Sequel 2017-2018 Editorial Team Niki Dean Hannah Hummel Karisa Labertew Gina Reiman Kathrin Herr, Faculty Advisor
Special thanks to the English department, as well as the Office of Marketing and Public Relations, for their assistance with this publication. The content in Sequel is not representative of the opinions of Simpson College. Subject matter may be sensitive to some readers.
Table of Contents Reflection of Lake Ahquabi Photography | Dana Quick-Naig The Shore, The Sea Poetry | Jeffrey O’Boyle Sailor’s Delight Visual Art | Jeffrey O’Boyle St. Elmo’s Fire Creative Nonfiction | Hannah Hummel Ocean Downfall Poetry | Temesha Derby Living Waves Photography | Sarah Miller On the Edge Fiction | Brianna Stoever Untitled Photography | Zoei Tonkinson Aylan Kurdi Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Lonely Blossom Photography | Karisa Labertew Dying Love Poetry | Temesha Derby Forgotten Fiction | Karisa Labertew Spooned Up Photography | Temesha Derby Healing Scars Fiction | Belle Ward Pure Petal Photography | Temesha Derby Untitled Photography | Zoei Tonkinson “I’m Okay.” Fiction | Sam Hafermann
1 2 3 4 10 11 12 14 15 16 17 18 21 22 27 28 29
Fairy Fuzz Photography | Karisa Labertew How to Pray: A Monologue Fiction | Shelby Minnmann Cover My Head Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Al-Muqeet wa Al-Khafeed Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Skagit Moon Visual Art | Jeffrey O’Boyle Step in Time Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie A Matter of Life and Death Fiction | Christopher Hanson Separate Distance Poetry | Temesha Derby Untitled Photography | Zoei Tonkinson The College Student’s Response to: How Are You? Creative Nonfiction | Shelby Minnmann Komorebi Photography | Khrystina Calo Family Business Fiction | Emily Parker February Campus Photography | Andrea Casaretto Bitches Creative Nonfiction | Becca Schmidt Dew-Kissed Amaryllis Photography | Dana Quick-Naig Sex Poetry | Temesha Derby Making Love Poetry | Olivia Anderson fuckgirl Poetry | Olivia Anderson
33 34 36 37 38 39 40 45 46 47 50 51 68 69 73 74 75 76
Ignoring the Reflection Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Deadlines Photography | Sarah Miller Blackness Barred Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie Part 1: Playing St. Valentine’s Tune Fiction | Mandy Brown Part 2: Hey, Jude, Begin Fiction | Mandy Brown Lead Me Straight to You Photography | Temesha Derby Stay Poetry | Ashley Merkley Plumerias Photography | Khrystina Calo No Refills Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie Broken Pieces Part 1 Poetry | Temesha Derby Broken Pieces Part 2 Poetry | Temesha Derby Ringing Fiction | Baillee Furst It Will Take an Army Photography | Sarah Miller Dracula’s Wives Fiction | Hannah Hummel Making Monsters Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie Ancient Problem Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie Diablo Lake Visual Art | Jeffrey O’Boyle POTUS Poetry | Olivia Anderson
77 78 79 80 85 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 108 109 113 114 115 116
Untouchable Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Masjid Hassan Athani Photography | Andrea Casaretto USA Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Home Photography | Khrystina Calo I-80 Westbound, 10PM Poetry | Sarah Miller Bilingüe Poetry | Olivia Anderson Fairy Door Photography | Karisa Labertew If I Met My Seven-Year-Old Self Today Poetry | Lauren Myers True Beauty Poetry | Ashley Merkley Introspection Photography | Sarah Miller Lily’s Lavender Morning Photography | Dana Quick-Naig The Taste of Nectar Poetry | Brianna Stoever Rose Fairy Photography | Karisa Labertew The Gingko Tree Fiction | Shawn Schossow Addicted to You Poetry | Temesha Derby Ye Olde Barn Photography | Dana Quick-Naig 9.5 Poetry | Niki Dean Color Sphere Photography | Karisa Labertew
117 118 119 120 121 123 124 125 127 128 129 130 132 133 137 138 139 140
La bailarina Poetry | Olivia Anderson Pink Blossom Photography | Karisa Labertew Sorry, Forrest. Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie Batman’s Bat Fiction | Karisa Labertew Sauk River Visual Art | Jeffrey O’Boyle Mr. Acorn Photography | Andrea Casaretto
141 142 143 144 147 148
Reflection of Lake Ahquabi Photography | Dana Quick-Naig
The Shore, The Sea Poetry | Jeffrey Oâ€™Boyle Crashing, thrashing, retreating amidst another attack, The waves are unrelenting. Rocks and sand can tame its mighty roar, Foam caressing a shifting skin. Ghosts of history hide its immortal secrets. Witness to what we do not know and never shall. The perpetual heartbeat of our world Forever marking time to infinity. Many have answered its siren call, Brave mariners carried into the unknown. Reward given to those it chooses; Death to all others. The wind alone can stir its soul, Bound together as lovers. With all the anguish and tranquility Shared within the passion. Vast gift of God sustaining life Within this temporal sphere. In rhythmic shouts, the Sea knows us As tides that ebb and flow.
Sailor’s Delight Visual Art | Jeffrey O’Boyle
St. Elmo’s Fire Creative Nonfiction | Hannah Hummel It came out of nowhere. One minute it was a clear and starry night, and the next it was pouring rain as if we were in London rather than southwest Iowa. It was the end of August, and my friend Brittney and I had gone to see a late movie in Council Bluffs with a group of her work friends (most of whom I didn’t know). Until we reached the movie theater, we had no idea what we were going to watch. The film we had originally planned to see had already started, and the rest of the group was against watching it, regardless. After debating for a few minutes, they decided on War Dogs. I remembered seeing trailers for this movie, and inwardly, I groaned. War Dogs lasted two hours, though it felt much longer to me. Thirty minutes into the movie, I was silently wishing I could just go home. Unfortunately, I had no control over when I could leave, and aside from that, I didn’t want to be rude. Brittney and I didn’t leave the theater until after eleven, and instead of going home, we headed to Walmart to pick up some groceries for her parents. The sky was clear, save the stars, and there were no visible warnings that it would change any time soon as we walked inside, blissfully unaware of what we would encounter when we returned. After quickly gathering the groceries, we did what many teenage girls do when shopping: we made a pit stop at the nail polish aisle. I cannot remember at what point exactly the rain began. It may have started while we were still searching for all those groceries, or maybe after we stopped to look at nail polish. All I remember is hearing the rain pitter-pattering against the roof before we had even made it to the check-out lanes. At first, the rain fell softly and I barely registered it in my mind, but with each passing second, the noise increased until it sounded as though the rain were pounding against the roof, demanding entrance to the building. Hurrying 4
toward the first check-out lane in sight, we quickly paid for our things. We walked toward the exit, hoping desperately that we would not get drenched. As we neared the sliding glass doors, one of the employees was coming back inside from retrieving shopping carts in the parking lot. He was sopping wet. Wiping his hair back from his forehead, he noticed us and said with a sardonic grin, “Try not to get too wet.” We smiled and laughed in that uncomfortable way people do when they are trying to be polite but don’t know what to say. We hesitated in front of the doors, bracing ourselves, though that may not have been the best place to do so; the doors kept sliding open, letting the rain come splashing in. The Walmart employee watched us silently. We looked at each other once again, and Brittney offered to go out alone and bring the car around. (She was the one who had driven us over to the city.) I thought about it for a second before saying, “No, that’s okay. If you’re getting wet, I might as well too.” I appreciated the fact that she offered, and if it had been someone else, I probably would have said “Yes.” I didn’t, though, because I didn’t want to be a bad friend. I would have felt guilty about it the whole ride home. We ran out into the rain, she in a thin shirt, leggings, and boots, me in a short summer dress and sandals. We were soaked almost the second we stepped outside. We hurried to the car as fast as we could, the rain beating steadily down on us, and the few seconds it took for her to unlock the car were agonizingly long. Finally, I heard the welcoming beep that signaled the doors were unlocked and we quickly climbed inside, our clothes clinging to our clammy, cold bodies. We sat in silence for a few minutes, catching our breath. We looked around in the backseat for something we could use to dry ourselves off, but all we found were some napkins. It was better than nothing. We split them between us, and dried off as best as we could. We wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, so Brittney turned on the car and started backing up. The storm was worse than we originally thought, and we didn’t even make it out of 5
the parking lot before we stopped. The roads were flooded, and the wind kept pushing the water around every which way. There were several times that we almost lost control of the car; it kept hydroplaning. I don’t think I have ever felt as scared as I did in that parking lot. I was shaking and not just from the chilly rain that covered me head to toe. I was terrified we were going to crash into someone’s unlucky car in the parking lot. We pulled into a covered gas station a few feet away from Walmart and waited, engine off, trying to figure out what to do. Brittney called her parents to see if it would even be safe to drive home, or if it would be smarter to wait out the storm. She put them on speakerphone so both of us could hear what they had to say. “Hey, Mom. We’re at Walmart and the parking lot is flooded. We kept hydroplaning so we stopped under this gas station place. We don’t know what to do. Should we stay here and wait for it to pass?” “Wait a second while your dad and I check the weather,” her mom’s voice crackled through the phone. We waited for a few minutes, with only the pouring rain to break the silence until Brittney’s mom started speaking again. “It looks like the storm is going to get worse the longer you stay there, Brit. Your dad and I think it will be better if you start out now, so you don’t get caught in the worst of it. We’ll stay on the phone with you the whole way, but you should get on the road now. Don’t go too fast, just go at a speed that’s comfortable for you.” Brittney put the car into drive again, but as we were driving down the lane in the parking lot, a semi-truck turned right into our path. Luckily, we swerved out of its way in time and we safely made it out of the parking lot. My heart was beating erratically, and my breath was coming out in gasps. I realized we could have just died, and I glanced over at Brittney to see if she was alright. I tried to be as comforting as I could, secretly relieved I was not the one behind the wheel this time. The storm was so terrible that when we reached the highway, we could not exceed 30 miles per hour, which turned what was normally a twenty-five-minute drive home into an hour6
long trip. The thunder rumbled and the lightning flashed every other minute, blinding us each time and impeding our view of the road. The rain kept fogging up the windows and, worst of all, the windshield. We had to constantly wipe off the center so we could attempt to see the road, a difficult feat even without the fog. Luckily for us, we met very few cars coming from the opposite direction, so if we ever accidentally slid over to the other side of the road, we didn’t crash. This had turned into one of the worst nights of the summer, and I was ready for it to be over. First, I was forced to watch a movie I didn’t want to watch with a group of people I didn’t know, and afterward, I was completely soaked and faced with the very real possibility that we might hydroplane off the road. Though I would never say it out loud, I regretted going to the city that night. I swallowed my disappointment, though, because my friend needed me to keep her calm, not stress her out or make her angry. As lightning once more struck the ground with a blinding bright flash, everything turned blue. It was intensely bright. The only way I can think to describe it is that it was a shocking, electric blue—the kind of blue you would expect to see on a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. We could see the road ahead of us and the entire surrounding area as if we were driving in the daytime. It felt surreal to me, as though it was a dream. We looked at each other in complete awe, distracted for a split second from the craziness of the storm. “What is that?” I said to Brittney as I gazed out the windows, enraptured. “I don’t know,” she said, the surprise evident on her face. “I think it came from behind us.” I quickly twisted around in my seat, trying to locate the source of the blue light. “I think you’re right, but I can’t figure out where.” I turned back around, amazed something this spectacular could happen during such a violent storm. Though it lasted only thirty seconds, it was as though time had frozen; we were still inching our way along the highway, somehow managing not to hydroplane off the road in the torrential 7
rain and wind, but it didn’t feel as if we were moving at all. Neither of us had ever experienced anything like this before. It was breathtaking, and I was almost glad we were stuck out in this storm. I would have been envious of the person who experienced this had it been someone other than myself in the car that night. Not long afterward, the storm let up a little and we were able to slightly increase our speed, though we still were not up to the normal 55 miles per hour. We eventually made it to her house, where I ended up staying the night rather than going back out into that storm. When we finally pulled into her driveway, she parked the car and we hurried into the house, grocery bags in hand. We set the bags down in the kitchen and ran downstairs to her bedroom to change into some dry clothes. T-shirts and sweatpants had never felt as warm as they did when we traded our wet clothes in for them. We headed upstairs to talk to her parents. Her dad told us the phenomenon we experienced earlier was called St. Elmo’s Fire (and in case you were wondering, apart from the title it has no connection to the 1985 film with Demi Moore and Emilio Estevez). Apparently, it is a rare occurrence few people see in their lifetime. Though it didn’t last very long when we saw it, St. Elmo’s Fire can last several minutes. Sailors experience it from time to time, and famous explorers such as Columbus and Magellan experienced the phenomenon on their trips as well. Supposedly, St. Elmo’s Fire is a mispronunciation of a patron saint called St. Ermo or St. Erasmus, and Mediterranean sailors believed the blue light was a sign from the saint signaling the end of the storm. I felt privileged when I learned not everyone experiences St. Elmo’s Fire in their lifetime. It was the highlight of my evening. Learning we had seen something few people see in their lifetime made the previous events of the night worthwhile to me. That blue light made up for what had originally been a disappointing night out with my best friend. As I was falling asleep that night, I thought back to when we were leaving Walmart, running out into the rain to reach 8
the shelter of the car. All we had to do was turn around and buy two umbrellas, and we might not have gotten so wet.
Ocean Downfall Poetry | Temesha Derby Scintillas of sand smother our solidity. Soft spills from sea descend treacherously. Solace to fish. Strife to us. A drowning boat in the distanceâ€” Drowning what was us; now reminiscent.
Living Waves Photography | Sarah Miller
On the Edge Fiction | Brianna Stoever It was a cold day in November, one where the ocean mist felt particularly biting and the sun hid behind a thin veneer of desolate clouds, when Max decided to dive off the rocky shore near his hometown in Maine. His feet felt glued to the rocks beneath him, but the wind threatened to tip him over with every gust. Max peered over the edge and felt his stomach flip. He’d seen countless boys plummet off the side of the cliff only to break the surface of the steely water moments later. There’d be a single gasp for air before their laughter would bounce off the waves and toward their town. Max felt haunted by their laughter. The ocean viciously crawled up the rocks toward him. Each time it fell short, only managing to spray him in a curtain of mist. No one else was jumping today. The other boys in his small town were curled up inside their homes watching TV or playing each other in video games from the comfort of their own living rooms. Even from his perch, their laughter scraped through his head. If the sounds were razors, his ears would be bleeding. A burst of wind knocked Max back toward the pine trees that guarded him from the town’s sight. He stumbled and landed on his back, his hands scraping against the rocky ground as they broke his fall. Pine needles stuck to Max’s hands and he slowly sat up looking at the cuts streaked with blood on each palm. They stung, but Max didn’t let it bother him. He stood once more. He wiped his hands on his jeans while squinting at the forest, trying to see if anyone had followed him. No one had. He exhaled and inched toward the edge once again. A large swell slammed against the cliff, showering Max in water. His skin erupted in goosebumps as he wiped the salt water from his eyes. A surge like that would have left him splattered on the cliff face. Max imagined a search party finding him in a week. The gruesome 12
expressions they’d surely have were burned into his conscience. They’d be mortified. They’d shake their heads and wonder what caused the stupid boy to jump. “It would serve you right!” Max shouted into the oblivion he faced. The only response was his own voice moving across the endless body of water. “Why shouldn’t I? What is there for me? How can I face life when there’s nothing here to want? Everyone else has friends and love and something they can laugh about. I…don’t…laugh…” Max paused, his words dying, each letter dropping off the edge of the cliff. A much gentler breeze rustled his hair, sending salty air into his lungs. The sun finally managed to break free of the prison that trapped it. The rays dazzled the water below, making it glint in the daylight. The chilled feeling Max felt began to drip off his body like the harsh mist from before, falling with his words to be swallowed by the gray waters. Max stood on the edge of the cliff and breathed in the sunlight, the salt, and the pine around him. He raised his face toward the sun and took a step back, then another, until his feet were no longer on rocks but a bed of fallen needles and pinecones. He breathed in once more. Everything might not be going his way, and he may have just been the stupid kid who was going to jump off a cliff, but in that moment, Max was alive. His hair smelled like the ocean and his skin glistened like he’d been painted in dew. Max released a weak laugh, dispelling more of the sadness he’d felt earlier. He could feel the world breathing under his feet. Everything around him was living. He was living.
Untitled Photography | Zoei Tonkinson
Aylan Kurdi Poetry | Andrea Casaretto shining brown eyes aged three years, a film reel rolled upon them. my mind projects these scenes from Your movie. fire of a Kurdish rocket is Your lamp, Your dancing fingers cast shadows. Your favorite cartoons, ISIS’ bombs their partnered score. thundering tears rolling from Your parents’ eyes, they hate Your cartoons, You assume. unaware of the battles surrounding You, Little One, Your life fills with love, confusion, desperation. long walks through unfamiliar yet similar places, strangers mirrored your parents’ behaviors. panic plowing through their pulses until the savior paper boat floated through. waves carried all of you off towards hollow promise of hope, but the hate of the world took You long before mediterranean waters chilled away Your breath. the hate of the world took many lives amid the battles that surrounded You, the panicked people with pounding pulses. Little One, Your life was full of love, confusion, desperation, the bombs were life’s score. my mind projects the motionless picture of You.
Lonely Blossom Photography | Karisa Labertew
Dying Love Poetry | Temesha Derby We conversed about how our love will never die as you murdered me.
