Cover image: Yisha Sun, M.A. illustration student, Qingdao, China .
Introduction At the Savannah College of Art and Design, creativity knows no bounds. Offering more than 100 degree programs—the most diverse assortment at any art and design university—SCAD is uniquely positioned to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for careers in thriving, in-demand fields. People from all over the world choose the SCAD writing program because of its widely published faculty, comprehensive curriculum and high employment rate. SCAD offers unmatched resources such as Ivy Hall, a hub for distinguished visiting scholars-in-residence, lectures and literary salons. Through the Ivy Hall Writers Series, students receive coaching from such acclaimed writers as Elmore Leonard, Augusten Burroughs and Jeannette Walls. Our writing students are immersed in a learning environment that exposes them to varying creative styles, formal and informal techniques and journalistic approaches. The curriculum provides a foundation in visual art and art history courses that enrich observational sensibilities and enlarge the writer’s ability to describe and narrate. Students also develop an understanding of design and computer applications to prepare for work with multimedia and new media content—skills that land jobs. When you view the work in this volume, you’ll see poems, essays, stories and plays that represent the best work selected from the writing major and creative writing minor. These items reflect the talent, hard work, and unique and authentic voices of our students.
SCAD students often finish their degrees with publication credits to their names and are prepared to work as copywriters, editors, novelists, news writers, humorists, social media marketers, Web content writers and critics. Our students have been hired to write for such media outlets as Vanity Fair, Time magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Southern Living, Vice, Oxford American, Marie Claire and Paste Magazine. Some have found literary agents and sold books and book proposals even before graduation. The pieces we have chosen for this issue of Artemis reflect the dedication of an outstanding faculty that includes bestselling novelists, authors of creative nonfiction, memoirists, journalists, columnists, bloggers and writers who have their work featured in noteworthy publications around the world. Through their industry connections, SCAD professors cultivate contacts that will lead students to rewarding careers. We invite you to experience the truly amazing work presented here and see for yourself why students come from all over the world to study at SCAD.
Faculty editors Mary C. Kim James Lough, Ph.D. Angela M. Brandt Dennis Randall, Ph.D. George Williams, Ph.D.
Table of contents NOTHING EVER HAPPENS AT NIGHT..............................................................................14 Fiction by Asi Ben-Avraham
BOTANICAL BENEFITS OF INSANITY..............................................................................17 Nonfiction by Tyler Owens
BAD WEATHER...................................................................................................................... 22 Poetry by Helen O’Connor
THE BEGINNING, THE END.................................................................................................24 Nonfiction by Bea Alamo
TO SAY GOODBYE................................................................................................................28 Poetry by Sydney Schaefer
SUMMER HILL.........................................................................................................................29 Fiction by Anna Hill
CHEWED OUT......................................................................................................................... 32 Poetry by Helen O’Connor
LEFT ON MURPHY.................................................................................................................33 Nonfiction by Lily Avery
ACHES OF DIFFERENCE..................................................................................................... 37 Poetry by Jenna Dousi
ANNE MARIE...........................................................................................................................38 Fiction by August Compton
L IN TIRED DETAIL................................................................................................................42 Poetry by Jenna Dousi
LARRY, LARRY, MY SISTER, MYSELF...............................................................................43 Nonfiction by Zara Bell
TO MOTHER.............................................................................................................................47 Poetry by Jenna Dousi
OIL SLICK.................................................................................................................................48 Fiction by Elle Friedle
DESIRE...................................................................................................................................... 53 Poetry by Sarah Dinnocenzo
THE BASICS OF BEING BASIC...........................................................................................54 Nonfiction by Ciera Bowlby
HOW CROW BECAME BLACK...........................................................................................58 Poetry by Alexis Hagestad
LUMINOUS.............................................................................................................................. 60 Fiction by Elodie Chen
FADED BLACK GRAND PIANO .........................................................................................66 Poetry by Ian Mather
UGLY DUCKLINGS.................................................................................................................67 Nonfiction by Christian Burney
MOVEMENT ............................................................................................................................ 72 Poetry by John Chrostek
SUNFLOWERS........................................................................................................................ 73 Fiction by Hailey Zipfel
WHAT IS HIDDEN ................................................................................................................. 75 Poetry by Stephanie Vélez Portilla
BURDEN OR BALLAST? THE LEGACY OF THE CHILD OF A CHILD OF NAZI GERMANY..............................76 Nonfiction by Kate Hoernle
SNOW WHITE .........................................................................................................................81 Poetry by Kelly Smith
SYLVANIA.................................................................................................................................82 Poetry by Molly Kahler
JERSEY GIRL...........................................................................................................................84 Nonfiction by Brianna Howarth
APOLOGY FOR BEING TOO NAÏVE TO UNDERSTAND WAR...................................88 Poetry by Lily Avery
VISIBLE.....................................................................................................................................89 Fiction by Madeleine Tate
PARADOR DE LOS PINOS...................................................................................................92 Poetry by Bea Alamo
PLANTING SEEDS..................................................................................................................94 Nonfiction by Andrew Larimer
THE COLLECTOR.................................................................................................................. 101 Poetry by Bea Alamo
SMOOTH CRIMINAL............................................................................................................ 102 Play by Matt Jackson
AN IMPROVISED SHRINE.............................................................................................................. 111 Fiction by Maria Alvarado
THE WRITER UPSTAIRS.......................................................................................................113 Poetry by Jackson Woods
NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN (ALL OF) YOU............................................ 114 Nonfiction by Grace Ann Leadbeater
I WANT TO WRITE A POEM...............................................................................................117 Poetry by Jackson Woods
ELYSE....................................................................................................................................... 118 Fiction by Rachel Reed
CENTER OF THE VALLEY....................................................................................................121 Poetry by Jackson Woods
YOU HAD TO BE THERE.............................................................................................................. 122 Nonfiction by Nicole Palpal-latoc
RED SUMMERS.................................................................................................................................125 Poetry by Jackson Woods
HELP ME, MOSES...................................................................................................................... 126 Fiction by Ryan Kelly
MANIA..................................................................................................................................................130 Fiction by Sara Terrell
ON THE OTHER SIDE..................................................................................................................... 132 Nonfiction by David White
THERE WAS A DOOR....................................................................................................................135 Fiction by Thomas Manry
TATTOOS AND OTHER ANSWERS TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS................................ 140 Nonfiction by Brooks A. Tompkins
UPGRADE............................................................................................................................................144 Fiction by Zara Bell
CORNFLOWER.................................................................................................................................150 Fiction by Allison M. Hammond
NOTHING EVER HAPPENS AT NIGHT Fiction by Asi Ben-Avraham
I studied my watch as if looking at it would make time go faster. 22:14. Only seven hours and forty-six minutes left. I turned around to Alex indifferently. “Pour me another cup of coffee.” Alex looked away, pretending to be offended by my request. “Yubaney v rot.” I got up, unaffected by his charming Russian demeanor, and poured myself a cup of the already cold Turkish. It was terrible, but it would have to do. I gazed up at the stars and out into darkness, looking for hints of the Egyptian border. Most nights the border was visible, traces of barbed wire glinting in the moonlight. Tonight was different, as if the night had swallowed everything out of arm’s reach. At least we had coffee. A couple more sips should keep me awake for another hour or so. “This is base.” I opened my eyes. “Patrol 2, this is base.” I looked at my watch—4:12. “Oh shit.” I searched for the radio while still shaking off hints of slumber from my voice and somehow managed to articulate a response. “Base this is patrol 2, over.” What could it be now? Nothing ever happens at night. The radio was silent, as if purposefully adding more tension to the numbing nocturnal silence. “Patrol 2, there is a large group of people approaching the fence. At least 30 or 40.” Either panic doesn’t translate well over the radio, or my frontal lobe was still asleep. Did she just say 30 or 40 people are what? “Base this is patrol 2, what?” I looked to my left. Alex was asleep, his head resting on the steering wheel. “Patrol 2 …” I shoved him. “This is base, head to the fence, post 146.” Alex had been awake for long enough to hear the coordinates. He turned on the ignition, and violently shifted the gear without saying a word. His physical response reassured
me we were on the same page. This is the moment he had been waiting for. Alex loved these incidents; they gave him an excuse to drive like a madman in a hardly drivable terrain. “I know a shortcut,” he said, with childlike excitement in his voice. He steered off the road. We drove through what seemed to be a dried-up river and after a few minutes of being tossed around inside the military truck, we hit a paved road. I glimpsed a barely legible sign rushing by: “148.” We were almost there. I handed Alex his helmet while struggling to put my combat gear on. Another sign: “146.” Alex slowed down. Nothing was visible across the fence, but David’s jeep was already there. The night was as black and as thick as that damn Turkish coffee, foiling our attempts to see past its veil. David understood the delicate nature of the situation; he had been serving in these wastelands for years. In a confident voice David yelled, “Flares!” Four consecutive flare rounds were shot into the night sky. I traced their hiss across the border and followed their trajectory as they levitated in the night. In the light of the glowing orbs, everything around me started slowing down, as if time itself was linked to the slow motion of the flares drifting above. The pale light descended upon the sands, revealing the familiar contour of human forms running in our direction. Across the fence, the evenly spaced Egyptian guard towers were illuminated by the flares. The monochromatic yellow glow had alerted their soldiers of the refugees’ attempt to cross. The Egyptians had their orders. They opened fire upon the shifting shapes in the night. This isn’t like in the movies, I thought to myself. There were no flashes of light, flames or smoke. Only the cries in unrecognizable tongues. “Take cover,” David’s voice echoed across the desert. The confidence vanished from his voice as he witnessed the consequences of his orders. I stood motionless. Somehow I knew the bullets couldn’t hit me. They wouldn’t, they were aimed at the Sudanese stampede. The refugees were close now. They were no longer shapes stirring in darkness. I was close enough to see their eyes filled with terror and their bare limbs mutilated by the barbed wire as they climbed the fence. They ran past me, as if I was not part of their world. Much like the bullets, they had another objective. The figures behind me vanished into darkness. As the last flare dissipated, all that was left were the bodies of those who had fallen onto the sand. Those who would never make it across. I looked at my watch. It was 6:00. My shift had just ended.
Under the high noon sun, my mind drifted back to the massacre. The door to David’s office was open. On the desk lay the completed operational report from last night. “Summary: No unusual activity. Injuries/Casualties: None.”
BOTANICAL BENEFITS OF INSANITY Nonfiction by Tyler Owens
In the months following my “coming-out letter” (written with such horrid handwriting that I ended up having to read it aloud to my parents anyway—that was fun) I found no one to talk to about what I was feeling. See, we humans have this tendency to speak back when spoken to. And, turns out I really didn’t want anything to do with two-sided conversations at the time. My parents, my friends, my fellow members of the LGBTQ community all did a fine job of saying exactly what I did not want them to say. I grew impatient and frustrated. I had one summer left in Texas before leaving for college and I wanted answers about who I was and what it meant to be out. A novice gardener at that time, I took the next natural step and began confiding my questions and uncertainties in plants. Yes, I spoke with medical professionals about this and on the whole we agreed that the entire affair was quite funny. My mother and father turned their eyes to my conversations with foliage and my plants did something unusual: they talked back. Now, the flora won’t stop talking. Again, yes—my psychiatrist knows about this. He thinks it’s odd, too. But I think he’s odd, so it all balances out. Anyway, the plants ended up giving me some fairly solid advice. When I talk about my “plant conversations,” I’m often taken for a botany student or, my personal favorite, a witch doctor. I am neither. I own only one book on botany and am content to leave the dark arts to themselves. Along with gardening, and risking the impression of insanity by whispering to greenery, I write. The following is a record of one of my dealings with the plants back home in Texas. May 31, 2013: “Hey, look here, the birthday boy graces us.” The Tomato plant had been getting a little terse since the temperatures began to top ninety. 17
“Good morning.” I was in no mood for the Tomato’s sass. He must have noticed my demeanor; dropping the tough beefsteak-tomato act, Tomato spoke as the little cherryheirloom vine he was. “What’s wrong?” he asked me. “Do you know how old I am today, Tomato?” I gave him no time to respond before saying, “Nineteen. Nineteen and single, a death sentence according to the Internet. And every straight, gay or anything-else type of person.” Tomato offered his age-old proverb of “Ah, fuck ’em.” I stared at the plant. For six years I made my home in “the closet,” now I was out. And talking to plants. Wonderful. “Do you know how old I am?” Tomato asked me. “A few months?” “Four months. And how much fruit have I given you?” I counted in my head. “Um, four, maybe five berries?” “Exactly. Four months and just four little baby-fruits to show for it. And am I in tears? Hell no. You say you want more tomatoes, I say get your own damn tomatoes. I don’t worry about it, you know?” “What are you playing at?” Tomato was like an elderly man at times: he said a lot, and most of his words seemed important, I just couldn’t make out half of them. “I’m saying that wasting your birthday, or any day worrying about what some guy is gonna think of you because you’re single, seems dumb to me.” “I’m not worried over ‘some guy.’” I paused, trying to decide what, or who, I was so distraught over. “I’m worried about when I meet ‘some guy.’ My parents are the only family I’m out to and they didn’t sound too keen on me coming out to anyone else. So, what? I go to college, meet someone, fall for him and then hide him for the rest of my life?” “You think too much” was all the response Tomato offered. He had more important things, like being a plant that couldn’t actually talk, to take care of. I walked on bare feet to the washbasin my parents and I filled with soil and used to pot matured basil plants back in April. Maybe Basil could lend some advice. “You know, Tyler, Tomato’s right.” Basil was soft spoken. Where Tomato was straightforward with abandon, Basil watched her words. “I know. I do think too much. But, wouldn’t you think a lot if you were … you know, confused?” The word “confused” was a kinder term for “ashamed.” I was
ashamed before my loved ones for being gay and I was ashamed before other gay people for wearing athletic shorts, dressing casually and not knowing the songs from Burlesque. “I’m a plant, so I can’t think to begin with, much less to an unhealthy extent.” Basil’s reply brought me up from my self-pity. “Fair point.” “But, if I was capable of thought, I’d tell you to go easy on yourself. I mean, how’s all that worrying, planning and ‘thinking’ working for you?” Basil asked good questions, honest and gentle. “Not too well.” I replied, pained by the truth. “I just don’t want anybody to get upset by something I’d say or do.” My shame would not let me rest. “Tyler, you’re making yourself upset. You know it, too. You’re so consumed with saving face that you’re blind to yourself. And does being someone other than you really help your family, your friends?” “You’re smart, you know that, Basil?” I did not expect to be rebuked so truthfully for my self-neglect. “No, I’m a plant,” Basil said. “Plants can’t be smart. But, thank you for the compliment all the same.” Leaving Basil’s side, I approached the one plant I dared not speak to first: Rosemary. Rosemary was the elder: an herb, but wiser than the trees in all their size and age. Rosemary shrubs grow best in the Mediterranean and I am convinced that the tough plant I sat down next to was somehow linked to a long line of veteran Yia Yias (Yia Yia is Greek for “grandma,” but I think a more appropriate translation would be “bad ass”… Yia Yias don’t mess around). She spoke plainly, with a voice aged enough to smooth any word. Rosemary and I sat in the sun, respecting the quiet. After some clouds started to come in, she spoke. “So, eh, how it goes?” A thick, honey-like accent originated deep in her roots. She knew how it was going. Anytime Rosemary asked a question, it was not because she didn’t know the answer, but because I didn’t. I sighed out my response, “It goes.” “You sigh like old man. Too much sadness in you for young man. Eat something. Take break.” “A break from what, Yia Yia?” I asked her.
“From trying to keep happy so much people. If they happy with you, then they happy with you. If not, then not. So your Mama and Papa, they no like you liking the boys? O.K. Is worse things in life, no? They could say ‘leave this house!’ or ‘you are no more our son.’ But I know, I know, still no easy for you.” “So, Yia Yia, what do I do? I can’t just leave my family and I can’t just wake up and decide to be straight. You know it doesn’t work like that. And the other gay people, sweet Moses, they tear me up. ‘Cut your hair this way,’ ‘wear these clothes,’ ‘go out with this person,’ ‘don’t believe in God anymore,’ on and on. And I’m not getting much help from straight people either, well, straight Christian people at least—so my entire family and all my friends. As far as I know they’re straight, I mean, hell, one of them could be gay too.” I was talking loudly now and had to stop so my parents wouldn’t be drawn outside. If Rosemary had had glasses, she would’ve slowly taken off her little Yia Yia frames and looked at me with force. “Tyler,” she said, the sweetness gone from her voice. “You talk to many people, yes? But you no talk to God. Not really talk. You say words to Him, I hear these words. But they are no your words. You pray Mama or Papa’s words, or your peoples’ words. Where are your words? Let them, the gay people and the no-gay people, think. And let you think. Let you talk, let you listen. No more of their word, I want your words. God want your words. God knows your words, so what for with the hiding? What good it do?” “None,” I admitted, frustrated with myself. We sat, Rosemary content to leave what she said in my heart and mind. “You know, Yia Yia, considering the fact that you’re a garden herb, you know what you’re talking about.” I looked at the backyard, meditating on what flowers and shrubs could say that man could not. Rosemary spoke, “Tyler, what you do when you big man off at school and no have Yia Yia no more to talk to?” Yia Yia’s question made me think. “Maybe actually talk to human beings instead of plants,” I answered. “This good. But still make a time to talk to growing things, yes? But don’t talk to Thyme ... she is no good woman. She make very bad wife.” Yia Yia’s wisdom, though great, was not free of herbal prejudice. I laughed at her warning. “Well, thanks for the heads-up, but I don’t think I’ll be seeking a spouse among plants ... or at least, I hope I won’t.”
“This good, that would no work.” She didn’t speak for a moment. “You find good husband at the school, and good husband find you. If no, no worry about it. You just call Yia Yia, she remind you who you are.” “You already remind me who I am, Yia Yia.” The rosemary plant’s silence signaled my time to leave the garden. At peace, I stood and bent over the herb, made the sign of the cross and said, “God be with you, Yia Yia.” And she still says “And with you” to this day.
Poetry by Helen Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Connor
By the time I reach you a butterfly will have completed 27 experiments, changing the face of a portion of Antarctica, babies will have cried for food or swaddle and Will would have made it another year. Finally old enough to waste himself the way great men do, one lip pressed to the cold edge of a bottle. The storm turns me away and I wonder if it means anything at all as I bear witness to the angry sound of morning and delayed travelâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; How silly I feel in line, like cattle ebbing closer to being processed, fat and dumb and scared without knowing why. The nameless friends I make here hold the space between you and I, misfits, couples racists keeping me company before I crawl into the open arms of the horizon, suspended above the physical homes and agony of stalks from room to room. By the time I touch down you might have stopped breathing. high up with the birds and turbines there is so little air.
While I am here, stuck in the whirring loop of waiting, I conjure you in a seat next to me. I put your hand in mine. with the weight of the sky on your lungs, you pound your chest and say, Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s my baby. Sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s my beating heart. Oh, yeah. And the plane proceeds to cut the clouds, your world and mine in half, torn from our grasp, The love too big to fail.
THE BEGINNING, THE END Nonfiction by Bea Alamo
“Carlos,” I say softly before remembering to tap my older brother’s shoulder, something I always do when I forget he can’t hear me. When I have his attention, I hand him his hearing aid and sign to him, my lips matching the words: “I’m hot. Come with me.” His eyes flash with worry from what I can see in the dim light coming from the crappy desk lamp. When he shouts in protest, I shush him and slap my palm to his bare knee. He shoots a glare that I know well: I can’t help it, I’M DEAF. So I crinkle my nose apologetically and use my hand to signify a lowering motion. Whisper. He tries again: “Noooo, Mama will ge’ ma’.” But I ignore his plight, stand up from the foldout mattress on the floor to let myself into the dark hallway. My brother appears behind me, as expected, his hand lightly grazing on top of my head to follow suit. This is how it is. This is part one of my adventure, my way of breaking out of the walls that the nine-year-old spitfire version of me could afford to do on these vacations to Venezuela every summer. Since I was born in the United States, my parents’ home country provided enough excitement that I never got back in Florida. There are mountains! Jungles and deserts! Authentic arepas and empanadas, not the flaky crap that you find in that one sketchy corner store in that one part of Orlando that no one should ever find themselves lost in, even with their parents. It’s here, a dream, the month out of the year where I can let my imagination soar as far as the Sierra Nevada would let me, even if my body would never find itself with its seat belt unbuckled in the back of a red minivan. But I wouldn’t care for anything Venezolano if I didn’t have my partner in crime, my sidekick, Carlos. To be fair, he usually hates tagging along and taking part in 24
my mischievous antics; Mom orders him to keep an eye on me since she knows he has this annoying penchant of being “good” and therefore will never break the rules. But I think as the years pass by, he develops a devilish streak that almost parallels mine, coming up with new ideas and characters for our stories that have us pushing the borders of what we can or can’t do. I know, even at a young age, that Venezuela is dangerous. Dad always goes on about how he took a job opportunity in North Carolina as soon as it was available, packing everything to take his wife and three-year-old son to the United States right before I was born. I can leave my car unlocked here on accident and still see it in the driveway the next morning, he’d say to me during one of his rants. You have no idea how lucky you are. It was bad in my hometown back when your mamá and I were kids. Hugo Chavez became president in 1999, which is around when my earliest memories of Venezuela begin. He’s also the reason for the government’s fall, according to Dad anyway. God forbid I try to walk to the grocery store down the street to buy cachitos alone, even with my basic knowledge of Spanish (I used to walk in the streets all the time with no problems, even younger than you are now). I’m stared down as if I’m a piece of meat. But despite the corruption, Dad speaks of his time in Venezuela fondly. He’s patriotic toward North America, but his heart lives in the South. He still has hope for his home. We reach the kitchen and I find a lukewarm two-liter Coca-Cola on the counter. I twist its cap slowly and cover the top to muffle the sound of air escaping, take a swig of the soda, then hand it to Carlos. It doesn’t help our sweating, our flimsy shirts still cling to our tanned skin. After he drinks his share, I tap his shoulder, he raises his eyebrows in response, and I point to the living room. He grins, his crooked smile pinned down by braces. Early July on the eleventh floor of this decrepit apartment complex in the middle of Caracas is when and where it all begins. The walls are made up of large windows, the handles to open them reachable by standing on a large wooden chest behind Dieffenbachia plants. It’s our jungle, where Carlos and I crouch and crawl across the tile floor to reach the center of our Terabithia. We didn’t have to, of course; we could have just pushed the leaves. But this is how we play. Carlos can open the windows faster than I can, so he climbs the chest first, swinging the handle back easily. The summer breeze rushes in, as well as the sound of car alarms going off floors below us, the old classic horns that reverberate melodic noises in a loop. The mountains sleep at eye level in front of me, tiny
lights like stars flickering from the houses that line up and down the sides of them in the distance. Carlos and I look forward to coming to Venezuela because of moments like these, the times we can look out for what seems like miles in front of us and feel as worthy as mountains this high up. No one can touch us in our own imaginative bubble. We hold our parents’ hands most times, sure, but when we are free to stand this high, run in the fields at our grandmother’s mountain lodge, drink Coca-Cola behind the bar, and ride horseback up the nature trail with the locals, we speak among ourselves, we create maps in our heads to decide where our story takes place. Who will we be? What is the mission? How will we save the day? Carlos leans out the window, sticking a hand out as if to catch the breeze. His hair barely budges, a bushy hedge that stands without making so much of a dent, yet the plants behind us whip back fervently in the whirlwind. When I look at him against the violet sky, I can see dimples pushing deep into his skin. He’s smiling. I wish he could hear noise like I could, I wish he could hear his own voice as he squeals in joy. I don’t dare scold him for being so loud. This is his moment, so I let him have it, even at the risk of getting caught. It’s worth it. “Don’t tell Mamá, okay?” I sign to him. He ruffles my already disheveled head, then begins to push the window shut while I rearrange the curtains. In our bedroom, we lie with backs touching as the outside clamor lulls us to sleep. I dream of tomorrow, our part two, traveling across Venezuela, from Caracas to the west and back again to where it all begins, in this tiny apartment. We will be new people, with new stories from each place, living twenty, fifty, no, a hundred lives before this vacation is over. We’re invincible, untouchable, in a place we call our secret away from home. This is our story, and right here is where it begins. Five years later, I am back in our bedroom, on the foldout mattress and the desk lamp turned on dim. It’s almost midnight. This apartment is a prison, desolate, suffocating. The car alarms resounding outside my window wail in fluctuations of loud and louder and I have to sit up from my assumed “dead inside” position to make sense of it. All at once it’s too quiet. And now I am hot. I get off the mattress and open the door with no hesitation. The sound of my feet sticking to tile accompanies me as I pass the kitchen to the living room. The windows are still closed with fewer plants blocking the way than before. The room is cramped with furniture and it still feels empty. I’m able to swing the handles
open myself now. The wind is blowing hard this high up outside, rattling the glass, a message from the mountains: Welcome back, let’s begin the game. But I won’t. It feels wrong. This is betrayal. The distant heckles from eleven floors down and cars honking meld into a hodgepodge of more familiar sounds to me: nurses chattering, the beeps of I/V units repeating. The doctor is talking to my parents, avoiding my gaze as if I won’t understand him, Your son died from what we call mucormycosis. It’s a fungus that infected his sinuses … I went on every website the night he died with shaking hands on my keyboard and read online articles over and over again. Mucormycosis. Not even the cancer that got him sick in the first place two years ago. The repercussions of being in remission. Mucormycosis. Found in soil, in the woods, with dying plants. We lived out in the woods back in Florida. Carlos came home when he was in remission. Oh God, we killed him. The awareness of the permanence of Carlos being dead killed Venezuela as well. I am fourteen years old with no real reason to be here. I look down from the window and see people walking, even at midnight. I know how dirty they are. I know that they mug each other with no shame and I know the police force is a piece of shit. The president doesn’t care for his people. He never did. I’m in danger, alone. This is real. I know there is a difference between alone and lonely and I am both. There are no distractions, not so much because Carlos isn’t here to help me on our adventures, but mostly because I feel guilty writing a story without him as my supporting actor. I go to the kitchen to drink Coca-Cola as some kind of half-assed remembrance, to see if I have any faith left, but I decide that I hate the taste of it before I try. There is no reassurance that this country is as magical as we painted it to be. I am angry at Venezuela. I am angry at science, at life, at God, and I make my way back to my bedroom to let it fester, to scream in my pillow and cry to the empty space next to me on the mattress. If it’s going to end, it’ll end where it began.
