staff introduction writers alexandra a music-lover, avid environmentalist, and wanna-be politician who loves to write and lives to travel the world
anna anna is a professionally unemployed idealist living and attending high school in the bay area. she has been previously published in the willow springs magazine and the poem-a-day series
beth beth is a writer obsessed with borderlands transformations between times and places. she has written for 16 magazine and the et in arcadia ego e-zine
christy dork with a big heart. lover of art, music, words, and people
esther esther is a teenager from california who’s passionate about all forms of art, including writing, painting, and writing songs on the ukulele
jada a girl more eccentric than fiction - a writer with a beautiful mind. jada is a romanticist brimming with passion for languages, travel, and all art forms, who finds solace in the ethereal nature of words
joshua a high school senior who likes comics, dogs, and movies. catchphrase: “i’d rather be on a road trip”
raine a professional body piercer who likes to write a poem or three in their off time
layla storyteller, catlady and professional pretender
lena lena is a philosophy student living in berlin who is passionate about politics, literature, and feminist theory
mak mak is egyptian, christian, and lgbt. he loves to write, listen to music, and create
morgan a feminist who advocates for equality, chugs coffee to stay awake during class, and writes about love (despite having no love life of her own, unless loving her friends, family, & dogs count)
nohémie a music enthusiast, an aspiring author/diplomat + full-time traveller and a language learner
riley daydreamer and prose enthusiast
sara sara is a college student studying journalism. she has a passion for activism, podcasts, grilled cheese, and long hikes
sonja sonja is a writer and advocate for diversity and self-acceptance. she has written for rookie mag and is passionate about law
yuri yuri is a linguistics and literature student from the uk. if he’s not writing, he can often be found rewatching his favourite episodes of naruto
anika indistinct artist, floristry student, and swamp enthusiast
bunni just a girl living in a constant state of distress and nostalgia
cindy ardent cloud chaser and coffee drinker extraordinare
dream cat lover who never has enough free time, looking to join a quest to hunt dragons and seek glory. She also has like, 20 pots of succulents and cacti
jessica big fan of sitting, noodles, and storytelling
claire clair likes plants and animals. she’s also not very good at writing bios
rye a middle school student who lives for cats, weekends, and fancy dresses
eleanor eleanor likes sunrise, hot chocolate, and old coldplay songs
swan broke, tired, but trying
hailey just your local grad student somehow getting by
trevor if trevor had a time machine he would go back to 2002 just to watch stuart little 2 in theaters. also he’s fairly certain nothing exists
jane jane is a high schooler in the u.s. whose work is published/forthcoming on rookie mag. when she isn’t building drama sets and writing, she can be found drinking tea or wandering about on a run
dani your average neo-druid, obsessed with studying, tatts, horror, and naps
jennifer a graphic designer whose passion lies in the arts and sciences
julia dog enthusiast & indie music aficionado
lily an average, angsty teenager with an inexplicable love for stories and the beach
rachel rachael is very much an artistic person and she loves any kind of art, whether it’s performance arts or fine arts
josh film and tv major at nyu tisch. he loves installation art and taking the train too much
toward spring by raine king
cosmos become real by mak kaoud
twilight zone by jada de luca
bloom by riley
gender roles by esther lee
champagne mornings by cindy nguyen
reaching for the warmth by morgan pham
skin in the wind by alexandra yukish
drawing near to home by anika de jong
a new kind of culture by sonja kalar
moving forward by lena s. koenemann
beginnings by bunni
kitchen sink by yuri wolfe
dear future me by layla mckane
sinkholes by beth strange
you woke up again by jessica le
the sun, our love story, & i by nohĂŠmie
kick-start, fizzle out by sara schleede
since the beginning by christy avery
and thatâ€™s all thanks to you by trevor flick
winter mornings by anna
scales by joshua bogart
toward spring by raine king
the twilight zone. jada de luca
The station was an enrapturing and stilling silence. Timeâ€™s breath had been robbed from the numbers engraved on its lungs. The air had stopped. Needless to say, time did not breathe. However, if the very ideal of silence had a voice, what sound would grasp at preoccupied ears? Pragmatically, nothing. Silence was just that; the complete and utter absence of sound. But to say that time could breathe would be to describe the chilling sound of silence - itâ€™s very feeling - a voice - and the lies of numbers halting to zero, the failure to project air, in which oneâ€™s ear, preoccupied or not, would grasp at nothing. If you were to delve inside of yourself and find the emissions of your own silence, you would find that a breath (while quiet), was humanely never truly silent. But rather, it was a voice that could grasp at any intake of air you might take, and hold it hostage.
