FALL 2016 Â· VOLUME 22
stork FALL 2016 Â· VOLUME 22
Stork Magazine is a fiction journal published by undergraduate students at Emerson College. Initial submissions are workshopped and discussed with the authors, and stories are accepted based on the quality of the author’s revisions. The process is designed to guide writers through rewriting and provide authors and staﬀ members editorial support and an understanding of the editorial and publishing process. Stork is founded on the idea of communication between writers and editors—not a simple letter of rejection or acceptance. We accept submissions from undergraduate and graduate Emerson students in any department. Work may be submitted at stork.submittable.com during specific submission periods. Stories should be in 12-point type, double-spaced, and must not exceed 4 pages for the “short shorts” issue or 30 pages for the long issue. Authors retain all rights upon publication. For questions about submissions, email firstname.lastname@example.org Stork accepts staﬀ applications at the beginning of each fall semester. We are looking for undergraduate students who are well-read in contemporary fiction and have a good understanding of the short story form. Copyright © 2016 Stork Magazine Cover design by Bella Bennett Stork icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com Printed and bound by Shawmut Printing, Danvers, MA
Editors-in-Chief Kaylee Mizell-Anzick Richie Wheelock Managing Editors Kayla Cottingham Allison Rassmann Prose Editors Kelsey Aijala Chloe B. McAlpin Mary Kate McGrath Colleen Risavy Head Copy Editor Heather Cole
Assistant Copy Editor Rachel Cantor Faculty Advisor John Skoyles
Head Designer Bella Bennett
Design Assistant Edna Lopez-Rodriguez Marketing StaďŹ€ Hannah Lee Emily Schnider Jamie Wong Readers Isabel Fillipone Timothy Jordan Lauren Lopez Megan Michaud Madeline Poage Jessica Pressman Faith Tarpley Abby Visco
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS Welcome to the Fall Issue. First, we’d like to share some words of gratitude—we have many people to thank. To Kayla and Allison, our amazing Managing Editors, thank you for your support and grace through the chaos and the calm. To Bella and Edna, our wonderful Design Team, we will sing your praises into eternity—thank you for your vision and determination. Thank you to John Skoyles for so many years of unwavering mentorship to generations of Stork Editors. Thank you to our Marketing Staﬀ, Illustrators, Copy Editors, Prose Editors, and Readers, for your insights, your smiles, your hard work. And lastly, thank you to all who submitted to the issue. Thank you for trusting us with your art. This year, it has been diﬃcult to prioritize storytelling. In the face of hate and bigotry, in a fog of anger and fear, it can seem like our stories and voices don’t matter. What we believe at Stork, though, is that stories must matter. Our stories, big and small, help us cope, understand, and fight. Crafting stories enables us to hope for change. When we imagine pathways for revision, when we examine our words with precision, when we seek greater empathy and depth of character, and, ultimately, when we write and edit, we act out the necessary processes for positive change. Through storytelling, we can bridge gaps of empathy, and we can hope to heal ourselves and our bonds with others. Reader, we’re proud to present you with four incredible stories in this issue. Whether driving between Mexico and the States, sitting and sketching a once-familiar face, celebrating a birthday, or living in the midst of a neighborhood
tragedy, the characters in these stories strive to reach some understanding of themselves and the wider world. Even amidst high tension plots, these stories are full of vivid inner lives that remind us how important it is to take a moment and notice the details around usâ€” the rattling of a truck on the road, the intimate movements on a face, a brittle eggshell, an empty bedroom. We hope these stories make you laugh. We hope they make you catch your breath. We hope you find yourself thinking deeply and wanting more. We hope you enjoy reading. Kaylee and Richie Editors-in-Chief
CONTENTS 10 20 28 38
Our Lady By Andrew Siañez-De La O Illustration by Erini Katopodis Layers of Seeing By Olivia Woollett Illustration by Chloe B. McAlpin A Prayer for Lalo By Andrew Siañez-De La O Illustration by Stephanie “Ricky” Richards Moksha By Tylah Silva Illustration by Erini Katopodis
OUR LADY by Andrew Siañez-De La O Illustration by Erini Katopodis
Welcome to Mexico. Diﬀerent country, same desert. Miguel had been driving for hours, heading deeper and deeper into Mexico after passing through the southland of Texas. He rubbed his eyes and spun his sweat-soaked cap around so the bill no longer blocked the sun. It wouldn’t be long before night patrols began. Although it was Miguel’s seventh trip into Mexico, he was still nervous. If you had told a younger Miguel that one day he’d help smuggle immigrants into the United States, he wouldn’t have heard it. He would have laughed in your face before downing another cerveza. Younger Miguel could handle an extra beer or two. That had changed. He told himself it was fine. After all, they were distant relatives. They were Mexican and Miguel was sure they were related in some obscure, diﬃcult-to-conceive way. After all, he was a Hernandez, and that was as Mexican as they came. He looked to the bobblehead duct-taped onto his dashboard. It was a crude—albeit creative—take of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mary. She nodded her head. He relaxed a little, taking a second to wipe the thin layer of brown dust oﬀ of her face. He crossed himself just in case. 10
He could hear his mother’s voice echoing in Iglesia San Jacinto, his childhood church. “Miguel, mijo, portate bien.” Miguel had had a bad habit of sneaking snappers into the church and scaring the viejitas. He could feel his mother pinching his ear as she dragged him to the front of the church. He looked back on his prayers as a child, kneeling in front of the wax body of Jesus Christ. It, or He—Miguel was never sure—lay inside a large glass box. From just beyond the velvet rope, which the church deemed necessary to protect their wax idol, Miguel prayed. He’d thank Jesus for two things—well, people. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Even young Miguel recognized the importance of freedom for a fellow minority. It was one of the few things that ever stuck. Maybe that was why he was here now, driving across the border, ready to bring a family of immigrants into the United States. In a way, he was just doing the same thing. Less flashy, sure, but the same principles. Maybe Jesus saw his potential and put him on this path. That made sense, right? He looked to Our Lady. She nodded her head. Miguel was never sure where he stood on the subject of God. For as long as he could remember, God felt like something just out of reach, a concept on the tip of his understanding, a notion of warmth. He remembered his mother sitting next to his bed as a child. Rosary in hand, she’d whisper, “Dios te salve, Maria. Llena eres de gracia: El Seńor es contigo,” until Miguel could recite the entire prayer in his sleep; he often did. At this moment, without even realizing it, he toyed with his ear, a notion of pain. He reached into the pile of garbage sitting behind the passenger seat, past the empty energy drinks, past wadded burger wrappers, past his license and registration. Past all this was a cassette tape with the words sangre mía scribbled onto 11
it. Miguel had found it at a swap meet. It was stashed alongside tapes by Vicente Fernandez, José Alfredo Jimenez, and Linda Ronstadt, all artists his mother loved. He had taken a chance on this tape; for a couple pesos, why not? It quickly became his favorite. There were no Mexican classics on this tape. No corridos, no rancheras. Just music. He had no other way to describe it. The tape was filled with long songs brought to life, not with trumpets or accordions, but with violins. Pianos. A harp, he was almost sure of it. Beautiful music. By who? He had no clue, but he didn’t care. Miguel gently rubbed dust and grime from the cassette’s cartridge, making sure not to damage the tape. He let it sit softly in his calloused palm as he read its message. Sangre mía, blood of mine. He wasn’t sure who this tape was ever meant for, or who made it, but he found comfort in knowing that someone had taken the time to put it together. Now it was his. He slid the tape into the cassette player and let the music fill the truck. Miguel was no longer driving through the desert. Instead, he saw himself on a beach, his feet sinking into wet sand as the Gulf of Mexico reached out for him, wanting to take him back, back to where he belonged. In his head, Miguel felt the kiss of the tide and the warmth of the sun. If he tried really hard, he could feel himself on his father’s shoulders as they looked out over the waves, his mother calling out to them from beneath a small, bright umbrella. If Miguel tried even harder he could hear them laugh. If Miguel lied to himself he could see his parents holding hands as they walked down the beach. If Miguel ignored the pain, he could hear his brother laughing. That was the magic of this tape. It was his escape. Miguel made sure to only listen when he needed it, afraid that he might grow tired of the music. That it would somehow lose its magic. 12