TO SAY GOODBYE
Poetry by Sydney Schaefer
I think of our temporary home on the peninsula, hot July days setting in. The memory of your feet in the sand. But when it was time to go as always, I headed North and spent all my time forgetting you. But I could never forget that a thousand miles couldn’t change that winter afternoon when even hope couldn’t help us. I always thought you’d wait for me. I always thought I’d get to say goodbye.
Fiction by Anna Hill
Captain Hotdog’s disappearance from the cul-de-sac the summer Amy’s mother died marked the first occasion any one of us thought to make up the legend of the Summer Hill Witch. Death had been on all of our minds since the funeral—the gory novelty of it, the tragedy that had invaded the neighborhood after Mrs. Goodhaven was finally put to rest. A lost dog was a reasonable way to understand the chasm the death had opened up in all of our lives. Captain Hotdog ran away, or he had died in the woods behind all of our houses, and we had never recovered the body. It was no accident—Amy’s mother, or Captain Hotdog. It was the Summer Hill Witch. We just hadn’t known it until then. Four days after the funeral, Cassidy and the McBarron twins threw rocks at my window until I unlatched the screen to find them in my Tia’s garden kicking up tulips in the dark. “Ren, grab your coat. The dog’s gone,” Cassidy said in an angry whisper. The twins made their way to the lilacs. “We’re going to meet Amy in the woods to go look for him. Come with us.” “You lost Captain Hotdog?” I said. “It’s not my fault the dog is gone. I can’t keep tabs on him all the time when it lives outside and it makes its own choices.” Natalie and Adam McBarron weren’t identical, but they had the same laugh. The sound of it wandered up from where they’d decimated the daffodils. The two of them together sounded like a chorus of wheezing kazoos. Natalie was the only one who had asthma. “This time, it chose to go out and get lost somewhere. Now will you come down? These two are giving me a goddamn ulcer.” 29
“It can’t wait until morning?” “It’s a time-sensitive issue, Ren,” he said. “Keep up.” I looked for my old tennis shoes. I wasn’t really supposed to be out after ten, and if I got caught sneaking out again I probably would have gotten a really terrible punishment. My Tia was really creative, too. Once I broke her old china juggling fake fruit in the living room, and she made me go door to door down the block telling people what I’d done. When I’d gotten to Amy’s house, Mr. Goodhaven answered at the threshold and looked down at me like he hadn’t known who I was. It was four in the afternoon and he was already drunk. I climbed out the window onto the roof and down the maple tree and dropped into the backyard. Natalie was jumping on a patch of daisies. I shoved her and she fell down. “Cut it out,” I said. “C’mon,” Cassidy said. “Amy’s waiting in the woods.” The Summer Hill Witch lived in the forest. She ate the hearts of children and adults alike. At twilight she went into the clearing where the hot August air cooled at night and the light pollution from the treatment plant on the other side of town painted the sky purple and blue. She whispered things into the neighborhood, into our beds where we slept. Her hair and her eyes were black like tar. This story isn’t about her. It’s about Amy’s mother, and how she went into the woods, swallowed twenty-three tricyclic antidepressants, and died. Amy was waiting for us in the clearing by the oak tree. She said her mother didn’t kill herself like we all thought. She was looking for the Summer Hill Witch. “The Summer Hill Witch knows how everyone is going to die,” Amy said. We tromped through the pines down the trail on our rescue mission. The sloppy braid her hair was pulled into slapped against the back of her raincoat. “Her familiar has fur white as snow, and it spies for her. She had a daughter, but the daughter got lost.” “The Summer Hill Witch doesn’t show up in photographs,” I said. The McBarron twins were far ahead of us, calling out for Captain Hotdog through the thick summer night. “The Summer Hill Witch sleeps during the day, and she keeps her dreams in mason jars,” Cassidy said. It was like a game, or a secret we were all telling together. We didn’t notice when the twins stopped yelling. Two years before Amy’s mother died, Captain Hotdog came out of the woods for the first time, right into Adam and Natalie’s backyard. He brought us dead newts
and barked at spaces in the trees that were empty to us, but not to him. He was a good boy. When you left him outside all night, he was at the cul-de-sac by morning. Cassidy called him the comeback kid, up until the day he stopped coming back at all. The dog came out of the woods, and two years later, he led us back in, like the Witch wanted. We made it up. We made it all up. That’s what we all thought. Mrs. Goodhaven died in the summer, but the Witch is going to live forever. It’s what we invented, and it’s what’s true. We went into the woods, and the space between the trees was dark, but we kept going, because the dog was gone, and Amy’s mother was waiting for us. The Summer Hill Witch was waiting deep in the forest, just like Amy said.
Poetry by Helen O’Connor
I don’t like my friends and their beat-up mini vans, patchwork clothing and lack of respect for their mothers. Before I met them they’d take trips down my block and pee on all the neighbors’ lawns. I didn’t have a curfew before them, but back then I’m not sure if I had a sense of time. I was in the thick of being young and thinking young. I was bound to the right to ruin myself and any impression of me. Where did the angry go? Their fleeting hearts hung up agitated, they bury pieces of themselves under the porches of others and stand above to guard them.
LEFT ON MURPHY
Nonfiction by Lily Avery
In 1980, my Nana saw an ad in the North Georgia News: “One bedroom, ten acres, well kept.” Though she already owned a good thirty acres in the Blairsville area, she wanted something new. Since she had earned her real estate license in the late sixties, Nana was constantly purchasing and selling property. She was a house breeder. While her friends were playing bingo on Friday nights, she was buying fixer-uppers, flipping them and reselling. Without viewing the property beforehand, she bought “The Little House,” as we like to call it, for $15,000. It was a steal and would probably have brought in a lot more money after renovations. Or at least that’s what she thought. The Little House was situated on a small plot of land about fifteen miles north of Meeks Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Take a left on Murphy Highway, drive until you think you’ve made the wrong turn, keep going for five more miles and there it sits, on the left. When I started driving it was the only place I could navigate to without getting lost. It was muscle memory. When I was younger, I’d sit in my Nana’s lap once we hit Murphy. She’d control the gas and brakes and let me steer the car. Though she made sure that I didn’t drive us off the edge of the mountain, I felt completely in control. There wasn’t much to it then. There still isn’t. A little gravel strip runs through the center of the property, dividing the house grounds from the rest of the land. Driving down that gravel road was a lot like walking through a patch of uninhabited valley with no sight of a clearing. You could tell that something was there but you weren’t sure exactly what. I can’t recall the first time I ever stayed at The Little House. It’s always been a part of me, like a mole or birthmark. I was born with it. 33
When Nana first bought the place, the house wasn’t any more than eight hundred square feet. You could barely see it for the overgrowth of dandelion weeds and azaleas. Inside, the house was quaint but lacked any impression of once holding human life. It consisted of a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and a small space that was meant to be a living room. If you walked in through the front door, you went straight into the bedroom. From there, you walked into the kitchen. Take a right from the kitchen and you’ll immediately be in the bathroom; a left, the living room. Aside from the bedroom, the ceilings stood at an alarming uneven seven feet, some places even lower. If you were over 5’5” then you’d be guaranteed to be standing with knees bent while taking a shower. But, even with the quirks, Nana kept it. I guess somewhere between the wild grape vines out back and the sunken ceilings, she fell in love. As a child those small spaces and low ceilings made me feel invincible. I was a giant, a force to be taken seriously. Whenever we would visit, the world didn’t feel as large. There weren’t limitations to what I could or couldn’t do. I was as tall as I needed to be, as old as I needed to be, as absolutely uncontrollably compact. At The Little House, being less than five feet tall was an advantage. I was the only person who could comfortably take a shower, walk anywhere within the house without bumping my head on something or having to duck under an entryway. It was the one place in my spectrum of the world where I never felt the desire to “grow up.” Nana spent six months renovating the place and by the end of 1981 her niece, Bretta, moved in. She’d just graduated high school and desperately needed a place to live that wasn’t with her parents. Wanting some semblance of privacy in the small house, she closed off the outside entrance into the bedroom. She planted a garden of daisies out front and painted the wood door turquoise. Now it wasn’t the same house that I grew up visiting. By the time I came around, the daisies had long outgrown their box, spilling out into the front yard, and the turquoise had faded into musty green specks. Bretta only lived there for two years before getting married and buying a house of her own. The Little House sat vacant for five years after, receiving the attention of my mother from time to time when she wanted a little getaway in her teenage years. My mother filled the walls with corkboards, jam-packed with torn magazine pages and bible verses. She crammed the windows with vases of red roses and daylilies, shoving fresh flowers in each time the previous ones died from lack of care. When the vases were full of both the dead and living buds, she’d pile more jars around them. 34
I found a few of those jars tucked away in a room that had been added on by a cousin years after my mother used the house. I was thirteen and had agreed to stay a couple of weeks during that summer with my Nana while she took chemotherapy at a nearby cancer center. The jars were made of cheap blue glass and were covered in dust. The whole room was covered in dust. Just one jar still held my mother’s flowers but by that point, only straw-like stems jutted out at the top. I decided to repurpose the room as a reading room, using the jars as decoration centerpieces. When my mother came to pick me up three weeks later, she laughed about the jars but went out to buy more. We ended up with thirteen by the time we finished. In the fall of 1988, Bretta’s brother Chuck moved into The Little House. He’d enlisted in the National Guard and needed a home base when he wasn’t on duty. Chuck was only twenty-two, with an affinity for carpentry. He left the daisies and the turquoise door and the overflow of dead flower vases but ripped every carpeted surface from the house. It took him two years to finish but by the time he was done each room was home to a freshly stained pine wood floor. Chuck moved out in the summer of 1990 when he was called for full-time active duty. He left the vases in the window, the overgrowth of daisies blending into the dandelions in the front yard, the barely turquoise door, the house, sweet with the smell of pinesap. Six months after Chuck left, Bretta moved back in with her husband and firstborn for three years. They didn’t change anything about the house but it was the first time The Little House was home to a child. I was three months old when they moved out and the house only sat vacant for six months. My Aunt Tab and her two kids, Steve and Constance, needed a place to live so they took up residence there for seven years. Tab repainted the kitchen with white and sea foam green paint, sponging the walls until they looked like the interior of a shack you’d find near the beach. Steve added an entire room coming off the kitchen with ten-foot-tall ceilings, a handmade wooden loft, and glow-in-the-dark carpet. He filled the space with old guitars, books and posters of The White Stripes and Death Cab For Cutie. When I’d come visit he’d take the guitars down and play for me until I fell asleep curled up on the floor, the ’80s-style indented pattern pressed into my cheek. No one has moved into The Little House since 2000, when my aunt and cousins went to live in Missouri with my aunt’s new husband. I would visit from time to time with my grandparents up until 2003 when my Nana was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. It seemed a fate of sorts that the best cancer center in our 35
area was a twenty-minute drive from The Little House. So Nana moved in. We trimmed the flowers and opened the windows and made a safe haven for her there. She’s been in and out of remission ever since and The Little House has continued to be the only place she feels one hundred percent comfortable, even when the chemotherapy is at its worse. During these years, I’ve spent time putting old jars in windows and lying on that glow-in-the-dark carpet late at night when my Nana’s vomiting seems endless. I haven’t been back to The Little House much since moving away, only a few times on holidays when I’m not being overly bombarded with family get-togethers. But when I do get to visit, to sit in the loft, to look out the window at the daisies and dandelions and azaleas, I find myself grateful, grateful to be well, to be functioning, to have a small space that will forever be mine and changing.
ACHES OF DIFFERENCE Poetry by Jenna Dousi
A pool of broken vessels wraps around his arm, blue and raised, forget-me-nots. The same arm pulls “Call of Cthulhu” from the shelf and breaks its virgin binding. I wince with every detail, never one for horror or impurities. I belong to romance. My femininity believes only in sentimental adventure. I make believe we correspond. I reach and kiss the garden he’s become.
Fiction by August Compton
It was hot that summer, hotter than it’d ever been before. Anne Marie chopped all her hair off in the bathroom sink and Mama screamed when she saw it. I remember her scooping all that blonde out of the sink like she could put it back on Anne Marie’s head. She shouted at her until her voice was hoarse and then she flushed all the hair down the toilet. Anne Marie told her that she could do what she wanted to because she was going to be eighteen that summer and then Mama couldn’t tell her a damn thing, especially not what to do with her hair. Mama slapped her across the face and Anne Marie cried and slammed the door to our bedroom so hard that the frame rattled and the little painting of a pony in a garden fell off the wall and shattered. Anne Marie kept crying great big crocodile tears even after she’d thrown herself on the bed under the window. Her fingers curled in the ends of her shorn-off hair. “Anne Marie?” I stood beside her and nudged the edge of the mattress with my knee. She didn’t say anything for a long, long time. I watched the shudder of her back and thought that maybe she didn’t hear me. “Anne Marie?” “What.” She didn’t say it like a question and I knew from experience that meant she didn’t want to talk at all. I pulled my leg back and stood a little taller even though she couldn’t see me. It made me feel a little better, at least. “Why’d you do it?” She’d stopped crying by now but she was still lying with her face in the pillow.
There were a lot of freckles on her shoulders and I wanted to reach out and touch them, to try to count them with the tips of my fingers, but she sat up before I had a chance to. I shoved my hands behind my back. “Why’d I do what?” She always liked to think that I was dumb or something just because I was younger than her. I could tell by the way she looked at me. “Why’d you cut off all your hair.” “Because I felt like it,” she said, which wasn’t really an answer at all, unless you were Anne Marie. I kicked the mattress again. There were big wet tear stains on the pillowcase. “That’s not a real reason.” She stood up and pushed past me, knocking against my shoulder. I turned around and watched as she ducked to look in the mirror above the vanity we’d bought at a yard sale right before school started. It was already half-covered in stickers and lipstick kisses. Anne Marie wiped at her eyes, smudging her mascara. “Because,” she said slowly, drawing the word out, “I’m running away.” “No you ain’t.” Even at twelve years old, I knew that was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard. I crossed my arms over my chest like I’d seen Mama do when she and Anne Marie fought. “Yeah, I am.” She dug through the mess of make-up on the vanity until she found what she was looking for. Puckering her lips, she put on the gaudiest shade of magenta lipstick I’d ever seen. It bled into the corners of her mouth and smudged there, like she’d been eating a Popsicle out in the sun. “Me and Tommy.” Tommy was her boyfriend. He wore too many shirts with the sleeves ripped off and he always smelled like sweat and cigarette smoke. He had a motorbike that Mama hated and a tattoo of the Confederate flag on his arm and when he grinned, his teeth were yellow. I didn’t want to think of Anne Marie going anywhere with Tommy, especially not running away. I jumped on the bed and swung my legs. Little flecks of red clay fell from the soles of my sneakers and settled into the carpet. It looked like smears of rust. “Mama’s not gonna let you.” She was putting on mascara now. Her mouth was open and she was concentrating real hard, like it was the most important thing in the world. When she was done with both eyes, she turned around and looked at me. “You think I care what Mama thinks?”
She probably didn’t. I couldn’t remember a time when she did. “Well, no.” “I’m almost eighteen,” Anne Marie said again. It sounded like she was trying to convince herself that it meant something. “I’m practically there already.” “You can’t just up and leave.” “Yeah, I can.” I picked at a loose thread in the bed sheets. “Where are you gonna go?” Anne Marie shrugged. She lifted a pair of tweezers and plucked at her eyebrows. “California, I reckon.” “What’re you gonna do out there?” “I don’t know.” She didn’t sound as bothered by it as I thought she should be. I didn’t know anything about California, other than a few facts about the Gold Rush from my social studies class and that they made all the movies out there. I tried to picture Anne Marie as an actress. She wasn’t as pretty as the women in the movies. There was a gap between her front teeth and she was too skinny, all knobby knees and elbows. “Mama’s gonna be mad at you.” “I already told you, I don’t care what Mama thinks.” She stood up, pulled her shirt over her head and crossed the room to the closet in nothing but her bra and cut-off shorts. “You just don’t understand, Delaney.” “I just don’t understand what?” Anne Marie looked through the pile of clothes at the bottom of the closet until she found what she was looking for. She tugged a tank top on and adjusted her bra so that her cleavage peeked over the top. “One day you’re gonna wanna get outta here just as bad as I do.” “Don’t mean I’m gonna run away.” Anne Marie laughed. It was an ugly sound. “You’d be surprised.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “You’re doin’ a real dumb thing, Anne Marie.” “Maybe I am,” she said. She sounded too casual again. I watched as she tugged a hand through her ruined hair. “How ’bout you let me worry about that.” Anne Marie climbed on the bed behind me. She shoved the window open and threw her purse out first. It hit the ground with a thud. I knew Tommy would be on his motorbike at the end of the road, waiting for her. “But—”
She was halfway out the window already. I didn’t know what I wanted to say to her. I was half-tempted to scream for Mama but I didn’t. “I don’t wanna talk about it anymore, Delaney,” she said. “Just forget I said anything at all, especially if Mama asks you.” I scrambled up on the bed and looked out the window as soon as she dropped out of it. She tugged at her tank top and leaned down to pick up her purse from the ground. “Anne Marie,” I said, “Anne Marie—” She didn’t turn around. She ran across the yard and down the street and she kissed Tommy full on the mouth underneath the stop sign, and shoved a helmet over her too-short hair, still bright in the sun, until they pulled off and she was gone in a cloud of dusty red dirt.
L IN TIRED DETAIL Poetry by Jenna Dousi
Lâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hair curls over his ears, sheets to his neck, like a child. He beams at me through interludes of sleep. I imagine a God would take sips from his eyes. The ground purrs underneath us; neighbor radiators sing out. I kiss him down his spine, and it is morning.
LARRY, LARRY, MY SISTER, MYSELF Nonfiction by Zara Bell
The first few times Larry and I were married, it was more or less for sport. Gaming. I love you. OK, I’ll match that love and raise you: marry me. There was the time under God at the coffee shop across the street with his friend who was a minister; the time in private that we downloaded a generic wedding license from the Internet, signed it and taped it to the refrigerator. I called home and said, Hey, guess what? That led to the time under pressure, with stakes, with an audience—family. It was a hot, dry August in New Mexico and my mother wanted a wedding. The conversation went something like this: “A wedding is not a marriage,” I said, probably thinking that that was the grownup, emotionally mature thing to feel. “But a marriage is not only between two people, it’s about community, too,” she said. “Family.” “But we don’t have time,” I said. We already had plans. We were moving to South Carolina. We had already arranged a moving truck and rented an apartment. This is the way Larry does things. He does them now. When I first became smitten with Larry, spending time with him felt kind of like some kind of carnival ride. Not a roller coaster—there were no extreme highs and lows, ups and downs. Larry seemed to not have a down, or a low speed. It was more like a Tilt-A-Whirl—constant unpredictable motion, action and reaction, centrifugal spin and magnetic pull—and as I look at it now, I was not the only person on the ride. I’d visit him at his office in the lumber yard he owned in Albuquerque, and on any given afternoon, there were people coming and going, needing, wanting, bargaining, reminiscing, bullshitting, laughing, always laughing. I met police officers 43
and strippers, body builders, car salesmen, war veterans, artists, dog trainers, gun dealers, bankers, a Mariachi band—no telling who would show up next. People tended to show up around lunchtime, knowing that if Larry was going somewhere to eat, he’d buy lunch for everyone. Lunchtime, incidentally, around Larry, can be anytime. He eats when he’s hungry. My entire plane of reality shifting dramatically underneath me, my visceral center spinning giddily, I fell in love. Picture one part Lee Marvin, one part Charles Bronson and a dash of Clint Eastwood. Ask him about himself and the first thing he’ll tell you is that he’s a Marine, a Vietnam vet. Ask him when he was in Vietnam and he’ll say, “Last night.” Larry will rip into a room and rearrange everyone’s state of mind, jostle the energy and leave all but the grouchiest of folks laughing. The wedding. When could we have it? My father had an art show opening in New York the first weekend in September and then another at the end of the month in L.A. So we chose the most convenient date for everyone, one some people thought was jinxed. September 11, 2010. Mom put the whole thing together in about six weeks without any help from me. I just showed up. It was perfect. Three days before the big day we met at a bridal store. She insisted I have a dress. I chose it in fifteen minutes: a simple, creamcolored, floor-length strapless thing that fit fairly well right off the rack. It was the only one I would try on, the only one that didn’t look like cake decor. “We can have any dress altered,” said Tiffany, the consultant, “When is the wedding?” I told her it was Saturday and she almost dropped her clipboard. In my childhood imagination, when I thought of marriage, I pictured sitting on the sill of a dusty window on the third story of a building I’d never seen, looking out at an overcast world I was no longer a part of. I don’t remember ever daydreaming about a wedding or babies. I was a tomboy and an angry teenager: arms crossed, eyes rolled, determined not to crack a smile. Come to think of it, everything was sort of grey and overcast in my world, behind my shaggy bangs and oversized black T-shirts. My sister, on the other hand, was planning her wedding as she was learning to talk. We shared a bedroom for her first few years and I remember how she lifted her blonde ringlets, matted from sleep, one morning and spoke her first full sentence, Someday my prince will come. Since then she’s made lists: what she wants for her birthday, and for Christmas, what she might be for Halloween, what her babies’ names will be, all the things she’ll do when she grows up. She knew after one 44
freshman semester that college was not for her. To my mother’s chagrin, my sister wanted to go to beauty school. One year is all it took. We lived together that year; she had lists of the men she dated in her cell phone so she knew how to answer when they’d call. Now she keeps lists of her clients who book months in advance. She made lists of chores for her husband, and then later, a list of the reasons she filed for divorce. She makes lists of the jewelry she wants to inherit and the art on the walls that will look perfect in her house. She has always believed that she can have anything she wants. And from my vantage point, she’s been right. Once, when she was two, on an endless evening, at a gallery opening of our father’s artwork, she had a meltdown. She had flung her little body on the hardwood floor, kicking, her skirt up over her belly, wailing to exhaustion. Pop crouched down and reasoned with her—if she stopped crying he would give her any piece of art in the show. Pointing to the multicolored ellipse on paper, the centerpiece of the show, she whimpered and heaved. Pop could have sold the thing three times that night, but it now hangs on the wall in her home. That piece was recently in France for a retrospective show of his work. Listed first among parties to be thanked, parties who had loaned works from their collections, The Tate in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, museums in Lyon, Amsterdam, Houston, was her name: Rachel Bell Ratliff. In family legend, she is credited in the story of how our father quit cocaine. One day he found his four-year-old daughter in the closet where he kept the pistol, the cigar boxes, his socks, and the white porcelain mortar and pestle that he used to work the lumps out. She was standing on the second drawer to reach it, her back to the door so she didn’t see him coming. My sister was holding the doll-sized white bowl and rubbing her pink finger first along its powdery sides and then on her tongue, just like I showed her. He swooped her up. Maybe he yelled, or maybe he cradled his daughter in her little red jumper, and maybe he threw the bowl across the room, or maybe he handed her to my mother and paced the hallway wringing his hands. I don’t know exactly how it happened because I wasn’t there. I wasn’t the one who got caught, but who do you think showed her how that white stuff made your tongue tingle? When I was very young I thought that grown-ups couldn’t run, that they lost the ability when they got big. I also thought adults couldn’t laugh and that they all became angry after dark. That was when the men came to our house with their clinking bottles and their poker chips. I would sneak up from my bedroom and listen through the smoke to the dirty words, to the bellowing, violent laughter of 45
the card-playing men. The daddy I remember from that time turned and barked, Get back to bed! I’d hear them still at it when I woke up at dawn. He’s a different man now. Tempered by age, kinder, softened by the rise and fall and rock-n-roll of his long career, the instability of the artist’s life, the realities of providing for a family of five, years of family therapy with which he reluctantly participated because his oldest daughter (me) refused to eat. He’s told me more than once that he could have sent all three of us kids to college twice for what it cost to send me to the hospitals for anorexia. I wish I had known what a burden it had been; I would have hid it better. I could have done better, asked for less. A few years ago, when my sister turned 30 and my father turned 70, both in December, they threw a 100-Year Birthday Party. It was my sister’s idea: shrimp, oysters on the half shell, champagne, a DJ. Almost three hundred people came. I am torn between admiration and envy of her ability to celebrate herself. It burns my scalp. It was a fantastic party. I remember watching her throwing her arms around Pop’s neck. As he threw his head back and laughed, she pulled her face next to his and pursed her lips for a photograph. She is adorable, and so is he. People just love them. I love them. I wish I were more like them. What’s funny is the fact that my husband and my father have exactly the same first name. Surely Freud would have something to say. As a joke, I suggested that instead of changing my last name, my husband should change his. I’d have a Larry Bell for a father and one for a husband. Somewhere I read that some of the top most stressful events in life include: marital separation, divorce, marital reconciliation, moving residence, marriage and a few others I don’t have space or courage to list here. Together, in one year, Larry and I experienced all of them. Our marriage, the one marked by my mother’s wedding, only lasted four months. Maybe it had something to do with the date we chose for the ceremony. We were three thousand miles away from family and everyone in the world I knew, and the place he had called home for twenty years. The Tilt-A-Whirl came to an abrupt stop. We didn’t know what to do without the momentum. The divorce was as clean, quiet and private as our first couple of marriages. We call it a failed divorce because we separated for only three months and then shacked up together again. It took another 18 months before we agreed to another wager. We were married, again, legally, under God, at Battery Park in Charleston in July. The minister was a man whose name I forget that Larry met at the gym. The witness was his teenaged son. There are no photos. I was wearing shorts and a SCAD T-shirt.