a social construct instilled from birth
The very origins of our identities stem from commend certain stereotypes but denounce others. Little girls are handed Barbie dolls and Disney princesses; little boys are given monster trucks and play-swords. Nuances of what we’re “supposed to be” can be detected from a young age; we’re force fed gender-roles from our highchairs. Pop culture and our media have learned to evolve beyond these simplistic boundaries over the years. Movies, cartoons, and books encouraging the notion that women are multi-faceted have been introduced to our generation: these include Wonder Woman, Brave, and Moana. But it seems that the creation of such pieces of entertainment, despite the progression of culture, is also embedded with more problematic suggestions and situations. Heroines and movies starring strong female leads and roles. Throughout both pop culture and real characteristics, with men frequently inserting themselves into a “dominant” role. has been increasingly noticeable and dramatic. Though the traditional degradation of women has been addressed, the issue of male identity has not been. The spectrum of women in the cinema and perfected, it must be noted, but the personalities of men in the media have not broadened much.
by esther lee
There are many references in cinema, from The Big Bang Theory to The Princess Bride, that exemplify mens’ sense of entitlement and the idea that women lack mental and physical competency. For example, several characters in The Big Bang Theory, despite their “nerdy” appearances, are blatantly sexist and engage in misogyny and disrespectful behavior against women. In The Princess Bride, Princess Buttercup, is displayed as weak and useless, completely relying on her love interest Wesley whenever she wants to achieve anything. The restriction of men to a personality that lacks any “softness” or femininity is frequent In a viral Twitter thread created by twitter user S. S. Markian, who is an artist, teacher, and an entertainment clown, a young boy was not allowed parents wanted her to paint “something for a boy.” Instead, the boy received a skull with crossbones, exemplifying how males are often discouraged from engaging in anything that has elements of gentleness or vulnerability involved. She noted that “[Male violence in America] starts young. And it’s more than just letting boys play with guns, it’s how we shame them for feeling anything that isn’t anger.”1 1
Decaille, Nia. “This Clown’s Tweets About A Little Boy
Really y Begins.” g Bustle, Bustle, 22 Dec. 2017, www.bustle. com/p/this-clowns-tweets-about-a-little-boy-wantingreally-begins-76447
Suppressing feelings such as gentleness or vulnerability is extremely common, and dangerous to mental health. According to PHD sociologists Tara Leigh Tober and Tristan Bridges, “Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity. As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this [the] ‘masculinity threat’...The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women. Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.”2 This information also relates to the fact that a majority of criminals, mass shooters and sexual assaulters are men, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The suppression of their identities and the encouragement of violent behavior and aggression creates a highly volatile and unstable human being. This makes men less likely to communicate their feelings or the fact that they are emotionally distressed: barely half of men who admitted feeling “very depressed” expressed these feelings, when compared to the 67% of depressed females who voiced their mental concerns, according to a emotions and mental health. Many health professionals believe that men lack the language and emotional dexterity to communicate their mental state, which can lead to mental illness and very commonly, suicide.3 The stereotypical movie
rendition of a male hero who is stoic, emotionally vague, destructive and violent, but heroic, is harmful in more ways than one. Overly violent behavior in movies can imprint on many people, especially young boys, who see said characters as examples or role models. 61% of men say that men are portrayed unrealistically in the media and 40% of men believe that women’s expectation of men is unrealistic.4
what kind of person you will become. In an age where it’s becoming increasingly confusing to render a sense of identity within the world, we need to rethink the concept of masculinity and consider It’s time to unlearn harmful social constructs and encourage the vulnerable and multi-faceted male characters and behavior throughout the media and society.