These long trips forced Miguel into his head. There was no signal this far out, no radio. There was nothing to see other than the cactus, yucca, and the silhouettes of far oﬀ mountains. No one to talk to but himself. Miguel believed himself to be a patient man, but these trips wore him thin. That small voice in his head sat in his passenger seat, reminding him of regrets, of losses, of mistakes. He let the music muﬄe that voice. He let the harp do its thing and sing the beast to sleep, at least for now. He almost wished he had never taken this job from Lalo. Lalo was Miguel’s connection to the coyotes in Mexico. Despite his bulk and menacing tattoos, he was a quiet man. A self-proclaimed pachuco. He fully believed that he was born in the wrong decade, that, had he been born a little earlier, when honor meant something, he’d be more than just a smuggler. Miguel wasn’t so sure, but it wasn’t his place to judge. Lalo had reached out when he needed a hand. Miguel could almost hear him now. ¿Oyé, que pasa, hermano? They had met at a bar in downtown El Paso. Lalo found Miguel face down in a puddle of drool and tequila. He told Miguel that he had been there before, had felt that pain before. Miguel only had to look into his eyes to know it. Lalo stayed with him for the rest of that night, swapping stories between beers. Lalo told Miguel about the time he beat up one of his sister’s lovers for not calling her after a date. Or the time he taught his sister how to count cards in Blackjack. Or the time they broke into El Paso High School and burned the oﬃce of the teacher who… he trailed oﬀ, but Miguel understood. Lalo spent most of that night staring at the bottom of his glass, a small smile appearing whenever he mentioned his sister’s name. Rosita. Miguel told Lalo about the time he and his mother ran 13
a small bakery out of their kitchen, selling empanadas and conchas to help pay for Miguel’s school supplies. Or the time they fished for crawdads in the stream behind their home. Or the time they tried to feed geese at Ascarate Park and his mother had to tend to the small bite wounds along his arm. Miguel was very young in these stories, as he was in all of his favorite memories. They sat at the edge of his recollection, almost fading. Maybe he had been at that bar to help finish the job that time started. To finally let those moments go. Maybe he was ready to forget. For better or worse, Lalo had saved Miguel’s life. Miguel looked to Our Lady. She nodded her head and he looked away. His mother passed away a little over five years ago from a bad liver. After years of urging his mother to stop drinking, her body took matters into its own hands. It happened very quickly. Miguel came home to find her passed out on the floor. The doctors said that ammonia had flooded her brain. She would probably fall into a coma. She had a month left to live, so, they made plans. She wanted to have their picture taken. Something proud to hang over their mantle place, the kind of thing that rich white families do. The thought of that alone had made Miguel cry. After a certain age, Miguel stopped appearing in family photos. The older he got the more he looked like his father. He’d catch his mother staring at him or giving quick second glances, just to make sure it was him. She grew more distant. Echoed in her son was the face of the man who walked out on her. His eyes. His smile. That laugh. Because of this, his mother preferred to be photographed alone. More elegant, she’d say. Una fotografía de Doña Hernandez. Now she wanted a family portrait. Con mi hijo. His mother asked only that he take her to a hairdresser. That she be given the chance to look beautiful one last time. 14
She wanted her hair dyed and maybe some highlights, something she said was only fit for beautiful women on telenovelas. She had even picked out a dress. The blue one she wore to Easter mass. Covered in intricate lace, like flowers, with just enough sequins to make her shine in the sunlight. She passed away the night before her hair appointment. It had only been a week. Miguel still went to the photographer. He wore his best button-up shirt and slicked his hair back like he used to when he was a kid. He bought a single wallet-sized photo and left it in her casket, her blue dress twinkling until they buried her. At least she would have him with her. It was enough, he thought. He looked to Our Lady. She nodded her head but Miguel wanted more. He wanted to ask why. He wanted the plastic lips of the Virgin Mary to explain the rules to him, but instead she continued to nod. It wasn’t enough. The first time he ever transported a family was a month after his mother passed, the same weekend he met Lalo. Lalo told Miguel it was easy money, something to help with the medical bills, of which there were many. Tranquilate Miguel, Lalo said, it’s simple. You pick them up, you drop them oﬀ, done. Simple. His first family was small. A father and his son. Miguel saw echoes of his family in them, the father who left and the brother who died. This made the driving hard. They had walked for miles and Miguel had nothing to oﬀer them but water bottles. But the man thanked him anyway while his son buried his head in the faded, torn upholstery of the truck’s backseat, his hands rough like his father’s. Years of work had left their toll on the two of them. The man asked Miguel if he knew anyone who needed labor, hard-working hands. Miguel learned that they would 15
always ask this. Those who crossed looked at him like he was an angel, someone with answers. They always had someone still in Mexico. A wife, a mother, a child. They were always sick, or starving, or in danger. Those making this journey were not lying. They’d sacrificed much to make it this far and were willing to sacrifice more if it meant a chance at hope, at a new beginning, at the American Dream, but Miguel couldn’t help. He’d only shake his head, lo siento. A bump in the dirt path brought Miguel back to the present. He could hear the contents of his truck bed shifting around. He had the usual: five gallons of water, thick blankets, baseball hats, and a couple of toys for the kids. His job was only to pick them up and transport them, but Miguel went beyond that. He knew the route they took and he knew how demanding it could be. The thought made him shudder. He looked into the rearview mirror and glimpsed a small, worn teddy bear. He hoped it would be enough of a comfort. He slowed the truck to a stop. The truck sat in a small clearing surrounded by thick desert plants. No matter how many times he’d been there, he never got used to the sight. All around him were saguaro cactuses dressed in torn clothes. Cotton button ups, torn jeans, sun-bleached baseball hats all thrown onto the pinprick needles, each plant taking on a life of its own. They were meant as a marker, some joke started by a coyote that had lasted longer than it should have. The music fell silent as he clicked oﬀ the engine, bringing him back to the quiet, empty desert. He stepped out of his truck and squinted into the light of the setting sun. He heard a rustling in the brush and knew it was them. A mixture of heavy breathing and dragging feet, like a tide reaching out on a far-oﬀ beach. He walked to the front of his truck and looked out into the desert, the long shadows of the cacti slowly melting into one as night set in. He was 16
told he would be picking up a small family. A mother and father with two sons and a grandparent. A group small enough that they could fit in the back of his truck. At first, he could barely make out their huddled mass from behind the yucca. He could faintly see the father and oldest son as they carried a bundle of thick blankets, struggling to move through the sand and brush, the son working hard to keep up with his father. As they moved closer Miguel saw feet sticking out from the end of the bundle, and his heart dropped. He reached out, trying to help them, but the old woman shook her head. Instead, she walked up to him, and took his hand as she let her head fall onto his chest. Miguel felt her body give him all her weight. She was letting go, resting, probably for the first time in hours. Her daughter hadn’t survived the trip. The boy's mother. Miguel sat quietly while they laid the body down on the bed of his truck. There was a gentleness to it. Exhausted bodies laying another to rest. The truck shook as each person climbed aboard, not saying a word. In his rearview mirror, Miguel saw the grandmother cross her grandchildren before she sat them down. After a moment, there was stillness. There was a family in Miguel’s care now, but the desert felt emptier than it had before. He didn’t know what to say, so he let the roar of his truck break the silence. It was time to begin the long drive back into the States. Somewhere along the bumpy desert road, Miguel realized he was praying. He wasn’t sure who started it, the family or himself, but he kept praying. Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amén. Miguel looked to Our Lady. 17
And so did the young boy in the passenger seat next to him. He was the youngest. The father wanted the boy to sit in front, away from his mother’s body, which softly shook with the moving truck. The little boy stared into the painted eyes of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Stared with that same burning desire that Miguel felt when his own mother passed. But this boy was young, too young to be experiencing that kind of loss. How grateful Miguel was to have had more time with his mother. But this boy sitting next to him, made of tired bones and aching limbs, shook with fear and anger. His small hands clenched into tight fists until his knuckles were white. Finally, Miguel asked the boy, ¿Cuántos años tienes? Diez. What was her name? Miguel’s head gestured to the bed of his truck, to the body of the boy’s mother. Esperanza. Miguel nodded his head and the boy looked to him, looked to Miguel for answers. And he had nothing to say. He wanted to tell the boy that time would ease his pain. Miguel wanted to echo all the things he had been told when his mother passed. All the half-truths and hopeful wishes that filled the silence. But instead he chose to stay silent. Instead, Miguel loaded the cassette tape one last time and let the music take the boy wherever he needed to go. To remember what it was like to hear his mother’s laugh. To remember how close he was to the sky when she sat him on her shoulders. To remember what life was like before the endless journey.