Poetry by Jenna Dousi
Blood as thick as honey You’re my darling Don’t forget I was born a strutter But tonight I hang my head I won’t see you tomorrow I am grown And I must go It wasn’t just your screaming It was mine I am too old
Fiction by Elle Friedle
“I just think you should do more things,” Tracy said. “Like get laid.” It was rich that Tracy of all people refused to indulge quirks in others, from pet peeves to astrology to—in Mallory’s case—most of her life. “Fuck off,” said Mallory. They were both sitting on the kitchen floor, drinking eight-dollar prosecco. There was no way to be cool around Tracy, it was like trying to be cool around her own parents, but she was the only person for miles that hated their hometown as much as Mallory did. “I’m trying to help,” Tracy said. “You’re not.” Tracy let it go, for now, and took back the bottle. “I’m not saying you’re lazy. You’re creative,” she said, “but you’re not, you know, spontaneous.” This was a subtle way of saying she wasn’t a bohemian or a wit. “Funny how being a ‘free spirit’ has more to do with yoga, diets, certain clothes and a particular sex life than opinions,” Mallory said. “You don’t need to get defensive.” “I’m just saying, the counterculture has more to do with individual materialism these days, and who does that serve … ” “Don’t change the subject.” Tracy handed the bottle back. Mallory finished it. “You know that night you showed me the golf course?” Tracy said. Unfortunately, Mallory did. Good friends could have fun anywhere, even a parking lot. It didn’t go the other way round. Special places didn’t make people she disliked more palatable, it made them worse, it was an intrusion. She shouldn’t have helped break Tracy in.
“Yeah?” “We should do it again.” Why not? The damage was already done. Thirty degrees was balmy, considering, and they were too drunk to be cold. Mallory liked the park for the same reason she liked the golf course—a wide view of the sky. The stars looked bluer in winter. December dulled the sky to a backdrop of grey, but colors were there, subtle and lovely, frosty plum and indigo. Tracy pulled out a lighter. Wine muddled her fingers; she tried three times before it spit a tongue of sparks and popped to life. She moved the cigarette between her fingers when she talked. Mallory was too pleasantly drunk to listen. Her eyes followed the lines of that glowing dot. “Put it out before we get to the parking lot,” Mallory said. “The police camp out across the soccer field sometimes. They’ve got floodlights.” Trees hid the golf course from the park. They clawed past branches and crawled through a hole in the fence onto a private road next to the green. It sloped off into gentle hills, broken only by silhouettes of hulking trees and the small orange light of the caddy hut. The unlit road curved out of view to the right, bordered by thicket. “What’s down there?” asked Tracy. “Mansions. This neighborhood wasn’t rich enough for them, apparently.” The legitimate entrance, a road at the end of her neighborhood, was gated and close to watchful houses. “Let’s look,” Tracy said. “I didn’t see them last time.” They followed the road slowly. Distant light filtered over the trees from residential neighborhoods. Here and there a window glowed in the dark, drawing Mallory to it. A woman sat at the table, eating soup, watching the TV across the room. She couldn’t see what was on, only the flickering lights it cast. “What are you doing?” Tracy asked. “Come on.” The biggest house was a classic estate: enormous oak trees, well-trimmed lawn. No cars sat on the driveway or in the open garage. “Have you ever gone in?” asked Tracy. “No, you serious? If I got arrested, I’d lose my scholarships.” “You’re already trespassing,” Tracy pointed out, “and you haven’t been arrested yet.” “I haven’t broken into a house.” Tracy walked around to the back, tried the porch door. It wasn’t even locked. “Bad thing about good neighborhoods,” said Tracy. “People are too trusting.”
She vanished into the house. “Tracy, what the hell?” It was worse standing alone outside sobering up. Her mouth tasted like sweat. She went in, left the door open. The house yawned before her; the porch room, an arrangement of plants, stretched into a dark hallway. A light jumped on, spilled into the hall. It came from a room on the left. “It’s me,” Tracy whispered, out of sight. Mallory went in. The only lights in the room were oil paintings. The brass picture lights above them were no more a real source of light than water is a rainbow. One glowed more than the others. It was not the biggest, most detailed, or ornately framed, it wasn’t even in the center of the gallery, but only because the owner was an idiot. It was the handling of light and color that impressed her, an atmosphere to rival the old masters, the mark making of a modernist. “Isn’t it weird to think that I could just,” Tracy waved around the room, “take one.” “What?” Tracy walked towards the painting, and tapped the frame. “You could too, you know. We can both pick one. I like this one.” Tracy would hang it among incense, souvenirs from Europe, and paraphernalia from her ‘Buddhist phase,’ where Mallory would have to look at it every time she came over, at Tracy’s painting, Tracy who didn’t understand abstract expressionism or oil paint, who, for all her intellectual habits and posturing, had never painted and never would. “You’re joking, right?” “We both leave tomorrow. If the police come around, we’ll already be gone.” “How are you gonna get it off the wall?” “Seriously Mallory, whisper.” Mallory prayed that whoever owned the house had the back of the frame screwed into the wall. Tracy grasped both sides of the frame and lifted it off a simple wire. She leaned it against the wall. “Your turn.” “Do you know how to take care of it?” Mallory said. “You need humidity controls, you have to be careful where you put it, only in morning light, afternoon light is harsher … ” “Keep your voice down! I’ll look it up. Pick a painting and let’s go.” “Tracy, put it down. Let’s leave. I mean, come on, that one doesn’t even match
your apartment. If you had to pick one, the best one’s obviously the one in the center … ” Tracy ignored her; the rest of the house was still dark. Mallory had lifted her voice enough, but no balding man appeared with a shotgun and a rolled-up copy of The New Yorker. “I don’t want to take one.” “Don’t take one, then. I thought you’d—you’re always saying you want to do things, that you don’t feel alive, except when you’re scared, or looking at art, or something.” “So you go Ferris Bueller meets Ocean’s Eleven? Mallory’s depressed, let’s steal paintings?” Tracy shrugged, a dismissal. She reached for her painting with bitten fingertips. “All right, all right.” Mallory said. “I can’t pick, though. You pick one for me.” “Coming from the artist. Unbelievable.” “Why’d you pick yours?” Mallory asked, and lifted the painting off the floor. “Well …” Mallory ran. The hall led to a vast foyer. It was dark, not even a tasteless chandelier to reflect the light. Her shoes slipped on the tile floor. Tracy panted behind. Mallory could outrun her, even with the painting under her arm, but couldn’t take her in a fight. She neared the front door, but Tracy might get her while she fumbled for the knob … “Mallory!” She made for the staircase, leaping two at a time, painting bumping up against her armpit. Something beeped upstairs. She caught the toe of her right boot and tripped, twisting sideways to hold the painting safely aloft. Tracy’s feet slammed against the stairs behind her. Mallory scrambled to her feet, bootlaces untied, as Tracy came flying up towards her. She swerved and Tracy’s outstretched hand missed, momentum carrying her the wrong direction, Mallory almost to the upstairs hall … “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Tracy said. “You know what, fine. Fine, Mallory. I’m out.” She heard Tracy jump from the last step, jog back down the hallway. Tracy could be leaving, or waiting to jump her at the porch. Mallory waited. Cars pulled up to the house, one on each side, she didn’t see, but she heard them. In the gallery she hung the painting back up on the wire and straightened it. 51
Red and blue lights flashed from the foyer windows, the painting serenely lit even under their glare.
Poetry by Sarah Dinnocenzo
I had filled the bath to the brim, I was in a kind of ecstasy or contentmentâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; Wholly fulfilled, and yet I wanted more. It seemed vital to be near you, again. I wanted only this: The landscape Of your cheekbones, the deep Otherworldly sound of your voice, Night after night in the comfort Of your room. I needed more; I was utterly famished. My heart had become large, it took much To fill it. I watched the steaming water Cover my solitary body. You were not aware. The water chilled and I rose And languished in the towel. I was not ready to be dressed. Even alone, I was not enough. A few years in the desert, a temptation, The touch of my back, and afterward You took off your wedding ring. That was what I wanted, to possess you.
THE BASICS OF BEING BASIC Nonfiction by Ciera Bowlby
It was like any normal Monday morning shift at Starbucks. The other side of my counter swarmed with teenage girls impatiently waiting for their lattes in our signature white cups. More often than not, they muttered their orders into their brightly lit white iPhone screens, and threw their dad’s credit cards onto the counter without looking up once. After I silently suffered through a long line of White Chocolate Mochas and Pumpkin Spice Lattes, a thin teenage girl with her long blonde hair tied in a low ponytail approached me at the counter. She wore a navy blue oversized T-shirt from Vineyard Vines that completely covered the Nike shorts beneath it. Her eyelashes were coated in so much mascara that I felt a lovely breeze every time she blinked her Bambi-big blue eyes. She, too, like most of her counterparts, stared into the screen of her iPhone, while giving me her order, thumbing through her Instagram feed as she continued to not look me in the eye. “Ugh, she’s so basic!” she exclaimed to the glass of her phone. I could see the reflection of her screen in her clumpy-curtained pupils. “I know right? She’s literally the worst,” agreed the equally skinny and mascarachallenged friend standing next to her. Their big T-shirt and Nike short uniforms matched perfectly. “Basic?” I questioned. Both girls looked up from their phones long enough to roll their eyes at me. I was confused. I had only been out of high school for two years, no way I was that far out of the pop cultural loop. How did I not know what basic meant? Was being basic really as bad as they made it seem? Was I basic? I knew I needed to do some basic soul-searching to see what the term actually implied. 54
Much to my surprise, “basic” does not refer to someone that is above a seven on the pH scale. It is a shortening of the term “basic bitch.” A basic bitch, according to Urban Dictionary, is “someone who is unflinchingly upholding of the status quo and stereotypes of their gender without even realizing it.” She (almost always she) religiously drinks Frappuccinos, no matter the time of year, and definitely has a Starbucks gold card. She shops at Target for like, everything, and gets excited when Bath and Body Works sends out emails for its Two for $22 candle sale. She has throw pillows and picture frames of inspirational words like “love,” “happiness” and “family” throughout her home decorated with ideas from her Pinterest boards. She thinks it’s acceptable for her overpriced T-shirts to completely cover her overpriced running shorts, making her look pantless. She thinks that “daring” is buying the new style of bra from Victoria’s Secret PINK, and uses the word “literally” when she literally doesn’t mean it. She is the epitome of the phrase “white girl,” complete with the problems and the Ugg boots to go with it. I couldn’t believe what I had just found out. I identified with some of these traits. Did that mean that I was a basic bitch? I couldn’t be! I mean, sure, I love scented candles, and I honestly shouldn’t be allowed in Target by myself, but was that enough to make me basic? Apparently, it was. A BuzzFeed quiz later confirmed that not only was I basic, but I was really basic. Me, a half-Asian writing major incapable of doing math or painting her nails fit a stereotype, and a stereotype I hated at that. I, like the girls who stood before me in Starbucks, tried to differentiate myself from the other basics. I would tell myself that even though I had a Pinterest board dedicated to my future wedding, at least I knew about Skrillex before 2009. I was better than them because I had superior makeup skills, and I actually had to wear glasses because I had an actual, real astigmatism, and not just because Lauren Conrad started wearing the CAH-YUTEST pair of glasses EVER. I literally (figuratively) didn’t even know why I cared so much about my newfound life as a basic bitch. I had always been basic—I just never had a term for it. And that’s when I realized what basic really was: a term. It’s just a word, an insult that some fashionable twenty-something coined to prove that they were more unique than everyone else. Basic is just the new chic, all-encompassing burn that can be nonchalantly thrown by catty girls once they have run out of mean things to say. Why waste the energy to call someone fat, or diss their clothes and lifestyle, when you can just call them basic? The best part of it all is that the girls who are
dubbing others as basic are actually basic themselves. And those girls standing in front of me at Starbucks were just as unoriginal and uninspired as their insult. Let’s face it, we are all a little bit basic. Each of us has something yawn-inducingly typical we secretly indulge in. You can’t tell me that you don’t get carried away during your Target shopping trips, or that you’re too cool to dance to “Blank” by Taylor Swift when it comes on. We all know that you “can’t even” with the newest episode of Game of Thrones. We all see your home décor Pinterest boards, and as your barista, I know that every once in a while, you order a Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino. But that is completely okay. So what if Nicholas Sparks is your favorite writer? Who cares if you unironically enjoy Ke$ha? Own it. Own your inner basicness, and don’t you dare give a damn what anyone else has to say about it. Because when no one is watching, the people who bitch about you being basic are reading The Notebook and jamming out to Tik Tok, too.
HOW CROW BECAME BLACK Poetry by Alexis Hagestad
My grandmother once sang Of the white crow While painting S^elvish red Below the hollows Of my cheekbones With three fingers. Crow was once pure and white Like Bitteroot snow, she sang. Grandmotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hands lifted toward The sky. You find him here sometimes. Where his feathers touched the wind, Disappearing in the white clouds, His voice an echoing down To buffalo:
Caw, caw hunters are coming.
Our arrows were ready, but the buffalo Was too fast, the beast scattered around the land, Hooves imprinting prairie field. We were so hungry, she whispered. The buffalo were all we had. Until brave cousin found buffalo skin, Head and horns attached to the still fur. He draped it over his shoulders And into the field he became buffalo. White crow came landing between Brave oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s horns, warning:
Caw, caw, hunters are coming.
Reaching out brave cousin Grabbed crowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s scaled ankle, Tied rawhide around his clawed Feet, the string attached to a stone. The weight held crow to the ground. Old Chief built a fire From the fir of the Douglas And brave cousin grabbed the crow, Stone first and fed him to the fire. His beating wings sapped the flames, His feathers charcoaled to black.
Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll never do it again, he promised.
The leather string melted away From his claws in the heat And his steaming wings opened Through red flames. He escaped Into the dark sky. My grandmother once sang Of the white crow, her hands Holding mine. Her words lifted Into air where I breathed them in. Her eyes were black like crow, Black the ashes of our people, the S^elvish. Hands to the sky, she whispered, You find him there sometimes. His wings a violet changing blue Forever blending in the stars, Forever black.
Fiction by Elodie Chen
After your two-year imprisonment in the dorms, your mother agrees to pay for a Midtown apartment on the condition that you find a roommate. The girls you roomed with last year are tolerable but inseparable, no room for all of you in the little two-bedroom, and you are so done with art school drama. You find an online group instead, and when a skim of the previous posts turns up no potential candidates, write one of your own. You don’t bother with the boring details, just type out something irreverent and maybe a little funny, and it takes longer than you thought to accomplish both while saying absolutely nothing about yourself. I’m looking for that special someone who can pay the rent. Not interested in drama: what you see is what you get! I love to travel and have a good time, but I’m just as comfortable at home as I am out partying. There’s no such thing as a typical Friday night for me! My favorite things are: my iPhone, my cat and long walks on the beach. The attached selfie attracts a few too many emails from assholes looking for an easy lay, but you’d just gotten your hair done, and anyway, it’s a little late for regrets. You delete them all, change your phone background to show off your new hairstyle, and prepare to tell your mother that you tried your best, honestly, of course you looked everywhere. Even if she doesn’t believe you, it isn’t like you can still sign up for on-campus housing this close to classes. But then your cat starts choking on something and you get distracted, and by the time you’ve finished calming the dumb thing down, there’s another email sitting 60
innocently in your inbox, and you think, well okay. It’s just one line, asking if you can meet, but there’s no pretension to it, no innuendo, and most importantly the author appears to be female. Sure, you send back. You can work with this. You check a few times, but the photo icon next to her name remains a blank gray square. This Wilhelmina Monroe appears to be as unhelpful as you are. “Your parents really loved you, I bet,” you say, when the tall girl with enviable brown hair starts off the introductions at the coffee shop down the street. She laughs. “I know. I go by Mina.” She’s British. You dust off your most ridiculous transatlantic accent to announce yourself, and to your delight she doesn’t question you or take offense—she just rolls with it, and soon the two of you are having a gay old time over afternoon tea, and you decide, yes, you can definitely work with this. Mina meets Oscar and basically falls in love with him as you watch, which is kind of a miracle, as Oscar is the ugliest, surliest animal you have ever had the displeasure of owning. Even more unbelievable, he melts into a giant ball of fluff the second Mina scratches behind his ears, and how unfair is that, when all he’s ever done for you is claw the stuffing out of your favorite couch? “You go to MICA, right?” Mina says. It’s a fair assumption, since the apartment is only about five minutes away from the campus. You mmm, trying to get the new sofa straight. It slides just a little too far, again, and you flop down on top of it. Screw this, Mina’s boyfriend can come back next weekend and move it. “Yeah,” you say. “Don’t you?” But when you think about it, you’ve never seen her around, and after two years that seems a little unlikely. You’re not sure where else she could be, though. The University of Maryland is a little far for a daily commute. “No,” Mina says, and she smiles a little, crookedly. “I’m at Johns Hopkins.” You sit up. “Wait, what? You’re a doctor?” Mina makes this embarrassed face, and you almost laugh, it’s such a shock. This one girl is just … “Full of surprises.” Mina laughs. “I guess we don’t know very much about each other, do we?” 61
You know that she’s constantly studying (and doesn’t that make so much sense, now that you know she’s getting her medical degree), papers shuffling and pages flipping long into the night. You know that she hums when she concentrates, bits of the choruses from Top 40 songs that filter upstairs to your room on the third floor. You know that all of this hard work makes it all but impossible for her to drag herself out of bed in the mornings, but that a cup of tea with lemon and copious amounts of sugar will usually do the trick. You know that her crooked smile is the real one, the one you see when her tea is perfect, when she’s trying not to laugh at your bitchy one-liners, when she’s skipped lunch and dinner and you interrupt her study marathon with a midnight sushi break. What you don’t know is what kind of perfume she wears. It drifts through the apartment and follows you around, something subtle and aromatic and absolutely maddening. The boyfriend is utterly useless. Three times he’s driven up, to take Mina out, and the couch stays where it is. When you can convince Mina, the two of you take trips out into Baltimore. Mina’s been here for just as long as you have, but her excuse is that she’s always been too busy to go out and explore. You drag her downtown when you want to go shopping, and she starts a list of museums that you work your way through. She’s only just too young for Beer Week, so instead you take Oysterfest by storm and eat way too much seafood together. You crowd into a photobooth and take dumb pictures, making ridiculous faces and falling all over each other laughing, and later she cuts the strips in half so you’ll both have something to tape to your mirrors. On a typical Friday night, Mina will take a few hours off from studying and you’ll watch cheesy old romances over a bottle of red. She curls up with an illicit glass and laughs at you whenever you tear up involuntarily, and really, you should have seen this coming. She leaves you the apartment for an early weekend, out playing house for her anniversary. It’s strange how quickly you got used to sharing your space, to the sound of her humming and the way the stairs creak when she’s trying not to wake
you up, and without her everything feels off, like it’s been moved two inches to the left. The trickle of water keeping the pipes from freezing is louder than ever and Oscar keeps whining for her, the traitor. Somewhere, there must be a party, as finals are just around the corner, but at some point you’ve managed to lose touch with the campus life, and you’re not dressed to go out anyway. You throw yourself on the couch and it shifts even further off center. You finally ask about the perfume and she orders you a bottle from England. It’s lavender, and you haven’t used it. The bottle sits, untouched, on your dresser. You are pretty damn sure that you are in love with your roommate. They break up. You don’t know why and you don’t ask. Instead you sneak her into one of the clubs you used to frequent and buy drinks for her and try to make her have some fun, but mostly you listen to her rant about misogynistic assholes until she breaks down and starts sobbing into your shoulder. When you get her home, she retreats to her room while you go for some water to hopefully sober her up a bit. You find her curled up under the covers with Oscar, almost asleep, so you leave the glass and an ibuprofen and go sit on the couch downstairs. You think about how pathetic it is, that you’re jealous of your cat. You think about kissing her. You think about this a lot. You never manage to work up the courage, though, before she notices you’re staring and asks if something’s wrong. Once, instead of answering, you hold up your camera and take a picture of her, feet pulled up on the window seat and a halo of frost luminous around her hair. “I need some portraits for my photography class,” you say. “Oh,” says Mina, smiling. “I didn’t know you were taking photography this semester.” You aren’t. The photo becomes your new phone background, hidden safely behind the lock screen. 63
* You don’t know what you think will happen. You’re not even sure what you want to happen. You’re drunk on lavender and dreams and your heart beats with a force you can’t contain. Because you’re a masochist, apparently, you decide to ask Mina for help with Life Drawing. It’s basically Anatomy for Artists, because someone up the chain of bureaucracy decided that you need to know the names of everything related to the human figure before you can draw it, and if there is one benefit of having a doctor for a roommate, this must be it. This time you actually are enrolled in that class, and maybe it would be a good opportunity to get closer to her, and it all sounds terribly desperate in your head. You must be more desperate than you thought, because you loathe anatomy with a burning passion. You start to hate it even more when Mina sits you down and starts explaining the muscles and bones out of her medical textbook in far too much detail. You don’t even have the luxury of tuning out the words and just listening, because then she hands you a stack of honest-to-god flashcards and starts quizzing you. She is all too happy to review everything she’s learning in her own classes. At least you can rest soundly with the knowledge that if the professor ever asks about the number of muscles in the human hand, you will have an answer, and a list of medical terminology to go with it. Mina must think you need a lot of help with anatomy, and really, that’s partially your fault since you’ll take any excuse to sit next to her for a couple hours, but it’s gone too far when, bless her, she decides that you need some hands-on experience. “Mina, darling,” you say. “You’re beautiful, I love you, I would do anything for you, but I am not following you into a morgue.” “Well, all right,” she says, and she even looks disappointed that you won’t be spending the weekend looking at cadavers. “But there must be something else I can do to help.” You bite down your first thoroughly inappropriate response. Your mental filter has been getting quite a bit of use since you’ve realized the ludicrous amount of feelings you have for Mina. You say, “Maybe I could just draw you.”
You set up in front of the big picture window, flipping to a blank page in your drawing pad while she sits down and arranges her skirt on the couch that’s been moved for the occasion. She’s managed to line it up perfectly with the sill, and the late morning sunshine rushes in, gilding her hair around the edges and pulling the most amazing flecks of light from her wide blue eyes. “Ready?” she asks. You don’t think you’ll ever be able to capture something this bright and beautiful, but you nod and set charcoal to paper. Perhaps surprisingly for someone who is always moving, Mina is capable of sitting still when she feels like it, which is convenient until you’ve scrapped three sheets of paper and realized why you can’t focus. “You don’t have to be completely silent,” you say. “Oh,” Mina says, and as she starts talking about the latest interesting thing she’s learned from her crazy old professor, you sketch in the contours of her form. You draw the plane of her nose, the graceful curve of her eyebrow. The play of light off her eyelashes when she blinks is a revelation, and you watch it for far too long. You’re staring at her lips when she mentions someone in her literature class, so you’re in the perfect position to see the corner of her mouth start to lift in that familiar crooked smile. She smiles that crooked smile, and pries open your ribcage to scoop out all of those organs with which you are so intimately familiar. “He asked me out for coffee and …” “Sorry,” you say, “I’m drawing your face right now, if you could ... ” “Of course, sorry,” Mina says. You rub at your forehead with a charcoal-smudged hand. You don’t know what you thought would happen.
FADED BLACK GRAND PIANO Poetry by Ian Mather
The long days keep getting longer like a held fermata. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just me now in the empty sunroom spending days watching the dust in the sunbeams through the window. I wish the cracked seat, sitting idly there would grow hands and make me sing again. I miss hands. I miss her hands building their arpeggio up my spine, making every black and white vertebra sing.
