Spires Fall 2020

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SPIRES intercollegiate arts

& literary magazine

FALL 2020

Copyright 2020, Spires Magazine Volume XXVI Issue I All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission from Spires and the author or artist. Critics, however, are welcome to quote brief passages by way of criticism and review. This publication was designed by Jade Wang and set into type digitally at Washington University in St. Louis. Typefaces used are Kings Caslon, designed by Dalton Maag Design Studio, and Montserrat, designed by Julieta Ulanovsky. Caslon was originally designed by William Caslon. Spires accepts submissions from undergraduate students around the world. Works were evaluated individually and anonymously. Spires is published biannually and distributed free of charge to the Washington Univeristy community at the end of each semester. All undergraduate art, poetry, prose, drama, song lyric, and digital media submissions (including video and sound art) are welcome for evaluation. spiresmagazine@gmail.com spires.wustl.edu facebook.com/spiresintercollegiatemagazine instagram.com/spiresmagazine_wustl twitter.com/spires_magazine

Table of Contents LITERATURE 01

Hailey Carter College Barhopping Jacket


Isabelle Hill An Apology, Signed with Love & Regret


Cortney Johnson Summer Shine


Adam Dorsheimer The Lighthouse Keeper’s Testimony


Maya Tsingos Aericula’s Daughter


Kate Soupiset Roller Coaster Poem


Hanna Carney Bitter Grounds


Alejandro Derieux Cerezo Manscaping

Lucille Long Rising Sun


Sophia Roig hazard


Alexandra Taranto Whose?


Alexandra Taranto Something Missing


Holden Hindes My Parents


Haejin An



Marc Ridgell “titus andromedon is the blueprint” Sara Rizzoli Fried Eggs

ART 04



Katherine Chui Paper Kitchen

COVER ART FRONT Stephanie Chui COVER Clouded Washington University in St. Louis, ‘21 Acrylic paint, resin, face paint FRONT Carlos Cepeda INSIDE Miami: Personal Reflection of a Space COVER Washington University in St. Louis, ‘24 Ink, color pencils, markers, graphite, acrylic, gold leaf, and gel transfer on canvas BACK Kay Ingulli INSIDE untitled COVER Washington University in St. Louis, ‘22 Wood block print BACK Katherine Chui COVER Jellyscapes Rice University, ‘24 Digital painting

Staff Editor-in-Chief Associate Editors


Literary Editor Art Editor Publicity Director Layout Editor Staff


Letter from the Editors Dear Reader, Instead of the rush of students that usually greets the start of the fall semester, this semester was met with untrodden pathways, empty classrooms, and quiet dining halls. We, like so many students across the country, experienced a semester unlike any other. Unable to gather together in person, the editorial staff met over Zoom to curate the Fall 2020 issue of Spires Intercollegiate Arts & Literary Magazine. For twenty-six years, Spires Magazine has received creative writing and artwork from college students across the country. Even in these unusual circumstances, our editorial staff grew as both first-year students and returning members joined us this semester. As a team, we worked incredibly hard to solicit submissions, and we are delighted that we received over one hundred fifty works for consideration. We are grateful for all of the artists and writers who shared a piece of themselves through their poetry, short stories, photography, painting, sculpture, and everything in-between. The submissions we selected for publication showcase the impressive talent and creativity of students from across the country. Exploring themes that range from nostalgia to identity, these artists and writers reckon with what it means to come of age in 2020. We are proud to present you with the Fall 2020 issue, and we hope you enjoy these pieces as much as we do. Sincerely,

Lexie von Zedlitz Isabelle Celentano Editor-in-Chief Brianna Hines & Lexie von Zedlitz Associate Editors


College Barhopping Jacket

Sticky jet-leather sleeves stick to skin in July heat, ask wear it, what for? Why be so serious at the neighborhood barbecue? It makes you feel high-rolling. You say. Grab the paper plates. This sauce knocks socks right off. Sticky sweet barbecue baby back ribs in July makes for thankful tummies, right? Clean-cut pineapple exploding between teeth alive feels like, right? Tongues run over everything, saliva dribbles down. Hey, see the beans? Made them myself homemade refried beans. Red-white-and-blue rocket popsicles drip-dropping all over sticky little fingers, hey. Munchkin. Give me hands to clean. And the only gene mother left me, napkin folding. Where to find tablecloths like that? Recently, no smoke for mosquitoes chemical-killed. No bare feet in grass chemical-doused, that matters. When the fire truck comes, ask for a sticker. I don’t care how old you get, get the sticker. You say. Aren’t you hot in that thing? We see the thinning wish you know. Sticky leather sticks to skin in July heat, what for.



Summer Shine

A plum by the window perspires now that it has been released from its pesticide-cooled truck, a new form of dew coating it. The three-dollar curtain is see-through and serves to change the window’s light from clear-yellow to blue-violet until it is night and transparent-white, it shines. Steering the car through sheets of black with few lights and windows breaking through, my brother and I end up twenty feet away when one erratic firecracker streams all over, down to the shining roof. On a same-looking night, we are now the ones in the cold, still-staring into bobbing flames slurping up air where waxy paper burns a slow green.


When he and I were young, I’d stand at the screen door, move my head forward and back to cut my view of the field by a changing number of wire boxes, lick over them and try to blow small bubbles that I imagined would waver away over the porch, but reality was pop the moment it all became 3-D. It almost was. Later, some girls and I snatch a plum right off the branches or more kindly remove one from the ground while running with the sun, mist, fog. Days are rolling, reeling. Bits of what I do know come together into what I am not as sure of, like the scent of skunk masked by rain.