LAYERS OF SEEING
by Olivia Woollett Illustration by Chloe B. McAlpin
Elliot arrives at his usual spot, pleased that the morning sun still hangs low in the sky. The only people in the park at this hour are joggers, dog walkers, and the lucky businesspeople whose morning commutes allow them to walk to work. Later, the mothers with strollers will come, and the lunchers, and later still the schoolchildren, but for now the park is spacious and quiet, and the squirrels chatter to each other between the oak trees. He sets up his board and the two stools and pins some recent drawings to the top of the easel, visible to passersby, with the small sign advertising portraits and prices. Then he retires to his own stool, sips his coﬀee, and waits for the first customer. Being able to commission portraits from an artist used to be a status symbol—something only the very wealthy were able to access. Then photography blew the door open, and now everyone has a camera in their pocket, but there’s a kind of intimacy lost there—shutter-clicks are cold and instantaneous. They capture moments, but sitting for a portrait is a slower, more telling experience. People open up when they’re sitting across from Elliot. They bloom. It’s amazing 20
how much there is to see, even in a person’s tiniest gesture, when you look hard enough. A dazzling array of things that words—or at least, Elliot’s words—can never say. The whole history and truth of a person can be laid bare, it seems. It’s why he became an artist. He’s experimented with diﬀerent forms—pen and watercolor, oil paint, sculpture—but he always returns to pencil and paper, to drawing faces, to learning stories. The morning passes quickly. Elliot does a few quick sketches, and one longer one. Between people he doodles a father and son with the sailboat at the edge of the pond. He’s just putting in a shadow when he is interrupted. “Excuse me,” asks a woman’s voice. “Are you still taking portraits?” He aﬃrms that he is, only glancing up to notice that it’s an older woman, probably about his age, and then to smile absently and to oﬀer her the seat opposite him. He’s fumbling with his sketchbook, and it’s only after he turns to a clean page that he really looks at her. She is handsome, well-dressed. Her dark hair, threaded with strands of grey, is pulled back from her face. She smiles, and that’s when it all clicks into place. Elliot realizes that he’s seen this face before. He used to know it very well. It’s Laura. He can hardly believe it, it’s been so long. How diﬀerent she is, how completely the same. He can see the years since their last meeting on her face, but it’s absolutely her. He’s so startled that he can’t think of what to say— Perhaps that’s for the best, because Laura’s smile is that of a polite stranger; it betrays nothing, no hint of recognition. But: is there something around her eyes—expectancy? Bemusement? Maybe he’s imagining things. He reins in his surprise, and asks, in what he hopes at least resembles his 21
normal professional tone, what sort of portrait she’d like. He clips a piece of paper to his easel, and they’re ready to begin. He’d only gone to the café that day to see his friend Robert, who was working there at the time. It was on a quiet, dusty street, frequented mostly by academic types from the neighboring university. “Robert, who’s that girl in the corner?” Elliot had asked. Robert looked up from the counter to where Elliot was indicating. “I think her name’s Laura? She’s a regular.” “Does anybody ever come in with her?” She looked like she might be expecting someone—a drink and some papers lay on the table in front of her but her attention was directed outward, watching the people who came in. “No, I don’t think so. She comes in most afternoons, but she usually just sits back there with a book or something.” Robert nudged his arm from across the counter. “You should go talk to her.” So he stood up from his seat at the counter and approached the girl in the corner. “Hello,” he said, doing his best to sound friendly. “Do you mind if I join you?” She smiled and said no. “I’m Elliot.” “Laura,” she’d said back, and shook his hand. Pencil in hand, he considers the woman who now sits across from him. He can still see the girl from the café if he looks for her. There is the long thin nose, the indentations above her eyebrows. The shapes are all the same, even if the skin laid over them is more worn, and her eyes still seem to brim with the quiet intensity he’d been so taken with all those years ago. But does she recognize him? That’s the most pressing ques22
tion. He thinks of his grey hair, the deep lines in his face. The years have not been as kind to him, and he knows the aged artist who does portraits in the park bears little resemblance to the boy she knew. He is studying her face closely as he considers all this—he always prefers to start a drawing by just looking deeply at the subject and gaining all the initial impressions before diving in. Fortunate, because otherwise he might have missed the small twitch at one corner of her mouth: a real smile, not a stranger’s. His eyes catch hers for an instant, and that same glimmer of something is there—but then she looks away, back to looking past his left shoulder as she had been before. Alright then. He’ll let her keep her secrets. Laura, he reminds himself, had always been good at secrets. He returned to the café often, after that. He told Robert it was a good place for people watching. And it was true, there was always an interesting variety of people and faces. He’d usually sit at the counter with his sketchbook and keep Robert company while he worked. But he’d be lying if he said that was his sole motivation. “Who are you drawing now?” she’d asked, not even bothering with a greeting as she joined him. And she didn’t wait for an answer either, just pulled the piece of paper away while he tapped his pencil against his chin. There was a young mother in the corner who was bouncing her baby in her lap. Moving targets didn’t make for good drawing subjects, but he’d been attracted to the joy and life of them, how completely the woman was absorbed by her child, and vice versa. Their first conversation had been brief, just a stilted exchange of pleasantries, but everything had fallen out rather quickly after that, and now their meetings were almost a daily routine. She was a student at the local university, and 23
she liked to come there after her classes let out for the day. He’d shown her some of his drawings in between cups of coﬀee. She’d reciprocated by showing him some of her poetry. Their conversations ranged widely from art and politics to their families, and her long-winded complaints about her professors were the highlight of his week. She looked at the sketch. “It’s beautiful,” she said. But nothing Laura ever said meant just one thing. He waited for the other shoe to drop, the comment which might clarify what she was really thinking. At the very least, he waited for her to probe him once again about putting together a portfolio and applying to art schools, or finding more freelance work. He was drawing cartoons for a local paper at the time, and it wasn’t much to live on. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do all of those things, eventually. It just felt like he still had time—time enough to do and be all the things he wanted. And in the meantime he had steady work, and a shoebox apartment, and afternoons at the café. He was still waiting for Laura to finish her thought, but she just returned the piece of paper to him and said nothing. He is still looking at Laura. It’s diﬃcult to hold his memories at bay, to look at her without letting them distort what he sees. He wants to see what’s real, and not shy away from the truth. The truth that people age, that their bodies betray them, that people grow apart. He thinks about how everyone is temporary, beholden to time, how at any moment a person is just a cross-section of their real self, and who they really are isn’t contained in these fleeting slices of life, but in the convergence of all of those selves, and all of their time. Then he grasps his challenge— not to separate past and present, but to reconcile them. He picks up his pencil. He starts with the slope of her shoulders, 24
in long, smooth strokes. He roughs in the shape of her head, the planes of her face. He outlines her jacket in big, loose gestures. He tries not to think too much about what he’s doing at this stage. As he looks at her he disengages from the business of being a person looking at another person. He is a cartographer, mapping out the contours of her mouth, the concavity of her cheeks. He is an archaeologist, unearthing the former Laura. The world narrows down to the texture of her hair, the softness of the loose flesh gathered under her chin. He draws what he sees, but he allows the past to inform how he interprets it. One day, Laura didn’t come to the café at her usual time. Then a week passed, then another. After a month, Elliot had to ask Robert what had happened to her. Robert wasn’t sure, but he thought she’d moved away. In the middle of her studies? That didn’t seem likely. Robert agreed. He suggested perhaps she’d had to leave unexpectedly. But again, he couldn’t be sure. The only sure thing was that she was gone, seemingly without a trace. What could have happened to her? Twenty minutes tick by, then thirty, then he stops checking his watch, but Laura never fidgets or breaks her pose. She doesn’t smile at him again, but he feels as though she is speaking to him anyway, in a language without words or movement. The tilt of her neck, the fragile roundness of her eyes speak eloquently of the sadness that she has known since he last saw her. The straightness of her back and the set of her shoulders tell him that she overcame it. He takes care with her hands, with the fingers bunched together in her lap like a sleeping cat. One is wearing a wedding ring—he can tell from the ridges of skin around it that it’s been there a 25
long time. Look at my life, Elliot, she seems to be saying. It has been a good life, well-lived. The drawing is almost done. He darkens one pupil, and then the other. A few tiny strokes of shading under the jaw. He writes the date in the corner, and signs it, and the drawing is finished. The girl in the corner, the woman in the park, Laura looks back at him. She does not flinch from the past or the future. He unclips the page from the board, and Laura relaxes across from him. They both stand, and he oﬀers her the drawing. “No charge,” he says quietly. She takes it from him. A smile spreads across her face as she looks at it, and for an instant there is no sign that any time has passed at all. “Thank you,” is all she says, but he can hear what else she means behind it. “You’re welcome,” he says back. They shake hands warmly, which turns into a lingering hug, but finally they let go of each other, and she turns and walks away, carefully holding the drawing. He watches her go for a long time, until she crosses a street and disappears from sight. He breathes. Gone again. He stays at the park until evening. Twilight is descending as he packs up his materials to leave, but he feels a lightness in his heart and in his step as he walks home.