Pages, The Society. “Masculinity and Mass Shootings in the
and Mass Shootings g in the US Comments, The Society y Pages, g 23 July 2015, thesocietypages.org/feminist/2015/07/23/ p g masculinity-and-mass-shootings/ Beaulieu, Marc. “Toxic masculinity may be quadrupling q p g the suicide rate for Canadian men | CBC Life.” CBCnews, CBC/ Radio Canada, 13 June 2017, www.cbc.ca/life/wellness/ toxic-masculinity-may-be-quadrupling-the-suiciderate-for-canadian-men-1.4158731 3
CALM. “Masculinity Audit 2016: research reveals pressures on men.” Campaign p g Against g Living g Miserably, CALM Nov. 2016, www.thecalmzone.net/2016/11/masculinity-audit-2016-research-reveals-pressures-on-modern-men/ 4
skin in the wind by alexandra yukish
In a place where there was little sound besides the whistle of wind and the occasional seabird, crunching snow was a ticking clock in a quiet room. One foot after the other, a polar bear left prints. Misty clouds formed at his muzzle indicating a shallow breath. His frame was hunched over; his skeleton acted more as a coat rack for his skin and fur than a barrier against the elements. His skins folds whipped back and forth in the arctic breeze. The wind picked up, pulling sea spray and sharp snow crystals along with it. The bear snorted once, pushing the salty wind away from his nose in the hopes there would be a tantalizing scent replacing it. The bear’s stomach clenched, crawling inward on itself, hoping to ﬁnd crumbs ﬂoating in the acid. And yet the pain of starvation had long passed by, now a background hum of emptiness. For the polar bear, there was nary a sound but the crunch of his paws, even that having been muted by his hearing loss. The white world constantly shrunk in the face of darkening edges, sight losing itself to the hunger. The ice was weaker than his body this year. Perhaps ironically, the pair of them were truly melting away. The overwhelming smell of iron and trash ﬂoated through the shifting wind; without thinking, his stomach had forced him to the nearest village. In the face of starvation, the bear’s smell had become acute. His other senses were sacriﬁced for the one nature believed would save him. He could not see the trash can, but his nose guided his shaky paws forward; his loose skin caught the wind, tugging his body as would sail on a boat. An incline presented itself and his leg muscles shook under strain, atrophying from the hunger. First one leg went down, then the other back leg, until only his forepaws remained to drag himself forward. His hind legs scraped along the ground, cracked and malnourished skin breaking at the slightest agitation. Normally blood coated his mouth in victory, not his legs in failure. Gathering strength from an unknown source, the bear rose and hobbled forward towards the rusting trash can. The lid fell oﬀ with a sweep of his head. For a few moments he had to stand there, muzzle resting on the can’s edge, catching his breath. Nothing in the bin smelled particularly edible, but some of it hinted at food. The ﬁrst brown bag had oil soaked into the bottom of it. He consumed it. A plastic container with a single piece of moldy spinach. The second brown bag had nothing to oﬀer. That was it. There was nothing more.
**** “Can you check the oven, I may have overcooked the rib roast again this year--no wait, I’ll check it.” The man in a stained apron with mismatched oven mitts peeked through the glass of the oven door. When he decided there was far too much smoke in there to adequately view the roast, he opened the door. He was met with a light grey plume of smoke streaming out. “Valerie!” He yelled, waving his mitt back and forth. “I did it again!” A woman rushed in and coughed. “What are you doing? I told you to cook it just like you did for Easter. How did you mess this up?” She grabbed another pair of oven mitts and pulled the roast out. It was crispy, to put it nicely. The outside had blackened and the entire roast resembled a charcoal block more than food. “Hm, good thing my mother brought a second one.” The man whirled around on his wife with widened eyes. “No she didn’t. She didn’t. Tell me she didn’t.” “George, would you calm down? It’s not emasculating to be a terrible cook.” Valerie picked up the rib roast and set it in the sink, running cold water over it. He tossed his mitts aside and grumbled beneath his breath, “I never live these things down.” After a few minutes, having decided it was adequately cold, she threw the rib roast in the trash. **** The dining room table was immaculate. The candles were lit, oﬀering the room the right amount of smoky scent to complement the various aromas. The rib roast smelled tangy, with a brown sugar sauce drizzled over the medium-well meat. The cranberry sauce--homemade, as Valerie’s mother insisted--was the richest magenta and meshed well with the meaty quality of yorkshire pudding. The grease and oil from the rib roast were cooked into a gravy, bathing the mashed potatoes. But there was too much food for just four people. Valerie’s mother harped on George for ruining the ﬁrst rib roast. “What a waste! That was a perfectly good rib roast and you burned it to smithereens.” She poked a fork into a piece of steaming rib roast, examined it, and set it aside when she saw a sliver of fat. “We had an extra, though, thanks to you, mom.” Valerie smiled. George whispered to himself, his upper lip curling, “‘Let’s make four pies for four people’ she said. ‘Let’s get an SUV for two people’ she said.”