Rising Sun 4



Aericula’s Daughter One hundred years before Man learns wine of the wrist flows just as luxuriantly as from the vine, Aericula is buried in the olive tree grove at the edge of the camp. Over her, the muted winter grasses are vanquished by pleated sandals, which were hand-braided by a woman three villages down, fingers slipping over the fibers like through her child’s flaxen hair, and the mother is tucked under a stone between two slender young olive trees, her unborn daughter still inside her. She leaves the grove before her teeth have all grown in, gnawing on sour green olives with the edge of her gums like she knows that sometimes flesh is sharper than nails and bitter like blackcurrant wine. She leaves after seven harvests, spitting pits into the summer-scorched sediment, raking her way out of sultry Gallic soil, and the leaves rustle in anger, calling back their unruly child, but I leave, and I leave, and I leave. I wade into a new ocean–– Aericula, how can two oceans be so different? My brother drinks olive oil like it’s apricot juice. I go back to the grove once, before one of my mothers is forgotten among the hoary green olive trees, and then never again, after I have held the sun’s hand on the torrid terracotta, still I leave and the leaves wave to me in the wind.



Bitter Grounds I

kneel in the dirt, shoulders hunched. Acidic soil is caked under my nails and nestled in the wrinkles on my hand. I take a spade and pierce the ground. Six inches deep, two scoops out. The earth aches, and so do my joints. Crush an eggshell. Drop it in for the calcium. The shards press into the flesh of the palm. Next, a dash of coffee grounds. I was told the nitrogen is good for the plants. The smell is strong at first, but it always mingles with the damp mold that lingers in the nostrils. That and the mint in the crates beside me. A few inches tall, they’re antsy to get in the ground. You can tell when the wind blows—they dance like a little boy who’s holding in his piss. I watch them, breathing in the green and the brown. Which one should I grab around the neck? Gently, of course. We do not want them to uproot. Or snap. There’s a breeze pushing the leaves of our oak tree. I almost wish a strong wind would blow it over, splinter it down the trunk. Maybe it would destroy the house, too. The structure seems so frail and dull, and the gray paint would almost blend in with the sky if it wasn’t chipped in so many places. I can tell the wood is weeping, giving into the foundation. Each window is an eyewitness to this deterioration. My son is behind one of them. 6

There’s a cough over my right shoulder. I look up. She’s standing there. Anna is her name? Alice? She’s been our neighbor for six years. She and her husband moved in then with their two-year-old son. I think the kid might have died a while back. I give her a small nod as acknowledgement. She doesn’t react. Anna has always been strange. She looks at me now, wearing a dusty cardigan the color of stomach bile. I believe this woman does not like her life. It’s not her hateful sweater that gives it away, but how her chest is caved in. It’s like she’s afraid. Maybe she’s sick. Or maybe she doesn’t like her husband. What if he hurts her? I’d scan her for bruises, but she’s dressed neck to toe. Sometimes, when I’m in the kitchen, I peer out the window over the sink to look into their living room. She never does anything interesting. She watches TV, reads a book. And not any good books. Only bodiceripper romances. At least she gets off. She’s still staring. “Can I help you?” I try not to say it too abrasively. I note that next time I should probably say, “Is there something I can help you with?” because it sounds gentler. She gives a small smile, but her eyes don’t change. “No, thank you. I’m just enjoying the sky.” I look up and see nothing but clouds. The overcast from the rain we had two days ago is lingering. “Ah, yes. Lovely.” I direct my eyes back down. My hands continue to swim in the dirt, my callouses covered in ravines of black. I almost don’t want to add my little plants. The brown is so pretty. Nearly black, and so soft. The sound of Alice’s porch door shutting lets me know she’s done with me. I’ll go in too. I’d like an iced tea, and I still feel like she’s watching me. Plus, you can’t admire the dirt on your knees until you stand up. My son is sitting at the kitchen table. Even though his back is to me, I can tell he’s sipping some coffee. The way his neck is bent is unattractive—the bone juts out. His gaze follows me to the fridge. I grab the glass and a pitcher and almost pour it before I decide to cut up a lemon first. He looks back down into his cup and avoids my eyes. We haven’t talked much lately. He’s twenty now, and he’s only staying here


until his university reopens in September. I won’t be sad to see him go. I’m not sure I like him very much. To be clear, he doesn’t like me either. We have an agreement not to like each other—not spoken, of course. He never respected how I raised him, and I don’t respect how he turned out. It’s simple. He has his coffee. I have my tea. We leisure on sweet, bitter grounds. I sip. The boy was never blessed with clear skin. Pimples dot the entirety of his face. I’m sure that the curls that flop onto his forehead make everything worse. He could use a shower. And a new pair of glasses; they’re crooked. “Do you need new glasses?” One of his eyes looks bigger than the other. “No.” He always replies without hesitation. It is like he anticipates what I’m going to say. I take a sip and lean against the island in the kitchen. The crook of my elbow still sweats. I take my wrist and gently press it to the cold glass. It’s there just long enough to pink my skin and leave it stinging. His spoon scrapes the side of the mug as he stirs. Again and again the metal screams a pathetic scream. A jagged clink, clink, clink. It drowns out the birds singing beyond the window. He knows how to agitate me. He’s known for twenty years. Even longer. Before he was a he, he was a fetus. It would kick in the night and make me vomit so violently I’d see spots. I’d always imagine it trying to swim up through my intestines and out my mouth, and in its wake a wave of acid would climb my throat and flood my teeth. Maybe I disliked him then, too. I can taste it now. I don’t notice he’s left the room until I can hear the water rush through the pipes in the walls. He’ll be in the shower a while. He likes to take long showers as of late, and I can’t decide if it’s to get away from me or if he wants to get me away from him. There’s always a wild look in his eye when we’re in the same room. He had anger issues when he was at an elementary age. But it was hypothetical then; he will never grow to be like the men I know. He’s never hurt me. He’s probably never hurt anyone, but I know he wants to. Or, maybe he just wants the satisfaction of running up my water bill while the steam feeds the mold in the walls. I stand up straight and see I’ve left red marks on my elbows from leaning on the counter so long. I rub them and listen to the hum of the house. How long has he been in there? Not long, probably. I don’t have an excuse to go into his room,