Nonfiction by Christian Burney
Floyd stood holding a cold can of Coors Light. With each drunken wave of his hand, beer splashed from the lip of his can onto the sleeve of his dull-brown coat. He talked about how he was considering a veterinarian degree now that he’d been fired from the ski lift up on Crested Butte. Apparently a flask of Jack Daniel’s wasn’t required snow gear. As Floyd and I talked, Buster listened quietly on a barstool. Aside from the occasional drink, he sat still as a gargoyle. He’d gained weight since I’d seen him last. He had also grown a short, shabby beard and wore a thin, ragged hoodie ill fit for the frosty forecast. He hardly said “hello” and kept his gaze on the floor. I’d last seen Buster in this same garage, on that same barstool, two years ago after he’d set himself on fire. The combined effort of every beer in his belly gave him the confidence to leap a burning stack of old chairs and broken doors. “I’ll jump this fire,” Buster had said. “Don’t do that,” I warned. “Whatever. I’m invincible!” He tripped and slapped against the surface of a singed, splintering door in the middle of the heap. He lay in the embers for a moment before pushing himself up. Nodding and stumbling he said, “See? I’m invincible.” Hardly. Small flames coiled around Buster’s left pant leg. He didn’t notice it at first, but when he did he leapt forward into the snow’s arctic embrace. Bulbous blisters occupied his wrists where he’d braced himself on the burning door. Floyd and I couldn’t help but laugh.
The Darnell brothers are my two oldest friends. Floyd Alexander Cruise Darnell and Carl Buster Darnell. We all grew up in the plains of eastern Colorado. Buster was three years older than me, twenty-two years old to my nineteen at the time. Floyd was my age. K through twelve, Floyd and I had nearly every class together. He was an honor student, as was Buster, who was also one of our high school’s lead cross-country runners in the fall; likewise for track in the spring. I hadn’t seen either of them since I started college. And two years later, here they were. Sitting cold in my dim garage as the snow fell softly outside. This was the first time I’d been back in town in a while and we were catching up over a couple of cool beers. I asked Buster how he was. He shrugged and took another drink. I turned back to Floyd, and as I moved to speak, Buster interrupted. “I am good, dude.” The delay in his response was something like a lagged Internet chat. Whether he was slow to comprehend me, slow to articulate his response, or both, I’m not sure. But he yawned and eventually continued. “I am good, dude. I am good. You?” I mentioned my classes and the new house I had moved into, and as I went on he nodded and stared forward, then nodded less, and then forgot about me altogether. Floyd and I stepped out for a cigarette. I wondered about Buster for a moment and asked, “So, what’s up with him?” Floyd wiped a snowflake from his long, blond bowl cut and took a drag of his cigarette. He explained that Buster had flunked out of CSU, Fort Collins. A full ride, and he had bailed. Got into drugs, did something he called an “Acid Pyramid.” As to what that was exactly, neither of us was certain. But as Floyd understood it, an Acid Pyramid consisted of a metric shit-ton of LSD soaked into one sheet of paper. It started with only a dose or two every weekend. Simple exploration of perspective. But that small curious flame had ignited something inside of Buster, and soon he was doing multiple doses nearly every day until, well, he burned out. An ashen replica of his former self, Buster had just moved back into town, into Floyd’s apartment, and was now working at the local Walmart as a bagger. “There are ducklings for sale at Walmart,” Floyd said. Ducklings? “For only five dollars.”
The next day Floyd invited me over. I walked up his steps, tested the doorknob and, sure enough, it was unlocked. I knocked anyway and heard a skittering past the door. “Hang on,” said Floyd. A moment later and he called for me to come in. I nudged the door open and peeked around it. Buster lay sprawled across the couch, snoring lightly in the same thin jacket he’d worn the night before. Floyd sat cross-legged on the floor with a skinny, white-feathered duckling on his lap. The duckling waddled over Floyd’s thighs, struggling to reach the ground. It chirped, which sounded nothing like a quack, and nearly tripped. It moved closer and Floyd invited me to pet it. Ducklings, in real life, are more charming than one ought to expect. They’re loud, needy, skittish, smelly, fragile little creatures that would gladly bite the hand that feeds them. They squeak and chirp at high pitches and, somewhat like street drunks, are always tripping over themselves into trouble. And yet, their dirty feathers feel downy and soft. Their constant squeaking is adorable in a primal way. They’re the spoiled children of Nature: for all the messes they make, Mother loves them all the more. I knelt down as it approached and slowly extended an open palm. That worked with dogs and cats, but the duckling panicked. It dashed awkwardly across the kitchen, like it had confused sprinting with hopping, and pitifully hid under the sink cabinet’s overhang. As evidenced by Floyd’s kitchen tiling and carpet, ducklings were messy. There were already pee stains in his living room. Loose feathers collected in the carpet and occasionally drifted off on the AC’s current. We played with the duckling for a while before deciding to go on a beer run. With some difficulty Floyd woke up his brother and asked him to take care of the duckling while we were out. He slowly nodded as Floyd plopped the duckling onto his lap. Buster cooed at it and stroked its frizzled back, and it was cutesy. Floyd said to make sure it didn’t shit on the rug again. Floyd and I headed back to my place for beer, as there was still plenty from the night before, and ended up spending the afternoon getting drunk and playing video games. As we played I thought back to Buster. The last time I’d seen him he was practically king of the world: smart, charismatic, fit, a real role model—a true bigger brother.
Now he was apathetic and fat. That gnawed at me like a hungry, walking corpse. “So what’s it like living with Buster now that he … ” Burned out? Floyd took a long drink. “He’s always starting some shit. And he doesn’t do the goddamn dishes.” A few days before, he explained, Floyd had stumbled in with a box of Colt 45’s upon Buster smoking a cigarette indoors. Floyd lambasted him for it, and on his way out, Buster begrudgingly elbowed Floyd’s shoulder, causing him to drop the box of malt liquor. Floyd bashed Buster’s head into the oven top. Floyd called the next day. I parked in front of his house and rang him up. He didn’t answer, but a few minutes later came out the front door, a fresh cut on his forehead, and climbed into the passenger side of my car without a word. “You okay?” I asked. He slammed the door shut. The night before, Buster had filled the bathtub up halfway to let the duckling swim around while he enjoyed a beer—or four. When Floyd got home, Buster was passed out on the couch with Titanic playing mutely on the television. Floyd found the duckling floating motionless in its bathwater. “It drowned,” he told me. “Buster let it go swimming, then got stoned and passed out and forgot about it. It got tired and couldn’t reach the bottom and fucking drowned.” I asked Floyd about the cut on his forehead. Not surprisingly, he’d sustained it in another brawl with Buster after he discovered the dead duckling. Buster ended up bashing Floyd’s face into the oven top. Floyd, in his rage, kicked Buster out of the apartment. Buster, in his rage, rode his bike eighty-two miles south to Trinidad that same winter night. He ended up living in some 80-year-old’s backyard shack for a couple of months. I didn’t see Buster for a year after that. In his brother’s absence, Floyd joined the Air Force. He was scheduled to deploy in South Korea where he’d spend the next few years fixing helicopters. I visited Floyd before he left and he told me Buster was back in town. He said Buster had gone through rehab and sobered up. He had gotten a room in an old folks’ home where rent was only fifty dollars, and he spent most of his time tracing old VHS movie covers in a tattered college-rule notebook. He hadn’t changed too much; he was still quiet and sullen. But at least he found a hobby, right?
We visited him. He buzzed us in and we navigated our way through the dim, gray hallways. We rode a rickety elevator to the third floor and met him at his door. He invited us in, offered us drinks. A movie starring Jack Nicholson played on a small, dusty television. I asked him how he was doing. Buster slowly looked up from the makeshift easel supporting his latest videocassette project. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I am good, dude. I am good. You?â&#x20AC;?
MOVEMENT Poetry by John Chrostek
Light through curtain-fabric, the ghostly rumble bell-call of the five-fifteen by the dim city orange stop pole, Sinatraâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s boxy croon singing Same Old Saturday Night, a prayer in a playlist language. The night peels back a layer, itself full of musty incident; warm air pooling in stasis, shaped with heat, swift movement flavored by the deep, electric sentiment of minor cities sleeping. A man exists in a minor city; he stands in pockets of dark. He carries no simple understanding in his hands, the morning is a morning is a stranger. They are hiding in whalebones behind the retail fronts. Enormity is packed like a brick in the vein-thin alleys he is walking through. Look, before the dawn already the sun is making promises.
Fiction by Hailey Zipfel
Mama made Daddy take us to the Purity Ball, said we needed a proper father figure in him and The Lord. We were twelve, Meg and me. I looked for matching gowns, but Meg wanted the lacy, cleavage one and I wanted the puffy tulle one. We took the station wagon to Beaver Creek Baptist, past the tall tickweed grass, the buttercup weeds and the SRS nuclear plant—my tulle, Meg’s cleavage and Daddy, saying things we didn’t understand. “It should really be your choice,” he said, “but your mama don’t care much about anybody’s choices but her own.” At church we got rings and made promises to The Lord and Daddy we’d stay pure until marriage. That was all fine until we turned fourteen. By then Daddy had gone out to God knows where—left behind Beaver Creek, our little two-story and the drawing we made for him—Crayola sunflowers. He always said we had sunflower eyes, the only trait he passed down. We hung the drawing on our gauzy canopy bed with clothespins. Meg speckled the bedroom with dried, potted brambles, the tickweed crawling out the pots and collecting dust. She hung yellowed roses upside down, tied with a ribbon and pinned against the wall. Some mornings she knotted wildflowers in her hair. Once I said the flowers were dirty. “I like them like that,” she said. She pushed up her cleavage and a tiny buttercup fell from her hair into that secret place. We thought we’d share this bedroom forever. Mama agreed. As long as we kept a crucifix by both our nightstands, she let us use astrology bed sheets and hang hand-drawn tarot cards and neon stars from the ceiling. We stayed up and talked about our shared birthday: March 2, The Day of Undying Loyalty. 73
Meg was the first girl to wear a bra in the eighth grade. She got notes in her locker saying things like ‘Sluty Ho’ and rumor was she gave BJs in the bathroom. Girls came up and asked if she really had sex with Danny, Thomas, Jack … told me I was the nice twin, it was a shame. Their envy was as ugly as Meg’s purity dress. One night Meg met a neighborhood boy out by the station wagon. I could see them through my window but I’d never tell. Neither of us broke our purity promise, even if she had a lot of sex. Our purity was different: mirrored images, frozen in time like sunflowers in a painting. I liked watching her in the car, her same arched hip bones as mine, dimpled lower back, honey colored hair. She looked older though, crouched over the boy, on all fours in the back seat. When she was done she lay with me—I stroked her hair and asked why her heart was beating so fast. She smelled of heady sweat and something sour. I pushed my purity ring on her finger, over hers. “You think I need two?” Meg wiped snot from her nose. We fell asleep like that. My hand over her bare stomach, covered in our white tulle, our astrology sheets, the Crayola flowers still above our bed. It was 4:00 a.m. when I woke alone, the ring back on my finger. Hers was on the nightstand, wet and cold like she put it in her mouth to slide it off. I put it on. I wanted to keep it warm until Meg came back to bed.
WHAT IS HIDDEN Poetry by Stephanie Vélez Portilla
For the longest time
I am still paranoid,
still hold an illusion
and never found.
of what I’ve been given
I’ve read, and
and what I may
Not knowing what I may find,
I continued walking a deranged path. Apes, cavemen, neanderthals, numbers, gravity, insulin, and stars and moons. I’ve talked of laws and rules, of what is and isn’t, proved theories and dubious philosophies. I’ve forced thoughts and standards, believed the idealism of truth. Is it a lie? In spite of matter being the substance of all physical objects, and light that moves faster than sound,
BURDEN OR BALLAST? THE LEGACY OF THE CHILD OF A CHILD OF NAZI GERMANY Nonfiction by Kate Hoernle
I felt the timber ceiling beams—which used to give my mother’s dining room a quaint, cottage-like feeling—closing in on me like the bars of a cell. Now that her visitation, funeral, and reception were all over, there was one final piece of business— what to do with my father. “Sorry guys, he can’t stay with us—last time, he smacked one of Erik’s friends,” said my brother Kai, who lives in Germany. “That’s illegal where we live. Pretty ironic, I know, considering Germany’s violent past.” “Too bad we can’t send him to a nursing home,” said my other brother, Niles, “but he’s so ornery that no one would take him. What about you Liza? You’re the oldest.” “You’ve got to be kidding—I have a teenage daughter. What I am supposed to do when he refuses to wear his Depends and goes commando when Olivia has friends over?” The game of hot potato continued. “Well, Kate, you live in Savannah. It’s always nice there, and you can work from home, so it shouldn’t be an issue.” A pregnant silence followed. “Fine—we’ll take him,” I said with a resigned sigh. “He is my father after all.” Suddenly, I found myself in a predicament I could never have imagined—parenting the parent who never truly parented me. With that came memories I had spent a lifetime trying to forget. Finally I had to face those fears—the ones I inherited from him and the legacy of his German past.
A crumpled hunchback in his eighties, my father walked with tentative, uneasy steps, as if he bore the guilt of his childhood in Nazi Germany on his slender shoulders. His wiry legs, once trusty guideposts that had carried him across continents—Europe, Asia, Africa—in search of his own truth, not the one he had learned in Germany—were tired now. They buckled and trembled under his slight frame. Yet his eyes betrayed none of that frailty. Alert and piercing, they were chameleonlike, changing color with his mood—from clear, limpid green to menacing, bottomless black in an instant. His once handsome face—with strong Roman nose and chiseled cheekbones standing like sharp cliffs above the sunken valley of his jaw—now resembled a topographic map marked with deep ridges and contours. Salt-andpepper hair matched the neatly clipped moustache that obscured his lips, if not the barbs that flew from them like poison darts, precise and withering. “You still have the potty-chamber ring on your ass! Do you even know how to cook?” These were the less acerbic insults he lobbed upon realizing that I, the youngest daughter (now middle-aged!), would be caring for him. My father wasn’t like other fathers. When I was growing up, he didn’t tuck me in at night, call me his “little princess,” teach me to ride a bike, help me with homework, or do any of the other things my friends’ “Leave it to Beaver”-type dads did. He never hugged me or said, “I love you.” But to say that he had no feelings or physical contact whatsoever would be misleading. He did show emotion, one in particular — anger. And my siblings and I got smacked, pummeled and yelled at, as if experiencing the wrath of Zeus himself, on a regular basis. His rage was swift and unexpected. We rarely knew what crime we had committed—maybe saying the wrong thing or talking out of line, forgetting to do our chores, making too much noise while playing, or … just breathing; maybe there was dust on the floor, the window was open, the window was closed, it didn’t matter—whatever the case, it was always our fault. And, of course, nothing we did was ever good enough, perhaps explaining my lifelong perfectionism and sometimes crippling self-doubt. Like creatures of the wild, we learned to adapt, camouflaging feeling with irony and gallows humor, mimicking “normal” families, and resorting to “fight or flight” techniques when faced with immediate threats. It wasn’t the physical pain, the frequent smacks and occasional beatings, that impacted me the most. Yes, they bruise your flesh and sting your pride, but they’re temporary. It’s that insidious emotional violence that tattoos your soul with angst 77
and dread. It ravages your body like a militant cancer overtaking every healthy cell, every thought, every breath, leaving you disfigured for life. The opposite of my father, my mother was matronly and kind, rational and eventempered. I respected the way she stood up to him, but it rarely ended well. Over the years, she suffered more bruises than I could count and at least one black eye. As children, watching them argue through the spindles of the upstairs landing, we wondered why she stayed. “Why don’t you divorce him, Mama?” Her pensive brown eyes clouded over. “He’s sick. I can’t leave him.” According to the doctors in my family, my mother was right—he is sick. While my father is far too proud to seek medical treatment, my brother, a general practitioner, has informally diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting from his childhood experiences in Germany. He certainly exhibits the classic symptoms. The list compiled by PTSD expert Dr. Gerald Levine, who has worked extensively with WWII veterans, is startlingly accurate: extreme anxiety, intrusive memories of war experiences, flashbacks triggered by a smell or sight, emotional numbing, inability to feel closeness or be touched, and the lack of any feelings whatsoever—except intense rage. Growing up with a war zone in his own backyard, my father experienced things that most of us only see in movies. He never told us everything, but he didn’t need to. He wore those memories like a scarlet letter. Like a traumatized combat soldier, my father had his own flashbacks—his trigger was blood. Even the casual sight of it—a skinned knee or elbow—sent him into violent fits of vomiting. It wasn’t until my twenties that my mother told me some of his stories. Once, my father and a friend tried to rescue an Allied pilot from the burning wreckage of his bomber, only to drag out a bloodied and mangled corpse seconds before the aircraft exploded. Though extremely graphic, the experience left my father with more than a repulsion for blood. Realizing that he had tried to save “the enemy” who had come to bomb his village, my father was tormented for years by that conflict between national loyalty and human compassion. Another time, during an air raid, a bomb leveled the next-door neighbors’ house while they were inside, pinning them beneath the rubble. In a valiant effort, the townspeople risked their own lives to free the family, but to no avail. Their haunting cries for help lingered, until one day—silence. Yet those voices continue to echo in my father’s head. In my father’s case, PTSD is only part of the story. He suffers from another equally debilitating malady—a stubborn guilt complex that has tormented generations
of post-war Germans. After WWII, Germany became the stepchild of the world, shunned and scolded (and rightfully so) for orchestrating the Holocaust. Though many working-class families like my father’s were struggling just to survive in this war-torn country—scavenging for basic necessities, food and fuel; rebuilding roofs, doors, windows, etc., after bomb blasts—they were nonetheless plagued by the “why’s” and “what-if’s.” In the decades since WWII, Germans have tried to make amends and move forward, spending billions of dollars on war and Holocaust reparations. Today the country is flourishing, with one of the strongest economies in the world and excellent social programs. Yet many older Germans, defined by a paralyzing shame they’re unable to face, remain haunted by this Kollektivschuld (collective guilt), as Jung called it. Was there something uniquely German about the Holocaust? What made them so susceptible to Hitler’s “appeal”? William Shirer, author of the recently reissued The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, suggested that something specific to Germany—its intellectual and cultural heritage—rendered its people especially vulnerable. Touching on the Hegelian idea that the end is implicit in the beginning— the full-grown oak tree is encoded within the blueprint of an acorn—he argued that the seeds were there all along, dormant, waiting to be nurtured. Yet only with Hitler and the Nazis did they grow to their full “potential.” Examples of this Germanic tradition include thinkers such as Fichte, who promoted a reactionary nationalism, and Nietzsche, whose misunderstood concept of the Übermensch provided the Nazis with a perfect means of rationalizing their warped vision of ethnic cleansing. Other scholars, such as historian and writer Alan Bullock, have a more universal perspective, asserting that there’s a little of bit of Hitler in all of us—it just takes the right triggers to release such intolerable evil. Citing a world history rife with examples of genocide, colonialism, imperialism, etc., he feels that we have to look no farther than into our own souls. Perhaps we all have a little blood on our hands. In the end, regardless of its source, the impact of the Nazi mindset was devastating. Today, two years since my mother’s death, my father has become a fixture in our home. A few nights ago, I was helping my sons with their homework while he looked on from across the room. As I quizzed my 12-year-old for a history test on WWII, we talked about racism and the Holocaust, about how no one should be discriminated against due to race, class, gender, etc. My son then turned to my father. “What was it like growing up in Nazi Germany?” he asked. Stroking his moustache absent-mindedly with a glazed, faraway look in his eyes, my father recounted
childhood adventures and small acts of humanity—he and his sister scavenged for undetonated bombs that had landed in the soft earth of the fields, cutting them open for the fuel inside; they made furtive journeys into the dark to deliver scraps of food, hidden in secret pockets, to friends in hiding. After I sent the boys to bed, my father said in his thunderous, halting English that stressed all the wrong syllables, “You are very patient with those boys! You are a good teacher.” Smiling, I readjusted the wool scarf that hugged his neck, still his favorite, though it reeked of mothballs. I glanced at my son’s dog-eared history book and realized what had just happened—stories and life lessons—passed down from culture to culture, generation to generation, parent to child, grandfather to grandchild. It sounds like a scene from one of those heart-warming Hallmark-channel movies, right? It’s not. There’s no formulaic, happy ending here. Each day with my father is a tightrope walk between duty and doubt, compassion and resentment. His burden, that seething tension lurking just beneath the surface, reveals itself in scornful and angry acts of defiance—and becomes our burden. Sometimes he refuses to eat the onion pie or German meal I cooked just for him or makes derogatory jabs about my weight, hairstyle or my husband’s unfortunate wardrobe choices. Other times I catch him hurling steak knives at my adolescent sons in retaliation for an accidental Nerf-gun hit; or yelling unrepeatable curse words at them for giving him a “Heil Hitler!” salute or giggling at his “Der Führer” moustache. On a conceptual level, I get it. I understand the source of his rage and discontent—the German guilt and PTSD, but that doesn’t make him any easier to live with. In the end, though, maybe my father was right. Maybe I am a good teacher. As the parent of children from eclectic racial stock—¼ German, ¼ Anglo-American, and ½ Native American—I have to be. I don’t want my children to grow up like him.
SNOW WHITE Poetry by Kelly Smith
The Evil Queen looked in the mirror and envied her. The Huntsman cried at her beauty and set her free. Seven lonely men welcomed a pretty gem among them. And the Prince fell in love even sound asleep. But, I cracked the vanity mirror over that old hagâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s head. Took the axe from the Huntsmanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hand and carved my own path. Earned my keep, hands dirty, fingernails torn, equal among men. Woke to find a stranger, a boy as pretty as me, his lips pressed to mine. Understand, my pale skin is not delicate as porcelain, nor am I pure as snow. My ink-black hair is cropped short like my temper. And those rose petal lips? They bite bloody and bitter.
SYLVANIA Poetry by Molly Kahler
Penna makes potpie (no crust) in a huge silver vat dropping filmy-thin noodle squares in roiling broth with meat and potato and Pennaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s buttermilk waffles are smothered in roast chicken picked from the bone and drowned in gravy Penna crusts sweet potatoes in brown sugar And fills a pie shell with a whole bottle of molasses and floury crumbles baked to a shoo-fly Penna loves her foam-lathered horses Drawing their buggies to the brick-colored barns Painted their red and yellow and blue, six-sided hexes that mean welcome Penna has dappled light for miles and miles and she made my blood thick, it kept me warm while I wandered and climbed desperate past the needle-leaves to the sun
Penna holds tight to her dreams, she told me she’d hold mine too, if I let her Yes it’s comfortable, girl, but that’s all Penna never taught me Dutch-speak in English she told me, Go you have to promise, but she still looked at me with whitetail eyes when I said I would Penna knit the socks that keep the icicles away And she planted the forest of oak and maple and birch I carry with me, close
JERSEY GIRL Nonfiction by Brianna Howarth
Whenever I tell someone that I’m from New Jersey, I either get one of two responses: “But, you don’t have an accent?” or “So you’re friends with Snooki?” To which I always reply a firm, “No.” I’ve never met anyone in Jersey with an accent. Those who pronounce Jersey like Joisey are New Yorkers, and the majority of the cast of the Jersey Shore is from the Big Apple itself (Snooki is actually from Chile). Jersey always had a bad reputation, though, even before the self-tanning, obnoxious, ludicrous gang of so-called ‘Jersey denizens’ started bumbling through our seaside town. Ever since I can recall, Jersey’s been known as the ‘armpit of America’ due to its factories, oil refineries, skunks and anything else that can emanate a terrible odor. Basically, people have always assumed that where I’m from we’re all bronze, stinky and pronouncing words oddly. I’ve lived in the same town in New Jersey my entire life, and when the time came to decide upon a college, I had two requirements: I didn’t want to stay in state, and I had to go as far as possible. I was running from Jersey and I ran like a bat of hell all the way to the historic, spooky, quaint town of Savannah, Georgia. And even though I met people from all over the world, the continent and the country, I was ashamed of my home state. Every other place seemed so mysterious, exotic and just a better place to call home. Everyone seemed to have an opinion of New Jersey, despite sometimes never having been there. And the worst part was when people inquired as to where exactly I’m from in New Jersey. As if the tiny town of Cinnaminson, with a population under 15,000, a ZIP code we share with a neighboring town, and a square mileage that I can run in under two hours, would give anything away. It never did. I planned on making Savannah my new home because I didn’t want to be from a state most people disliked and from a town no one had heard of. Savannah 84
had what I wanted: warm weather pretty much year round, things to do on the weekends, palm trees, Southern hospitality, interesting history, lush green squares where I could sit and read, old Victorian houses to gaze at, tourist attractions galore, and many shops and stores within walking distance. Savannah was a bustling city compared to the sleepy suburb I had grown up in. I was proud of breaking out of Jersey. Other than one peer who had ventured to Colorado, I had travelled the farthest out of my high school class. Many of my friends were less than six hours away by car, while I boasted a twelve-hour drive. I also rooted myself in Georgia for as long as I could, refusing to return to Jersey until I had to. I participated in move-in-crew so as to eke out a few more days in Savannah and help others with luggage. I remained in the city for spring break despite my parents asking about plane tickets, and going home for the weekend was out of the question. My friends frequented Jersey while I immersed myself in the South, trying my hardest to shed my Jersey skin. My sophomore year, I made the biggest decision to work for my college and stay an extra two months into summer. That meant I’d be away from Jersey for the longest time yet, ten months, and out of the entire year I’d only reside in Jersey for two. That all meant Savannah was becoming my permanent home because I spent more time in Georgia than in New Jersey. I began to shock people when revealing where I was from. “Ma’am” and “Sir” started to escape my lips. I took a liking to sweet tea, and I’d complain when the temperature hit seventy degrees because it was too cold for me. “I may be from the North, but I’ve got Southern blood,” I’d tell people. But New Jersey wasn’t slipping away from me like I thought and had hoped it would. There’s a pizza parlor in Savannah called Screamin’ Mimi’s that brags of its Jersey-style pizza. The slices are as big as my head, greasy, and they come out blazing hot, and it’s the only spot in Savannah I will eat pizza. Savannah may have its artsy, outdoor pizza venue called Vinnie Van Go-Gos and the unique, gourmet pizza chain, Mellow Mushroom, but Jersey-style pizza wins hands down. I found myself in breathtaking Savannah where I was a regular at the Smoothie King; knew the train hopping, couch-surfing guitarist; was recognized as a poet at the local coffee shop; and almost 800 miles from New Jersey and missing it. I suddenly had pride for the state I had fought so hard to hate. Not only does Jersey rightfully brag about its pizza, but we also make the best hoagies (a submarine for those unfamiliar with the term), soft pretzels, bagels,
water ice (shaved ice as those non-Jersey-ians will refer to it), cheesesteaks and pork roll sandwiches. And, then there are our diners, good ole breakfast food at all hours. After prom of senior year, my friends and I went to the Route 130 Diner in Delran, New Jersey, for omelets and toast, and then we proceeded to Ocean City. Which is another staple of Jersey, all the beaches: Long Beach Island, Wildwood, Point Pleasant Beach, Avalon, Cape May, and a laundry list of others. Day trips to the beach constituted a biweekly activity every summer. Aside from the beaches being so close, New Jersey, especially Cinnaminson, is also the key location for other events. I’m fifteen minutes from Philly, which means I frequent sports matches and concerts. Seeing Manchester United beat FC Barcelona at age twelve was inspiring as a young soccer player. And I was floored to meet people in college who had never been to a concert while I had been going to one almost four times a year ever since I was thirteen. And New York is only a two-hour drive, which proved helpful when I pursued a career as an actress at a young age and auditioned frequently. Jersey is also known as the Garden State, and I can attest to that. Fresh blueberries, a multitude of corn, and juicy tomatoes are a given. The summer after my freshman year of college, I picked tomatoes to earn some spending money. In grade school there was always a field trip to go pumpkin picking at the local farm. During high school, soccer tournaments were held in rural areas or on farmland because they’re so spacious. Jersey’s full of foliage, too. I climbed trees in my backyard as a hobby growing up and there’s always a playground just around the corner with swings, a slide, a merry-go-round and things to climb on. There’s always a reason to be outside in Jersey. Savannah has and always will have a place in my heart because I’ll call it home one day as well. But, I finally love my home state and town. New Jersey is where I learned to ride a bike in the parking lot of a church, where I had my first kiss in my backyard, where I learned to play soccer and show off my talent, where I met my friends, where I learned how to swim, where I first tried fried Oreos, and where many of my memories come from. And if it weren’t for New Jersey and growing up there, I wouldn’t have found Savannah, Georgia. My favorite fact about New Jersey is that it doesn’t require its ‘New’ identifier. Unlike the other ‘New’ states, the ‘New’ isn’t necessary. You’d never call it ‘York’ or ‘Hampshire,’ but New Jersey is like a beloved pal with its own nickname: Jersey. And I’ll always be a Jersey girl.