**** Clean-up was arduous. The plates had to be scraped free of food, two trash bags had to be hauled out since the ﬁrst was already mostly full with wrapping paper. The oven needed to be cleaned since grease from the rib roast splattered everywhere. The pies were untouched, save for four missing slices in one of them. The food was packaged away, but, as per every year, there was too much food for two people. The food would sour before the pair could eat all of it. George’s in-laws were leaving that night because they had a vacation ﬂight to catch for New Year’s. George shoved the last bag into the trunk and slammed the hatch shut. The hot fumes from the running engine circled around George’s frame and his nose shrivelled from the smell. The icicles that clung to the bumper dripped out of existence. “Oh, Bill, we’re gonna have to stop by the gas station before we head oﬀ. The tank is on empty.” Valerie’s mother pointed to the E as her husband got in. Valerie and George stood at the end of the driveway as the pair drove oﬀ. George turned to Valerie and she threw her palm up. “I don’t want to hear it, George.” “That Cadillac is a gas-guzzler.” **** If crunching snow was a ticking clock, ice fracturing was the moment just before the click of midnight, where the day was holding on and the air stilled. For a moment, the polar bear stopped stumbling forward and ﬂicks his ears back and forth. He had ventured out onto the ice in the hopes of ﬁnding seals and had found nothing but empty ﬁshing holes and the residue from human seal hunts. The residue was more than he had in weeks. Summer had not been kind and this winter wind ripped away his strength. Another crack, this one visible between his paws. The polar bear let out a grunt, pushing himself oﬀ the left side onto the right one and watched as his actions separated the two ice sheets. It was not long, maybe a few minutes, before the bear realized his mistake. He had chosen the wrong side of the ice, which became more apparent as his frozen platform drifted out into the open ocean. It was large enough that the bear could pace in circles, but it was slowly melting. A day passed and the piece of ice his head rested on broke oﬀ into the ocean, causing him to roar and propel backward to the center of the sheet.
Another day passed and a massive Arctic cruise ship passed by. Though he was relatively young, he knew it was not common to see ships this late into winter. There was human laughter from the upper deck, a few of the drunken bipeds leaning over to point at his deteriorating state. Some of them tossed the champagne that was in their glasses down. One saddened soul tossed a whole steak down; it was still hot and seared a hole in his platform. The ice was shoved away from the boat by the wake, causing more disintegration. The sheet became smaller and smaller. Orcas had passed by not too long ago, bobbing into the air to see the starved spectacle. They were hungry too. He wouldn’t oﬀer more than a small snack. The last day came and the bear was swaying on a tiny circle of ice. His claws gripped the sides, but his muscles did not have the strength to hold on. One small wave knocked him oﬀ into the blackened sea, and his immediate reaction was to swing his paws downward and shoved his head above the waves. The afternoon sun tempted him with immediate warmth on his head, but his body was already succumbing to the cold. His fur oﬀered nothing to protect against the freezing waters. His paper-thin muscles tried their hardest, tearing from malnutrition. Eventually the waves were too much, the current too strong, and the hunger too great. He was on empty. Resigning himself to the numbing waters, relinquishing his pain, the bear ﬂoated downwards. His paws remained outstretched, reaching for the melting ice. **** “Darling if you would just turn oﬀ that news you wouldn’t be so depressed about the hungry bear.” “Fine.” He turned oﬀ the television. “Now let’s go eat before we miss the buﬀet special.”