but should he come out of the shower soon and catch me in there, I could probably come up with something. Checking for dirty dishes, maybe? The dishwasher is still running from when I started it earlier. Doesn’t matter—it’s been a good three years since he’s done them, so he won’t notice. He’ll be pissed if he finds me in his room no matter the reason, but he’ll demand to know. And he won’t accept that I just need to look. I just need to look and understand the loss of a child. The stairs don’t creak when I walk up. It’s always given me a little anxiety that they don’t; what if someone broke in? We don’t have a dog, and the security system hasn’t worked in years. The stairs are all I have between an intruder and my room. When I get to the top, his door is ajar. It makes me second guess entering, but I can still hear the drum of the shower. It’s even louder now. His room is as expected. Dirty clothes cover the floor, all the drawers open. Old wrappers are scattered everywhere; used tissues cover the bench in front of the window beside a half-empty can of Diet Coke. I step carefully so as not to disturb anything. The hiss of the showerhead sings steady. I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for. I find nothing but a sexually explicit letter from an old girlfriend and some cigarettes in his underwear drawer. The cigarettes weren’t even hidden at the back, just sitting on top of his boxers with the drawer open. He was foolish to think that he wouldn’t need to keep this from me. I imagine myself smoking while looking out the window and onto Anna’s house. My lungs would expand, and I’d breathe easy. She wouldn’t know I was watching her little life, observing her habits, her movements, her body. I’m seeing her now. Her bed is all white and perfectly made. The walls are white as well. There’s no color in the room except her putrid sweater, and it’s on the floor now. She’s getting ready to take a shower, too. I draw my eyes away from the woman in the window. I see the trash, the tissues piled in a mound almost as perfect and inviting as the woman’s bed. But I leave them untouched. I just listen to the drum of the water and the hum of my lungs. The cigarettes seem to have a sound now. They’re begging for my attention. Drowning out every inhale and exhale, drowning out the stairs that don’t creak, the shower that won’t stop steaming, that box of cigarettes rings with a certainty. I grab them and walk out the room calmly but swiftly, making sure to leave everything else as it was.


I sit by the mint in the backyard and begin to smoke. I hum after each drag, sprinkling the ash in time. My other hand grabs a couple more cigarettes to slip into my back pocket. I look up. The bathroom lights are still on, and the window is fogged. I squint and hold up my cigarette just so, so that it looks as if the bathroom is on fire, and smoke is pressing against the window rather than steam—it’s fun. I exhale, and without thinking, nudge the tip of my shoe against the pack of cigarettes and push it into one of the holes. Careful not to drop the light between my fingers, I put a mint plant on top and caress loose dirt to fill it. The shovel comes down. Pack it in—not too tight. This must be why I do not hear Anna open the gate and enter my garden. “May I sit?” she asks. I pause, then gesture to the spot next to me as a response. She sits in the dirt, hugging her knees into her chest like a child. “Do you have another?” “This is my last one.” She nods. I offer her the one between my lips, and she takes it, focusing on the upturned dirt around us. I notice that her fingernails are well tended to. She’s picked a soft red color well-suited for the summer. It must have been a simple choice. As the breeze pushes her curls in front of her face, I think about asking how her son died. I could prod her emotions, and maybe she would cry. She wouldn’t understand if I told her that I wish my son had never been born. Maybe I could lie and tell her that he died, and then I would cry, too. We could comfort each other. But instead, we just sit there. I’m not sure what she wants from me, but silence is what I’m giving her. And a smoke, I suppose.





An Apology, Signed with Love & Regret, I tried to kill us last fall, when we were driving to the farm to pick apples and I was feeling queasy because motion makes my brain feel like a box of marbles, all scattered and clanging. We stopped at a red light and I thought I saw someone waving at me but it was just a tree dancing, beckoning me to join and I whispered my greetings but the tree did not hear me and we parted ways too soon. I turned and watched your big hands on the steering wheel while I tucked mine shyly in my lap. Happiness makes me warm and sleepy and I almost forgot that I was carsick, and as my eyes drifted shut you began to hum, the vibrations loosening the small knot of my body, but behind my eyelids I saw my thoughts red and sticky and I needed to grab the wheel and yank and then I saw the car flip and tasted the blood and grass on my tongue so I squeezed my fists as tightly as I could and counted to 30. You didn’t notice, not even when my silence felt like fire burning through the claustrophobic air, not even when I stuck my fingers in my ears to make myself be quiet, not even when I turned the music so loud I thought I would never hear again, you didn’t even notice that I wore my hair in a ponytail that morning because you told me the night before that it suits my face and I began to wonder if I was even there, if this was a dream, because it’s happened before, once I spoke with an ant for what felt like an eternity before I woke up, not to say it wasn’t compelling conversation, he was telling me about the struggle of being so much smaller than everyone else and I was consoling him in the palm of my hand and he told me count your heartbeats and breathe through your mouth until you feel lighter, that helps me, makes the world seem smaller so I was counting one two three four five six breaths and I opened my eyes and I was home, you were gone and I was sitting on the curb pressing my hands into the concrete and I blinked the world back into place, slowly, slowly, peeled back my thoughts and then you were there, holding out an ice-cream cone like a string of pearls and I took it in my gravel-pressed palms and licked until my brain froze over and I could turn to look at you, smile with my teeth, say, I love you, that was fun. 12