APOLOGY FOR BEING TOO NAÏVE TO UNDERSTAND WAR Poetry by Lily Avery
This is the dream again. You, standing on my porch, smoking a cigarette, telling me of Baghdad. In this hour, I am holding open. The dawn, violet and cold, rests on your shoulders and I am weightless. Could you tell me, again, about the crow? The one that sat quietly on your barrack, the one you swore you’d sung a love song to? I don’t believe you but tell me anyway. And what about the market, down the strip of blood and sand, the sun setting fire to your stomach? And the women, with coin necklaces, bodies wrapped tightly in forgiveness, do you think they trusted you? Would you have let them? I see you, and that other world barred inside your throat, and this morning, its echo.
Fiction by Madeleine Tate
My sister has started to disappear. I wouldn’t even have noticed the change when Sarah came home for a family dinner, husband and two children in tow, except for the uncharacteristically bright dress she wore. Aunt Betsy did the same thing when she started to fade eight years ago, her choice in clothes and makeup gradually getting more and more colorful while her skin and hair became duller. These days she’s barely there, just a wisp of a woman with a voice you have to bend close to hear. I thought, hoped, Sarah would be different, would manage to maintain her sense of being. She was assertive, confident, solid. A husband and one kid down and she showed no signs of disappearing, but I guess that second child must have finally got her. I watch them as they run around the kitchen before the table is set, pulling at pant legs and demanding attention. Both boys. Both safe, their skins bright and pink. Practically glowing, stealing my sister’s substance. Now, I’m the only girl left who isn’t fading. Before she disappeared, Mom said it was always like this, only the women dimming and the men growing brighter and brighter every day. “They have been taught to grow out,” Mom said before she left. “We have been taught to pull in,” and for generations women in my family have slowly been fading. It happened to her when I was five. I noticed before any of my family did. The women always notice first. She was sitting on the bathroom floor in a hurricane of eye shadows, lipsticks and blushes, all desperate attempts to slow the draining of color from her skin. When she turned to look at me, her face was stained with sticky black tears. 89
“Don’t look at me, honey. Don’t look,” she said through candy-colored lips that faded just a little more beneath the lipstick at her words, as if she were erasing herself. Mom tried to run from it. Rather than wait to gradually fade out of our lives, she took the initiative and disappeared overnight, with nothing but her old car and a suitcase of clothes to remember us by. I like to think she got away from it, but it’s hard to stop practicing invisibility. No one in the family has managed it, yet. Grandma started out a loud, outgoing woman, but after a marriage, five children and twenty years of abandoned dreams and ambitions, she had faded completely, a process so gradual that by the time she was gone, no one really noticed her absence. Cousin Amy took half that time, slowly tucking more and more of herself out of the way of her irritable husband until there wasn’t anything left to offend him. He didn’t even notice she was gone until months later. They rarely do. Aunt Judith claimed she would never sacrifice her solidity for a husband or kids, but was gone within a year. “Whatever you’d preferring” her way out of a high-powered career, out of sight and out of our lives, her pastel suits gradually growing more vibrant against her dulling skin. There were many more, fading passed down from mother to daughter. Taking up less space than they needed, speaking only when spoken to and never being spoken to, apologizing as people walked over them. Invisibility is learned, and we all learned it young. My friends tried to teach me visibility. They adjusted my posture, my gestures, my speech, regaled me with a stream of advice and encouragements. “Be assertive.” Just do what you’re told. “Lean in.” No one likes an attention whore. “Say exactly what you want.” Stay out of the way. “Don’t spare other people’s feelings.” Be polite. “Take up as much room as you want.” Don’t take up too much space. “Don’t let people talk over you.” Be seen, not heard. “You have a right to be here.” After Mom left, Sarah and I used to practice being visible together. Sitting on my bed, we would ask each other for things, just so that we could learn to say no. Starting easy, she might ask, “Can I have your stereo?” “No,” I would reply. “Can I borrow your pencil?” “No, but would you scoot over a little?” until we finally tricked each other into saying yes.
After she moved out, I had to practice by myself. I tried to speak loudly, uncomfortable with the way my voice echoed inside my bedroom. I tried to take up space, sitting with arms and legs spread and books spaced widely across the desk in front of me. Tried to put myself first, to say what I really wanted, not what I thought others wanted. It’s still difficult. Invisibility is a hard habit to unlearn, and in my family, substance is a limited resource, depleted with every “Whatever you’d like,” and “No, you go first,” and “Sorry, this may sound stupid.” Some days I can feel myself being erased. So, at night I check my skin before I sleep. I practice visibility, saying to myself over and over “I have a right to be here. I have a right to be here. I have a right to be here.”
PARADOR DE LOS PINOS Poetry by Bea Alamo
There are mountains inside my chest, snow-capped peaks and gray skies with unwelcoming winds that sting. I take them out sometimes, stretching the ridges across my landscape and watch my family drive along icy roads. There is no replacing the smell of pine needles burning in the fireplace, drowned by my grandmother in the veil of gasoline and mixed with the chatter of foreign phrases my deaf brother couldn’t hear and I could barely understand. I knew even then there was a reason he was kissed goodnight while I went untouched. Whenever she would scold us, she’d smack him hard but hit me harder. God forbid I couldn’t say my own name, sullied by the grime that is “other” due to my birthright. For years, I grew in feet, then miles, rocks then boulders stacking high until I became a mountain against her, immovable against calamity,
a force thriving off her hatred of a different life that I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t ask for. I will never go back, but I do miss the trees, the sounds of the creek between the rocks, the secret nooks where I could escape the harrowing summers of that lodge. There was a peace I felt before she started using my name and <manchada> in the same sentence.
PLANTING SEEDS Nonfiction by Andrew Larimer
I parked my car on the grass under the oak tree in front of my sister’s cramped cabin. All that surrounded me was sugar cane fields, gravel roads and the occasional tractor moseying to the nearest grocery store. The sky was dark and rain was a distant murmur. I took a deep breath; not knowing what mood my sister would be in. I walked up to her patio and with each step the wood splintered and buckled under my feet. I knocked on her door where the bright yellow paint was partially eroded with age. Inside I heard footsteps scurrying around before she flung the door wide open. “Hey Monk,” she said in her raspy, high-pitched voice. Robin was sporting her usual attire—ragged mom jeans, an extra-large plain white tee that draped to her knees and a black headband with hanging beads she had sewn on herself wrapping around her shaven head. She was skinny. So skinny. This wasn’t the sister I knew from before. I merely wanted her to greet me like she did in the past. Wide-open arms while running through dancing grass saying “Monk. How are you? I missed you little monkey.” But that Robin was buried deeply within her struggles long ago. She got lost in between the bloody needles littering the showers of locker rooms and the dozens of empty Svedka bottles resting on bedside tables. She got lost at her refusal to consume pills for her bipolar disorder that my parents insisted she take. Her unfiltered relationship with drugs and her roller coaster ride of emotions played an even bigger part in destroying what sanity remained. From these, she had begun to form signs of the beginning stages of schizophrenia. She now lives as a husk—torn from the inside from the abuse and her mental instability and from the absence 94
of her daughter, Ani. Ani had acted as an adhesive, sticking Robin to reality and saving her from herself many times. Pieces of the former Robin do remain, but I’m unsure which Robin will float to the surface every time I visit. Leaving the other “Robin” suspended in water, drowning. Two years before this visit, when I was sixteen, I had walked up the downtrodden soggy steps. I trekked to the hick town of Ville Platte, Louisiana, just to check in on her, even though she was more than twice my age. I had barged inside her cabin without knocking. My nose immediately wrinkled at the smell of old cat food, rotten fruit and the pumpkin spice scent of Febreze. Dirty clothes lay scattered in mounds all over the floor. Hardened yogurt was molded in glass upholstery and all the indoor plants had all but decayed and wilted away. I called out her name but no one answered. The only sound was that of running water from the bathroom. I went to investigate. I knocked on the bathroom door, but only silence answered back. I let myself in. The bathtub was filled with bubbling, hot water. I shielded my face at first, but soon realized Robin was fully clothed inside the tub. She smoked a cigarette and listened to Peter, Paul and Mary on a ’90s Walkman while residing in the haze of steam that rose above the surface of the murky water. Her mascara appeared runny yet was a caked trail on her blemished face. Dark eye circles weighed down into her cheekbones and a layer of sweat dripped from her forehead, down her chin, dropping into the depths of the tub. An old masonry heater’s flame sparked in the wall which was covered with grungy, old license plates, dirt-encrusted 1950s posters and a street sign that read: 2 mph. The flame was unstable and crackled every minute or so. It was as if she was inside an active volcano and she was the uncontrollable hot magma. She looked up at me as my shadow crept over the white porcelain. She seemed trapped in a daze. She took out her earphones. “Andrew?” she asked. I could tell she had been alone for a while as her voice drifted at the end of my name. “Hey sis, I just thought I’d stop by.” She stood up and water cascaded down and out her cargo shorts’ pockets. She spoke with an authoritative voice. “I’m glad you’re here. I need your help. It is of the utmost importance.” She spoke quickly. “All right, sure. How can I help?”
She stepped through the threshold of the tub and made her way to the kitchen completely soaked and told me to follow. She drew a knife from the chipped wooden drawers and handed it to me. “Could you please, for the love of god, cut off the tag on the back of my shirt for me? I hate how it feels. It freaks me out. It is like a little person is poking me constantly on the top of my spine.” She paused and looked me up and down nodding. “You can leave after you cut it.” I was confused, yet I did as she asked. As I sliced the tag off, I saw one of her shoulders sink in her baggy, wet shirt and a giant sigh growled out her mouth. She turned and looked at me. Her eyes resembled black holes. They pierced through mine dead in the center and my hands and fingers tingled with pins and needles. My sister was a stranger. An alien. I heard the crackle from the heater’s flame in the bathroom. Without saying a word, she dragged her legs along the squeaky floors, creating puddles of water that seeped through the cracks as she moseyed back into her volcano of a bathroom. “Lock the door when you leave,” she hollered as I heard her feet dip back into the water. I was left in the kitchen amongst the vulgar scents, holding a steak knife in my right hand, a shirt tag in my left and standing in a puddle of hot water. However, little did I know that two years from that moment a whole new side of Robin was going to be showcased during one of my brotherly check-ins. And that time, it would be far from just unusual. When I turned eighteen in Louisiana, the law finally allowed me into bars and for some reason I thought with my newfound adulthood, I could handle Robin better than I had in the past. I could reach out and maybe allow for a resurfacing of the Robin I knew from my younger years. But as I stood there before her house, under those overcast skies, the strength I thought I had from the years under my belt crumbled. There was little light shining through the swollen clouds, but it only illuminated the drastic change Robin had undergone since the last time we stood face to face. She wasn’t drenched from scalding bathtub water, but rather twentyfive pounds lighter. A mere outline of what she used to be, a skeletal being with bone fingers and sunken cheeks. She looked like a cardboard cutout of a person. If I hugged her too hard or shook her hand for too long, she might snap in half. When we did hug I could feel her shoulder blades in my palms and every crevice of her spine. The hug was awkward and forced.
“Hey you. Long time no see,” I said, pretending nothing was wrong. She motioned for us to go sit on the molded, soggy and creaky steps on her patio rather than inside. Her eyes fluttered in swift increments. There was something off about the way she looked at me and I remembered how they appeared devoid of emotion last time we had an eye exchange. I remained silent while she took out a cigarette and lit it. My mom had always told me to remain silent. “It is better to say nothing Andrew; you never know what could set her off.” So I listened. “So Monk, why have you come to bother me today?” Robin said, joking. I could tell there was some truth to her words. “Just came to see you. Must I have a reason?” I responded nervously. “Yes. You know I am a busy woman. Next time, make an appointment.” “Okay, whatever you say.” In my head I could hear my mom on replay, “Don’t ask, don’t ask, don’t ask.” I asked. “Robin, you look like you lost some weight?” “Yeah, you know, I’ve been running a lot. Every day actually. Sometimes four times a day and with my sweat suit on.” “And you don’t pass out? It was ninety-one degrees yesterday … ” “I’m just that good, I guess. You know I used to run track in high school.” “Sure do.” “Oh monk, I almost forgot.” The subject quickly changed. “Look over there.” Robin points to a young awkward-looking birch tree standing no taller than my waist. “I planted it the day after ... ” she stopped midsentence. “After what, Robin?” “After Ani left.” I noticed a swift change in the tone of her voice. Her gaunt face tightened. Her eyebrows raised, her hands became fidgety and sweat started to form on her forehead. “Robin, I’m sure Ani is doing just fine at boarding school, she prob—” She cut me off. “I have to take care of it now. It’s young, and it needs me, ya know. It needs water and constant attention. It needs me to trim its branches and all sorts of things. It’s soil. I need to do that now too. Soil. I have to remember about changing the soil.” “That can wait, sis. You don’t have to do that right now.”
She was already up and making her way to the backyard. She came back with a huge bag of soil in her arms. The sky had gotten darker and was on the verge of a downpour. “Robin, don’t worry about that now. Let’s go inside. The weather is getting bad,” I yelled to my sister who had just placed the bag of soil next to the tree. “Hold on Monk, I need a shovel,” she yelled back. I had started to walk toward her. She was about to have an episode. I was sure of it and I needed to calm her down. “Robin, let’s go inside. This can wait. Come on,” I grabbed her arm to bring her inside but she yanked it out of my grasp. “No. The tree needs me now Andrew. This can’t wait. I’m grabbing a shovel and putting the soil down. I’m doing it now and that is that,” she viciously rebutted. I was speechless; I didn’t know what to do. I stood still under the gunmetal sky while I pressed my hands together in my uncertainty of my deteriorating sister. I bit my dry lips in efforts to cease the waterfall that was starting to fall down my cheeks. I was weak. The vitality I thought I had gained from age was a ploy. The wind had turned to lofty gales. Robin stopped in the middle of the yard and plummeted to the ground. The uncut blades of grass bent around her knees. Her hands gripped them for support. “I miss her. I need her. I hate it here. Hate it. This sucks,” she shrieked. “Why did she want to leave me? I gave her everything I could. All of it. I miss my daughter.” Tears started to form in her eyes. Mine began to swell as her shrieks rang through my ears. I started to make my way over to Robin to comfort her until she stopped me. “Andrew?” “Yeah, sis?” “I hate that tree.” Her eyes were filled with tears and they flooded down the sides of her face. She cradled the bag of soil as the wind thrashed around the beads from her headband. Her shaved head was shaking viciously as she kept muttering “No” at the young tree. I ran over to where she was sitting and wrapped my arms around my skeletal sister as rain fell from the dark skies. I remember a rainy Christmas Eve years ago after she had shaved her head for the first time. I don’t remember much of what was said because I had just turned nine, but I do remember the judgmental glances my relatives exchanged. I remember
the emotional turmoil that morphed my mom’s face as Robin broke a wine glass on the floor, threw an explosive tirade across the living room and spilled vulgar words into my dad’s ears for no apparent reason. I remember her slamming our door with such force that glass shattered and fell onto the brick floors. I was too young to know what was going on, but old enough to know it wasn’t good. After that, she disappeared for about a year. She did manage to break into our home the week after Christmas when no one was there and ripped every family picture that she was in into a dozen pieces. “She doesn’t want to be a part of our family anymore,” my mom said as salty tears filled her eyes and trickled off her nose and onto the scraps of pictures she held tightly in her hand. Robin had entered our house as a storm on that Christmas Eve and we thought the worst was over once she trailed off into the winter’s cold. But the week of silence that followed was merely the eye of the storm. This was the first instance where I knew there were two separate Robins. The Robin from the past with twelve inches of flowing jet-black hair whom I had given the nickname “Pocahontas.” The stable one who would carry me on her shoulders while playing freeze tag and throw me across clear, cerulean-blue pool waters. The sister I knew and loved possessed such promise and a glowing light in her eyes. She also had an unmatched comical demeanor. “When the person you hate the most falls down,” she would jest, “you ask the ground if it’s okay.” She would deliver her jokes with such charm and personality that even if I didn’t get them because of my age, I knew they were funny because adults would cackle at her wit. Then there was the other “Robin.” The one planting a birch tree in a rainstorm and submerging herself fully clothed in tubs. The unstable one with uncontrollable anger and no light in her eyes. After countless attempts to treat her issues, my parents gave up on this Robin. She refused their unyielding help, responding only with middle fingers and heartache. I don’t blame them for throwing in the towel, though. Hearing the stories of her drug-induced comas in New Orleans, her fists digging into my other sister’s stomach during middle school and her withdrawal from college with only ten hours left, I see why the light of hope flickered out of their eyes too. Even with all that in mind, I have refused to let my torch go out on her. Whether or not it’s just my childhood obliviousness, I know there is a Pocahontas trapped deep down in there.
Even distant relatives have all but given up on my outcast sister. My parents describe my check-ins on Robin as selfless, but I see them as selfish. Selfish in that I still want a big sister. The sister who teased her younger brothers when she beat them at arm wrestling. The sister who had to give the green light on their girlfriends. The sister who acted as a second mother. I thought my check-ins would re-assure me that she fit this clichĂŠ. But all I got back from Robin were discombobulated lies, unannounced emotional episodes in the pouring rain and her constant degradation of our family members. My heartbroken mother being the biggest target. I soon realized it might be impossible to have a stable relationship with a ticking time bomb. But like Robin, I am stubborn and have refused to back down. To this day, I continue to throw myself into my older sisterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s unstable environment. I continue my brotherly check-ins on my older seedling.
THE COLLECTOR Poetry by Bea Alamo
I used to collect hope from all the forbidden places in your eyes. Then I got greedy digging through storm clouds that opened an endless sea— nights spent on my porch alone unravelling lyrics, accumulating intimacies lost in your hands unbuttoning a blouse. But it became too much; I tried to map the storms to make sense of the direction, wrote letters to God to keep the fire inside the space, but the ache grew in my bones. There is no sense in keeping faith if it burns and blows. Now I’ve stopped looking for reasons to see meaning in background noise, in the hum of some distant engine gaining momentum just to drop away. It’s hard to say what I want, but it may be more than the worn envelope with your name on it, tacked high on my bedroom wall, just beyond my reach.
SMOOTH CRIMINAL Play by Matt Jackson
Characters: JAMES - Early 30s, male. He wears a dark-colored, button-up shirt. He’s clean
shaven, and his hair is neat. He’s witty, fast talking, and charismatic—in that used car salesman kind of way. He regularly acknowledges the audience, yet interacts with them. LEON - Late 20s, male. He wears a Led Zeppelin zip-up hoodie. His sleeves are pulled
up enough to see a silver watch on his right hand. He’s the drummer in a band, adorned with tattoos, wild hair and a lip ring. He’s nice, even charming, but naïve. MARIKA - Mid 20s, female. She wears a peony flower in her hair and a pullover
sweater. She’s an architect and carries herself much more professionally than her boyfriend, Leon. She’s smart, though opinionated, and caters to Leon’s naïveté. She rides a bicycle for transportation. TOUR GUIDE - 18, male. He wears a blue button-up shirt, tucked into black pants.
Setting: Autumn, on a sidewalk in Historic Savannah. Just in front of an old, rubble-veneered, Palladian house, a rusted iron fence separates the estate from the sidewalk. Through a gate, a gravel path runs to stairs leading to the entrance of the house. There’s a sign over the gateway that reads “Haunted House Tour.” A blue tour-guide hat hangs on the fence by the gate, beside a stand of Haunted House info pamphlets. It’s evening, but street lamps keep everything well-lit. Leon enters from the right. Marika rides her bike in from the left. She hops off to walk beside Leon. They kiss and continue toward the gate.
How was work? MARIKA
Ugh! I’m racking my brain trying to get these additions right, on that Ziegler house. LEON
Hey, at least they’re paying you more than I’ve ever made for a show. (Makes some drumming motions with his hand.) MARIKA
Yeah, but it feels like the firm doesn’t know what the hell it wants. They’ve shot down five ideas this week! LEON
Aw, well I’m really diggin’ the massive windows you’re putting on the front of those other apartments. MARIKA
Oh, the Lake-View place? LEON
Yeah! You know what would be sweet with those windows? (Smiles deviously.) That electrically frosted glass you hate. MARIKA
(Sighs heavily.) I told you, I’m not putting that in. LEON
I’m just saying, what if you want privacy? It’d sure be a lot easier than having to fiddle with some big ass curtains. MARIKA
It’s the main source of lighting for the whole apartment. It’s not meant to be covered up. LEON
But ... privacy. (Nudges her with his elbow, wearing a stupid smile.) Nobody wants the whole world seeing what you’re up to at all hours of the night—unless you’re a porn star or a Hollywood diva. MARIKA
It’s only gonna look into the den, kitchen and dining room! LEON
And in which of those places have we not ... needed privacy? MARIKA
(Pauses. Stares at Leon with a look that says she totally disagrees with him, but then shrugs and nods in agreement.) True ... I’m still not frosting the damn windows. (Says this without malice.) LEON
(Shrugs. Looks at his watch.) I was thinking though ...
