. And who am I—when he ripped off the protective vest the school kids had made him, when he unhooked his oxygen tank and threw it down on the roof with a clang that would have startled had the winds not drowned all sound—who am I to question what he saw? Who am I to say it was not god or genius that lifted him, nor even his will and desire, but only the force of ordinary winds? Who am I to say that he did not simply want to feel the wind in his hair and lungs and skin as he went flying, and who am I to say that that was not enough? In the truck, we didn’t feel his liftoff even as a shudder. His weight on the roof was so little, and it wasn’t as if he tried to hold on. We only heard the roar of spiraling winds grow louder and louder, felt our metal capsule shaking once again as the storm passed over us. Gareth strained with all his limbs on levers and pedals, poised I guess to fight for balance if the hydraulic braces gave out. I sat as still and calmly as I could and tried, for the sake of keeping my concentration, to count in prime numbers up to a hundred. Two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen. Seventeen, Gregory’s oxygen tank. Nineteen, we had worked goddamn hard on perfecting that helmet, and twenty-three, what a waste it was. Twenty-nine, if I was carried off during this storm, thirty-one, would I die and thirty-seven, would Shannon forgive me? It was, fortyone, a misunderstanding; one realizes these things in situations of death, when, forty-three, the stakes are raised enough so that everything, forty-seven, falls away from them and stands stark and clear, fifty-three, in their shadow. And yes, fifty-nine, I had hurt her and yes, sixty-one, I was wrong beyond wrongness but surely, sixty-seven, my intent should count for something and no one, seventy-one, could doubt that I did not mean to love her and did, seventy-three, do so for lack of a better term. Seventy-nine, the winds were howling something but I could not hear it and could I, eighty-three, after everything, eighty-nine, be blamed, ninety-seven, for my failure to understand? And then, silence. We looked through the observation hatch and Gregory was not on the roof. The world around us ceased to spin, colors gathering into shapes and falling solid. We poked out our heads and took great gulps of the settling air. We looked around the tank for signs of
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our success or failure. Any slumped heap on the ground of Gregory’s body? Any message from above: Confirmed: Receipt of Scientist? There was nothing. Not that we had expected it. Odd how it all felt so ordinary, like we’d just let the tornado come on by as usual and take our trash. “Jesus,” Gareth said, breathing slowly through his teeth under his visor. “You think he went?” I shook my head. Yes and no and maybe, and Gareth understood, I think. He nodded, shrugged the kink out of his shoulders, started the engine. Sunrise bled slowly up from the edge of the prairie, the grasses tinging and turning silver to pink as they ruffled in the breath of our exhaust. It was ages since I had seen the place so empty, streets so clean.
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CHRISTABEL Aaron Lubiner
The slip of my dress is still wet because I had to sleep outside again and the elbows of my coat are moldy ovals. I steal a horse brush off of somebodyâ€™s porch and comb out the mud from my hair. I drink copper water from a thick garden hose. I lie in the woods until the floodlights come on and run across the highway so fast I lose a shoe and catch a bit of glass in my heel. Fingernails bit all the way to the quick, and I limp down the shoulder to an Exxon, footprints, like bread crumbs, leave a trace of me. Find a soot-colored quarter in a vending machine and I try and call my dad again, but all I getâ€™s a message that they turned off his phone. Listerine-drunk in a gas station bathroom and run my thumb across my lips and I kiss it and then I bite it and then I kiss it again.
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HOLDING PATTERN Aaron Lubiner
They were still getting by alright. Blankets tucked under their chins and him often drunk and her going shhhhh. He said, Tomorrow we’re gonna catch a bus East and ride the ferry down the river like we used to and when they tell us to debark well, I’ll get on my knees and I’ll bark at ‘em, and baby— Baby? Baby. And baby, if that doesn’t work, well then I’ll bite off their fingers. She had a calendar on the wall filled with pictures of dogs and he pointed at it emphatically. A fire truck went by outside and she said to him, Go to sleep. So he slept. And in the morning, sick, he left her little room and rode the number 2 train south and stood in between the subway cars with his head hanging out over the side and a samaritan grabbed him at 14th street and he thought out loud, Well I Am In For It Now— But he wasn’t. So he took the number 3 train north and that time nobody stopped him and he got clipped on the chin by a loose bit of cable.
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There was scaffolding outside of her place and when he got back he climbed up to the top, but her windows were stories above him. He stayed up there all night with her calling him and him picking up and not answering. He’d stay on the line and she’d go, Hello? Hello? Hello? Every time, he waited until she hung up and that’s when he told her about everything. It had all happened a bunch of times already.