Forgotten Fiction | Karisa Labertew “Where am I? Who am I?” Gasping, I sit up. My head feels hazy as if I’ve slept too long. My eyes roll about the room, unable to grasp at anything familiar. What’s that hissing noise? My eyes light on a cat at the end of the bed, it blends in with the black comforter except for its large, glowing-yellow eyes. Its back is arched, all the hair is sticking up, and a low growling hiss issues forth from it. As soon as we make direct eye contact, it leaps into the air, turns a full 360 degrees and tears from the room in a mad fury. What is wrong with that cat? Do I even own a cat? Maybe it belongs to the man lying next to me—there’s a man lying next to me! Who is he? Do I know him? The panic starts to well inside me, unbearably painful as the air is not making it to my lungs. No, stop. Just breathe in and out. There we go. Now, maybe he knows me and can tell me everything. I should wake him and ask. As I reach out to wake him, a warning goes off in my head. I shouldn’t touch him, and I find that I cannot move my hand any further toward him. That’s right, what if he is a stranger? What if he tries to harm me? I look at him to see if I can tell his personality from his looks: bald on top, black, closely trimmed beard and mustache, sharp angled facial features, not ugly, but more of a gruff handsome; his nose looks as if it’s been broken and healed a couple of times. Oh, hmm, he’s sporting a black eye that looks relatively fresh on the right side, which is closest to me. He’s bare chested, has too much chest hair—gross. And his knuckles look callused and bruised, fighting hands. An odor of cigarettes and whiskey is wafting off his body. I feel sure that waking him should be my last resort. 18
Instead, I carefully slide out of the bed to look about the room for memory shakers. I look to the bedside table first, hoping to find a cellphone or diary. There’s nothing. Nothing, except an unenlightened, black, modern lamp. As I look to the rest of the room, I realize all the furniture is black. It has a modern style, and there is nothing atop the dressers like photo frames or personal knickknacks. The carpet is a pure white, disgusting, the kind that would show traces of everything. Odd style for a fighting man. The walls are faded gray and make them seem as if they are endless, like a cloudy day in the sky. They are also bare of any decorations. A window is set high up the wall. It tells me the room sits almost completely in the earth and that it’s daylight out, yet the light seems to not touch the room. I finally see the door to escape on the other side of the bed. His side of the bed. I spot a full-length mirror next to the door and move quietly to it, hoping to see myself and remember things. The mirror is blurry, a mixture of distortion and steam, the kind that forms when you take a hot shower, to the point where I cannot see any details except a vague outline of myself. I think I have long, cranberry-red hair but I’m not completely sure. I stretch out my hand to wipe at the glass. It’s cold and smooth to my touch, like a diamond ring that’s been thrown and forgotten somewhere. That’s a strange thing to compare it to, why did that thought come to mind? To my irritation, wiping at it does nothing. In fact, I think I’ve made it worse, now I cannot even see the outline of my figure. In frustration, I slam my palm into the fragile mirror and it shatters before me, the pieces falling silently to the carpet. No sound…why is there no sound? “Mmm…” I spin around back toward the bed at this sudden sound of groaning and see the stranger rolling toward where I had been. He stills for a moment, then he seems confused about something. He looks as if he’s shaking something on the bed, hidden from my view. 19
“Shit! Fuck!” His swearing fills the room with chaos and a low ringing starts to fill my ears. He leaps off the bed with reflexes much like that cat when we made eye contact. He still hasn’t noticed me. To my horror, he starts backing toward me. I move out of the way quickly and his back hits the mirror that I had broken a moment ago, only now it’s whole again. He slams into it hard and the breaking glass sound I had expected before now rings out. “Fuck, fuck! What did I do?! Fuck!” He’s screaming these words and then drops to his knees holding his head in his hands and rocking in a crying, screaming mess amid the broken mirror shards. The ringing grows louder as I turn to see what he is screaming about. After all, I’m right here, there should be nothing in my place. The ringing is barely tolerable. Looking at the bed is like looking into the mirror. All I can make out is the outline of someone lying there and long cranberry red hair.
Spooned Up Photography | Temesha Derby
Healing Scars Fiction | Belle Ward My stomach was tying itself in knots, my face felt uncomfortably hot. I sat with my legs crossed on my mom’s kingsized bed while she sat facing me. I had been trying to come up with an answer to her question for the past minute or two, but it had felt as though an eternity had passed. The late afternoon light was streaming through the window, casting scattered sunlight across her room. I had never wanted to disappear more than I had in that moment. My mom’s blue eyes stared intensely at my face, waiting to hear my response. I shifted on the bed, uncomfortable with the silence. My mom’s face was more serious than I had ever seen it before. “I…I don’t know,” I finally said “I don’t believe you.” “I don’t feel like I’m enough, I guess.” “What do you mean?” I looked around her room. I took in the light grey walls, as well as the overflowing closet on the other side. On her dresser, I saw a picture of my sisters and me from her wedding with my stepdad three years ago. Even though I had come a long way from braces and a face full of acne, I didn’t see that in myself. I was skinnier then. My mom was still staring expectantly. I tried to imagine what her thought process was or what mine would be in her place. I understood why she was asking me. I understood why we were discussing this, but that did not make it any easier. My best friend Kristen had told my mom, and she knew her too well to think she would lie. I was silently cursing Kristen during this conversation, but part of me still hoped I would learn to thank her for this. Part of me still wished I hadn’t told anyone. I wouldn’t be trapped in what was the worst conversation I would have for a while.
“I don’t know. Pretty enough. Smart enough. Good enough. Just not enough.” I was trying to explain myself, but I could tell she wasn’t understanding. I knew she wouldn’t understand. “Why didn’t you change something? You know? Like when I’m having a ‘fat day,’ I just change my clothes, and I feel more comfortable. Or I get away from whatever is making me sad.” I wondered if she knew how hypocritical her statement was. My mom was always on some kind of diet or another. How is that not just a different kind of self-harm? She would try on at least a handful of outfits every morning before work. It didn’t matter that my step-dad would tell her she was perfect. Her perception of her body didn’t change, so I didn’t have a hope for my own. Our bodies were so similar, only our actual sizes differed, with her being bigger than me. I thought my mom was beautiful, I wanted red hair to match her when I was younger. “It’s not a problem I can just get away from. It’s just me. Changing my clothes doesn’t change my thoughts.” I remember standing in my room, trying on outfit after outfit. My body wasn’t right at all. My stomach looked giant in every pair of pants I wore. My thighs bulged. I had a double chin no matter how I turned my neck. Nothing looked right. I looked disgusting. “Then why have you stopped?” Truth be told, I only stopped so that my little sisters wouldn’t notice. Blaire’s the youngest at six, and I didn’t want them to see me like this. I didn’t want them to feel the way I did and decide that hurting themselves was an option. “I’m trying harder, I guess,” I told her She frowned at me. I could tell this would not be the end of the conversation. “When did it start?” she asked Standing in front of the mirror. I was unhappy with everything I saw. “It was a bad day.” I remembered the first time clearly. It was late at night, after everyone had gone to bed. I stood in the bathroom, staring in the 23
mirror. I was constantly remembering every little time I made a mistake. My thoughts were a skipping record replaying over and over again in my head: every time I let someone down, every single time I could’ve done better if I had just been smarter, or prettier, or better in general. My mind felt as though it was behind a screen of fog. Numb. Heavy. Empty. I deserved to feel this way. I deserved to hurt. I saw every stretch mark, every flaw in the mirror. I took out a razor head from the bottom drawer. It wouldn’t be hard to break the metal guard keeping the blades in place. Come on, you deserve this, I thought. You deserve scars. This mantra repeated itself in my mind. “Did you ever do it with anyone?” she asked me, her brows furrowing. I noticed another family picture on the wall in my mission to avoid looking into her eyes. It was taken this fall. She didn’t have any idea that this was happening. I was able to keep a smile that day even though my thighs burned every time I moved my legs, jeans rubbing uncomfortably over my fresh cuts. I looked at my body and only heard the word “fat” echoing in my mind. It was actually a word I had once etched into my thigh in jagged lines. “No, I was always alone,” I told her. She looked slightly relieved. I didn’t even think it was something people did together. My mom and I hadn’t sat on her bed together like this for a few years. I remember the first time we had shared her bed for an important conversation, it was about puberty. “I haven’t done anything for a month,” I reminded her. “But that doesn’t really make it better. That doesn’t change that you did it.” I couldn’t argue. I had done it. I didn’t feel as though she recognized my progress. I had avoided hurting myself for an entire month. I had been in control of myself. “I’m sorry.” “Sorry you hurt yourself or sorry I found out?” “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” 24
But that wasn’t true. I had wanted to hurt myself, otherwise I never would have started doing this in the first place. I felt as though I deserved to hurt for the mistakes I made. I deserved to have a permanent reminder of my mistakes. I had told Kristen. She was afraid for me. She made me pinkie-promise I wouldn’t do it again. Even though seventeen is too old for pinkie-promises, I humored her. I would try. “Do you want to kill yourself?” she asked. I could tell she was becoming quickly emotional, her voice caught as she spoke. “No. Not at all.” I had forgotten she may have thought that this was the case. I had only wanted to escape my mind, not end my life. I remember after that first time, standing in the bathroom, looking at my reflection in the mirror. The razor did not solve any of my problems, and my mind knew that. It would just allow me focus on a new kind of pain. I showered immediately after, wishing I could take back what I had done. I haphazardly placed Band-Aids over what I could, but woke up in the morning with streaks of red on my shorts. “Show me,” she said calmly. “Please. I don’t want to show you.” “I’m your mom. I can tell you what to do.” My mom was right. I didn’t want to involve anyone else, not yet at least. I sighed and shakily lifted my shirt and slid my jeans down. I had never shown these scars to anyone else. They were sporadically visible on my stomach, and on my thighs. I hadn’t been daring or stupid enough to hurt myself where people could see. I had hidden myself in the locker room during gym, changed in my room with the door locked so my sisters wouldn’t accidently wander in. I looked up into my mom’s eyes as she surveyed the damage, and I could tell she was trying to remain calm. “I love you. I’m glad you stopped. It’s going to be okay.” I nodded at her, waiting for this conversation to end, afraid of what would happen if it wasn’t okay. “I want you to talk to me. I want you to trust me to help you. You’re going to be okay.” 25
I knew her words were easier said than done, and I couldnâ€™t quite tell if she had spoken for my benefit or her own, but I hoped she was right. I pulled down my shirt and pulled my jeans back up. Nothing she could say would make me never want to hurt myself again, and I believe we both knew that. My mom still loved me. My family was still behind me. I hoped my sisters could still look up to me, even with my sadness. I hoped they might see me and know what not to do, and I hoped they would ask for help before they went as far as I did. My mom pulled me into a tight hug, and for that brief moment, I could see myself becoming better.
Pure Petal Photography | Temesha Derby
Untitled Photography | Zoei Tonkinson
“I’m Okay.” Fiction | Sam Hafermann I am not sick. I am the same person I have always been. This is what I say to myself while looking in the mirror, staring at a reflection I should know. I wake up most mornings and wonder where I am or even sometimes who I am. It is as if I have lost my glasses and I am going through life partially blind. I finally get the courage to face the day and go down to my kitchen. I make coffee and toast as if it is nothing, like I have been doing it all my life. Have I been? When I sit down at the table I hear someone outside my door, when the tall man walks in, I have nothing to say. I know that I should recognize that face, I feel like I have seen it a thousand times, yet no name or history comes to mind. “Hey, Ma,” the tall man says. Mom, yes, now I know. “Hello, Scott,” I say to my youngest son. See, I tell myself, I’m fine. Sharp as ever. He tells me his wife and kids will be over soon for some breakfast. Later, we are all sitting around the kitchen table. Lyndsay, or maybe it’s Samantha, is saying something about school that I don’t quite understand. We sit eating and talking for what feels like forever. The two oldest, Lyndsay and Jeffrey, or is it David, have to go somewhere, there is a game or something, I assume baseball since it is November or is it January? Now it is just me and Samantha sitting at the table, she is telling me about her classes. “How are you liking middle school?” I ask. “Grandma, I am a junior in high school,” Samantha says. Damn. I need to keep it together. I am sure they will leave soon. When breakfast is over, I start to clean up and my mind begins to wander. Where is Daryl? My husband should be in for breakfast by now. I wonder if Scott knows where he is. Once Samantha and Jo leave and Scott goes off to work I try and call 29
Daryl. The voice on the other end tells me that this line has been disconnected. How could this be? Where is he? I go over to the window, and that is when it hits me. Where the hell am I? All I see are trees and barns but not my trees or my barns. Where are my horses? Where is my garden? Whose house am I in? I look around, and I don’t recognize anything. I live in a house that is pure white yet what lies before me is wood paneling and yellow walls. Instead of the hardwood that should be under my feet there is carpet or linoleum. This isn’t my house at all. I find my way out of this house and try to make my way to the nearest building. When I look around outside, I see nothing but country—not the campground that is supposed to be there or the neighbors across the way. What is this place? Where am I? Am I even in Iowa anymore? I walk into a weird, rounded metal building and all I find is tools, farm equipment, and dirt. I assume this must be farmer’s land but I still do not know whose. As I keep looking, I can’t help but wonder why this is happening and how I got here. I don’t remember traveling or even leaving home, yet here I am. I open the next door and there it is, a car! Finally, I can find the nearest town and start to make sense of things—maybe even find my way home. I step in the vehicle, and although I have never seen this car before, I seem to know just what to do. I turn the key but nothing happens, nothing at all. That is when I see the battery, or at least I’m pretty sure it’s the battery, laying outside of the car on the ground. I know now that I cannot leave so I work up the courage to enter the strange home again. It makes no sense, but I feel somehow safe here. Alone; stuck in a place I do not know. I’m kind of happy to be alone. I no longer have to try so hard to think about what I do or say. However, I am alone. Alone and trapped in my own mind. The thing on my mind the most is Daryl. He helps me remember who I am and covers my tracks when I just can’t seem to keep it together, but where is he? Still in Korea? The war has to be almost over by now? Right? Maybe I will call my mom; she always seems to know what to do. She will be able to help. I dial my home number but someone else answers. 30
“Who is this?” I ask. “It’s me, Lois. Jo.” The woman on the other end says. “Where is my mother, Ethel? This is her number,” I say. “Lois, Ethel passed before Sam was born in 1997. Scott and I live here now.” First this lunatic answers my mother’s phone now she is saying that it is after 1997! It’s 1952! “Please tell me where my mother is,” I try to say calmly, but my whole body is shaking. “I will call Scott. Just stay calm and he will be there soon.” “What are you talking about!” I scream as I crumble to the ground in defeat. She keeps trying to reassure me, but I just can’t listen. I get my thoughts together and calm down. A tall man is standing over me. “Ma, are you okay?” he asks. As I look up at the man, he begins to remind me of Daryl and I lose my train of thought again. He is still talking, but I am no longer paying any attention. What was that weird woman talking about? Who is this man? And where the hell is Daryl? After a while, I get up from the ground and the man is still standing there. I can see the pity and worry in his eyes, and I never have felt more ashamed. I am okay, I chant in my head. The man still stares as I make my way to the chair. As I sit down he begins to speak. “Mom, what happened?” the man asks. I try to think of who this man is. He is calling me Mom. Daryl and I aren’t even married yet. How could I have a kid? He looks so much like Daryl. Is this him? “Daryl?” I ask. “No, Mom. It’s me, Scott, your son.” “What are you talking about?” “Mom, do you remember? You have three kids: Sherri, Dave, and me.” “What are you talking about, and where is Daryl?” 31
The man, I mean Scott, sighs and looks frustrated as he stares back at me. “Mom, he starts to say, I thought you were past this, you have been doing so much better lately.” “What are you talking about? Just tell me already!” His eyes look more sympathetic as he starts again, “Mom, Dad is gone.” What? How could this be. It’s not possible! Did he die in the war? “What happened? Did he die over in Korea?” I ask. He looks as frustrated as ever as he tries to explain himself. “He died years ago, Mom. He had a heart attack in 2011, remember?” Suddenly I can’t breathe. How could I forget something like Daryl being gone? I can’t believe he’s really gone. The grief hits me like a ton of bricks, and I don’t know what to do. Before I know it, I am sobbing. I do not know how I will keep on going without him. The man is trying to comfort me, but all comfort is gone. I need Daryl to keep going. He is the love of my life, and I forgot. I forgot. Am I okay? What is happening? I need to be okay. I need to keep it together because if I don’t, I don’t think I will ever be able to pick up the pieces again. I try to shove it down, but as I am staring at the man who claims to be my son, I know something is not right. I am not okay.