’Bout what? LEON
I’m worried about—well, you know more about this than I do, obviously—but I’m worried about the ... uh, I don’t know, “mortality” of the “style.” MARIKA
(Stops.) What’s that mean? LEON
You know, how long it’ll take before the apartments date themselves. MARIKA
I’m gonna need you to elaborate. LEON
(Points in different directions.) These. That house right there. MARIKA
That’s Neoclassical. LEON
And that one. (Points.) MARIKA
They’re timeless! (James enters from the opposite direction. He sees the couple and walks confidently to the hat on the fence. He picks it up, plays with it and puts it on. He busies himself cleaning up his appearance.) MARIKA
Actually, Victorians are kinda shoddy. They’re constantly falling apart and cost a fortune in upkeep. Look at that one! (Gestures in a direction to prove her point.) LEON
Yeah, but it’s beautiful! More importantly, you can prop it up anywhere and it won’t look out of place. But remember that house we saw in Colorado? The spaceship? (Makes a shape with his hands.) Remember how funny it was, ’cause it looked like something only the ’50s could come up with? That’s what I mean. My concern is that people might eventually look at those apartments and be like “Ha! That’s so the 2010s!” MARIKA
(Laughs as she finally understands what he’s getting at.) But see, the spaceship had its own charm. It’s just like that Victorian, (Motions with her hands again.) or that Neo. Or even this Palladian. (Points to the haunted house.) You can put them anywhere, ’cause they’re all timeless. They represent their own times. The problem I had with the spaceship wasn’t the fact that it was Postmodern, it was that it had 104
shitty additions. The trick to that is trying to match the style of the original architect. (Groans. Begins to push her bike as she talks.) It’s fun—don’t get me wrong—but when you’ve got someone breathing down your neck about how your choice of siding complements the overall look, but “isn’t what Ziegler would have used,” you start wondering what your co-workers would look like with broken noses! (Calms down and adjusts the seat on her bike.) Sorry, this contract is still driving me nuts. I just need ... I don’t know, encouragement? Inspiration, maybe? (James leans on the fence and maintains a dapper, cool composure. He picks up a pamphlet and thumbs through it casually.) LEON
Don’t worry about it, Sexy-Pants. You’ll blow them away. You’ll see. (Hugs her and kisses her forehead. They start walking again. Suddenly, Leon snaps his fingers and appears to have come to some sort of realization.) Oh! You know what would really make a statement about our time? MARIKA
What? I told you, I’m trying to match the ... LEON
(Interrupts her.) No, not the Ziegler house; the apartments. (He speaks clearly, with a slower but humorous tone.) Electrically frosted glass. (Imitates drumming with his hands.) Bu-dum-tss! (Wears a look of satisfaction.) MARIKA
(Stops.) Well you better write a song about it, Drummer-Boy, ’cause I’m not frosting the goddamn windows! (Catches up and punches his shoulder, playfully, with her free hand.) JAMES
(Puts the pamphlet in his back pocket and flashes his hundred-dollar smile.) Hmm. You two look brave enough. Marika and Leon stop at the gate. MARIKA
(Stops. Looks around.) Who? Us? JAMES
Well, you for sure ... I don’t know about your boyfriend though. (Jokes with a wink.) LEON
Brave enough for what? JAMES
Ha! “For what,” he asks. For the greatest show in town! (Gestures to the “Haunted House Tour” sign above the gate.) MARIKA
(Reads the sign.) Oh, we’re not tourists. We live just down that way. (Points.)
Tourists or no, I stand by my word that you’ll never find a better date-night adventure. (Looks to Leon.) Flex your muscles and prove how brave you are. (Pats Leon’s arm.) LEON
(Looks to Marika.) Sounds like it could be fun ... MARIKA
Leo! I thought we were going to the Melting Pot. You were so hungry twenty minutes ago. JAMES
(Jumps into their conversation.) Coffee and cookies in the foyer. And I’m not kidding when I say this is the coolest house in Savannah, even if you’re not into the occult. You guys ever see a pool in the shape of a bird? MARIKA
(Looks skeptical.) In that house?! JAMES
In the basement! Right next to the bowling alley. MARIKA
You’re kidding! JAMES
Dead serious! Haha, it’s funny ’cause that’s where one of the previous owners died. LEON
Drowned in the pool? JAMES
Nope. Freak bowling accident. LEON
Tell me about it! Guy throws the ball forward and his fingers got stuck. (Looks at Leon.) Swollen fingers. You’re a drummer, better watch that. (Makes a throwing motion with his whole body.) Zip-boom! Crash! Then ... (Chops one hand into his other, then cuts his neck with his finger.) Hick! And his head comes right back up the ball return! MARIKA
(Covers her mouth.) Oh my god! JAMES
Yeah, fate, I guess. At least he was smiling. Apparently he was a private detective with a taste for prostitutes. The only witness to the accident was one of said “ladies of the night.” Headline in the newspaper read “DICK FINGERS FINAL HOLES WITH HIS HEAD IN THE GUTTER.” LEON
(Laughs and looks to Marika.) I kinda wanna see this. 106
Bathrooms even have electrically frosted glass! Twenty bucks to get in! (Leon starts to say something, but Marika interrupts. Her whole mood changed at the mention of the glass.) MARIKA
We’re not interested. Come on Leo. (Grabs Leon’s hand and drags him and the bike toward the leftmost part of the stage—Leon on her left; the bike on her right.) JAMES
(Runs after them.) Wait, wait, wait! MARIKA
Look, Tour Guide, we ... JAMES
(Interrupts her as he hops in front of them.) Call me James. (Forcefully shakes both of their hands, stealing Leon’s watch in the process. Without giving them a chance to argue, he puts his arm around Leon’s shoulders and steers them back toward the gate, using the bike as a sort of pivot.) We’ve got winding metal stairs, Tiffany light fixtures ... (Pulls out the pamphlet with his left hand and reads it off as he leads them.) uh, transom windows above all the doors ... ooo! It has original 18th-century Chinese porcelain dinnerware! (Once they reach the gate again, James turns them to the house, so their backs are to the audience. James stands on the left, Leon in the center and Marika, with her bike, on the right. James does his best to wrap his arm around both of their shoulders. Leon’s watch dangles in James’ fingers.) JAMES
Just look at this place. It takes your breath away. (As the other two take a brief moment to look at the house, James quickly reaches behind Leon and plucks the flower from Marika’s hair. Marika looks to the sky and pats her head, where the flower was.) MARIKA
A bird? JAMES
(Sniffs the flower and tosses it to the left.) Yep! Bird pool in the basement. Oh! Did I mention there’s a greenhouse on the top floor? Only twenty-five bucks! LEON
(Still looking at the house.) Come on Marika, we’ll just take a quick look. MARIKA
The greenhouses in Savannah have been pretty, so far ... (James reaches over and tries to take Leon’s wallet from his back pocket. He tugs
at it, but retreats when Leon looks down to Marika as if she touched his butt. Leon squeezes hers.) MARIKA
But you just ... (Looks back at the house briefly, more out of confusion than anything.) JAMES
There’s also a trophy room, with all sorts of exotic animals. Our detective liked hunting too—apparently not just for tail. MARIKA
I don’t think I want to see a bunch of dead animals ... (James reaches over and successfully takes Leon’s wallet, waving it to the audience before pocketing it. Leon squeezes Marika’s butt again.) MARIKA
I said stop! LEON
(Looks at her in surprised confusion, then at James, and back to her.) But ... ! JAMES
Oh yeah! You can practically stand in the grand fireplace. It’s huge! Come on kiddos, I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises! Thirty bucks is a steal for an experience like this! MARIKA
(In an irritated tone.) I don’t know; I’m starting to get hungry now Leon. JAMES
(Puts a hold on trying to convince Marika, and focuses on Leon. Wraps his arm around Leon’s shoulders again and turns him back to the audience. Talks to him like an old buddy.) You know who else used to live here? John Bonham. LEON
From Led Zeppelin? JAMES
The Legend! (Marika separates herself from the group. She leans against her bike and crosses her arms in aggravation.) LEON
But they’re British. JAMES
It was his summer home. And for thirty-five, I’ll let you play his guitar. LEON
He was their drummer ... 108
That’s not to say he didn’t have a guitar! The drums are off limits though. MARIKA
(Walks behind them and grabs Leon by his arm again.) We’re done here. JAMES
All right, for forty I’ll let you sit with the drums and take some pictures for Facebook. LEON
(Freezes solid.) I have to do this. JAMES
There ya go! Forty-five bucks and you’re in! MARIKA
You said forty! (Leon frantically digs for his wallet. He can’t seem to find it.) JAMES
That’s right; forty and you get the whole shebang! LEON
(Still searching for his wallet.) John Bonham. John Bonham! No! I left my wallet at the house! Babe! Let me have forty bucks and I’ll ... MARIKA
What?! No! You can get your own cash. I’m gonna go have our date by myself! LEON
But! John Bonham’s drums! Mari please, come here. (Gestures for Marika to follow him over to the fence.) Just a second, James. JAMES
By all means! (Clasps the watch and admires it on his arm. Winks at the audience.) I’ve got all the time in the world. (As Leon and Marika whisper with each other at the gate, James pulls out the pamphlet again and flips through the pages. Suddenly his eyes widen and he turns to the couple.) JAMES
Oh! Did I mention that additions were made to the west side of the building after a tragic house fire in nineteen sixty? Would never guess by looking at it, huh? Talk about an architect who knew what he was doing! MARIKA
(Pops her head up from their argument. Looks at Leon, then back to James.) Did you say additions? JAMES
(To Marika.) They say his connections are seamless. MARIKA
(Genuinely intrigued.) A perfect addition ... 109
It’d be a shame to let the talents of such an artist go unnoticed. LEON
You did say you could use some inspiration. MARIKA
(Looks up to the house once more. Bites her lip.) I guess ... I mean, the Ziegler house is a Palladian too ... LEON
(Shoves his fist in the air victoriously.) We’ll do it! JAMES
That’s the spirit! (Holds his hand out, like a hotel bellhop waiting for a tip.) (Marika fumbles through a wad of bills, counts out forty, and hands it to James.) JAMES
(Snatches the money.) You kids are gonna love it. I promise! Head on in the foyer, and I’ll be right behind you as soon as I lock your bike up. (Takes her bicycle.) LEON
John freakin’ Bonham! MARIKA
I know, Drummer-Boy! What are you waiting for? Go! (Leon runs up the pathway and stairs enthusiastically. Marika walks quickly after him. James watches them for a moment.) JAMES
Gonna have to ask you to simmer down a little! I don’t want to be responsible if you hurt yourself or break something! (Leon and Marika disappear through the front door of the house. James looks out at the audience. He pauses briefly, then swings his leg over and mounts the bike.) JAMES
(Chuckles and shakes his head.) “Dick fingers final holes with his head in the gutter ... ” (A spotlight follows James as he rides the bicycle off the front of the stage, down a ramp, and through the audience. The spotlight cuts once he’s reached the back. James is gone. The real tour guide enters from the left side of the stage. His shirt matches the hat James was wearing.) TOUR GUIDE
(Looks around the fence and gate.) Where the hell did I put my hat? Blackout.
AN IMPROVISED SHRINE Fiction by Maria Alvarado
On Saturday morning, the girls write small condolences in pastel cards and pull out a couple of flowers from the school bushes. In a row, they follow the rock road and cross the big grass field and don’t stop until they reach the big brown building where the teachers live. The girls look up to the windows, expecting to see eyes peeking from behind the white curtains; looks of incertitude, disapproval, maybe resenting their youth. They see nothing, and so they continue with their little improvised ceremony. They stand in a line in front of the fifteen concrete steps that lead up to the front door of the building. Christa, the girl with the tidiest uniform and curly hair tamed in a perfect bun, steps in front of her classmates and opens her hands. The girls, quick like a military squad, hand her the cards and the flowers. Christa turns around, and climbs up the stairs slowly, her dark eyes occasionally peeking down at her shoes. She stops in the seventh step, kneels down, and carefully arranges the cards and flowers. In order, they read: Amira (So sad you left us so soon), Betty (I’m sorry I never finished my paper on time, you didn’t have to die, though), Christa (No words for this loss), and Diana (Damn these stairs). When Christa steps back in the line, one of the girls is weeping and another is patting her on the back. They all look at the steps; wet from the morning drizzle, covered in dirt and fading autumn leaves. Their sharp girl eyes, like the dark pieces of a checker game, silently look upon the stairs with a loathing so deep it turns their little hearts to stone. For once, in a time when only some girls were lucky enough to see their parents for Christmas and the teachers only talked about becoming good wives, Ms. Smith
had offered them ice cream at the end of the year. But these concrete stairs had spoiled everything, with their stupid brown leaves and dirt, so slippery on Monday mornings. They were so filthy that no one even bothered to leave a flower for Ms. Smith before the girls did. Two weeks before, Ms. Smith had promised them they would have ice cream at the end of the year because the girls deserved it. Ms. Smith was neither young enough to have shiny white teeth and hair in dancing curls, or old enough to have her face sprinkled with warts and wrinkles. Unlike the other teachers at the boarding school, Ms. Smith didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t threaten to pull their ponytails or whip their butts with her thirty-inch-long metallic ruler, not even when they put chalk dust in her coffee or when Christa threw a rock at Amira for mocking her handwriting. Sometimes, she would even let them complain about their parents. Christa tilts her head towards the grass field and the girls turn around in their perfectly clean school shoes. As they march back, Christa looks up to the windows of the brown building. Invisible eyes behind the curtains fill with resentment.
THE WRITER UPSTAIRS Poetry by Jackson Woods
I imagined a writer to be stoic, clean, without fear of outrage, wandering through hotels and fields, scribbling behind fires, between sorrows, to write, to create a place for secrets. But then I saw you, the savagery of your eyes, the distance in your nature. What rage builds inside your solitary world, to weaken the spines of your books? If to be a writer one must suffer such agonies, what man would agree? It is a world only for you, and a curse, the food, the clothes, the books, the words piling up and leaning toward you, like an audience, sighing out of interest or exhaustion. Lives like paths spilling around you untaken. Sedentary and searching, you are an onlooker without a view.
NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN (ALL OF) YOU Nonfiction by Grace Ann Leadbeater
The green circle for the subway entrances glows from afar on Manhattan and Norman Avenues. The sun beats against the concrete and the heat climbs to my knees. I run as fast as my legs will go as I reach for my MetroCard and pray it registers on the first swipe. I leap down the gritty cement staircase and propel my bent-up card through the slot at the turnstile. It swipes; I push through. The train arrives at the platform as I do. My ears ring. It’s not the engine or the brakes that rattle my eardrums; the heavy breaths that surround me rattle them. I politely shove my way into the doors as they open. It’s a body-to-body tunnel, but the next train won’t arrive for another twenty minutes so no one’s getting off. Everyone’s clothes mesh together, resembling a child who dressed himself for school. Someone’s briefcase hits me in the head. I hold my breath. It’s a Monday. Everyone hates the subway today. I used to be everyone, too. An MTA report in 2013 says that 5.5 million people ride the New York City subway during the week. It’s 1.708 billion riders a year. In one day 1.1 million people are cramming into subway cars to get to class, work, a cousin’s birthday, a doctor’s appointment or an improv show. Lawyers race against mothers who are holding their neon-backpack-wearing kids to get to the E train first. It’s infuriating, but it happens. For those few seconds or minutes of waiting, businessmen fervently tap their Edward Green Monmouth shoes as a nearby mother pulls her child closer. Society’s hierarchical tendencies are on display for everyone nearby to witness. The photo studio I worked at in Long Island City this summer, residing on the north side of the Pulaski Bridge, made the subway my only option for cheap transportation. I took the G train—one of the more notoriously unreliable trains. It technically only took fifteen minutes to get to work, but with the train’s unpredictable schedule,
I’d rush out the door at 9 a.m. when I had to be at work at 10 a.m. I always arrived at 9:45 a.m. Always. Some people would make playlists just for this commute. Businessmen would use their briefcases to push into the doors first. Near the end of July, my mother, a native New Yorker, visits me from Florida. I pick her up at Penn Station. She’s easy to spot. All the other fifty-somethings are wearing those gaudy, floral tops, fake jeans, and russet leather loafers. Not Debie Leadbeater. She’s sporting a black tee, loose-fitting jeans, and Nike sneakers. She could pass as Elizabeth Taylor’s daughter with her petite nose and delicate mouth. Her wildly curly jet-black hair bobs up and down as she runs to me, grinning uncontrollably. “Hi, Mommy,” I say to her. “I missed you so much. I met this really wonderful couple and we talked from Florida to Maryland. Where do we go to get home?” We take the E uptown and then transfer to the G. My mother loves crowds. And waiting. She actually enjoys attending the Fourth of July firework shows and staying for the finale and then having to wait for hours just to walk the hundred yards to her car. She gets a kick out of walking around Disney during its peak season. People fascinate her—usually people who are nothing like her. She doesn’t get social classes. While visiting me in the city, we use the subway constantly. That’s okay with her. She loves sitting back and watching as a woman fervently creates bouquets of found roses to sell or an elderly man covers songs by Otis Redding. Sometimes we ride the train for 30 minutes. Other times it’s over an hour. Her smile never falters. On the fifth day of her visit, we spend a good portion of it on the G train. As we get off at my stop, swimming through the sea of people to get to the ground level, she stops and sighs. “I love the G train,” she exclaims. Everyone comes to a halt. Some people glare at her, others roll their eyes. One teenage girl in a green “Ohio is for lovers” shirt giggles. I quickly get us to the surface before anyone can tell us the five reasons why they hate New York City’s public transportation system. When I think about walking through the city’s streets, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby comes to mind. In the scene where Nick Carraway is visiting Tom’s apartment in New York City, he talks about being in the living room with everyone but observing it from afar. He’s “within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” That’s exactly how it feels when you’re in this city. Until you step on the subway. 115
In Manhattan or Brooklyn or Queens, everyone you see is like a walking, talking museum. Almost every prototype of a person you can conjure up saturates the sidewalks. You look at people all day, but that’s all. You never get close enough to really humanize anyone on the street. I guess it’s kind of awful. Then there’s the subway. For those few seconds or minutes of waiting during the morning or late afternoon, there’s that urgency to not get left behind. People can be hostile as they wait for their train to come. Then it arrives and usually everyone finds a way to fit. The apprehension evaporates as an executive of some impressive company lets down his defenses as he notices a sleepy construction worker and puts his seat up for grabs. Everyone becomes human. The subway takes those walking and talking museums and suddenly they become Mona Lisa before anyone knew she was something to look at. And it hits me. New York City’s public transportation system is quietly bringing an eclectic bunch of people together. My mother just understood that a lot sooner than the rest of us. It’s September. I’m taking the G train for the last time in the summer. I take it to Queens and then back to Brooklyn. As I ease into my seat, I watch a saxophone player in oil-stained jeans with a plastic cup attached to his weathered belt. A few feet in front of him is a child in a bright red shirt, wrapping his arms around his mother’s leg as he watches the performance. Businessmen look exhausted, barely holding up their paperbacks. Some people look irritated as they lose another round of whatever game is popular right now. I spot a few smiles among the sea of people. I know if my mother were here, she’d be wearing one of those smiles, hers the most incurable of them all. The out-of-tune instruments mixed with children perpetually chattering on this tardy train aren’t so terrible. I get to catch the fringes of other peoples’ days as we make our way to and from home. And for that portion of the day where we heavily depend on public transportation, we may glance at one another, bump shoulders, fall into the other one’s chest as the train unexpectedly takes off, or even quietly smile. Perhaps only a “sorry” or “thank you” or giggle will leave our mouths. What’s certain, though, is that for two or five or eight stops, we must share our spaces with strangers, briefly tagging along with them. And if the train’s delayed, at least we’re all late together.
I WANT TO WRITE A POEM Poetry by Jackson Woods
I want to write a poem as long as California, lines running on in the night, rolls of fabric unspooling in my room. Each the heart of my father, unraveling and piling up, to lead me from the labyrinth. Now I am a traveller. To seek some semblance of his work, I search for answers beyond Red Mountain, beyond the valley foundries in the shadow of the iron hill. What left do I have of those fabric walls? Each, translucent in the lamp light, crumples delicately in exhaustion like a cleanly pressed suit, in a casket.
ELYSE Fiction by Rachel Reed
Time is cold water and potted plants. Fearing spiders in the sink and losing my keys on Thursday afternoon. It holds promise in the early evening and becomes meaningless by midnight. Time. It distorts everything but white walls and clichés. “What’s your name, pretty thang?” Damn. I knew he was going to say something like that. His chapped thumbs rested on a rocks glass he’d been holding for the past twenty minutes. I knew it would come to this. “Elyse.” His hands started winding around the base of his drink. Slow and tight. “Well ain’t that a pretty name to match some pretty eyes?” I took a sip of my drink and stared at the edgeless shapes around me. Waiting for the room to fall faint until it didn’t hurt. His silhouette became a canvas of neon lights. Red. Purple. Red again. “You’re a quiet one, aren’t ya, Elaine?” I took another sip and studied his face. He’ll do. “What’s a pretty thang like you doing all alone here?” If he’d just stop talking it would be better. And besides, what I am doing here now was something else five minutes ago. Twenty minutes ago. That’s the problem with time. It moves on without you. “Waiting.” “Waitin’? For what? A drink? You want somethin’ else?”
I began charting my way to familiarity, someone else, painted blurs and jagged dots. But still I felt nothing. What I wanted was lost with time and isolated from it. Something I couldn’t trick myself into seeing for at least another two drinks. But then I’d make his face into a masterpiece by the nameless—Elaine, Elyse—a face I could never truly get back from anyone who might sit next to me. “Just waiting.” “Well then, what’ll it be next, sugar?” Somewhere between being a child and moments like this, the things I did to forget became the only way I could remember. I began to seek. To sink. Manipulating memories as I conjured them into existence. Trying to make lost time just a toy. And then I found myself caught between two distorted realities that I couldn’t escape or ever truly make tangible. So I leaned in and kissed him. “Whatever you’re having is what I want.” But it wasn’t. I wanted to use him in a way he could never use me. I wanted the ceiling to drop and the walls to give up. I wanted things that will never be just because I will them to return. He laid his wrist over mine and I felt the thud of his pulse. “She’ll take a double.” Figures. But I brought this on myself. Sitting here. Alone with the clock. And I knew this would happen. It’s not his fault. None of us can save anyone determined to drown. Looking to stop time or make it trickle. If people want to find the bottom, they will. I will. And everything else becomes part of a still life left out in the autumn air to warp. “Cheers.” I cannot distort a truth that will always matter a little too much. I cannot let go of someone who loved me just long enough to make me feel truly abandoned. And I cannot recreate or shatter the memory with any stranger on a barstool. But I can try. “Let’s just get out of here. Okay?” It’s easier than it should be. But men and women are different types of easy. So are the reasons we leave with someone we barely know. If he said “let’s get out of here” to me ten minutes ago, he’d sound like a creep. Women have a harder time seeming creepy. This makes me lucky, I guess. “Can I get you another?”
The bartender notices this night after night. How I come back and they don’t. He wipes down the bar, never looking up. But smiles when strangers kiss the side of my neck. “Let’s just get out of here. Okay?” He reached for the small of my back and I gave my drink to the backdrop of inedible oranges and spills. A bottomless prop left at 1:30 a.m., stale and empty, even when it’s full. I know that. Being touched is not the same as being reached. I know that too. But it’s all up for interpretation. “After you, pretty thing.” Days. Nights. Holidays. Hellos. Lights that go up and lights going out. The clock only goes forward and nothing brings him back. So I give myself over to the moment. Someone else’s moment. And anyone can frame it however they want. I’m just a girl in a bar.
CENTER OF THE VALLEY Poetry by Jackson Woods
There is a color, not quite blue, darker than the waters beyond the house; lower than the soft, wet earth, through which that water seeps, the color filtered to purity unreachable by any shovel. It is the lifeblood of rock and fire; the gasping breath of the sun; the cold silence when walking in the palm of iron, steel, and stone. It is the shadow of the mountain Draining to the bottom of the valley, And at the center of that shadow, At the heart of that great darkness, is a small, unwashed child, who fast asleep, knows nothing of the morning.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE Nonfiction by Nicole Palpal-latoc
It is a funny thing when your father tells you he has Alzheimer’s. Truly funny, funny in a cosmic way, as if the universe is laughing at you, but its laugh is one of those contagious laughs, the kind that you can’t help but laugh along with. So you stand there and you look at your father who is so small now, so skinny, whose hair has become more matted than ever and is beginning to grey, and he straps you into an old army vest from Vietnam. “Soldiers used to wear this … let me just … you shimmy it …” he says. He does not look at you. He looks at his hands or the fastenings on the vest. You stand there and you let him because you’re not allowed not to let him. You stand there and you keep your mouth shut. You count the grey hairs in his beard, or the scars on his arms. His skin is tan but it looks grey, and it lies over his bones in a bloated way, the way a blanket lies over a pile of clothes. “There,” he says. He takes a step back and sniffs. You would rather stub a toe than stand there. You would rather swallow a live goldfish. He makes you turn around. He puts a camouflage hat on your head. It is too small, but you do not take it off. You cannot take it off. He starts in on a story, but stops when he sees an old sword standing near him. He claims it is from the Civil War. You look impressed because you’re supposed to, so he starts to show you the rest of his collection. Your father is a storyteller who cannot remember how to tell a story. When he loses track of the swords he tells you he is sick, something in his brain is not right. Your throat hurts and something in your knees aches. You start to cry, just a tear or two, nothing dramatic, but your father sees this and he feels sad about it because he thinks you feel sad about it. He loops his sinewy arms around your
neck and he makes you hug him and the aching in your knees turns to a burning, an urge unlike any you have ever felt before, to run as far as you can. And the universe is laughing at you because it knows you can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything. You’re stuck. You’re powerless in your sick father’s embrace wearing an army vest that smells like mothballs in a closet with more guns than clothes in it. Tears fall from your eyes but your body shakes because your soul is laughing. Your father hugs you tighter. “I’m so proud of you. My baby girl.” It’s funny because your father has been sick for a very long time. When you were ten it was the painkillers and the alcohol. When you were eleven it was chemotherapy that was meant to be preventative, cautionary. It lasted for almost two years. Your father had always been angry and demanding and tired. He was impatient. He expected perfection. But he was sick and you knew this, so you swallowed the years of treatment because it was right and they were justified. You still flinch when someone shouts your name from another room. After chemo, your father is well and happy and returning, and you are excited for the ease to come. He feels stronger, but his bones are weak and his immune system does not exist anymore. He pushes himself too far; he breaks his ankle. He is in bed for a year but his bones cannot heal. When he returns to work after getting the all clear, he’s only on his ankle for three months before it snaps again. Even to this day it is still broken, still swollen. It is his favorite conversation piece. The doctors have had him on enough painkillers for an elephant since he was a young man, crashing his motorcycles and jumping off bridges, and after the chemo his drinking got worse by the day. For a while he was what they call “functioning,” meaning he could go to work or to the grocery store, or do things around the house, but he was drunk, always drunk. He is no longer considered functioning. The drinking and the painkillers and the chemotherapy, they killed the man your mother tells you that you once loved. She tells you that he used to make you laugh, that he was your favorite person in the world, but you do not remember this. In fact, you do not remember much, but you do remember. You remember your father’s anger, his arm pulling back quickly and you flinching. Most of the time he would not hit you, but he would hit your brother every time. You remember your fear; you remember his power. You remember your anger. You remember the times at the dinner table when your father would play the last-one-done game and you would eat as slowly as possible so that you didn’t
have to watch your baby brother get spanked until he bled. You remember your brother’s ripped T-shirts, the sounds of his body being thrown into shelves and walls. You remember the times he held a gun to your mother, the times she pulled you aside and said not to worry, to take your brothers if something happened, that they had assets, we would be fine. You remember the picture frames on the floor, the shattered glass your father left you to clean up. You remember hating yourself because your skin never bruised, the signs never showed. You remember the times he threatened your books and your bedroom door, the only safeties you had left. You remember being drug-free, alcohol-free, friends-free, because your sister had friends and she smoked weed and she drank out of your father’s liquor bottles; because your sister got pregnant and ran away at sixteen, and your father couldn’t tell that you were not your sister. You remember fighting to prove him wrong: getting straight A’s, getting a job, getting a diploma, getting into college. But your father could never be proved wrong because your father could never be wrong because your father is sick. You remember these things but your father does not, and when he tells you that he has Alzheimer’s, your soul laughs with the universe because he says it as if you do not already know.