My Parents




The Lighthouse Keeper’s Testimony I


f you were to stand in just the right spot on the western side of the lighthouse deck and train a telescope over the firs and hemlocks that shrouded the landscape, you might be able to see the ocean on the other side. The lighthouse keeper knew this spot well. He quite liked to watch the ferries come in. But today, with the biting January chill that had settled over Rock Island, he could do nothing but sit in his study, so hot with his own petulance that the warmth from the fireplace seemed almost redundant. Anyway, had he been out on the deck of the lighthouse, not brooding at his desk below, and had the fog and the frost been lifted, he would’ve seen the last ferry of the evening cresting the horizon. What the lighthouse keeper was doing at that moment couldn’t really be considered reading, but he did have a book open in front of him. He studied the shapes of the letters on the page until he could no longer bear it, and then he looked 14

out the window. When he eventually grew restless, he turned the page and looked at a new set of letters, regardless of whether or not he was finished with the old ones. He’d been carrying on like this for well over an hour before the door opened. “Hello,” a voice called out. “In here,” said the lighthouse keeper, surprised. He hadn’t heard the taxi pull up, though his hearing wasn’t what it used to be. A couple ambled into the study, arm in arm. The girl smiled at the keeper when she entered. She was pretty, almost intimidatingly so—hazel eyes, perfect teeth, chestnut hair—she easily could’ve been a movie star. She was so young, too; she still had that rosy complexion that disappears at twenty-four. The man at her side offered a furtive grin, though this was more vexing than attractive. He must’ve had at least fifteen years on the girl, and he was ugly in the way that makes you think he might not have always been. He was generally presentable, but his hair was thin, and his build was clearly wanting in sturdiness, rippling here and there like a rotten vegetable. “Checking in for McCoy.” “You’re late,” said the keeper, setting his book on the desk. “Yes, I’m sorry about that,” he said. “We missed the afternoon ferry, had to take the late one.” The lighthouse keeper said nothing. His gaze was fixed on the cover of the book. There was a train on it. He thought for a moment about whether or not he’d seen the word “train” on the page, but once he’d closed the book, all the shapes of words had fallen into a meaningless abyss. They didn’t exist anymore. The train was irrelevant. The man cleared his throat. “Anyways, we’re here now. The reservation should be under McCoy.” “Yeah, I heard you the first time,” said the keeper. “I guess I’d better give you a tour.” The house is much smaller than it looks, he explained, so guests rarely get lost. On the first floor sits his study, the kitchen, the powder room, the lounge, and the sunroom that also serves as a dining area for the guests. On the second floor there are two large bedrooms and one bathroom. One of the rooms is reserved for guests,


with the bathroom shared between themselves and the keeper. Guests are allowed full access to the observation deck of the lighthouse, which can be accessed from a door in the lounge. If they have any other questions, he said, they can knock on his door. The room wasn’t particularly nice, but really, it didn’t have to be. The lighthouse keeper knew that all he needed to do was provide the bare essentials and people would pay. It seemed that just about everyone dreamed of living in a decommissioned lighthouse, and he was happy to oblige—for a price. Nevertheless, the keeper would sometimes see a twinge of disappointment in his guests’ eyes when they saw the peeling wallpaper or smelled the musty aroma rising from the floorboards. This, however, was not one of those occasions. The girl was awestruck. Everything on the tour seemed to fascinate her, and she would occasionally call out to McCoy with a “Henry, look!” or an “Isn’t it wonderful?” This brought a smile to the keeper’s face in spite of himself, though McCoy didn’t seem to pay much attention to her words. He kept his eyes downcast, only offering halfhearted grunts and nods at her words. He can’t even give her the time of day, the keeper thought with disdain. He hurriedly reminded them that breakfast was served at seven o’clock sharp and excused himself from their chambers, for enchanted as he was by her, he couldn’t stand to be around McCoy for one more second. Not long after, the keeper approached the wall he shared with the guest room. He removed the painting of the lighthouse, just as he had done hundreds of times before. He began by simply pressing his ear to the wall, listening intently to their hushed words. Then he looked through the tiny, nearly imperceptible hole, and he allowed himself to be fully transported into their world. He was mystified by the girl. He couldn’t believe that someone so lovely could fall for such a wretched man. What he wanted more than anything was to see through those pretty eyes of hers, to vacation in her inner and outer worlds. He could feel her adoration—her powerful, suffocating affection—from his vantage point behind the wall. Even as she seductively unbuttoned her nightgown, inviting McCoy to lay with her, her gaze was devoid of lust. Her young eyes held only the purest love.


He watched them in bed for a while, but he quickly grew disgusted at the sight of the man’s pale buttocks and decided to go to bed, returning the painting to its place on the wall. He hoped that tomorrow would be better.