A PRAYER FOR LALO
by Andrew Siañez-De La O Illustration by Stephanie "Ricky" Richards
It was Easter Morning and we were sitting in the kitchen dyeing empty eggshells. We made eye contact and smiled the way mischievous cousins do. It was Shorty’s eighth birthday and we were too old to play the kids’ games but not old enough to drink with the adults, so we were put in charge of the eggs. While Lalo dipped the eggshells into cups of vinegar and food coloring, I filled the dry ones to the brim with confetti, covering the small hole in the shell with glue and paper. By the end of the night Abuelo’s backyard would be covered in brightly-colored flecks of shell and confetti. I turned to Lalo, laughing. “Abuelo’s going to be pissed.” “Whatever. It’s a holiday,” he laughed, “besides, the wind will clean it up.” His laugh was cut short by a long yawn. He apologized and got back to the eggs. “Late night?” He didn’t respond. Instead he held down an eggshell in a cup of red dye, letting it sit much longer than the others. “It’s nothing.” I didn’t ask again. Maybe I should have. I remember the way my mother scolded me for showing 28
up to the party in a Dallas Cowboys jersey. “Look at your cousin Lalo,” she said, running her hand through his short black hair. “Look at how handsome he is in his polo.” When she walked away I threatened to spill dye all over him and he threatened to fill my pants with confetti. We laughed. We brought the carton into the living room. That’s when we found our Abuelo watching the news. He was shaking. He wiped away tears and turned to us. “They found a body,” he said, “hanging from the bridge.” We watched as a body was lowered from the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry. My body went rigid, frozen by what I saw. Other family members wandered into the room, as if they were drawn to it. Tía Rosa sank into the couch as she started to pray. Tío Armando shook his head as he blocked the little ones from entering. Shorty, who had been sitting in the corner of the room the whole time, stared at the ground, softly crying. Plata o Plomo. Silver or Lead. In a deep crimson, those words were spray-painted onto the bridge. We didn’t find out who the man was, nor did we ask. He was removed and his case transferred to Juárez, where the man was likely from. We shook our heads and crossed ourselves. Our Tío said he must have pissed somebody oﬀ. Disrespected the wrong man. Whistled at the wrong woman. We said these things to maintain the illusion—lies we told ourselves when we saw the graﬃti tags in our neighborhood. To hide the gang violence on the rise—the boys being recruited to fight against la migra. “Someone wanted to send a message.” I turned to Lalo just in time to see him drop the carton of eggs. They crashed to the ground, pieces of shell and confetti spilling out across the tile. His mother’s eyes darted at him. 29
“Cabrón, what are you doing?” He stood there in silence, eyes fixed on the screen. I cut through the crowd of family members to get to him before his mother could and whispered in his ear, “Get Shorty outta here.” He jerked back when I touched him, sudden and sharp, like he was afraid. We made eye contact and for a second it felt like he didn’t recognize me, but that passed. His shoulders relaxed as he nodded. I bent down to clean up his mess, telling his mother it was fine, that I’d got it. She just shook her head and cursed under her breath, mierda. As I swept up the eggshells I watched as Lalo picked up Shorty. Both of them were shaking but he hid it in the way he carried him, bouncing Shorty with each step as they made their way into the backyard. Our Abuelo shut oﬀ the TV and let the silence force everyone to get back to the party. He helped Tía Rosa to her feet, letting her settle into his arms. I heard her whisper something to him, “It’s getting worse. Those boys, they—” Abuelo shushed her as he looked at me. She went quiet, crossed herself one more time, and left the room. I was alone on my knees in the living room. When I finished cleaning I left to join Lalo in the backyard. By the time I caught up to him, he was already putting on Abuelo’s old work gloves. Shorty wanted a Hulk Hogan piñata and, sure enough, it sat in the sun in all its Hulkmania glory. Abuelo handed me a pair of gardening gloves and a rope. Shorty flexed and pounded his fists as Lalo and I pulled the piñata into the air. I was on Abuelo’s shed while he was on the roof of the house. It was hot but we wouldn’t be up there long, the kids below us would make sure of that. We laughed at Shorty, who was trying to do his best Hulkster impression, yelling, “I fear no man, no beast or evil, brother,” tinged with his 30
Mexican accent. I laughed at him, goading him on as I flexed from the shed. I turned to Lalo, hoping he’d be doing the same, but he wasn’t even paying attention to us. He was looking down at the rope in his hands as he slowly took the slack. I was about to say something when the kids started cheering “dale, dale, dale” as Shorty put on a blindfold. We steadied ourselves on the roofs as we both rose to our feet, lifting the piñata into the air. People were cheering and Shorty’s smile got wider with every swing. The longer we went, the more I felt like I was taking more of the piñata’s weight. I looked up toward Lalo and saw him staring down at the swinging papier-mâché Hulk Hogan. Something clicked inside him, it seemed. He almost slipped as we lifted the wrestler into the air, just out of the reach of Shorty’s bat. Each kick of the piñata’s weight almost pulled him oﬀ the roof. I looked at Lalo, trying to get his attention. “Oye, Lalo, ¿qué pasa?” He looked at me for a moment, his eyes hovered around mine, never making full contact, until he looked up towards the sky, right into the sun. I watched as he let the rope slide out from between the worn palms of Abuelo’s old work gloves. I overhauled the piñata just in time to avoid hitting Shorty. The birthday boy was blindfolded: he didn’t see how close the Hulkster was to knocking him over, but everyone else did. Abuelo looked up at Lalo and asked him to come down. He let Shorty break the piñata on the ground, stepping aside when it burst open and children ran toward it for candy. Lalo rubbed Shorty’s head, apologizing to the little boy who tore into a duvalín, his small fingers covered with the sweet candy. I caught Lalo staring at the piñata lying broken in the shade of Abuelo’s shed. I lifted the Hulkster’s legs and 31
shook loose the rest of the candy. Lalo looked sick as I did it. Shorty, with candy wiped all over his nice dress shirt, took Lalo by the hand and walked him towards the new cartons of confetti eggs that his mother had brought out. Lalo picked Shorty up and sat him on the table, making fun of the way Shorty squinted even though he did the same thing. He was embarrassed about needing glasses and never told his Ma. Instead he’d hide his squinting in the way he slouched and shrugged and furled his eyebrows. He tried to look tough like the other esés, the ones he’d play pick-up ball with in the park. The ones he never took me to meet. The ones who walked through the neighborhood at night. “Shorty,” Lalo said, “do you know what these are called?” The birthday boy shook his head as Lalo stopped his small hand from grabbing at the nearest carton. “They’re called cascarónes, and when you break them on someone’s head, they’re supposed to bring good luck.” As he said this, he reached around behind Shorty, a small red egg cupped in his hands. Shorty smiled that gap-toothed grin right as Lalo brought the egg down on his head, confetti spilling everywhere. Shorty laughed, wiping confetti oﬀ of his face. Lalo laughed too, until he saw the deep crimson eggshells in Shorty’s hair. Lalo took a small step away from Shorty, then another, and another. I watched as he left Shorty on the table and walked through the backyard’s gate, leaving the party. I chased after him, calling out to him, wanting him to come back. He kept walking down the street, tearing oﬀ his polo. I caught a glimpse of a bandage on his right shoulder before he turned a corner and disappeared. Abuelo walked up behind me. He put his arms around my shoulder and ushered me back to the party. There was something about the way he did it. The certainty in his walk. The way his eyes seemed to 32
be searching for something not in front of him but inside him. Abuelo's grip tightened on my shoulder. “Give him time.” Father Carlos found Lalo that night, praying at the steps of San Ignacio. He wouldn’t talk. Father said he kept his head down, as if he was afraid. So he called me and I came running. I tried to get Lalo to go inside, to get out of the cold, to join us in the Easter Vigil, but he wouldn’t move. I placed my hand on his shoulder, and I saw the way he looked at the rosary I had wrapped in my fingers from prayer. I handed it to him, reminding him that it was the one our grandmother gave us when we were young, before she passed, that he had one just like it somewhere. I watched as he let his fingers explore the rosary, his rough fingertips feeling the wooden beads, turning it over in his hands. He looked up at me, sweat and worry dripping down his face. He asked me how it went. I could see him struggling to remember and how that scared him. “You start with the sign of the cross.” I showed him, like a child, slow and thoughtful, letting my right hand slowly move from my head to my stomach then to both of my shoulders. I heard him mumble something, “spectacles and testicles, wallet and watch,” as he went through the same motions, his hand heavy as it hung over his chest. “Then you say a prayer.” He opened his mouth, meaning to say something, wanting something to come out, but nothing did. Instead, soft creaks, like wood giving out after years of pressure, escaped his mouth. It was the sound I imagine the earth makes when it dries in the heat. I knelt down next to him and wrapped my arm around his shoulders, pulling him in close. He let his head drop as he began to cry. He pulled the rosary, held 33