dear future me by lay mckane Dear Future Me, I am scared. It just hit me that for the second time in my life, I don’t know where I’ll be this time next year. It first happened the winter before I graduated. I realised, for the first time, I had no idea what the next year would look like. Before that, it was always school. Yes, sometimes a different school and different people, but always school, and I’ve been lucky to have stayed in my town, so not much change there. But suddenly there was nothing: I had no plans, only dreams too big, and dreams that I didn’t know how to make come true. I kept myself from drowning in the incoming tide of my endless future by figuring out how to tread water. At least for a year. But half of that year is coming to an end and again, I am lost. Change scares me, Future Me. Does that ever stop? It would comfort me a lot to know where you are now but of course, that’s not how this works. But given that I am writing to you, I assume you exist and that means that I did figure out something. That’s good, isn’t it? You know how parents say, “Oh, I wish I had your options again!” Well, options mean decisions and decisions mean wrong choices. Deciding also means setting my future for a defined amount of time and in my mind decisions are a black and white, life or death, “no turning back from this point” kinda thing. I know it’s stupid but that’s just how my brain sees them. To be fair, a general problem I have is motivation and well, reality. Life is so much work. Decisions take effort and willpower, making dreams come true takes effort and willpower, and frankly, I feel like maybe I
don’t want things enough. This is getting too deep; I am sorry Future Me. I don’t want to depress you; but all of it is true in this moment. Tell me, how are you? Right now. Why did you decide to come and read this letter? Why now? Have you somehow figured out where you will be this time for the next years? Or are you lost again, trying to remember how you dealt with it when you were me? Or maybe you have found a way to accept the uncertainty that a creative life comes with? I would love to know. I am scared, Future Me. Scared to start something because I could fail. I am most scared of: falling, failing and loss of control. And really, they are all the same thing: the third. I figured this out a long time ago, but recently I realised how much it affects me. I’d rather dream a perfect life in my head because that bears no chance of failure, but it isn’t real and thus doesn’t bring the satisfaction that an actual success would give me. It’s a dilemma, really, and the worst thing is that I am aware of my problem. I know that I am stupid like this and yet I can’t change it. I have to watch myself float around in my bubbles of dreams that threaten to burst every minute and I can’t do a damn thing. But again, writing this to you gives me the option to consider that one day you will answer this letter and that means that I will have become you and that means that I will have an answer to all of this. That means there is a future, no matter how scary I might find it. There is a future for both of us. But it can only happen if I start somewhere, I guess. Tell me about your life as you read this. I hope you’re happy with the future I created for you. God, I hope you’re happy. Love, Past You
sinkhole by beth strange
evening We needed a new wall. The rain had washed a big mudslide down on top of us, piling it up against the side of the house, and the rotten wood wall had collapsed. Now thick brown mud was oozing through the gaps in the plastic wall. The mud was always shifting, burying things that had been bleached pale by the sun and uncovering new junk in bright plastic colours. The sun was sinking below the mountains of rubbish, dragging the last pinkish tendrils of daylight down with it as I clambered back towards the house lurching a sheet of metal along behind me. It was part of a box that had rusted away enough for me to pull it loose. The sharp edges were biting into my palms but I could picture Sal’s face when he saw me sliding it down the last slope of junk. He would be happy, and surprised, because I had never found anything useful enough to build a wall with before. I stumbled down onto a ledge of dirt and dropped the sheet, rubbing my palms together. Something grey-white was lodged in the dirt by my foot. I kicked at it but it was stuck, so I knelt down and brushed loose soil away from it, digging around the edges until I could pull it out of the ground. It looked like a face, big holes for eyes and two rows of teeth set into it. I backed away from it a little, leaving it lying in the dust and looked around uneasily. “Gal!” Sal yelled my name from the other side of the hill and I heard rumbling cascades of rubble and tumbling plastic as he scrambled towards I jumped up to meet him. “Gal. What’ve you got there?” I stepped aside. “I found a wall.”
“You found a- skull—” Sal dropped to his knees, his bags clanking to the ground. I opened my mouth to protest, to show off my metal sheet, but Sal’s face was all screwed up so I stayed quiet. He knelt in the dirt and reached out to touch the face. “I found what?” Sal pulled a leaky pen out of his pocket and began sketching something on a plastic shard. Squinting in the murky evening light, I moved round to stand behind him and watch. His drawing looked like a person but all made up of separate parts. “I saw this in a book once,’ he tapped the head on the sketch, ‘that’s what it is. S K U L L. Skull.” I tried out the word, shaping my mouth around it and writing the letters in the air, struggling with the K and scribbling it out with my hand to fix it. Sal held the shard up to the last of the light “These are bones,” he said, ‘“they’re inside you and they hold you up and stop all you heart and lungs falling out. You can feel them under your skin,” he prodded me in the side, “those are your ribs.” “That was inside someone’s head?” I wrinkled my nose. “Yeah—” “Someone out there?” I pointed at the line where the peaks of the junk mountains cut into the sky. “Maybe.”