Fairy Fuzz Photography | Karisa Labertew
How to Pray: A Monologue Fiction | Shelby Minnmann Character: Trans-man (f-t-m) wears pj pants and a large sweater. Setting: Stage is dimly lit; there is a bed with a pillow and quilt on it. He enters stage right. He stands next to the head of the bed and looks around anxiously. He kneels down behind the bed, clasping his hands together in prayer. Uh…Dear God, I guess that’s how you start these things. Or I...I’ve heard you should pretend you’re having a conversation with God. The thing is I don’t know if you’re really up there…(Pause) I don’t really know the logistics of prayer but…I—I guess I’ll just start. Truth is, I don’t think you’re up there—big mighty man, sitting on clouds, watching your playthings kill each other over simple, stupid things. I seriously doubt you’re up there…But if you are, AND you can hear me; I guess this is for you. (Silence) (Flat) I’m angry. I. Am. Angry. At you…for putting me into this body. This body I don’t belong in! You…you had my mother name me something that doesn’t fit how I feel. The name matches my anatomy but not my insides. She named me…A name that doesn’t fit me. She gave me a name that’s not right; exactly how you gave me the body that is not right! THIS BODY IS WRONG!!! GOD! God, you are wrong! (Anger is rising as he stands) I. Am. Angry because I have been stuck in this body for 20 years; I still do not feel comfortable in it. This voice is not mine, these breasts are not mine, please take them back! This dress is not mine…this fucking uterus is NOT mine!...I…I…(Shaking) I realize it…it isn’t my fault for not feeling 34
comfortable in this body because I didn’t make it so. I didn’t put myself here; you did! I didn’t ask to be different God…I asked to be loved. I didn’t think it was such an impossible task… God, I asked for nothing but love, and you gave me nothing but HATE. Why did you put me into this body? THIS body I don’t belong in!...(Beat) I am supposed to feel comfortable with this gender binary…this Barbie world, pink and plush, frilly paradise that I’d rather burn than adorn! I am supposed to feel comfortable with the breasts I’ve been duct taping down for nearly seven years! I…I am supposed to feel comfortable in a man’s embrace but I DON’T!...Not unless I myself feel like a man. (Silence) I don’t belong in this body, God, so I’m praying to you. So if you can hear, maybe you can change it…Let me know why you did this to me. What did I do to deserve this? Hundreds of people are killed by Trans violence alone, so why did you put me into this body that does not make any sense to me? Why did you make me this way? Do you want me to suffer? Did you have a plan, or did you just want to see how long I would last? I’m angry because I don’t belong in this body and you think I do. Or maybe you don’t. Are you up there? Are you even listening? If you are…maybe you could answer a prayer once in a while…I wish I knew why. (Pause) Or maybe…I wish something different…Maybe I wish I won’t wake up tomorrow… (Pause) Amen is how you end things…right?
Cover My Head Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Strip me down to what you want to see. Me. The Muslim Girl daring to let Faith cover my head. Rip away my hijab. Claw at my long skirt The long-sleeved shirt Expose a little more of my skin. Your patience wears thin Concerning my religion which you Ignorantly assume Is so different than your own. Tell me to bear my breasts because That is how you define normal dress Then stress that scantily clad Women provoke sexual violence because Your rape cultured society dictates it so. No. You try to rob my first amendment protections Freedom to serve God as I see fit. This, oh this, is bullshit. While youâ€™re lying to me, your sparkling sentences cloak The tattered de facto stains of society, insisting that I am free All the while your oppression tries to subdue me. Unfortunately, for those who seek my downfall Your insults and belittlement of my faith Serve to build my spirit with the strength of steel Reinforcements to my rebellious veins To keep away the pain of your systematic and societal abuse.
Al-Muqeet wa Al-Khafeed1 Poetry | Andrea Casaretto I was a drop of water, and I swam to You. Your love enlightened me, swirling me, a mighty hurricane. My wet winds pummel protections, I saunter forward, smashing streaked windows, ceaseless gales that destroy. Still, compared to You Iâ€™m a grain of sand swept swiftly by striding tides. Moving me to become nothing, Your love enlightened me.
The Nourisher and The One Who Humbles, these are Islamic titles for God
Skagit Moon Visual Art | Jeffrey Oâ€™Boyle
Step in Time Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie Time is a’tickin’. Everyone acknowledges this saying that’s almost older than Time itself… But everyone’s wrong. Or worse, they’re lying. Time is not ticking. It’s not leisurely clicking from one digit to the rest. It’s not closing its heavy-lidded eyes, its work-scratched face etched with hours lost. And Time stood still. Everyone acknowledges this saying that’s almost older than Time itself… But everyone’s wrong. Or worse, they’re lying. Time does not wait. Not for the perfect kiss, not for a caress of nostalgia, not for anything worth waiting for. Time flies. Now there’s some truth. He is a sprinter only on the first leg of life’s long meet, One foot in-front-of-the-other, head down in determination, Speeding too fast for eyes to recognize. Hop-jump-skip-out-of-the-block-whatever-it-takes-to-beat-theclock-time-knows-no-limits Isn’t it funny then, how time is my only limit? ThereAreNeverEnoughHoursInTheDayToSpillOutAllI’mBurningToSay
Whether it’s, “I’m smart,” by studying that extra hour, Or, “OH MY GOD, THE FEELS,” from a book completely unassigned, Or even, “Iloveyou,” to someone deserving. But I don’t have Time for that. If there’s two things I’ve learned it’s People are liars and Time does not stand still: Time moves too fast for me to appreciate it. 39
A Matter of Life and Death Fiction | Christopher Hanson Stop. Stop whatever it is you’re doing. What if I told you not everyone in this room is who you think they are? Look around you. Not like that, you idiot. Subtly. Look for a clock, and use your peripherals as you do. Did you find her? The one in the mask? Do you really know her? Of course you don’t. For starters, it is possible she isn’t really there. You are either alone as you read this, or there is no one in your vicinity who identifies as a “she.” Or perhaps you did find someone, but she isn’t real. In this case, you cannot know something that isn’t there. Perhaps you can, but I do not want to get into a discussion of existence or supernatural powers or anything such as that. Now, assuming there really is a person there, it is still possible that you do not know her. Perhaps you have never met her before. She is a complete stranger to you. Therefore, you do not really know her. Unless of course you were lying to me when you said you did not know her, but I would advise against lying to me. The third possibility is that you do know her. Either you have met once, or you are as close to her as death is to life. Either way, you cannot be truly certain you know her, can you? Can you say you know every intricacy of her life? Do you really think she is exactly who you think she is? She is not. I know. She lied to me too. *** “Wait. Wait. Hold up!” She is panting as she runs. Her arms and legs are protesting the exertion by flopping awkwardly behind her. She is still young. But so am I. I wait. I wait. I hold up. I take the time to look up. There are stars peeking between the pine trees. Soft clouds waft through the sky like the thistledown that floats along the breeze as it brushes past my face. It is a very peaceful night. It is a very bright night. The pine 40
trees cast shadows. She chooses one near me to lean against as she continues to pant. “Man. You walk fast.” I do not find the comment worth a reply. She has regained control of her breathing. She walks over toward me. Her eyes are dancing and her hair bouncing with the energy that always seems to fill her. I take a step back. I have always been unsettled by her energy. “So, where are we going this time, Ami?” “Deeper than we have gone before.” I reply coldly. Everything about me is cold. I stand frozen in the shadows—melting into them. I motion toward a very old trail in the woods. I remember when I first walked that trail myself. Now, it is her first time. I almost pity the girl—Ruhamah—but there isn’t time for that. *** The years pass. Or perhaps it was only days. Time is always fickle in the woods. She continues to learn as I teach her. I try to teach her like I was taught, though I was not taught for very long. My mentor passed away long before it was her time. Perhaps it is because her mentor passed away long after his own. Upon his death, she found me as soon as possible. Perhaps she rushed the process. I still do not know if I was the best suited for the job. In any case, I had only really begun to become this darkness—this coldness. Then, as if suddenly, my mentor was no more. I was left alone in the woods, destined to find a new life. *** I found her. Not the her that was my mentor. No, she is long gone. I took time to mourn her death before finding this “her”—the her with the bouncing blonde curls and the freckles and the chipper energy and the golden eyes that shine as if you took away all the blackness of the night and left only the stars. She stares at me now with those charming golden eyes. She is older now, more knowledgeable. She understands her role, and she understands mine. She understands, as I do, that we are destined 41
to walk alone—alone, but together—together, but alone, until I pass on, as I will. Then, she will find her own kind of death. But now, as she looks at me, I cannot think of any of these things. I cannot think at all. That same soft breeze as so long ago lifts her curls in a gentle sort of dance. I find myself gazing at them. The snow that falls softly on the pine trees provides a soft underscore to this perfect moment—perhaps a moment that lasts forever. Her hand reaches toward mine. I continue to gaze into her beautiful golden eyes. Her touch is so gentle that I hardly notice it. She is not naturally gentle. I am not naturally this easily shaken. The moon seems reflected in the center of her eyes in a way that makes her whole face shine. Her eyes flutter. I find myself beginning to lean toward her as her hand takes hold of mine. A piercing cold wind shakes us apart. It must be fate, I think. She must think the same because we walk on as if it never happened. Hours pass. Perhaps it was only moments. “Ami, tell me again what you see in the sky.” She glances at me, but her eyes quickly return to the path. I take a deep breath. I no longer feel shaken. I am cold again. I am dark. I do not even look up as I recite the answer well versed. “I see the sky painted black above the pine trees dusted white sprinkled with stars and tacked with a moon as bright as your eyes.” I glance over at her. She is smiling. I almost do as well. “And tell me again what you see?” “I see strong oak trees filled with the greenest of leaves. And peeking through the leaves there is a sky that’s so blue. I wish you could see it, Ami.” I close my eyes hoping that this time I will see it when they open. “There are these thin clouds that kind of float along in the warm breeze. There’s a sun, Ami.” I open my eyes. There is no sun. *** Close your eyes. What do you see? Do you see the sun? Do you see the stars? It says a lot about a person. I do not really care what it says about a person. I do not really care about much at all 42
anymore. Look around you, subtly this time. Is she still there? Or did she leave you as she did me? *** I notice it too late. We once walked side-by-side. I taught and she learned. We observed together. Ever since that moment we shared, she began to walk faster than I, unperceptively at first. I watch the back of her head, shrinking farther and farther away. I seem unable to catch up with her. She no longer looks back to check on me. She has found her own path in the woods. I am left to stumble over the roots and branches alone. I look up. There are clouds that begin to cover the sky. There is a storm coming. The wind picks up and brings with it a fresh burst of pine smell and pine needles that scrape across my arms and face. I look ahead to see her. I want to be sure she is okay. I can make out her shape far ahead on the trail. I try to pick up my pace to reach herâ€”to warn her. Perhaps together we can make it through the storm. I push against the exhaustion and the wind and the cold. I am nearly running through the forest. The trees seem closer together than they used to be. I know what is coming. I do not want to think about it, but I know. I think that if I can reach her, perhaps I can delay it. The branches of the pine trees grab at my arms and face as I sprint to catch up to her. A root gets lucky, and I find myself on the ground. It is hard and cold. There is snow on the ground, but as I get up, it is not snow that pelts my face as I run. Sheets of icy water serve as a wall as I push through the pain and the cold and the wind and the rain and the darkness to reach her. I find myself on the ground again. And again. And again. Each time I get up colder and more broken. I can hardly see through the leaves and rain and wind. Her golden head is only a faint glow in the dark wood. She is as far from me now as the stars. I reach for her with my eyes and run into a tree. I find myself on the ground for a last time, facing the skies. The clouds cover everything. I lay in the cold and in the rain. I look up at a starless sky. *** 43
You see, she left me. She left me there in the woods. You may think you know her, but you do not. She lied to me, and she will lie to you. I loved her as anyone loves life. I found hope in that, but there was never any hope. She told me there was a sun. There was no sun. There was never a sun. There is no sun. No, because I am Death. And she? She is Life.
Separate Distance Poetry | Temesha Derby I twist my arms around your neck and hold your body close to me feel you floating floating like a boat from its last strand of rope tied to a dock this drifting thinning embrace.
Untitled Photography | Zoei Tonkinson
The College Student’s Response to: How Are You? Creative Nonfiction | Shelby Minnmann There are three options when responding to said question: 1. “I’m good. How about you?” The college student, a very vulnerable creature, will give you this response if they sense you are asking out of politeness, not genuine concern. The well-defined creatures have much to do with their days—meandering about the campus enclosure, anxiously homeworking, and whatnot. Most days it is a struggle for them to socialize with others of their kind. They simply wish to redirect the conversation so they can escape. If you have the time and the patience, ask them a follow-up question that involves food. Something like, “Would you like to get lunch and catch up?” College students are very hungry creatures. It is unclear if they are ever entirely full. When the college student is fed and comfortable in their surroundings, they will begin to adapt thus giving you more than a generic response. 2. “I’m fine just tired.” This is the most common response, but do NOT be fooled. The college student is well practiced in “shitting bull,” as they say. The student will give you this response with a paper smile and scissor stare. Your instincts will tell you to retreat. Their cutthroat eyes will manipulate you into a fear for your life. This is a college student’s defense mechanism. Their mouth will begin to move as if they’re a ventriloquist doll. Remember: They are more scared of you than you are of them. Still, approach with caution. If you get too close, the student may feel threatened and will try to attack. Depending on their path of study, attacks may range from a musical reply so clever it may take a moment for it to sink in to scientific jargon. The jargon may lead to physical combat. The creatures of college are stronger in brains than physical 47
strength, so they will not harm you. Or the attack may lead to a series of lingo privy only to those who speak the language of the culture. They will use words that have no meaning unless grouped together, such as: Ima slay u Bae lit AF before me emojis n da Qween Bet on the daily drop da pokemon go da jugent a hamabufkdla. Whatever you do, do NOT run away in fear. When the college student smells fear, they become hungrier. Hopefully, you are a wise traveler and have prepared for these types of encounters. Remove whatever snackage you have in your travel bag and offer it to the student. They will accept cautiously. Their acceptance of this offering will signal that you are no longer in danger. Good work! Once the food is gone, they will thank you. This marks the end of a peaceful interaction. They will remember youâ€”your face, your scent, your gentleness. When they are in stress again, they will seek you out. You have now made friends with the college student. Congratulations. You have successfully bridged the gap between human and creature. 3. This response is seasonal. When the lines to Millieâ€™s become exponential, the weather is colder, and the students you see may camouflage into stacks of books and papers, or appear to be napping where they land, you have reached Finals Week! This time is very stressful for such emotional, delicate creatures. Any encounter made at this time should be at your own risk. You must tread carefully for any sudden sounds or movements could frighten or seriously harm them in this state of instability. When you greet them, do not comment on their appearance, hygiene, or their productivity, these topics can lead to an irrational response that could leave you injured or dead! When you do ask how they are, be arms-length apart in case they startle easily. The poor creatures will make eye contact with you and immediately burst into sobs and profanities. Though still slightly dangerous and very unstable, they need to be comforted. Compliment them on making it this far. Offer to buy them a warm beverage. This will decrease the sobs. When they are settled with a warm beverage in hand, you may continue conversation. This conversation could be five minutes to an hour; be sure you have a 48
cleared schedule before making contact. The conversation will end when they tell you to leave. Thank them for spending time with you and engage in an embrace. This will defuse any further tension they have. When you leave, release the breath you forgot you were holding! Again you have been triumphant in engaging with this highly developed species. Congratulate yourself and quickly withdraw into your area of sanctuary to rest before your next encounter.