tightly in both hands, up to his face, tears dripping down the cross. I began to pray for him. The lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. I could see Lalo’s dry lips repeating, trailing after every word I said, only stopping to wipe tears that collected on his thin mustache. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. At this he looked towards the sky, the moonlight catching the wet streaks all along his face as it trailed through his short, dark stubble. Even though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Thy rod and thy staﬀ they comfort me I looked him in the eyes as I ran my hand through his short black hair and finally asked him. “Did you—” “Yes.” “Who was he?” “I don’t know.” “Then why?” I saw his chest rise as he took in the cold night air. I could hear it as he let it go; it sounded rough and coarse in his throat. His thumb rubbed the small figure of Jesus on the rosaries’ cross as he brought it to his lips. “They said I had to prove myself. To earn my place.” Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 34
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen. We knelt in front of the church until he worked up the courage to stand. He gave me his weight because he was exhausted and I could see it in his eyes. I helped him to his feet and walked him into the church, through the steady stream of exiting viejitas. Father Carlos was performing the Holy Eucharist, the final part of the Easter Vigil. It wasn’t until I sat Lalo down in the final pews that I noticed the bandage on his shoulder. “It’s a tattoo isn’t it?” He tried to turn away, tried to hide it but he knew it was too late. He nodded and I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to ask him what it was. I wanted to know what they decided to brand him with, what he had earned, but that scared me. So, instead, I stood and walked towards the holy water while he sat at the pews, searching for some sort of answer in the worn pages of a hymnal. He was looking at the crowd in front of us, huddled masses rising from the pews as they made their way to the church altar, heads bowed, waiting to receive the Eucharist. Little old ladies prayed into their palms. Children tugged at their mother’s dresses, wanting to go home. Fathers rubbed their palms, not sure what to do with their hands. Without a word, Lalo stood to join them. I watched as he walked towards the crowd, slow and careful, almost scared. He placed his hand on the back of the old man at the end of the line. The man must have recognized the pain in the boy’s eyes because when he turned to see Lalo he stepped aside, urging him to take his place. He asked his wife to do the same. The young couple in front of them took notice and let Lalo pass. I sat there watching from the back of the church as one after another everyone in line stepped out of his way, a silent understanding filled the church. It 35
grew quiet when he made it to the front of the line, the body of Jesus Christ towering above him. He slowly walked up the granite steps, each foot fall echoing through the church until he came to the altar, the same place where years ago he had been baptized as a child. Lalo stood there looking up at Father Carlos dressed in white robes, and gently opened his mouth. Father smiled and placed the small piece of bread on his tongue. I could see Lalo’s teeth clench down on it as he tried to fight back the tears. He dropped to his knees and, without a word, Farther Carlos and the procession began to place their hands on him, holding Lalo. Through gritted teeth and tears, Lalo thanked him. “Gracias, Padre.” I dropped to my knees, letting them sink into the cushions between the pews. I held my hands together and leaned over the pew in front of me, my head down. We all prayed. Their hands covered the “915” etched into his shoulder, a reminder of what he did that he’d carry around for the rest of his life. The next day, Lalo was gone. Praying had done nothing to change the boy’s mind. Did nothing to keep him in the safety of his home, in the arms of his family. Early that morning, before the sun rose, Lalo spray-painted his goodbye onto the side of their home, “Sangre Mía,” written in a deep crimson paint that bled as it dried.
by Tylah Silva Illustration by Erini Katopodis
Of course, an untimely death is always the most tragic. I of all people would know. The fact that our neighbor’s son was so young made it all the more devastating to the mother. However, there’s a time and place for such grief, and three months later on my front lawn is not one of them. Hindus treat death diﬀerently. My son died unexpectedly as well, so I didn’t have the time to ready Kishen for his passing as my husband Hari and I would have liked. The preparations afterwards, however, happened without pause; within twenty-four hours of his passing, we drove down to Yale, cleansed the body, had it cremated, and were on the plane for Bangladesh to spread the ashes. For thirteen days we mourned in my sister’s home. We received guests, food, condolences. Then we were back to Schenectady. We mourned him again a year later. Then the one after that. For three years, we did this. It was how things were done. How they were supposed to be done: timely, respectable, and quiet. The passing of Aileen Coleman’s son, however, was not quiet and she refused to let us forget it. From the minute he died, PJ Coleman was loud. At three in the morning, the sound of tires screeching along the pavement woke us. We 38
live on a narrow road, right on the corner of a wide turn, so we always heard kids nearly missing our fence. Often times they’d actually hit it. Kishen would repair the damages. After his passing we just let it stay broken, so when I heard the car’s steel crunching, I shot up in bed. Hari merely rolled over, and we exchanged a brief glance. He told me to go back to sleep, that it must be another minor accident on someone else’s fence—not our business. Three months later, I laughed at the thought. If only it were actually someone else’s fence. As I lay in bed for the next twenty minutes, sleep did not find me. When the blue and red lights flashed through our curtains, I was awake to see them. I tried waking Hari before I stepped onto our front steps to watch. In the front yard, five feet from what was the fence, stood a thick willow tree. The thing had overrun the front yard over the years. I had told Hari to call someone to cut it down, but it would cost five hundred dollars and he didn’t want to pay that much for something he could do himself. He never would, though. I knew he planned on abandoning that willow and this house before making it leave first. I never imagined anyone would drive straight into it, but even if they had, I’d hoped they’d take the thing down with them. The Camry’s front end wrapped around the trunk and only took oﬀ a layer of bark. It was dark, but I could still see two bodies on stretchers, one being wheeled away to an ambulance, the other in a body bag. The whole neighborhood was out on their lawns. The car was there for hours, and I had to wake Hari to make the tow company hurry. In the morning, the news crews were there before I could get Hari out the door to work. He worked at a small architecture firm designing oﬃce buildings that look like small shoeboxes; a drastic change from the sketches of glass houses he drew before we left India. His firm was a 39
half hour's drive, and he was already running late when they ambushed him at his car. Hari had to bat them away with his briefcase. Two days later people started gathering around the willow with balloons, pictures, stuﬀed animals, and candles. No one asked me if they could convene on my lawn. No one even came to the door. I watched them from behind my curtains while Hari ate his vegetable korma on the couch. I asked him if I should oﬀer them tea. He said white people drink coﬀee in this country. I didn’t have any coﬀee. I asked him what white people eat. He brushed the curry from his mustache and said coleslaw. I made onion pakoda, but when I stepped out the front door, there were too many people on the lawn for me to satisfy everyone. We were the only Indians in the neighborhood—probably the entire county—so my sudden presence drew a few leering looks. When Kishen passed we never got visitors. Because of that I was hesitant on how to approach anyone. From what I’d seen on TV there was a lot of crying when Americans died. I wasn’t sure if there was a memorial in the spot where Kishen was hit by that drunk driver, but the college did invite us to the graduation ceremony. Kishen was getting an honorary degree. We didn’t go. It wasn’t like he had any use for it now. I walked around awkwardly for a while, but found comfort when I realized the brunt of the attention was drawn to Aileen Coleman. She sobbed into a news microphone. Such a blatant display of emotion, she made. A blubbering mess. But when I was confronted by neighbors whose names I never knew, I nodded along and said “Yes, tragic. Oh, awful.” These pale women wreaked of hairspray and chemical perfumes. I was certain they didn’t know my name either. However, when they realized it was my lawn they were 40