RED SUMMERS Poetry by Jackson Woods
Sad to say thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s more than one More than once, to hear the heart beating, clanging off the walls like furniture. Every time more difficult, to feel each one as it slides, a drunken hydroplane, into the cheek or chin or neck. The accuracy of rage tearing through, those hot summer evenings, when good food does nothing to calm the mind. There were others more persistent, hovering to cling tightly to the throat, pinching the hairs on the back of the neck. How silenced I felt, how trapped, to feel my father put me so far into that darkness, that only his furious, piercing eyes, could see me.
HELP ME, MOSES Fiction by Ryan Kelly
The moon was full in a yellow hot sauce sky, the city was dead quiet, and Tom was pissing off the porch and singing some Vashti Bunyan song in his best falsetto howl. A gust of wind blew and the magnolia tree rattled its sagging spinach branches against the fence. Tom felt he was better than the moon. With his elbow he knocked his can of beer off the porch railing. Can dented, beer flat. He went and picked it up. His dog, a black shepherd-terrier mix with Pinscher brown eyebrows, followed Tom around to the front where the trashcans were. The dog’s name was Moses. He wagged his tail and sniffed the can like it was filled with pulled pork, smelling the sunrise in what he couldn’t know was just a can of dead swill. In the garbage it went. Inside his apartment, Tom scribbled a list onto a Burger King napkin that was sitting in crumbs and ashes. He wanted to publish a book of nonsensical lists someday.
Marlboro Reds: Poetry
Marlboro Lights: Fiction
Pall Malls: Cancer
Camels: The Void
It was time to take Moses for a walk around the block. He picked up the leash and for once considered using it since he was drunk. He thought maybe Moses took him less seriously when he was drunk. Trusted him less. *** Earlier that day, Tom had a tattoo appointment at a parlor called Pluto’s Soda Fountain. He got a minimal line drawing of Moses’ eyes, nose and ears tattooed onto his chest. At the end of it, he asked about getting a touch-up. 126
“Of what?” the front clerk said. Tom showed the clerk the pack of Marlboro Reds on his left asscheek and told him, “I want better reds.” “Yeah, man. We can do that. Come back tomorrow.” Tom had gotten that tattoo during a three-week period when he’d tried to quit smoking, cold turkey. He wanted to be able to moon his friends and say, “Smoking’s behind me.” Tom went to his neighborhood Piggly-Wiggly after leaving Pluto’s Soda Fountain. He bought blackberries because they were on sale, spicy brown mustard for his sandwiches, and toilet paper. He also needed cigarettes. Tom always used the selfcheckout, and when he needed cigarettes, he had to ask the attendant. “Excuse me, hey. Could I get a pack of Marlboro Lights, please?” (After failing to quit, Tom started smoking Lights. In his parents’ minds, the switch from Reds really made a difference.) The attendant told him, “Nah, we out.” Tom said, “You’re out of Lights. Fuck. Well then, how about Reds?” “Nah, we out of all Marlboros.” “All right. Let me get a pack of Camels.” Tom got dinner at a nameless soul food joint after the grocery store. A strange rendition of No Diggity was playing inside the restaurant, and Tom ordered some brisket. While he ate, a bony white girl with two long skinny brown braids and chemical burns on her arms was on her hands and knees, scrubbing the baseboards with a rag, dancing slightly, and smiling at him with big, square, perfectly straight teeth. He left down the block and not but a minute or two later, realized his cigarettes were still on the table at the restaurant. He went back and asked the cashier if he’d picked up a pack of Camels. The braided girl was nowhere to be found and the cashier said he hadn’t seen the cigarettes. After walking out, Tom saw an old man whose T-shirt was tucked into his pants, sitting alone on a bench, smoking. Tom asked to bum one. He had Pall Malls. The man handed him one and Tom said, “Hey. Means a lot.” The man spat yellow phlegm between his own shoes and said, “All right.” *** Tom hated leashes. When Moses turned two years old, Tom started taking him to a state park twenty-five minutes outside the city. They did this again and again through the months of January, February and March after Moses’ second birthday, which was on New Year’s Day. Tom didn’t know Moses’ precise birthday, only that 127
he was a Capricorn, because he was five weeks old when Tom got him sometime during the first half of February. So New Year’s Day was an easy and practical guess. And, according to Tom, Moses liked to party. They went on long walks, deep into the woods, away from any cars or machinery that would make the lesson more dangerous than it needed to be. And when Moses strayed too far, Tom called him back with a treat in-hand, said good boy, kissed him between the eyebrows. Tom found him in the newspaper. Ad said, “Free puppy, 5wks old. Corgi, pit bull, lab mix.” The puppy was none of those breeds. He would only drink milk at first, and so Tom had to water it down more and more until it was purely tap water. Tom never taught him to roll over or fetch or shake hands, but whenever anyone asked, “How you get him to walk unleashed so good?” he said, “At first, it’s trust. After that, it’s just laziness.” It wasn’t legal, but Tom and Moses lived in a bad part of town, where cops had better things to do. When Moses reached the end of a sidewalk, Tom grunted something like, “’Ey, ’ey,” and Moses waited for Tom to cross the street. If Moses fell behind, distracted by something’s scent, Tom shouted something like “Moses. Ketchup,” and Moses would catch up. Tom thought he was going to grow up to be a big dog, with bloody steak zeal and cutthroat thigh muscles. Instead, Moses was a runt, a skinny nervous mess, but in the quicksand of Tom’s own anxieties, he was some sort of root to hold on to. *** After getting his brisket dinner, Tom picked up a six-pack of beer. He arrived home that night to a letter from a girl. The girl moved far away, but in the letter, she told him she’d loved him. He started drinking, elated, listening to Vashti Bunyan, writing her back immediately. He didn’t censor himself, and after giving the letter a once-over, he looked to Moses, who sat under the desk licking his lips and staring up at Tom with black cherry eyes. “You gotta help me, Moses.” Moses wagged his tail. Tom wanted a cigarette and remembered that pack of Parliaments that so-and-so had forgotten at his house. He’d smoked on it for months as an emergency pack, though he wasn’t fond of them. He smoked the cigarette on his porch and became fixated on that hot sauce sky. ***
They lived on a corner and walked the same route ever since Tom signed his lease six years ago. The route went: three blocks north, one block west, three blocks south, and one block east back to their apartment. They were on the final stretch east when a hum hissing came from the moonlit alley between an old house and a dentist’s office. There were five stray cats, backs arched, eyes gleaming, tongues pointed, slowly walking toward Moses. Moses spooked, rearing onto his hind legs, and leapt into the street, away from the hissing and the tiny teeth. An old jalopy of a white truck drove by, one headlight busted, and put an end to the fears of five cats. Tom stood still. He looked back at the cats, which were each slinking off into the shadows. They knew Moses was eight years old. They knew dogs only had one life to live. Tom took stuttered steps over to Moses, who was wide-eyed and flattened, glued to the greying asphalt. There was no blood. He curled around the flattened body and tried to hold it. He lay there a while and drifted off to sleep. The people in the cars passed throughout the night. They couldn’t see the dog, only the boy curled up in the middle of the road. They all steered around him, let him live. Sometime before dawn, Tom woke up to a nudge on the shoulder, from a chubby black kid wearing jeans and a phoenix red zip-up hoodie. He sat cross-legged. “You look like you could use a Newport.” The kid held a cigarette out to him and he took it, with dewy, trembling hands. He sat up, lit the cigarette, started to shiver and cry. The kid took Tom in his arms and held him, and they sat in the road that way for a bit until the yellow sky turned into something warm, something violet. Tom held the ribbed collar of his T-shirt to his eyes. “He trusted me.” “With the way you crying, I can tell you. All you gotta know is that that homeboy right there felt your love like no other fool ever could, and that was good enough.” The kid jabbed Tom’s chest lightly, where his Moses tattoo was still bandaged. But the jab didn’t hurt. The kid said, with black cherry eyes, “How’s that Newport taste?” Tom lifted his head and said, “Like immortality, or something close.”
MANIA Fiction by Sara Terrell
Saturday afternoon was our first glimpse of sun in weeks. Spring blossomed in our garden perfuming the air as the petals on our tree glided down, carpeting the grass. My brother and I rolled on the lawn until our clothes were stained green and our knees marked with dirt. We made a crown of flowers and rushed inside to our parents’ bedroom. The curtains were drawn, but we could faintly see her silhouette blanketed on the mattress. Mom groaned as she curled into herself, trying to close out the light. We left the crown on the night stand, silently closing the door. That night I thought I heard someone crying, but dismissed it and closed my eyes. On Monday, Mom brought home a piano. When we arrived from school she clutched our hands excitedly leading us into the living room. She bounced on her heels and laughed as we set down our bags and ran our fingers over the woodwork. The keys were yellowed and cuts grooved in and out of the body. But it was ours and it was perfect. She sat us down on the bench. Her fingers made their way across the white and black. We did the same, filling our little house with music. She smiled her best at us, and we did the same. We’d never played before. Dad came home from his trip that Wednesday and found the piano against what used to be the empty space in our living room. He took Mom aside so we wouldn’t hear. But this was a small house and the walls were thin. He patiently asked her about the money. She said that he shouldn’t worry so much, that she only just wanted to fill the space. They raised their voices and the door slammed. I came down to find Dad at the table with his head in his hands. Mom came back when it was dark and said nothing.
Two weeks later Dad and I went to visit her in the hospital. My brother was too young to understand and he was afraid of doctors. We picked her some flowers from our garden which she took with weak hands. She wasn’t my mother then. This woman was a ghost: pale and crumpled like old paper. She told us she was sorry, and we said we loved her. Our neighbors saw us on their walk. They looked at me with pity and shook their heads, whispering. Dad cursed at them and they quickened their pace. The years passed as smoothly as we could make them. Mom took her medication as regularly as she could. Sometimes she’d stop to let herself feel alive for a while: we understood. Dad brought home flowers and stopped travelling as much. My brother started taking piano lessons. I got into a fight with a friend and she asked me why I was being “so damn bipolar.” I broke her nose and went to bed. I didn’t leave for days.
ON THE OTHER SIDE Nonfiction by David White
What you are going through is tough, I know. I’ve survived that awkward stage of life that you call a pit. As a matter of fact, I’m you in a few years give or take. This may be cliché and all, but the grass is greener on this side. In this world, there’s never really been a place for you. That is your lack of confidence talking. The hardest part, looking back, was seeing my friends, your friends, being successful in multiple things such as education, social activity and sports, things that really give you a hard time. Believe me when I say that the struggles that make you feel down about yourself are temporary. I recall having an issue with confidence in myself as a person in society, as a student, as a friend, as anything. You don’t get out much because of your fear of screwing up socially. You watch your friends speak freely with others as if they were expertly skilled in that craft, but saying hi to someone you hardly know takes much bravery, so you won’t do it. This keeps you from getting a girlfriend in your life for a long time. I remember even thinking, How will someone like me ever be in a relationship? You hardly talk to anyone, and when you do it’s not long before you run out of things to say. Sound about right? Hang on, there’s a point to all of this. You think you’re a screw-up academically too, don’t you? This only gets worse by the way. You spend your years from kindergarten through your senior year in a private school that strives to teach students to do their very best. Well, that seems like more of a mountainous obstacle than a daily challenge. Reading isn’t your strong suit and it’s certainly not testing. So what can you do in school? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except maybe watch your grades decline each year to an average or failing grade. Don’t feel guilty for this. For a long time you’re going to 132
think this is all of your fault and you’re just lazy. That’s how your mind works. It’s a bully waiting for you at the end of the hallway, ready to give you a swirly or trap you in a locker. All right, so all of this is overwhelming right now and it’s probably not the best time to hear these things, you dealing with confidence and all. Bear with me as I add insult to injury, but you’re about to take on a different monster. One that adds to the self-doubt. After a few years of struggling academically in middle school and early high school, your parents will take you to get tested with a group called NILD. They work closely with students who, well, have a learning disability. Reading comprehension tests and auditory listening tests prove that you have this problem. When your parents tell you that you have a learning disability, it’s absolutely devastating. You leave the room and walk outside, sitting down on the stairs of the wooden deck. You stay there, contemplating why it has to be you that gets medically diagnosed with being stupid. Over the next few years, you are assigned someone to meet with you every day, before school starts, to do exercises that seem redundant and elementary and that’s really where your self-image takes a beating. Everyone believes this will help you in school, but it doesn’t. You continue to struggle in school, no matter how many figure eights the NILD instructor asks you to do at 7 a.m. on the old dusty chalkboard with an overused piece of chalk. At this point, you’ll be questioning your worth even more, but it doesn’t end in high school. These obstacles will remain for a long time—it’s just a matter of what you’re going to do with them. Okay, so as you do this NILD testing for a few years, you try and keep it a secret. That’s why you chose to have it in the morning before school started. If you chose to have it in the middle or at the end of the day, someone might notice. The shame would be unbearable. Well, you know what’s funny? They do find out. First off, why is this going to be a problem? Don’t let it be. Embrace it! It’s not a curse. It’s not a crippling disease. It’s a setback, sure, but this only will make you stronger. When you get to where I’m at, it won’t bother you as much. So, now I know what you’re thinking, What do I do then, skip college and be a cop like my dad? Nope. Not even close. When you get out of high school, which yes, you do get out of high school, you’ll kinda drift around for a while trying to figure yourself out. What do I wanna do with my life? What am I supposed to do with my life? What am I good at? What limits do I have? At your point in life, all the answers to those questions are extremely negative. Again, the bully comes back to kick you to the curb. 133
You make it to community college, which at the time feels like a complete waste. The classes you take are challenging, based on the fact that you have a hard time comprehending it all. It takes you a while to get out of there. You fail a math class and a biology class. You just skim along life here and hope that someone hands you a break or tells you that you can be good at something, but at this point your confidence in yourself is so low from the brutal beating you obtained in round 1, in other words high school. Your father has a heart to heart with you about what you want to do with your life. You say, “Maybe I could be a fireman or something.” Your dad doesn’t buy this for one second. He even seems disappointed in your answer. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a fireman, but he sees something else in you. He says, “What are you passionate about?” You think for a second and say, “Film.” This actually surprises you. For the first time in your life you pull something positive from the depths of your battle-charred mind. This excites you, as you are reminded that as a child you and your cousin would walk around with video cameras and film your G.I. Joes as if it were a movie. As if God had a plan for you to be a filmmaker all along. Finally someone sticks a needle into the wall of your psyche and lets some light in. So, here I am today writing this letter to you. It’s not going to change how you feel completely, but let me enlighten you on some things that you do achieve. First of all, let’s start with film. You’re going to direct a documentary for a police department in your home state. They open up their world to you so you can document officers who have PTSD. They’ll even remind you that this is not a common thing, letting student filmmakers or even professional filmmakers in on their world. The film is successful in its content and you enjoy every freaking minute of it. You find your place in the world. Last thing, I promise. Earlier I mentioned that you have no social skills and can’t even say hi to someone. Well, someone comes up to you. Someone who becomes very dear to you. She becomes the love of your life. She gives you confidence. She gives you strength and she reminds you that you don’t have to beat yourself up. You stand in the lobby as you wait for church to start and the most beautiful girl you’ll ever lay eyes on approaches you. She says, “Aren’t we in the same art history class?”
THERE WAS A DOOR Fiction by Thomas Manry
About eleven years ago during a long summer I had often played with a cabinet door. It was part of this larger wooden mouthpiece that was designed to hold a television between its lips and a piece of a complete living room set that my parents had brought from my deceased grandfather’s home by the river. I swung and caught this door open with the tips of my greasy fingers, smearing the polished surfaces, watching the wooden frame and glass middle parts shudder and bounce in the sunlight. Something about the wobbling glass and heaving joints settled my nerves. At the time I thought that if the door could feel anything it would have to be the same helpless pleasure I felt. I didn’t play with the door every day. I also read my father’s books that smelled like fallen leaves and had pages so fragile that I held them like soap bubbles and turned them like I was pushing my grandmother in her wheelchair. Despite my fascination with them, these volumes never occupied me for long. Their spines wrinkled and sometimes snapped like a wave going smack against the smooth white sides of a bathtub. It made me feel like they weren’t really meant to be read. Whenever I dared open one, I snatched a sentence or two from the pages and then shut it and tried to connect what I had gleaned with the vivid illustrations on the covers. Old paperbacks always had such detailed covers. I went outside occasionally, but the heat of the north Texas sun made all my senses scream. In the dying seasons I spent most of my time in my yard. There was an oak tree in the center that stood taller than the house but thinner than a telephone pole, two pear trees that grew fatter instead of taller and always bore fruit, an apple tree that I am still waiting on for fruit, and a much abused plum tree
that still gushes sap when I snap off even a single scale of its armor. I loved to rake the leaves and touch the cool bark. But during the summer the outside world was for observing through glass windows. Even then it was too bright to look at for more than a moment. I would sometimes watch the television. It didn’t have antennae but that probably would have helped it perform better. The old screen was as wide as a car and you could knock on it and it piped a hollow note that the fish tanks made too. The fish tanks. We had three, one for goldfish with puffy eyes and a reclusive algae eater that outlived them all, one for exotic fish that mated like rabbits so often that we had to buy exclusively females, and one for me and my own fishy friends. I had a rainbow shark, a serpent that had scales the color of the river stones that I used to skip at my grandfather’s home. Its fins were the color of blood. I don’t think fish can recognize and love their human caretakers, but at the time I thought he loved me. I would stick my fingers in and let him kiss the tips, and I often fed him extra fish flakes, thinking I was giving him a treat. About a year after this summer I bought him a ghost shrimp, a tiny, translucent creature that was supposed to be delicious. Instead of eating it, my shark ignored it, and soon it grew large enough to tear him apart. I was so upset that I took it outside and crushed its head. After I thought it was dead I could still see organs shivering, so I gave it a proper burial later that night. But that all happened much later. During this summer my shark was alive and well. I spent the most time with my sister. She is two years older than me and far more successful. She often tells me I am not lacking in smarts and that I only need to apply myself. I like to think she is right, but I never take her advice. She only wore pigtails at the time and she already drank coffee every morning. She would fly down the stairs like they were made of burning coals, and she still does. Although her lips naturally fall into an unimpressed expression she is usually very happy. Growing up with her I developed smile wrinkles by the time I was twelve. That is how I spent my summer days. Lying on cold wooden floors, looking at books I was too afraid to read, feeding my fish, half-listening to the television, cooking and drawing with my sister, peeking out the window at what might as well have been as far away as the moon and swinging a glass cabinet door back and forth in my hands. On one evening my mother was cooking while my sister watched television and my father read a science fiction novel from the ’80s with a beautiful cover and I
swung that cabinet door back and forth. I remember she was making a kind of thick egg noodle, and she cooked it so that it soaked up the sauce like a sponge and when it was between your teeth it gave and then popped like a salty, spicy bubble in your mouth. And when she called us to eat I did something wrong. I might have caught the door too hard or slammed it, I don’t know. But the glass cabinet door shattered out of its wooden frame and my hands were running with blood. My parents rushed over I stared at my fingers and palm. They shone like broken bottles on asphalt, and when my parents removed the glass and put me in the car, I started crying. And when I got home and saw the empty wooden frame of the cabinet door I cried some more. Doors were such fragile things. I walked around my house and looked at every door I could find. They were so thin. Throughout my school days I had a friend who was obsessed with horror. She read anthologies written to frighten children, illustrated in the most grotesque ways. I always read the books too. One day I saw her walking angrily out of the library with a book in her hand, her mother walking quickly behind her, offering soothing words. The front door of the library building was very heavy and made of glass, and she threw it open and it hit the door stop and bounced right back into her nose. It was surprisingly loud, and surprisingly bloody. Through that glass door I could only stare at her crying and bleeding face. She looked into my eyes and that was too much and she put her hands over her face and didn’t show it to me again. The librarians and a nurse quickly gathered around my friend and her mother, and when they were gone they had left that incredible red splash and the book she had been carrying. I picked up the book and I tried to bounce and catch the door before thinking better of it. It was a habit I knew I had to give up. The book was an anthology of short horror stories. Instead of detailed and disgusting pictures there were only silhouettes and shapes. I can only remember one of the stories, and I think it was the shortest. A person you don’t know comes through your door, into your room. You can’t handle it and you scream. But the person is already inside. After that, the hero dies, with that stranger staring at them. It seemed silly to me at first. Why couldn’t you just close the door? A closed door is the best protection. But I remembered my friend sitting there bleeding while I looked at her behind that door. I wondered what was worse: to die behind a closed door with everyone watching, or for them to all gather in the room around you. I don’t know why, but I suddenly couldn’t look at that story. I shut the book and threw it across the room and I never paid the library fee for it. I couldn’t sleep that night, even with the door closed. 137
I begged my parents for a lock. I never got it, but that night I realized there was another door in my room. My closet door. It had foldable shelves attached to one side of it, so whenever I tried to slam it, it wouldn’t fully close. I still shiver if I wake up to an open door. My father has tenure at a university. On the floor where he works the hallways are made of bricks that chip as easily as chalk and across the hall from his laboratory is another laboratory. This laboratory has a big brown door, and a small window, and inside it there is always a light the color of sunflowers that barely illuminates the workplace. It is the only light in the room. It’s been a while but I still remember some things about it. There are carts, like the ones that the dentist carries his tools on. That’s how I remember them, dentist carts. They are filled with instruments I can’t begin to understand the importance of, glass flutes and vials and bulbs and sickly looking scalpels and screws and these little yellow balls, small enough to disappear between my fingertips, that I have never identified the purpose of. The whole scene was always laid out like that before me, and still is when I go there. One day I was looking through that slim window in the door when a man in a white biohazard suit appeared behind it and smacked the glass and I screamed. I couldn’t make out any details behind the protective gear he wore. It reminded me too much of that book. And when I was at college my first roommate left the blinds wide open on our window and a car pulled up and its driver got out and their silhouette shot out across the wall and I woke up and thought that another stranger had come into my room. And sometimes my second roommate opened the door to my private bedroom to see if I was awake. I always was. He opened it and poked his head in, and behind him I thought I could see that yellow light and the silhouette of his shape was just like seeing that ghastly stranger again, standing and staring. When someone sticks their head through a car window I shut my eyes and try not to think. And when someone opens the refrigerator and lets the door heavy with cans and bottles swing open, I want to scream. Every time I open a door the thoughts hit me. Is it going to slam and break? Is it going to lock behind me? Are all these strangers now in my room, standing around my bed, forever? How many people have I let into my room? I think of my fish. I wonder if they dreaded seeing the sky open up and my idiot face stare down at them, how the trees and critters in my yard feel when they see the lights through the windows behind closed doors, if books scream every time someone pries them open, if I’m entering into a private space, and if some man won’t appear to tell me
to get the hell out. I wonder how my sister feels as I shut my room to her every time I say good night. Each door I see makes me shiver like a fistful of busted glass. That same friend asked me, years later, why I always caught doors when she would throw them open. Why am I always locking them and shutting blinds? Why do I set the car windows to driver only and why do I insist we never go into my room? Can someone please explain to her just what exactly is going on? And forward the answer to me. Because I need a second opinion. A few days ago someone closed a door behind them and my arm was caught in the frame. “It’s fine,” I said when he apologized.