Komorebi Photography | Khrystina Calo
Family Business Fiction | Emily Parker A mingling of cheery voices and happy greetings curved up the staircase as I turned the page in my book. The broken conversations asking about each other’s lives filled me with dread. How much time can I waste up here? I glanced out my window, admiring today’s bright blue sky after yesterday’s April showers, contemplating the many things I could do in my room to delay the onslaught of relatives thirsty for information about college; not boys, not friends, not extracurriculars; Not fun memories, not big changes, not exciting plans. Not— “Ready, Rach? Can you contain your excitement?” My sister Amanda was standing in the doorway, flashing a too-obvious-to-beconvincing fake smile. Her chocolate-brown hair shone sparkling red in the sunlight streaming in. Her desire to go downstairs for Mom’s birthday dinner wasn’t any greater than mine. “You remember there’s a thing called knocking, right? I know I’ve been gone for a while, but I feel like that’s pretty innate,” I said, only half-joking. This was my first time home since Christmas. “Oh, please. You know you miss me at college. Besides, you should be thanking me. I told Mom you’re helping me fill out some scholarship application. That should buy us some time. You’re welcome.” I rolled my eyes, but my grin gave me away. I really do miss her at college. The decision to go to an out-of-state school had nothing to do with Amanda and everything to do with the reason I was avoiding the first floor. My grandparents lived a short ten-minute drive from us, so having them over was nothing new. Their presence in our home didn’t begin as bothersome; I quite liked it. Amanda and I never got to meet our mother’s parents, so Dad’s took on the role of both sets over the years. Grandma often brought over cookies so we could snack and chat, gossiping about school and any other hot topics 51
circulating around town. Grandpa used to help me with homework. His passion for learning had rubbed off on me over the years. There came a time, however, when his focus moved from creativity and imagination to practicality and predictability. I peered up at the bookshelves atop my desk. Dust lined my textbooks, untouched for quite some time. My eyes drifted to the big block letters labeling each spine. SURVEY OF ACCOUNTING. MARKETING: REAL PEOPLE, REAL CHOICES. UNDERSTANDING MANAGEMENT. I remember thinking how much of a waste it was to buy, not rent, these books, but Dad insisted I would need to refer back to them throughout undergrad. If only he knew. Amanda and I spent half an hour lying in my bed, searching through dozens of dorm room decoration ideas on Pinterest. My amber curls, always difficult to contain, enveloped us both as we cuddled under my blankets, fuzzy and faded pink. Amanda always teased me about my hair when we were younger, joking that it was a monster waiting to attack her. “I cannot believe my baby sister is getting ready to go to college. How’d you get so old?” I joked. Amanda had always acted way too mature for her age, but it was still weird to know she was graduating from high school in a month. “You’re the one to talk. You’re almost halfway done with college. Undergrad, I mean,” Amanda said, winking at me. She knows that word gets under my skin. “Stop. It’s not ‘undergrad,’ it’s ‘college.’ There will not be any Masters degrees in my future, thank you very much.” “It’s not me you have to convince. I know all about the business major you dropped, the English major you’re working on, and the fact that you’re gonna keep them all in the dark until you turn out a bestseller someday.” “Keep your voice down,” I hushed, glancing at the cracked door. I was pretty sure they had moved into the living room by then, but you never know when someone could be listening. “You don’t know how hard they’ve been pushing this lately. Grandpa sent me 52
fourteen emails about grad schools last week. There was some email about applying to Stanford…Does he even know me?” “It’s true, you wouldn’t last ten minutes in California. Moi, on the other hand, was made for the West Coast,” Amanda said, flipping her hair. “Well good thing you’re going to school in Madison then.” Now it was Amanda’s turn to give me the eye roll. Mom called up the stairs, summoning us to dinner. We both let out a sigh, not wanting to leave the cozy warmth of my old, fuzzy blankets. Amanda finally relented and rolled off the side, offering me her hand. She pulled me up in one quick motion. It was crazy to me how she seemed a different person each time we reunited. She was constantly maturing, gaining strength, bettering herself. I just stared at her, looking deep into those mesmerizing blue eyes, like a wave pulling me in deeper, until I got lost. I could see our past, tiny scenes of our past, in her. I could see the rainy mornings spent in Grandma’s living room, curled up in the big arm chair with Grandpa. He’d read to us for hours, breathing life into the characters with his intriguing inflections. We’d sit there under the soft, bright pink blankets, captivated by his stories. In an instant, that happy memory was replaced with one that pains me to remember. I saw the look on her face when I left for college last year, trying so desperately to show encouragement. But all I saw was my little sister, betrayed and lost. Sure, she’d adjusted well to being the only one on our second floor. She’d found ways to keep herself busy when I wasn’t around, channeling her energy into school and new friends. Her dazzling smile was still there, but I fear it was forced most of the time. When I left for school so did the crutch that held her up whenever life became too heavy; so did the source of answers to all her big questions when she couldn’t find them herself; so did the voice of reason when she felt enslaved to the expectations placed on her by everyone who thought they had a say. So as we stood there, soaking in each other’s presence, appreciating the fact that we had one another, I couldn’t help but plead on the inside: Please, Amanda. 53
You are capable of anything in this world, so long as you chase it with everything you have. Please stand up for yourself. Please make the decisions you want to make. I noticed how sentimental, how protective I’d become since I left Colorado. Maybe it’s because I’ve felt what it’s like to follow a path I’m not supposed to walk. Perhaps it’s because I saw her determination to please others at the sacrifice of her own happiness. Or maybe it’s because I’m her big sister and will never reach a point when her happiness is not at the top of my priorities list. We decided it was time to make an appearance downstairs. Mom was surely muttering under her breath about our whereabouts and questionable listening skills. Amanda was paces ahead of me. Bracing for a thousand questions about the business degree I was not pursuing, I slowly rounded the corner and took in the scene. They all seemed to be getting along, enjoying each other’s company, appreciating this time where all of us could gather in the same room. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad people. They just have a hard time thinking outside of their own heads. We all made our way to the dining room table, which was draped in a spotless, white cloth. The walls, freshly painted a deep, dark blue, made the room appear much smaller. Gone was the pale yellow color that surrounded me as a kid. Whenever I had writer’s block, I would come down to the dining room. I’d stare out the window, searching the endless sky for inspiration. The water in the pond out back sat perfectly still, shimmering in the bright sun. The endless green called to me, begging me to run fast and far with my ideas, spanning out until I couldn’t see my dreams anymore. I ran to find them, my thoughts racing and combining and reforming inside my head, waiting to find their place on my paper. And on those dark days, where the sun was nowhere to be found, hidden from me, I found my sunshine inside, on the brightly colored dining room walls, waiting to tell me stories of people just out of my reach, waiting for me to find them and bring them to light. The warmth of those walls had been covered with a glum darkness. 54
A clear vase sat in the center of the table. It held beautiful red roses Dad had brought home for Mom’s birthday. It never failed; he always bought her flowers to mark important occasions: their wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, her birthday. My parents’ love didn’t demand attention or beg for admiration. It was always nice to see those quiet reminders of their affection. It often seemed like they were both married to their jobs. Once everyone was seated, all eyes went to Mom, who was prepared to give the annual Edwards’ birthday speech. “First of all, thank you for this wonderful meal, Martha. You spoil us with your cooking.” Mom and Grandma exchanged a smile, as the rest of us chimed in with our thanks. “Now let’s see, fortyeight has been quite a year. Business has doubled in the last three years, so we’ve been keeping busy at the office. My girls are doing very well in school, and they’re on track to be successful young women. Looking around at this beautiful house, and sitting next to my wonderful husband, I feel incredibly blessed. I’m hoping for an even more prosperous and accomplished forty-nine.” Mom looked at each of us, smiling, appreciation and admiration in her eyes. In our family, birthdays are about proving that you made the last year of your life count—that you contributed something of significance to the world. Mom’s source of pride and accomplishment usually centered on her marketing consultation firm and Amanda and me. Most birthday speeches consisted of successful business endeavors and signs of personal growth. Coming from a family of businessmen and women, I knew where my priorities were expected to lie. Grandpa wasted no time filling the brief silence that followed. “So, Rachel, how are classes winding up this semester?” “Really well. I’m on track for the Dean’s List again,” I replied. That was met with a chorus of congratulations and a circle of smiling faces. “That’s wonderful! Do you have an internship lined up for the summer?” He was always thinking about the next step, never content to settle on the present. 55
“I’ve been looking. I have a few interviews lined up next week.” Amanda was fidgeting next to me. She kept shifting her weight from leg to leg and pulling her ring off just to slide it on again. “Fantastic. And did you get those emails I sent you last week? You know, you’re almost halfway through undergrad. You’ll want to start thinking about the GRE pretty soon.” It took everything in my power to not roll my eyes. Amanda sensed my frustration. As the family college student, I was often targeted with endless streams of questions at get-togethers. Amanda swiped her napkin off her lap and tossed it onto the table in front of her, standing up in one quick motion. “Excuse me, but I have something to say.” All eyes fell on her. Everyone was confused by her outburst. “I am proud to announce that I will be studying psychology at UCLA next fall. That is all.” And just like that, she sat back down, replaced the napkin on her lap, and continued eating her mashed potatoes. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone else. It was as if all the fear Amanda should have been feeling in that moment shifted one body to the left. I felt scared for her, unprepared to take my parents’ or grandparents’ questions. I hated confrontation. “Umm, excuse me?” Dad said. “Where is that coming from, young lady?” Mom replied. “That’s not the plan, Amanda Jo.” Grandpa looked shocked. Grandma kept quiet, as she was never one to chime in on either of our future plans. She was more of the you’ll-figure-it-outwhen-you-figure-it-out person, rather than the plan-plan-planners that were the rest of the adults in the room. I’ll admit, when Amanda told me about this weeks ago, I figured it was just another one of her bold ideas. She seemed to change her mind every week. I knew she wasn’t exactly passionate about studying actuarial science in Madison, but I never thought she’d make a declaration like this. “I know, but here’s the thing: I don’t want to sit in silence at a cubicle for eight hours a day for the rest of my life. I like math, but 56
let’s be real. I would be much happier on the West Coast learning about something that interests me,” Amanda said. “Well, hon…that’s new. What happened to make you change your mind?” Mom tried to set her preferences aside and be supportive, but we could all tell it was difficult for her. Dad’s face didn’t reveal disappointment but rather a look of concern. “Amanda, do you really—” Dad started, before he was interrupted. “Why psychology? What do you want to do with that?” My grandpa had never encouraged us to pursue the soft sciences. “I don’t know,” Amanda stated, unshaken by the less-thanthrilled looks from around the table. “I’m seventeen. Right now, it’s enough for me to know that it’s what interests me. It’s what I’d like to spend the next four years learning about. It’s what I want. And you’re just going to have to be okay with that.” I was stunned. And by the looks from the rest of the table, I wasn’t alone. Neither Amanda nor I had challenged their opinions before. We figured it would be a losing battle—not worth the fight. But apparently, we didn’t think that way anymore. Dad was staring at some invisible muse in the open space between Amanda and me. Mom was staring down at her wrist, playing with the charms on the bracelet we got her for Mother’s Day years ago. Grandpa looked dumbfounded, as if Amanda had told him that she was going to be an astronaut. The silence moved from understandable to uncomfortable after a couple minutes. Amanda opened her mouth again. “Think of the adventure. Doesn’t that sound like me? Doesn’t that sound like something I’d enjoy? I’m not the type to sit still and work on numbers at a desk all day. I’d go crazy in ten minutes. I want to talk to people, to learn about people, to enact some type of positive change in the world.” Good for her. I didn’t lift my head; I couldn’t face the looks of the others. Fidgeting in my seat, I rubbed my hands together like I was washing them without soap and water. This wasn’t the time or place to have a conversation about Amanda’s major. Maybe someone will change the subject… 57
“Look at your sister. Rachel made a wise decision about her education, and that business degree will open up countless doors for her after school,” Grandpa said. Shit. After rubbing my hands back and forth on my thighs, nervously working out the fear I felt inside, I took a couple deep breaths. Working up the courage, I decided to open my mouth. “Actually, I changed my major after first semester freshman year. I’m not in the business program anymore. I’m an English major.” My eyes searched for some reassurance at the table. Amanda wore a smirk, clearly satisfied that her little announcement inspired me to come clean, too. “It’s the feeling of crafting beautiful words together in the most perfect way possible,” I continued. “The way you can precisely express the thoughts you wrestle with inside your head. Not many people can put those dilemmas into words, but I can. I have a gift. And I want to put it to use,” I said. Catching everyone’s nervous ticks out of the corners of my eyes overwhelmed my alreadyshaking self. Grandpa cleared his throat, and his frustrated expression revealed itself, despite his attempt to hide his annoyance. “Don’t throw away your education on an English degree, hon. You’ll regret that someday. Business will suit you much better,” Grandpa insisted. I could feel myself getting warmer by the second. My heart felt like a paddleball, pounding in my chest and up into my ears. “Dad, do we really have to talk about this now? This dinner’s supposed to be about Karen,” Dad said. Mom squeezed his hand and smiled, but she didn’t seem as irritated with us. Her silence showed me she didn’t know how to react to this turn in conversation. “I have been preparing myself for a happy, successful future for years! Have I not proven my abilities through straight A’s and campus involvement and the relationships I’ve built? I have exceeded expectations and put in a tremendous amount of work to prove myself. But I’m tired of this pressure, this feeling of discontent. I am in control of my own life.” I could feel the discomfort in the room as soon as I shut my mouth. 58
“No matter how prepared you feel, no matter how much you’ve accomplished now, it’s not enough to carry you through. You can’t just sit there, happy with what you have, because you don’t know when that could be taken away from you. I want you to do everything in your power to make a good life for yourself. I can’t sit in silence and watch you make a terrible mistake.” Grandpa sounded angry. Mom and Dad could not make eye contact with any of us. Their lack of reassurance made me uneasy. Nevertheless, I responded. “This is not a terrible mistake. It’s what I want to do. And if you can’t accept that, then I can’t continue to sit here and act like everything’s okay. Because it’s not. You don’t realize what’s wrong with this picture, and it’s not on me to point it out,” I said. The looks of disbelief and annoyance quickly faded into blank expressions of deep thought and recollection, questioning and hurt. When had they decided that their goals outranked our dreams? Why did they think we would blindly follow in the direction they pointed us in? Anger built up inside me as I realized how long they had been ignoring Amanda and me and failing to acknowledge how we wanted to answer the most loaded question in the world: What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Simultaneously, knots of nerves twisted in my stomach and jolts of excitement surged through me. It was refreshing, having that weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to live a double life anymore. The truth was out, and I felt free. Through the blank expressions written on my parents’ faces and the look of disappointment from my Grandpa, I could tell they could not accept the fact I had taken a detour from their plans for me. My Grandma’s sly, subtle smirk added to the confusion I already felt. I knew I would arrive at their same dream destination: success and happiness. They just didn’t like my path to get there. I nodded, taking their silence as an end to the conversation, and left the room. Walking up the stairs, I continued to feel a sense of peace, but I also felt a tingling frustration I couldn’t shake. How hard is it to accept the fact that I don’t want what they want? I made 59
my way up the staircase, each step heavier than the last, until I stopped in place. It was hard to tell whether or not I felt blissful relief, the weight of this secret off my shoulders, or deep remorse, regretting how I handled that conversation. Tears began to well in my eyes, and I ran the rest of the way to my door. I thrust it open and slammed it behind me. I curled up in my bed, enveloping myself in my fuzzy blanket. The matted down, worn strands of fuzzy pink strings warmed my bare arms as I smoothed them over my skin. A polite yet urgent knock drew me out of my trance. Amanda. As I approached my door, I swiped under my eyes, rubbing the streams of non-waterproof mascara off my face. She didn’t need to see me like this, acting like a child after she fearlessly stood her ground. Twisting and pulling the knob toward myself, I forced a tooobvious-to-be-convincing fake smile as I met her eyes. She immediately wrapped her long, thin arms around my shivering body, comforting me like she had always done when I felt sad. We made our way over to my bed and curled up together like we had earlier, right before everything blew up. Amanda reached over and pulled open the squeaky bottom drawer of my nightstand. She reached in and drew out my childhood favorite: Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. She knew I could never get rid of such a special book. Lying next to me, she flipped through the pages. Her pauses at the dog-eared pages quickly reminded her of our favorite parts, as she giggled and nodded at the memories flooding back. Grandpa used to read to us after school on Wednesdays, when Mom and Dad couldn’t leave work for our early dismissal. Eventually, Amanda and I became the readers. We worked our way through so many series, traveling to made-up places and making friends with imaginary characters. Of all the different worlds we visited, my favorite was the Fudge series. I couldn’t shake my frustration over my Grandpa’s shift throughout the years. How could he act as if the years we spent telling stories and exploring our imaginations was a waste of time? How could he sit there at dinner tonight and deny us the right to make our own choices regarding our futures? “Amanda,” I started. 60
She peered over at me, still engrossed in the tales of Peter and Fudge. “Am I doing the right thing?” I said, my voice shaky and worn. After months of keeping secrets and holding all this stress inside, it felt weird to have it all out in the open—exposed, real. “I can’t say, because I don’t know what’s right for you. You’re the only one who can decide that. What I can tell you, however, is that I’m incredibly proud of my big sister for standing up for her dreams and desires—for sacrificing a drama-free gettogether to let her family know how she really feels. That’s a big deal, and I know that I couldn’t have done what I did if it wasn’t for your bold example. I look up to you, Rach. It’s been hard since you left. I’ve had to do some soul-searching to figure out what it is that I want out of life and the kind of person that I want to be. And seeing you go for what you want, regardless of what other people say you should want, is empowering. Thanks to you, I’m following my own dreams. So for what it’s worth, I say you should keep following your own. Keep making me proud.” Amanda smiled at me—genuinely smiled—and squeezed my hands. She placed the book down on my nightstand and slid off the comforter, walking toward the door. “Amanda,” I said once more. Stopping in her tracks, she spun around to face me. “I think you’ll do amazing things in psychology, whatever it is you decide to do.” “Thanks, Sis.” She grinned and turned back around, opening and closing my door as she disappeared into the dark hallway. I figured I should smooth things over with my parents; the last thing I intended to do was ruin my mother’s birthday celebration. Looking again at the row of useless textbooks, I felt a twinge of guilt. Dad had been looking out for me, trying to help me prepare for the future he dreamed I would have. It wasn’t his intention to pressure me to pursue a dissatisfying major; he only wanted to give me the best start he thought I could have. I opened one of my desk drawers and pulled out a box, wrapped in a sheet of whimsical spring flowers. Present in hand, I tiptoed down the stairs, knowing my parents were in the kitchen. I 61
didn’t want to interrupt any important conversations, given how tonight’s dinner ended. I assumed Grandma and Grandpa left after I stormed upstairs, leaving Mom and Dad to pick up the pieces. I entered the kitchen as my parents were finishing the dishes. “Mom, Dad, I’m really sorry.” They both turned from the sink, Mom with a sponge and Dad with a dish rag. “What is it, hon?” Mom said. She didn’t sound mad, just disappointed. I didn’t know which one was worse. “Can we talk for a second?” I took a seat at the kitchen table, motioning for them to sit down. They accepted my invitation, sitting down across from me. “I just want to start off by apologizing for my fight with Grandpa tonight. That was totally out of line, and I did not mean to ruin your birthday dinner, Mom.” They weren’t shooting me judgmental looks or cold eyes; they seemed to know that I was going to say that. It’s not often that I have to apologize for inappropriate behavior. “We’re not mad, Rach. I’m just disappointed you kept it a secret from us. Changing the course of your education is a big deal,” Mom said. “I was just avoiding the lecture I got tonight,” I admitted. “Do you think we would have reacted like Grandpa did? To tell you the truth, we were both surprised you had kept the business major this long. It never fit you quite right. You aren’t meant for the corporate world, my dear,” Dad said. A sense of relief flooded through me. I didn’t have to feel like an outsider for abandoning the Edwards family tradition. “We’re glad you found what makes you happy. All we expect out of you is that you use that drive to do some good in the world,” Mom said. I hadn’t expected my parents to disown me after my reveal, but I also didn’t expect it to go this smoothly. “It’s not that I don’t love you guys or that I don’t appreciate everything you do for me. It’s just not my path. So I’m not going to take it,” I said. Mom and Dad looked at each other, grinning slyly.