Despite his long tenure at the lighthouse on Rock Island, few people knew much of anything about William Lloyd Pembroke. His story was peculiar, no doubt: his mother disappeared shortly after he was born, so the burden of his upbringing was placed solely upon his father. With no mother, no siblings, and no extended family on the island, William spent his childhood learning the ins and outs of his trade. In accordance with his father’s militant rules, he seldom went into town. Naturally, the Pembroke men weren’t “lighthouse keepers” in the literal sense; the lighthouse had been decommissioned years ago, back during his father’s youth. Instead, the building had been turned into a guesthouse, and William’s role was that of an innkeeper. However, if asked, both William and his father before him would have replied that they were, in fact, lighthouse keepers, a statement that was more than supported by their unsociable tendencies. In his old age, his father having been dead for decades, William had not lived with anyone for years, save for the lighthouse’s transient boarders. As a rule, he did not allow himself to get attached to the guests. This usually was not hard for him, as his curmudgeonly attitude tended to keep even the friendliest of visitors at bay. But this time was different, and he could feel it from the second he laid eyes on her. William rose early the next day, as was his routine, and prepared breakfast for the house. Every day, he served the guests a plate of fried eggs, sausage, and toast, in addition to a selection of jams, teas, and fruit juices provided upon request. For himself, a single piece of buttered toast would suffice. The couple made their way downstairs at about ten after seven. She looked bright and chipper, eager to attack the day with the same sense of wonder that he saw the night before. McCoy, on the other hand, appeared disheveled and halfasleep, muttering something to himself about it being too early to even think about breakfast. William set his plate down a touch more forcefully than he did with hers, hitting the table with an audible thud. 17

“Mr. and Mrs. McCoy,” he said, though he was only addressing the latter, as he felt the former’s spiteful gaze bore into his cheek. “Breakfast is served.” “Mrs. McCoy… I like the sound of that.” She paused for a moment, giving Mr. McCoy a meaningful look. Then she turned back to William and resumed, “But please, call me Claudia, no need to be so formal.” Mr. McCoy began coughing violently, as if he were choking. He went pale in the face, looking almost sickly. Alarmed, William asked if he was alright. “Yes, yes, I’m fine,” he said after regaining his composure. He then shot Claudia a nasty glare. “Would you bring me a tea though? Earl Grey?” William said nothing, offering only a slight nod and leaving the room. When he returned with the kettle, he saw McCoy leaned over the table, whispering something with great urgency. From where William was standing, it sounded more like the hissing of an irate cobra than a human voice. As he neared the table, McCoy abruptly fell silent and looked at him expectantly. He dropped the kettle and told them that if they needed him, he would be tidying up the kitchen. As he turned to leave, he stole one last glance at Claudia, only to see an impish smile creeping across her lips.


William was aware of his father’s perversions from a young age. When he was ten years old, on a day much like any other, he noticed that the painting on the wall of his father’s bedroom was hanging askew. Being quite short for his age, the boy had to drag a chair over to fix it. But he hadn’t realized that one leg of the chair was a hair shorter than the others, so the whole thing would wobble at the introduction of any sort of weight. Before he knew what was happening, the boy, the chair, and the painting all came crashing down. His father rushed upstairs only to find his bedroom in disarray, and his son howling about a sprained ankle. He quickly hung the painting in its rightful place and carried the boy downstairs. Neither one of them ever mentioned the hole in the wall. Yet there was no mistaking that something momentous had taken place, for their relationship was never to be the same after that day. William began to notice the way his father’s eyes took on a cruel, animalistic gleam whenever they fell onto a 18

female guest. Even with his limited worldview, the boy hated his father’s deviance. William’s anger only grew over time, and by the end of his father’s life, the two only communicated on the most necessary of subjects. Upon his father’s death, William felt neither relief nor sorrow. As far as he was concerned, his father died when he was ten years old. After the couple retreated to their room, William cleared their table and got started on his morning cleaning. As was his habit, he gave the sunroom a onceover, tidied the study, and dusted the lounge. The routine took less than an hour, an impressive feat given his old age and feeble constitution. He had just started his chores on the second floor when he was interrupted. “Look who’s finally awake,” said Claudia. William whirled around in spite of himself. Of course, the couple was in their room on the opposite end of the hall—he knew better than anyone how thin the walls were—and yet, for one brief moment, he felt as if Claudia were walking behind him, speaking to him in a tone that only he could hear. Mr. McCoy mumbled something in response, but his words were inaudible. “Well, I see the nap didn’t help your mood at all.” William’s curiosity got the better of him, and he decided to take a break from his work. He hurried to his bedroom, removed the painting from the wall, and took a look at what was happening on the other side. Mr. McCoy was sitting at the foot of the bed with his head in his hands while Claudia stood a few paces in front of him, arms crossed. He wore the same clothes from breakfast, but they were rumpled and creased from sleep. “I can’t believe you would make such a spectacle,” he said, refusing to look her in the eye. “I made a spectacle? And what about you? I thought you were going to choke to death down there. It’s just a name, Henry. Grow up.” Mr. McCoy abruptly rose and crossed the room. Even through the wall, William could feel the heat of his glare. As he spoke, he began to pace. “It is not just a name. You need to get it through that stupid head of yours that what we do together means nothing. You’re just some whore I picked up on the side of the road. You’re not my wife, and you’ll never be half the woman she was.”


At this, he stopped suddenly. Neither of them said anything, and a stillness hung over the room. Then a peculiar sound began to emanate from her form. It was just a soft giggle at first, barely audible from William’s position, but before long it blossomed into an uproarious, hearty laugh that filled the room. Mr. McCoy approached her, his face contorted into a look of abject rage. He tried to speak several times before he could manage to get the words out. “What is so goddamn funny?” Her laughter subsided, but her lopsided grin persisted. “You’re so cute when you get all worked up.” All the fire drained from Mr. McCoy’s gaze, and he shuffled, like prey being circled. He then cleared his throat before resuming. “Listen–” “No, I believe it’s my turn to talk now,” she said. “Henry, you know I love you, but you must be the most indecisive man I’ve ever known. The fact of the matter is you’ve already chosen me. Your decision’s been made, and what’s done is done. You know as well as I do that we made our bed, and now…” At this moment, she paused to lay herself across the bed in a manner that William found to be almost comically seductive. “I think we ought to lie in it.” Mr. McCoy stared at her, appalled. He seemed to be at a loss for words, and William could see a flurry of anger and dread dance across his face. Finally, he came up with an acceptable retort. “Piss on your bed,” he spat, before charging out of the room. “I’d certainly rather you didn’t,” she said with a laugh. William stepped back, trying to understand the scene that had just unfolded before him. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes—a habit he’d picked up from his father long ago. Scarcely a minute went by before he was interrupted by a peculiar scraping sound coming from the other side of the wall. He returned to his previous position to find Claudia dragging a suitcase out of the closet over to her bed. From the suitcase, she withdrew a hefty, leather-bound book, though William could not make out any details from his vantage point. With a casual grace to her movements, she lay on her stomach and flipped through the