standing on, a small group of them encircled me in conversation. The sudden responsiveness made me dizzy, but I stayed. Terrible, just terrible, they said. I can’t imagine how she feels. He has an infant son, you know. I heard the mother is on drugs. He was so young. About twenty years old. Had his life ahead of him. Tragic. Did you hear he was high that night? Broke into the McLeay’s then took oﬀ in that car. Going about seventy. The driver survived. Can you imagine? He’s lucky. But the whole thing is so sad. Do you think Aileen will get custody? I bet she wishes she was dead—I know I would. They picked oﬀ my plate—thanked me for the “spicy onion rings.” They asked me what I saw that night. Did I hear when it happened? Did I see the body? Who’s going to pay to get the lawn fixed? Am I going to the funeral? I wasn’t sure who was going to take care of the lawn. God knows Hari wouldn’t. Every now and then our next-door neighbor took pity and drove over with his mower. For the next five days, I contemplated going to the funeral too. Of course I did. I was not so callous that I would not consider it. It was my tree PJ Coleman crashed into—though a drug-fueled burglary could objectively be to blame for his demise. However, I took it upon myself to make the process easier for Aileen, as my sister did for me. Anything I could do to ease her out of this sobbing on my front steps and into the stage of sober acceptance, I would do it. I went to the library the day of the funeral to drop oﬀ books of knitting patterns, but before I left I looked on the internet for American funeral customs. I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the Salvation Army for a black pant suit. When I got home I dressed and hesitated before putting on my black sari. When I stepped out into the living room, I noticed Hari leaving Kishen’s room. He looked up startled 41
as if I had caught him in a secret. His gaze didn’t meet my eyes, and I felt the shame radiate oﬀ him as he slunk towards the couch. I questioned my own satisfaction at seeing him so sheepish, as if I was reveling in the fact that I had caught him. In reality, I’d seen him in the same situation before; leaving our son’s room when he thought I was in the shower or at the grocery store. I had no idea why he was in there, and before I could linger on the thought, I pushed it away. Hari sat on the couch and buried his head in the newspaper. I stood before him, my purse tightly clutched in front of me. I cleared my throat and he barely glanced up. I told him we were going to PJ’s funeral. He gave me a litany of excuses: You know I can’t talk to people, Maya. I have a stomach ache. It was that fish moolee you made. Please don’t make me go. I would have strangled him if death weren’t catching like a cold. I knew, even as I drove away, that the minute I was halfway there he’d be tugging on his jacket, readying himself to leave. He usually called it “extra work at the oﬃce,” or “going to play golf with some friends.” Pheh. What friends? He and I had lived here for twenty years, ever since Kishen was a twinkle in his eye—never had I seen one of his friends. A few months after his son dies and all of a sudden he wanted to hang out with “friends?” Half our neighbors thought we were terrorists. The other half didn’t think we spoke a lick of English, so we never grew too close to anyone. The house was meant to be temporary anyways, so there was no point; Kishen promised us he would design us our own home when he graduated. The Shah Jahan to my Taj Mahal. Hari would never design me a home. He wanted us to move into one of those “active adult communities” where there were tennis courts and weekly ice cream socials. He had the idea a year or so after Kishen died, but I was three 42
years too young to be thrown into a fifty-five and older community. Besides, I’d never move in with Hari when I suspected him of cheating. I couldn’t do much of anything when I stopped trusting him. In his youth Hari wore leather and rode around on a red moped. My mother was horrified by him. However, with my father gone, we could not aﬀord two dowries for me and my elder sister, and Hari’s family was willing to marry us for free, marry me to this wild boy without a job and a silly dream of designing large towers in America. I thought Hari was the most mysterious man I’d ever seen with his thicket of black hair and his weathered looks—an Indian Tom Selleck. In recent years Hari had been balding, much to his denial. His face could no longer pass for rugged and just looked haggard. I tried to picture the kind of woman who would be enchanted with him. She wouldn’t be a bombshell, though she’d be white. Brown men went gaga for white women. She’d be soft with an ample bosom, so when Hari wanted to cry about how much he misses his family and how mean his wife is, she’d let him bury his face as she rubbed his back. But that all felt too easy. How would they meet? Where did she work? Did she have a family too? What about him attracted her? When the idea became unfathomable, I followed him. It turned out he was only half lying to me. He was playing golf—alone. He’d hit balls oﬀ a small mat into a large field for an hour. A waste of time. Then he cleaned his clubs, stashed them in the trunk of his car, and bought himself a pistachio ice cream. Sometimes it was mint chocolate chip. Mostly pistachio. I couldn’t believe it. Of all the asinine things he could be sneaking oﬀ to do, he was playing golf and eating ice cream. I never got ice cream. For fifteen years, I proofread textbooks until my eyes cramped, cooked him dinner, and raised our son. I moved to this country for him. 43
The next day, I quit my job and never said anything to Hari about what I saw. I remember the day he realized I’d stopped working. Maybe he saw that the dinner I’d made for the two of us was just a little too elaborate, or maybe he saw all the knitted placemats on every surface. It’d taken that much time for me to learn a new skill and perfect it until he noticed. That was what hurt the most. There was shock in his eyes, but he still didn’t say anything about it. Just “Good dinner, Maya.” Sometimes I wished he were cheating on me. Somehow that felt like less of a betrayal. The funeral home was wall to wall with people. Journalists were outside talking into microphones and cameras, and inside it was just as chaotic. It was what Americans called a “closed casket wake,” but everyone still hovered far from the coﬀer as if we were viewing PJ fresh from his accident in all his gore. Kishen, on the other hand, was cremated, but I got to see the body and exactly what a car crash does to it.. The men at the crematory didn’t want me near him; they suggested that Hari do it instead. Both of us needed to cleanse the body, though. I brought the purified water and held it with both hands, close to my stomach, as we entered the morgue. Hari brought a pair of fresh, white clothes as our religion suggested. The funeral workers did what they could to cover Kishen’s injuries with make-up, but it was washed away when I started the cleansing on his face. His jaw slanted in an awkward manner, and bloated bruises covered his cheeks. As I washed his face, water droplets caught in his eyelashes. I thought about how they brushed against his cheeks as he slept; how sometimes he would sweep an eyelash from my skin and blow it away. “Make a wish, Ma,” he’d say. 44
Then I shook the thought from my conscious and tried to focus on preparing the body. But my mind wondered to the few hours before he died: Maybe when he left that party he was sober like the good boy I raised. Maybe when he left he was dialing my phone number. Maybe he was just calling to say hello, because when someone oﬀered him a drink, he thought of me and felt guilty. Maybe when he crossed the street he was looking down at his phone, not down some girl’s shirt. Maybe when the driver hit him, it was instant. Maybe he didn’t feel any pain. I wondered now if Aileen thought about the same. Perhaps PJ didn’t know where he was going that night. Perhaps his friend was the villain who planned to steal and terrorize that night, and PJ was just along for the ride. I watched her closely at the funeral home, wondering. She sat closest to the casket and openly wailed in front of everyone. Her husband, Paul, stood rigid behind her, his face a mask. He didn’t want to be there, I know. Men are terrible with pain. People came up and held hands with her while she cried into their shoulders. Everyone was uncomfortable, including me. I hovered by the doorway. Every few minutes one of my neighbors came by to make comments and asked more questions about the accident. I bored them, though. I had nothing to oﬀer. I picked at a refreshment table full of coﬀee and bagels—not coleslaw. I tried to gravitate towards Aileen, though I wasn’t sure if she even knew me. I didn’t know what to say to her anyway. The only realistic scenario I could think of was her crying in my arms, a thought that was less than comforting to my nerves. I could try to oﬀer her words of comfort: you’ll get through this. It gets better. He’ll be born again in a greater life as a greater being. It’s hard, but the younger they are, the 45
closer they are to being free from this cycle. Moksha. He’ll know peace. Though unspoken, the words tasted like ashes on my tongue—partly because they weren’t true and partly because they weren’t mine. They were my sister’s. I left the parlor room and squeezed myself into a tiny bathroom. I pulled PJ’s obituary page from my purse and propped it on the back of the sink. I grabbed my incense, lit it, and put it next to the page. I took out my prayer beads next and brushed them to my lips. I repeated the mrityunjaya mantra for each bead: “Om Try-Ambakam Yajaamahe, Sugandhim Pusstti-Vardhanam, Urvaarukam-Iva, Bandhanaan, Mrtyor-Mukssiiya Maa-Amrtaat.” Om, We Worship the Three-Eyed One, Who is Fragrant and Who Nourishes all beings. May He sever our Bondage of Samsara, as easily as the Cucumber severed from the bondage of its Creeper, And thus Liberate us from the Fear of Death, by making us realize that we are never separated from our Immortal Nature. Easily, I thought. There’s nothing easy about it. A day after the funeral, the press was gone. I still saw Aileen on my lawn, but she had stopped crying. Tears permanently stained her cheeks, but her face was no longer contorted in suﬀering. I believed my mantra worked; she was on the road to acceptance. I thought that perhaps she’d find her peace with this eventually. Shiva would give her the clarity rarely aﬀorded to so many. I should have known better, though. Three weeks after the funeral, there was a news report on the television that PJ’s family was pressing charges against the driver of the accident, Chris Hobbs, for manslaughter. Once again people 46