“We never wanted to pressure you to pursue something you weren’t passionate about. We just want you to have a happy, successful future,” Dad said. “And if you think you can achieve that with an English degree, then we support you,” Mom added. Their comforting smiles and genuine concern for my well-being assured me they had my best interests at heart. They really were great parents. “Happy birthday, Mom.” I handed her the gift, hoping it would soften the harsh ending to tonight’s dinner. Mom’s big smile reassured me that she could still enjoy some of her birthday. Tearing through the paper and opening the box, she uncovered a new addition to her charm bracelet. She teared up looking at the tiny, silver graduation cap in her right hand. Her eyes met mine. “I haven’t gotten a new charm in years!” “Yeah, Amanda and I figured this year called for a new celebration. Both your girls are college kids now, and it’s all because of the support you and Dad have given us over the years. Thanks for giving us such a good start. You guys are the best.” Mom and Dad both stood up and leaned over the table. Our group hug felt nice; I missed these small moments of affection at college. Our family might not be overly expressive or outward with our emotions, but I never question that I am loved. We let go and pushed our chairs back in. “You might want to smooth things over with Grandpa. We understand your side, and we want you to do what you want to do, but hear him out and remember he wants what’s best for you,” Dad said. He was right, but that didn’t make me any more eager to have a follow-up conversation with him. “OK, I’ll worry about it tomorrow.” Mom and Dad rolled their eyes teasingly, knowing that I would put this off as long as possible. The next day, something inside me prevented me from getting on the entrance ramp. My grandparents’ house was just five minutes down the road. I hadn’t talked to Grandpa, as my Dad had suggested I do. They didn’t pressure me during our goodbyes, but 63
Dad made some comment about me making an extra stop before heading back to school. I rolled my eyes at my hesitation and sped out of the turn lane, en route to my grandparents’ house. Parking my car was the easy part. The hard part was forcing myself out of the car and up to the front door. It’s not that I didn’t like my grandpa; I just hated the conflict we faced over my education. MY education. But I couldn’t leave town without mending things between us. I eventually decided to grow up and approach the house. After ringing the doorbell, I paced across the porch, hands in my pockets and jitters running through me. Surprisingly, Grandma opened the door. “Grams, what are you doing here?” She normally goes out to lunch with friends on Sundays, so I wasn’t expecting to see her. Grandma smiled, pulling me in. “Rachel Ann, I am so proud of you!” She beamed, smiling a reassuring smile and nodding with assurance. “I know Grandpa is very set in his ways, but he didn’t mean to get you so upset. I am incredibly proud of you and Amanda.” She pulled me into a hug, and then grabbed my hand. “Come on.” Grams led me into the library, just off the entryway. Grandpa was sitting at his desk, reading the newspaper under lamp light. “Frank.” Grandpa looked up at the sound of Grandma’s voice, not completely surprised to see me standing next to her. “I’m off to lunch with the girls, but I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She mouthed something like “stay calm” to him before turning and leaving the room, his blank expression softening slightly. Drawn to the splattering rain drops against the cold glass, I walked in and sat down on the window seat. I used to hold my hand against the window on those days we’d come over and read, enchanted by the comfort of their home on those dreary days. “So, Rachel, where would you like to start?” I could tell he wanted to make things right, but I knew it would be hard to convince him to see my side. I decided to get straight to the point. 64
“Do you realize that I got interested in English in the first place because of you? This isn’t some careless choice I made. All those days spent writing and reading as a kid made me happy. Studying business did not. For me, this was the right choice.” “I admire that you’ve decided to pursue something you’re passionate about. I just wish it was easier to see the value of an English degree.” “I know you want what’s best for me, but please respect me enough to acknowledge that I know what I’m doing and that I’ll make the right decision for myself.” “I do respect you and your choices. I guess it’s just hard for me to see you girls grow up. You know, the recession hit us pretty hard. We fared a lot better than many other people—most of whom didn’t have a reliable job to cling onto,” Grandpa said. I guess I had never thought of it that way before. I didn’t personally understand the effects of the recession. Mom and Dad did a great job of keeping financial worries and adult matters away from Amanda and me when we were younger. “That must have been tough,” I offered. Grandpa nodded. “That’s my concern here, Rachel. It’s not that I don’t trust you to pursue a worthwhile education. I just don’t see how an English degree can launch you into a successful, reliable career. I want you to be taken care of.” “Thanks for your concern, but I’m taking every opportunity I can to get the most out of my education. Now I have something to ask you. Why didn’t you encourage me to keep doing the things I loved as a kid? How come we stopped reading together? When did life become about academics and being the best?” “There wasn’t time for those hobbies anymore. The business consumed my life for a few years there. I guess I’ve forgotten how important reading used to be for us,” Grandpa admitted. My eyes wandered throughout the room, admiring the enormous collection of books. I caught a row of thin, worn paperbacks in a corner. Approaching the books, I immediately recognized them as the ones we used to read after school with Amanda. I carefully pulled Junie 65
B. Jones Is a Graduation Girl from the lineup and held the book to my chest. I turned around to find Grandpa watching my nostalgic moment unfold. “You kept these?” I asked, looking up into his eyes. It surprised me. For so long, our relationship had revolved around pressure to pursue the future he wanted for me. I never would have imagined he’d keep these out in the open, amongst the memoirs of entrepreneurs and guides on making it in business. “They didn’t go anywhere. My priorities are what shifted. Navigating a poor economy when your business is on the line is very demanding. It consumed my time, and I didn’t have time for the fun stuff anymore. But that doesn’t mean I abandoned it all together.” Grandpa reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a stack of old notebook pages with ends curled under from years of wear. The first piece of paper had “Rachel Edwards” written across the top line with letters obnoxiously large and crooked. I gasped, brining my hand to my mouth to cover my surprise. I began writing stories at age six, using my free time in class to let my imagination roam free and create new worlds. I would bring those stories home, and when Grandpa and Grandma picked us up on those early dismissals, they would get my story from that day’s work time. I had no idea he had kept them, let alone in a spot where he could reach in and read them whenever he wanted. Grandpa could sense my disbelief at his revelation. “I could never part with these, Rachel. I read through these stories every day when the recession hit. Business was insanely stressful, and I was so concerned with you and Amanda’s well-being. I didn’t want my girls to grow up and struggle to make good lives for themselves. I just wanted to keep you little forever.” I knew Grandpa wasn’t at peace with the whole thing. But I could tell he was trying to be more understanding. “I know we’re not going to solve everything today, and I need to get going, but I have an idea,” I offered. Grandpa’s look of encouragement for me to proceed restored some of my hope in strengthening our relationship. “There’s a banquet at school in a couple of weeks to 66
honor award recipients from different departments. I’m receiving an award from the English department for my dedication to our literary magazine this year. I thought you might want to come.” Grandpa smiled at the invitation. “Grandma and I would love to be there.” “Great.” I smiled back and gave him a big hug. “I should probably get going. I have a couple final projects to work on, and I need to prepare for my interviews this week. Getting older sucks,” I complained. “Tell me about it,” Grandpa responded, stirring a laugh out of both of us. He walked me out to my car, and as I prepared to drive away, he added one more piece of advice—one from a favorite of ours. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
February Campus Photography | Andrea Casaretto
Bitches Creative Nonfiction | Becca Schmidt The jostle of fabric precedes the shriek of the whistle. Both of our hands fly up in protest—his hands dark in complexion and coated in black hair, mine much smaller and fairer with only a fine downy of blonde fluff, but our tempers flare equal in size. “How is that a foul?” he grumbles audibly. “Yeah, that definitely wasn’t a foul,” I mutter in response. He had barely bumped me. Looking in the referee’s direction with disgust, I roll the soccer ball to my feet and begrudgingly take the undeserved free kick. The ref hails from a different culture. The reason for his call could be due to cultural differences in understandings of gender versus blatant sexism. *** He is much taller than me. At least six-foot, 200 pounds, compared to my 120-pound, five-foot-three stature. I know he’s faster, and I won’t be able to catch him. I lunge for his leg instead of the ball, using the weight of my hips to smash directly into the middle of his right thigh. He crumples to the ground. Whistle blows. “Sorry,” I mutter, feeling momentary remorse as he holds his quad and slowly gets up. I don’t offer him help. “That was definitely a foul,” I think/mutter aloud. I know I took him out because I couldn’t match him in strength and speed. Later on in the game, he casually comments how his leg still hurts. I apologize, laughing—rather proud of my accomplishment. *** Another game. Another foul. On him this time. His name is Caesar. He was pressuring me on the ball. He’s a brilliant player, and I was enjoying our battle. Not a foul. I’m just a girl. *** Another game. Indoor this time. The scuffle results with him on the ground. I offer out my hand to help him up. It is not taken. 69
I’ve stopped offering my hand out to men after I knock them down. I think it insults their masculinity—adds insult to injury after being knocked down by a woman. Of course, other men are allowed to help other men up. *** I take people out a lot. Take pride in it even. Moral of the story? I am a good soccer player. I go in hard for tackles. I am fierce, aggressive, and “relentless,” as the keeper on the last team I played told me. I’ve played soccer for fifteen of my twenty years of life. I don’t play in college. Why, you ask? The answer is simple. Bitches. Now, if you have any girlfriends who play soccer, I sincerely apologize, I am sure they are nice people. It’s just that in my experience, most of the girls I played soccer with were bitches, so I play co-ed, instead, in an informal rec league where 30 to 40-yearold men and women—mostly men—kick around a ball because we refuse to give up that insatiable desire to be on the turf, and boyish egos still explode at least seven times a match, but hey, boyish egos on the field beat petty bitchiness on the sidelines. Except, do they really, though? After all, this is only rec soccer. *** High school. Competitive Soccer. Bitches. We are sitting on the wooden gym floor, comparing leg hair. “I haven’t shaved for two weeks,” Nugs says. “Same,” I reply. This is a common conversation among soccer girls. It’s indoor season, and we attend a Catholic school where you are required to wear pants all yearlong. If no one is going to see your leg hair, why would you shave? *** Different day. Still indoor season. We are scrimmaging in the gym. The dance team walks through, spandex securing their asses and tank tops teeming with tits. Nugs and I jokingly banter about our baggy clothing and how masculine it is. I am literally wearing men’s shorts. All of my soccer jerseys are men’s. 70
*** You are probably wondering who Nugs is. She is one of my best friends on the team, still a bitch, but I like to think she’s nice. She and I bonded because we were the only two freshmen to make varsity our freshmen year. She’s called Nugs because of how many McNuggets she eats at McDonald’s. Soccer girls eat a lot. Like a lot a lot. Nugs and I get at least three servings of pasta at every pasta dinner, and Nugs usually unbuttons her pants or slides her spandex down to give her stomach more room. I suppose that makes us more masculine as well. *** “Tom once told me women’s soccer jerseys are the most unattractive girl’s uniform,” Nugs comments. “What the fuck? Just because our jerseys aren’t skintight and our asses aren’t hanging out, our jerseys aren’t attractive?” I didn’t actually say that in high school. I wasn’t that vocal yet. But I do distinctly remember commenting on Volleyball spandex. As far as our men’s soccer jerseys go, I really don’t care if men think they are unattractive. Our bodies are not here for your viewing pleasure. *** Co-ed. One of the few other girls on the team is switching jerseys to be the keeper. Someone makes a stripper joke. “She should get a green card,” one of the guys on the team jokes. He’s one of my favorite players, and honestly, I am a little disappointed he was the one who made the crude joke this time. If this had been a man switching jerseys, no stripper joke would’ve been made. *** So what impact does our gendered language play? I call soccer girls “bitches.” Am I being hypocritical? Am I tearing down my own gender by using this language? Do we gain anything by falling into the familiar rhetoric of gender—by making stripper jokes and calling men douchebags and women bitches? Do we gain anything by calling baggy jerseys more masculine and tight men’s 71
clothing more feminine? Do we gain anything by calling fouls that aren’t actually fouls? Am I sexist for objectifying the dance team’s bodies by using degrading terms such as tits and ass? Are these terms even degrading? Perhaps I too am sexist, a product of our society—degrading women, proud of my “masculine” aspects. Maybe I’m the bitch.
Dew-Kissed Amaryllis Photography | Dana Quick-Naig
Sex Poetry | Temesha Derby “Let’s talk about sex,” he said, inconspicuously undressing me with his mind. But we didn’t talk about sex; he assumed the answer was yes.
Making Love Poetry | Olivia Anderson a conquest, a test, of skill, endurance, and wit. humiliation, destruction, i ask you to quit. as you collect your indifference, i am reminded, i was never human.
fuckgirl Poetry | Olivia Anderson i kissed the penumbra of your soul, ran my fingers through your childhood memories, and gently stroked your ambitions. i licked all your insecurities, rode your ego, and became your personal supply of dopamine. i made you feel. you loved me with all of your heart, while i loved you with all of my arrogance.
Ignoring the Reflection Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Wasnâ€™t I your younger sisterâ€™s best friend, who you made your play-thing? When you peer at your daughter, will you have vision of me? While you pick the knots away gently, will you feel lively curls shaded brown? When you find her silent gaze, will it be unique, hazel, fine? I wonder, when you help clothe her, is it my clothes slipping off in your mind? Weeping as it became clear, a vile act thrust upon me, why will your daughter cry? Wailing at you, that boy! Here he touched! What is your intent toward that pimpled teen boy who coveted your baby? Will you remember me, and recall that the teen boy was once you?
Deadlines Photography | Sarah Miller
Blackness Barred Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie I had it all together, Or, so I sorely thought. Life’s mistakes bound with a tether— That’s the case, I foolishly bought. Just as I cinched the bow Perched atop the ugliest gift, My darkness slunk to an unfamiliar low And I felt my aura abruptly shift. I had it all together! All entities perfectly in place, My breath puffed light as a feather! A blush and dimples crept to my face. My mind-graveling demons had been bound, There was space for me to think and be! No more CLAMOROUS! CACOPHONY! of sound, Just the soothing hymn of me, mee, meee I had it all together! Until reality bounced my check. I had been naive to believe my brain’s blether. A splashing inkblot grew from just a speck. Soon the swirling stain of gloom spread, Quickly chasing away the white with tarry night. Once more dark disgraces encircle my head And freedom and happiness seem out of sight. If only I had it all together. 79
Part 1: Playing St. Valentine’s Tune Fiction | Mandy Brown Two flowers—one a white daisy, the other a yellow carnation—rest between us. Two flowers; both enough. We agree roses are too risky, though I joke we celebrate love in funeral colors. “God, 8th block was the worst today,” I tell Evelyn, reliving some of my earlier annoyance. “Ugh. Why? What made it suck?” she replies. “Just the usual—Diane. She’s always oversharing, talking without realizing her audience does not care, and I never have the energy. But somehow today was worse.” “She talks too much for sure, but I am not sure she’s that bad,” Evelyn says. “Says the extrovert! But fine, maybe I am overreacting, extra sensitive today,” I reply. “Maybe...Don’t all holidays do that? I mean, there’s so much pressure surrounding them,” Evelyn says. “Yeah, there is. It’s probably that,” I say, turning to make eye contact. “I guess...I mean, it makes me so angry and so sad and so...ugh, I don’t know...hopeless, powerless, crazy. She gets to talk my ear off for hours about James when I don’t fucking care! But I can’t share anything,” I say. Evelyn pauses before responding, letting my cocktail of emotions hang in the air. “I get it,” she says. “It’s just that I am so proud of you. I am so proud to love you and be with you, and I want to let everyone in Jefferson know—to share our version of Romeo & Juliet,” I continue. “It’s like there are countless closets, each one all the more suffocating. You know, one for me and one for you and one for me for you and one for you for me. How terrible, I think, we have to bust through so many doors. The more people you know, the more there are and the more 80
collateral damage because of their discomfort. The doors aren’t even ours. Sometimes I feel it’s not about us anymore, that it never has been, that we’re opening doors inside others’ homes, minds, and hearts. The whole thing feels invasive and wrong, like some conversion therapy spinoff. I just want to live and love out loud. I want to celebrate like other couples.” Evelyn doesn’t say anything but takes my hand, locking her fingers in mine. She gives my hand a knowing squeeze. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll eventually become one of those annoying serial romanticists and post on Facebook twice a day about the love of my life,” I joke. “Please don’t,” Evelyn smirks. She changes the subject, turning her attention to my gift. “14 Pieces,” she reads, opening the shiny heart-shaped box and reaching for a Milk Chocolate Vanilla Butter Cream. She takes a bite and shows me the candy’s goopy, protruding center with a cheeky grin. “I believe you,” I laugh. “Is there a Dark Chocolate Coconut Cream, babe? You know those are my favorite,” I say. She attempts to see Stover’s legend, but the dark makes the chocolates indistinguishable. She pauses for a moment, returning several relentless strands of her wavy, brunette hair to the crevice behind her right ear before continuing her dedicated search. I find this ordinary frustration of hers intoxicating. “Ugh. I don’t know, babe. I can’t see anything in this damn light!” she says, checking the rearview mirror for visitors as I take another glance at the library’s paint job—the color combo I labeled Primary Color Vomit the first time we parked here. The library’s colors don’t seem to bother Evelyn. I imagine she worries about more than the colors. The building reminds me of one of those art pieces that only looks worse when viewed longer. The red, blue, and yellow lines cross and blend and crash into one another at confusing angles—angles that make me dizzy after too long a stare. “We are okay, Evelyn. We’re okay here,” I try, knowing my reassurance will never be enough for her or me. How can it be? Like 81
the books in the Jefferson Memorial Library, we realize, our story has a never-ending potential to trade hands. So, we convene at night, as knowledge sleeps, when the Eco Line Self-Inking Dater rests and a single lamp illuminates “Established in 1903” on the library’s front. I wonder about this, this finding Evelyn in the dark; such a strange irony, I think, to read one another in the cover of night. Do either of us miss words, skip lines, or hide chapters? “Ah ha! I think I found it—The Dark Chocolate Coconut Cream for ma’ lady!” she proclaims. I laugh and open my hand to her, palm up. She inches the chocolate closer to it, stopping just before touching my skin. “What are you doing?” I ask. “You know,” she smirks. “Yeah? Playing hard to get now, are you? I think I have earned my chocolate and then some,” I joke. “Yeah. Come on, Jane... Dear Jane, my love, will you accept this scrumptious token of my affections?” “I suppose...Romeo,” I say, laughing as I place my hand over my chest just like I remember Leonardo DiCaprio doing in the 1996 Shakespearean remake Ms. Benson forced us to watch last term. “Jeez, Juliet. Don’t you know? Your heart is here! Let me help you find it...” she says, turning my shoulders until I face her and repositioning my hand so it rests on the left side of my chest. “Why thank you. I need a map myself.” Grateful for the front bench of her 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass, I push the flowers and chocolates off the seat and onto the floor. I fill the space between us with my body and she starts to kiss me. “Wait—Wait Jane. Did you check before...” She looks out the driver’s window and reviews our surroundings, again. “What would I do without you? A cartographer and watchdog!” I say. Evelyn does not laugh. She pauses. “Why do you do that?” she asks. “Why?” “Do what?” I ask. “Joke about it, Jane.” 82
“I don’t know, Evelyn. I didn’t mean to upset you. You know that, right?” “I think so,” she answers. I start to worry. “I guess...I—I hope so. Somehow joking makes it okay, the anxiety. It makes me okay. Humor creates space. It takes my heart out of my brain for a moment. I’m sorry, Evelyn. I’ll stop. I know you have more to lose if others find out. I know your mom told the Jensens she supported their decision; she approved of their kicking Michael out when they found him with Erick. It paralyzes me sometimes to know I endanger you. I want my love to protect you, not threaten you. I’m sor—” “Stop apologizing, Jane, really, not tonight, not on Valentine’s Day,” she interrupts. “I don’t want to think about them: my mom, Ms. Jensen, Michael and Erick even. This is our night. This is our story. Tonight we’re writing a chapter for us, without them—not in spite of them, just without them. It isn’t about them. I wish they realized that too.” “Okay. Okay, Evelyn. Yes, for us and by us,” I said. Evelyn leans in to kiss me, her eyes watery but not spilling tears. I comfort her with contact, holding her face in both hands before we kiss and embrace one another. I can smell her Lavender shampoo and her brown curls tickle my cheek in their unruliness. “Yes, that’s right,” Evelyn replies. “You ready?” I ask. “Yes! Lead the way, Juliet,” she grins. “Anything for my dear Romeo—I mean Dana,” I say, laughing. I feel “You and The L-Word. Oh my God! Stop” against my lips. As I pull her closer, I try to push the image of lying next to her in bed, searching for a view of her emerald eyes behind untimely pillow fluff, like a normal couple, from my mind. I know that story belongs in a different book or, as I hope, a later chapter. I lean in to kiss her and she grabs my face to steady our movements. 83
“I love you, Jane. I really love you,” she says between kisses and labored breaths, as if she’s only just realized how much. “I love you too, Evelyn. Happy 2nd Valentine’s Day.” I reach for her shirt and she for mine. She lowers me to the bench on top of her as we kiss and our bodies find rhythm. We celebrate in secret. No fancy dinner; no elaborate date; no profile posts. Our bodies play a song only we can hear, and somehow the sound is all the more beautiful that way.