pages, idly kicking her feet in the air behind her. He strained to get a better look at what she was reading, but between his limited field of view and his already poor eyesight, he couldn’t see a thing. Then, just as abruptly as she’d started reading, she snapped the book shut. She rolled onto her side and settled her gaze onto the hole in the wall, offering a mischievous wink. William flinched and instinctively stepped away. He steadied himself as quickly as he could, but by the time he looked back, she had replaced the book in the suitcase and started dragging it back over towards the closet, betraying no sign that she had seen him at all.


Not long after his father’s passing, William came down with an unusual disease. The symptoms were numerous and baffling, so seemingly unrelated as to preclude him from receiving any effective treatment. Most of them were more bizarre than painful, such as a sudden and inexplicable aversion to sweet foods. But some of the symptoms were downright debilitating. The aspect of his affliction that proved most miserable for William was a sexual impotence that took hold of not only his body, but his mind. This isn’t to say that he was asexual; on the contrary, in his younger years, he experienced a fairly standard amount of sexual desire. He even enjoyed a limited, but not unsatisfying, sex life with a handful of young women from the area. But his disease was such that the moment he began to feel even the slightest hint of arousal, he was racked with waves of crippling malaise that ultimately served to quash any kind of longing. His symptoms neither improved nor worsened with age. He learned to develop habits and routines to conform to the whims of the disease, albeit not without a twinge of resentment. William viewed his suffering as a curse inflicted upon him by his father, a final reminder of a man he would’ve rather forgotten. However, William also knew that he would have the last laugh, for his impotence meant that he was destined to be the last Pembroke man, and that when he died, the lighthouse would die with him. It was nearing midday, no more than an hour or two after the big argument. William was poring over documents in his study—a fruitless effort to regain his 21

composure after what he’d witnessed. Despite her discretion, she’d definitely seen him. William knew that much to be true. In fact, she’d done much more than that. She hadn’t just seen him, catching his eye on accident, she met his gaze and looked through him, deliberately imprinting herself onto his mind. As he turned the memory over, trying to make sense of it all, he developed an unshakable sensation that she was trying to show him something. He needed to see whatever was in that book. He was startled out of his thoughts by Mr. McCoy. “Hey, we’re going to spend the afternoon sightseeing. We might not be back until late.” “Alright,” William said, using every ounce of willpower to keep his eyes on the papers in front of him. He heard the front door open and close and watched the couple from his window. First, they walked past the lighthouse to the edge of the bluff. She produced an old Polaroid camera from her jacket and took a photograph of the sea. They huddled together, examining the picture in her hands. After a few seconds that could have lasted a lifetime, they wandered back down the lane and disappeared into the trees, surely following one of the many footpaths that crisscrossed the island. Just to be sure they wouldn’t return, he waited in his study for a few more minutes, watching for any signs of movement outside. Once he was positive he was alone, he hurried upstairs, overtaken by a sudden sense of urgency. Upon entering the guest room, he wasted no time in finding the suitcase in the closet and dragging it over to the bed. The book was right on top, perched atop a stack of neatly-folded skirts and blouses. He lifted it onto his lap, finding it to be heavier than he was expecting, and also that its pages gave off the pleasant scent of an old library. Alright, Claudia, he thought to himself, what are you trying to show me? The first page contained no words, only a photograph from a wedding, and if the slight yellowing at the corners was any indication, it must’ve been several years old. He quickly noticed that the groom was a younger Mr. McCoy, but curiously, the bride’s face was obscured by a grayish-white mass. The rest of the photo seemed normal enough, as the groom and the rest of the bride’s body were untouched, yet her face was completely painted over. He turned the page to find more wedding


pictures and in each one the bride’s face was similarly hidden, replaced by that unsettling void of nothing. With these alterations, William was unable to discern practically any of the woman’s features, and the only thing he could tell for certain is that she was definitely not Claudia. He skipped ahead in the book, flipping to about the halfway point. This time, Mr. McCoy and his wife were posing in front of a dramatic mountain range. William took the photos to be much more recent, as McCoy looked quite a few years older and the pictures themselves had yet to experience any aging. Yet her face was still painted over, completely hidden from view. William flipped through the rest of the pages, determined to find the secret of the faceless woman. But when he got to the last page, he gasped, nearly dropping the book. Much like the first page, it only contained a single picture—a blurry Polaroid. Unsurprisingly, the woman’s face was gone; yet, instead of merely being painted over like the others, it was scratched out—seemingly with some kind of blade. The most striking difference, however, was that in this last photo the woman was dead. Even with the blurriness, there was no mistaking it. She was laying on her back, wearing a dress so bloodstained that its original color was lost. There were spots that were darker, presumably where she’d been shot or stabbed, but the whole scene was so bloody and grotesque that William could hardly focus on the details. He was becoming increasingly light-headed, and he worried that if he stared at the image for even a moment longer he might faint. Moving as fast as he could, he replaced everything to the way it was and ran to his bedroom. He collapsed onto his bed, unable to muster the strength to even pull the covers over himself. As he lay there, his light-headedness gave way to a familiar sensation. He was awash with the same penetrating revulsion that he’d felt when he first discovered the hole in the wall. It was the inimitable feeling of stumbling across a dark secret, of seeing something he wasn’t supposed to see. Only this time, he was seeing exactly what Claudia wanted him to see. As he drifted into a fitful, unclean sleep, the image that stuck in his head was not the corpse of Mrs. McCoy, but the Polaroid camera that Claudia had carried down the lane.