returned to my yard—this time with signs calling for Chris Hobbs’ blood. Over the next week Aileen was everywhere, on the television, in the paper, on my front lawn. She was sobbing again. I went to the store to buy bagels and coﬀee this time. I got decaf. There was no need to add fuel to this fire. The cashier rang me up and looked at me sideways, said he recognized me from the paper. It was the first time I had heard of it, but right there in the news rack, on the front page was my willow tree. Below that was another picture of Hari oﬀ to work, and next to that a picture of me picking trash oﬀ the lawn. It was an article on our home, how dangerous our road is. It was nothing new. There had been a petition to put up signage on the road for years. Never had my picture been attached to this, though. I was mortified. I grabbed every paper from every register. I looked like a mad woman, and I was more than certain everyone was staring. Somewhere I heard a scream of rage, and I was almost sure it was coming from me. It wasn’t. It was coming from Aileen. My arms full of newspapers, I hurried towards the source of the sound. A group of people were crowded around the fifth aisle. Aileen was grabbing at boxes of cereal and tossing them at Chris Hobbs’ mother. Mrs. Hobbs covered her head as Cheerios exploded everywhere. Aileen was shouting “Bitch!” and “Your son’s a murderer!” over and over—even when her husband Paul grabbed her from behind and pinned her arms down. My blood was pounding in my ears. How could she do this? She was supposed to be better than this. I prayed for it—for her. Shiva was supposed to allow her to free herself from this. I wanted to grab her myself, ask her why she can’t just let this be done with. At least allow me that one reprieve. After another month, a hum of low-grade irritation and 47
apprehension grew over the subject of Aileen. She walked around town in the same hooded sweatshirt, a giant airbrush portrait of PJ on the back. No one wanted anything to do with her. Sometimes I saw people about to pull into the parking lot of a pharmacy or a package store only to catch sight of her SUV and the giant applique on the back, eulogizing her son. They slammed on their brakes and drove away. I did the same. The trial was televised on the local station. It dragged on so achingly slow, and the only people left on my lawn were Aileen and the crazies asking for Chris’s head. I didn’t oﬀer them coﬀee. I couldn’t even walk outside without being accosted, signs and petitions waved in my face. They were no guests of mine. I didn’t watch the trial on television. I was forced to watch that mess outside my window, never mind welcome it in my home. However, when I stepped into my living room on a Wednesday afternoon, I realized its permanence. I had a basket of yarn and needles under one arm, a cup of tea and phone clutched in my hands. After a new episode of Saath Nibhaana Saathiya, I’d be expecting my weekly call from my sister to talk about the latest episode. It was one of those silly dramas about two very diﬀerent women forced into each other’s lives after a family marriage. However, when I walked into the living room, Hari was there. He was sitting in the recliner with a sporting goods magazine in his hands, tennis on the television. I stopped mid-step. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have a meeting?” Maybe Hari knew what I mean by “meeting,” but if he did he didn’t show any shame. “I can’t get out of the drive way,” he said. “Can’t cross the picket line.” “Oh,” I said. I shifted from foot to foot. I tried to adjust 48
the grip on my teacup, but any way I grasped it, it was still searing in my hand. I grumbled and sat down at the sofa. “You could mow the lawn. There aren’t that many of them out there today.” “Or we could watch a movie together,” he said. “What do you want? Rudy?” Neither of us could remember the last time we saw a movie together, but surely he could remember me falling asleep during Rudy. That was always his and Kishen’s movie anyways. I wanted to refuse in the most creative and cutting way I could imagine, but then he put down his magazine and looked at me. A startled look flashed across his face. He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward as if inspecting me. “You got fat.” He realized his mistake the moment I gasped. I slammed my teacup down on the coﬀee table, the hot liquid sloshing over the rim and burning my skin. I turned the pain and rage towards him. Through gritted teeth I said, “Go mow the lawn. Now.” He didn’t have the audacity to look at me. I stood and crossed my arms, watching him gather his jacket and hat. I briefly glanced outside. The numbers had certainly dwindled, and they were closer to the street than before. More importantly they were farther from the willow. I stopped Hari at the front door and put a hand on his shoulder. He looked at me hopefully. “Try to get as close to the edges as you can,” I said and watched his brow furrow. “You know, all the edges. Even near the bushes. And the mulch. And the tree…” Realization shone in his eyes. “Maya! I am not mowing over that poor boy’s memorial!” I snatched my hand back from his shoulder. “It’s been there for months! How much longer are we going to live 49
like this?” “Well, you can’t just expect me to obliterate the problem.” “We have to do something.” “Let’s move!” He threw up his hands. “The roof leaks. I always have to drive so far to work. The damn roots from that tree are even starting to break through our pipes. This doesn’t have to be our problem anymore.” “You didn’t tell me there were any plumbing problems.” I tried to keep my voice level despite the quiet storm brewing in my chest. “I’ve been trying to tell you. You don’t listen. And you don’t want to see for yourself. You act blind and deaf even when everything around you is falling apart. I could cut your leg oﬀ and you’d put a Band-Aid over it and call it a rash.” I turned away from him, not sure why I entertained him for a moment. “Get it done. I’ll make lunch.” I slapped together food in a flurry of bread and meat. My mind fixated on this old man’s sheer boldness to say I got fat. Of course, I did. He got to lose his hair and eat ice cream, I got to have an extra serving of whatever I damn well pleased. For the past few years, he never gave his input for my life and I never gave mine for his. We didn’t need to start. When I finished making lunch I watched Hari from the front window. I saw him eye the memorial. He wanted to be done with this as much as I did. He got closer and closer. The blades of his push mower whirred loudly, the sound sending vibrations through my chest. The steady feeling was interrupted by a sharp ting, then glass breaking. My body shot closer to the window. Had he actually done it? Hari stopped the mower, his movements rigid. He bent over before the memorial, and grabbed for something. The trunk of the tree obstructed most of my view, and I struggled to crane my neck. From my periphery, I saw Aileen drop a 50
sign. She rushed over to Hari. He had a picture frame in his hand and flipped it over. There was a small rock stuck inside the glass, fractured lines blurring PJ’s features. The coward ran over a stone. Nothing more. He handed the frame to Aileen and she took it. They exchanged words, Hari’s face worried and his lips constantly moving. Aileen put a hand on his arm and he stopped. Tears rolled down her cheeks. I felt only the tiniest bit of sympathy for Hari. Feelings—especially grief—made him uncomfortable. Which is why I was surprised when he hugged her. He let go, reached for something in his back pocket. When I saw him pull out his money clip (to pay for the broken frame, I assumed) I wanted to rush out the door and snatch it from him. But Aileen waved his hand away. He nodded, and after a few words, he was walking back to the house. He came through the front door and closed it after him. He was still for a moment, kept his head down. He pulled his jacket oﬀ, then looked at me. “I’m sorry,” he said. Then he rushed down the hallway. I didn’t see him for the rest of the day. I wasn’t moving out of my house. Hari certainly wasn’t going to do anything about it, either. So, I decided to meet with Aileen face to face. I drove to her home with a casserole plate. I made another visit the day before to the library to research a suitable recipe as well as what Christians say in times of grief. I got a lot about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but nothing on how to tell someone to move on—or at least nothing that sounded like something that would convince me. Her lawn was in far worse shape than mine. The grass was midway up my calves, and rusted lawn furniture and children’s toys were scattered everywhere. The house could 51