Part 2: Hey, Jude, Begin Fiction | Mandy Brown I watch from my bedroom window and listen from upstairs. He arrives at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon. He rings the bell and my mother answers. “Hi, how are you? You must be Steven. Come on in, come on in!” Steven shifts his weight to remove his right hand from his jean pocket and nods a thank you as he leans toward the brick threshold. “Thank you,” he says. He enters and follows my mother into the family kitchen with its gold-yellow walls—the color of book pages left in the sun too long. From time to time Mother complains, “It’s not supposed to look like this,” but she has never made an effort to repaint. We moved in five years ago, to have more space—for whom, I am not sure—and I still wonder what it means to live in a home decorated for someone else. The bronze star above the mantle isn’t our family heirloom, and the Black-eyed Susan, which sprouts and spreads in the yard each spring, tells and retells a history that isn’t ours. The previous family had a dog, I know. His daily impatience is still visible, scratched into the beige paint on the back door, and I think maybe the walls of the house meant the same for him—not really about liberation and independence, but, instead, normalized division. I often ask myself, Who is the space for? “I am sure she’ll be down in a moment,” my mother assures Steven. “So, Steven, you’ve graduated, haven’t you?” my mother asks. “Yes, ma’am, but soon Jane will have too.” “You’re right! Oh, how time flies…I can hardly bear to lose her…I hear you’re joining the service now.” “Yes, ma’am, the Navy. I start Basic in a month. I’ll have to communicate through letters then, like the olden days,” he chuckles 85
and assures my mother he will write. “My goal is to steer combat ships, Littoral Freedom or Independence ships to be specific. They are fast, agile, and quiet—the Navy’s important underdogs.” “Wow, well it sounds worthwhile. I am impressed. Jane’s uncle served 24 years and I always thought, what a wonderful way to lead a respectable life,” Mother says. I am nearly ready. Placing the final pin in my half updo, I do one more check in the mirror. Hair fine. Make up decent. Outfit casual, but not too casual. Does this make me look like I am trying too hard? Maybe. I don’t know. How hard is too hard? It will be fine. Fine. “Here we go. Breathe. Breathe, Jane.” My breathing is still contrived. I grab my purse, the rectangular canvas one with two pockets and a pattern of yellow hibiscus flowers, my favorite...the one Evelyn bought me in 10th grade for my birthday—the birthday we celebrated at the roller rink, the birthday before the winter before the summer my mother told me, “You don’t want to burn bridges when you couldn’t possibly know.” I added a match for her too. It had been the first time I thought about the implications of a person’s home having been decorated for someone else. It was the first time I realized few someones would adorn my house for two. I step toward the stairs. “You’ve got this,” I reassure myself again. God, I am sweating. Is this how people know? They perspire enough to be a model for Secret’s Clinical Strength Deodorant. “Real Love, Real Beauty, Real Sweat Showers.” I enter the kitchen the third wheel. Mother and Steven seem to have hit it off well. I am relieved. “Ready?” I ask Steven. “Yep! Your mom and I were just talking about our plans,” he says. “Oh, great…Let’s go,” I respond. “Have fun, you two!” Mother chirps. “We will,” I say, hoping in all earnest I will. Mother walks us out, smiling—her silver pendant gleaming in the light from the open door. The afternoon sun reminds me; the silver cross around 86
her neck blinds me. Steven and I make it to the car and he offers to get my door. “I am fine. I got it. Thanks,” I say. He pauses a moment, “Oh, okay.” We sit there, the doors to his navy Jeep closed, still in the driveway, in silence. What should I say? Maybe he’ll start first. This isn’t my first time with Steven. We work together at the daycare two blocks from the high school. My friend April convinced me to go out with him. I didn’t protest. He always asks me what I’d prefer and where I’d like to go and what I’d like to do. I am not sure how to tell him I don’t know. How do I tell him I don’t think I ever will? He doesn’t pry. He never asks me why I don’t respond to his messages for hours, nor does he inquire about my whereabouts when I repeat, “Oh, I was out last night. Sorry I didn’t respond right away.” I think I could learn to love him. “Where do you want to go? I figured you’d have some ideas,” Steven says. “Surprise me. Someplace else—I mean The River Run, maybe. There is a trail there,” I say, imagining myself at the bottom of River Run Lake, looking up at the endless gray of a night sky near the city from under its surface, feeling the pressure of the water against my eardrums like a comforting squeeze—an embrace that reminds me I have bounds. “I’d like that, The River Run. The River Run it is!” Steven replies. We drive 10 miles east to the park. As Steven drives, I settle into my seat. Watching the double yellow lines on the road in front of us blur and swerve and undulate as the car accelerates and slows and accelerates, I find practiced comfort. The lines and movement are entrancing. Steven fills the now and again silence with the radio, turned to an old-school rock station my father likes as we follow the curves through minutes of lush green toward a blue horizon.
The radio plays: “Remember to let her into your heart. Then you can start to make it better. So let it out and let it in. Hey, Jude, begin.” “So you’re graduating, Jane. What are you going to do now, in two weeks?” Steven asks. “I don’t know,” I say. “You’ll go to college, won’t you?” he continues. “Yeah, somewhere in state. My mother expects me to stay close. I might as well just pack her in my suitcase,” I say in annoyance. “Are you excited?” he asks. “Yeah, I suppose. Can we talk about something else?” I reply, stroking my right brow with my hand. “Yeah, okay…I didn’t mean to upset you. I felt like a broken record my senior year, too. I was just lucky to have an answer to feed those hungry relatives.” He pretends to gnaw on his forearm until I grin and we reach the park. We approach the trailhead. Three miles. A loop. It’s been so long. “Are you up for the full loop, Jane?” I wonder if you can still see … “Oh, yeah,” I say. “Great!” he answers. We begin. The crunch of the gravel under foot welcomes us; the trees lining the trail guide us. Birds chirp and the sun’s rays scatter like fleeting fairies across the lake water. Silence falls between us. “Have you ever been here, Jane?” Steven asks. “It’s really beautiful. Who knew? All this, just outside the city!” Evelyn, I answer in my head. She loved it here and anywhere nature’s quiet resounded loudest. I remember the first time... “Wait up, Evelyn.” “I thought you were an almighty athlete. This hiking deal should be no problem for you,” she smirked. 88
“You caught me. I am a fraud! But really, I didn’t expect to struggle either. Who knew vertical movement could be so much harder a test?” I panted. “You mighty athletes!” she smiled. I rolled my eyes. Trying to catch up with her, I made exaggerated, leaping movements and puffing noises in mockery. Evelyn grabbed my hand and pulled me the rest of the way. “Yeah, I have, with my friend Evelyn. We used to come here all the time,” I say, glancing away from Steven toward the river on our right. “Really?” he asks. “Yeah,” I reply. “Why haven’t you been back before now?” Steven continues. What an impossible question? I pause. “I don’t know.” I know. I chose myself. I lost her to myself. No one tells you closets aren’t 100% revolving, that labored liberation can mean goodbye. “My mother wasn’t a fan of her, and she moved out east to go to school. We won’t keep in touch,” I say. “I’m sorry. Well, I hope at least we come back,” he says, bending to pick up a stick he maneuvers like a sword. He stabs the trunk of an oak tree just off the path but without sound effects. “Yeah,” I say. We continue to chat as we walk. The gravel crunches still, but I am in the winter before the summer and I am searching for a familiar bend in the trail. Where are they? Where are they? I panic. Just one last time. I only want to see the letters in the limestone one last time. We near the end, but I haven’t seen them. It’s been too long, and the foliage has changed with the seasons. How ironic? That’s why Evelyn loves it. It all looks the same, but different. “I just love it, Jane, don’t you? The way it all changes, but the same security remains, you feel the same comfort you did on the last park visit, but there are noticeable differences. The change isn’t scary. I think this might be the only instance where it isn’t, you know? Maybe it’s about knowing the green will come back, and the 89
rain will come again, and the tree’s roots will stay even if lightning strikes. I don’t know,” she said. “Are you ready to go, Jane?” Steven asks. “Yes,” I say. As we make our way to the car, I think for a second I might tell him, tell him everything so he might help me search. But I know I won’t. I can’t. I don’t. The second is gone. How do I tell Steven I love Evelyn? How do I explain to him why she left me behind?
Lead Me Straight to You Photography | Temesha Derby
Stay Poetry | Ashley Merkley Darling, trust me when I say that I know how hard life can get but when you feel like giving up you must stand strong and hold on because although itâ€™s hard right now, in the end, youâ€™ll be glad you stayed.
Plumerias Photography | Khrystina Calo
No Refills Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie I hope you remember me. The way your rumbling-grumbling tummy, churning with biting acid remembers the sweetness of the swirling, steaming liquid-of-life-in-a-mug every morning. Which flows brown, like the mental powdered dirt road that now stretches between us. Like your eyes, except those aren’t actually brown —funny, with you, nothing is ever as it first appears— they are mixed, diffused drops of green and shiny gold flecks. Humans are attracted to shiny things—it’s intrinsic, inevitable. Similar to how petal-pale creamer can’t help but habitually give into the dark-addiction brimming in your daybreak chalice. I hope you remember me, Like how your mind and body remember coffee every day. I drink tea.
Broken Pieces Part 1 Poetry | Temesha Derby You sorted through my broken pieces, after leaving them pierced on our porch. You think your leaving is my reason for hurting. Forgetting I was already utterly shattered.
Broken Pieces Part 2 Poetry | Temesha Derby I grasped the only support I could conquer which was you. Did you forget, you were broken, too? My shattered pieces were mended when I broke you.
Ringing Fiction | Baillee Furst The cab of the truck was small. Deirdre felt cramped in the tight space, as she drove alone, her hands firmly gripping the gray vinyl of the wheel. The sun reflected off the dark asphalt of the road, which quickly disappeared beneath her as she sped down the highway. She was the only one on the road. Odd, she thought, as she looked down to the radio and saw three o’clock displayed there. It should have been rush hour. When her eyes drifted back up to the road, time seemed to slow. Her tires hit the gravel lining the side of the road. And then time quickly sped up. Deirdre turned the wheel, trying to direct the vehicle back on track. But because of the speed, she only caused the tires to rub against the lip of the road, the friction shaking the entire truck. And then, a pop. The entire truck lurched to the right side, all of the tires hitting the loose gravel. She slammed on the brakes in attempt to at least slow down, but this too failed. She was flying down the steep, grassy hill, with no way to stop the inevitable. Green filled her vision. She had never seen the color in such a terrible way. She never thought it would be the last thing she would see before her death. There was a crushing sound as the front end collided with the ground—a sound like nothing she had heard before. It reminded her of breaking bones. Of heartbreak. Of death. Deirdre’s eyes flew open, her heart pounding, breath heavy. As she lay there, staring up at the ceiling in her bedroom, she took her time making her organs slow, a practice she had grown used to. It was then that a ringing filled her ears. Deirdre hated her alarm clock. 97
The shrill beeping cut through the quietness of the bedroom like a truck crashing into the earth. She shut her eyes, a groan escaping her lips as she pulled her blanket over her head, trying to muffle the sound from her ears. But the beeping only increased in pitch and consistency the longer she let it go. Beep…Beep..Beep.Beep.Beep. Finally, unable to take it any longer, she reached over blindly to the small white cube on her bedside table. Once upon a time, turning the incessant thing off in the dark of morning was a fumbling mess, but now she knew exactly where the switch was that would bring her ears relief. As her focus moved from the tiny object, other thoughts floated to the forefront of her mind, the same one that came to her every morning when she woke up. The tires hit gravel. She glanced around the small space—the bedroom, the one that she knew every detail of. But that was in the light, and the room was pitch black in that moment. The truck shook, the tire popped. The truck rolled, crashed, and crushed in on itself. Just once, she wished she would forget—that her very first memory wasn’t of what she had lost. But no, she knew forgetting would fill her with guilt. And guilt was so much worse than the dull throb of pain in her chest. In her head. Her entire body. It was worse than any nightmare. She reached over to the lamp on her bedside table, another skill that came with time, and flipped the light on. Her gaze immediately went to the clock, and now a sad smile curled on her lips. Memories of mornings before, here and in other places, came to mind. She glanced over at the other side of her full bed—the pillows and comforter were there, untouched—and sighed. 6 a.m. It was time to get up.