I looked down at my hands and tried to see the shape of my bones. When I clawed my hand I could see thin lines ridging up under my skin. The skull grinned at me and I bared my teeth at it. I stuck it on the end of a short metal spike and shivered in the cooling air. Sal helped me to lift up my metal sheet again and we began the climb home, over a pile of unravelled videos and smashed up crates. *** “Choose me some tins,” Sal guided me with his hands on my shoulders and I ran over to the pile of tinned food stacked up in a shiny silver pyramid beside the house. It stood taller than me, taller than Sal, and would last for a hundred years if we were careful, and longer if we managed to grow any of the seeds we had found into plants. I tapped my chin and paced back and forth in front of the pyramid for a while. The paper labels had rotted off almost all of the tins, so I chose two stacked on top of each other and shook each one beside my ear. They sounded the same so I ran into the house and presented them to Sal who was prodding at the fire in the stove. We had to keep the stove door and the window open when we were cooking because the chimney had caved in. Most of the things in our house were half working and half broken - the sun-catching machine gave us enough power to light up some of the bulbs, but never all of them, and the bunk beds were held together with bits of metal roughly welded to their frame. All of the furniture had missing legs, the table was mainly propped up on old books, and the collection of things that were useful had burst out of the front door and was being reabsorbed back into the junk. Sal peeled open the tins and sniffed at them. “Will they come back for their skull?” Sal looked up at me, frowning deep black lines across his forehead and I chewed on my lip. “Will who come back?” he spoke slowly, like he was trying to think of what to say as he was saying it. “The people from out there.” His frown broke but his face was still tight. I thought he might not reply, but he was just being slow again.
“Maybe,” he said, turning back to the stove, his bowed head silhouetted against the glow from the fire. *** “‘Come on you, bedtime.” Still wide awake from the discovery of the skull, I looked around for something to distract Sal with. “We haven’t done the washing up yet,” I put on a helpful face and Sal shook his head, smiling. “We can do it tomorrow, you need to get to bed before it gets cold.” Casting around helplessly, I found myself being guided towards the bunk beds. I considered whining, but saw the metal I had found for the wall propped against the table. I stood up a little taller and stepped out of Sal’s reach, heading for the bunk beds and getting my pyjamas myself. Once I was changed I rubbed some sharp minty toothpaste on my teeth, feeling around for any new loose ones, then turned back to Sal, ready for the pictures game. We played the pictures game every night, after Sal had put the dishes out on the roof to collect water overnight and turned off the sun catching machine, and I had closed the shutters and turned off all the big lights. We had lots of little lights on string, all hanging from the roof - Sal called them fairy lights, and said that hundreds of years ago people had believed that there were tiny people called fairies who flew around and shone like the little lights. I lay on my back on the floor and imagined them buzzing around like wasps in the gloom. Sal flopped down, his head beside mine so we stretched in a long line from his feet kicking at one wall of the house, to my toes pointed at the other. “Who do I look like today?” he asked. I skimmed over the faces, my eyes catching on all of my favourites - the man with the funny red hat with the black tassel, the woman with the swishy blonde hair and the tiara, the
glaring man who’s fringe was stuck to his forehead. None of them looked like Sal. He looked like the pale boy with the big eyes and torn shirt. I pointed. “Him. You look like him.” “Torn shirt guy? You always say that.” Sal bumped his head gently against the side of mine. “Who do I look like today?” I asked. I already knew what he would say, but followed the point of his finger up to the girl with the red scarf and faded letters floating above her head. I stared up at her, feeling her eyes on mine, until the whole room began to go hazy and the fairy lights darted around like real fairies. I felt Sal’s arms under my knees and around my back, and then the softness of my bed and the swirling warmth that hovered near the roof of our house. *** I woke up, dazed and cold, in thick blackness, with lingering dreams of faces leering up from amongst the junk. Sal was breathing heavily, whooshing like the wind, and I levelled my breath out to match his. I lay in the dark listening to him, and tried to feel all of my bones, wriggling my toes, flexing my fingers so slowly I thought I could feel them grinding together under my skin, and brushing my hands down my chest, touching and naming every bone from the picture. The darkness warped and prickled at my eyes and I fell asleep counting my ribs.
afternoon The blackened husks of cars stood on their ends, propped up by tyres and metal bars and smashed up furniture, leaning over like standing stones erected long ago and slowly falling back down to the ground. I wove between them, ducking under doors rusted open at awkward angles in mid-air. A pile of barrels decorated with black and yellow stripes and exclamation marks was slowly leaking out sizzling liquid and the ground was webbed over with interlocking streams of orange and green that melted through anything it touched. I hopped over the streams, heading for a half submerged, three walled room tilted on its side and brimming with old printers and photocopiers and computers. Sal had sent me out to look for new wires for the lights on the ceiling, and I remembered the room, and the open sides of the machines, wiring spilling out of grey plastic and trailing down from the roof. I had found a whole radio on my way over, and it bumped against my hip in my bag as I walked.