As the years went by, William fell into a deep depression. He discovered that, for all his innate reticence, he wasn’t cut out for a truly solitary life. Growing up, his father, with whom he ultimately shared almost no relationship, had managed to stave off William’s loneliness simply by being around, by living under the same roof. And once his father was gone, William quickly found the weight of his absence to be even more oppressive than his presence. He hated the silence that enveloped the house when the guests were away, and he found himself spending much of his downtime on the lighthouse deck, looking across Rock Island’s vast, empty woods. All he could bring himself to do was watch the world from afar. It was around this time that William found a new use for the hole in the wall. One night, after an elderly couple checked in, he was tidying his bedroom when he accidentally knocked the painting over, much like he’d done as a boy. He grimaced; the guests had gone to bed early that night, and he hated to think that he might’ve woken them up. Before returning the picture to the wall, he peered through the hole to see if they were awake. Luckily, neither of them stirred. William was about to pull himself away, when something caught his eye: the old woman was holding her husband in her sleep. She had her arms wrapped tightly around his chest, clinging to him with a passionate intensity. Something about her powerful, intimate affection filled William with happiness. He realized that using the hole behind the painting didn’t need to be a twisted perversion as it was with his father. Instead, looking through the wall could give him the companionship he craved so dearly. He could vacation in the lives of his guests and feel, for a brief time, some of the joy he’d lost. William stayed in his room until the next morning. He managed to sleep intermittently for most of the day. Come nightfall, he entered a state of semiconsciousness, tortured by the image of Mrs. McCoy. By the time the sun came up, he felt hollow. He knew that he couldn’t afford to shirk his duties any further, so he reluctantly began his daily work. His guests came down for breakfast with five minutes to spare. Claudia looked as vibrant as always, and even Mr. McCoy seemed more awake than usual. “Are you alright,” said Claudia. “You look a bit ill.”


William muttered that he was fine and asked if he could get them anything to drink. “Orange juice would be lovely,” said Claudia. “Tea, Earl Grey,” said Mr. McCoy. “And by the way, since you’re here, we’re going to have to move our checkout date to today. I know we’re supposed to have the room for another night, but something’s come up. I was going to tell you yesterday evening, but I couldn’t find you. I hope that won’t be a problem.” “No, no problem at all,” said William. “Check out whenever you’d like.” He hurried to the kitchen to get their drinks, hopeful that they didn’t see the waves of relief on his face. The rest of the morning passed uneventfully. The couple ate their breakfast, returned to their room to pack, and came to the study at noon to check out. William was able to regain some of his composure, so their conversation went smoothly. He called them a cab to the port and finished the necessary paperwork for checkout, maintaining a plastic smile as Claudia gushed over how much she liked the room. When the car arrived, she had him carry one of the bags to the car. “Oh, one last thing,” she said as they stood outside. “Would you mind taking a picture of us? It’s our first vacation together, and I want to make sure we remember it.” She rifled through one of the bags and produced her camera. William’s blood went cold. He tossed a glance at Mr. McCoy, who looked as sick as he felt. After a brief moment of consideration, he swallowed a lump of fear in his throat and agreed, determined to act natural. She passed him the camera and took Mr. McCoy’s hand, moving to pose in front of the lighthouse. She called out that they were ready, and he took the picture. She giggled with delight and hurried over. He gave her the camera. She waited for a few seconds, looking to see how the Polaroid came out. Satisfied, she replaced the camera in her bag and put the picture in her jacket pocket. “Thank you,” she said, as she climbed into the taxi. William offered a terse nod and watched Mr. McCoy close the door behind her. When the two were both situated, the car began to pull away. Claudia then turned her body to face the rear window. William could make out a puckish, close-lipped


smile behind the glass. She then raised an index finger to her mouth. William felt his own mouth open in an involuntary look of horror. He saw her laugh and turn back around, and before he knew it, the car was gone­—swallowed by the dense island woods.

hazard 26



Roller Coaster Poem Today your roommate left to go home for the week. You are left in charge of her cat who is the size of an actual toddler and this makes you nervous because he never responds to your tongue clicks and you’re worried about forgetting to feed him. Your other roommate is at her job at the kayaking place and so you decide to sweep your room with the window open and play songs you’ve never heard before on the Bluetooth speaker. One voice sings about riding roller coasters with their dad as a kid and this makes your heart stop because it brings you right back to the cold January night in your puffy pink vest. You had never been to Six Flags in the winter but they were having a special on family season passes so your mother packed you and your siblings into the Honda Odyssey. You’d also never seen the park at night and even though you were frightened, your father convinced you to ride the Roadrunner—your first roller coaster. He bought the photo after and you were embarrassed at your death grip on the safety bar and amused at the father and son who sat a row behind, tongues out and hands up, throwing the rock on sign. You know this photo is somewhere in a cardboard box in a temperature-controlled storage unit in Texas but that’s okay because just the memory of your stomach dropping and how it wasn’t as bad as you’d anticipated and how you were glad your dad had been the one to get you to do it makes you cry and you realize you have stepped in the dirt pile you swept in the middle of your tiny blue bedroom and you are embarrassed that a song made you get your feet dirty and you are bewildered that you are crying before noon. You play the song four more times and the cat saunters in, shedding on the floor.