The morning procedure she had perfected was a bit stale from broken repetition. She fell into the basics in little time, though. Shower. Get dressed. Brush hair. They all seemed like such mundane tasks, such easy things to do, but they were difficult all the same. Her routine hadn’t completely come back together, after all. And each part had an obstacle of its own. Looking at herself in the mirror in order to put on her makeup and brush her hair surprised her. Her eyes, her most prominent feature, had dark circles ringed beneath them, ones that hadn’t been there weeks ago. Getting dressed became a task, having no second set of eyes to approve or disapprove of her final outfit. Making breakfast and seeing the newly bare, white walls in the small house, struck a chord within her. But the most painful part of it occurred when she was preparing to leave. Standing at the front door, she knew she had all the necessary items to get to work that morning. Her purse, her keys, her paperwork. It wasn’t until she set her purse down and dug to the bottom of it, fishing out the thin gold band with the single diamond adorning the center and slipped it on to her left ring finger, that she was ready to go. *** Deirdre’s hands were only slightly shaking as she parked her car and removed the keys from the ignition. This was an accomplishment, considering she only had convinced herself to drive anywhere two other times in the last month—the first to go to her parents’ house, the second when she couldn’t stand ordering take-out anymore and got groceries. She had tried to drive to the funeral home. That ended with her mother forcing her to pull over. She complied with her parents’ requests to drive her the week they had stayed with her. She had been grateful for it, really. Taking in one last deep breath, she opened her door and exited her car, beginning the short walk to the front doors of the office building. 99
When she got inside, there was already someone standing there, waiting for her. “I thought I recognized your car driving in this morning. How could I miss the green?” Valerie’s voice lilted, practically screeching with excitement. She embraced her. Deirdre stood there, board-straight as she waited for it to end. It wasn’t quick. As she pulled back, Valerie continued to speak, seemingly affirming her own statement. “You’ve missed out on so much around here! I can’t wait to fill you in on all the gossip. Have you had coffee yet?” She paused just long enough for Deirdre to shake her head. “Let’s get some coffee.” And with that, she wrapped her arm around Deirdre’s shoulder and led her into the building, toward their department’s staff lounge, as though Deirdre’s absence had been so long she had forgotten how to get around. As the pair walked, Deirdre couldn’t help but see others looking at her with so many eyes, she could practically feel them on her. The receptionist had to look at Deirdre twice before she realized that it was, in fact, her. A few people, whose names she didn’t know, stopped and gave her a sad smile and a nod. She didn’t return any of the smiles. “We went to the mall yesterday and I found the most darling top, but they didn’t have it in my size, since I lost all the weight. It’s not too much, so it’s okay you didn’t notice,” Valerie continued. “Now you just wait right there.” She released Deirdre’s shoulder, taking the few steps over to the coffee pot to pour them each a cup. Deirdre watched with a raised brow as she did, glancing toward the door, thinking about making a break for it right then. I could be to my desk in two minutes, she thought to herself. All the while, Valerie was still speaking, but Deirdre was not listening. She did, however, acknowledge her when she returned with the coffee, taking a long, grateful sip. It wasn’t until after she had lowered the cup before she noticed Valerie’s laser focus on her ring finger and the small band that found its home there. 100
“So, how are you doing?” She said it the way everyone did, Deirdre noticed, with a slight tilt to the head and wide, unblinking eyes—a slightly hushed tone. She considered the question for a few moments. How was she doing, or how was she supposed to be doing? As Deidre opened her mouth to respond, another voice filled the silence. “Dee, hey, you’re here. We need you at your desk, stat.” As Deirdre turned toward the door, she noticed another of her coworkers, Traci, standing in the doorway. She gave a brief nod, a clear “thank you,” before looking back to Valerie and giving her a little shrug. “We can talk later,” Deirdre said, as she turned and left the lounge, trying to be subtle about how fast she moved. Walking step for step with Traci, she shook her head with relief. “I forgot how damn much she talked. It was like a black hole, I thought I’d never escape,” Deirdre said. Traci let out a short laugh. “Just be glad your desk isn’t right next to hers,” she said pointedly. Deirdre had to admit; she missed this, at the very least. She and Traci had been coworkers for five years. Theirs had been an instant friendship. Silence filled the space between them as they walked. She knew Traci had something to say, she could tell she was just trying to decide how, or if, to ask. But Deirdre had no interest in answering what she knew more than just Valerie would question her about. How are you doing? Do you need anything? Let me know if you need me. It was insipid. And she had no interest in false sympathy. It was when they got to her desk that Traci began to speak, “Dee, how—” Deirdre immediately cut her off with a curt nod of her head. She braced her hands on the back of her desk chair, looking at Traci with steel in her gaze. “Don’t,” her words were firm, unbending. She did not want to discuss the past. Other things, small talk, yes. But loss, no. 101
A sound of protest came from Traci’s lips, but Deirdre ignored it. She pulled her chair out and sat down, refusing to glance at her as she said. “I’ll see you at lunch.” The dismissal in her tone rang in the air. It was clearly received by Traci, who turned around and left almost immediately. When she was gone, Deirdre braced her elbows on her desk and put her head in her hands, letting out a deep sigh. She had not come off well, but she couldn’t find it in her to care. The old her would have been kind, open. As she lifted her head, her eyes roamed her desk. It wasn’t much; she tried to keep the surface tidy looking, though she knew all the work she needed to catch up on was floating around in the drawers. The only decoration she kept to adorn her space was the little deer figurine, which she gently reached over and took gingerly between her fingers. *** Oliver had called her Deer—not like the formality but the animal. He said her large eyes reminded him of a doe. She said she didn’t appreciate being compared to something so defenseless. He said perhaps they reminded him of a buck instead. The two of them had met on her first day in the office. She worked in finance, he in sales. Deirdre was fresh out of college, twenty-two years old. It was June; she had graduated just a week before. She was full of anxiety, shaking a bit as she came into the lobby. Traci had been the one to greet her, had given her the tour. It was all a bit hard to keep everyone straight, everything right in her head, until they stopped by the final department. Traci took her through the hall, into each office, and introduced her to everyone. More names, more faces. That was when they came to his office. He was fairly new as well, a junior associate. He was the youngest one there, other than herself. Her expectation had been to stumble upon just another middle-aged person, as the majority of the others were. 102
Traci introduced the two, just as she had done with everyone else. As he stood up and came around his desk to shake her hand, she remembered the goofy smile he wore, the way he shook her hand, and how he had misbuttoned his shirt. The image of him was still in her head hours later, as she sat at her desk, going through the work that would soon become her normal routine. It was lunchtime when he came by. He walked up behind her, and she had been so intent on what she was doing, she hadn’t heard him until he spoke. “How’s your day going?” He had said in his chipper voice, and she jumped so harshly in her seat that her head had whipped back and got him under the chin. He pulled back quickly, a grunt of pain having escaped him. One had come from her too, and she rubbed the crown of her head while he did his chin. “I’m hoping better than now,” Oliver said as he grimaced a bit, that smile still on his lips despite his clear pain. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her big eyes even wider than normal. He shook it off, clearly not angry about it. “I came to see if you needed any help finding the break room…for lunch.” His tone was slow, his eyes glancing down to his watch as he turned his wrist. “It took me a little while to find your desk,” he said, a blush quickly overtaking his features as he admitted this. Deirdre hadn’t read too much into this. She took him up on the offer, and before long it became a ritual between them. He came to her desk at noon, walked her to lunch, and walked her back. This went on until he finally asked her out two weeks later. “I’m so jealous you have your own office. The privacy must be nice. Less fish-bowl-like than a desk,” Deirdre said as the two of them walked the halls back to her desk. It wasn’t a long trip, but she walked slowly. She already planned to blame it on her “short legs” if he ever commented on it. He never did. “It’s just a room, really. And it gets kind of lonely. I’m much more shut off from everyone than you are out here,” Oliver said in 103
answer, gesturing about the endless rows of cubicles that made up the beginning of her department, which she had labeled the “cube farm.” Deirdre hadn’t really gotten to know anyone else with a spot in the farm. All of their faces and names blended together. “No cows invade your space, though,” she muttered under her breath. This comment drew a snort of laughter from Oliver. She was smiling as she looked up at him, and their eyes locked. And then a long, drawn-out silence followed, the two of them smiling at each other dumbly. Her heart thudded almost painfully in her chest, a lump formed in her throat, and the part of her brain that connected to common sense was detached. Do something, you idiot, she scolded herself. As they arrived back at her little space, she cleared her throat, breaking the eye contact between them and dropping a hand on to her chair back. As she opened her mouth to say a simple, messy goodbye, Oliver spoke first. “Iwanttoaskyouout,” the words were a rushed, jumbled mess, and Deirdre promptly shut her mouth, blinking blankly at him in response. “I just mean…that maybe you could come by my office when you’re off today, since you like it so much… and we could go get dinner. Somewhere other than the break room, I mean.” He had slowed down his speaking, but there was still an urgency to what he was stating. “And it doesn’t have to be food, I mean, we can do something other than eat, for once. Unless that’s what you want to do. There’s always the movies, if there’s anything you even want to see, or—” “Yes,” Deirdre cut him off, a bit of amusement had crept into her expression as she said this. She found his rambling endearing. “I’ll come by later. But for now, back to plowing my plot.” She plopped down into her chair, giving him a smile and a small flourish of her fingers as way of dismissal. He looked a bit shell shocked, but he waggled his fingers at her in return and practically ran from her desk. When his head disappeared from her view, she blew out a deep breath through pursed lips, leaning her head back and staring at the ceiling. 104
They had dated for two years before the engagement. The wedding followed a year later. The two had just celebrated their twoyear anniversary a month before it happened. Oliver had never been very outdoorsy, but after they purchased the house, he was insistent on getting a grill. He wanted the backyard set up for parties and for a future family. Deirdre, on the other hand, had no interest in it. It was a Saturday, and she had shopping plans of her own with Traci. Oliver had tried to talk her out of it—tried to get her to cancel and come with him. They had argued, she had insisted on no, and he had left unhappy. They rarely fought, and it had bothered her the rest of the day. She had called him several times, but he hadn’t answered. She hadn’t thought anything of it, he often forgot his phone in the truck. She had Traci had just finished their lunch when he finally called her back. Relief had filled her chest at the site of his name on her screen. But it wasn’t him. It was a doctor—a young one, based on how he had sounded. There had been an accident, and Oliver was in the hospital. Deirdre needed to get there right away. What they failed to tell her over the phone, what she learned when she got there, was that he was already dead. He had been when they arrived on the scene. She felt much more doe than buck in that moment. *** Her morning of work had gone by in a blur. A new focus for her mind that had been idle for the past few weeks made things easier until lunch hour hit. Noon. Deirdre could hear the rustle of those around her getting up from their spaces, not hesitating a moment to escape to their breaks. She sat there, listening. She thought Traci would come by and walk with her, but she must have been waiting for her in the break room. Deirdre didn’t move, though. She concentrated on the uncharacteristic silence of the space. She should have been hungry, 105
clamoring to eat the prepackaged vending machine lunch she had planned, but she wasn’t. Not only did the food sound unappetizing, but the people did as well: the eyes, the questions. A private space, just for her, that was what she wanted. Her body seemed to react to this desire before her brain could put it all together. Standing, she walked the familiar route: Down the hall. A right at the intersection. Up the flight of stairs. The last room on the left. The lights were off, but they were in all the offices surrounding it too. She pushed down on the handle, it wasn’t locked, it never was. The lights turned on automatically with the movement of the door. Part of her still fully expected to see Oliver sitting behind the desk. He would be typing something up on his laptop. More than once she had to come over here at lunch because he had forgotten about it or he was so busy that he hadn’t looked at the time. He would look up at her, a sheepish smile pulled across his lips. “It’s noon, isn’t it?” He would say. Then he would laugh and they would go to the break room together. But he wasn’t there. All that greeted Deirdre was an empty black chair. The bookshelf he had filled with dictionaries, almanacs, thesaurus, and a few of his favorite books was empty. The posters of inspirational quotes, which she had always made fun of him for having, were gone. His desk, which was always covered in papers and framed pictures, was empty. Slowly, she shut the door behind her and then turned off the light. The windows let in enough from the hall that she could see well enough to make her way over to the chair and sit in it. “It’s just a room, really. And it get’s kind of lonely,” he had told her. Perfect. She wanted lonely. He had been, after all, when he died. That was right: he died. It seemed to be a statement she hadn’t been able to say, think, or accept. Death had such finality to it, an end. No more. Period. Why was it such a hard thing to take? What would be final for her? 106
Raising her hands, she used her left to slowly remove the ring on her left finger. She held it at arms-length, looking at it. In the dark it didn’t look like the object of meaning that it was. It didn’t symbolize anything like it had before. “In sickness, in health. ‘Til death do us part,” she murmured to herself. She let the ring drop.
It Will Take an Army Photography | Sarah Miller
Dracula’s Wives Fiction | Hannah Hummel It’s nearly twilight. Darkness has fallen and a gloom settles over Count Dracula’s castle. As if the disappearing sun is a signal, I swiftly open my eyes and sit up. My long, golden tresses tumble down my back, almost reaching the soft-packed earth of the coffin in which I sit. I emerge from my resting place as soon as I hear my sisters stirring. I stand in the middle of the room as they rise from their own coffins to greet me. They also have long hair that flows past their shoulders, but theirs is as dark as mine is fair. I see their dark eyes glimmer at me even in the dim light. Ours is what some would call an unnatural beauty, unparalleled by any other women in the world. We use this beauty to our advantage, luring our otherwise unwilling victims to us for a drink of that liquid we most desire. But no matter how often we drink, we cannot slake our insatiable thirst for blood. We, who have walked in the shadows longer than any mortal women, no longer call each other by name. We refer to ourselves only as “Sister.” Our dear Count Dracula requested this of us at the very beginning, when we were first changed. This has gone on for so long that we are unable to remember what our names once were. The night is cold, and the snow flurries swirl dizzyingly around in the air. For the humans, I am sure it must feel bitterly cold, with the snow stinging their uncovered and unprotected skin. My sisters and I, however, feel none of this—not the bitter cold nor the bite of the snow as it is flung into our faces. Through the mist and the snow, we begin our pursuit, seeking the girl whom our beloved Dracula has turned. It won’t be long before her transition is complete and she is truly one of us. Dracula sent word to us that she would be coming, and he implored us to find her and bring her to his castle. He warned us that it would not be an easy task, and if we fail, we 109
will face his wrath. For our sakes, and for our newfound sisterâ€™s sake, we must not fail. We rely on our heightened senses to lead us to the one we seek. Immediately after exiting the castle, I notice a flickering light, as if from a small campfire, at the bottom of a hill far off in the distance. I know with absolute certainty it is there that we will find our quarry. I point out this firelight to my sisters, and they smile and nod in acknowledgement. As one, we transform into bats and take flight, reaching the flickering light much quicker than we would have had we remained in our human forms. We arrive nearby, taking cover in the trees. Changing back into our original forms, we assess how best to relocate the girl to the castle. She is not alone. There is an elderly man with her, though at present he is preoccupied with the two horses accompanying them on their journey. The horses whinny as the old man attempts to calm them with soft-spoken words and gentle pats. It was indeed a campfire I had seen back at the castle. We watch as the old man turns away from his horses to add more wood to the fire and feed the dying flames. My sisters and I look at each other with resolve. Now is our opportunity to take the girl back to the castle with us as our dear Dracula requested. As we step out from the cover of the trees, the horses begin to tear at their tethers, neighing in alarm. They sense our presence, though they cannot yet see us. Our gowns trail on the ground as we glide forward, appearing through the mist as though we have materialized from thin air. We are in a translucent state of being, our bodies not yet solidly formed. The old man squints his eyes at us as if in disbelief of what he is seeing. We begin to circle around the two travelers like a bird circles its prey before swooping down for the kill. We smile at the girl, our sharp white teeth gleaming in the moonlight, and as we continue to circle around the two, I notice a red scar upon her forehead. Have they branded her? These humans have strange ways of living. We begin to fully materializeâ€”the better to call to the girl. She cannot come to us if she is not able to see us in all our strength. 110
“Come, sister. Come to us,” we call to her in dulcet tones, entwining our arms and beckoning at her. “Come! Come!” But she does not come; she hardly moves an inch. Why does she recoil from us—we, who understand what she is experiencing and can help her through her transition? We are one and the same, yet she flinches as we draw near to her! I glance at the snow-covered ground and notice a ring has been formed around the girl made from items that would harm any vampire, should they get too close. I glare at her companion, realizing what he has done. “She cannot come to us,” I hiss to my sisters. The wind carries my words away and the old man and the girl hear nothing. “The old man guards her with his circle of protection. See the Wafers? She cannot cross them, nor can we extract her from them— not without harming ourselves in the process.” They snarl as they realize my words are true. They are more vengeful than I am, and I know even now that they are plotting their revenge against him. Suddenly, the old man lunges forward, seizing a nearby branch of firewood and some of the Wafer that serves as protection against vampires, and brandishes them at my sisters and me, advancing toward us. We draw back, laughing mirthlessly. I can see the triumph in his eyes. He knows he has won, for he knows as well as we do his circle of protection with the Wafers is impenetrable. We cannot come near the girl while the circle remains unbroken. We bare our teeth at the old man, for we cannot do much else to harm him while the Wafers still protect him. I vow here and now that the next time we cross paths with this old man, the outcome will not be quite so victorious for him. We stay in these positions for hours: my sisters and I circling outside the ring of Wafers, the old man, and the girl protected within. I look up and notice the sky is beginning to grow lighter. The sun will soon rise, and my sisters and I must return to Dracula’s castle. We cannot remain outside much longer, for we cannot survive in the light of the sun. We share a look, silently agreeing to try again the following night. Retreating into the whirling mist and snow, we 111
transform once more into bats. Flying quickly back to the castle, we return before the first light of dawn is upon us. We each settle back into our respective coffins as the new day approaches and wait for nightfall to make our move.
Making Monsters Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie “You do and I repeat.” That’s what we know. We learn by watching wise live the dream, Letting us behold only what they show; The blinding lights of lies arise, gold-gleaming. My eyes drifted off the page of the book, And Ms. Tradition—CLICK—she snaps her fingers, Wrenching my mind, yanked back with lay hook Deep down the depths where drunken mimics linger. Demanding ways of life, it’s all an act; The elders drink pride from shallow bowls, Brimming with those who sign the sanguine pact. This is the norm in our given roles. A lost crusade not simply to be won, The odds of victory are close to none.
Ancient Problem Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie [Box. Cage. Bound. Choler.] [Beaten. Cowards. Backlash. Confining.] Barred inside my own mind, the voices carefully calculate the perfect time for every word to be said. And when a spark begins to climb its convoluted chambers, the flickering thoughts of failure are fed. [Breaking. Capacity. Belittles. Conception.] But this is madness. [Be-fore. i-Can. Bust. this-Chain.] [i-must-silently-beCome. smarter-than-my-Brain.