Everything was bigger in this part of the valley, the machines like prehistoric megafauna versions of the cameras and bicycles around our house. Sal had been collecting pages from encyclopaedias - my new favourite word - and I had been reading about the huge animals that lived millions of years ago. I stopped to kick over a stump of wood, watching the woodlice scramble for cover, and shuddered to think of them at a hundred times the size. The world seemed safer when bugs were bug-sized and birds were bird-sized. I was still confused about whales and elephants, and had tried to find out how big they used to be but Sal had most of the animal pages laid out too carefully for me to disturb. One wall of the room had caved in, splintered under the weight of the mountain on top of it, but I wriggled in on my stomach, under wires that caught on my hair. Until recently I would never have dared to crawl inside one of the mountains. Sal would be angry if he was there, but I knew how much we needed new wires. The lights flickered all the time, and I had seen sparks flying from the sun-catching machine when it rained. I used to believe that the machine really caught the sunshine and dragged it down through the sky and through the roof and into each of the lightbulbs, but I had helped Sal fix it enough times that I almost understood how it really worked. I often wondered, as I threaded new wires into its wide dish, what it was really called, but we had called it the sun-catching machine for so long that Sal had probably forgotten. I rose slowly to my feet in a sliver of space in the room. The air was heavy and stale, and I was aware of being in a hollow space inside the mountain. Edging my toe forward, I tested the floor in front of me, worried that my weight might send the whole room toppling down the slope. When nothing shook or shifted under my feet I moved more freely, through the cramped grey room full of ancient air and dusty plastic artifacts. *** The ceiling had started to leak, the faces in the pictures weeping at the eyes and mouths and the ink bleeding into drops that fell on us and splattered our skin blue and black, so we had spread a waterproof canvas across it. Sal had found an uncracked mirror so we had stopped playing the pictures game long ago, preferring to watch our own faces move with uncanny fluidity in the glass. The walls were thicker too, the mud held back by inches of metal and plastic, the space within the house compacted down, everything sitting slightly closer to everything else.
“What do you think this was?” Sal held up a grey box with thick black wires coming out of two sides. Smashed in plastic buttons in red and green were arranged along one edge. “Something simple,” I took the box and turned it over in my hands, “it only turns on and off I think. It was in the room over past the cars so something to do with work or-- business.” Trying to not show my lack of understanding I set it down carefully. “I think it was something for a computer,” Sal said, “look at all these wires, it must have attached to a screen maybe.” I gave him my best thoughtful nod and started stripping the plastic away from the wires. I wanted to talk about the radio, but waited until it emerged at the top of the pile so it would seem more natural. “I found this, it’s a radio.” I showed it to Sal. He nodded and continued rooting through the machines. “I thought we could use it to send something out there, if there’s anyone near. I don’t know how it works but I read--” “I don’t know either.” I frowned. That sounded wrong. “But you built the sun-catching machine surely that was harder. Couldn’t you learn?” “Maybe.” We both worked in silence for a while but something about Sal’s quietness was tense. He was waiting for me to keep talking, but there was nothing for me to say.