Something Missing 28





My razor is a workman’s tool, shears for topiary. I prune rose hedges into contour muscle. A chainsaw, each stroke trims the trunk shorter, with a buzz of carpenter bees, until only roots remain. Razor burn turns my flesh tender, red as pomegranate, brings the blood to the surface, but doesn’t break it. Water pulled into stumps of trees without leaves. Then comes the groan of closing metal pipes. The man in the shower next to me has ended his rinse and unmuted the echo of my razor’s hornet hum. I know he can hear it. I tell myself it’s not that different, I’m sure, there are men who shave their face in the shower. Though I am not one of them. I keep my ears wide: for the creak of a now-vacant stall, the slap of wet sandals on tile.


I pray he doesn’t recognize: the buttercup yellow towel my mother monogrammed for me the way her grandmother did for her, passing feminine tradition like genes. Pray he doesn’t recognize: the bathrobe I will have to wear out of here, or catch sight of my face to see the patchy scruff on my chin and deduce the baldness of my lower half and tell me in the Morse code flap of his eyelids: Other. You are Other. The knob in this shower is broken. Water streams out scalding as I wait for him to leave. I feel like stew, a trapped morsel steaming in broth. My face flushes to scarlet. I’m cooking myself for sake of pride. Maybe I’ll be melted faceless, like a Ken doll near a lighter, smear the features from my face like pen ink, into chicken scratch, where they will no longer read as male.


I long to wear my bathrobe as a blossom, wrapped in the blush-painted petals of a rose. And let the rose be named “good form” instead of rose. And the petals, not petals, but stone fabric draped in waterfalls over a statue of Venus. And when my body is marble maybe then I can finally exit from behind this curtain. When strikes bounce from my skin, harmless, how could I be punished for wanting to be any shape but myself?





“titus andromedon is the blueprint” i make me smile: you wonderful / you beautiful / you full of glow. —a ditzy interlude: tingly thorns tryna piercefully prickly puncture my moisturized melanated long lovely legs— stop! i just want my flower crown. i want my yellow garment like ‘Yonce in “Hold Up” i want white tulips and orange roses and yellow chrysanthemums to twist ‘n turn around my torso while i yell to the top of my lungs imagining a flower stem will grow out of them, curing my chronic asthma, makin’ me cough out seeds to make the dirt below my feet bloom and blossom baby blue begonias. *one more (just one more i promise)!* —a wanderlust interlude: i (inefficiently) efficiently escape the thorn dungeon, dangerous and adversary— now! can you play my YouTube lofi playlist? preferably put on “Buddha” by Kontekst? i need about 70 photos—at least—and that’s if we have that sun angle to transform ‘n tap into my femininity while i tilt my head up to the clouds hoping a song will travel out of my irises, connecting my 20/20 vision to my ears to help the mustard bee under a lavender sky just habitually harbor hazel honey.



Fried Eggs

The egg is rubbery, a chemistry experiment left too long on the Bunsen burner, with crispy browned edges and a yolk that crumbles into powdery gold dust. It sits alone on a royal blue plate, like an ugly duckling left to drown in the sea. I cut a bite with my fork and chew it. Across the table, he doesn’t meet my eyes as he swallows down his breakfast, a scrambled mess of white and yellow and brown that makes my egg look like the Cinderella to its stepsister. If it were me, I’d have thrown it out and started anew— but no, they were all out of eggs. He promised me breakfast last night, wrapped in blankets and warm arms and darkness. My stomach growled, and I complained, and he promised me fried eggs because I love fried eggs, love cracking them into the pan and watching the translucent proteins solidify into neat, aesthetic white circles. I was hungry, and he promised me fried eggs, and I thought three words but didn’t say them because we were in his bed. “It’s overcooked,” I say, shattering the silence. His eyes flicker up to mine (unconsciously, my lips curve up into a smile). “Sorry.” “No, I–I meant yours.” I take another bite and swallow, dry. “Although, mine too.” Under the table, I feel the strong urge to kick myself. The apartment is bright with the white light of morning, pale but strong against the grungy white walls, the dining table, the square woven placemats. I shiver in yesterday’s clothes, flakes of makeup still clinging to my face, a faint bruise blossoming on my neck. I glance at him; above the collar of his coat, his skin is stained red and purple. My lips curve again, uncertain, and I look away. What felt like iron foundations in the dark has given way to spidersilk, tenuous. We drink out of the same water glass—his lips touching what my lips touched. It’s more intimate than kissing. I reach for his hand, brush my thumb against the texture of his skin. Our eyes meet. He smiles. My stomach clenches, twisting the over-fried egg into figure eights. I eat the last bite, tasting nothing. He’s already done. We clear the table—him jumping to his feet, me slowly rising to mine, the scrape of wood chairs on wood 35

floors—leaving the dishes in the kitchen sink with a clatter. “I’ll get those later,” he says. I take one last sip from the glass and hand it to him. He tips it back, drains it, throat working. His eyes are closed. Mine can’t look away. I gather my things, my flip-flops, my purse. He slides socked feet into sneakers. I look up at him, and him down at me. And I don’t remember kissing him, not then, but I must have, he was so beautiful. Or maybe I didn’t, maybe we just stood there in that cold apartment, in the morning light, and the moment was awkward and fragile, and I wanted to cradle it in my hands, and I wanted to turn around and run before it shattered like silence and cut me on its broken edges. He opens the door and leads me down the twisting staircase. Outside, the sun is shining; the leaves are green and orange and gold, and the breeze rustles through them like wind chimes out of tune. He walks me back, his hand in my hand, and I am full.

Paper Kitchen




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