TATTOOS AND OTHER ANSWERS TO ALL YOUR PROBLEMS Nonfiction by Brooks A. Tompkins
There is a perfect ratio to just about everything. We recommend the perfect ratio. It’s perfect. It’s flawless. We submit to the perfect ratio or die an idiot. It could be 1 cigarette a day, 10 cigarettes a day, 2 packs of cigarettes a day. It could be a double shot of single origin espresso (preferably Ethiopian), an almond milk Sumatran coffee milkshake shaken by the tender hands of a extremely recent newborn’s mother, 1-3 episodes of CSI: Miami, a chapter of nonfiction, half a chapter of fiction, 3 valid-ish points of a Time magazine article guaranteeing a healthy lifestyle, a 15-minute session of self-analysis, 1 call to mom, then 5 minutes of self-deprecation, 2 brush-sessions of teeth, and 1 glass of water before bedtime … a day. It’s a swornto-work equilibrium and why does no one else abide by it? We may never know. But this search has to stop somewhere. Could it be the tattoo? I once saw a man who understood the perfect ratio. He was a happy man. He was successful. He survived Hurricane Katrina. He had four years’ worth of dry food. He was confident. He statistically had 98 percent of his body tattooed. He loved checkerboards. His whole head was a checkerboard. “I live in a checkered apartment, with my checkered couch, and my cats and various women,” he said. His whole freaking body was tatt’d yo. He also had a terminal kidney disease. He took multiple steroids a day. “These tattoos make me not hate my body, even though my body seems to be hating me,” he said. I reckon he tattooed with a purpose. Do tattoos have to have meaning? No. It flabbergasts me to say, but no. For me to get a tattoo, I would have to explain it to my mother. That’s my deal. I could not just say, “What do you mean you don’t get it Mom? It’s a bear wearing Rollerblades chomping into a giant lollipop Mom; what’s not to get? Why on my forehead Mom? 140
Because I am not held down to the world’s injustices on social standards, Mom! Geez Louise Mom! Get it through your skull!” It would not go down well. I want to get a tattoo; I am just making sure I don’t need tattoos. They sound very religiously sticky and addicting, these tattoos. They sound enchanted. Do tattoos really make you love your body? I do not hate my body, and my body does not hate me, so do I need a tattoo? Should I hate my body? Maybe one day. I used to think that getting a tattoo took chutzpah or some kind of inner boldness. Like people with tattoos were these stonewalls who never thought twice about crying during Marley and Me or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Especially the ones that got tattoos just because “it looked cool.” Now that’s chutzpah. My friend got a tattoo on his thigh once: ‘G. Palm’ it reads. “Why?” I say. “Because Garrett Palmer paid for it,” he says. “Ooooooo,” I say, like a new car was being revealed on The Price is Right. He had chutzpah. So much chutzpah he is planning on not ever telling his parents. Those kind of balls make me feel like I am missing the point. What is the point? When I am down in the gutter, I look to be uplifted by wisdom. Wisdom comes from many different sources. Sometimes it comes from men with funny hats (the pope or sophisticated man with fedora) or it comes from businesses that depress me like The Ed Hardy. “Tattoo the world,” The Ed Hardy says. “You won’t regret it. Leave your mark. Yeeeah, leave your mark,” I feel like The Ed says. “Tattoo the shirts. Yeahhhhh, that’s right … the shirts. Now tattoo that belt buckle, baby. That’s right. You’ll want to wear this forever, kind of like a real tattoo. Next thing you know, you will intimidate everyone into accepting you. Yeahhhhh, wear lots of cologne. Leave your mark baby.” What is the point? Does The Ed Hardy just get it? What kind of tone does “tattoo the world” have? Whatever it is, it smells like idiot. Maybe I am jealous. I cannot help but admit to the fact that Christian Audigier (owner of The Ed Hardy, you would think Ed Hardy would be the owner … whatever; I digress) is successful, but I tried to see what he had to say on YouTube, and all I got were slideshows of him throwing his hands up while the sky pours confetti and he straddles a nonmoving motorcycle. Throughout the whole slideshow, the beat of electric house dance music played and Christian Audigier, without fail, would be sporting an intense yelling face. Faux chutzpah.
Despite The Ed Hardy’s attempt to be hip and juicy and couture, there are people who are out there with tattoos that are awesome. You know who you are. Stop smiling, but you guys rule. I think I get it. I had a friend who got a tattoo after no one showed up to his New Year’s party. When he held the same party the next year, we went, but I always wonder what he might have done if no one showed up. I love you Josiah; your parties are fun. But hey, maybe that’s you. Or, maybe you wake up and say, “Hello Today. I am getting a tattoo.” Good for you. If you really love Seinfeld so much you got George Costanza in his underwear giving a thumbs up on your chest and it has an immense amount of sentimental value to you, good for you. You guys have the chutzpah. And maybe tattoos are not this unhealthy addiction but more like that time when you rose to the crescendo and kissed someone, helping you realize just how awesome it was. Up until then though, you denied it and made excuses like “she has fungus lips” or “he has no financial stability. This will go nowhere.” But then you did it and you were like, “Yo that ruled!” That’s what I am getting at. Even if your parents and the rest of your family genealogy said “tattoos are messed up,” but you did it anyway. Thank you. The world spins for things like that. Maybe your dad warned you about his friend Frank: “Remember Frank? He had that tattoo of the anchor with the rope wrapped around it on his arm? Well he is doing just great ever since he got tattoos. Now he is reading and writing all the time in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT and his baby mama is pregnant with twins … I remember telling him specifically, ‘No Frank! Don’t get that tattoo!’ And now he is behind bars.” To which your only response was, “I’m not Frank.” Thank you. You are not Frank. Maybe tattoos are your end-all-be-all to the grand scheme of the perfect ratio. Or maybe they are your initial stake into embarking on a life of mystique and chaos. Tattoos can go past skin-deep purposes and meaning, or could simply be a cool or funny thing to look at while you sit in a waiting room or on the seat of a toilet. I want to leave you with a definition of what a tattoo is, but I can’t. If anything, I have only accused tattoos of being everything to one and nothing to another. Here it is: tattoos are inanimate. They are what you make of them. If your grandma is afraid of you and claims that “she doesn’t know her little girl anymore” ever since you got a bird on your hand, she’s an idiot. Your grandma is an idiot. Maybe your boring hand was a flawless piece of work before it was tainted, or maybe it helps you remember just how unpredictable you and the world really can be. The world won’t remember the boring but will perpetually be amused by those who make
questions. The world only spins because there are still questions to be answered like: “Why is there still war?” or “How can we kill cancer for good?” or “Why do you have a bird on your hand?” Thank you, tattooed pioneers, who actually have the chutzpah to have something be on you and a part of you for the rest of your life. I, for one, have learned to revere you.
UPGRADE Fiction by Zara Bell
By the time the movie was over, Nedra’s ass had grown so wide that her dimpled flesh was now wedged firmly between the two armrests. She feared she would not easily stand up. Oh, why had she agreed to see this movie, and not the film she had wanted to see—the one about a gentleman with a crippling stutter? The movie they saw, she and her husband, Owen, featured a series of explosions and car wrecks in lieu of a plot. It opened with a ten-minute sex scene between the handsome, freakishly muscular male protagonist and a woman whose luminous body, impossibly lithe and voluptuous at the same time, was the same smooth, golden color as the top of a Sara Lee pound cake. She would arch and writhe, her tiny waist all but disappearing as the man wrapped his meaty hands around the small of her back. That started it. Then, since there was nothing else to think about during the entire vacuous one hundred twenty-one minutes of the movie, she was forced to replay the images of those two glistening bodies grinding against one another and consider the many ways her body was not like that actress’s. She could feel her thighs expanding over the matted velour seat, and as the credits rolled and the theater lights came up, she looked at her husband and said, “I’m going to need a minute.” “No problem baby,” he said, and he sat with her until she retracted enough that she felt comfortable to leave. They pretended to have lost their keys, she digging in her purse, and he making a show of checking under the seats while the cinema attendants did their between-show sweeping. “You’re fine,” he said into her hair as they exited the theater together, her hand in the crook of his arm. “You’re beautiful.”
Her gait was awkward because of how tightly she felt her thighs rub together. “Thank you, love.” What would she do without him? She was glad she wore a roomy skirt; pants would have been disastrous today. Sometime during the night as she slept, the new bulk of her hips and thighs moved up into her midsection and she had a hard time finding something to wear in the morning. So she was late to work again—which was fine, really. Going to the office was a formality. She could read the copy from home or anywhere but she preferred the quiet structure and predictable surroundings of an office. When she’d taken the job as copy editor, Owen had reasoned enthusiastically that they would be able to travel. He pulled up the websites of island resorts, showed her the fine, white sugar sand of the beaches and the Photoshopped blue of the ocean and told her what kind of fish could be caught in that water. At one time in his life he had been a commercial fisherman, had made loads of money, he said, once selling a giant bluefin tuna to the Japanese for three-quarters of a million dollars. She smiled when she pictured him, salty, foul-mouthed and one-legged, commanding a motley crew aboard a ship, crazed with the image of yet a larger fish. Sometimes she called him Ahab when he’d get obsessed with a thing, which happened often. He’d lost his right leg below the knee many years earlier to a land mine in Vietnam, an injury for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. But they’d never traveled, save for a weekend road trip now and then, partly because travel was expensive, partly because what would they do with Charlie, the cat, and partly because her flare-ups happened more and more frequently, particularly in the presence of bikini-clad eighteen-year-olds on spring break. She felt guilty that her issues kept him from pursuing his passions, but he assured her all he really wanted was a happy, dramafree life with her. So Nedra sat in her quiet cubicle, with a window, editing copy for the cookbook publishing company, New Family Concessions. The work was satisfying to her, spotting typos, misspellings, replacing you’re with your, sweeping away the apostrophes that contaminated plurals and adding them to the possessives. Details were her specialty; it was the big picture that eluded her. Nedra wondered what she might have done with her life if she hadn’t spent so many hours each day planning a route to avoid the visual disturbances, the beautiful people, the glamour, and scurrying away to hide her sudden girth or mysteriously dwarfed limbs. Sometimes she could sleep it off, but sometimes her dreams made it worse— or different anyway. Last night, for example, she’d dreamt that she was visiting her younger sister, Rebecca, who in real life was a hairstylist with her own thriving 145
salon, tall, confident and perfectly proportioned, with three children, but who, in the dream, owned three busy restaurants that served the food for which Nedra had edited recipes. In the dream, Nedra had a baby, too, but she couldn’t find it. She was humiliated to have to ask her sister for help to both find and care for the infant, what kind of mother loses her baby? Rebecca, who had her hands in a deep metal sink, and was, oddly enough, washing a turtle, had just looked at her and shook her perfectly coiffed head. And then Nedra woke up with a supersized muffin-top. She looked out her office window down at Central Avenue and the people milling in and out of the Starbucks, the natural foods store, the little boutiques, walking with shopping bags, with friends, with children by the hand. How do they do it, she thought, meaning: Live in a consistent form, hour-to-hour, day-to-day? How do they mind their own business? And what is their business, anyway? How is it that they all seem so sure of something? What is it? Her computer alerted her then that it was time for a routine upgrade to Apple’s new operating system. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could do that with our brains? She pressed accept. Moments later she was unable to access any of her Word documents because that program was now incompatible with the new one. She texted Owen, Going to apple store. Computer upgrade. Now can’t find my stuff. Virus? He used a PC. No. I need a new program or something but not sure what. Yoga after that. K love. Just be careful. Over. Lima Uniform. Over. He had taught her the military alphabet because she enjoyed that kind of thing. The couple had little in common, actually, aside from their fondness for each other. He was a Marine—once a Marine, always a Marine. She was a poet, or she was a copy editor who wrote poems in her head. He’d had many careers; she’d had few. Their politics were different, as were their palates: he was a meat and potatoes guy and she was a vegetarian. He had a distinct, government-recognized disability that hadn’t slowed him down one bit—with the prosthetic on you’d never know. And she had her thing. He had a hair-trigger temper; she was a swallower of emotions. Extrovert; introvert. He was hyper-vigilant—the enemy lurked everywhere—and he was ready, eager even, for battle. For her, the enemy was inside. She was very attached to her family, at least in spirit, although she kept her distance. He had disowned his family years ago for a betrayal that she still couldn’t quite understand. When Owen had first met her mother, she’d asked him about his mother and 146
he’d grumbled, I don’t have a family, and anyway he hadn’t seen her in thirty years. That didn’t go over so well. But Mom, being Mom, didn’t make a scene about it and by the end of the night he seemed to have won her over. “I just want you to know that I’ll never let anything happen to your daughter,” he had told her when they said goodnight. She patted him on the shoulder and gave him a tightlipped smile, her eye squinting the way it does when she’s had too much to drink. Then the couple traveled to Los Angeles to meet her father and his new girlfriend. Nedra was nervous so her entire torso was bloated and sort of doughy looking the whole trip. The girlfriend, thank goodness, was an adult. The woman was close to her father’s age, Jewish like him, and talked incessantly. This was a relief for Nedra because she never knew what to say to her father. She loved him dearly but instantly felt herself regress emotionally to adolescence when she visited. It felt as if she was a twelve-year-old and he was a celebrity that she was meeting for the first time. She wasn’t twelve, she was almost forty. Everything she said sounded like I’m sorry. But Owen was at home wherever he went. “So what do you think about your daughter marrying an older man?” he’d asked. “I think it’s great,” her dad had said. “I happen to like people my age.” After dinner they’d sat on the patio in the dark with flashlights because her dad told Nedra there were opossums living somewhere in the neighborhood that came out only at night. She’d never seen one before and wanted to. Owen and the girlfriend bantered over whether there were two spellings of the word opossum, or two species, one beginning with an “o” and one without. They didn’t know, but agreed that a possum is just about the ugliest creature that ever walked on four feet. And it was ugly, Nedra agreed when she saw the grey, hunchbacked body, ghost face and long, rat-like tail. It made its way atop the wooden slat fence on feet that looked eerily like tiny human hands. What must it be like to be the animal that nobody loves? Nedra wondered if the possum ever wished it were something else. At least the possum took care of itself. A possum didn’t need anyone. Blue light reflected back at her from the glassy retina of the possum’s eye. It was sometime after the possum on that same night that they were all talking about the wedding; it would be a modest event because, Nedra reasoned inside her own head, women in their thirties shouldn’t ask for big to-dos. She couldn’t stand the thought of people watching her walk down the aisle. What if she had a flare-up? Weddings like the one her sister had spent a year planning were silly, expensive affairs. None of this, she said. She was letting her mother put something together, something simple with a few old friends. Her father listened calmly, very stoned, 147
and watched her with heavy-lidded, bloodshot eyes from somewhere far away. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, finally. “Why are you getting married?” What kind of answer was he expecting? She was twelve then, again, fumbling for an answer to the same question. Why are you doing this? Hiding in her bedroom because her legs had suddenly shrunk down to midget legs or locking herself in the bathroom after having grown six more chins. She wasn’t doing it on purpose, couldn’t he see? She’d seen doctors and psychiatrists, spent time in a hospital and then a mental institution, for none of which the family had insurance. Why are you doing this to us? Why don’t you stop this? She had no answers. There had been medications, but the side effects—light sensitivity, disorientation, insomnia—were unbearable, not to mention the cost. “Because I’ll get health insurance,” she said, and her feet shrank and expanded three sizes in her shoes. Her dad glanced up toward the brim of his hat and turned down the corners of his mouth, considering her answer. Apparently that was good enough for him. It had occurred to her then that maybe the question had been intended for Owen. She looked over at him. He was smiling. “And we happen to be in love,” she said. There were far too many people in the Apple store. They all appeared to know exactly what they wanted. “What OSX are you running?” asked the Apple boy, whose nametag said Chase. “I have no idea.” “Leopard? Snow Leopard? You can’t still be running Tiger? How old is your computer?” Possum, she thought. “A few years. I got it maybe 2009?” “Oh it’s old then,” said Chase. “But not so old that you can’t download the upgrade. You probably have Leopard, I don’t know for sure without the computer right here. See, the first OS was Cheetah. Then it went Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion and then Mountain Lion. After that it will go to names of places in California. What you need to do is download Mountain Lion from the Apple site. You should be fine then.” Why hadn’t she brought the computer? Why hadn’t she brought a pen and paper to write this down? Did she need to know all of this? Remind me mountain lion, she texted Owen, and then she left for yoga class. Owen had called twice. Her phone must have been on silent. The series of texts from him went like this:
Was that meant for me? Hello? What is mountain lion? Hellohellohellohello WTF? Who are you talking to? Were you really even at the office today? She saw the texts, thank god, before yoga class started, so she called him back. “Hi. Of course I meant that text for you. Mountain Lion is the thing I have to download from Apple. I had nothing to write it down with and I didn’t want to forget. What’s up?” “Oh. Well, I didn’t know. I get this text out of the blue. I didn’t know what it was supposed to mean.” “I’m sorry baby. I had all these big cat names in my head and—I’m coming home.” She felt the flesh on the back of her arms begin to tighten around the bone and her abdominal muscles contract, squeezing her internal organs. He was on the porch, chain smoking. “You know another name for mountain lion is cougar. I’m sitting here and I get this text, I’m trying to figure out the context and it just didn’t seem right.” Cougar? “Wow. No, I didn’t think. It’s an operating system, Owen. For Mac.” “Yeah. I could show you a penis and tell you it’s a rocket launcher but that doesn’t change what it is. For someone who writes, you’d think you could communicate better than that.” “But what would that even mean? Why would I text someone cougar? And who would I text?” “That’s what I couldn’t figure out.” “That’s crazy, Ahab.” She sat on the ground next to his chair, lifted Charlie into her lap and rubbed his purring belly. Her own belly, she noticed, felt tight and muscular. They listened to Charlie’s purr for a few long minutes. “You won’t shit-can me for a younger guy with two legs? Promise?” “Not if you don’t dump me for a girl who is one single size.” “Fuckin’ A. Over.”
Fiction by Allison M. Hammond
When she found a suitable spot, she started digging. She hadn’t brought anything with her but her hands, and with them she clawed deep wells into the loam. There had been no rain for a few months now, but they irrigated the cornfields well, and as soon as she had broken the surface the pale dust hardened into a redder clay, wet beneath her fingernails. Small insects crawled up the leg of her trousers, threading their way through the fine hair on her arms, but she paid them little mind. Maggie had been raised among the crops and she welcomed their company. It was only just past midday, and the sun beat down through the towering stalks above her, cutting hot lances into her skin when the wind shifted them enough to allow it. The temperature had risen steadily over the course of the summer and never abated, autumn colors never touching the sparse trees here. She had begun to sweat the moment she stepped off her porch but now it was pouring down between her shoulder blades and fat breasts, darkening the pink of her wife-beater like blood. It turned the clay in her hands to mud, streaking lines up her arms, the ends of her ratty curls dimming from flax to the color of earth. As if oblivious, she continued to dig. She knew she had time, but she moved with speed nonetheless. Ramon, the day worker, had a nasty habit of getting into other people’s business. That was why she was out here in the first place, wasn’t it, getting down on her hands and knees in the muck instead of attending to her proper, honest work. He was always trying to distract her. She should have known better than to indulge him. When he’d first come to the farm, it had been in the wet spring before and he had been soaked down to his skivvies. He told Maggie that he was answering a want 150
ad in the paper her parents had put out. By then, it had been a few weeks since her parents could come down and she had been in a little want of company, so she gave him the job herself. She was old enough to. He was nice, if not a little skinny, and he worked without complaint or question. She liked that. In the evenings he came inside, with her permission, and she would serve him ham and cheese and eggs from the market in town, carrots and peas from the patch out back. “Magdalena,” he laughed, “why do we never eat the corn?” She had no answer he would accept, so she said nothing. He slept in the barn. They didn’t keep any animals now but the pigs and a cart mule and they both inhabited the pen out back ever since the sty had blown down in the winter wind. Ramon had brought a knapsack with him that contained two changes of shirt, some underwear and a comb, so Maggie brought him out a quilt from the upstairs closet and one of the couch pillows that had been chewed up by crows when drying on the porch once. He didn’t mind, because the hay itself was cushion enough, but her mother had always said that the more hospitality you showed a person, the less likely they were to snoop about. Ramon was a distraction though. He’d smile at her, his teeth as large as tombstones behind his dark lips, and pass his fingers through his hair when he knew she was looking. She did not know how to smile back. When the weeks since his arrival had grown and the peak of summer began to glow above, he came into the kitchen with her while she cooked, setting the plates out on the table and wiping away the dust from the fridge top. He came up behind her and touched the back of her apron strings, wide palms encircling her thick waist and bobbing over the rolls of her stomach. She did not look at him, or touch him back, but her eyes lingered on his worn fingers and the dark hair on the back of his hands. He was a working man, a good man, but she did not have time for good men. “Magdalena,” he would say. “You are the sun in my sky,” and he wound her hair around his fingers and kissed it. That was not right, she thought, because there was only one sun and it sat above her too, but she said nothing, and he continued to kiss her. What a fool he had been. He stayed in the house one night, in her bed. The sheets were thin and pocked with tiny burns from a cigarette and her toes caught in them when they moved together. The window was nailed open and little moths collected themselves on her nightstand, nipping at the light from a lamp and her discarded brassiere. When they were done he fell asleep and Maggie got up to get a drink
for herself and for her parents, uncomfortable in the bed beside him. She did not like to rest so close to another body. But he had not gone to sleep, and he had followed her, nude feet slipping unnoticed down the hall. She did not see him until he had seen them and he exclaimed and she turned to him and threw the tin cup across the room, water splattering across the door frame as he ducked past it. “Magdalena, what is this,” he said, gesturing at the beds. “What have you done!” She had not done anything. Her parents did not take root by her calling but by their own choice, and while it had made things difficult for her, she had accepted it. She knew he wouldn’t have, and she didn’t bother trying to defend herself. Ramon was an outsider, after all. He ran across the room and tore at her parents’ leaves, trying to find their faces and hands. He wouldn’t, though; the fingers had long ago dug into the mattress and through the floorboards. She heard them cry in upset and threw him away, her strength always greater than his, and kicked him where he lay. Her parents settled back into their beds, crackling and shaking their stalks in the low light, and Ramon ran. Maggie wiped the sweat from her brow and left a smear of mud in its place. Her hole had gotten quite deep now, the pale roots of the corn reaching down with her like veins. Fat grubs tumbled from tunnels in the side of the wall and she plucked them up and tossed them away, testing the earth, feeling the fibers of her skin long for it. She was thirty-three, very young to plant, but circumstances had given her no choice. Her parents, wizened and gold, had thanked her and she had kissed their husks and said goodbye. She did not know if they would live much longer, when Ramon came back. There were tires on gravel somewhere in the distance. Maggie swung down into the hole and crouched, shifting and shaking until the dirt caved to her will and she fit, round as a bulb. With slow, methodical motions, she began to pull the dirt back down inside, covering her boot-tanned ankles, slowly rising up to her belly. It had dried some in the sun and was difficult to pack (large chunks adhering together and requiring some work to split). Her hair tangled in it and, in a moment of frustration, she pulled it back and let it lie outside the hole, mixing easily with the detritus of the field. Already, she could feel her roots growing, taking hold in loose soil. She doused the pink peaks of her toes with the water she had brought. The sound of a car engine, then another, filtered into the shimmering air. The wind blew and dust kicked out over the road, billowing over the budding ears of 152
corn above. Ramon stepped from the passenger seat of a county sheriffâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s car, gesturing wildly to the front porch and back. The second car pulled up, a pair of men in identical uniform stepping out to join the first. They flanked the house, calling out warnings, and then they broke through the swinging screen doors and hustled inside, like ants in a tunnel, bees at a flower, drones. Maggie could not hear them, her ears too stuffed with dirt. Her parents could not be moved; their roots had grown too deep and too strong. Later, the fire brigade would be called out, and they would assess the beds, take a few good swings with an axe, and give up. Nobody would buy it. The house would fall into disrepair, the roof caving to let the sun down, and her parents would rise up and cover everything. For now, though, the sheriffs took to the fields, Ramon in tow, still calling and threatening, kicking over wheelbarrows, chasing the pigs through the fields. One of the younger hogs squeezed a plank off the fence and they all ran off into the woods. The mule stayed, not at all bothered by the commotion. The first sheriff returned to his car and called in a description of Maggie from Ramonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cues, but she was not registered anywhere and it turned up nothing. Ramon entered the cornfield, bold but frightened, and he and the other two officers weaved between the rows carefully, hands on their nightsticks. Ramon had nothing of the sort but his hands quivered by his side. Dead leaves crunched beneath his boots and he stumbled over several rotten cobs, their flax grown black with death. The wind grumbled in the trees, but Maggie was nowhere to be found. Eventually they left, and the sheriffs put yellow tape up around the banisters and came back only once or twice. The house was state property and nobody came by even out of curiosity. Ramon did, once, but he had very little to say and simply slipped into the barn, collecting his comb and his knapsack, damp with mold. The mule watched him with drowsy eyes, chewing the remainders of the hay. He did not dare go inside the house and ran back through the cornfield to avoid the main road. He tripped halfway through, on a large pile of husks and shoots, new life sprouting from the old even as fall colored the woods around the field. He did not stop, and never returned again. Beneath the ground, Maggie stirred, but did not wake.
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