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DREAMED OUR FUNERAL Abigail Struhl
I. At 20,000 feet under, crustaceans begin to infiltrate our gas masks. We realize too late. We mistook the crabs for a rubble of butterflies, ossified with wings spread wide. But their bodies patter hard against our bodies. Pincers ram our teeth. Hole-punching our tongues. Beware: the broken tower and the moat on fire. I seal my lids tight when I hear the claws clatter against my goggles. When the world goes silent, my eyes flutter open to the blinding white. Your side of the bed still empty. II. When the population explodes, we build cobweb towers to the moon, clambering above the oil slick that has become the earth. We must survive: protect the tiny streetlamps rooted in your stomach lining, the yellow sun shining in my blue dusk esophagus. But it begins to rain, fine light droplets falling from beyond the stars. Our palms become chalky, then slippery. With the heavens in our hands we begin to slip down our cobweb columns. You lose your grip as I spiral up and away. As I awake the stars are rushing at me like swords. Your unwhispered words. III. Suddenly it happens that we are enveloped in spirit. Strings of energy float around us like casings we are only halfway casting off. In the mirror world, feet leave no trace. In fact, we cannot see our ankles anymore, nor our knees. One of my elbows floats outside the room. Your clavicle is in another building altogether. My ribs become branches, deadwood arching through my chest. Beware: the broken scrub and the rotating spire. You remove my left femur and lay it outside in the false perspective of the painted window, that grassy plane of perceived existence. When I am almost awake I see your hands begin moving, as if to detach the rest of my body.
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IV. I realize you have never been here at all. It is spring, and over the hill and through the muddy valley, I have been walking a long time. Brambles scratch at my face; the crease in my elbow is cut. There is a house in the middle of the woods with walls of candy and legs like a bird. Inside, beware: the four of staves, the fortune-teller with your face. You place a cup before me. Say, drink it to become inconsolable. I awake alone and know: we will never change our lives.
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VIXEN Kailee Marie Pedersen
Once, my mother peeled her skin from her bones, a woman possessed by the maladies of history. Perhaps she had been born a fox, a huli jing that transformed into a woman under the alignment of stars, her face unfolding beneath the pale sliver of moonlight, her hands small and delicate, but smaller still her broken feet that had once been fox-paws, bent and twisted. She had spent her whole life among humans, encasing herself in a silk mother-of-pearl qipao that glittered faintly with stardust, those slender human limbs that drove men to madness, and a shadow that was persuaded to take a womanâ€™s shape. At night she would take off her dress and become whole again a fox-woman with her vulpine eyes, vanishing into her own body, the lines of skin where the Yangtze flowed through her curling arteries, and dripped onto the nightingale floor.
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fruhlingstraum Kailee Marie Pedersen
standing outside a concert hall in a cheap party dress i ask a boy too old for me about tancredi and alto saxophones. i am strangled by my own ambition. it hurts, to talk about opera. i do not know what to say to spring, do i answer in german or forget to take the subway? i am trying desperately to become a woman. it takes too long, this crushing of the ribs, this falsification of flesh. my figure barely the curve of a violin, dreaming in treble clef until i was sixteen i almost still remember how to play. i do not know how to wear high heels. i am young, so young and my father says i will never die. maybe heâ€™s right. maybe i can hold this high note forever. not all tragic heroines have my name.
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In Memoriam: For Leslie Woodard.
Leslie Woodard was a force. She was a gifted dancer, an inspiring teacher, and a wildly talented writer. Her boundless energy, warmth, and generosity touched all who crossed her path. During her years as Director of the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia, Leslie worked tirelessly to create a space where students could expand their artistic horizons, experiment without fear, and above all else, feel at home. She supported the Columbia writing community as a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. Leslie never turned away anyone who passed through the doors of the Writing office looking for advice or comfort, or just needing to talk. She had a sixth sense for knowing what a person needed, and then, without hesitation, providing it. She was an anchor of support with a seemingly endless supply of lessons about life, writing, and everything in between. These lessons live on in the students she taught, the colleagues she worked with, and all those she cared for during her time here. Anyone who encountered Leslie learned something from her. Many of her former students are now teaching themselves, using her wise words to guide a new generation of young writers. That is the legacy of any good teacher, and Leslie was the best. She will be deeply missed by many.
Executive Editors Jianna S. Maarten Sarah Scarr Managing Editors Agustin Aguilar Kevin Liu Visual Editor
Events Editors Brooke Robbins Kylie Warner Outreach Editor
Staff Editors Heather Akumiah Camille Baptisa Grace Betz Brendan Donley Stefanie Deangelo Drew Grauerholz Mike Gravagno Chantal McStay Ingrid Nelson Joel Ramirez Sarah Ramos Lizzie Valverde Faculty Advisor
COPYRIGHT Quarto accepts literary and visual art submissions from current Columbia University undergraduates. Submissions accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org and columbiaquarto.com. © Quarto by Quarto Literary Magazine All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon publication. Cover photo courtesy of Linh Nguyen.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS To our guest judges: Lena Dunham, Dorothea Lasky, and Sam Lipsyte, Thank you for the generous donation of your time and discerning taste. To Dorla McIntosh, your tireless support has been invaluable. A special thanks to Ed Delgado for his time and efforts. To the Creative Writing Department for providing Quarto’s staff with the space, resources, and opportunity to showcase the writing of Columbia’s undergraduates. Thank you to the writers and artists who submitted their work. And finally, thank you readers for encouraging the artistic expression of Columbia’s undergraduate literary community.
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