Diablo Lake Visual Art | Jeffrey Oâ€™Boyle
POTUS Poetry | Olivia Anderson As he spoke, he hoped, his words would heal none of the broken. Little did he know, it was glass he groped, some of the most outspoken.
Untouchable Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Walking with your nose greeting the clouds, Because we donâ€™t shine like your pretty pearls and diamonds Your Rolex tells you: peasants are not due to hold Any of your million-dollar minutes. Your clipboard-and-planner-girl set aside her duty To rip off the cloth from your cherry wood Dining room table, revealing the strained bodies that Have held up your thousand-dollar entrees. Then you read into this revelation Finding your own brand of creation Molding the dough-peasants Not giving them eyes to see That you pulled the stoppers from Their piggy banks, the payout Is grand prize slot machine, and of course You keep winning everything the people earned, because you promised them richness and return to a post-war greatness. You, a god they heard.
Masjid Hassan Athani Photography | Andrea Casaretto
USA Poetry | Andrea Casaretto Street. It is the proper word. Complete with lanes, lights and a crosswalk. That’s my road and I pass it as I march up to a local, overpriced gas station. I know the back ways in and out; I can easily return home. Tourists? Nothing special is in this county seat. Most travelers are passersby. There’s one superstore. A few mom-and-pop restaurants, and homes dot this town’s map. It is a dry, quiet, bland place. Other. It is not a title I accept, but it is etched into my skin. My religion disconnects me from all other Americans somehow. I search for ways to prove myself American, that I do belong in my homeland of few mosques, madrasas. At times these sanctuaries strike me with fear like a club to the head, when incensed protestors shout around mosques with their cold guns in their hands, which mirror their cold hearts. They carry signs reading “GET OUT” and in bigger letters “ISLAM IS SATANIC.” Home? Society is a barricade, an enclosure keeping me from my dear American community. The reflective glass of skyscrapers mock me and remind me that my faith is foreign, and that September 11, 2001, is all that matters concerning Muslims like me. 119
Home Photography | Khrystina Calo
I-80 Westbound, 10PM Poetry | Sarah Miller Beads Of liquid light Slipping over The edge of the earth And falling Toward me On either side The hills are Ink and cotton Only silhouettes Against the sky A bubble of noise Within the silence Guitar and drums Ricochet Off glass The moon hangs low In front of me A sliver And a smile Wisps of clouds Dart in front Faintly red Reflecting light I follow scarlet drops Spilling up and over 121
Someone must Have pricked the night The hill crests My view cuts And below For miles Winds A river of the stars
BilingĂźe Poetry | Olivia Anderson As I speak new words, and despise my native tongue, I yearn, for rebirth.
Fairy Door Photography | Karisa Labertew
If I Met My Seven-Year-Old Self Today Poetry | Lauren Myers If I met my seven-year-old self today: What would I tell her? What would I say? Would I warn her of the future? What would she say if she saw me politely refusing my ice cream? “Cookie dough goes best with warm, summer nights!” What would she think if she knew I drank coffee black? “You used to tell Nana it tastes like gasoline.” What if she saw me skipping breakfast? “You shouldn’t, it’s a meal with all your favorite foods!” Or running until my lungs can’t take in oxygen fast enough? “No one is chasing you, silly.” How about watching me count calories all day? “I don’t like math!” My seven-year-old self believed the world to be a perfect place Would she recognize herself when she looked into my face? Even though I’ve learned much more and sixteen years have passed since then I would give up everything to view life through her eyes, again I wonder what would she say if she saw me hating myself? 125
â€œYou are more beautiful than Cinderella! You smell like pine needles and have a face like sunshine!â€?
True Beauty Poetry | Ashley Merkley I think the rawest and most brilliant display of true beauty is to show grace and resilience in the midst of even the darkest times. To walk straight through the fire, and not lose the kindness, empathy, and courage in your own heart: That, I think is the most beautiful thing.
Introspection Photography | Sarah Miller
Lilyâ€™s Lavender Morning Photography | Dana Quick-Naig
The Taste of Nectar Poetry | Brianna Stoever Her looming presence affronted him. She towered above, Bursting with all the grandeur someone as beautiful as she could ever hope to show off. Everything about her felt alluring. Her shape. Her smell. Her stature among the others surrounding her. He was a mindless creature caught up in something bigger than himself. He’d gone through many others before her. Each a whirl of excitement, a moment of sweet fulfillment. Glutting himself on all they had to offer. But she was a new experience all together. A life he never thought he’d get to encounter. He floated to her as if in a trance. Bumbling around, hoping she wouldn’t notice his lacking grace. Disoriented by all she was, He slammed into her delicate frame, Holding her tightly for fear she’d slip away. Others basked in her glory, He knew he wasn’t the only one. A brief excursion in both their lives. He took what he desired, Then made his way to the next. But. For a brief moment, they gave each other something. 130
Her world became more open. His, a little sweeter. One day, they may cross paths again. In a crashing moment, giving what the other needed once more. Or, perhaps, that was never meant to be. Such is life.
Rose Fairy Photography | Karisa Labertew
The Gingko Tree Fiction | Shawn Schossow I wrote: There was a tree down the block in a small empty field that was covered with green grass and sticks and littered with thistles. The tree must have been ten feet wide when I was a child. Of course it's only four or five, but I'm an adult now and know better how to estimate such things. The tree was a pin oak, I'd heard. I've never studied botany. I'd also heard my alma mater has one, and it may be the largest in the state. My mom would have found that very interesting. But of course, she found anything interesting I wanted her to find interesting. I used to go to that field with my neighbors, and we played baseball or tag or whatever games we could imagine. We didn't like football, though. We just had to pretend to like football. And not to brag, but I think my imagination was the best out of all of them. Tell me anything you could think of and I probably acted it out on that field. I was a knight on Tuesday, an engineer on Thursday, and Babe Ruth on Friday. The possibilities were endless, I assure you. Except on Wednesdays because my stepfather made me go to church. I was even confirmed. Can you believe it? Under that pin oak I had my first drink. It was a beer, but not any old beer; it was some German lager out of a glass bottle with fancy writing and a picture of a lime on the label, so I knew it was meant to be enjoyed with some decency. Unlike that stuff out of a can, which was just meant to get you drunk enough to make poor decisions, beer out of a glass bottle had class. I was 13 when I tried it. Christ, it was unbearable! It tasted much better once the buzz started, though. My stepfather used to make jokes to his buddies about how real men drank this German stuff and sissies drank the fruity stuff, but I knew he liked a margarita or a wine cooler every once in a while. That's all they seemed to do when he and his friends 133
boozed: make fun of other men who weren't as manly as them and talk about women. I remember I has just been dumped by this girl, Holly Rosefield, so I wanted to feel better. That's why I swiped the beer off my step-dad. His name was Keith. In hindsight, I think I needed to believe I was still a man even though she left me; at that age, everything is a pissing contest. Damn, I felt powerless because of the whole thing! And to think we just had gone to a movie that week and went at each other during the second half. I mean we really went at each other, tongue and all. No kidding! When we left the theater, my balls felt like they were strangled by some goddamned sumo wrestler. Man, I was nuts about her. I rang a couple of my buddies the night after she dumped me and told them the news. I acted tough on the phone and told them to meet me in the field with the pin oak so I could blow off some steam. Bring a football, I said. I didn't say anything about the beer, though, because I was worried that my step-dad was on the other line just waiting to catch me doing something wrong. Keith was always hellbent on punishment. It was like he had a fetish. He didn't enjoy receiving punishment, though, like anyone. He only liked dealing it. Men face the consequences, he would always say. If it was a beating, I deserved the beating; if it was a broken arm, I deserved a goddamned broken arm. Hell, if it was losing a finger, I deserved to lose a finger. My buddies and I threw the football around and they tried to make me feel better. They said she was a whore and a lesbian and she didn't deserve a man like meâ€”anything to make me feel better. I'll tell you what, though. I hated the way they talked. She wasn't a whore. Who cares if she was? I had a crush on her. That was all I cared about. And I was pretty sure she wasn't a lesbian because what I hadn't told my buddies is that she broke up with me because her dad knew Keith and made her break up with me. Apparently her dad wanted to protect her from getting mixed up in a bad family. I cried damn near as much as she did. But I couldn't let my buddies know that; the amount of shit they would give me would be unbearable. 134
Keith forbid crying; he said it was for sissies. I only saw him cry twice; the first was right after he found out his best friend had died in some freak accident. He probably justified the tears to himself because they were over a manâ€”not in a sexual way, of course. That topic was never to be discussed in front of Keith because it made him nauseous. He always looked more uncomfortable than nauseous to me. The second time I saw him cry was when his father passed away. Honestly, that was the most memorable part of the funeral to me. I know this probably sounds sadistic or something, but I assure you it is not. I wanted him to cry; I wanted to know that he had some humanity left under that thick skin. He lost his father, for Christ's sake. Keith admired his father because he was a real man. He told me so. He didn't cry because he lost a person with whom he had a close and meaningful relationship; he cried because the world lost a real man. He served, he fathered, he drank the German stuff; so it was just a damned shame he could not live on to continue to do such manly things. Make no mistake; I hated them both, and I wish they would've croaked a long time ago. But living with Keith, you learn to recognize a real man even if you do not aspire to be one. Like me. I refused to idolize him and follow in his footsteps, and for that, Keith used to beat me like his father used to beat him. I'll come back to that shortly. Let me tell you about Keith's father. His name was Terry. He was a miserable old man with nothing else to do except tell us how different the world was when he was our age and complain about other old people for any old goddamned reason. One time at his nursing home he got heated toward another resident for walking too slowly. It wasn't like he was being held up; Terry was sitting in his lounger and this man with a walker happened to stroll by Terry's room at too slow of pace. He really let him have it. Under his breath, I mean. Terry was a coward and would never yell at another man unless it was over his familyâ€™s honor or something else as superficial. 135
Anyway, let me get back to Keithâ€™s beatings. There were two trees in our backyard. One was a willow, the kind that looks like a depressed person. And the other was a ginkgo tree. The willow was close to our house, while the ginkgo sat on the outer corner of our lot. When I would mess up, like forget to thaw the meat or knock over a vase or wave my hand too effeminately, Keith would have me go pick out a willow branch. He would whip me with it until I cried. I remember it made a real nice whooshing sound with each swing. Eventually I learned how to push the tears out so the beatings would not last as long. I was always proud of my acting. This changed when I got to be a young man or when I was too old of a boy to cry, I guess. I'd tire him out rather than cry, even if I wanted to. Sometimes the branch would snap before either of us gave in to the other, he to exhaustion and me to pain. After the beatings stopped I would march off with a red face and clenched fistsâ€”never too aggressively unless I wanted another beating. I never went to my room; that felt too adolescent. I would sit under the ginkgo tree and throw its fruit at our fence and cry. I faced away from the house so no one could see my tears. When I would miss the fence with the fruit I would become more frustrated and sob even harder. Then I would throw the fruit harder and faster, which made it more difficult to aim. I really set myself up to fail when I was upset, that's for sure. It didn't matter that I would cry after the beatings. He got what he wanted: to feel better than me. He probably even knew I was crying. It probably made him proud. It's funny, I sit here now, doing that same thing I did almost twenty years ago, crying and throwing fruit at the fence. Not out of pain or heartbreak but out of love and anticipation. Love, because I know I already love you; the other, because I can't wait for you to be here. So, I'm sorry if my tears smudge the page, but only if it makes this hard to read.
Addicted to You Poetry | Temesha Derby I crawl to you like a baby learning for the first time hardly my first time crawling back to the one I love. I cling to you like a candied hand sticking to our window but this is not the first time I have stuck to you. I cry to you as if you are my savior, my only light but this is not the first time you have left me in my weakest moments. I crave you like the wild substance you are but this is not love; this is addiction.
Ye Olde Barn Photography | Dana Quick-Naig
9.5 Poetry | Niki Dean saturated hues of a dripping sunset sat thick like honey on her dewy cheeks. a slight quirky smile teased her soft, rose pink lips before fading into the gray night her cheeks ached from a full belly laugh as echoes of their bliss bubbled down the hall he was her sun; source of life; bright yellow she fingered the thin smiling mask, his lovely freckled face peeling at the edges a rhapsodic love; electricity burned red-hot before covering her in tones of black and purple. the lack of luster in her eyes, in her soul. she was gray.
Color Sphere Photography | Karisa Labertew
La bailarina Poetry | Olivia Anderson When I first saw her, My heart began to dance el tango más sensual. As we spoke, My lips wanted nothing more than to join hers. I am not a dancer, Yet, Su amor me enseñó a bailar.
Pink Blossom Photography | Karisa Labertew
Sorry, Forrest. Poetry | Erin M. Magoffie “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Bullshit. Problem One: The idea of candy-coated treats implies no matter the choice, the outcome is always sweet. And anyone who’s ever truly lived will give you a painstaking pitiful stare. WE know life is anything—everything—but fair. Problem Two: And no one I’ve ever met has bought a box of chocolates for themselves No. They’re GIVEN to people. This concept of offering others mystery sweets propels the image of easily conquering feats. Yet, life is like manning a paper boat over a cackling sea because nothing in life was ever handed to me. Problem Three: Life isn’t even wrapped up in a delicate shiny foil like a gleaming Whitman’s Valentine special. Nor is it simple like a flower stretching out of the soil. No, it’s tripping on sharp obstacles alone in a starless night. Yes, la vie est en désordre, if you’re doing it right. “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Maybe, but only if you’re diabetic.
Batman’s Bat Fiction | Karisa Labertew “Mom…Mom…Mom. Wake up.” Oh no, please, no. Please don’t make me open my eyes, my groggy thoughts swirled around as I heard my son and felt his prodding. “Mom, Batman’s bat’s in my room.” Batman? What? I slowly forced myself to focus on his words and roused myself into an upright position. “What’s going on?” “Batman’s bat’s in my room, I thought you’d want me to tell you.” “A bat?! Okay, come on.” I was in full alert mom mode as I ushered my son toward his room. I stopped tentatively at the doorway and reached my hand around, without fully entering the room, to flip on the light. I braced myself, expecting a dark swooping figure to come at me, but to my immense relief, it didn’t. We fully entered the room and peered around for Batman’s bat. After conducting a thorough search of the room, there was no sign of it. “I don’t see him, honey.” “He was in here, I saw him.” My son’s voice was calm and he seemed half asleep himself. “I think you just had a dream, honey. Back into bed. I’ll turn on your lamp and the bathroom light so it’ll chase away the darkness.” I crossed the dark hall to the bathroom and flipped the light on. My eyes were blinded by the light for a moment, and then, before they could fully adjust, a dark swooping figure bigger than me—I swear—came right at me! A shrill scream escaped me and I hit the deck, cussing up a storm. My knees ached from the sudden impact, but still screaming I army-crawled back to my son’s bedroom and frantically clambered under his covers next to him, shaking in fear. 144
“I told you there was a bat,” he said, just as calm as he was before and not at all scared by this giant intruder. I was trembling all over, and my mind was completely blank on what to do. If I’d had my phone I could’ve called animal control, but since that was in my room, it was a lost cause. I needed to parentup but was at a loss of what to do. “I’ll get it, Mom.” Before I could react, he was out of the bed, grabbing something from his closet, and disappearing into the hall. I heard two small “clack-clacks” and several thumps before I sprung out of the bed after him. Batman’s bat was motionless on the floor and my son was dancing around it saying, “Yeah, take that, bat! Don’t mess with me!” I noticed in one hand he was holding the BB gun his grandfather had just bought him for his eighth birthday just last month—because apparently I was “raising him to be too soft and a young man should have a BB gun, Ellen.” In the other hand was a tennis racket. I honestly didn’t think it was bad to let my son have an imagination and believe in things like Batman and Santa Claus. Shock took me for a few seconds, then, shaking myself and coming back to the present, I plotted how to get rid of the body. I took the BB gun from him. “Okay, we have rubber gloves under the kitchen sink. Let’s go get those and then we can take the bat outside—” “Don’t worry, Mom,” he said. “I can get the bat outside.” Before I could stop him he firmly grabbed a wing and slid the body onto his tennis racket. “I’ll always protect you!” he exclaimed. My heart warmed at this. I obviously needed protection from Batman’s bat, and at the same time, I cringed at the thought of all those unknown germs he was getting on his hands. I put his BB gun back into the closet, went to the bathroom sink and turned the water faucet on hot until I felt it get to a warm but not burning temperature. He came prancing back in, swinging the tennis racket, completely smitten with himself. 145
“I put him on the porch to sleep it off.” “Okay, give me that tennis racket, thoroughly wash your hands with lots of soap, and get back to bed, Mr. Hero.” I took the racket and placed it by the sink to wash tomorrow, and after washing my hands and making sure Nate washed his hands to my satisfaction, fell back into bed with an exasperated sigh. I was also immensely grateful for Mr. Hero. Needless to say, I did not get much sleep the rest of that night. In the morning, as I was cooking eggs and bacon, my son came running in at top speed. “Mom! The bat’s gone! Do you think Batman is going to be mad at me?” “I think he’ll understand you were protecting your mom and let you off the hook this time,” I smiled indulgently at him. When I went out to see if the bat was still there somewhere, the stray cats of the neighborhood were lounging on the porch with bigger bellies and smug smirks, and there was no bat in sight.
Sauk River Visual Art | Jeffrey Oâ€™Boyle
Mr. Acorn Photography | Andrea Casaretto
Sequel 2017-2018 Thank you for reading!