morning I uncoiled myself from my bed, eyes hazy with sleep, and shivered in the cold morning air. Sal was snoring in the next room, through the wall we had built out of two bookshelves and a corrugated iron door clinging to its flaky frame. One of the bookshelves faced into each of the rooms and Sal had filled his side with mouldering books that streaked the air with a soft dampness. Mine held the salvaged videotapes. Most of them were patchy with decay, but I was slowly teaching myself to cut and crop them into watchable sections. During the days, when we had watered the small patch of cultivated mudslide and gathered anything we needed, I spent most of my time on the videos, and Sal continued his reconstruction of the books. He had stopped in the middle of taping together fragments from four copies of the same novel into a readable whole the night before, and I stumbled over them as I crossed the main room to the door. The sun was just beginning to spill down over the piles of junk closest to our house, pushing the moody shadows back into the dark corners of the valley. The light warmed the air as I slowly moved through it, checking the immediate surroundings of our house for any disturbance in the junk, not expecting anything new to have been uncovered. I strolled over to the mudslide and brushed my fingertips through the yellow-green plants, balancing carefulness with my curiosity. Plants, real living plants, were still fascinating to me even three years into growing them. Taking a deep breath, so full my lungs strained inside me from the effort, I stuck my head under the spray of water that we had directed over the edge of the mudslide. It was icy cold and shot freezing life down into my
body, jerking my limbs painfully. I quickly pulled back, shaking a shower of droplets out of my hair. Sal would sleep for a while longer. I could see how early it was from the thin sheet of mist that loitered over the lowest visible reaches of the valley, I decided to took for a new dish for the sun-catcher. *** The sunshine filled the valley, illuminating every part of it, digging down into its crevices and flooding its shadowy spaces with light. Sitting on a car seat part of the way up a mountain, I looked down, across rolling foothills of car doors and silt piles, at our house, crouching low, caught between the slow mudslide and the mountain range of trash, all the plastic reds and pinks and blues, and the specks of metal glittering in the sun. From up here the trash looked like treasure. I screwed my eyes up, blurring the metal glints into stars. Sal always said that people used to love plastic, that it really was treasure to them, when it was clean and new. The last few feet of the mountain was mud, littered with loose objects that crumbled away as I scrambled over them. I was quietly realising that from the top I would be able to see beyond the horizon, over the edges of the valley and out into the world. My stomach felt like a stone and I shivered at the thought, almost turning and sliding back down the pile. I kept my eyes on the dish and tried not to see past it, but when I had crawled up the slope I was drawn to my feet and stood up, shaky on the precarious peak, shielding my eyes against the blinding glare of the sun. Eveything was speckled with light-spots. My mind slid over it, and I stared without seeing. The sky was empty blue above me, and land spread out so far in every direction I could hardly tell which one was bigger. I took in the whole of the valley. Thick, slow rivers of mud were spilling down over the edges, and I watched them, knowing that they were moving, glacierslow, but filling in the valley rather than carving it out. I picked out our
house, almost submerged from this angle, clinging to the side of the valley, embedded in the jumbled possessions of a whole civilisation. I had always known that there had been a society which had been destroyed, that we picked out our life from what they left behind, but I had kept the knowledge separate. I had focused on the fragments, the pieces of junk I could use to construct new things, and the bits of the story that made sense to me - the old faces, the uses they had for all this plastic - anything that could be made into a game. Without the structure of our games, staring out at the blankness of the world outside the valley, I staggered under the weight of the endless, sunbleached nothing. I felt a blossoming of anger at Sal for hiding this from me, for building a shell of games around the truth, but it passed as soon as it came. He had been hiding too. He had burrowed down far enough into the valley on his own to find me, wrapped in a rug and left in a cracked and half smashed up bathtub. How would he have told me anyway, what words could he have used to explain the hugeness of the emptiness when every tilt of my head showed me more and made the world more massive. I looked out as far as I could, to the new, unmarked horizon. An itch under my skin told me that if I could keep my eye on it I could walk across the pitted landscape until it was replaced by another, but as soon as I dipped my head below the rim of the valley I would lose the horizon and walk home. Sal had done the same, had felt the same itch, and had ignored it, preferring to bury himself amongst the remains of the civilisation that had been crumbling his whole life, trying to find it in the scraps that were left. The terror that had been so overwhelming a moment ago had faded to a niggling distraction somewhere at the back of my head, like the heat of the sun on my hair when I was walking at midday. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to reach the horizon and find nothing but destruction or emptiness even beyond that, but my mind seemed to haze over at the idea. It was like trying to conjure up childhood fears of monsters and landslides and being lost and crushed under a falling truck. Instead I found myself a few steps lower, looking idly around the rubbish at my feet for the shiny dish that had lured me up this high. I dropped even lower when i saw it, and crouched to begin excavating it from the side of the pile. It was stuck in deep, but a slow simmering excitement at the idea of being able to watch all those old films again kept me going, and eventually I yanked it free, tumbling down the slope with it clutched to my chest.
the sun, our love story y&i poem by nohĂŠmie bokuma | art by cindy nguyen
champagne mornings By Cindy Nguyen
an idea birthed at 3am by an overly ambitious 16 year old, soliloquie magazine is a safe space for youth to create.