have used a good paint job too. I knocked on the door twice, then after a long pause I knocked again. Aileen finally answered the door. She seemed lethargic, and I apologized for waking her up even though we were well into the afternoon. She didn’t seem to recognize me, and I explained that I was Hari’s wife—she met him a few days ago on our lawn. She ran her fingers through stringy hair, then waved me in. I tried to follow close behind, but the pungent odor of cigarette smoke coming from her sweatshirt had me taking a step back. The inside of the home was just as bad as it was outside. Grime clung to her wood floors and various objects were scattered about the home. A half-eaten casserole with a spoon and cigarette butts sticking out of it was on the coﬀee table along with dozens of newspapers. The couch looked like it had been made into a makeshift bed; a thin fleece blanket was draped over the back and a caseless pillow propped against the armrest. On the floor a cat slept on top of a pizza box. The only thing in her living room that resembled care was the illuminated gun case in the corner. It appeared Aileen had swapped out the guns for photos of her son. I found the kitchen without Aileen’s help. This time she followed behind me, hurrying to pick up empty glass bottles and apologizing. As I put the casserole in the oven, I told her not to worry—I’d make dinner—then pushed her into the living room. When she tried to object, I pretended I didn’t understand English that well. It worked. I didn’t plan on making dinner or cleaning her kitchen, but I was startled by the mess. I knew she was doing badly, but this was beyond anything I imagined. Broken bottles and dirty dishes in the sink, curdled milk left out. Shameful. When the casserole finished, I put it on a clean plate for 52
her, but when I entered the living room, she was at the gun case. The glass door was propped open. Aileen caressed a thumb over a photo of PJ holding a baby. She explained to me that it was her grandson. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they? His name’s Aaron. After my father. I’m expecting him this weekend.” From the state of things, I doubted it. I placed the plate on the coﬀee table and cleared the old casserole into a trash bag in the corner. “And Paul? Your husband, yes? Is he coming home soon?” “No.” She stuck the picture back in the case, and grabbed a ceramic figurine of a woman in blue holding a small baby from the top shelf. There was still a box of shotgun shells next to it. She kissed the small woman on the head. She held it to her chest and looked at me. “Your husband told me what happened to your son. He’s a nice man, but they never really understand it like us. We love them, but our children… there’s only one true, pure love in this world, and that’ll always be your child. Paul didn’t get that.” The power of her words swelled within me so strong that when they washed out, a deep hollow space was left behind. I thought about Hari and how he sank to the floor when he got the phone call of his son’s death, how he sobbed into my back as he lay next to me in our bed. I remembered so clearly how he looked at me for months after with so much pity and unbridled love that it made my stomach twist in knots. But then he didn’t look at me. He worked later. Went golfing. Ate ice cream. Because I never looked back, and he was alone. Still, he came home every night—to me. Aileen’s words were true. I could hear that, but they were only true about Paul, not Hari. Suddenly a sour guilt filled that space in my stomach. I saw the two of us reflected in the glass case, so diﬀer53
ent in more ways than just hues of our skin. Yet there was something so strikingly similar between us. I imagined if she had been in my life before all this. I imagined PJ and Kishen alive. Kishen who studied all his life and had a drive that often scared me—made me fear for the places in the world he imagined to travel away from me. Kishen who even until the day he left was afraid of the dark but wouldn’t admit it. He wasn’t ready. Then there was PJ. Not yet ready either, but threw everything away. Instead of Kishen leaving a college party, I imagined him in the front yard fixing our fence. I still saw the drunk driver, but this time it was PJ’s Camry that came around the corner. I hated him. My son was young; he didn’t do anything for this to happen. He was a good boy. But then I saw Aileen next to me in our reflections. We didn’t do anything either, and there was nothing we could do about it anymore. Her immense grief and fighting were all she had left. What was there for me? Before I left I made sure Aileen ate. She talked to me about PJ and I listened. After a while she got quiet and fell asleep on the couch. I left my phone number behind on a sticky note by the door. When I got home I didn’t see Hari. Evening had settled in and the living room was shrouded in darkness. I made my way down the hallway, but I didn’t turn any lights on. My fingers gently caressed the knob of Kishen’s bedroom door. I creaked the door open, expecting someone from inside to shout at me, ask me to knock first. My breaths were shallow but I still sucked in a fair amount of stale air and dust. It burned in my lungs and made my eyes water. I shuﬄed gently towards his bed and sat on the edge, careful not to disturb the top blanket too much. I nestled my purse in my lap and folded my hands on top. All his things 54
were in order, just as he left them when he left for junior year of college. Books on skyscrapers and churches were stacked neatly on his desk. A fine coat of dust covered his TV and video games. On a high shelf was a blue bunny stuﬀed into a corner—the same blue bunny he had as a baby in the same room he was raised in. A gnawing ache settled deeper in my chest, though it had had it its roots there for years. I felt it grasp my heart and threaten to splinter and blast through my sternum. My lower lip quivered and I felt the first tear roll down my cheek. I didn’t make a sound though; didn’t want to give sound to my grief—the same grief that had always been there. Yes, I knew that now. I was vaguely aware when the hallway light turned on. I swiped at my tear-streaked face, but they kept coming. I didn’t look at Hari when I said, “How long have you been there?” “A long time,” he whispered. “I didn’t notice.” This somehow came out sounding like an apology. “That’s okay.” He walked over to me with less reverence than I’d had coming into the bedroom. I still felt the anguish in his movement, however. How many times had he been in here alone? He knelt in front of me, and looked up expectantly. I put my purse on the floor, and he rested his head in my lap. I put one hand on the back of his head, the other rubbing deep, slow circles into his back. “Are you sure you want to hang out with this fat, callous, old woman?” I said. “I never called you old.” “You never called me callous, either.” “It was implied.” 55
“I am who I am.” “I know.” “Do you?” I lifted his chin to look at me—really look at me. “I’m not moving from this house. This is my home… This was our son’s home, and I don’t want to leave it. If you want to go, I won’t stop you.” He stood, a little shaky at first, his knees creaking with old age. “Come with me. I want to show you something.” “You’re not changing my mind.” But he insisted. I followed him out of the bedroom, closed the door with tiniest click. He took me to the front door and motioned for me to step outside. I shouldered my purse and hugged it to my body as I took the first step. He led me out past the willow tree. I skirted around it. There were no protestors out, but I respected the sanctity of the area. “There,” he whispered. “I did that while you were gone.” He took me to the fence. Our white picket fence that had once lain in splinters was now partially put together. It wasn’t perfect; the pieces hadn’t been painted yet, some sections were longer than the other, and the posts could have used some more sanding. I took it all in, though: our wonky fence, the man who made it possible, the willow tree whose roots were invading our plumbing, and the small house that was never meant to be home. It was no Taj. Nothing like how Kishen would have done, but I realized he had done enough work to make it something more. I imagined my son as the thirteen-year-old boy who read books on carpentry by the foot of our willow tree. Hari had his toolbox, showing Kishen what tools are okay to use and which are for when he’s older. Kishen listened intently, so eager to learn, to create. I could see the spark in his eye that told me how hungry he was for more than what this little house in this little town could oﬀer him—more than I could 56
ever give him. But I knew he could have taken it for himself one day, if only heâ€™d never been taken away so suddenly and so senselessly. I gripped the strap of my purse with one hand, pulling it close to my body. With my other hand, I ran my fingertips against the rough grain of the fence. No, not taken. He never left.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS ANDREW SIAĂ‘EZ-DE LA O is a Chicano artist from
El Paso, Texas. He is an actor, writer, and scenic designer. He would like to thank his parents and friends for their continued support.
TYLAH SILVA (Emerson '17) is a strong, independent, black woman with an unironic love for professional wrestling. Find her drinking peppermint tea with her cat, or scaling the side of Trump Tower with plans to fist fight the president elect and his entire family.
OLIVIA WOOLLETT is a junior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major with a minor in Philosophy. She is from Houston, Texas, and cried three separate times while watching the 2014 film Boyhood. Her favorite activities include baking, petting other people's cats, and re-watching period dramas on Netflix.
ABOUT THE TYPE The running text for this issue is set in Adobe Caslon Pro, designed for Adobe by Carol Twombly based on specimen pages by William Caslon between 1734 and 1770. The display type for this book is ANDIS LIGHT, designed by JAM Type Design.
Fall 2016. Read four pieces of fiction written by undergraduate students at Emerson College. Enjoy!